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There Are Two Seats At The Bar (For Mr. And Mrs. My Last Name)
nnieohhhhyes
novel_concept26
Title: There Are Two Seats At The Bar (For Mr. And Mrs. My Last Name)
Pairing: Beca Mitchell/Chloe Beale
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: Nothing owned, no profit gained.
Spoilers: Mild ones for Pitch Perfect
Summary: New York is the land of plenty. Plenty of noise, plenty of people, plenty of dollars sucked out of her wallet each week—and plenty of surprises.
A/N: Kay-prompted. Title from The Damnwells' "Closer Than We Are."

New York is the land of plenty. Plenty of noise, plenty of people, plenty of dollars sucked out of her wallet each week—and plenty of surprises. Like how subways are not half as romantic as they seem in films like RENT. And like how pizza, in fact, does not taste better here than back at Barden, or at home. And how, no matter how engaged with the world she becomes, and how prestigious she feels at her job, the fact remains that she is getting older, and maybe not quite heading in the direction she'd once planned for herself: the great American romance, the song in her heart, and the person filling the seat beside her. A person she could call friend, and lover, and mate for life. She always sort of thought she'd have that part down by the time she reached thirty, but, surprise! Not so much. That seat, to the shock of any and all, remains empty, its nameplate as illegible as ever.

New York is full of all kinds of surprises like those. And then, of course, there is—

Beca Mitchell.

She hasn’t seen Beca in years—maybe nine or ten years, since Beca’s sophomore year of college, since the glee of university a capella wore into the struggle of real life—but she’d know that face anywhere. Beca’s cheekbones haven’t changed. Her eyes are as deep and blue as ever, her hair as scraggly. And she’s still wearing those ridiculous wristbands, the silver rings, the combat boots that always made Aubrey’s skin crawl and Chloe’s lips twist pleasantly.

Beca is nine or ten years older, but her shoulders are familiarly hunched over the handlebars of her bike, and her middle finger is deft as ever when a cab comes inches from sawing into her right leg at an intersection. Chloe bites her lip.

Beca was supposed to be the kind of friend that lasted—the kind she would call after bad days at work, and ship Christmas gifts to, and name godmother to her second-born (Aubrey’s got dibs on the first, and doom on the head of anyone to dispute it). Beca was supposed to be a bestie for life.

But things happen, as Chloe hadn’t realized back then; you grow up. You move out. You end up in a big city that makes your bitty hometown look like a two-acre farm, and you end up teaching music at a university you would never have dreamed of attending yourself, and you only still talk to Aubrey Posen because Aubrey is the kind of woman who will literally hire a PI to track your ass down if you try to ditch her.

Growing up changes a lot, but as she watches Beca dismount from the bike and half-sprint with it across the street, her brown leather jacket stretched across her slim shoulders, Chloe can’t help but smile. Beca is almost thirty now, but it doesn’t matter. She’s still the same girl who raised her eyebrows at a well-meaning flier a decade ago, who sang “Titanium” with an impressive amount of grace for being naked, and who never failed to make Chloe smile—even without intending to.

It’s funny, how you never quite realize how painfully you miss a person until you see them again.

It shouldn’t be remotely surprising, that Chloe shifts her purse to the other shoulder and sets off into the building Beca has just disappeared into without another thought.

***

The building turns out to be rented to some indie label Chloe has barely heard of, and when she asks the receptionist if she knows a Beca, the woman tilts her head and gives Chloe the sort of look generally reserved for mentally-challenged children. Which makes a lot more sense, when she points Chloe toward the elevators and up two levels, leading to an office with Mitchell scrawled on a gold plaque on the door.

So, Beca isn’t a bike messenger, then. Huh.

She feels surprisingly idiotic knocking, her fist loose and uncertain. A muted voice carries through thick wood; she can barely make out the invitation for entry.

It’s crazy, being here, intruding on Beca’s workplace—and after all this time, besides—but it would be crazier to walk away now. She twists the knob gently and pokes her head through the sliver of space between door and wall.

Beca is miniature behind the enormity of her desk, covered from end to end with wires, laptops, and paperwork. The headphones wrapped around her neck nudge Chloe on stepping all the way into the room; headphones and Beca are so hand-in-hand, it would be wrong not to say hello.

Especially when Beca glances up and lets her mouth fall open.

“Hey there, stranger,” Chloe says easily, like it hasn’t been almost a decade since they’ve last spoken in person. Beca’s hands drop onto the desk, fingers splayed against expensive mahogany.

“Chloe, what are you—“

“Teacher,” Chloe interrupts, pointing a finger into her own chest. “NYU. Four years running, now. You?”

“Uh, producer,” Beca replies, dazedly, like a woman crawling from a deep sleep. “Since graduation, practically, not counting a couple of requisite internships.”

“No L.A.?” Chloe presses. Beca runs a hand across her jaw.

“Nope. Didn’t…pan out, Chloe, how did you find me here?”

She doesn’t sound angry, just baffled. Chloe gets that. She never would have expected this mundane Tuesday to swerve in this direction. But, since it has—

“Guess it's a New York miracle. You wanna grab a drink later?” she asks, and grins when Beca nods wordlessly, her mouth still twitching like she can’t quite find her footing in this strange new Wonderland.

It’s that patented awkwardness that has her bolting across the office to hug Beca hard over the cluttered desk, because—well, it just feels right.

***

Beca, she finds out on Thursday night—Thirsty Thursday, though they’re both a little too old to be falling back on that old college habit—is as sardonic and quick as she’s ever been—but much less prone to taking every word out of Chloe’s mouth and rolling her eyes at it. In fact, with her hand wrapped around a glass of scotch (scotch; what are they now?), she leans back in their booth and just smiles.

Now that she’s gotten used to the idea of living in the same general space as Chloe, it seems she’s actually pretty pleased about the whole thing.

“So, no heading west,” Chloe sums up, picking a bacon-laden potato skin from their shared plate and eyeing it suspiciously. “And now you’re a total musical hotshot. I have that about right?”

“And you’re repeating your senior year of college,” Beca retorts, tongue between her teeth. “Indefinitely.”

“My students are not Bella material, thank you,” Chloe replies, stuffing the skin into her mouth and chewing. It’s not remotely ladylike to continue speaking with her mouth this full, particularly since the time apart leaves her to make a whole new impression on an old friend, but Beca is grinning encouragingly across the table. She shrugs and presses on around the mouthful of cheese and grease. “But I love it. I do.”

“Good,” Beca says, plainly satisfied. “I hoped you’d end up doing something more awesome than what Aubrey’s been wasting her life on.”

“Yeah, she’s really kind of—“ Chloe freezes, her drink midway to her lips. “Sorry, back up. Aubrey?”

Beca shrugs, drains her glass, thunks it down. “Sure. Don’t you keep in touch?”

“Of course I keep in touch,” Chloe blusters. “Why do you?”

She doesn’t mean for it to come out so ferociously, but Beca and Aubrey never liked each other back at Barden. In fact, it wouldn’t be utterly absurd to suggest they hated one another for most of the one year they spent in the same place. So for them to spend time together now—when even Chloe hasn’t so much as Skyped with Beca in years—is just…

Beca shrugs. “She’s cool. She doesn’t have anything to jump down my throat about now that we’re not competing, and the way I see it, she needs someone to talk to about her whole Hell-lawyer thing.”

The pang in Chloe’s chest is unexpected. She is supposed to be that person for Aubrey. She was supposed to be that person for both of them.

Things happen, she reminds herself. You grow up. You grow apart. And, anyway, it isn’t like she and Aubrey don’t stay in pretty steady contact. She is there when Aubrey needs her. It just so happens that Beca…is, too.

Confusing.

A lot about this is confusing. Physically, Beca doesn’t seem all that different, but there’s something about the way she carries herself—the way she walked through the door an hour ago, and the way she ordered her drink, and the way she’s leaning back in the booth now—that is beyond striking. She’s just sitting there, watching Chloe with calm, amused eyes, and it feels—

A lot like being studied by someone less nostalgic and more flirtatious, somehow.

The Beca she knew couldn’t flirt her way out of a paper bag—or, more accurately, would refuse to do so until her dying breath—but this new and gently-aged Beca? Is watching her like she’s never seen anyone quite so charming, or entertaining, or…

“So, are you seeing anybody?” The question tumbles from her lips with all the grace of a car crash. Beca arches an eyebrow. That, Chloe notes, is still familiar.

“No,” she says smoothly, without offering a singular hint toward what Chloe really wants to know. “You?”

Chloe shakes her head. There are words behind her lips, tickling the back of her tongue: an explanation of how her last relationship dissolved in a fit of exhaustion and jealousy, a detailed report on how every man she’s ever dated seems to fit exactly the wrong profile for her personality type, a rant on that one time she tried dating a girl, only to find that women are just as prone to vitriol and the occasional bout of adultery as men—

She bites it all back. Beca is watching her steadily, her lips upturned at the corners, her fingers twitching in the air to snag the attention of their waiter. This isn’t the time or the place for a heart-to-heart of that magnitude. She hasn’t seen Beca in years, and they’re both on their way to getting pleasantly drunk. The hard stuff can wait.

She stretches across the table, fingers grazing Beca’s wrist. “You want to dance?”

***

Beca’s flat is exactly as lovely and charming as you’d expect from a low-profile music producer in New York, and it makes Chloe’s heart race just to stand in the doorway and stare. This is the furthest cry she can imagine from the bundle of posters and the sofa-bed that made up Beca’s world at Barden. This is—

“You live here?” she asks, somewhat stupidly. Beca glances back from the closet she’s toeing her shoes off in front of, smiling.

“Nah, just thought I’d crash to impress a pretty girl.”

Again, the voice is Beca’s—the sarcastic tone, with just the tiniest lilt of amusement framing the words to draw out the sting—but the phrasing is just off somehow. It’s the kind of thing Stacie might have said once upon a time, or Jesse—or, hell, even Chloe herself. Not Beca.

But Beca is saying it now, without a care in the world as she slips off her jacket and runs her fingers through her hair. And Chloe can’t help but smile back at the easy charm of it.

She knows, with anyone else, it would be forward to stay the night just after re-meeting an old friend, but with Beca, it seems fitting. Besides, she’s entirely too drunk to even consider making her way back to the other side of town, to her two-room, one-person apartment and the cat she can’t seem to train. Besides, Beca offered. So.

“Guest room’s down this way,” Beca informs her, setting off at a relaxed pace down a hall that seems longer than the whole of Chloe’s place. She has a guest room. Chloe hasn’t heard that phrase since last she visited her mother.

“Thanks again for letting me stay,” she says, remembering her manners despite the thin haze of alcohol masking her motor functions. Her head is buzzing all over, partly from the scotch, and partly from the ghost of Beca’s hands on her hips, her body moving in time to their bubbling laughter. Dancing isn’t something Chloe has ever been able to let go of, just like singing, but dancing with another person was a joy mostly forgotten until tonight. Her last boyfriend hated the club scene. Her last boyfriend kind of hated everything Chloe liked, in fact.

But Beca—who, ten years ago, was stoic and steadfastly against all things public or social—pressed up against her without a moment’s hesitation, her jewelry clinking and clanging beneath the hum of dance music as she rocked Chloe from side to side. Beca pressed a hot palm to the small of her back, and tucked her face delightedly against Chloe’s shoulder, and shouted above the music that Chloe “still has rotten taste in beats.”

It was the most fun Chloe’s had in far too long, swaying and shimmying on that bar floor, and when Beca leaned in close and offered her spare bed for the night, Chloe couldn’t think of one good reason to say no.

She still can’t, in fact. Beca may be different now, less guarded and snappy, but that old familiar fire still seems to burn between them. She remembers that too well, the sense that Beca was in some way a kindred spirit, that Chloe could relate to her in a way she’s never quite clicked with anyone else before or since. Even Aubrey couldn’t match the spark that lit her bloodstream when Beca’s eye caught hers that first time. Chloe’s always been proud of that, in an offbeat sort of way: finding a girl like Beca and actually connecting with her. Not many people could.

Not back then, anyway. Now, with her career-honed people skills and her easy confidence, who knows how many people Beca has connected with.

“In here,” Beca tells her, flicking a lightswitch and casting a warm glow on a honey-colored room with comfortable, slightly worn furniture. “Don’t mind the blankets, my grandmother got really excited about keeping me warm in an east-coast winter.”

Chloe makes a beeline for the bed, running her fingers along the cotton-soft quilt. It’s so clearly homemade, with so much love evident in the music notes sewn into the dark blue material. She’s never thought of Beca as being particularly domestic before, but now, she wonders how that could be.

Beca’s home, she thinks, is kind of wonderful, with its rich paint choices and plush dark carpeting. The furniture, for all the space and probably-outrageous rent, is mismatched and careless; the posters mostly brag of various music artists Chloe hasn’t quite heard of, likely clients of Beca’s company. Here and there, she can see bits of the old college-Beca peeking through the cracks of adulthood: a pair of worn jeans tossed across the back of a rocking chair, an old flannel shirt with more holes than proper stitching in the far hamper. And, of course—

“You kept this?” she asks wonderingly, tracing the edges of a creased Bellas photo slide carefully into a silver frame. She remembers that day—just after they’d taken the championship, still dressed in their costumes. She finds herself immediately, wrapped around Beca, her lips pressed haphazardly to Beca’s cheek. In the photo, Beca is beaming brighter than anyone else, her hair a wild tangle, her face crimson with exertion and—Chloe thinks—sheer joy.

They look so young, and Chloe feels a pang at the realization that those girls might well not exist anymore. Not like that, anyway. People, after all, grow up.

Beca shifts in behind her, hands jammed into her pockets. She gestures with her head, a fond cast to her eyes that Chloe’s never seen before. “’Course I kept it. Best day of my life.”

That can’t be true anymore, not after a decade’s worth of success and relationships and God only knows what else, but Chloe doesn’t dispute it. She trails her fingertips across her own face, then Beca’s, then Aubrey’s. Amazing, how far each of them have come from that stage. Amazing, and a little saddening—not because they have in any way failed their younger selves, but because the distance between them isn’t at all what Chloe would have expected back then.

“You ever miss it?” she asks, knowing the answer even before Beca shrugs.

“The part where Aubrey was always screaming at me, the part where Stacie couldn’t stop fondling herself, the part with the flying Mexican missiles, or the part where you habitually went creeping on chicks in the shower?”

Her eyes are twinkling when Chloe turns to meet them, and she’s struck for a moment at how someone so tiny can seem so authoritative in her own home. For a second, all Chloe can do is stare at her, taking in this brave new creature who stands, beautiful, where her best friend once lived.

And then she’s laughing, the remnants of her two-too-many drinks spiraling around and around in her head. Beca doubles over with her, one hand propped against the wall for support, and Chloe hugs her again, because it feels like the thing to do. She’s missed out on a lot of hugs since moving out to New York. It’s the one thing a city like this could never give to a girl like her: a sense of companionship like the Bellas once had.

Students are great and everything, but things tend to go a little cockeyed if you forget your place with them.

“You can use a pair of my pajamas, if you want,” Beca says when they’ve both regained their breath. Chloe nods happily, and when Beca turns toward the door again, catches her sleeve.

“You could stay here tonight. We could stay up, swap some girl talk. Like old times.”

“We never did that,” Beca drawls, all honesty and the slightest dash of mischief when Chloe shrugs. “Can we have pillow fights?”

The way she says it sounds almost dirty, and Chloe’s heart thuds pleasantly in her chest. “Only if you let me win.”

“Somehow,” Beca says with a grin, “I don’t think there’d be much letting involved.”

***

She wakes tangled in Beca’s hair and arms, her face pressed recklessly into Beca’s collarbone. The quilt is half on the floor, along with three of the five pillows that once overran the mattress, and Beca is coiled in a tight little ball. Snoring. Adorable.

Chloe wipes at her mouth with the back of her hand and takes a moment to really think about where this week has taken her. Beca Mitchell, back in her life. Beca Mitchell, with newfound confidence and charm. Beca Mitchell, whose flat is six times the size of Chloe’s apartment, and who dances with her in public, and who falls asleep at four in the morning with the story of her life in Chloe’s absence still on her lips.

Beca Mitchell is different, and yet, so very much the same headstrong, wonderful person Chloe couldn’t resist cuddling up to in college. It makes her head all spinny to dwell on it too long.

Luckily, before she can fall into the muddled sense that she’s stepping into something she doesn’t fully understand, her phone gives a long, insistent buzz on the nightstand. Chloe reaches for it, careful not to jar Beca into consciousness, and lets her eyes skim Aubrey’s text.

Now is, she thinks with narrowed eyebrows, as good a time as any for this little chat.

She waits until she’s in Beca’s slightly-messier-than-is-acceptable kitchen to dial the number, and stands, shivering in bare feet and a pair of too-small flannel pants, until Aubrey picks up.

“You still talk to Beca,” she blurts before the first hello can be uttered. Aubrey makes a sputtering noise in her ear.

“Yes. Is this a crime punishable by death?”

No,” Chloe replies tersely, “but you never told me about it.”

“I wasn’t aware I had to run my every friendship past you first,” Aubrey tells her wryly. Chloe can imagine her down to the last detail, sitting straight and tall in her office chair, her business suit immaculate, her fingernails polished. For as much as Beca may have changed, she’s fairly confident Aubrey never will.

“Fine,” she grouses, because it’s early, and she’s got more of a hangover than she really wants to admit, and Aubrey has that clip to her voice that says you’ll never win this one. “Have you seen her lately?”

“Not since, umm, Christmas before last.” Aubrey’s voice sounds distant. Chloe hopes she isn’t actually doing paperwork while talking. She hates that workaholic streak her best friend has never managed to shake. “Why so Beca-obsessed all of a sudden?”

“I’m standing in her kitchen,” Chloe explains, perversely entertained when Aubrey releases a strained little noise.

“Bet she hasn’t cleaned it since I was there.”

“I didn’t know she was in New York,” Chloe goes on, determined to stick to what’s really important here. “You knew? You knew, and never told me?”

“I didn’t think about it, Chloe,” Aubrey huffs. “Honestly, I would have expected you two to be all buddy-buddy, texting and going out for drinks every Friday. I didn’t realize you’d fallen completely out of the social-networking loop.”

Chloe sniffs. “Well. I. Did.”

It somehow doesn’t come out as powerfully as she intends, but that doesn’t matter much when the floorboards creak and Beca makes her way through the doorway, one curled hand sweeping the sleep from her eye. Chloe smiles involuntarily, annoyance forgotten.

“Speak of the devil.”

Beca grunts, tilting her attention toward the fridge. Aubrey says, “Hey, give her the phone, will you? I want to ask about that girl she met at—“

She cuts herself off abruptly, evidently realizing that if Chloe is just now realizing Beca lives in her city, she probably isn’t so up-to-date with other details. Like girls.

“That girl, huh?” Chloe repeats, raising a speculative eyebrow at Beca, who swivels around, looking suddenly and miraculously awake. “Sure. I’ll ask her.”

“No, wait—,” Aubrey protests. Beca’s mouth opens and closes, her face seeming to arch back in time until it mirrors the girl who once fumbled for an excuse out of auditioning for an a capella group.

“About that,” she says awkwardly. Chloe waves her off.

“Aubrey? Gotta go. Beca and I have some catching up to do.”

She’s going to pay for hanging up on Counselor Posen, she knows, but whatever; this is slightly more important. Because, in all the conversations bouncing between them last night, somehow, Beca managed to forget on particular detail.

“You’re gay, huh?” she says easily, amused when Beca sags weakly against the counter and presses her fingers to her forehead.

“Not…exclusively,” she mumbles. “Remind me to thank Aubrey, will you?”

“Oh, relax, she didn’t mean to out you. When were you planning on telling me?”

“It’s private,” Beca says, almost sharply. It hurts more than Chloe would like, and it must show on her face, because Beca pushes off from the counter and spreads her hands like she’s offering an olive branch of sorts. “I mean, it’s not a secret or anything. I just. Don’t go around announcing it all over the place. You still have to be careful, you know?”

Chloe wants to retort that this is stupid, that gay marriage has been legal for five years now, and that if there’s anyone Beca should feel safe telling, it’s her—but then she realizes that this isn’t Barden-Beca, who confided in her all manner of anxieties. This is Music-Producer-Beca, complete with an office and a life Chloe has unintentionally written herself out of. She doesn’t have the same rights to this Beca as to the one she once knew.

“Anyway,” Beca is saying, still trying to smooth out the tension Chloe can feel in her own brow, “I’m not gay. Exactly. Just…open.”

“Bisexual,” Chloe fills in for her. It’s an easy enough set of syllables to utter, though she never would have guessed back in school. Not that Beca seemed ramrod-straight back then, but with the whole violently-antisocial thing, Chloe never considered the notion that Beca might be any-sexual. Not even where Jesse was concerned.

“Sure,” Beca says tiredly, and shrugs. “Bi. Whatever. I like guys, I like girls. Not most of them, granted, but the ones worth liking. Who cares what the gender is?”

Chloe can appreciate that. It’s a beautiful perspective, even if it does feel a little strange to hear Beca spouting it.

“But you aren’t dating anyone,” she presses suspiciously. “Because you didn’t mention anything last night, but you also didn’t mention this, so—“

“No dating,” Beca swears, fingers up in the classic scout’s honor. “Too busy for dating.”

Chloe squints at her, tapping the phone under her chin. “But not too busy for breakfast.”

Beca casts a slow, sleepy grin toward the stove, plainly relieved that the conversation is already turning in a less personal direction. Same old Beca, in that respect.

“Definitely not. …you can cook, right?”

***

When she leaves Beca’s place an hour or so later, Chloe is struck by the heavy fear that this will be the end of it: one wonderful throwback of an evening to remind her of how amazing Beca Mitchell was in her life, followed by another decade of radio silence. They couldn’t stay in touch after college, when life was fumbling its way into the adult years; who’s to say they’ll be any better now, with fully-functioning lives and careers and routines to meander around?

It’s a short-lived concern, lasting exactly to the bus stop. Beca’s text message is brief and to the point:

Great night. How 'bout a repeat performance tomorrow?

Tomorrow ends up being less about the bar scene, and more about the great view she gets from Beca’s couch. As does the night after, and the next three consecutive weekends. For a girl who once claimed movies were the dullest entertainment option on the planet, Beca has one hell of a DVD collection.

“Jesse,” she says with a roll of her eyes. “Turns out when you accept a bromance with your ex, you wind up with a lot of disc-shaped gifts.”

“Is this one signed?” Wide-eyed, Chloe holds up an untouched copy of The Manchurian Candidate. Beca looks somewhat embarrassed.

“He worked with Denzel on some secret agent thingy two years ago.”

They wind up watching Bring It On (which isn’t signed), and follow it up with Mean Girls, which Chloe can quote every word to, and which Beca seems not to have actually seen. Which is—

“Sick and wrong,” Chloe proclaims for the fifth time, giggling as Tina Fey gets trapped in her sweater. “That never gets old.”

“Never,” Beca drawls, grinning when Chloe slaps at her chest and snuggles in closer. This is far more comfortable than she would have guessed—stretched out on the couch with her head propped against the front of Beca’s Barden sweatshirt, feeling the companionable weight of Beca’s arm around her. Everything about this is more comfortable than she would have guessed.

She’s relieved to find Beca’s reluctant admission of bisexuality (or pansexuality, or whatever Kinsey-appropriate word fits the bill; Chloe’s not even sure Beca’s clear on it) hasn’t made their newly-rediscovered friendship weird. Not that it ever would have been, for her, but Beca has a longstanding history of retreating from the people who care about her if they show even an ounce of human failing along the way. Chloe’s not sure she could handle losing her old friend again so soon after locating her on that muddy street.

It’s wild, how fast a need like this can set in.

“Lohan used to be pretty cute,” Beca says after a few minutes of silently contemplating the screen. “What happened?”

“Crack,” Chloe answers idly. Beca hums.

“Crack is wack. But seriously, for a redhead, she was pretty hot.”

Chloe slowly raises her head, scowling pointedly. “What do you mean, for a redhead?”

Beca’s grinning again, that old shit-starting grin she used to turn on Aubrey at practice. “Well, you’re kind of a goofy-lookin’ lot, you know.”

She really does deserve that whump over the head Chloe delivers with the nearest throw pillow. And the fingers that dig mercilessly into her ribcage. And the whole of Chloe’s weight sprawled across her lap as Chloe cries, “Take it back!” at the top of her voice.

It’s from this new vantage point, with one knee on either side of Beca’s hips, her hands trapped beneath Beca’s flailing arms, that Chloe looks—really looks—for the first time at the expression on Beca’s face. It’s smug and defiant, of course, because that’s to be expected—but there’s something else there. Something seamless and easy, like it’s been there since the very beginning; something in the flush lighting Beca’s cheeks, and the way her nose crinkles when she smiles, and the glitter of pleasure in her eyes.

Chloe doesn’t have a name for it, but whatever it is makes her stomach knot in one hard, staggering motion.

***

“Cynthia Rose?” Chloe asks. Beca pulls an awkwardly distressed face.

“Not my type.”

“Lilly?”

“Wasn’t willing to risk life and limb.”

“Stacie!” Chloe decides with extreme satisfaction, because if she were into girls the way Beca is, Stacie would be an obvious choice for crushing on. Not only was she painfully gorgeous in that dark-and-mildly-threatening sort of way, but she had an impulse toward flirtation that couldn’t be matched.

Beca is shaking her head. “No way. That girl was a terror.”

“I thought she was sweet,” Chloe argues. Beca pries open the fridge and pokes her head inside, rummaging past a bottle of wine and a trio of yogurts until she finds the shredded mozzarella.

“Sweet, sure. And a total loon. You know what happened the first time we gave her a solo?”

Chloe does know, because Aubrey attended that particular performance, and came home shaking all over with barely-contained fury. Apparently, stripping onstage and offering a judge a complementary lapdance isn’t a tactic commonly found in the Bellas Winning Playbook.

(It did cinch them a shot at regionals, though. Somehow. Chloe’s still not sure she wants to know how or why.)

The memory gives her an idea. She suspects Beca isn’t going to like it, which is reason enough to charge right on ahead and suggest—

“Aubrey,” she says daringly, snapping her fingers. “You totally had a thing for Aubrey once upon a time.”

It’s so worth it, watching Beca go nearly purple. “I—no—that’s—“

“I’m taking that a yes,” Chloe tells her triumphantly, beyond proud of herself. She’s been trying to suss out who might have triggered Beca’s not-so-straightness vibe in school for the better part of the hour now, in between helping Beca roll dough and dig around for various pizza fixings. So far, the best Beca would admit to is a rollicking crush on Shakira. And that girl from the Hunger Games movies.

“I never liked Aubrey,” Beca sputters, dropping a bag of pepperoni on the counter and frowning mightily. “I barely tolerated Aubrey’s existence.”

“But you thought she was preeeetty,” Chloe sing-songs. It’s so refreshing to be this annoying again without having to rein herself in. This isn’t the sort of behavior an esteemed professor is allowed to exhibit in mixed company. Or in anyone’s company but Beca’s, really.

Beca has opened a marvelous number of doors to joy in the few weeks she’s been back in Chloe’s life. There’s the joy of spending time outside of her apartment, with contact other than co-workers, students, or that stuttering kid who mans the Starbucks counter. There’s the joy of sharing home-cooked meals with a person who actively enjoys her company, rather than just putting up with her for sex. There’s the absolute glee of reminiscing about the glory days—in a not-sad, not-creepy, totally acceptable way.

And there’s Beca herself, who plays new mixes for Chloe every couple of days, and who greets her at the door with a bigger smile than Chloe has ever brought out in another person before, and who doesn’t judge her in the least for knowing all the words to old Cee Lo songs.

Even if Beca does still harbor the odd secretive moment, Chloe couldn’t be happier to have found her again. She’s so busy kicking herself for all that time wasted in the interim, in fact, that she almost misses Beca’s sigh.

“What?” She’s got her hand in the bag of cheese. Beca slaps gently at her, exhaling noisily.

“What, where you raised in a barn, woman? Did you even wash your hands?”

“You’re going to burn off all the germs anyway,” Chloe points out reasonably. “What’s with the sighing?”

“Nothing,” Beca mutters. Chloe puffs out her cheeks.

“Well, if it wasn’t Aubrey—which I totally don’t buy, by the way—“

“Gross,” Beca proclaims, spreading a liberal amount of pizza sauce across the width of their crust. Chloe hip-nudges her out of the way and sets to work with the cheese.

“—if it wasn’t Aubrey, it had to have been somebody. You said you figured yourself out in college. Who helped you?”

“Who ever said I had to be helped?” Beca shoots back with a snort. Her arms bracket Chloe’s body temporarily as she stretches up on her toes for the plates hidden in the top cupboard. Warmth floods through Chloe at the pressure of breasts and stomach and hips against her back. She shakes it off.
“Come on, you don’t just wake up one day and say to yourself, I think today is the day I’ll start dating women. Who did you fall for?”

She has this weird, twisting sense that she already knows the answer to the question. It’s in the butterflies roaming through her stomach, in the anxious dart and dance racing up and down her arms, raising the hair on the back of her neck. It’s in the heat of Beca’s breath as it skims across her skin, and the way Beca pulls back and makes that huffing sound again, like an animal trapped in a corner it has no desire to be in.

She has the feeling she knows, but she needs Beca to say it, like she needed Beca to tell her flat-out that she wasn’t dating anyone. It’s dumb, but somehow, when Beca gives voice to the thoughts in her head, everything seems infinitely more real.

(In truth, she’s been feeling suspiciously dream-like ever since spotting that bicycle and the leather jacket and the whip of brown hair at a crowded intersection. A little reality is more than necessary at this point.)

Beca mumbles something that might, in some universe, resemble actual words. Chloe tips her head and waits.

“Say again?”

“I might have had a tiny thing for you,” Beca repeats in one long rush, and swerves immediately toward the iHome set up on the kitchen table. “You feeling Beyonce or fun. tonight?”

Chloe is so busy trying to tamp down the strange surge in her chest that she doesn’t even hear herself reply, “P!nk.” Beca flicks the dial until “Walk of Shame” pours from the speaker, and Chloe continues staring down at the emerging pizza on the counter, feeling even the tips of her ears go white-hot.

“Sorry if that’s weird,” Beca says softly, pulling pepperonis from their bag and situating them in a careful circle around the pizza. Chloe bites her lip hard.

“It’s not.”

***

Except it kind of is, somehow—not in a destroy your friendship sort of way so much as a this is real now way. Beca is really gay—or sort-of gay, which is gay enough—and Chloe is really the first girl she ever liked in that way. Really.

It’s not all in her head.

It doesn’t bother her, she thinks hastily as she scrubs her hands in Beca’s bathroom and eyes herself in the mirror. There’s nothing to be bothered about, really. She loves Beca now, just as she did then; there’s nothing the girl could do that would change that.

But it still feels strange, to know—not just suspect, or even maybe hope (although what that means, Chloe can’t begin to deal with right now), but know—that Beca cared for her once in a way only boys have ever cared. Except, probably, in a significantly better way, because the boys in Chloe’s life have always been sub-par at best, and Beca is…

“Did you fall in?” The rap of knuckles against the door is gentle, almost tentative. It’s as if, in that one admission, Beca has backslid all the way to the girl Chloe once snuck up on in the shower. Her heart hurts at the idea of it.

“I’m good,” she replies, twisting the door open and smiling down at Beca with all the cheer she can muster. Her head feels strange and dizzy, her knees trembling in time with the rampant thudding of her heart, but Beca is peering at her with such unease that she can’t just let it go. She reaches up without thinking about it and pulls Beca into the doorway, her arms sliding around a slim waist and holding on for dear life.

Beca hugs her back, tentative. “We, uh. We okay?”

Chloe nods into her shirt, saying nothing. Beca swallows audibly.

“It was nothing,” she hastens to admit, her hands fluttering at Chloe’s back like she can’t decide where to safely rest them. “Just a crush, you know. It was a long time ago, and if I thought it would make things shitty between us, I would never have—“

Chloe shakes her head, gripping hard at Beca’s shirt and pressing her face against one hunched shoulder. “Shut up.”

Beca goes obediently silent. She still isn’t embracing Chloe with the confidence she’s come to expect, but her hands have landed at last against Chloe’s spine, smooth and unsure. Chloe breathes her in.

“I love you, you know,” she says quietly, and grips even tighter when Beca goes rigid.

“You don’t have to do that—“

“I do,” Chloe interrupts fiercely. “I love you. So we’re okay. As long as you’re good with the pizza making, and the movie watching, and the snuggling after pillow fights. We’re okay.”

Beca exhales like all the anxiety is streaming from her body in one long gust, and her arms squeeze tight.

***

She starts to notice the little things after that, things she never quite let onto her radar before. Like how Beca always seems to be holding doors open for her, even to inconvenient degrees. Or how quick Beca is to slip her jacket off and drape it around Chloe’s shoulders as they walk down the street. Or the way Beca glares at anyone who edges too close to Chloe’s side, male or female, as if she doesn’t even realize she’s doing it.

She starts to notice how Beca’s hand feels when it squeezes her arm, and how Beca’s eyes follow her whenever she leaves the room, and how Beca’s smile turns her whole face sunny the second she realizes Chloe is there. She starts to notice these things, and it becomes steadily more apparent that—

—Beca is still kind of in love with her.

And it isn’t the kind of love that kicks off a personal sexuality revelation, either, like Beca professed in the doorway to her bathroom. It’s the kind that stretches across years, across miles, across all the birthday cards that slowly stop arriving, and the emails that stop getting written, and the phone numbers that find themselves forgotten along the way. Beca’s is the kind of love that stretches so long and so far that, after a while, it stops being a novelty. It’s as if, after all this time, Beca has kind of forgotten how to label it at all.

She seems to accept it as something that always has been, that always will be, and so, when Chloe brings it up again—some weeks later, stretched out on Beca’s bed, watching her half-doze after a long day at work—her expression is nothing less than shell-shocked.

“Why do you even want to talk about this?” she asks wearily, pushing her face into the pillow with a groan. “I told you, it was a long time ago—“

“I just want to know,” Chloe presses. “Why me?”

“I don’t know why you,” Beca grumbles. “You were pretty, and charming, and sweet. I don’t know. Sometimes that’s all it takes.”

Chloe knows that’s true, but she has the feeling there’s something else to this. There were a lot of pretty, charming, sweet girls at school—like, say, the majority of the Bellas—and still, Beca fell for her.

She’s reasonably certain Beca will actually push her off the bed if she keeps this up, so she just tucks her face against Beca’s arm and matches her breathing to the flow of Beca’s, and goes quiet. Beca sighs.

“You wanna go get ice cream or something?”

Chloe smiles.

***

She goes on a date a few months after they reignite their friendship. It’s not much—just dinner and coffee with this guy who works over in the English department—but she feels so weird about it. At first, she thinks it’s because Beca will feel weird, but all Beca does when she sheepishly mentions the upcoming event is glance up from the mix she’s putting together and raise an eyebrow.

“Bring your rape whistle,” she says mildly, smirking when Chloe chucks a KFC biscuit at her head. “Hey, Crumby, you planning on vacuuming that up?”

So Chloe goes on this date with this guy named Roger—people still name their children Roger, apparently—and to the casual observer, it would seem like a pleasant evening. Roger is nice, and witty, and doesn’t spend the whole dinner talking about his undergrad thesis like she sort of expects. Out of the whole department, Roger is probably one of the better choices with whom to share a meal.

Except there’s this niggling sense at the back of her mind, which she just can’t shake, letting her know that something is just wrong about this. She can’t seem to lose track of all the things Roger isn’t doing quite the way she wants him to. Like, how when he pulls the chair out for her, he doesn’t offer a playful tap to her shoulder as she sits. Or how, when their food arrives, the first thing he does is pick at his own plate, rather than pushing it toward Chloe to inspect. Or how, no matter how many hints she drops, he refuses to burst into song even once.

Roger doesn’t do any of the things she’s come to expect out of a good date, and it’s only when he’s dropping her off and leaning in for the requisite goodnight kiss that she realizes exactly why she expects things like these.

Roger’s goodnight kiss is scratchy with stubble, and his bottom lip is desperately in need of chapstick, and his hair doesn’t smell of freshly picked fruit. Roger’s goodnight kiss is, she knows before he even pulls entirely away, the only one he’s going to get.

She makes it to Beca’s flat in record time, her feet stumping along on pock-marked concrete in her wobbly heels. And it’s only when her finger is jamming into the buzzer that it occurs to her: Beca might not even be home.

The wait is agonizing, stretching on and on; she shifts from one groaning foot to the other, purse gripped between her hands, and resists the highly unpleasant urge to turn and hail the first cab home. This is ridiculous, she tells herself; she should be in her living room right now, in pajamas, dancing the taste of Roger out of her mouth. She shouldn’t be bothering Beca. Or, for that matter, standing out here in the cold, just waiting for some delinquent to decide she’s a pretty target for a nice mugging—

“Hello?” Beca’s voice crackles over the intercom, more static than human speech. Chloe thunks her forehead against the front door and groans.

“Hey. It’s me. Sorry I didn’t call, but—“

The buzzer sounds right next to her ear, and Chloe wrenches the door open. Beca is waiting for her on the landing, all rumpled hair and mismatched socks, head cocked for the explanation Chloe doesn’t know how to phrase. She shuffles her feet, staring up at the woman who looks so much and so little like the girl she once mentored.

“Didn’t go well?” Beca asks at last, sensing Chloe’s rare reluctance to use her words. Chloe shrugs. Nods. Accepts the silent invitation inside, when Beca twitches her head toward the apartment and vanishes through its doorway without another word.

If Beca was already in bed, she must have to get up pretty early for work, but before she can apologize or back out gracefully, she finds herself navigated to a kitchen chair. Beca sets to work with the kettle and a packet of cheap hot chocolate mix—the kind with the dried marshmallows inside, because, while she could totally afford the good stuff, she says this is the brand that got her through college. Chloe slumps back in her chair and watches the mindless domestic motions. The way Beca’s hands alternate between filling the kettle, and pouring the mix into an “Altos Do It Better” mug, and occasionally dragging through her own hair like she’s just remembered how recently she crawled from her bed. The way the kettle hums and hisses as the water boils. The way Beca roams from one end of the kitchen to the other in search of a clean spoon. It’s all so normal, and so strangely appealing, that for a moment, all Chloe wants to do is save the moment as an eternal snapshot in her head.

“I should have liked him,” she blurts abruptly. Beca pauses in the middle of turning the heat beneath the kettle down.

“You can’t make yourself like somebody, Chloe.”

“But I should have,” Chloe presses, feeling just a little bit too desperate. “He was nice, and smart, and he didn’t talk about himself the whole time. He was a good man.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Beca tells her, calm as you please. “Feelings don’t work that way. You can’t force something that isn’t supposed to happen.”
She sounds so solid and grounded, so realistic. It makes Chloe want to scream.

Because, hell, if Beca weren’t so grounded, so prone to accepting little “truths” of the world like this and moving right along with her day, maybe Chloe wouldn’t have lost the last ten years with her in the first place. 

“He didn’t do the things I wanted,” she says, instead of spitting out the odd little lines running circles around the racetrack of her mind. “He didn’t sing, or look at me like he’d never seen another woman, or touch my hand when I laughed at his jokes. He didn’t—“ She’s struggling to find a way to say it, a way that doesn’t sound so blatant as— “He wasn’t you.”

Beca’s head jolts up from over the mug, her stirring hand twitching so hard, scalding liquid sweeps up over the edge and onto her skin. She gives a half-hearted grunt of pain, but doesn’t tear her eyes from Chloe’s.

“Chloe,” she warns, “don’t…don’t say something you don’t mean, okay?”

“I wouldn’t—I’m not.” Chloe blinks. Beca shakes her head wryly.

“No, I just mean. I’ve dealt with this for a long time. And it’s cool, okay? It was cool when we were in school, and I sort of—you were like a mama duck, right? How the baby ducks take one look at the mom and just imprint? I’d never thought about girls before you, but then you walked right into my shower, and you kind of, y’know—messed up my head a little. For a while, I wasn’t sure which way was up. But then you graduated, and I got some time to figure my life out, and I’ve always been grateful for that. For you. Because loving you—“ Her head shakes again. “But I knew I’d probably never see you again, and even when I did, I knew you didn’t—wouldn’t feel the same—so I didn’t worry about it. It’s cool.”

She’s rambling. Chloe pushes against the tabletop, lifting herself up and opening her mouth to cut in. Beca takes a halting step backward as if powered by sheer impulse.

“I mean it, Chloe, it’s good. What we have, how we are. You can’t force something, and I’ve squared away with that—a long time ago, actually, so whatever. It’s good. And just because one guy didn’t…do it for you doesn’t mean…”

Chloe’s got her hands on Beca’s wrists before she even fully realizes she’s crossed the room. She smiles, teary and blazing.

“It wasn’t the one guy. It was…seeing you on that bike, with that beat-up old jacket, flipping that driver off. It's the way you smile at me when you ask me to dance. And the way you make a pizza, and the way you look in my sweatshirt, and the way you still hum ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ when you get lost in your head.”

She wishes Beca would stop shaking her head that way. It’s making her dizzy.

“You’re not gay,” Beca points out, pigheaded as ever. Chloe laughs, gasping around the choked sob caught in her throat.

“Neither were you,” she replies, with as much logic as she can muster. Beca licks her lips.

“Please,” she whispers, looking more vulnerable than Chloe’s seen her since college. “Don’t say it if you don’t mean it. It’s hard. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t, because it’s really, really hard. And if you say it, and it turns out you don’t mean it, it’s only gonna get harde—“

When Roger kissed her, it felt scripted; the lines were on the page, the cues set neatly as dominos, and all they had to do was follow along. When Beca kisses her—her mouth responding fluidly to Chloe’s lead—it feels fiercely unstable, like the world is slipping beneath their feet. The counter behind Beca’s back, the one Chloe is resting her palms upon, seems to skid this way and that; she grips instead at the back of Beca’s neck, the unruly mess of hair around her shoulders, the wrinkles in her t-shirt. That seems to hold her better. That seems steady. The whole world is racing, but Beca is standing perfectly still.

“I do mean it,” she says, or thinks, against Beca’s parted lips. Her heart is ratcheting against her ribs, her hands shaking, her breath lodged somewhere around her kneecaps. She feels Beca’s mouth slide, slick and hopeful, across her own, tastes the sigh Beca releases, and recognizes how long Beca has been holding it all in. Not just this, but everything: the urge to grasp at Chloe’s hips the way she is now, and twirl Chloe against the counter, and pin her there with one sharp motion. She’s been wanting it all for over a decade, and never once did she push it. Never once did she claim ownership, or inevitability, or friendzone red card rage.

And because of all of that, Chloe thinks as her laughter bubbles up between them, dancing from the tip of her tongue and leaping to Beca’s, they’ve got something that maybe works even better than a rediscovered friendship. Because of all of that, maybe they’ve got something that can’t be recreated by anyone less.

For years, Chloe has known her relationship expectations to be wildly unrealistic. There seemed to be that pair of seats in her head--like the seats her grandparents occupy, or the ones her mom and dad built together--marked for a love like the ones in all the fairytales: a seat for herself, and one engraved with a name she couldn't seem to read, no matter how she squinted. These seats rested in her head, waiting for a person to come along and introduce themselves as The One. As if that ever happens. As if it's ever that easy. She was always waiting for someone like Roger, or like her ex-boyfriends before him, or like that one miserable attempt at dating some girl in hopes of classing up her life a little. She was always waiting for the inevitable to announce itself.

She was never ready for something like this. For someone like Beca, who should have been on her radar all this time. For someone she missed without realizing it until that mundane, unimportant Tuesday. It's so funny, how someone like that can be the one you've been waiting for all along--the one who should be sitting in that other seat.

Beca Mitchell has been in love with her for a very, very long time. And Chloe, thinking on it now, isn't as shocked as she should be to find herself feeling the exact same way.

New York is full of surprises.

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Sigh

This is perfect. You are perfect. All your fics for this movie are just freaking perfect. I adore the places you took these characters and how you wrote them coming back together and everything was just so beautifully, tenderly written.

God fucking damn this is fabulous. The "meeting again after x number of years" is a storyline that's always been pretty near and dear to my heart, and you just got everything about it down perfectly. Not that that's surprising because your work is always pretty consistently fabulous, but still delightful all the same.

So I guess, fantastic job, and thank you very much for giving me such a lovely diversion from the hellish ball of stress that is the end of a semester.

So you can't see it right now but I am holding my fist up in the air Breakfast Club style, looking like Jesse right now.

And duuuuuuude, congratulations. This is now my favorite Pitch Perfect fic of yours. It just hits all the right beats and has that perfect mix of nostalgia mixed in with regret and hope that characterizes this chapter of most people's lives. And I love all the things you kept from the prompt like Aubrey being Aubrey and the imprinting, and the theme of surprises and just everything.

I love it when you write the stories that live in my head and make them better. This is my faaaaaaaaavorite now, and I just want to draw sparkly hearts all over it.

i love this so much its perfect all your fics are perfect especially this fic im cryin

Awesome

(Anonymous)
This was brilliant. Simply briliant and I'm in love with it.

All of your fics for beca/chloe are so damn good. You pinpoint their character's personalities so well and you write so well and there's such good plot build up UGH your fics are fab.

this was perfect and brilliant just like all your other beca x chloe stories x3

WOW..... Wow.... And now I'm off to find your other fics for these two since people above me keep mentioning them. Seriously, though... brava!

(Deleted comment)
Just saw a rec for this on tumblr, so grateful I stumbled on it. This fic is fantastic, much more of a slow burn than a quick one. I could totally see Chloe becoming a teacher and Beca becoming a music producer. Very believable and very lovely.

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