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Beca picked her Living on Memories of You as her Dolly Parton song and spent the rest of the week getting the number ready to perform.

For the first time on the show - excluding the 80s episode, which was different - Beca felt the pressure of performing.

It wasn't that she was anxious; she was tired. Vocals were harder, lyrics were specific, and harmonies were back in a real way.

Not to mention the women were expected to really sell the performances, because they were only doing one each this week.

Beca barely had energy to go shopping with the group, so she couldn't do much prep work with the other singers. But thankfully Dolly was insanely helpful, working with each of them on lyrics and pitch.

And she was serious about each woman making the songs their own. With a little help from Carl, she even convinced Stacie to lower She Don't Love You (Like I Love You) a step and slow it way down, so it was more of a ballad. Dolly told the group that the busty brunette was hesitant but "from one bombshell to another - you can't do anything halfway!"

(Beca wasn't changing much of anything on her song as of the Tuesday before the show. She didn't want to make it her own. She wanted to sing one more week then get the hell out of there.)

Chloe sat in too, helping Beca and the others with their onstage movements, because it was hard to remember to engage with the crowd when they were so focused on singing the songs.

Even Katherine helped out, making pitcher after pitcher of a throat-coat tea so the competitors wouldn't wear out their voices.

To be honest, without Katherine, Chloe, Carl, Dolly, accompaniment, and the PAs working around the clock, the performers all agreed that they would have been screwed.

Dolly's dress rehearsal took all of Tuesday morning, and the women got to the theater around 12:30 to run through their numbers. Like usual, Beca ran rehearsals and warm-ups behind the scenes, making little vocal modifications.

But this time, Chloe was there with her the whole time.

"You're, like, really good at this," she said softly after Emily left, thanking Beca profusely and humming Do I Ever Cross Your Mind? to herself.

"At what?" Beca asked absently. She was scrolling through her phone for the sheet music she'd saved for Baby I'm Burnin'.

She could hear Fat Amy onstage giving the song her all, but there was this section right after the first chorus where the Australian kept coming in late. It messed up her pacing for the second verse every time.

Most singers would probably forget by the end of the song, but Beca knew they could fix it.

"At coaching people, and at helping them give their best performance," Chloe went on. "You could do it for a living."

"Uh, thanks," Beca replied, eyes still down on her phone. She glanced up as she set the phone on the piano, squinting at the phone as she put her hands on the keys.

She played a few ambling notes until she felt Chloe's hand at her elbow.

She blinked out of her concentration and turned to look at her girlfriend, who was next to her on the piano bench.

"You get so hyper-focused," the redhead laughed with a subtle shake of her head. "It's like you're obsessed with them getting it right."

Beca blushed and pulled her hands off the keys, burying one in her hair.

"Yeah, sorry-"

"Oh don't apologize!" Chloe grinned. "It's absolutely adorable. This is how you would want to produce, right? Working with artists to get the best out of them?"

Beca nodded, hiding her teeth behind a tight-lipped smile.

"Of course, I can fix a lot of that after, from a production standpoint," the brunette replied. "I can do some stuff with timing or balancing. I can even pitch shift if I really need to. But this?"

Beca gestured towards the piano and behind them, towards the stage.

"You only get one shot to get this right," she explained. "You know what it's like to perform live. If you can remember all the words, you had a good night. You're probably not counting rests, or thinking about the pitch of the note at the top of the next line. You're trying to remember when to breathe."

"Or trying not to cry," Chloe added.

Beca chuckled.

"Or trying not to cry," she agreed. "That other stuff comes from practice and from feedback. And the judges - well, almost exclusively Posen - they try to help us, and Carl does too, but it's just repetition. Repetition and reminders. And we all know how Posen feels about giving notes more than once."

Amy finished up, which meant Beca was due onstage. The brunette glanced behind them then flipped her legs over the piano bench, leaning back down to kiss her girlfriend on the cheek.

"You sound like you really enjoy doing this, too," Chloe grinned, and Beca could see the tiniest hint of mischief in the redhead's eye.

"I don't know what you're thinking, but I don't think I like it," Beca said hurriedly, glancing between Chloe and the stage. She turned and started towards the curtains, yelling over her shoulder as she went.

"No thoughts until I come back!" she warned.

Chloe shrugged, but she didn't reply as Beca stepped onstage.

Beca stood back as she watched Carl's crew move a piano upstage, slightly off to one side, and the spotlight up top swiveled around to hit it. Other instruments were shuffled to the back (because of course Amy was using a full band) as Carl directed them, calling across the stage to the roadies.

"We do have drums on the second verse through the end of the song, so please leave Set A on its mark, stage left," he shouted. As Beca walked up next to him, he sighed.

"She's still coming in late," he said. "I don't know if-"

"I already made the note," Beca cut him off. She pulled out her phone and started scrolling through it.

"I've got that, Stacie's starting verse where she's going sharp, and some CR scales," she read. She glanced up at Carl as she finished her list.

"Can we bring her down? She can take the lows lower, but if she's dead set on that ending for Jolene, I think she needs to bring the highs down."

Carl grimaced and nodded.

"Either that or change the run," he agreed. "I think she could do a lower run."

It was Beca's turn to grimace now.

"I already tried that, but Posen told her she played it too safe on the Respect vocals last week."

With a huff, Carl relented, but he didn't look happy about it.

"That blonde doesn't even try to make our lives easier, does she?"

Beca smirked as she shook her head. A PA came up to her and asked about the lights to clarify she wanted a single spot, and the ones around, and what color.

"What did I do last week?"

Both Carl and the PA shrugged as they glanced at each other.

"Reds, for both."

The threesome turned around to see Aubrey Posen standing behind them in the wings. She had her arms crossed over a smart blazer, and she was wearing a pair of high navy heels under straight white dress pants.

"And then Chloe turned it into pinks," she continued. "It was a little too cutesy for my taste."

"Posen! What are you doing here?"

Carl tried to smile, but it got lost under a cloud of stress. Beca whispered "blue" to the PA, and he looked incredibly grateful to get away as he scampered off the front of the stage.

"I had a few meetings, and I thought I'd see who was still working," she beamed unauthentically. "Beca? You haven't done your rehearsal yet?"

"She's the last one," Carl said quickly.

The blonde judge tutted.

"Slacking, again?" she asked Beca, then sighed. "It always seems like you're busy backstage."

"Or they're saving the best for last," Beca replied sarcastically as she walked backwards, crossing the stage. A crew member clipped a mic to the piano and tested it, giving Beca a thumb's up as she sat down.

A blue spotlight hit her, and Beca saw founts of blue and while light up around the edges of the stage.

"Testing, one, two," she said into the mic, and her voice got quieter as they adjusted it down for her speaking voice. She tested the keys and moved to sing a quick arpeggio for the volume check.

"You can lick my ass," she sang into the mic. She saw Posen roll her eyes with a scoff, and Carl covered a laugh with his hand. She hit a couple chords on the piano and moved the notes up the scale as Chloe walked to the edge of the stage with Posen.

"You can lick my ass!" she sang higher and louder.

"Woo!" Chloe cheered, and Posen shushed her.

"Mic check over, Mitchell!" Posen shouted. "Get on with it!"

Beca smirked and hit the jazzy notes at the start of Living on Memories of You.

My days are as dark as my nights,

and I see no sunshine in sight.

Your memory keeps blocking my view,

and I'm living on memories of you.

As she sang and played, Beca tried to sing out, to look away from Chloe. Her back would be to the judges, but not the majority of the audience, so she was supposed to sing to them.

But it was hard to look away, especially when she knew her time with the redhead was limited.

Even with her inspiration before her, Beca played through the song robotically. The melody itself was pretty basic.

Or, at least, it could be, if Beca sang it that way.

And while she certainly needed to focus on the pages in front of her from time to time, the piano part wasn't too hard.

She couldn't mess it up on purpose; that would be too obvious. She needed to be boring and mopey, and hopefully nobody would vote for her.

Then, she could get kicked off.

Her eyes drifted back to the edge of the stage where Posen, Carl, and Chloe were watching her, and she knew she had made a mistake. Posen and Carl looked pensive and disappointed, but Chloe had a different expression.

Disappointed, sure.

But also mad.

Uh oh, Beca thought as she started the last repeat of the chorus. She stumbled through the last run and let the chords resound.

"Huh," Carl called. "Uh, good on accompaniment. Beca, you want to run that again?"

"Not really," Beca mumbled into the mic.

It was still on, so everybody heard her.

And that, it turned out, was the wrong thing to say.

"You done rehearsing, hun?" Chloe screamed across the stage.

"Chloe, your nodes!" Posen cried, but Chloe paid no mind, as she was already charging across the stage.

"I said, do you need any more time rehearsing?" she said, quieter this time, but no less demanding.

And with no additional room for argument.

"Uh, no, no I'm good," Beca stuttered.

"Good. Meet me in the car?" she asked, but again, the tone didn't match the words. There was the inflection of a question, but Chloe's eyes blazed brilliantly blue, narrowing on Beca sharply, like she was really saying, "I dare you to say no."

Beca nodded, and Chloe took off towards the other side of the stage, where cars waited outside the stage door, and Beca stood.

"I have to get my things…" she said to Chloe's retreating form, but if the redhead heard it, she didn't acknowledge it. She just continued offstage and into the wings, disappearing into the dark.

Beca saw a flash of light as the stage door opened, but it quickly blinked out as the door slammed shut.

Well that's not good.

*****

"You're sandbagging the show!"

Beca slid into the backseat of the SUV, taking more time than usual to close the door and set her things down.

"I don't know what you're talking about," she said to the floor of the vehicle.

"Bullshit!" Chloe shot back.

At least she was keeping her voice down now and not screaming like she did inside. She'd been pretty conscientious of her condition since Saturday, but Beca knew what they said about redheads and passion.

And it seemed like Beca hit a nerve.

"You're trying to do bad," Chloe sighed. "You want to get kicked off."

"Okay, fine, I am," Beca admitted. "I want to produce, okay? And I can't do that if I'm stuck on this stupid TV show! And besides, when you leave, it won't- I don't-"

She stopped, voice cracking over the tough words. She took a stunted breath and tried to collect her thoughts.

"Nothing's keeping me here, when you leave," Beca sighed. "I can't take the meeting with Residual Heat, and you won't be here to make the whole thing bearable- it's just- ugh! This show is so lame!"

Chloe's only response was to take her hand into hers, and Beca looked up to see the redhead's eyes brimming with tears.

"You could win this show, baby," Chloe said softly. "You could win the whole thing."

"No, I couldn't. And I don't know if I would even want that," Beca replied. "I don't want to sing. I never did. I shouldn't have done this show in the first place."

Chloe shook her head and looked away. She pulled her hand away from Beca's as she got out her phone and started typing on it. Beca felt her phone vibrate in her pocket, and she got it out. Chloe had texted the group message.

"B's trying to bail on the show," it read. "Pit mtg ASAP. I'll order Chinese?"

The phone vibrated in Beca's hand as everyone called out their dinner orders, but no one responded to Chloe's first comment.

But Beca wasn't dumb enough to believe that she was off the hook.

Chloe was quiet the rest of the way home, which made Beca anxious. A quiet Chloe was almost always a time bomb, and while sometimes that could be a fun, sexy, thrilling time, Beca figured this was not one of those times.

So, she started to compile her reasons for leaving the show.

First and foremost, there was Chloe. In theory, Beca wanted to go back to Atlanta with her so she could figure out her next move.

Then, there was Residual Heat offer. That one was a little more concrete. It wasn't a full job offer yet, but Sammy had more or less told her that he wanted her to produce for him. He even compared her to Benny Blanco, which was a huge compliment in respect to the type of work he wanted from her.

If she signed with Hollywood Records, she'd still be in not-Atlanta and she'd have to sing and write songs for herself to sing, and she probably wouldn't get to produce at all.

Beca had done her homework. Hollywood Records had almost no good artists. They were owned by Disney, and it showed. The biggest "artists" that the recording studio had worked with were old Disney channel stars.

There were a couple of one-hit wonders, but the studio was basically a cash grab on the Queen rights.

Residual, on the other hand, was at the cutting edge. Big and small rappers, pop stars, even some semi-underground EDM guys that Beca didn't even realize had signed with a major label. From what she could see, Residual let the artists do whatever they wanted to. They'd sign guys for EPs and mixtapes, or a single, or a full album even if they only released it on streaming. They'd put on stadium tours or backyard bashes. They were all over the board, and from the looks and sounds of it, they needed a producer who could keep up.

And that was exactly what Beca wanted to be.

If she could still be with Chloe.

(When they'd talked about it, Chloe said she could finish vet school and move back out to California and take exams in this state. So maybe that would work.)

Beca had to think the rest of her castmates would get it. They'd take her seriously.

They'd have to.

But they probably wouldn't get it tonight, on Chloe's second to last night in the house, when tensions were already high (and rising) in respect to tomorrow's show.

Food got to the Idol house before Beca and Chloe did, but thankfully Stacie and CR were already back to receive it.

But unfortunately, that meant they were there to play defense for Chloe too. When Beca walked in and tried to go straight to her room, Stacie stepped between her and the hallway.

"Sorry, pipsqueak, we've gotta talk," she said. She handed Beca a beer and a shot.

"I don't really want to talk," Beca shot back. She shifted her laptop bag higher and tried to move past Stacie a second time.

The brunette deftly slid in front of the smaller woman again, motioning with the drinks in her hands.

"Okay, I'll rephrase," the taller woman sighed. "We have to talk. You have to listen."

Beca sighed, sliding her bag off her shoulder and setting it on the counter behind her. She grabbed the drinks from Stacie and drank them in the typical order.

"Fine," Beca said. "But I'm already going to have to share Chloe with you guys tomorrow. I want enough time with her tonight."

The pair glanced over to Chloe, who was sitting at the table with CR. Katherine had just walked in, and she joined them. The three wore serious expressions, and Chloe looked like she was going to cry again. Beca saw CR reluctantly nod as Katherine sighed.

So fucking dramatic, Beca thought. Maybe this is why I don't have girl friends.

Stacie nodded.

“Fine, we won’t take long. But not if you're going to be a little bitch about this," she warned, and in spite of the situation, Beca laughed.

"When have I ever been a little bitch?" Beca asked.

Stacie shot her a telling look and sighed obnoxiously.

"Where should I start, Mitchell?"

Beca snorted as she sorted through the takeout on the counter, finding hers and taking it to the couch.

"All right, if everybody's back, can we get this over with?" she yelled across the first floor.

Emily slinked around the other side of the couch, joining Beca as she sat down.

"Hey, I know we aren't, like, deciding anything or whatever, but I just want to say thank you again for helping me with my song. All my songs, really," the teenager started to say. "I don't know what I would've done. I probably would've been kicked off the show weeks ago."

Beca sighed around a bite of sweet and sour chicken.

"No, you wouldn't have, Em," she mumbled around the meat. She finished chewing and swallowed, then continued.

"You're crazy talented, dude, and your song would have been a hit no matter what," she said. "And as far as the show goes, you'd definitely still be on. Your range is amazing. You just need to see how awesome you are."

Emily laughed, a little incredulously.

"Really?" she asked. "You think so?"

"Yeah, dude," Beca asserted. "You're better than me."

"There. That's why you have to stay."

Beca looked up to see the rest of the competitors, plus Chloe and Katherine, had made their way to the pit. Chloe was standing by the TV with Stacie, who sat on the ottoman, and Katherine perched at the front corner near her daughter. Amy had sprawled out on the other leg of the couch, fully reclined with her takeout on her chest, and CR sat next to Beca.

Chloe was the one who had spoken.

"Becs, you're made for this," she continued.

"Hold up," CR cut in, and Beca turned to her. The shorter woman was shaking her head. "We said we would explain the whole thing."

Chloe took a deep breath and nodded.

"Stacie?"

Stacie shoveled down a forkful of rice and stood up, allowing Chloe to sprawl out on the ottoman instead. Stacie chased the carbs with her protein shake and flashed Beca a flirty smile.

"Hey, hot stuff," she hummed. "Remember when you saved my ass and also stood up to my girlfriend?"

"'Saved your ass'?" Beca mocked back.

"'Girlfriend'?" Chloe gasped excitedly.

Stacie paused, looking at Beca first, then Chloe.

"No, you're right, we never put a label on it," she said.

"And yes," the tall brunette went on, turning back to Beca. "Saved my ass."

She took another swig from her shaker bottle, then snapped it closed.

"That whole week - 80s week - I was completely lost," she said. "I didn't know what was going on with my- well, not girlfriend. My Aubrey. I didn't know what was going on with her, and I couldn't figure out what she wanted from me, and the group performance was a nightmare. And we made you go talk to her about not doing it."

"Yeah, I remember. It didn't work," Beca replied. "And she took away my solo."

Stacie nodded.

"I know you don't know this, but that's like, totally her thing. Denial, and then projection of that denial," Stacie explained with a far-away smile that morphed into a sexy smirk. "Usually the whole 'denial' thing works out very well for me."

The women made varying noises of disgust.

"Denial?" Emily asked, glancing around for someone to explain it. Amy sighed loudly.

"Yeah, no, you don't need to know, giraffe legs," the Australian said. "Maybe when you're older."

"Or never," Katherine added.

"Is it- is it a sex thing?"

"Yes," Chloe and Beca said.

"More about power, really," Amy replied, and Stacie nodded.

"They go together," CR agreed.

"You're telling me," Stacie lamented. "Especially with Bree."

"Dude!" Beca shouted. "That's so gross."

"Whatever, I know what you and Red get into," Stacie shot back, and Beca felt herself flush. Chloe leaned across the ottoman and patted Beca's leg.

"Not the good stuff," she said with a wink, and Beca flushed further as the others laughed.

"Okay!" Stacie said, pulled the group back into focus, only to pause before going on. "Wait, actually, I’m going to be circle back to that-"

"No, you are not!" Katherine jumped in.

"-later!" Stacie finished. "Later. I'm putting a pin in that."

She took a deep breath and went on.

"What I was saying is, you got to her, which is more than I can say about anybody else," she said. "Since the beginning, you've gotten to her. And do you remember what happened after that? How we actually made the group number work?"

Beca thought back. It wasn't easy to forget the way that the whole group sang her Just The Way You Are mix in the bathroom before the show.

"The mash-up?" Beca asked, and Stacie nodded. "So what?"

"Do you know what Posen told me, when I dragged a super wasted Chloe to her apartment that night?"

Beca tried to replay the night - the songs, she wore Chloe's earrings, Emily's song came on at the bar, drunk Chloe came onto her, and then the next day, when she was putting together a set for Luke.

She didn't see Chloe or Stacie until later, when they watched the episode, but she didn't realize they weren't at the house.

She thought Stacie told her that she took Chloe home, but that could have meant anything or anywhere.

Wow, was that only two weeks ago?

"She said your mash-up had brought our voices together in a way she had never seen before," Stacie said. "That your unifying us was enough to, like, save the show."

"Oh, wow. You convinced me." Beca deadpanned sarcastically. "Seriously? 'Save the show'? I'm supposed to believe that?"

"She said John was going to cut the season short and that advertisers were going to pull out," Stacie pushed. "She said production didn't want to pay for Dolly Parton, and that they just wanted to cut their losses and abandon the franchise."

Beca was going to retort again when she remembered the conversation she overheard between John Smith and Posen, that day at group practice.

Somebody said it wasn't feasible.

That Posen had until Wednesday to make it work.

"Okay, but that wasn't me," Beca said aloud. "We did that."

"Because of you, dummy," CR chimed in. "We literally did it because of you."

"Yeah," Amy sighed, twisting her head in her supine position. "As much as I hate to admit that maybe I'm not the center of attention, I think that was you that one time and no other times."

"I know it was," Stacie added. "You saved me that week by helping me pick out a song, but you helped all of us by getting us ready for the group number."

"You helped me with my song, too. And Amy," CR said.

Amy grunted an affirmative response towards the ceiling.

"And me," Emily added. "Well technically, I think you helped me first, but you never really stopped once you started so I'm just going to say yes."

"And that's a running theme," CR said. "You helped all of us, even after you and the ginger buried the hatchet."

"And you stood up to Bree," Stacie reiterated firmly. "She listened, whether you know it or not. We need you here. It gets really weird at the end of the seasons, and fans get mad - we need someone like you, here, to make Bree understand what the show needs. I mean, I want you to help us too, but- like, can't you wait to suck until, like, the episode before the finale? So you never go home?"

The women laughed, but Beca sighed.

"What about Residual Heat?" she asked. "I might be able to work with them."

"So do it after," Stacie shrugged. "I bet you could make it work later. It's okay, you're not going to win anyway."

"Excuse me!" Chloe said loudly - not yelling, just loud. "I've been good this whole time, but I won't let you slander my main squeeze!"

Laughter and mocking coos rang out over the room, allowing Beca a moment to think.

Did she have some bigger part in this? Was Chloe right, today, when she said that Beca was good at helping people and had she been doing that for weeks? Was she actually an asset to the show?

Was Stacie right, in saying that nobody else would stand up to Aubrey Posen?

Or, more surprisingly, was Emily right all along?

"Okay," she said as the laughter petered out. "I won't intentionally suck tomorrow. But I- I don't know if I want to stay, guys."

"I'll actually be nice and let you think on it," Stacie said. Beca rolled her eyes until the older brunette waggled a finger at her.

"Just, keep this in mind: every week that you stay here?" Stacie said, pausing dramatically. "That's another week that Aubrey Posen wants to pull her hair out."

The room exploded into laughter again - all except Chloe, who scowled at her friend.

"You care about her too, Stace!" Chloe pressed as Beca stood, pulling Chloe to her feet as well. The brunette was trying to pull her girlfriend back to her room, but Stacie wasn't going to let them get away without getting in the last word.

"I totally care!" Stacie shouted across the room. "But the sex is better when Beca's around!"

"You're sick, Conrad!" Beca called as she shoved Chloe into the hallway, laughing as she pulled the redhead into her room and closing the door behind them.

She immediately surrounded Chloe, pulling her into a full, tight hug.

"I'm sorry I was mad at you earlier," Chloe said quietly into her neck, and Beca pulled back to look her girlfriend in the eye.

"Hey," she said seriously, putting a hand on Chloe's cheek. "I love you. And thanks, I guess, for- uh. For caring."

Chloe's eyes brightened and softened around the edges as she gave a sweet, glowing smile.

"Any time, baby," she sighed, and Beca growled.

"What did I say about 'baby'?"

Chloe squealed as Beca forced her back across the bed.

"Uh uh," Beca smirked, putting a hand over Chloe's mouth as the other one traced down, sliding just below the redhead's waistband.

"Gotta stay quiet," she hummed.

She didn't stay quiet.

*****

The Wednesday night show was as fun as it could be, considering. Beca called off deejaying so she could focus on the performance, even though they all knew who was leaving already.

But she figured she owed it to Chloe after fucking around yesterday.

Plus, she wanted to spend one more night with her.

Amy opened the show with her Baby I'm Burnin' performance, and then Emily sang Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?

Dolly performed after the commercial, doing 9 to 5, Here You Come Again, and I Will Always Love You, which Beca didn't even realize was one of her songs - Beca only knew the Whitney Houston version - and Beca was blown away.

Stacie's ballad version of She Don't Love You (Like I Love You) was next, and when Dolly saw that Stacie was crying at the end, she lauded it.

"It cleanses the soul," she said, and Katy Perry next to her nodded fervently. "Water's good to wash it out. That's what tears are for, I think."

But then Jesse called CR up to sing Jolene, and Beca realized that production had put Beca and Chloe in the bottom two to drum up drama. It'd probably be great for ratings - the star-crossed, bickering lovers finally found their way together, only to be ripped apart by the voice of the American Idol voters.

Not that that was actually the case, but the viewers didn't know that yet.

Beca wasn't prepared, though, for the emotional toll that would weigh on her when Jesse announced that Chloe was leaving. She pulled her girlfriend into a hug, and the other women came back out too, all piling into a group hug for the second week in a row.

And it didn't go unnoticed.

"Wow, another group hug!" Jesse called as he crossed the stage. "I can tell that you ladies have gotten very close. There's a lot of emotions in this show, folks, and sometimes, it's not just tempers that flare up."

He coughed awkwardly and offered a hand towards the blob of women.

"Beca? Are you ready to sing?"

"Oh, right, I still have to do that," she said loudly, and the women laughed. She looked deep into Chloe's eyes and, in the middle of the group hug, kissed the redhead fully.

"Love you," she said softly, then she slipped out of the group.

The piano was already in place, and Beca walked over to it, adjusting the pages and mic to get ready to sing. She was about to start when Chloe sat on the bench next to her.

Instead of leaving the stage, the other competitors spread out around the piano to watch her play. They were all there around her, and Beca glanced between them with a giant grin on her face.

"Oh, this is gonna make Posen so mad," she said, but her microphone was already on, so the whole auditorium heard it. She turned beet red as the audience laughed.

Chloe giggled and settled her head on Beca's shoulder.

"Is this okay?" she asked quietly, and Beca nodded.

Beca started the song again, singing fully into the mic. The words were sad, and she was sad, but something about the situation that felt good rather than sad.

Somehow, the song didn't make her cry.

She almost understood the "don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened" feeling.

There's just no forgetting about you.

How long can I survive without you?

I just can't believe that we're through.

I'm living on memories of you.

She wasn't just singing about Chloe anymore. She was singing about all of them. She couldn't abandon them and leave the show. She had to stay.

She had to see this through.

Beca finished the song, and a few tears did escape then. She spun around on the bench to face the judges after she finished only to find Dolly Parton was crying too.

"You all are a very, very special group of women," the singer said. "It's been a pleasure workin' with you all week. Beca, that was a wonderful performance. Thank you for sharing."

Beca leaned back, pulling the mic from its clip-on stand and turning back around.

"Thank you for taking care of Chloe," she said into the mic, casting a sweet look towards her girlfriend next to her. "And thank you for taking care of us. It was an honor."

"Here, here!" Amy called from behind the piano, and the audience laughed.

"Chloe," Dolly said seriously. "This is not the end for you, darlin', and you know that. You've got a good one by your side, and you'll feel better. But this crew is gonna miss you."

Beca sniffed as Chloe leaned over to the mic.

"Yeah," she said. "I'm going to miss them too."

*****

Beca didn't go with Chloe to the airport. In fact, she told the redhead to leave as early as possible and to not even wake Beca up, if she could manage it.

Beca did wake up, though, and she failed to keep her wits about her as she said goodbye for the second time.

It wasn't like it was forever or anything, but Beca knew first-hand how slowly time moved on the show. Chloe would be back in four weeks for the finale, and hopefully she’d feel good enough to perform.

But Beca wasn't counting on anything.

Chloe said she'd be back regardless, but Beca was scared that something was going to happen.

Because it sure felt like something was going to happen.

And if she didn't see her for the finale, would she see her after? What if Beca won and had to stay in LA to write and record an album? What if Beca got kicked off, but she didn't have enough money to get back to Atlanta so then she just had to stick around until the finale anyway?

What if Chloe forgot about her?

The last one was pretty far fetched, considering the redhead was texting her up to the minute that the plane took off, but Beca still worried.

It was easy to worry, because Chloe wasn't there to quell her fears.

She worked on mixes all day, channeling her fear and anger and love into a multitude of angry, heavy beats. Depending on what she layered over them, some could work for a club, but most of them felt too dark for pop mash-ups.

Her friends let her mope all day Thursday, but by the time Friday came around, Beca saved them the trouble of dragging her out of her cave.

She knew she had to leave her room to find out the theme for next week.

But when she walked into the kitchen, dressed (grey jeans, red shirt) and ready (eyeliner on, hair tamed), she was surprised to see not one but all three judges along with the camera crews.

Aubrey Posen, Aubrey Plaza, and Katy Perry were all in the pit, chatting with Emily, Katherine, and CR.

"What's going on?" Beca asked Amy as she stepped behind the counter. Laughter rang out across the room as the Australian sighed into her smoothie.

"Right? I have no idea," Amy answered. "But I'm actually very scared."

"Ladies, can everyone please get seated?" Posen called across the room. Stacie pocketed her phone and sauntered over.

"Can you promise you're not going to kill us?" Amy called back, and Posen gave a harsh sigh.

"Nar-owww, we caah-n't!" Plaza mocked back in a bad Australian accent, and the other women giggled.

"That's a hate crime," the Australian shot back. "I've been hate-crimed, and I don't even know what for!”

Beca chuckled as she grabbed her coffee and started towards the pit, pulling on Amy's arm.

"C'mon, let's find out."

"Welcome, our final five ladies!" Posen started as Amy and Beca sat down. "You all made it halfway!"

There was a scattering of applause, but with the cut from Wednesday happening the way it did, no one was proud to beat out Chloe.

"The next two weeks are going to be a little different..." Posen explained, but Perry jumped up to join her before she said anything else.

"Judges’ picks!" she exclaimed, and then Plaza was up too, and all three judges were regarding them.

"We're going to pick your songs for you!" Perry went on.

"And you're going to sing them!" Plaza added somewhat mockingly, and the women laughed.

"And then we're going to pick who goes home," Posen finished ominously. She glared at Beca before continuing.

"You heard that right. Two weeks of grueling, one-on-one work with each of the judges here before you, and then we will decide who makes it to the final four. It's the only time during the run of the show where the judges pick, not America, so all of you are on the chopping block."

There was something about the way that she was so obviously threatening Beca that made the brunette see red. It blinded her, and she dug her nails into her forearm as she seethed.

Fuck Posen.

Fuck these mind games and manipulations.

From day one she'd been trying to throw Beca off and make her feel small and stupid and insignificant.

She'd said hurtful things to everyone here - and everyone who had left, too - all for the sake of the show.

And now she was just being spiteful for no reason.

Without Chloe here to keep Beca from going on the offensive, Beca was ready.

She was going to take Posen down.

But she'd start simple.

She raised her hand slowly, and Posen stopped talking.

"Uh, yes? Beca?" the blonde asked cautiously.

"Are you going to pick good music?" she smirked.

Posen blanched and started to stutter as the rest of the room laughed.

"Well, I can't speak for blondie over here," Plaza cut in, gesturing to Posen with a bent thumb. "But I only listen to cool music. So yes, we'll be picking good songs."

"New stuff?” Beca challenged, and the dark-haired celebrity nodded.

"Definitely new stuff,” she affirmed, and Posen quickly regained her ability to speak cogently.

"Within reason," she said, glaring sideways at Aubrey Plaza. "I don't think we need to do anything from the last couple years."

"But we're definitely opening up the options to male singers," Katy Perry assured the group and Beca felt her eyebrows shoot into her hairline.

Posen obviously felt the same way, as that tight smile she always wore got a little more strained.

"I said we would entertain the idea, if the song was good and we couldn't think of anything else," the blonde gritted. "It's not an invitation so much as a final resort."

"So no new music, and no male singers," Beca reiterated. "So just like every other week."

Posen scoffed at the women around her as they all looked at her for confirmation. She glanced towards the cameras in the corners and sighed.

"I didn't think it would be much different, no," she said. "In fact, I already have a few of the songs picked out for most of you."

"Without even asking us?" Perry pushed.

"Do you even want us here?" Plaza added.

"You know what?" Posen said quickly. "Why don't we take a few minutes, and I'll call Carl, and we'll go ahead and get started on songs this afternoon. How does that sound?"

Posen seemed to take the lack of acknowledgement as acceptance, and she sighed a forceful, happy sigh as she exited the pit, stepping out of the front door as she pulled out her phone.

The group started to relax, including the camera crews, but Katy Perry snapped them all to attention.

"Wait - keep the cameras rolling," she said quickly. "I think I have an idea."