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You're gonna miss me by my walk

You're gonna miss me by my talk, oh,

You're gonna miss me when I'm gone.

The cup landed with a resounding thwack, and Beca finally chanced a look up. From her spot on the floor, all three judges were peering over the table at her, literally looking down their noses at her. Looking down on her.

Breathe, Beca. Anything for LA, remember?

"That was awesome!" the chipper host shouted from the corner. Jesse, that was his name. He fist-pumped the air, and Beca rolled her eyes. The producers made her do her dumb cup song thing for the real judges after she'd showed them in her first call-back, something about "wow-factor" and "marketability." Now she felt stupid sitting on the floor in front of the celebrity judges: Katy Perry, Aubrey Plaza, and a third woman that Beca didn't recognize.

"It sure was something," Aubrey deadpanned sarcastically, and Beca felt her cheeks heat up.

"Plaza, shut up," Katy shot back. She looked at Beca. "I loved that. So much. You have a great voice."

"Thanks," Beca replied, only now realizing that she was still sitting on the floor. She awkwardly rolled out from underneath herself and stood, brushing nonexistent dirt from her skinny jeans and straightening her flannel.

The last judge - a severe-looking blonde - regarded her coldly.

Well, at least Beca knew who the resident Simon-Cowell type was. Beca huffed and crossed her arms, meeting the blonde's glare.

This was so stupid. American Idol, really? Had she really sunk so low that a crappy reality TV show was the only way to get out to LA? Beca had sent out demo after demo to radio stations, producers, even some random Soundcloud rapper who had a decent following, but nobody would bite. She tried putting her original songs online, but the only views came from her looping the video.

It was pathetic.

And she knew her voice was good– pretty darn good, if she was being honest. Not that she wanted to use it; she just wanted to make music. But she needed to get her foot in the door. And a recording contract could do that, right? Or maybe she would get kicked off the reality show early, get discovered by a producer.

Either way, she had to do something.

Which got her here, on round three of American Idol auditions, praying for the embarrassment to end. The host Jesse seemed to be the only one who read her awkwardness. He cleared his throat and leaned forward.

"Posen?"

Posen, whoever she was, celebrity-wise, let out a disappointed hum. Her harsh ponytail was accentuated by ramrod posture that Beca subconsciously mimicked as the blonde regarded her. The judge sucked in a short breath and plastered on a fake smile.

"I'm not sure we want anybody that needs a cute little gimmick, do we?"

Beca's face was on fire now, temper flaring.

"I know I'm talented enough for this garbage show," she barked. Jesse squeaked in his corner, throwing an anxious look to the cameras behind the judges. Two of the producers were there, but they only nodded and motioned to keep it going.

"Aca-scuse me? 'Garbage show?" Posen shot back. "We are one of the highest grossing TV shows of all time, you bitch."

"Ohhhh kay," Katy jumped in suddenly. "Well I'm voting yes."

"No," Posen said to Katy, then turned to Beca. She was wearing that same saccharine smile that didn't quite reach the eyes. "No offense, but I'm not sure you'd fit in on the show."

"Yeah, screw you too," Beca mumbled. It was up to Aubrey Plaza then, and the dark haired celebrity knew it. She grinned devilishly.

"Now I don't want to stir the pot or anything," she said slowly. She schooled her smirk into a doe-eyed gaze, setting it on the Posen woman. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but she's a good singer, right?"

Posen began to protest, but Katy was louder.

"Absolutely!"

"And this is a singing show, right?" Aubrey went on. She caught Beca's eye and gave an exaggerated wink, earning a laugh from the small woman. Posen glared at Beca, and Beca bit her lip.

"It is," the blonde seethed. Beca bit down hard – hard enough to draw blood. She couldn't laugh at this woman. Not right now.

"Well then I'm in," Aubrey Plaza concluded. Posen gasped, turning to the cameras and the producers behind them, but before she could finish her protest, Katy Perry had leapt from behind the table.

"You're going to Hollywood!"

Beca pushed past Jesse, and past the cameras, bursting into the hallway.

"Wait!" he called after her. Beca gritted her teeth as she spun around to face him.

"Aren't you excited?"

She took him in – tall, dark hair, shiny teeth that sat in an honest smile. Kind eyes. He held his mic at an off angle, like he forgot that he was holding it, and the cameras had to swing ten feet around him to get both him and Beca in the shot. But he didn't look like he cared about the shot, the mic, or anything at all really. And the way he was looking at Beca made her think that he really wanted to know how she was feeling.

This business would eat him up, if it hadn't already.

"I guess I'm excited," she mumbled. Jesse stepped forward. Seemingly reluctant, he handed her the mic and gestured to the cameras.

"Tell me," he pushed, and Beca sighed as she took the mic from him.

"I love music," she said. "I love writing and playing music. I like singing. But when people like that act like they're better than everyone else, I get pis- uh. Ticked. I get ticked off."

Jesse nodded. The cameras were on them now, but Jesse never let his attention slide from Beca.

"Aubrey Posen," he supplied. "She's a new judge, but she's been involved with the show for years."

"Okay, and?" Beca replied. Jesse went to respond, but before he could, the producers barreled out of the audition room.

"Amazing, just amazing!" the woman said. She thrust her hand towards Beca, who shook it cautiously.

"I'm Gail Abernathy-McKadden, pleasure to meet you."

"Uh, likewise," Beca replied. Scanning for Jesse, she found him pulling the camera crew off to the side. Her only ally, out of reach. The male producer clapped his hand on her shoulder.

"And I'm John Smith," he bellowed, then laughed. "And you, little miss, you are going to be one fire-cracker of a contestant!"

Beca bobbed her head forcibly and swallowed.

"Uh-huh."

"Ah, what a sight to see Aubrey Posen challenged, and by someone so very small and unimportant!" Gail went on. "You're just what we needed!"

"Especially for an all-women season," John said. "Talk about a snooze-fest!"

"All women?"

Beca glanced around and saw that, yes, in fact, everyone in line waiting to go in was more-or-less female. She saw a few that might make the producers do a double take, including a short black woman with bright red hair, but otherwise there was an unmistakable scent of perfume and estrogen wafting around.

Great, leave it to her to not read up on something before joining. Beca was suddenly nervous. She'd known she was gay for a while now, but that didn't necessarily mean she was comfortable around so many TV-ready women.

"John, your misogyny knows no limits," Gail replied. "Becky, we'll touch base in a few weeks."

"It's actually Beca-"

But they were gone, already halfway down the hall, voices and laughter booming even in the midst of all the singing going on around them. Beca was about to walk that way herself when Jesse reappeared.

"I'll need that mic back," he said. Duh, of course he did. Embarrassed, Beca handed it over and did a little wave, signaling her leave.

"We, uh- we probably won't use all of that."

Beca raised her eyebrows but didn't reply.

"Yeah, I just… I guess I just wanted to know," he sighed. "You looked so miserable in there, and everyone's usually so happy when they make it. I wondered why you were even here."

"Yeah, you and me both." Beca shrugged, then gave a sigh of her own. "I knew I could do it. And it seemed like my only way out."

That seemed to resonate, and Jesse nodded again. He opened his mouth once, shut it, and then opened it again. Beca saw that he couldn't hold back the smile that was fighting its way onto his face.

"It is pretty cool though, isn't it?"

And as she stood across from him, with hundreds of women surrounding them, singing their hearts out to get ready, the reality of the whole situation hit her. She was going to LA. She was going to work in music. She was just like them, even if it was for different reasons.

She felt herself smiling back at Jesse.

"Yeah, it'll be pretty cool to go to Hollywood," she said.

"You're going to Hollywood?!"

Jesse and Beca were interrupted by a voice behind them, and when Beca found the source, her breath caught in her throat.

A staggeringly beautiful redhead with the purest cerulean eyes was positively beaming at her. The excitement on her face was innocent and great, and she heard Jesse give a little laugh to her right.

"If she can sing at all, she'll be on the show," he said under his breath. "She's gorgeous."

"No kidding," Beca replied. "Let's hope she can carry a tune."

Jesse snorted, and Beca smiled.

"That's so cool!" the redhead gushed. "We haven't seen anyone make it all day, congratulations!"

She rushed forward from her spot in line and pulled Beca into a tight hug. Over the redhead's shoulder, Beca saw Jesse's perplexed expression. He mouthed, "Do you know her?" to which Beca only shook her head. She guessed she had a similarly confused expression on her own face.

Cameras were back, suddenly, and Jesse seemed to remember himself.

"Yep, we got one through. Beca is going to Hollywood! And you are?"

"Oh, I'm nobody. Nobody at all. Well, Chloe," she replied, wrapping an arm around Beca to keep her close but reaching for Jesse.

"And how do you know Beca?" Jesse smiled charmingly. Beca felt her eyes rolling.

"Oh I don't," Chloe said. She pulled her head away to regard Beca a little more closely.

If the redhead was stunning at a distance, she was intoxicating up close. Her eyes were deep pools of bright light, and Beca wanted nothing more than to count every freckle that dotted the woman's complexion.

Not that she was into that cheesy stuff or anything.

"I just get excited!" Chloe went on, turning back to Jesse and then the cameras. "And Beca deserves to be excited! I hope I make it too, so we can make our dreams into a reality together!"

"Uh-huh," Beca offered, trying not to laugh. She attempted to extract herself from the one-armed hug she found herself still stuck in, but Chloe only grabbed her tighter.

"Two girls coming from Atlanta, Georgia!" Chloe whooped at the camera, and even Jesse couldn't keep his composure. Chloe was a natural in front of the cameras. Laughing, Jesse chimed in too.

"Watch out Hollywood! Beca is coming for ya! And hopefully Chloe too!"

Beca gave a tight grin, still not entirely comfortable with the idea of being on the show at all, much less all the feelings that seemed to go along with it. But Chloe pulled back and met her eye again, and Beca felt her forced smile fall into a real one.

What had she gotten into.

Chapter Text

None of the episodes were out yet when Beca hopped off the plane at LAX for Hollywood week. Not that she would have watched them anyway. She had no interest in watching herself be humiliated in front of the judges. She wasn't even sure if they'd put her audition on air.

A few hours after she left, though, she had felt a little curious about whether or not Chloe made it. Fortunately (or unfortunately,) that curiosity didn't even last the entire day, as Chloe added her on Instagram that evening.

How she found her, Beca decided she didn't need to know.

The redhead's latest post had captured her whole audition day, down to what she'd eaten for breakfast ("cinnamon sugar oatmeal with honey, good for the throat!")

Beca laughed. It seemed her first impression - that the bubbly woman was an open book - was a correct one.

Beca scrolled through the pictures and was surprised to find that one of them featured her. It looked like it came from the TV cameras, when they were talking to Jesse after Beca's audition. They were smiling at each other, and Chloe's arms were wrapped around her waist. She scrolled back down to the ridiculously long caption and scanned for her name.

… I also met someone new at the auditions, Beca! I stole the picture of us from the @AmericanIdolCasting story. I think we make a cute couple, don't you? *winky kissy face*

Beca frowned as she remembered the post from weeks ago. She shouldered her laptop bag as she made her way through the terminal. What did that mean? Couple?

Was Chloe gay too?

Beca had stalked her Instagram page after that, but she didn't find anything that would lend itself to one argument over another. Whatever, it's not like Beca was going to hook up with anybody at this thing anyway. Chloe was probably just making a good post so she could get some fans for when she was on the show. Beca would bet that she wouldn't even talk to the redhead again.

Beca didn't plan on talking to anyone at all, really. Without sounding cliche, she wasn't going on the show to make friends. She was there to get her music out there and hopefully get a job. That was it.

She got on the shuttle to the hotel where the show was putting everyone up. After checking in, she went back down to the packed lobby. She barely had time to register that all of the beautiful women waiting were probably there for the show before every last one of them was shoveled onto buses.

Thirty women, on a bus, all strangers, and all singing Party in the USA. Beca rolled her eyes and put on her headphones. She regretted everything in her life that led her to this moment. She didn't know if she could take another day of this, and a week might kill her.

And what if it was six months?

If this bus ride was any indication, six months would be a fate worse than death.

The incessant runs and harmonies from her busmates promised to worm their way into Beca's headphones for the entire forty minute ride. She scrolled through her phone as they drove, seeing a notification pop up on her Instagram account.

Frowning, she opened the app to find a new message. Her brow knit further as she realized it was from Chloe.

Hey cute butt! Row 8, center section. We saved you a seat! Xoxo

As she read, a photo came through of Chloe and a pretty brunette, both making duck lip faces. She grinned as she realized the host Jesse was standing in the row behind them, making the same face.

No, she thought suddenly. Unnecessary complications. Hurt people hurt people, right?

Beca sighed. Her mind was buzzing, and it didn't help that two or three of the women in her bus had incredibly high vocal ranges. And why did some of them have guitars? Beca was so beyond frustrated and confused that she didn't even register that the bus was pulling up to their destination.

They joined a line parked outside a huge four-story theater, its sparkling marquee announcing "American Idol: Hollywood Week." A number of women were taking selfies in front of the sign, while others seemed to be signing autographs.

Beca wouldn't be joining either of those groups, and she wouldn't be joining Chloe either, she decided.

She signed in at a makeshift desk and sat deep in the corner of the auditorium, under the shadow of the balcony. In a burgundy tank top, which black skinny jeans and a dark flannel tied around her waist, Beca was sure no one would see her back here. She slipped her headphones back on. Whatever was going on, she'd force herself through it, but that was it. This show didn't need to be a thing. She didn't have to let the other contestants get to her. And the same went for the judges.

Especially that Posen woman.

What was her problem anyway? It wasn't like Beca was some talentless hack. So she used a party trick in her audition, wasn't the whole point to be memorable?

Maybe Posen was mean to everyone. Beca realized that she never actually looked up why the woman was a host in the first place, but maybe that had something to do with it. She pulled out her phone to do a bit of googling but was interrupted.

Beca jumped when a blonde woman with a round figure plopped into the seat next to her. Beca looked around, seeing that there were a number of open seats closer to the stage. In fact, even in her immediate proximity, there were full rows without anyone sitting in them. She glanced at the woman next to her and saw that the blonde was trying to communicate with her.

"Sorry?" Beca replied, pulling off her headphones. The woman only snorted.

"I was commenting on the fact that you're sitting alone in a dark corner. Very brooding. Mysterious."

"Uh, sure," Beca replied. Begrudgingly, she settled her headphones on her shoulder.

"Is that your shtick?" the woman went on. Her Australian accent was thickly layered on every word. Her full cheeks and brow were pulled into something between discernment and apathy, like she couldn't decide whether she cared or not.

"Seems like it."

"Yeah, I thought about doing that, then I thought, 'Mmm, better not,'" the stranger said. "You can't really keep Fat Amy hidden in the shadows."

Beca couldn't help the shock that crossed her face.

"'Fat Amy'?"

"Yeah, I call myself that so twig bitches like you don't say it behind my backs," Amy offered with a careless hand. Beca nodded and went to put her headphones back on.

"Soooo what song are you gonna sing today?"

Beca blanched.

"Today?"

She hadn't prepared any songs for today. She thought they were coming to the auditorium to meet the judges again or get a schedule or something. But singing? Here? Now? In front of all these talented women? Beca started to sweat, realizing that that was probably why some women had the guitars and keyboards. To perform. In front of the judges.

Beca quickly opened her most recent playlist on Spotify, scrolling through the old school R&B she'd been listening to for her newest mix.

"Yeah, I think I'm gonna do some Britney if they call me up," Amy continued. "I thought about bringing my boombox, but my natural talent is more apparent a cappella."

"Aca what now?"

"Ladies! If we could settle!"

Aubrey Posen was center stage alone. She wore a trim pink dress with what looked like a bow at the neck, and she had perfect blonde curls framing her face. The judge was speaking into the microphone, but Beca wasn't sure she needed it, considering how loud she yelled.

Posen put a hand up so she could see into the crowd, shading her eyes from the stage lights.

"I'm going to need everyone in the back to come down to fill in the front rows! That's right, everyone up, first 16 rows only! Did you ladies even read my emails?"

"Well, that's us," Amy said, and Beca felt the color returning to her face rapidly. She was trying to keep attention off herself, and now she was going to have to get up and walk down the aisles with everyone watching. As Amy stood up, Beca saw that the Australian had on a shirt that said, "Ask Me About My Jingle Balls," despite the fact that it was October. Beca groaned at the spectacle they were about to be.

And as luck would have it, it seemed only Amy and Beca chose to sit so far away. The women stepped out of the balcony's breadth, only to hear Jesse shout from above.

"Beca! BE-CAW!"

If everyone wasn't looking at Beca and Amy before, they certainly were now. Jesse was standing at the balcony railing, waving frantically. Beca scrubbed a hand over her face before giving him a small wave.

"Already got a fan, eh? Oi! Boy toy! I'm Fat Amy, charmed I'm sure!" she shouted up to Jesse, and the women in the audience joined Jesse in a smattering of laughter.

"Oh, I remember!" he replied. He shook his head and stepped back off the edge of the balcony as the two women made their way to appropriate seats.

As she sat, Beca looked where she'd been avoiding and found Chloe instantly. The redhead was fully turned around and watching her. She smiled broadly and gave Beca a big wave, then pointed to her while talking to the woman next to her. Beca gave an awkward nod of acknowledgment before resuming her attention on Posen onstage.

Posen was less than enthused with the theatrics that had played out, jaw clenched, eyes slightly bugged.

"Right, now that everyone has joined us, I can officially say welcome!"

The theater burst into applause. Hoots, hollers, and whistles filled the huge space. There couldn't have been more than 150 women there, but by the sound of it, there could've been double that. Beca was only a little surprised. Singers were always the loudest of the bunch.

"Now as you know from the emails, we're going to start today with a few select solos from our most memorable auditions. We hope that you've prepared something spectacular for us. After solos, we'll return to the hotel for the night. Breakfast tomorrow, and then we'll start lines of ten at 9 AM sharp. I also recommend taking the complimentary yoga class at 6:30; it really helps open up the diaphragm."

Lines of ten? Yoga? Breakfast? True, Beca had only skimmed the emails (the show had sent like thirty of them,) but she had no idea what was going on. This was a week of singing, right? And they'd edit it down and then start the show after that?

Onstage, Aubrey went on.

"I want to reiterate that you could get cut from the show today, right now. Cameras are rolling. We can cut you right after your solo. This is the moment, and for some of you, it may be your only one. It's up to you to stand out."

Well, that catapulted Beca's thoughts into overdrive. Great. She probably wouldn't even be on the show at all.

Jesse came down to do an official intro, but Beca didn't pay attention to any of it. She was too busy trying to find a song to perform, should she have to. Why had the show sent so many dang emails? And why hadn't she read them? She didn't care about the show, but she didn't want to embarrass herself either. And if nobody saw her at all, then all of this was for nothing. She'd bought the plane ticket herself, and she could barely afford the trip back.

It was all riding on this.

The judges came out to another wave of thunderous applause. Aubrey Plaza flicked everyone off, earning a laugh from everyone, while Katy Perry just waved. They got seated and reviewed their notes before Jesse spoke again.

"First up, from our Atlanta audition, Chloe Beale!"

Beca watched as Chloe got up from her seat, grabbing a guitar. Chloe moved so confidently, so perfectly, getting onstage and lining up the mic. Her blue plaid dress brought out her eyes so much that Beca could see them all the way in the back. The brunette found herself envious of Chloe's innate stage presence as the redhead fiddled with the stand, moving the mic down, and plugged in her guitar.

"Oh my gosh, you all look so amazing," Chloe gushed, and the crowd ate it up. She gave a test strum on the guitar and smiled.

"Great! So I'm just going to do a little snippet of a song," she began, strumming absentmindedly. She adjusted a wire nut and smiled. "Is everybody ready?"

The crowd cheered. The judges checked with the producers, then told Chloe to go.

Just like a white-winged dove

sings a song, sounds like she's singing,

"Ooh, baby, ooh, ooh."

The first lines, sung without guitar, hung in perfect cadence. Chloe's voice was fantastic. She'd pitched it up a little, but the song was irrevocably flawless. The crowd practically combusted, either from their own nerves or awe in Chloe's opening lines. She started strumming clipped chords as she repeated the first lines, the audience starting to clap in time. She smiled as she kept singing.

And the days go by, like a strand in the wind,

in the web that is my own, I begin again.

Said to my friend, "Baby.

Nothing else mattered."

Beca could've been imagining it, but it looked like Chloe was looking back to where Beca was sitting. There was no way the redhead could see her through the stage lights, but Beca felt like she could. Chloe grinned through her next lines in a way that seemed impossibly charming.

He was no more than a baby then.

Well he seemed broken-hearted,

something within him.

But the moment that I first laid

eyes on him, all alone

on the edge of seventeen.

She finished with the chorus again, dropping the guitar to lay in its strap against her side as she clapped with the crowd. Chloe's enthusiasm was infectious, and Beca joined the applause as Chloe strummed a final chord. She giggled, actually giggled into the mic, and turned to the judges.

"Do I go back to my seat, or…?"

They motioned her off, and she made her way through the aisles back to her seat, but not before waving and winking at Beca.

"Dang, shortstack, you've got a ton of admirers," Amy said as she elbowed Beca in the side.

Beca harrumphed.

"Don't call me that," she replied, slinking back into her chair and hiding behind her phone again. She was still scrolling through Spotify, desperately trying to find a song that she knew all the words to.

She just hoped to whatever singing gods there were that they didn't call her name.

*****

Almost twenty or so other performers got called up, with no feedback at all, but no one had gotten cut either. One of the performers was the sweetest young woman from Ohio- only sixteen, but she had the voice of a full grown woman. In fact, everyone that got up on the stage was incredibly talented, and Beca was starting to feel the pressure.

Even Fat Amy was good when she sang a stirring rendition of Britney Spears' Toxic.

After telling everyone about a nunchuck fight that sounded fake.

Just when Beca thought she'd made it clear scot-free, she heard Jesse call from the wings of the stage.

"And last up today, from the Atlanta audition, Beca Mitchell!"

Taking a deep breath, she pushed herself up and out of her seat. Amy slapped her butt as she stepped past her into the aisle, causing Beca to hop forward, and the rest of the crowd laughed. At a snail's pace, she made her way to the stage, and Jesse popped out from the curtain as she walked up.

"Good luck!" he mouthed, then stepped back with the cameras again. Beca ambled towards center stage, blinking in the bright lights. It was hot under the stage lights. Beca was glad she'd already tied her flannel around her waist, but her ripped jeans didn't have quite enough holes in them to cool her down. She cleared her throat, not realizing how close she was to the mic, and the sound echoed with feedback through the speakers. Beca winced.

(How did Chloe look so comfortable up here?)

"Hi, uh, I didn't bring a keyboard or anything. So I'll just sing."

"Wait!"

Posen interrupted her, standing up behind the judges’ table. It looked like the judge was handing her something. Beca couldn't really see around the lights at the edge of the stage, so she stepped out from behind the mic, walking to the front.

The blonde woman smirked, and so did Plaza behind her. Posen was handing her an empty plastic cup.

"Do you need this?"

Immediately Beca blushed. Katy Perry laughed loudly.

"Oh, you guys! You'll love this! At Beca's audition, she did this little cup routine and it was the cutest thing. Show us!"

"No!" Beca barked.

She wasn't an idiot.

Posen was trying to embarrass her.

The judge obviously thought that Beca was a one trick pony.

"No," she said again, calmer, as she looked at all three judges individually. Her eyes settled on Posen last, and the judge quirked an eyebrow up at her. Beca stepped back behind the mic and closed her eyes tightly. She gave a quick, "1, 2, 3, 4" under her breath, then started to rap.

It's going down, fade to Blackstreet.

The homies got Abby Collab Creations,

Bump like acne - no doubt

I put it down, never slouch.

As long as my credit could vouch

a dog couldn't catch me, say it out.

The crowd was silent, but Beca couldn't stop now. She took a quick breath and kept rapping.

Tell me who could stop with Dre makin' moves?

Attracting honeys like a magnet.

Giving them ear-gasms with my mellow accent.

Beca heard someone in the crowd whistle at that, and she almost broke as the crowd laughed, but she kept her composure. She was almost there. She'd show Posen.

Still moving his flavor with the homies Blackstreet & Teddy:

the original rump shakers.

Shorty, get down, good lord.

Baby got 'em open all over town.

Someone cheered, and there were a couple people clapping, but what Beca could hear the loudest was that someone was singing the melody for the background. Someone distinctly in the direction of where Chloe was sitting, if Beca wanted to think about it.

Which she didn't.

But soon another voice was joining that one, layering in harmony, adding to it, and Beca opened her eyes.

Strictly biz, she don't play around,

cover much grounds,

got game by the pound.

A clear "a-woop!" resounded, and Beca did smile then. The melody continued to build around her. Beca felt her own hand raising out of its own volition.

Getting paid is a forte,

each and every day,

True player way.

After the "a-woop" this time, Beca closed her fist with a flair, and the background singing stopped. She didn't even realize that's what she wanted until it happened. A clear voice (again, from a very specific direction that Beca didn't want to think about) hit the background vocals that Beca had heard a hundred times, but never with that perfect of a voice.

I can't get her out of my mind.

(Wow)

I think about the girl all the time.

(Wow, wow)

Beca was in it now, taking the vocals to heights the Blackstreet version didn't even attempt. Her runs weren't flawless, but they were good, and everybody was feeling it.

The crowd kept singing, following her lead and letting her have fun with the vocals. By the time she got to the chorus, most of the crowd, Katy Perry, and Aubrey Plaza were all on their feet singing.

Beca was grinning from ear to ear. She'd never experienced something like this.

It was so... fun.

She felt like she could do anything with the kind of support that the crowd was giving her.

It was freeing.

The only one not enjoying herself was Posen. She looked like she'd been sucking on a lemon.

Beca put her hand up again at the end of the chorus, ready to cut the performance short. She cut everyone off with a quick "We out!" as the room exploded in cheers.

"I mean, you're welcome," Beca said into the microphone. The crowd laughed, with Katy Perry as the loudest of all of them.

"That was hands down the coolest thing I've ever seen in my whole life!" she cheered.

"That was weird!" Aubrey Plaza chimed in. "Good weird, but wow, women, huh?"

Beca laughed, hearing her own laugh echo through the auditorium's speakers. She winced again and stepped forward, away from the mic, still riding the high from the performance. It was only then that she realized how quiet everything had gotten, and so suddenly. The judges had moved away from their mics and were talking to each other in hushed tones.

And maybe everybody could hear it through the speaker system, or maybe it was just the way that the table was set up and pointed at the stage, but Beca felt like she could hear every word.

"She rapped!"

"She sang too, and everybody loved it."

"There's no way Gail and John will let us cut her, you know that. The conflict is good for ratings."

Beca cleared her throat.

"Hey, can I leave?" she asked quietly. Her mood darkened quickly.

She really didn't want to hear any more.

They were using her for ratings, probably just because she made Aubrey Posen mad all the time. Of course she wasn't good enough to be there on merit alone. She was just a pawn.

If Beca was only on the show to be a thorn in Posen's side, then she didn't want to be there.

This was supposed to be about music.

Posen hummed, then called all of the day's soloists onto the stage. The twenty-something number of them clambered onto the stage. Beca tried to sulk towards the back, but she was hoisted forward by none other than Chloe Beale.

"That was amazing," Chloe breathed into her ear as she ensnared her in a hug. Beca instantly felt her spirits lift back up.

And she felt her core tighten with heat.

Wow, just a quick glance of Chloe was enough to knock the smaller woman off her feet. Beca felt a crazy and unbelievable urge that she had actually missed the redhead's presence in the last few weeks. She didn't even know Chloe, how did she miss this? Miss her?

And why did Chloe's contact shoot through Beca like a flaming arrow, straight down to her core?

Add arousal to her list of worries, then, if Chloe was going to keep doing this.

Beca shook herself out of her hazy heightened state.

"You were the one singing with me, weren't you? You started it?"

Chloe blushed, smiling softly. Darn it, the woman was adorable too.

"Guilty," Chloe replied quietly so no one would hear. "I couldn't help myself. You looked so hot up here. And No Diggity is one of my jams. My lady jams."

"Gross," Beca whispered back. But she was smiling in spite of herself. Wait did Chloe say "hot?"

"Hey why didn't you come sit with us?"

Chloe had pulled her body away from Beca's, trying to look her in the eye. Caught off-guard, Beca stuttered. Then, for the first time since this whole thing had started, Beca was happy that Posen started speaking.

Beca - and after a second Chloe too - turned attention forward.

"Ladies, we asked you to come up and sing solos today because you were among the most memorable auditions. I'm sure everyone else can see why!"

The crowd cheered, and Chloe pulled Beca tighter. She smelled like vanilla. Beca felt like she was going to throw up.

"We've decided… that you're all moving to the next round!"

The shrill screaming of women surrounding her made Beca wince, especially since it seemed that the loudest was coming from directly beside her. Chloe started jumping up and down, but Beca remained rooted to the stage, jostling with every bounce.

"And, you don't have to do lines tomorrow! Coordinate with Janet out front, she'll give you a revised schedule for tomorrow. Thank you to everyone who performed today!"

"...And to all of you!" Katy Perry jumped in, joining Posen where she stood and gesturing to the women still in the seats. "We'll see you bright and early! Make sure you bring it!"

"Yeah, uh. Sing good!" Aubrey Plaza added.

The theater erupted again, and the crowd onstage began to disperse. Beca took the opportunity to wiggle out of Chloe's reach, but the redhead quickly grabbed the younger woman's arm.

"You're putting your number in my phone," Chloe demanded.

"But-"

"But nothing," Chloe cut her off as she handed her her phone. "We're getting brunch tomorrow with a few of the other girls, and then maybe we can look at some songs. Did you bring any instruments? We should practice something, I'd love to hear you sing some Carrie Underwood. Or David Guetta. How high does your belt go?"

"My what?"

Chapter Text

After they got back to the hotel, Beca had to fake a phone call to get away from a certain redhead. And even then, Chloe texted her before she even got to her room.

You sang really well today, it read.

And before Beca could respond, another one.

Talented AND hot?

Finally culminating in a quick, Can't wait to see what else you can do, and a smiling emoji at the end of the message.

Beca hadn't responded to any of them. It'd been a long day, flying out to LA and then singing No Diggity in front of everyone. Not that she would have responded anyway. Why would she? She didn't owe Chloe anything.

The older woman seemed determined to be her friend, and Beca didn't get it. Usually her attitude kept people at arm's reach- or further - and Chloe had blown right past all of that.

It was jarring to say the least.

To top it all off, Beca couldn't figure out if Chloe was flirting or if she was just being friendly.

Whatever, it didn't matter.

And it certainly didn't matter that Beca's body has its own opinions on Chloe. Beca tried to work on music when she got back to her hotel room, but she couldn’t shake her arousal. A low hum held in the pit of her stomach, riding up, gnawing at any semblance of thought. She couldn't even hear the beat of the song. Her core was twisting around itself and demanding attention.

After working the arousal into a few heavy bass beats in an attempt to channel the energy (and realizing that every bass line she wrote sounded like Edge of Seventeen,) she figured enough was enough.

Beca laid back on her bed and flipped on the TV. Without consciously realizing it, her hand settled on the waistband of her jeans. Her fingers were twitching. They inched slowly towards the front, undoing the button and zipper. She was watching something, but it could've been the weather channel for all she knew. Her mind was one place and one place only.

Chloe, wrapped around her, all vanilla and soft smiles. Chloe's arms, strong and sure, holding Beca close. Her nose nuzzling Beca's neck. A low chuckle in her ear.

Beca's hand slid under her waistband, then further, tentative fingertips resting against her pubic bone. This felt wrong. She didn't even know Chloe, yet she was fantasizing about her. She couldn't stop thinking about the way the woman wrapped her into a hug and held her tight, pressing their bodies together. It was intimate.

And more than that, it felt right.

Like a key in a lock, or like climbing into your own bed after a long day. Beca felt something ethereal in those hugs. They were welcoming, enveloping. They made her feel seen.

Beca groaned as her fingers pushed further towards her center.

She didn't want to think about how Chloe made her feel.

She didn't want to think about anything.

Her fingers made contact with their intended destination, and Beca arched into her hand. Her clit was throbbing, and she knew that if she reached lower, she'd find herself soaked. Chloe fucking Beale had done this to her. A relative stranger. She moaned as two of her fingers worked against herself, rubbing tight circles against her swollen nub.

Chloe fucking Beale, face broken in ecstacy as Beca thrust her tongue inside of her. Screaming wordlessly, and then the words did come, a litany of melodic curses that rang like church hymns in Beca's ears. Chloe shuddering under the brunette's touch, a broad smile filling her face as she came, clenching her thighs around Beca's head. Beca felt the coil of her orgasm tightening. She held back curses of her own as she came, her fingers pressing, then slowing against her clit. She was panting. A slick sheen of sweat coated her brow.

Fully clothed, in a hotel room in LA, fantasizing about eating out a total stranger.

Pathetic.

Beca groaned and fell into a fitful night of sleep.

*****

The next morning, Beca had barely stepped out of the elevator before that same stranger was calling her over to the banquet room off the lobby. A part of Beca had hoped that the redhead would be gone by the time she came downstairs, considering it was almost noon.

And a part of her was happy that she waited for her.

But that only made Beca more angry. She didn't want Chloe to make her feel happy. Or horny, for that matter. She didn't want Chloe to have any impression on her attitude.

The thought that Chloe could make Beca feel anything at all put the brunette into a bad mood.

Chloe wasn't alone, which frustrated Beca too. There were four other women at the table, while a handful of other women chatted at other tables. There weren't many though, and Beca remembered that most women had gone back to the theater to sing this morning.

"Good morning, sleepyhead!"

Chloe stood as Beca approached the table and wrapped the brunette in a hug. Chloe was wearing tight blue yoga pants and a pink tank, also tight. Very tight. Vaguely, Beca thought that Chloe must've gone to the yoga class this morning.

Stupid yoga.

Stupid Chloe.

"Come sit! Meet the girls! You know Amy, of course, and this is Jessica. And Emily Junk and her mom. They already cleared breakfast, but I grabbed you a fruit cup and some yogurt. Dairy, for the throat of course, because I didn’t know what type of bagel you like! And do you like apple juice or orange juice? I got both, just in case, and-"

"What the hell, dude?"

Beca didn't mean to yell, she really didn't. But this was too much. She'd barely remembered to put on sweatpants this morning. She didn't ask for this. Chloe was catering to her, and she didn’t like it. It was weird. Why did the redhead care this much?

After the searing arousal last night, and hearing the judges talk about how she was only good for ratings, and the possibility of the performing later that she couldn't prepare for, and the exhaustion, Beca couldn't deal.

"I was just trying to help-"

"Yeah, well don't," Beca snapped.

All of the women at the table tried to look like they weren't paying attention.

Well, almost all.

"Aca-awkward," Amy let out. Beca scowled. She didn't look, but Beca was convinced that Chloe looked like she was going to cry.

She didn't care.

She was tired. And they weren't friends. Hell, they weren't even acquaintances.

And Beca was sure that, if they did get close, she'd only hurt the redhead.

"Excuse me," Chloe said quietly. She took off across the hall towards the bathroom, leaving Beca standing in front of the table of women. One of them, a short blonde, shot Beca a look as she left to go after Chloe.

Beca sighed heavily and tried to rub the sleep and anger out of her eyes. Her hand came back darkened with yesterday's eyeliner. Coffee, she needed coffee. She was about to go back into the lobby to find some when the eldest woman at the table spoke up.

"If I may," she said, standing, and putting a hand on Beca's arm.

She was tall, taller than Beca, and too old to be in the competition. A mom, maybe of a minor. Right, the sixteen year old. Was that Emily? Must be, if her mom was here. Beca looked between the two of them sleepily. Dark hair, dark eyes. The two were definitely related; they both had open faces with high cheekbones. The pair was dressed in yoga gear too, with the younger wearing a bright green tank with a llama on it. Underneath it said "Llama-ste."

Yikes.

"Beca, is it?" Emily's mom said, and Beca grunted a "yes." The older woman smiled.

"I'm Katherine. And I think your frie- I think Chloe didn't deserve to be treated the way you just treated her. I think she was just doing something nice."

"Yeah, shortstack, don't be mean to the ginger," Amy spoke up but quickly cowered away under Beca's glare.

"I didn't ask Chloe to coddle me," Beca spat back at no one in particular.

"No, you didn't," Katherine went on. "And isn't that something, that a near stranger decided to look out for you without you even asking? Or at the very least, appreciating it?"

Beca shook out from under the woman's grasp and folded her arms across her chest with a pout.

"I've never been on a reality show," Katherine pressed. "But I imagine that most of the women here would like to see each other fail. That's the point, right? That the others have to fail in order for another to win? And instead of letting you fail, Chloe made an effort to help you succeed, which is more than you could say of yourself."

The mom walked around the table and put an arm over her daughter's shoulder. Emily reached up and took her mother's hand with a small smile.

"If my daughter was here alone, I hope that somebody would show her compassion like that young woman did for you, Beca," she said simply. No condescension, no scolding. The older woman laid it out as a simple fact. She went back to her seat and gestured for Beca to sit as well.

Beca grumbled as she fell into an empty chair.

Too early to fight, she told herself.

But she knew she was lying.

"Oh, you're still here."

Chloe was back. Beca stared at the yogurt in front of her, refusing to look up. Amy elbowed her, and the small brunette grunted. She glanced up to see Katherine staring at her expectantly.

"Sorry," Beca mumbled, and she looked up at Chloe finally. The redhead was dabbing her eyes with a bit of toilet paper. If possible, her blue eyes shown even brighter in the recent wake of tears. Even in her sleepy state, Beca had the presence of mind to feel like an ass.

"I, uh," Beca started, then stopped. She let her face fall into her hands. "I'm not a morning person."

"Well that's an understatement," Katherine replied, and the women laughed.

Beca felt a hand at her elbow, and she pulled her own away from her face. Chloe gave her a watery smile, with understanding in her eyes, and Beca's guilt increased tenfold.

"It's no biggie," the redhead said softly. She took a deep breath to pull herself together. "Well, eat up. We have to go upstairs to get ready soon."

"We have to be there at three, right?" Emily asked.

"Two-thirty," Chloe corrected. "They want to interview some of us."

The conversation continued as the women discussed the rest of the day. Interviews, then everyone would separate into groups for the next round. Emily said that she had already told three other girls that, if they made it through line eliminations today, they would be a group together. And Amy loudly proclaimed that she would find a group of "tone-deaf dags" to sing with so she could stand out.

When Chloe asked Beca if she wanted to be in a group with her and Jessica, Beca rolled her eyes and agreed.

"If I have to, I guess," she grumbled, but Chloe smiled broadly. The rest of the group shared a knowing look that Beca ignored as she ate her fruit.

At least if she was in a group with Chloe, maybe she'd actually make it through the day.

She had bought a redeye flight for Friday, but Beca had thought about trying to leave earlier. She was still mad about what the judges had said yesterday. Using her for ratings? Well screw them! They couldn't use her for ratings if she wasn't there!

The only trouble with that was some parts of the show had made her feel great. Beca thought back to her performance yesterday, when Chloe got everyone to sing with her. And she thought about them onstage afterwards, Chloe jostling her with every excited bounce.

So Chloe then.

Chloe made things bearable.

She could stay through the day.

*****

Soon enough, the group of women at the table got up to head back to their rooms. Beca stepped off the elevator on the fourth floor, only to be followed by Chloe.

"I'm on this floor too!" the redhead sang. "Isn't that a coincidence!"

Beca frowned. She didn't like coincidences. Especially hot, caring, persistent, redheaded coincidences.

A shower and three cups of coffee later, and Beca was back in the lobby with seconds to spare. This time, she brought her laptop and a small midi keyboard, just in case that judge Posen tried to make her look stupid again.

Then, after an annoyingly long, annoyingly sing-songy bus ride, they were back at the theater.

"Good afternoon, ladies!" a man greeted them at the door. "Most of you can go in and have a seat. Can I have the following women join me over here? Emily Junk, Meredith Blake, and Beca Mitchell."

"Of course," Beca grumbled. She reset her light grey vest under her laptop bag and ran a hand through her hair. Gone were the yoga clothes and sweatpants of the morning; the whole crew wore TV-ready outfits.

At least everyone was more casual today, as most of the women (including Emily and Chloe) had jeans on. Beca's washed-out skinny jeans almost looked appropriate, were it not for the rips and bleach stains.

Of course, Chloe had to out-do everyone, in a flowing red top with some kind of floral print. The blouse hung off her effortlessly while still somehow showing off her ample curves.

Keep it in your pants, Mitchell.

"Better hope you're not meeting with Posen, shortstack," Amy warned. "I think that woman may want to kill you."

"Oh, Bree's not so bad once you get to know her," Chloe assured Beca as she led the group of women towards the theater. Beca blinked, rooted where she stood, the other women trickling around her.

"'Bree'?" Beca called out to Chloe, and the redhead turned around briefly as she pushed into the auditorium. A slightly off-key performance of Kelly Clarkson rang out loudly as the doors opened, catching everyone off guard.

Everyone except Chloe, who was looking back at Beca.

"We go way back," she offered, then she was gone with the group into the auditorium.

Beca didn't have time to process before she and the other girls were ushered upstairs by a man with the clipboard. She turned to Emily as they stepped out on the theater's second floor mezzanine.

"Chloe knows Posen?"

The tall teenager nodded eagerly.

“Wow, hi. Uhm. Yeah, Chloe said that, uhm, before Aubrey got the musical director gig with the show, they were in an a cappella group together. In college, maybe," she replied quickly.

Beca was really lost now. And she could tell that she only had a minute or two to straighten out her thoughts, as the production guy took the third interviewee into a small room.

"Musical director? But she's a judge."

"Mmhm," Emily nodded again. She was basically bouncing from foot to foot. "But before she was a producer and a judge, she was the director of the band. She helped people put together their arrangements and stuff. Have you ever watched the show?"

Beca shook her head, and Emily's eyes got comically large with fear as she stopped bouncing.

And the man was back.

"Junk," he said sweetly. "With me, now."

"Aubrey Posen is, like, super scary," Emily called as the clipboard man started to guide her towards a door off to the side. He said something into his headset and stepped into the room, pulling Emily in after him.

"She’s basically the one in charge!” she shouted, leaning out of the doorway of her room, and then the door shut.

Suddenly alone, Beca looked around. Why was she alone? Was she supposed to be up here?

"Over here!"

Gail Abernathy-McKadden was signaling to Beca from yet another small room off the main mezzanine. Beca approached to find Gail and Aubrey Plaza sitting in a room with a couple couches with their backs against the large windows. They were joined by a small camera crew and two cameras, one pointing at Aubrey Plaza, and another pointing at an empty chair across from the dark-haired judge.

"Welcome, Beca!" Gail schmoozed. "Please, have a seat! Can we get you some water? Tea?"

"Water, please," Beca said, and Gail nodded.

"I'll have a vodka tonic, two lemons," Aubrey Plaza said. Both Beca and Gail turned, shocked, but Aubrey's face didn't betray any sign of joking. The man behind the camera monitor didn't flinch, but the boom mic operator coughed to cover a laugh.

"Ah, Ms. Plaza, I'm not sure-"

"I said what I said," the celebrity deadpanned. "And I want Ketel One. Don't bring me any of that Smirnoff shit."

Gail let out an awkward chuckle as she waited for Aubrey to break, but she didn't. The blonde producer looked to Beca, who shrugged.

"You heard the lady," Beca replied.

Gail huffed and, with one last pleading look at Aubrey Plaza that was met with nothing but hostility, she walked out. As the door closed, the cameraman and mic operator laughed.

"That'll keep her busy," Aubrey said, then she turned to Beca.

"So? What's up?"

"Uh," Beca fumbled. "I don't know?"

"You sing good," Aubrey went on. "What's that like?"

"I don't- I guess-"

The man behind the camera coughed loudly. Aubrey and Beca looked over, and the man pointed to a piece of paper on the table. Aubrey rolled her eyes.

"I know how to do my job, Jerry!" Aubrey shouted. He laughed and shook his head, resuming his place at the monitor of the camera. After a beat, Aubrey picked up the paper.

"So, Beca Mitchell," she said slowly. She read over the first few questions then rolled her eyes. She put on a fake smile and resumed speaking in a forced, chipper voice. "What brought you to American Idol?"

Beca tried not to laugh. She assessed the judge in front of her. Plaza was in a loose grey suit, her dark hair falling in coarse waves. Beca liked her - the young, dark haired celebrity obviously pulled very few punches. Beca was familiar with some of her movies, too. She also knew that Plaza was almost as sarcastic as she was.

She didn't know that the young celebrity had any interest in being a judge on a musical TV show though.

"I guess I just thought that I could do music this way, you know? Get my foot in the door somewhere," Beca replied to Aubrey's question. "I do a lot of DJ stuff. Like mixing songs and writing beats."

"Oh, yeah? Let's talk about that. These questions are lame anyway."

Everyone laughed at that. Aubrey sat back in her chair and raised a hand casually, telling Beca to go on. Beca thought suddenly that the woman looked like she had nothing better to do but hang out with her.

But that couldn't be true, right?

"Right, well," Beca started. "I've been making music for years. There's some really cool things that you can do with music, even on cheap software. Usually I'll take two songs that you wouldn't think go together, like, uhm, you know the song Titanium?"

Aubrey nodded.

"Well, I actually put it with 500 Miles and- well. I can just show you, if you want?"

Beca motioned to her laptop bag, and Aubrey Plaza nodded again. It took a couple minutes to get everything set up, and during that, Beca realized that she was about to play one of her mixes for movie star Aubrey Plaza.

Well that's not terrifying at all, Beca thought.

She hit play, the reverberating tones of Titanium chiming in succession. Aubrey started nodding to the beat.

"Woah!" the celebrity exclaimed as the vocals for 500 Miles started up. "That's actually cool!"

"Yeah, so you can see here, the beat is the same, and I just added a few-"

Gail suddenly burst back into the small room, making the whole group jump. She was holding a red cup and a bottle of water.

"Well! I see you two have gotten acquainted!" Gail said as she handed Beca her water. She gave Aubrey the red cup, and the judge sniffed it hesitantly. Seemingly satisfied, she took a large drink.

"This doesn't taste like Ketel One," Aubrey scowled, but Gail quickly cut her off.

"Well it is," she said sharply. The producer looked down at the table and frowned at Beca's laptop.

"Turn that off," she barked. "Aubrey, you only have four minutes before you have to be back downstairs. How far into the interview are you?"

"We were just about to talk about all of Beca's dead pets."

"Right," Gail replied sarcastically, then sighed. "Can you just ask the questions?"

"Don't even know why I'm on this show," Aubrey muttered. "I don't know anything about singing."

Beca quickly put her laptop back into her bag and took a sip of her water. Aubrey read over the few questions again, humming to herself, then downed the rest of her drink. She put the cup on the floor and flattened her hair.

"Okay, so Beca," the judge started again, her tone somewhere between mocking and authentic. "You've made quite the splash by going up against Aubrey Posen."

"I have?"

Plaza nodded, then clarified her intention. "Posen's pretty feared 'round these parts. Did you know that?"

"I'm finding that out," Beca mumbled in response.

"A little louder?" Gail called out.

Beca huffed. She looked up to the ceiling and let out a long sigh.

"I didn't mean to make her mad," she said in a clear voice. Plaza leaned forward in her chair, her dark eyes setting on Beca with intensity, but also encouragement, so Beca continued.

"I felt like she thought she was better than me. She treated me like a little kid, like I didn't know what I was doing."

"Great, now Beca, can you maybe call Posen a name? Maybe 'know-it-all.' or 'has-been'?" Gail directed from behind the cameras.

Plaza rolled her eyes, and Beca shifted uncomfortably. She didn't want to say anything bad about Posen. She was just doing her job, and anyway, Beca didn't know her. She just knew that Posen had tried to make her look stupid.

Plaza seemed to notice Beca's discomfort, and the celebrity nodded to Beca.

"Can't get through a take without Gail calling for some catty reality-TV show talk," she said conspiratorially.

"ABC requested it," Gail reasoned.

"Uh, sure," Beca started again, attempting to swallow her awkwardness down. "Posen just seemed, I don't know, a little pretentious. She seemed like a know-it-all."

Before she had even finished talking, Aubrey jumped on the end of Beca's line.

"Yeah she sure acts like a bitch."

"Plaza!" Gail shouted, clearly exasperated by the judge's antics. "We can't use that now!"

"Oh, ABC don't like that one?"

Beca bit her lip, holding in a laugh, but a smile crept across her face.

"Thank you," she mouthed to Plaza, and the judge winked back.

Gail started to ask the women to run the lines again, but with a quick glance to her watch, she sighed.

"Time," she called. The boom mic operator started to lower the mic, and the cameraman stepped away from his monitor and began to shut off his equipment.

"Plaza, go to point two and wait for Charles to cue you. Gary, check in with Rob. You can go back downstairs now, Becky," Gail said. Beca tried to correct her, but the producer was out the door again.

Why didn't she ever stick around long enough for Beca to get through correcting her name?

Aubrey Plaza was gone too, then the camera crew, and leaving Beca alone. She grabbed her laptop bag and threw it on her shoulder.

Beca was reeling. What had just happened? She'd been hanging out with freakin' Aubrey Plaza, who said that her music was cool? And then the celebrity had helped her get out of sounding like a bitch on national TV?

Even though she wouldn't have sounded like a bitch without the producer trying to force it.

Was this what reality TV was like? Were they trying to make everybody start fights, or just her? And why were they pitting Beca against a judge? Some part of her mind reasoned that the show would pick the judge over the contestant. Were they setting her up? They wanted her to go up against the judge for a little bit, then drop her when the ratings leveled out? And if that was the case, why did Aubrey Plaza help her out?

And did Emily say that Posen was a producer?

And that Chloe was her friend?

How did that work?

Beca made her way back downstairs. There were only a few people milling about, all with headsets and clipboards.

"Mitchell!" one of them called, and she spun around trying to find the source. A short, balding man waved her over.

She didn't even have a second to think before he shoved her back into the auditorium with a quick, "Third row, left side. Go sit with the Junks."

There was no way this show was going to end well for her, was there?

Chapter Text

"Well, ladies, we're almost down to 60 competitors!"

Aubrey Posen was onstage, wearing what looked like a flight attendant costume. She regarded the group with a smile, but her eyes were predatory. She looked like she was destined to judge people as unworthy. She was definitely in her element.

"We're splitting into groups of four now," the judge continued. "We're passing around a list of approved songs from which each group will pick."

The stack made its way to Beca, and she took one and passed the rest to Emily.

"There's nothing from this century on here," Beca mumbled as she read the list, and Emily laughed. Mrs. Junk shushed them quickly, but not before Posen noticed. She shot the pair a dirty look before she went on.

"You only have the night to get these songs performance-ready, so choose your group wisely! Some of you could be up all night if you sign up with unsavory characters," Posen added with a pointed look at Beca. The brunette scoffed.

"There's only four songs to choose from, but each song was selected for a reason. You cannot change the key or tempo. There will be a pianist upstairs to practice with throughout the night. Oh, and each group needs a captain," Posen finished with a flourish. "Any questions?"

A number of hands in the audience went up, accompanied by some murmuring, but the judge ignored them.

"Great! Form your groups!"

The remaining vocalists in the audience jumped to their feet, rushing around each other, attempting to pair up with their acquaintances or women whose voices they liked. Beca saw Emily talking with a few other younger contestants as she ambled over to where Chloe was sitting.

"There you are," Chloe greeted her as she approached. "Beca, you know Jessica already. This is her friend Ashley. I think we're good to go!"

Beca nodded, her mouth in a tight line. One of the women was a tall brunette with a broad smile, and the other was the petite blonde that had breakfast with them, but Beca had already forgotten which was Ashley and which was Jessica. Regardless, the two agreed that Chloe should be captain, in part because she was already acting as such.

"So I was thinking we do Say My Name," Chloe said. "We all know the words, right?"

The group more or less agreed. Beca thought Destiny's Child would be infinitely easier than trying to sing Aretha's Say a Little Prayer. Or Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy. And that left only The Chicks song, Wide Open Spaces, which Beca was relatively unfamiliar with.

"Okay, everybody has a group?" Posen called from the stage, her drill-sergeant voice cutting through the chaos.

A shy, green-sweatered arm went up in the corner of Beca's eyeline. A doll-like Korean woman with severe bangs and a huge bow said something that Beca couldn't quite hear.

"Okay," the judge said into her mic. "Does any group still have three?"

The crowd started to look around and check. It appeared that every group was satisfied. Onstage, the color drained from Posen's face.

"But that, that can't be," the judge said into the mic. "We counted, I know we did-"

"We'll take her!" Chloe voiced suddenly. She was smiling at Posen, then turned to the quiet woman.

"Come on over."

Posen smiled graciously, but there was still fear in her eyes. For how tough she'd been on Beca during auditions, the blonde seemed easily unnerved.

Talk about a low tolerance for bs, Beca thought.

"What's your name?" someone asked as the shy woman approached.

Again, the new addition to the group began to speak, but with the level of noise around them (and the near-whisper volume the woman used,) Beca couldn't hear a word.

"I can't- did you say Lilly?" Chloe asked, and the woman nodded.

"Good enough for me," the redhead replied with a smile.

Beca reasoned that group night seemed to be a recurring segment from the show's history, because most of the vocalists knew what to do next. Beca didn’t, but she was glad that Chloe was their captain, as the older woman was nearly first in line to sign up out in the lobby - which seemed right. The fivesome went upstairs with the rest of the other performers and started running through the lyrics.

Beca was blown away by just how well the women were able to break the song down, spearheaded effortlessly by Chloe. Parts were given, and harmonies were assigned based on ranges. Besides the fact that the group could barely hear Lilly's bridge, they were done rehearsing by six.

The group confidently made their way back downstairs, happy to be finished so early. According to Chloe's knowledge of past seasons, most of the women would be rehearsing for at least another hour. Either Ashley or Jessica went to find somebody to call them a bus, as there weren't any waiting.

"Bree!"

Chloe called over to the blonde judge, who was standing at the sign up table. Posen had a hand to her head, her perfectly manicured nails tapping manically.

"Chloe, I told you not to call me that here," Posen replied, but even Beca could tell she was upset, and it wasn’t because of what Chloe said. Immediately Chloe's face softened.

"Aubrey- Miss Posen, ma'am," Chloe started again, setting a hand on her friend's arm. "What's wrong?"

"Oh, producer problems," Posen offered with a grimace. She threw her hands up.

"The plan for the group segment was to edit all of the different performances together, layering them over each other. That's why no one was allowed to change key or tempo," she explained with a sigh. "But only one group signed up for Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy. And obviously that's going to look bad in post."

Posen was pacing now, her heels clacking on the tile floor. Beca would have snickered if she didn’t think that she’d get yelled at.

All that flight attendant outfit needed was a tiny hat, and Posen could've been from an old USO tour.

The blonde took a deep breath and tried to reset herself, and Beca did as well.

"I just get these ideas, you know?" Posen said to Chloe, but the judge was stacking her papers like she was getting ready to leave. "And we're trying to revive the show, and we've already had to cut episodes. We're looking for anything that might set us apart. All the singing shows do Destiny's Child."

With that, she turned to leave, shouting at someone some ten feet down the hallway.

"Bus is on its way!" Ashley (Beca thought) called as she rejoined Beca and the others.

"I'm going to get a martini," Jessica (hopefully) said, and the other of the pair agreed.

"I need to feed my possums," Lilly whispered.

Only Beca was tuned in to Chloe and Posen's conversation, and the brunette had a sinking feeling in her stomach. It'd all been too easy, and now there was a problem. And if Chloe was about to-

"Hey squad?"

The redhead had turned to them with a mischievous grin, but Beca wasn't having it.

"No," she said sharply.

"Oh come on!" Chloe persisted. "We'll look better, because we're doing a harder song with less competition! And we already know how good we work together!"

"No what?" someone asked, but it didn't matter.

Chloe had her big, puppy-dog eyes on Beca.

Beautiful crystal blue, round, and pleading, as if Beca was the sole provider of Chloe's happiness. Disney-like levels of cute manipulation playing out.

The song was harder.

Higher risk, higher reward.

It was already six.

They had the whole night to rehearse.

Beca didn't know that song as well.

"Don't you trust me?" Chloe asked innocently, interrupting Beca's thoughts with her big sad eyes.

Shit.

"Fine," Beca replied, and Chloe squealed.

"Is everyone else okay with it?" she asked Jessica, Ashley, and Lilly. Lilly gave a slight nod.

"Okay with what?"

It turned out Ashley and Jessica were up to the challenge, and Chloe's excitement nearly doubled. She took off after her friend as the rest of the group turned to the table. One of the other women told the production assistant at the table what was happening, and the PA quickly told a nearby camera crew to come over.

"They're doing a song change," the PA explained, and the camera crew started to turn on their equipment. Beca groaned.

So much attention.

Ashley, Jessica, and Lilly grabbed their pages and went back upstairs, but Beca didn't know whether to wait for Chloe or head back up herself. But she definitely didn’t want to be interviewed, so she tried to follow the rest of the group. Too little, too late, it turned out, because an older man behind a camera stopped her.

"Beca!" he called. "Can you tell us what's happening?"

"Since when does everybody here know my name," Beca muttered. She mustered up a tight smile and turned towards the camera.

"We're changing songs," she said. "It's not a big deal."

"Weren't you guys done?"

Beca nodded, and the man moved his camera to the side to talk to Beca directly. He looked a little weathered and tired, with wisps of greying hair.

"Has anybody explained to you how talking heads work?"

Confusion and embarrassment settled over Beca, and she shrugged. It was one thing not to know something, but it was even worse to be called out on it.

"C'mon," the cameraman said. He ushered the brunette over to a small set of chairs.

"So I'm going to ask a question, and then you have to answer the question," he started, and Beca let out a sardonic laugh.

"That's usually how conversations work."

The man met Beca's glare with one of his own.

"If you'd let me finish," he continued. "You have to repeat the question in your answer. Like, if I say, 'What's going on?' You say, 'Well, right now, what's going on is that we were getting ready to leave, but we decided to change songs.' We need the exposition. We don't air our part of the conversation, just yours, so you have to explain the whole situation."

"That's so much more work for me," Beca replied under her breath, and the man laughed.

"Yeah, it is," he agreed. "But you're the talent here."

"Right," Beca relented. She tried to get her mind wrapped around the task. "Okay. More explanation. I'll try."

The cameraman nodded and turned his equipment back on. He checked a few things, and adjusted the settings, then nodded again.

"Okay, so what is your group doing?"

Beca thought for a second, then answered.

"My group was headed home, we finished rehearsing Say My Name," she started as she collected her thoughts. "And we were really good at singing it. And then, uhm, we ran into Posen- Aubrey Posen, the judge. And she said that only one group was doing Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy. So now we're changing to that, I guess."

The guy behind the camera nodded.

"Do you think that will be harder?"

"Probably," Beca replied, and the cameraman popped out from behind the camera and shook his head.

Right.

More words.

"I mean, uh. Yeah, The Andrew Sisters, they did the harmony stuff a little more than Destiny's Child. So I think the new song will be harder than the one we had before."

"Are you worried?"

Beca paused again before responding.

"Am I worried?" she presented the question, her eyes trailing across the lobby to where Chloe was still talking to Posen. The redhead was smiling, and so was Posen, for once. The judge laughed at something the redhead said, and then they exchanged a small hug. Posen left, and Chloe looked around the lobby and met Beca's eye.

The redhead was still smiling, but when she found Beca, the smile grew and softened. Her eyes were glowing. Chloe's expression became one of hope, of joy and excitement, too. Beca smiled back.

"I'm not worried," Beca continued with her eyes on Chloe. "We've got a really good captain."

*****

At 12:33 AM, Beca let out a frustrated grunt.

"This is useless," she bemoaned, flopping over the side of the stiff lobby couch.

There were only four groups still at the theater, including theirs. Most of the camera crews had been sent home, which left only a few stragglers milling about and drinking coffee, ready to film if something happened. Even the pianist had left. Posen had stopped by to check on everyone, but that was the last important person they had seen.

And that was over an hour ago.

They just couldn't get it right. Beca had been correct in one of her assumptions, that The Andrew Sisters took harmonies a little more seriously than Destiny's Child. Note upon note, in every line, on every word, the harmonies piled on top of each other like sickly sweet caramel and piping hot chocolate on a fully dressed sundae.

Oh, and she hadn't eaten.

"Beca's kinda right, Chloe," Jessica chimed in. (Beca had finally figured out their names.) "Maybe if we'd been singing together for, like, years, we'd be able to pull this off, but it might be too hard."

"Nothing's too hard," Chloe replied, but even the redhead was losing steam. She blew out a sigh.

"Let's take five."

"Thank god, I asked to go to the bathroom three hours ago," Lilly whispered. She took off across the lobby, followed closely by Jessica and Ashley.

Beca clicked on her phone. 8% battery. She groaned.

"You okay?"

Beca looked up to find her captain kneeling in front of her. Chloe set her hands on Beca's knees, and the brunette felt the heat at the contact. Beca put her hand to the bridge of her nose.

What a long day.

"I can't scat, nobody knows the lyrics, the song's too fast for Ashley, Lilly hasn't made a single audible noise the entire time, and I'm tired," Beca replied.

Chloe gave another frustrated sigh. She stood upright and took a small step away from Beca.

"I put us all at risk," the redhead whispered. She blinked fast, like she was trying to hold back tears.

"Hey," Beca warned. "You already cried once today, you're not allowed to cry again."

Chloe gasped out a laugh and took a deep breath. Hey eyes were still twinkling with unshed tears though, so Beca stood and put a hand on the redhead's shoulder.

"I think we're going to be fine," Beca said as she tried to use her most confident voice. "I think we can do it. Or, at least you guys can. You're all really talented. You guys will make it through."

The exhaustion was getting to her. She could feel herself starting to get emotional. She'd been on this reality show for less than two months, and she'd already felt more feelings now than she had in the last three years. It sucked. Why did it feel like the stakes were so high? They obviously weren't. If Beca didn't make it, she could find some other way to do music. This show wasn't the only break she'd ever get.

Maybe the magic of reality TV was that they knew how to get people vulnerable.

Because vulnerable was certainly how Beca felt right now.

"What do you mean?"

Chloe was regarding her closely, more analytically than she had looked at the brunette before. Beca was a little scared of the scrutiny.

But Beca was scared of a lot of things right now.

She was scared that she'd never get the song right. She was scared of failing and looking like an idiot on national TV. She was scared that she would let Chloe and the other women down by not bringing her best performance.

She was scared that she'd let her mom down.

Before Beca could stop them, her words came tumbling out.

"I heard the judges talking after I sang yesterday," Beca said softly. "They said they couldn't cut me from the show because somebody going against Posen was good for ratings. They're only keeping me around to fight with her."

Beca felt her own tears start to fall. It must've been the exhaustion. She felt trapped within her own insecurities and in the expectations she put on herself. She was buried by the frustration of her confident facade's fragility in the face of judgement. Without support, Beca was questioning her own worth in real time.

But all the while, Chloe watched her.

The redhead swiped away one of Beca's tears with the pad of her thumb, leaving her palm on the younger woman's face.

"Beca," Chloe said through a smile. "You're here because you're extremely talented. Everybody knows that, even Bree."

Beca scoffed and moved away, but Chloe pulled her back. She took the brunette's hands into her own.

"You're not the only one to go up against Aubrey Posen, but you're still here. Do you get that?" the redhead tried again. "Even if they did keep you around for ratings, you'd still have to be a good singer to stay on the show. And you are. You're still here."

"It's stupid, nevermind," Beca recoiled, trying to twist away from Chloe. It was too much.

The redhead held fast, waiting, until Beca met her gaze.

"You're one of the best singers here, Mitchell," she said honestly.

Beca winced as if Chloe had struck her. The way Chloe looked at her - and spoke to her - was so raw. Her tone bled authenticity. Beca didn't feel handled or coddled; she felt respected. There was something else too, beyond respect or honesty. Beca saw something like admiration in Chloe's look, a reverent kind of awe.

Chloe thought she was talented. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

Beca shocked herself by believing in Chloe's faith in her skills.

How could she not, when Chloe was looking at her so honestly?

She couldn't agree with the admiring part, though. But she did feel challenged by it. Like she wanted to earn it.

Beca wiped her eyes and sniffed.

"Whatever," she replied with a small smile. "Fine. Let's just do this."

It was an hour later before Beca admitted that maybe the group was getting better. Ashley was finally up to the right tempo, and Lilly was getting a little louder. It was only Beca that couldn't quite pull the performance out as she needed. And she kept forgetting the words.

Somebody told them that everyone else was leaving, so Chloe decided it was time they headed back to the hotel. They would just have to re-group in the morning. The bus ride was quiet as everyone fell in and out of sleep.

Beca, though, kept her overhead light on, scanning through the printed lyrics of Bugle Boy and silently mouthing them to herself. She felt Chloe's eyes on her, but she didn't look up.

It wasn't until the elevator door closed behind them as they stepped out on the fourth floor that Chloe spoke.

"Don't overthink it, Becs," she sighed.

The brunette groaned.

"'Becs'?" she laughed. "A nickname? Really?"

Chloe bit her lip as she smiled, bumping her hip against Beca's as they made their way down the hallway.

"What's so bad about nicknames?" she shot back, her voice low so they wouldn't wake their neighbors.

"The only people that gave me nicknames are my dad and my ex girlfriend," Beca said. "And I try not to talk to either of them anymore."

Chloe stopped suddenly, and Beca knew she'd said too much.

She'd blame the exhaustion at some point.

But Beca knew that the fact that she was talking to Chloe had something to do with her loose lips.

"Don't-" Beca started as she turned around. Her hands rose in a sort of helpless gesture. "Don't make this a thing."

Beca watched Chloe pretend to think about it, but then the redhead kept walking, a small smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. She passed Beca, and Beca's room, and continued down the hall.

"I'm not one to keep bad company," she offered. Beca let out a sigh of relief that the other singer didn't push the issue.

In the state that she was in, Beca probably would've told Chloe anything, and that was incredibly worrisome.

"And 'girlfriend'?" Chloe called in a whisper-shout from her own hotel room door a couple doors' down from Beca's.

"That's good to know."

The redhead didn't give Beca a chance to respond as she stepped into her room, the door closing behind her with a soft click. Beca stood in the hallway for a full twenty seconds before she decided that tonight was not the night to figure out Chloe Beale.

Instead, she went into her own room, not even bothering with the light.

She just collapsed onto the bed, sound asleep before she even took off her shoes.

*****

Beca awoke to the sound of a soft knock. She blinked, grimacing against the bright light pouring in from the open blinds. She grumbled something towards the door and turned over, ready to fall back asleep, but the knocking continued.

"Miss Mitchell?"

Groaning, she pulled herself up and checked that she was decent before she opened the door.

"What?"

A young woman with a clipboard and a headset was outside Beca's door.

"Miss Mitchell, you missed the bus…"

Beca blinked once, then twice.

"To where?"

"Back to the theater? You have a group performance today?"

"Shit!" she shouted. "I have to- I didn't- I'm not showered or anything! Shit!"

"I've been sent with a car to bring you over," the production assistant went on. She checked her sheet, then flipped the page to check another. "Your team was scheduled to go on in about an hour, but we can move some stuff around. Can you be ready in 15?"

Beca threw together black skinny jeans and a purple flannel and washed her face. She didn't have time for coffee, or a shower, or even her full make-up routine. It was twenty minutes before she reappeared at the door. Phone and lyrics in her pocket, and with her phone charger between her teeth, Beca hopped one-legged out of her door as she put her boots on. The young PA offered her an arm with a sympathetic look. Then, once Beca had steadied, the PA handed her a Redbull.

"We've gotta hurry," the young woman said. "They're almost to the end."

Beca finished her make-up in the car and was thankfully able to plug in her phone to start charging it. When she powered it back up, she winced at the number of voicemails and text messages. Most of them were from Chloe, and some were from the show.

She couldn't believe how much she'd screwed up. Her phone was dead, so she missed her alarm, missed the texts from her team. She missed practicing this morning. She still didn't know the lyrics well, and she was still tired from the impromptu wake-up call.

She'd let Chloe down.

She felt like crying. Her eyeliner was uneven, and the Redbull wasn't hitting her bloodstream yet. She was going to fail today, she was going to fail Chloe, and she was going to miss her shot at ever doing music in this industry.

The PA pulled up to the theater, and Beca nearly fell out of the car. She pushed through the double door entrance. Thankfully there was someone waiting for her; Jesse stood just inside, with a camera crew.

"Come on, they're waiting at soundcheck," he said.

"I overslept, we were here so late last night, I fucked up," Beca tried to explain. Jesse stopped and pulled Beca off to the side. Beca saw the camera crew line up their shot.

"Hey, you can't change what happened," he said. "Just knock it out, okay?"

Beca took a deep breath and nodded.

She followed Jesse through the large corridor of the theater, up the stairs, and around to the backstage area. She could see her team onstage doing their warm-ups.

"Okay?" Jesse asked.

"Okay," Beca replied, steeling herself.

Beca stepped onto the stage and cleared her throat. Jessica turned first, then Ashley and Lilly. When Chloe finally realized that the women behind her had stopped singing, she turned too.

"Oh thank god!"

The redhead was on her almost immediately, wrapping the smaller woman in a huge hug.

"You're not mad?"

"Mad?" Chloe laughed. "I thought you were dead! I thought we killed you with our late night lady singing!"

Beca laughed too as an errant tear spilled over her cheek. The rest of the group came over and joined the hug. Beca was shocked. She thought for sure they'd tell her to leave, but obviously she was wrong.

And now she had to make it up to them.

"Okay, let's take it from the top."

The women started to run the number. Beca obviously hadn't warmed up at all, but she wasn't about to ask to run scales when they were supposed to be doing soundcheck. Somebody from production handed her a mic.

She had to get this right.

Beca had the main solo in the middle of the song, and the melody was almost there, but she was still shaky on the words. She was trying to buzz like a bee when she fell off the rhythm, and the pianist stopped suddenly.

"I can't work with that!" he shouted. "Give me a minute."

"We still need to practice! We only have time for one more run-through!"

"Well you'll do it without a pianist," he countered. "I've been here all day. I'm going for a cigarette."

"No no no!" Beca cried. She crouched, arms wrapped around her knees.

"It's fine! I know what to do," Chloe said. "Lilly? Can you do what we were working on this morning?"

Chloe put a hand on Beca's shoulder, and the brunette looked up.

"Trust me," the older woman said. Beca nodded as she stood.

"Whatever happens, just keep going," Chloe said to Beca, then she looked to Lilly.

"1,2,3-"

Lilly's voice broke through the air on a piercing trumpet sound. Jessica and Ashley cheered, and Beca's mouth fell open. The imitation was spot-on.

And loud.

Ashley picked up the stringing bass melody, and Lilly switched to a drum-type noise. Chloe and Jessica started singing the melody.

He was a famous trumpet man from out Chicago way.

He had a boogie style that no one else could play.

Remembering herself suddenly, Beca started to sing with Chloe and Jessica.

He was the top man at his craft.

But then his number came up, and he was gone with the draft.

He's in the army now, a blowin' reveille.

He's the boogie woogie bugle boy of Company B.

The women switched off parts with unbelievable ease. Literally unbelievable. At some point over the last eighteen hours, the women must have fallen into a rhythm. Probably a side effect of listening to the song over and over again. Still, Beca was in awe.

She knew it was all because of their captain.

Beca and Jessica took the background as Ashley moved forward to sing her lead part. Chloe held the high harmony over the tall brunette's strong voice.

Then Jessica scatted, and the women shifted again, all the while keeping the tempo they'd been practicing all night.

On Chloe's mark, the women fell out just at the start of Beca's solo. Her clear voice rang out solo in the expansive theater.

He was our boogie woogie bugle boy of Company B,

and when he plays boogie woogie bugle, he was busy as a bzzz bee.

And when he plays he makes the company jump eight to the bar;

he's the boogie woogie bugle boy of Company B.

Beca could feel a crowd forming, watching them practice. She kept singing, and even the scatting was better than she'd done previously. Each of the women were able to grab their time to shine, and before she knew it, Lilly was playing them out with her mouth trumpet. She threw in some scatting for good measure, and then there was applause.

At least thirty people had come in during the performance - or, rather, their soundcheck.

Including the pianist, Aubrey Posen, and the male producer, John Smith.

"Don't change a thing, we're ready!" he said. "Crew! Places! No piano, they're doing it just like that!"

"But-" the pianist protested.

"It was perfect!" John continued. "Posen, get the other judges! There's no way they won't get through!"

But Posen hadn't moved. She was glaring at Beca in a way the brunette hadn't seen before. Anger- no, rage filled her eyes, and Beca was suddenly scared that the judge was about to storm across the stage and attack her.

"Bree? It's fine," Chloe reasoned.

Posen's eyes flicked to the redhead before resettling on Beca.

"You put my friend and three other talented vocalists at risk because you couldn't keep your shit together," the judge fumed.

"You so much as think about messing up your solo, and you're done."

Beca swallowed thickly.

Yeah.

That made sense.

Chapter Text

The producer was right. Everybody loved the Bugle Boy performance, and all five women were passed through to the solo round.

Beca was nervous. She didn't really want to leave the competition early anymore. She wanted to prove that she belonged on the show. Especially after screwing up so totally by missing her alarm.

It helped that Chloe believed in her.

Beca had been replaying the little speech Chloe had given her last night, while they were rehearsing. Maybe Chloe was right. Maybe ratings had nothing to do with Beca's continued presence in the competition. Or maybe the redhead was wrong, and Beca had to prove that she deserved to be there.

Either way, she was still there.

Chloe tried to help Beca pick out a song for solos, but Beca declined.

"I don't want Posen to think I can't do this on my own," Beca told her.

And besides, she already had a song.

There were only thirty or so women left in the competition, but they were going to cut that number by more than half on Thursday. Each woman picked out a solo to work on, and there was a full band to rehearse with for the rest of the day Wednesday. They were able to pick up Beca's song pretty easily.

She was sitting down in the lobby, headphones on, and waiting for the first bus back when Jesse came down the stairs from the mezzanine.

Thankfully, he was sans camera crew for a brief moment.

He motioned for Beca to take her headphones off, and the brunette oblidged, putting them around her neck.

“That was a close call back there," he started as he approached. His voice was projected and performative, and Beca laughed.

"Seriously, dude? You don't even have a crew with you."

Jesse's cheeks turned pink, and he cleared his throat.

"Sorry," he apologized in a much more even voice. "It's hard to turn off the 'host voice' sometimes."

"I bet," Beca replied, turning her attention back to her phone.

Jesse shifted his weight from one foot to the other as he stood in front of the small woman. Beca sighed and clicked her phone off, setting it on the table. She tilted her head and squinted at the host, letting him suffer for a few more seconds before she rolled her eyes.

"What."

"They like you," he said quickly. "I shouldn't be telling you this, but they want to keep you on the show."

Beca sighed.

"I want to stay," she admitted. "My solo is pretty good. I think I'll be okay."

Jesse hummed and leaned forward onto the balls of his feet.

Did this guy ever quit moving?

"If there's anything that might, you know, set you apart from the other contestants, you should tell them. Hardships, motivations, whatever you've got. They like a narrative."

"Sure, I'll just put my entire life story on national TV," Beca replied sarcastically. "Great advice."

Jesse let out a quick sigh before he tried again.

"I've seen people like you," he replied.

"Oh, have you? Please, tell me all about it!"

"Look," Jesse cut her off, but his phone started ringing. He checked the caller and sighed. He grimaced at the phone before clicking the answer button.

"Two seconds," he said into the phone, then he turned back to Beca.

"I know you're, like, guarded," he said. "But if you've got a reason to be here beyond the music thing, you should tell them. Use it. Put it in your music. They'll see the difference."

Jesse put the phone back up to his ear, throwing his host voice back on and starting off towards backstage.

Beca thought about what Jesse said as she got back on the bus to the hotel with the other women. She let the music in her headphones wash over her as she closed her eyes.

The producers wanted a tragic backstory.

Well, Beca thought, I’ve got that in spades.

She doubted that a lot of women had one dead parent and another that wished death upon their kid.

But it's not like Beca went around with a huge "My dad kicked me out of his house at fifteen for being gay and then my mom died" sticker on her forehead.

And beyond that, she didn't want pity. She got enough of that at the funeral, and after, when she had to move back in with her dad and step-monster for three months. She didn't want the judges to feel like she needed anything. She was doing just fine on her own. Her talent would speak for itself.

All she needed to do was perform her best.

She could do that, right? Just get out there and sing.

She wasn't going to lose focus, not this time.

It was something along that line of thought that landed Beca as was one of the first women at breakfast the next day. She couldn't sleep anymore anyway; she was too nervous about her solo. She sat alone at a table in the corner, laptop open, working on a mix and chugging coffee. She was two cups in when a hand fell on her shoulder, and she jumped.

"Woah- oh."

Chloe stood next to her, her ear pressed against the other side of Beca's large headphones. Beca slipped the headset down and paused the song, only to find that Chloe was still close to her face.

"That sounded good," the redhead hummed. "Was that Stevie Nicks?"

Beca tried to control her blush as she shut her laptop.

"Yeah," Beca breathed. She had coffee breath, she knew it. Chloe was inches away from her face, and Beca's breath was basically radioactive.

The redhead smiled, her gaze dropping quickly down to Beca's lips.

"You'll have to play it for me sometime."

"What is happening," Beca whispered.

"I was thinking the same thing! I was like, whaaaat."

Beca and Chloe broke out of their bubble to see that Amy had sat down across the table. Ashley and Jessica were there too, and Lilly, along with a couple other women that Beca didn't recognize. A small Latina woman and a curvy black woman stopped to talk with Amy before the three of them went to get food.

And they were all pulling up tables and chairs from all over, joining Beca in her corner.

"I guess my alone time is over," Beca mumbled, and Chloe snickered. Beca chanced a look over to see the redhead had taken the seat next to her.

"We were all at yoga," Chloe explained. "Do you want us to leave?"

Beca hid a small smile behind her coffee cup, mumbling out a quick, "it's fine."

Somebody cleared their throat across the table, and Beca looked up to see a stunning brunette that was checking her out.

"We missed you at the class, Mitchell. I would have loved to see you stretch out."

Beca raised her eyebrows with a little laugh.

"I don't stretch," Beca countered. "And, sorry- I’m not good with- who are you?"

"Stacie Conrad," the brunette said with a sultry smile. She leaned across the table to slip her hand into Beca's. She gripped Beca's hand firmly, while also caressing it somehow, holding it long after Beca tried to pull away.

"Memorize the name, so you remember who you're thanking later."

The brunette stood - wow, she looks like a model - and sauntered towards the breakfast buffet. Beca watched her go, taking in the full show of long legs in yoga pants when Stacie turned around. Beca quickly looked away, and the leggy brunette threw a grin over her shoulder that Beca pretended not to see.

"Beca?"

Beca turned back to the table of women to find them all staring at her. Beca coughed as she tried to drink more of her coffee. Ashley and Jessica laughed, but Beca noticed that Chloe was weirdly quiet.

"Do you- uhm. Stacie?" Beca spat out between coughs. "Do you all know Stacie?"

"We grew up together," Chloe replied in a clipped tone. Beca turned to see Chloe was glaring at the tall brunette. Beca saw Stacie wink as she blew Chloe a kiss.

"Is she always like that?"

"Yeah," Chloe sighed impatiently. She reached across the table and grabbed a bit of fruit from Beca's long-abandoned breakfast. "He's a hunter."

"Hey! Don't- wait, who's a what now?"

"Nothing," Chloe said with a shake of her head. She smiled wryly around the piece of cantaloupe. "I'll deal with her later."

"So," the redhead went on, snagging a strawberry, which earned another indignant yelp. Beca's protestations fell on deaf ears. "Emily tells me you've never watched Idol?"

Beca shook her head, earning a few gasps from the table. Amy laughed as she re-took her seat.

"That explains why you've chosen to go up against The Captain," she said, gesturing wildly with a fork full of sausage. "I mean, I'm not scared; I've wrestled crocodiles and dingoes simultaneously. But, some people, you know, some people think that she's akin to a cold-blooded murderer."

"That's my friend, Amy," Chloe scolded.

"Yeah, how is that, exactly?" Beca couldn't help asking. "I get that you're both a little…"

Beca was looking for the right word. Chloe shot her a glare that told her that the wrong word would not be tolerated, so Beca looked harder.

"... determined," she decided, and Chloe nodded with a smile. "But Posen takes it to a whole new level. Plus, she hates my guts."

"Bree really cares about this show, Becs," the redhead said. "She's been with them for years. They launched her career. But beyond that, she's always taken an immense amount of pride in her work."

Beca nodded. She could understand that. Chloe reached over to grab another piece of cantaloupe and smiled.

"Plus, you did call her life's work a 'garbage show.'"

More gasps from the table, and Beca reddened.

"I didn't know she was a producer! And she started it!" she tried as she scrambled for any way out of her embarrassment. "She told you about that?"

Stacie got back to the table to hear the tail end of the conversation, and she laughed.

"She was so mad that night," the brunette said ruefully. "The sex was phenomenal though."

"Hot," the short black woman replied. Stacie shot her a grin.

"You're- what!" Beca shrieked. "You're sleeping with a judge!?"

"Not like that," Stacie replied. "It just happens every once in a while."

The tall brunette's eyes darted to Chloe for a moment, then back to Beca. She dropped her lids and looked up at the smaller woman through her lashes.

"I can't be tied down to one person," Stacie said coyly. "Unless, of course, you'd like to-"

"Stacie!"

Chloe had jumped from her seat and was rounding the table. She hoisted Stacie up by the bicep and pushed her away from the table.

"Bathroom? With me? Now?"

Stacie smirked at Beca as Chloe dragged her off.

"What kind of white nonsense was that?" the black woman asked.

Beca blinked herself out of arousal and confusion.

"I honestly have no idea."

*****

It'd been hours, and Beca still couldn't get over her nerves. The coffees probably didn't help. One by one, the other groups had been called. Each woman was in a group of six, and they'd all go to the stage together, but they performed alone. Then that group would be judged against each other as the judges determined the ten finalists.

Beca didn't even know who had made it and who hadn't. None of the women came back after they performed. They'd all gone. Lilly and Amy were the last to leave, which left Beca with five women she didn't know at all. The room had gone from tense, nervous tittering to eerily quiet.

At least Stacie was gone too. Beca wasn't sure she wanted to be left alone with the brunette quite yet.

Beca felt confident in her song, and she knew she had it down. And it had been one of her mom's favorites. Just like her mom, the song had always filled Beca with a sense of pride and fortitude.

Exactly what she needed right now.

Beca sniffed forcefully. She knew it was a gamble, picking a song that reminded her of her mom. Sappy, almost. But the song was good, and she was good at singing it.

She thought about what Jesse said, about telling the judges about how much the song meant to her. Giving them context, and giving herself a pre-packaged TV sob story in the process.

As stupid as it sounded, the thought scared the shit out of her.

Admitting that there was a reason for her stubborn standoffishness would be inviting in all that pity again.

"All right, let's go last group!"

Beca was pulled from thought by the production assistant’s words. He looked over the group with some amount of skepticism.

"Okay, let's go Franklin, Thomas, Snow," he ticked off. "Then we'll do Knapp, Welch, and Mitchell."

"Fantastic," Beca muttered, slipping her headphones off her neck to put them in her bag. She packed up her things, trailing behind the other competitors as she followed them backstage. The man with the clipboard was right on her tail.

"How many slots left?" he asked into his headset, and Beca paused. She pretended to check her phone as she listened.

"Only one?" he scoffed. "Well that's Perry for you."

There was only one slot left? And she was going to be the last singer of the entire competition?

Beca flushed with nerves again. She stepped backstage on autopilot, and she could hear someone singing - was that Rascal Flatts? - but her mind was catatonically blank.

One slot.

Well, screw it then, right?

She'd put it all out there.

She'd sing her tiny, frozen heart out.

Beca trained her breath into even ins and outs, staring aimlessly at the curtain rigging on the wall. She heard someone from her group called, then singing, then cheers, then incoherent judge remarks. Then again, the same routine. She was sweating. She took her hoodie off and tied it around her ripped skinny jeans, now baring the same burgundy tank she wore day one.

(What, who packed more than five shirts? She packed for this thing in, like, a backpack. It's not like she had a lot of nice clothes anyway.)

Somebody announced her, and she stepped onto the stage. Yesterday she had been so confident up there with her new friends, and on day one, she'd been so uncomfortable. Now, Beca didn't feel anything. She got to the mic and turned to face the judges.

From 150 women, and nearly 200 performances, to one last song.

"When you're ready, Beca," Katy Perry said, and Beca couldn't hold back her laugh. She felt slightly delirious.

"You're Katy Perry," she said into the mic. The audience laughed- whoever they were. Beca couldn't see in the bright lights.

But she could see the judges, as they were lit up for the cameras. She saw Katy and Aubrey Plaza chuckle, and she saw Posen give her a tight smile.

"Can I say something first?"

Katy nodded, but Plaza turned to Posen to check. The blonde looked at her watch, then to the cameras, then back to Beca. She gave a twirling finger motion that said, "sure, but hurry up."

"I, uh," Beca started. She adjusted the mic down a little lower. "I went through a lot this week."

She swallowed and closed her eyes tightly.

"If this is the end for me, it's been real," she sighed, then took a deep breath.

"This one's for my mom. I miss you, Mom."

She counted the band in and let the soft melody play for a bar before jumping in.

Good times and bum times,

I've seen them all,

and my dear, I'm still here.

Plush velvet sometimes.

Sometimes just pretzels and beer,

but I'm here.

I've stuffed the dailies in my shoes.

Strummed ukuleles, sung the blues.

Seen all my dreams disappear-

but I'm here.

She couldn't hold the tears anymore. She wasn't sure why she was crying, specifically. She had the distinct feeling of being overwhelmed. The emotion was so heavy that it felt like a physical weight tied around her neck. Beca was on national TV, singing one of her mom's favorite songs, for a show she could swear she didn't give a fuck about.

And yet.

Apparently she did.

The last week had been so much. Too much, really, and if Beca got cut today, she'd probably be grateful for it. She didn't need to go through this every week for months. She wasn't built for this kind of emotional stuff.

The song was carrying her through every emotion she had to offer. The exhaustion, the pride, the sorrow. Beca put it all into the lyrics, letting her voice push the feelings out. She hated every second, but she loved the cathartic pull on her heart.

It felt like she was ripping in two as she came to the climax of the song.

Good times and bum times, I've seen them all.

And my dear, I'm still here.

Plush velvet sometimes, sometimes just pretzels and beer.

But I'm here.

I've run the gamut, A to Z.

Three cheers and damnit, c'est la vie!

I got through all of last year, and I'm here!

Lord knows, at least I was there, and I'm here.

Look who's here.

I'm still here.

The band finished with her as she held the last note, and she gasped for breath when it ended. The judges were on their feet.

Even Posen, who spoke first.

"Beca, that performance was unbelievable."

"I'm gonna cry!" Katy yelled, and Plaza awkwardly patted her shoulder.

"Oh lordy," Plaza groaned, and Beca laughed as she wiped the tears off her cheeks.

"Beca," Posen spoke up again. "What happened to your mom?"

Katy sobbed loudly and leaned down into her mic.

"Posen let the moment breathe!"

"No, it's fine," Beca laughed. "She, uh, she died almost a year ago. Cancer. She was sick for a while, and then she was gone."

"I think she would have felt very proud of that performance," Posen said with a small smile. "That was really beautiful."

Beca sucked in a stuttering breath and let it out with a cough.

"Right," she said forcibly.

"Right," Posen agreed. "Can I get the last six performers onstage!"

The other five women came back onstage, and a couple of them tried to pat Beca supportively.

Strangers.

Touching her.

To show support.

This is why I don't have many female friends.

"I'm going to be frank with you ladies," Posen started. "We only have one slot left for the top ten. I'm going to consult my fellow judges, and then we'll announce our decision."

The three judges stepped away from their mics, speaking to each other in low voices. It was only a few seconds before they turned back to the women onstage. It was Katy who took the lead this time.

"You all are so talented and so amazing," she said. "You're so brave, and open, and we loved getting to know you over this week."

"Unfortunately, we can only bring one with us as we move forward in this competition. The last competitor to round out our top ten will be…"

Why did TV shows always do this dumb, drawn-out, theatrical-

"Beca."

*****

"Do we really have to do this for half of next year?"

The women around Beca laughed. The hotel bar was surprisingly accommodating when eleven women showed up just before closing. They even offered to stay open an hour later just to let them celebrate.

"I'm just glad we've got a couple months before we have to come back," Katherine Junk replied. She nudged her daughter. "We have some shopping to do!"

Beca immediately panicked.

"I didn't think about that," she muttered darkly. "Do you think I can still quit?"

The women groaned and laughed. Beca was surprised that she knew of all of them from some point of the week.

Sixteen-year-old Emily, Fat Amy, the Guatemalan gymnast Flo, from breakfast.

And powerhouse Ashley, and the ever-energetic Jessica.

Lilly, somehow.

Brassy, badass Cynthia Rose, who she also met this morning.

Insatiable Stacie.

And Chloe.

The damn redhead who had wrapped Beca in her arms after the younger woman came offstage earlier. The one who looked like she'd been crying, who held Beca close and whispered beautifully sad and sweet things to Beca about her performance and about a wonderful woman she would never get to meet.

A hot, caring, persistent redhead who looked at Beca now with a soft smile and infinitely softer eyes.

"You know, Mitchell, I could help you with the clothes," Stacie offered mischievously. She used her lips to play with the straw in her drink as she looked the smaller brunette up and down.

"If we were going to do it right, we'd need to start all the way down at the-"

"Okay, I think that's enough for the night!"

The women whined, but Chloe put her foot down again as she finished her drink.

"We've already kept the bar open late," she said. "And some of you have flights in the morning."

"You staying in LA, red?" Amy asked.

"Only for a couple days," Chloe explained. "I told Bree I'd hang out through the weekend, whether I made it or not."

The group - sans the Junks, who were on the first floor - ambled into the elevator, smashing everyone in, much to Beca's chagrin. They lost Amy, Ashley, Jessica, and CR on 2, then Flo, Lilly, and Stacie stepped out on 3.

"Send me pics of your outfits, Beca!" the tall brunette called as the door was shutting. "Or better yet, send pics without them!"

Beca laughed as she shook her head, but she stopped abruptly when Chloe tutted. The redhead spammed the "Door Close" button.

An uncharacteristic silence fell over the pair. She should say something, right? About the week, or about Stacie’s teasing. Or she could ask about outfits- god, that was going to be awful. Could she just grab more jeans? Or did she need something, like, dressier? She wouldn’t wear a dress or anything, but-

The elevator dinged as it arrived on the fourth floor, and before Beca could verbalize any of her thoughts, Chloe took off down the hall.

"Hey, uh, wait."

Chloe stopped and turned back to Beca. Beca blew out a breath and looked away.

You have to say something!

"Thank you," Beca said finally. Her gaze was on the ceiling. "I wouldn't have gotten through this week without you."

Beca let her eyes trail down the beige drywall to find Chloe, who was smiling that same soft smile. Beca smiled too, running a hand through her hair and flipping it over her shoulder.

"You're one of a kind, Beale," Beca said.

The redhead's smile got wider, and she bit her lip.

Shit, Beca thought suddenly. I forgot how hot she is. How is that even possible?

Because you like her.

The reality hit her like a ton of bricks. She liked Chloe. She had a crush. A huge one. It wasn't friendship, or lust.

(Although both of those were definitely in the mix.)

No, Beca had big, dumb, romantic feelings.

It wasn't like she was surprised or anything. Chloe was kind and smart- not to mention incredibly attractive. It's just that Chloe was still something of a stranger. And while Beca had basically bared her soul this week, Chloe hadn't. Or, Beca didn't hear about it. Beca barely knew anything about her.

And if the other women were right about what would happen when they came back in February, that they'd all be living in a house together and performing every week, Beca would be in very, very close proximity to not only Chloe, but to all of the women.

And that was not an ideal setting for big, dumb, romantic feelings.

"You're special too, Becs," Chloe replied.

Chloe stumbled back to the elevator lobby where Beca was still standing.

Right.

Because unlike 20-year-old Beca, Chloe had been able to legally obtain alcohol and, with the help of a Tasmanian maniac and hot brunette, the redhead had put back more than a few shots in celebration. Beca hadn't noticed it downstairs, but now, away from all of the excitement, she could see that Chloe was a little drunk.

And apparently Chloe was even more of a close-talker when she was drinking. She grabbed Beca's hands, to which Beca only slightly recoiled.

"I'm so glad I met you," Chloe breathed, and Beca bit her lip to keep from laughing. She sucked in a sharp intake of breath, though, when the redhead forced their foreheads together.

"I think we're going to be really fast friends."

"Well, you saw me cry a lot," Beca replied sarcastically with a wink. Chloe closed her eyes and took a deep breath, and Beca felt the air move from around her face.

Should I kiss her? Would that be weird? I shouldn't, right?

Chloe leaned in and placed her cheek against the brunette's. Warm, her skin was warm, and Beca felt lips against the front of her ear.

"Don't sleep with Stacie."

Beca laughed and pulled away from the redhead. Chloe's bright blue eyes were glazed over and listing with drunken abandon.

"Okay, drunkie," Beca said. "Let's get you to bed."

"I'm serious, Becs!" Chloe protested, hanging over Beca as the brunette forced the pair down the hallway. "I know she's flexible and she's got great cuticles but you can't sleep with her!"

Beca laughed as she hauled the redhead towards her room. She grabbed Chloe's purse and started going through it to find the key.

Chloe fell against the door jamb, eyes closed, her expression falling into a small frown.

"She keeps picking on me," Chloe continued to ramble. Beca thought that she was getting drunker by the minute.

"Who does?" Beca asked offhandedly. Where did Chloe keep that damn key? She tried the front pocket, but all that was in there was tissues. She undid the zipper pocket inside, finding a small wallet. Why did Chloe need a wallet inside the purse?

"Stacie," Chloe sighed slowly. "She's flirting with you."

"Is that right?"

Jesus, this purse was like a conundrum wrapped in a riddle. Pens, snacks, a checkbook. And why did Chloe have so many rewards cards? Did anybody go to Dick's Sporting Goods enough to warrant a rewards card?

"Aha!" Beca exclaimed. She pulled the hotel key from the wallet and brandished it triumphantly.

And Chloe was kissing her.

The redhead had stepped forward, closer than Beca had realized. Soft, full lips were pressing against hers with inebriated confidence. Chaste, but full, and Beca breathed deeply into the kiss. Beca was still holding all of the purse contents between them, so she gave a little shrug, and Chloe pulled away.

Chloe giggled. She grabbed everything from Beca's hands and used the key. She murmured out a "good night" and disappeared.

Beca sighed.

Big, dumb, romantic feelings.

Chapter Text

Episodes of season 15 of American Idol started airing in January.

Not that Beca watched.

It sure seemed like everyone else did, though.

Maybe she was just tuned into the subject more than in other years. Beca heard people talking about auditions at the grocery store and at fast food joints. She'd overhear kids while she was refolding clothes at work. And when the Atlanta audition aired, more than a couple people came out of the woodwork to share their opinions. High school friends, including her ex, who she ignored.

Nothing from her dad though.

The competitors of Season 15 watched all of the episodes live, texting in the group chat the entire time. They talked about who they knew, and their audition stories, sometimes even who they thought was good or not. That was fun to mute and ignore completely.

Of course, Chloe texted Beca almost daily. She talked about the show and about her real life. Beca found out that Chloe was interning with a vet as she worked through school, which Beca thought was kinda lame. She'd pictured Chloe as more of the exotic dancer type.

Not that she'd pictured Chloe exotically dancing. Or any dancing at all. Of course not.

Chloe would tell Beca about the other women that were being featured on the show, outside of the group chat, because it seemed like Chloe had met everyone there. She wished Beca Merry Christmas! and Happy new year!

She'd sent Beca pictures of clothes that she thought the brunette would look good in.

She'd sent voice memos.

("Oh my gosh, Becs, the cutest cat just came into the clinic. Look at the picture I sent you. Doesn't she look so grumpy? She looks just like you!")

Chloe even tried to get Beca to hang out with her a few times. She suggested dinner, a movie, karaoke, but Beca declined all of them.

She didn't know what would happen when she saw the redhead again.

They hadn't talked about the kiss. Beca didn't know if Chloe even remembered it; the older woman had been pretty drunk. But Chloe was still talking to her, and so Beca still had her crush, which she was often reminded of.

Especially when Chloe sent her a selfie with a grumpy cat.

Beca suffered through some shopping for herself, a task that she wouldn't wish on her harshest enemies. It helped that the show had given each woman a shopping stipend, so she had to spend it on clothes. But she felt so totally out of her element, trying to find nice, TV-show clothes.

So far all she bought was a single un-ripped pair of grey skinny jeans.

It was a week before they were supposed to fly back out, and Beca still needed two and half outfits. In a fit of panic, in the dressing room at Express for the second day in a row, she'd sent a picture of herself to Chloe.

It was an outfit that Chloe had basically already picked out for her. Black pants, with lots of buttons, sitting a little higher than she normally would have worn them, and a navy button-up with only the top button open.

Does this work, she sent to Chloe. A second later, the redhead was video-calling her.

"Shit," Beca grumbled. She tried to clean up the fitting room by hanging up the other clothes that she'd grabbed, but they wouldn't fit on the rack. She left them piled in the corner before accepting the call.

"Hi," Beca huffed, a little out of breath from the flurry of fumbling she'd just put herself through.

Chloe had her hair piled on top of her head, with large sunglasses tucked up against the bun. She was wearing scrubs with bright cartoons all over them.

"Where are you?" she asked, squinting slightly as she stepped outside. The light flashed in the camera then balanced out, the early February sun highlighting every peak of her face.

She looked beautiful.

"No where," Beca replied quickly. "Home."

Chloe rolled her eyes.

"I saw the fitting room in the picture. And I can see it now," she replied. Beca tried to refute the facts, but Chloe cut her off.

"I just got off work, and I can come over there to help," she said.

"I can dress myself!"

"Obviously not, Becs," Chloe chided. "But fine. Flip the camera to the mirror."

Dejectedly, and lacking in a proper retort that might get her out of it, Beca flipped the camera around.

"First, tuck in your shirt," Chloe said. Beca tried to keep the camera upright and tuck in her shirt one-handed, which didn't work, so she set the phone against the pile of clothes so Chloe could still see her. Chloe was talking about something - a color theme? - but Beca didn't pay attention. She tucked in her shirt and pulled it out slightly, shooting the phone a glare.

"Hmm," Chloe tapped a finger to her lips, thinking. She'd put her sunglasses on as she made her way across the parking lot. "Roll up the sleeves. And unbutton the shirt more. I think black and near black will work for this first week, it'll play into the persona you established..."

Beca tuned Chloe out as she started to roll up the sleeves, but then she stopped. She glanced down at the shirt, then back up again.

"I don't have a tank-top or anything on underneath," she said, suddenly very focused on the sleeve rolling.

"That's okay, you've got plenty of tank-tops, I just want to see if the shirt's the right size for you."

Her sleeve task completed, Beca undid another button across her chest. Most of her breastbone was visible now.

"Another," Chloe said. "Do you have any black leather jackets?"

"Uh," Beca stalled. She flicked open the next button, her cleavage now on full display. She had three bras - t-shirt, sports, and push-up - and why she wore the push-up bra today, she'd never know.

"I have one of my mom's old leather jackets, yeah," she finished. She was standing there, trying not to fidget, as Chloe continued to scrutinize. Unable to sit still any longer, she picked up the phone and turned it back on herself.

"So?" she asked, and Chloe sighed.

"We'll go a size smaller in the top and button it under your boobs," she replied. She was in the car now, Beca noticed. "And a black tank-top underneath."

"Smaller? Why smaller? I don't think- it's- I mean if I-"

"Becs," Chloe sighed again. "You have a bangin' body and the world deserves to see it. Now what else do you have?"

Beca blushed as she showed Chloe a few tops, two of which Chloe approved. The redhead was talking about how she was going to wear blue during the first week, and Beca tuned out again as she set up the phone against the clothes again. She picked the next shirt to try on. She had the navy shirt halfway off on when she realized Chloe had gone quiet.

"Chloe?" she asked, and she glanced down at her phone. From the angle and re-stacking of the clothes, she could just see the corner of the older woman's face.

"Shoot! I forgot we were on Facetime. I'll just, uh-"

Beca tried to use the shirt she was holding to cover herself, the navy button-up now hanging precariously from an elbow. She tried to shimmy out of it while covering herself.

She wondered if Chloe could see her blush through the phone.

"It's fine," Chloe replied, letting out a small laugh. "You know, not many women can render me speechless."

"Okay, I'm turning this off," Beca shot back. She was probably as red as a tomato. She picked up the phone, flipping the camera back to self-view as she tried to shut off the video.

"Wow, it's better up close."

"Oh my god!"

A peal of laughter came from the phone, and Beca tried to pout but could only manage a restrained smile. The last thing she saw before switching off the camera was Chloe grinning broadly.

After getting re-dressed, Beca turned the camera back on. She tried on one other shirt, careful to avoid the camera's prying lens, and Chloe told her a simple black thermal would work. Then she followed up by saying that the last outfit would depend on the leather jacket. Beca promised to send a picture when she got home and hung up with the redhead.

She stepped out of the mall and into the bright afternoon sunlight. She hated the mall. And she hated shopping. Or, at least, she hated this kind of shopping - semi-formal, with the expectation that a lot of people were going to see her. The fact that she worked in retail in the mall was a cruel irony, although she worked at more of a skate shop than boutique.

Lots of flannels and hoodies. Which, according to Chloe, “couldn’t be the only thing she wore!”

She'd have to shop again if she stayed on the show. For every week she'd be on the show, she'd be shopping. For TV outfits. Alone, or with a giant group of women.

Not for the first time, Beca thought about not going back to California. She'd signed a contract, sure, but maybe she could get out of it somehow. She couldn't help but think that doing the show in the first place was the wrong choice.

Hollywood week was a blur in her mind. She thought back on it like it was a movie, or a story that somebody told her, instead of her own memories. It couldn't have been her that sat down with Aubrey Plaza and showed the celebrity her music. She didn't recognize the woman that rapped onstage, or the one who cried multiple times and had breakdowns on live TV.

Had she let strangers comfort her?

Had she trusted strangers more than some of her oldest friends?

It didn't make any sense. She didn't know that person. And she definitely didn't want to be that person again.

Beca also hated the accountability. The show had been asking about her flight info so they could arrange for a ride from the airport, and Beca hadn't told them that she hadn't booked the flight yet. Every time she went to buy a ticket, she couldn't justify the cost. Now, it was four days before she absolutely had to go back, and ticket prices were crazy, and she thought maybe she just wouldn't go because she couldn't afford it.

But then her dad called.

He said he knew that she'd probably need some help, financially, and that he would be willing to help with the plane ticket and cover rent if she came over for dinner.

That was yesterday, and after the emotional toll of shopping all day, she thought maybe she had made the wrong decision when she said yes. She hadn't seen her dad or stepmom for months. And before yesterday, she didn't even know that they knew about the show.

She didn't know what she was walking into.

Quite literally walking into, as Beca stood at the door of the Mitchell McMansion. The professors lived near the Barden University campus in a stately white and black two-story that could've been plucked out of any rich suburb. Dr. Mitchell liked to tell people that it was too fancy for the two theology professors, that they would've preferred something smaller and less grand, but it was just too conveniently placed to pass up.

(But Beca knew that they were planning to re-do the back patio as a large outdoor kitchen. And that both professors had demanded on separate office studies. And they had two fully decorated guest bedrooms.)

"Beca!"

Dr. Mitchell, dressed in his typical sweater vest, pulled Beca through the doorway and into an awkward and unreciprocated hug. He wasn't much taller than Beca was, with light brown hair to match hers. Beca winced at the forced contact.

"Dad," she replied. He released her, and she walked farther into the foyer.

"I'm glad you could come," he said in a clipped tone.

"It's not like you gave me much of a choice," Beca mumbled.

Dr. Mitchell didn't take the bait. He ushered Beca through to the small dining area where a huge display of comfort food awaited them. Homemade fried chicken, which Beca knew he didn't cook, with mashed potatoes, green beans, gravy - all the fixins. Beca was immediately on alert.

"My favorites?"

"Well, yeah!” Dr. Mitchell shot back. "Sit! Eat!"

Beca sat at the chair closest to the door and began to idly fill her plate. Dr. Mitchell grabbed a bottle of red wine and began to pour himself and Beca each a serving. She glanced around and realized that the table was only set for two.

"No Shelia?" Beca asked. "How is the stepmonster."

"She's is fine, thank you for asking!" She's actually in Vegas for a conference-"

"Oh, no, Dad, I don't care," Beca cut in. "I just wanted to say 'stepmonster.'"

Dr. Mitchell sighed.

"Beca-"

"What, Dad? What do you want?" Beca groaned. She dropped her fork and knife on her plate. "You want to try to convince me to go to Barden again? To give up on music? Or hey, maybe I can try to 'pray away the gay' again, is that what you want? Why'd you offer to help with money for the show? Why did you make me come over?"

Dr. Mitchell sipped his wine as he watched his daughter. He set down the glass and cleared his throat.

"Well, I was going to wait until after dinner, like civilized adults," he sighed. "But sure, let's get this straightened out."

The man reached behind his seat to a small China cabinet in the corner of the room, pulling an envelope from the grand dish that sat atop the piece of furniture. He turned and handed it to Beca.

"In that envelope is a cheque for $5,000," he said. "It's yours to use for the show."

$5,000.

That would be so fucking helpful.

But before Beca let herself get too excited, she stopped. She knew her father, and she knew there had to be strings attached.

"What's the catch?"

"No catch," Dr. Mitchell replied. Beca only stared at him, so he went on.

"Seriously!" he laughed. "I saw the show. You've been singing wonderfully. I didn't enjoy the rapping, of course, but that arrangement of Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy was really something. Everyone was talking about it. Dr. Charles, from the literature department? You remember him, he came over to the house for dinner while you were staying with us. Anyway, his daughter is a huge fan apparently. He wants the four of us to have a meal together sometime."

Beca just listened. Something was coming, she could feel it, and if she just held her tongue, she knew her dad would keep talking.

It's who he was.

"That Chloe woman, she seems like a good friend to keep around. A good Christian woman," Dr. Mitchell continued. "That Fat Amy, though, you should stay away from her."

"Uh-huh,” Beca egged him on.

"Not a very temperate woman, in my opinion."

Dr. Mitchell let his statement hang for a moment, then lit up, like he just thought of something.

"You know, they really dig into people on these shows," he said. "You'll have to be careful."

That was the tone Beca was waiting for. Faux ingenuity, and a soft yet almost mocking tone, as if Beca was one of his students who had just done poorly on a paper. It was his "I care, but I'm stern" voice that loved to make an appearance when didacticism arrived in the conversation.

And as a religious lecturer, the moral superiority was almost second nature.

"Beca," he started again. "They'll probably ask you about your past, and about things that you think were causes of pain to you. So they can create a narrative around you. The showrunners will want to know about your mother and, to some extent, about myself and Shelia. We would love to support you on the show. We just don't want anything to be misconstrued."

Beca let out a mirthless laugh. Suddenly she wasn't hungry, but she was very thirsty. She picked up her glass of wine and gestured with it.

"Hush money," she laughed before taking a large drink. "You don't want me to talk shit about you on national TV."

"Now Beca, don't be crass," Dr. Mitchell interjected. "We have jobs that rely on a certain amount of public perception-"

"And what, you don't want your gay daughter to tell everyone that you're both homophobic assholes?"

"Shelia is up for tenure this year," Dr. Mitchell tried.

"Right," Beca scoffed. "It's just the biggest break in my career, in my life, but sure! Wouldn't want to say anything bad about Shelia!"

"Beca, DJ-ing is not a profession, it's a hobby. Unless you're Rick Dees or someone awesome," Dr. Mitchell replied dismissively. "This is a fun distraction for a couple of months, and then you can come to BU and get a degree - for free, I might add, and-"

"You know what? Keep it," Beca spat as she stood. She ripped the envelope and cheque in half. "I am so out of here."

"Beca! Come back here!"

But Beca was already halfway out the front door, then storming down the walk to her beat up Honda Accord parked at the curb. She knew her dad would follow her to the car, so she started the engine and took off, pulling into a gas station three blocks away. She threw the car in park and smacked the steering wheel over and over.

How the fuck was she going to get to LA now?

Chapter Text

One new credit line and one nearly-maxed out credit card later, and Beca was starting to get nervous again.

She wasn’t sure if her boss actually believed that she’d made it onto a singing show, but the woman did tell her she could probably have her job back when she returned to Atlanta. The show would handle most of the day-to-day expenses, but she was looking at a mountain of debt with rent and bills.

She was just hoping this all paid off. Literally.

Whatever, she could sell some gear or something. Or work more hours at the mall. Or sell her eggs or her kidney or…

Whatever.

She put the address that the show had given her on the new credit card so they’d send it there, packed her shit, and headed to the airport.

She was on a Saturday/Sunday red-eye flight, which, with the time difference and the crazy layovers, got to LAX around 12 PM. The PA she'd been emailing was more than a little ticked off, considering that the rehearsals started that day for their first live show on Wednesday.

But Beca convinced herself that she didn’t care. She'd barely skimmed the email, catching that she would be in and out of rehearsals and interviews as soon as she got there, and that she'd have to do a photoshoot.

Which was going to be so fun.

This was crazy, wasn’t it? This is something that insane people do. Normal people didn’t rack up mind-boggling amounts of debt on the slim chance that they’d noticed or recognized on a show that literally no one watched. And - zooming out even further - Beca wondered if any mentally-balanced person had ever tried out for singing TV show in the first place.

The S15 group chat confirmed that hypothesis.

Without thinking, Beca checked her phone as the plane taxied on the runway. The texts had gone suspiciously quiet in the last day, which Beca assumed meant that most of the women were already in LA. They were probably getting ready for the show already, getting a head start on their performances or meeting with the band leader or whatever.

Beca would be behind the curve, again. And she'd have to play catch up. Again.

Yeah, well, maybe that’s just how it’s always been and how it’ll always be.

Beca sulkily bobbed her head to her latest Stevie Nicks mix - Talk to Me with Do I Wanna Know? by the Arctic Monkeys. She threw her phone on airplane mode and settled back in her seat to try to get some sleep.

She knew she was drifting in and out of sleep when she started to dream. As her thoughts began to shift towards the ethereal, Beca felt herself falling into the narrative of her half-awake dream.

She was onstage alone. No band, no backing track. She was singing- or, she was supposed to be singing, but the mic wasn't working. She couldn't see anyone in front of the stage, only the bright lights, and then suddenly there was a band, playing some drum-heavy beat.

She turned around, and there were a number of other women onstage with her. They were looking at her expectantly, and she started to sing with them, but her mic kept cutting out.

Then, she felt a hand on her back, and her breath caught - her dream-self knew this person would save her - the person took her mic and fixed it. Beca looked up and saw blue eyes that were slowly closing, and she was leaning in-

Beca woke up as the lights came on in the plane, signaling that they were landing. She rolled her neck and turned off airplane mode on her phone.

Texts starting pinging one after another. Beca was surprised; she had friends and all, but she wasn't used to getting this many texts.

But when she saw they were all from Chloe, she just laughed. The woman had single-handedly quadrupled the brunette's daily incoming texts in the last week.

You get here today! We're so excited!

What time do you land?

I just asked a PA, they said you'd be here by 2!

Yay!

We've already started rehearsing.

Most of us are already done for the day, so we started drinking!

The last one made Beca laugh out loud. Without the context of when Chloe had sent each text, it felt like the whole of the morning had taken place in under a minute. Beca had no idea if the party started an hour ago or just now, but given that it was noon on a Sunday, either answer seemed appropriate.

Beca sent a quick landed to the redhead and received an onslaught of kissing and smiling face emojis.

That didn't clear up anything, timeline-wise.

Beca grabbed her oversized duffle bag and laptop equipment, pushing through the crowded airport towards baggage claim. She hadn't checked a bag, but she did know that that area was where someone was supposed to pick her up. To her surprise, at the bottom of the escalator, Beca caught sight of Fat Amy with a young Asian woman in black clothing, who Beca assumed was a PA.

"Alright!" the Australian cheered as Beca approached. "You finally made it, shortstack!"

"I thought I told you not to call me that," Beca huffed as she handed off her duffle bag to the waiting PA. Beca pulled out her phone as she started to receive more texts, this time in the group message. Seemed that Amy had sent them a picture of Beca coming down the escalator, and everyone had something to say about Beca's arrival. Beca was trying to read them when she distantly heard Amy laugh.

"You haven't been on Twitter much, have you?" Amy said through a wince. "It was trending last week."

“What was?”

"Nothing," Amy replied. "Doesn't matter. Let's get to the party!"

After over an hour of traffic, the PA drove up to a security gate that let them into a secured neighborhood. Amy was pointing to all of the houses and telling Beca who lived in them, but Beca could hardly believe that the private gates and drives lead to A-list residences.

That is, until their SUV turned off into one of the last gates, and Beca caught sight of where they were staying.

It was a mansion basically. Two or three story, Beca couldn't tell, with a light tan stucco finish and dark brown trim and fluted roof. The front entrance had two huge stone pillars and a sprawling rock path, with dormant bushes lining the way. The house jutted out at an angle, like an L, but before Beca could see any more, they were off to the side facing a detached garage. There were six identical black SUVs in the huge gravel driveway and, beyond the garage, Beca could see a pool house.

"Holy shit," Beca whispered.

"I know," Amy said woefully. "It's smaller than my place back in Tasmania, but the amenities are alright. The pool house is a studio where we practice our tunes. And the heated pool and hot tub are really nice."

"Hot tub?"

Beca was following Amy through the back gate and into the yard, and before Amy could answer, Beca heard shrieks of joy. She stepped around the blonde to see what was going on.

In the midday sun, beyond the edge of the pool, and up a few steps, towards the middle of the backyard, Beca could see the hot tub Amy referred to. Currently, Stacie, CR, and Chloe were all in there, the last of which was standing and bouncing with joy.

The first time Beca had seen Chloe in person in over two months, and she was wearing a bikini.

Beca tried to keep her cool as Chloe started to move towards her. Water flicked off her perfectly freckled skin, abs glistening, the strings of her red bikini pulled taut as they held the wet fabric against the ample strain of her-

Ahem.

"Hey Chlo. Chloe. Chlo?" Beca stammered. Amy snorted beside her.

"I can't believe you're here!" Chloe squealed. "Let me get out, I'll show you around-"

"No time," the young PA cut in. She'd re-appeared at their side, now wearing the type of headset that Beca remembered from Hollywood week. "Ms. Mitchell, bring your things, we need to get you dressed and into make-up. We have a lot to do today."

Chloe whined.

"Can I come with?"

"Like I care," the PA mumbled as she took off into the house. Chloe looked to Beca, who shrugged as she followed the PA.

"I guess that's a yes."

"Make sure you cover up, though, Red," Beca heard Amy say as she walked through the threshold of the house. "Don't want Beca to pop a blood vessel."

Beca was mid-spin, ready to shoot Amy a withering glare, but that train of thought stopped dead in its tracks as her view adjusted.

She was standing in the largest residential room she'd ever seen.

To her right was a large living space, with a huge, black U-shaped sectional and a TV that took up almost the entire wall. The couch was deep, like a bed, and could easily seat like fifteen people. There was an ottoman offset in the middle, and the whole set was down a step into the floor and surrounded by plush white carpet.

Emily, her mom, and either Jessica or Ashley (it'd been a few months!) were sprawled out watching E! Network. Emily gave Beca a big wave and smile.

On the other side of the room, where the flooring was grey hardwood, there was an open kitchen fit for a cooking show. There were ridiculously tall white cabinets and a massive grey granite island. There was even a restaurant-worthy stainless steel hood over the stove against the wall. The two sides of the room were separated by a table made of light-colored wood, set for twelve with stark white modern chairs.

There was a desk, too, where Flo was animatedly speaking Spanish to someone on the phone.

Beca couldn't help her awe. The entirety of her one-bedroom apartment could fit in here - hell, the whole thing could probably fit in just the kitchen. She wondered if the room echoed.

"Ms. Mitchell!"

Beca caught sight of the PA stepping into the hallway across the kitchen.

"In here!"

Beca crossed the expansive kitchen/dining area and stepped into a carpeted hallway towards the front of the house. Further still, down a short hallway, Beca followed a PA through an open door and into what looked like a master suite. There was a couch and a chair, both black, tucked in the corner by the door, and a king-sized bed with a fluffy grey comforter that faced a giant TV. There were a couple doors too, one of which Beca guessed was the closet.

And to her left, behind the open door, there was a substantial corner desk and the second door through which Beca could see the ensuite bathroom. Blacks, greys, and whites dominated the sun-washed room, just like the rest of the first floor.

"Sweet digs," Beca said blankly. "Is this, like, where everybody gets ready?"

"Pretty sure this is your room," the PA called from the ensuite. She came back in and ran a hand through her hair. "Okay, put all your outfits on the bed. We're going to do the make-up at the desk."

Beca scoffed.

"You're joking," she replied as she gaped at the room. “You’ve gotta joking. There's literally no way.”

"Well, you're here now," the dark-haired woman shot back as she stepped back into the hallway before turning back into the room. "Clothes, out, now."

She pressed a button on her headset and added, “Can I get a MUA to the master?"

"'No way' what?"

Beca turned at the voice - the voice, Chloe's voice - as the woman came in. She'd covered up, if you could call it that. The redhead was wearing a white terry cloth bathing suit cover that cut at the shoulders and settled mid-thigh.

"That this is my room," Beca replied, trying to remember what she was supposed to be doing.

The PA had told her something, but now all she could think about was soft white fabric on the satin skin of Chloe's thigh.

And how it would feel to pull up that solitary piece of clothing-

Clothes!

Beca tore her eyes away from Chloe and threw her huge duffle on the edge of the bed. She unzipped and started to unpack the main items of clothing.

"So, about that," Chloe hedged. "We kind of decided that the last person that got here would get the master, so we wouldn't fight over it. It's the only room left."

“I- shit. Really? Out of how many?" Beca asked, flustered, as she laid out her shirts. She regarded the rest of the contents in the bag and decided against doing anything with them at the moment. Without closing it, she threw the entire duffle behind her towards the closet door.

Chloe sat in the armchair by the bed and started counting on her fingers.

"Nine rooms," she replied. "But all eleven of us fit. Emily and Katherine are sharing, and Ashley and Jessica too. There are private bathrooms for each bedroom, though, so your room isn't better than ours are."

With a laugh, Beca gestured to the suite around her as the PA came back in.

"Somehow I doubt that. Whatever, someone can take it when I leave."

Chloe narrowed her eyes before waving off Beca's comment, choosing instead to join the PA in regarding outfit choices.

"I like this one for the show, Hannah," the redhead said, pointing to the black jeans with the navy button-up. "I've seen it on, and she looks hot in it."

Beca's cheeks burned as the PA, Hannah, nodded.

"Okay, so grey jeans and leather?"

"Actually," Chloe hummed. "What if we…"

She grabbed a pair of ripped skinny black jeans and the leather jacket, along with a plain grey tank top.

"Because then, at the reveal next week, we can use the grey jeans with the black thermal-"

"Coming out of the darkness that we've seen from her on the show so far, sure," Hannah finished, and Chloe nodded. "Works for me. Beca, put this on, then get in the chair."

Hannah pressed the button on the side of her headset again.

"Need the MUA in two! Where are you guys?"

"Are you developing my character for me now?" Beca laughed at Chloe, a little incredulous. It was one thing to help pick outfits, but Chloe and the PA were talking about "coming out of the darkness" and shit. That went beyond singing, and definitely beyond what Beca had expected, as far as the show was concerned.

But maybe that was the whole point, that narrative thing. The story.

Beca stepped into the bathroom to change and- wow. She’d seen the sink, but she didn’t realize there were two of them on the main wall, along with a private W.C., a shower that looked like it could fit six people, and a tub that Beca could swim in.

Jesus. This room was insane.

"Becs, I'm just following the groundwork that you've already done," Chloe called through the door. "You gotta live up to hashtag Beca Effin' Mitchell!"

"I'm sorry, what?" Beca nearly shouted as she stepped back into the master bedroom. "I have a hashtag?"

"From the show? The one that has aired for the last month and a half?" Chloe chided. She was regarding Beca's outfit and went to adjust her shirt when she stopped suddenly.

"Wait," she paused, looking up to the brunette's eyes. "You have been watching the show, right?"

Beca sighed as she sat in the office chair at the desk. Chloe was regarding her skeptically, but it seemed like she already knew Beca's answer. The redhead's expression was slowly morphing into one of mirth and excitement.

"Not really," Beca sighed. "I got all those updates from you! I figured I didn't need to watch."

Chloe whipped out her phone and began typing frantically. She got up and paced to the door, sticking her head out.

"Emergency house meeting!" she yelled. "Everyone to the pit in fifteen minutes!"

"Not you," Chloe added in Beca’s direction as her sent text chimed. Beca's phone went off, so Chloe must have texted the group message. Chloe squinted at the brunette, then rolled her eyes.

"Of course you didn't watch it," she laughed. "You're so cool."

"What is that supposed to mean!?" Beca called after her, but Chloe was gone. In her place, a young, tanned man had entered the room.

"Okay, hunny, what are we doing?"

*****


It took over half an hour to get a full face of make-up, far beyond the ten to fifteen Beca was used to. She thought she looked pretty much the same as she always did, though her skin looked a little smoother, and she was told that her cheeks were a little more "snatched," whatever that meant.

Beca followed Hannah back into the kitchen and was bombarded by the whistles and cheers of her fellow castmates, who were apparently all still in the living room area after the “emergency meeting”. The pit - where the couch was, down a step from the main floor - was filled to the brim with the group of singers. Chloe stood at the TV facing them, looking every bit the leader that Beca had seen during Hollywood week.

"Looking good, hot stuff!" Stacie shouted, and the women laughed.

"Are we in agreement?" Chloe cut her off. "If yes, sing G sharp. If not, sing E flat. One, two-"

The women burst into a chorus of notes at all different octaves. Chloe nodded, as if the singing actually told her something, and then she dismissed everyone just as Beca stepped outside.

"Let's go ahead with the photos here, while we still have the light. John?" Hannah called across the concrete patio. A young man with an even younger assistant stepped through the gate and looked around, ushering Beca over to the side of the house.

"Wait, like right now?" Beca asked Hannah incredulously. "How should I- do I need to-"

The photograph shot her a glare.

"We've got it," he said flatly to Hannah. "Gene, we'll use the wall as the backdrop. I need light here."

The assistant pulled Beca towards the house, angling her so she was somewhat facing the sliding door she just came out of. Then the assistant dropped down, picking up a giant reflective piece of fabric and angling it up.

"That's fine," the photographer said as he waved Gene away. He snapped a couple photos then regarded his subject.

"Beca, I need you to walk towards the camera."

"Uh," Beca stalled. She looked to Hannah, but the woman was already working through something on her phone. She was on her own. "Right. Smile?"

The photographer rolled his eyes.

"No smile. Use your model face, give me pensive, but determined. Look right here."

The photographer gestured to an area an arm's length away from his head, up at eye level. Beca licked her lips and nodded. Her lip gloss tasted like candy.

"I can do that, sure," she replied. She stood back and sucked in a breath. She stood there a moment before letting it out.

"So, right now, or…?"

"Yes, sweetie," the photographer sighed from behind his camera. "Go."

"Oh," Beca replied, She took another quick breath and started walking, squinting towards the vague area that the photographer had pointed to.

"Stop!" he called, and Beca froze mid-step. He started looking at his camera, shading it from the light, and he sighed again.

"Okay," he started again, this time bringing his hand to his face. He pulled it away and shook it, as if he was clearing his head. He looked at Beca.

"Okay, hi, I'm John. Note time," John said.

"One don't squint, one. And two, let's talk posture."

The photographer gave Beca a litany of directions - shoulders back, head up, eyes up, step in a straight line - and Beca nodded. Direct, clear instructions. That, she understood.

Beca turned back around to go to the corner where she started and found herself face to face with, like, all of the other women, who were now standing at the window, staring at her. Once they saw her turn around, they started cheering again, banging on the glass, and Chloe gave her two thumbs up.

"Hannah, dear! Can you take care of that?"

"On it," Hannah called, and she opened the sliding glass door back into the house.

"Okay, disperse, ladies," Beca heard her saying as she closed the door. Vaguely, through the glass, she could hear the women whine and protest. Beca laughed as she shook her head.

"Beca? You ready to go again?"

The second time, Beca felt a lot more confident in her movements, but John had her run the steps two more times after that. Once he was confident in the walk, he told Beca to stand against the wall so he could get some headshots.

"Carl will be back in fifteen," Beca heard Hannah say to John as she stepped back outside.

"Can't rush perfection, Hannah, dear," John replied as he snapped photos. Beca didn't know what he wanted, so she just kept staring into the camera with a smile.

"I don't need perfection, John, dear," Hannah mocked back, and John scoffed. Beca felt her mouth pulling into a smirk, and John took a few more photos.

"Ooo, I like that," John said. He took a few more shots, then started scrolling through pictures.

"I still need something," John muttered. "What do I need, what do I need..."

Beca felt the assistant shifting awkwardly from their crouched angle on the ground, trying to keep the light right. Then she looked back to Hannah to see if she needed to do anything, eyes falling on Chloe instead.

It seemed that the redhead had followed Hannah out and was now standing out on the patio in the sunlight. She had changed sometime, Beca realized, and was now wearing jeans and a light blue sweater. She had a yellow cup in her hand that she was biting the edge of, grinning madly at Beca from behind the cup's rim.

Beca couldn't help the smile that bloomed over her face. She felt it tug at all corners and lift up her whole expression as she giggled slightly.

"There!" John said suddenly. "Don't move!"

Beca tried to keep the smile as she watched Chloe watch her. But the moment stretched, and Chloe pulled the cup away, only to bite her lip. Beca felt her tongue come out between her teeth as the smile grew even more, and John gasped.

"Now to me!" he called, and Beca flicked her eyes to the camera. She heard the shutter click a few times.

"Got it," John said. "Done."

"Good," Hannah replied. "Beca, we're going to the pool house."

Beca blinked herself out of the stare down with Chloe and turned her attention to the PA.

"Am I going to sing? I need to warm up," Beca started, but Hannah waved her off.

"Interview first, then music," she replied, and she saw Beca's face fall. She gave the brunette a look and checked her phone.

"Fine, you can do music first," she said after a beat. She turned to walk to the pool house, then looked back, pointing at Beca. "Go warm up. Five minutes."

John and Gene walked off, which just left Chloe. As soon as she laid her gaze on the redhead, Beca felt herself melt. Chloe smiled softly.

This big, stupid crush is starting to get annoying, Beca thought. She couldn't just turn to mush any time the redhead was around. She had shit to do, god damnit. She had songs to sing and pictures to take and whatever else this dumb show was going to make her do. She couldn't just lose sight of all that as soon as Chloe decided to pop in.

"I didn't even get a chance to say hi!" Chloe said, and before Beca could blink, the redhead had wrapped her in a hug. Beca closed her eyes and breathed her in - chlorine and sunscreen, in the middle of winter. Only Chloe Beale would smell like sunscreen in February.

Beca pulled back the upper half of her body and met Chloe's bright blue eyes. They were swimming slightly - right, Chloe had been drinking since this morning - and Beca just smiled.

"Hi," she whispered. Chloe's breath hitched, and her gaze darted down to Beca's lips.

Glad to see I'm not the only one affected.

"Three minutes now!" Hannah called from the door of the pool house. "Seriously, Mitchell, I swear to god."

Beca turned back to Chloe, and both women let out a little nervous laughter. They stepped out of the hug, and Beca straightened her jacket.

"Okay, singing," she mused aloud. All normal songs were suddenly missing from her mind. All she could think to sing was Stevie Nicks, and there was no way she was going to sing that with Chloe standing right there.

"Oh!" the redhead exclaimed. "Titanium!"

Beca tilted her head as her interest piqued.

"You know David Guetta?"

"Have I been living under a rock? Yeah," Chloe replied, then she dropped her voice and leaned in.

"That remix of yours is really good," she breathed. "I need to hear it for real. I'm pretty jealous that Plaza got to hear it before me."

"They aired that?" Beca asked, and Chloe nodded. Beca was about to ask more when Chloe jumped in.

"Sing it," she urged. "To warm up."

Beca took a deep breath and thought about it. Her eyes shifted to and from Chloe's gaze as she started to sing.

Bulletproof, nothing to lose.

Chloe jumped in to sing with her, and Beca almost lost the rhythm.

Fire away, fire away.

Wow, they sounded fantastic together. The harmonies were spot-on. Beca's eyes were locked on Chloe's now, and the pair continued to sing.

Ricochet, you take your aim.

Fire away, fire away.

Shoot me down, but I won't fall.

I am titanium.

Shoot me down, but I won't fall.

I am titanium.

Beca couldn't help it; her gaze fell to Chloe's lips. They were perfect, and after that display of melodic wonder, Beca really wanted to kiss her again. Beca could tell Chloe felt the same, because she glanced down, and then they were just staring at each other's lips, glancing up to meet each other's eyes, and maybe if they just-

"Damn, you two," CR whistled from the sliding door. "Get a room."

"Seriously," Amy chimed in as she passed her. "We're all thinking it. Hashtag Bloe, am I right?"

"Mitchell!" Hannah called, and faintly Beca could hear the sound of gravel crunching under an approaching car in the driveway. "You're out of time, let's go!"

Understatement of the century.

Chapter Text

Being the type of musician that she was, Beca had had to learn a few things for herself.

When she liked the kick that Kesha used in Your Love is My Drug, she asked her dad for a drum kit.

And instead of a drum kit, she got a lecture on the importance of appreciating what she had.

So she thought about what she had.

By then, Beca was already fairly good at the piano, and she could do a few chords on her mom's guitar. But that wasn't a kick drum. A specific kick drum, just a solitary beat, in a single song. Beca knew that she wanted the drum kit because there was a sound that she needed to hear with her own ears. That note was suspended in real time and real space, and Beca knew it could be recreated, but she knew she couldn't do it with what she had.

So, like anyone under the age of 20, she Google'd it.

She navigated through the YouTube covers and lyric sites. It took a few tries to get the search words right, but then Beca was learning about drum samples and about how to map drums without a kit, about making loops.

She downloaded some free music editing software onto her parents' computer, and then her songs weren't simple melodies anymore. They were real, with drums, and electronic instrument loops.

And vocals sung into her family's shitty headset microphone that she found in a basket of cords in the closet and otherwise had no discernible origins.

Suddenly, a drum set would have been the worst purchase. Not because Beca wouldn't have liked it, but because it would have limited her.

Now she wanted an iMac, and a midi controller, and a sample pad.

She wanted a soundboard and a couple less shitty mics.

A few years later, she wanted a subwoofer and some speakers.

Then she wanted a full 88-key keyboard.

Then an electric guitar.

Then a bass.

And then and only then had she circled back around to wanting the drum kit.

She didn't have all of those things - only an acoustic guitar and a typical keyboard, along with her laptop and midi - but she wanted them. She had the basics, and now she wanted to build. She wanted specifics. Her software and plug-ins did a lot of the heavy lifting, but sometimes nothing could replace a live crash or blown out bass note.

But in a roundabout way, Beca learned to make her music by appreciating what she had. So when she stepped into the pool house at the American Idol mansion, Beca knew what she was looking at.

First, she saw the ten-piece drum set tucked in the corner. Then, the mic stand, front and center. There was a full-sized Yamaha keyboard in the front corner of the room, oh my god would that be fun to play. Four guitars, one acoustic, and maybe one was a bass, those were in a rack off to the side, a giant effects pedal right next to them. A two stack of amps in the back. Cords criss-crossed the grey hardwood floors, and a solitary stool sat by the built-in bar, which was the only remnant of the room's former purpose as a living room.

And across from her, on a desk next to the entrance to the kitchen, was a huge twelve channel sound board.

"Beca Mitchell, good to see you again."

Beca turned to see an extremely tall and skinny man blustering through the door. He was bald and had dark rimmed glasses, which matched his dark sweater and jeans. He threw his keys at the kitchen counter and rolled his shoulders.

"I will never get used to traffic in this town," he groaned, stretching his neck. "And it doesn't help that this place is fifteen minutes from any reasonable cheeseburger."

He stopped mid-stretch and laughed at Beca's crestfallen expression.

"You don't remember me from Hollywood week, do you?" he asked, and Beca shook her head. The man chuckled softly.

"It was a crazy week for all of us," he pondered idly. "I had to ask the pianist, 'Does this happen every year?' and all he would tell me was 'Just wait.' Do you know how ominous that sounds? 'Just wait.' Like the most stressful thing I could imagine was insignificant in the face of what I couldn't. Like there was this big, looming, terrible thing that I am currently unable to even fathom. That's terrifying."

Beca gave a tight smile and nod as she walked around the room. She was at the keyboard, fingers itching to boot the machine up and take it for a spin.

"Anyway," the man went on. "I'm Carl. I'm the band leader. We worked together on your song, I'm Still Here. And it's just me today, unfortunately. We're going to work on your next song."

"Is this your equipment?" Beca couldn't help asking. There was probably $5,000 worth of gear in the room, which was something Beca could only dream of.

And if it was just going to be here, on the property, all the time, for them to practice with?

Could she switch rooms? She could sleep on the kitchen counter.

Her eyes were still fixed on the keyboard when Carl answered.

"It belongs to the show," Carl said, and Beca could hear the grin in his tone. "Do you want to play it?"

"No!" Beca laughed as she slid into the seat. "I couldn't possibly!"

The keyboard chimed on, and Beca tentatively pressed the keys. Even through the built-in speaker, the chords rang out with pleasing depth and tone.

"Oh, that's nice," she sighed, plinking out an E chord with both hands. She ran the notes up and down, letting them build on each other with each added press of the finger.

"How long have you played?"

"Since I was-"

"Well look who finally made it!"

The pair looked up and caught Gail Abernathy-McKadden's entrance, grand as always. She threw her jacket into the kitchen and surveyed the two musicians before her.

"Beca Mitchell! In the flesh! Are you ready to get me those ratings?"

Beca glanced between the producer and Carl, who wore a bemused expression. She shrugged.

"I think I'm just going to sing," she offered.

"Just don't lose any of that moxie!" Gail schmoozed. Beca felt the tinge of annoyance. The blonde had an undeniable showmanship that she never turned off, and it didn't sit right with Beca. The producer perched herself on the edge of the built-in bar and leaned in.

"So what song did you pick?"

"Hadn't gotten there yet," Carl jumped in. "I didn't even tell her the specs."

"Okay!" Gail cheered, and Beca stifled a groan. The woman sounded like she was displaying prize packages on The Price is Right.

"Let's get to it!"

Gail explained that the first live show was going to be "pump-up songs!" She wanted songs that got people moving and dancing, something they could feel. She and Carl ran through a couple of the examples from the other women, artists like Spice Girls, Andy Grammer, and Shania Twain. They told Beca she had a couple days to practice here in the studio, with Carl and whomever else she needed, "just tell us what you need."

Then, all day Tuesday, they would be in the space rehearsing onstage.

"And we want you to be unique, but not too unique," Gail said.

"There's a fine line between eccentric and esoteric," Carl added.

"It's okay, I think I already have an idea," Beca cut them both off. "I was thinking We Are Young by fun. It's one that I always come back to when I want to get my blood moving."

Carl nodded but looked to Gail, whose smile had turned from one of excitement to perverse glee.

"I think that's a great idea," she breathed. The tone had shifted- to what, Beca didn't know. She caught it, and she thought Carl caught it too, but she couldn't place Gail's tilt in mood. They were both trying to figure out just why Gail had become so impish when she stood up suddenly.

"I'm going to go get the interview set up, Becky," she said. "I'll see you in a little while!"

"It's Beca!" the brunette shouted after her, and this time, Gail turned around in the doorway and laughed.

"Oh, I know!"

She stepped into the backyard and shut the french doors behind her, leaving an eerie silence over the room.

"See? Like that," Carl spoke up. "Ominous."

"What?"

"Nothing," Carl replied offhandedly. "Okay, so fun.?"

Beca got up from the keyboard and pulled out her phone. She put the song on, letting it play through the small phone speaker. Carl listened as the drums set the song off in a syncopated rhythm, nodded along with the beat. He slipped behind the drumset and started tapping out the hits on the snare.

"I think it's the floor tom," Beca offered, and Carl switched over, playing the beat on the large drum on the other side of the kick drum. That was it; the notes were lower and wider. Beca tried to sing along with the song, but the key was a little low for her. She paused the song before the chorus, and Carl stopped drumming. He tapped the drumstick against his temple as he thought.

"You know what?" he said. "Let's try…"

Carl stepped out from the drumset and over to the keyboard.

"It's my favorite instrument in here," he explained as he clicked a few buttons. He pressed middle C and, instead of a piano note, the keyboard now emitted a cymbal hit. He clicked around the keys until he found some sounds that sounded like the floor tom and hit another button at the top edge of the keyboard. Immediately, he played the drum rhythm from We Are Young on the keyboard, twice through, then he hit a button again. Then, with a few clicks, he had looped the drums to keep playing on repeat.

"Wait, okay," Beca jumped in. "You have to show me how you did that."

Carl grinned and motioned for Beca to come closer to the keyboard.

Beca didn't need to be told twice.

The pair of musicians worked on the song for a good two hours before Hannah came back in and told Beca she needed to get touch-up for the interview.

And despite the fact that she had seriously considered not coming back to the show, Beca was in a surprisingly good mood. Carl had called over a pianist and a drummer so he could help Beca on her vocals, and though she hadn’t gotten to work with them long, she was loving it.

Not only did Carl know a hell of a lot about music, but he was also a great teacher. Beca knew her voice was good, and she knew that she knew a lot about playing music, but she had never done any vocal training.

Carl was patient as he taught Beca about different mouth shapes, and about the difference in the fun. vocalist style versus her own. Beca knew there was a difference between the two, but it took Carl to tell her which one was better for her and how she needed to get there.

The four of them did some recordings on his computer through the soundboard, and Beca was blown away.

The equipment, the artists, and the finessing had taken a song she liked to sing to something that sounded like it was made for her.

She wondered if Aubrey Posen had been good at being a band leader as she made her way back to the main house. Posen seemed too severe, too rigid. Beca couldn't see the judge helping her in the way that Carl did.

The day's modest warmth was leaving with the setting sun as Beca opened the back door to go inside. Emily and her mom Katherine were sitting at the dining table with Hannah, the production assistant.

"Beca! Hi!" Emily chirped as soon as Beca was inside. "How'd it go? What are you singing? No, wait, don't tell me. I want to be surprised. You're so talented, ah!"

"Woah, pump the brakes," Beca laughed, and so did Katherine.

"Sorry, Beca, you have a couple of fans here," she said, gesturing to between herself and her daughter.

"Do you do original songs?" Emily went on. "Because I've been working on this one, and if you could maybe-"

“Tell her later, Emily,” Hannah cut her off. "Mitchell, the interview's happening in your room. Go on back."

Beca shrugged at Emily and her mom before heading back into the master suite. She opened the door to find a similar set-up to the one she'd seen before: two cameras, one facing the couch against the wall, and the other facing an empty chair. Gail was sitting on the far side of the bed and perked up when Beca and the PA entered.

"Chair," Hannah said before Beca could even ask. "At the desk."

She clicked the side of her headset and called for make-up.

"So Becky," Gail started as Beca sat. "This will be fifteen minutes tops, but it will be intense. We need to expand on the brooding young woman we've seen. I want nitty, and I want gritty. And I want to know that you will be able to give it."

"What are you going to ask about?" Beca asked as the same make-up artist came back into the room. He pulled Beca's chin up to look at him as he tutted.

"You wiped off your gloss," he chided.

"I told you I didn't want it," Beca countered under her breath, and the artist sucked his teeth.

"Well I don't think that's any of my concern," he replied as he picked up a face brush and started applying more powder to Beca's face.

"Becky, I'm not asking you anything."

Beca turned to look at the producer and caught a devilish grin. The MUA gasped and pulled Beca's face back to him.

"Eyes on me, hunny, don't you ever move," he scolded.

"Then who-"

But Beca didn't have to finish her question, because the door to her bathroom opened and out stepped Aubrey Posen. She looked immaculately put together in her light grey sweater and short floral skirt.

"Beca," Aubrey said in a clipped, cheery tone. "Nice to see you finally got here."

Beca hummed in reply as she kept her eyes on the make-up artist. She was glad she didn't have to look at the blonde just yet.

Cool, she thought, I'm going to be interviewed by the person who hates me more than anyone else on this stupid show.

"We'll cover the basics," Posen said. She checked her reflection in the floor length mirror beside the desk and took her seat in the armchair. "Background, music, why you're on the show."

"I know you addressed some of that already with Jesse," she said snidely. "But you weren't mic'd."

"And that's my fault?" Beca shot back as the make-up artist touched up her eye shadow. His eyes widened at Beca and he looked away, trying to keep from laughing.

Posen's facade faltered slightly, and then she righted herself.

"I'd like to talk about your mother, if you can," she went on, as if Beca hadn’t say anything. To Posen’s credit, the blonde waited a beat for Beca to give her an okay on the topic.

Beca thought about it. After her solo during Hollywood week, she'd been expecting her mom to come up.

But did she want to talk about it, here, now, with Aubrey Posen?

"You're done, hun," the make-up artist said. "Good luck."

He collected his make-up and stepped out of the room as the camera crew came in. Beca recognized one of them - Jerry, he'd taught her about talking heads, and maybe been in the interview with Plaza? - and he gave her a small wave. She nodded back in acknowledgment before turning to Posen.

"Yeah, we can talk about my mom," she said, and relief passed over Aubrey's face. Beca almost smiled at the judge, but she held it back. She forgot how worked up Posen got over everything.

After moving to the couch and settling in, Beca had the presence of mind to straighten her outfit and flatten her hair. She looked at Hannah, and the dark-haired woman came over to lay her hair over her shoulder so it looked good on camera.

"Jacket?" Hannah asked Gail over her shoulder. Gail looked for a moment, then nodded.

"On," she replied. "Okay, are we ready? Can we get a glass of water for Becky please?"

Hannah nodded and stepped out of the room.

"Let's roll sound, roll cameras," Posen called, and the crew got into place. They signaled to Posen that they were ready just as Hannah came back in.

She leaned down to put the glass of water in front of Beca, catching the woman's eye.

"You'll be fine," she mouthed, then winked. Beca's face scrunched up in what would never be mistaken as a "happy" smile, then she turned to Posen.

"Beca Mitchell, welcome back to American Idol!" the judge said with a little flourish of her hands. She was smiling broadly - too broadly - and Beca couldn't help the way her face stayed scrunched.

"Uh, happy to be here," she replied, chastising herself in her head. She probably looked constipated.

"And we're happy to have you," Posen replied in her same clipped tone that implied that she wasn't quite overjoyed. "Tell me, what do you think of the show so far?"

"It's, uh," Beca stalled. She couldn't tell Posen that she hadn't watched it, but she didn't want to lie. "Everyone that's talked to me about it thinks it's pretty great."

"Well I asked what you thought," the judge pushed, and Beca sighed.

So much for that strategy.

"I, uh, I haven't watched much," Beca stammered. Posen's eyes nearly bugged out of her head. She looked to Gail for help, but the producer was ecstatic, her mouth hanging open in a silent, joyous gasp. She caught Posen's eyes and rolled her fingers to tell her to keep going.

"It's not about the show," Beca continued. She couldn't badmouth the show to Posen again, no matter how much animosity was between them. "I just don't like the idea of watching myself on TV."

"And why's that?"

Posen was glaring now, and her eyes were wild. Beca felt her face getting red. All good will from the music session with Carl was gone. She was trapped in the reality TV show world again.

"I don't know," Beca replied, then she sighed. She might as well try to explain it.

"It's, like, you know when you cook food for hours and then you sit down to eat it and you're not hungry?" she said, the words rushing out of her mouth and nearly running over each other. "I was snacking the entire time or something. And now I'm too full to eat. I don't even want it. That's how I feel about the show. I lived it, I was there, I saw all the parts I wanted to see. And instead of, like, being excited to eat, to watch the show, I'm full. I'm full of- of myself."

Beca heard Gail choke on a laugh over on the bed, but she didn't dare look. Posen was blinking at her wildly, and Beca could see the gears turning in her head, trying to get this interview back to some version of normal.

"You're full of yourself," Posen repeated, and Beca sighed.

"Well not like that," she tried.

"Right," Posen said sarcastically, and Beca scoffed as she rolled her eyes. Her instincts were right; Posen was going to be a bitch this entire time.

"You really don't like me, do you?" she said with a smirk.

"I don't like your attitude," the judge shot back.

"You don't even know me."

"I know you have a toner! For Chloe!" Posen replied, and Beca started to laugh.

"What?" she giggled.

"Nothing, nevermind," the judge brushed off. "Why are you even here, if not to take part in the show? Plenty of other women would be happy to be here, and yet you don't even want to watch it?"

"Right, well, you're not the boss of me," Beca reminded the judge.

"You signed a contract-"

"Look, I'm here to sing, okay?" Beca cut in. "I'm a contestant, and a damn good one. I'm pretty sure you need me more than I need you."

The women stared at each other for a moment. Beca was fuming. If there was one thing she couldn't stand, it was people think they were better than her.

"You know what, fine," Posen said. "If you're not here to participate in the show, then why are you here?"

Beca waited a moment and took a deep breath. If Posen was going to back off, she could try to as well.

"I like music," Beca replied slowly, trying to control her temper. "I want to work in music. And if being on this show lets me show that, then it's where I want to be."

"Okay. Did you always want to work in music?"

"I have, yeah," Beca replied. Her anger finally broke when she remembered the old story about her musical start, and she smiled softly.

"I got my first instrument for when I was, like, ten months old. It was one of those little kid pianos, you know? With the colored metal that pinged when you hit the keys? My mom got it for me, because I was always trying to play the big one with her, but my hands were too small."

Beca laughed.

"I've been playing music since before I could walk," she mused. Aubrey's expression softened as Beca continued.

"I started lessons after that, on the piano. And I got pretty good. Then I started playing my mom's old guitar," she said wistfully. "I wasn't very good at that, but it was still fun. It all was. I sang a little bit too, but it was never about that. I just like to make music. Always have."

Beca was getting a little worked up. She didn't think about the role that music played in her life very often; she didn't have to.

It was just always there.

"Your mom played guitar?" Aubrey pressed, and Beca knew what the judge was fishing for.

"She did," Beca replied, smiling. "And she played keyboard at our church, so there was always music being made in our house. But she loved Broadway, too. Any type of music, really."

"Can you tell us the story of her passing?"

Beca sighed.

"It was cancer," she said simply. "She got sick a while ago. My parents had split up by then, and I was living with my dad but - well, I moved back in with her to help. She died last November. Not last, like last year. The one before last."

"Is that why you dedicated your solo song to her?" Posen asked.

Beca smiled.

"Not really," she replied. Her eyes were definitely misty now. "That song was for my mom because it was one of her favorites. And we played a lot of music together. She would've been all about this show."

Beca chuckled as she thought about it.

"She would've made me watch it with her, for sure," she laughed, and Posen smiled too.

"And your dad? Or siblings?"

Beca tensed. She should've thought about this. Of course they'd ask; they didn't know anything about her. She should've thought about her answer before the question was staring her in the face.

"Uh, I have a brother," Beca replied slowly, buying time. "He's responsible for all of the awful parts of my personality. But I don't see him much, he's older. Military. And yeah, my dad - and his wife, my stepmom. They're around."

"Do they support the music?"

Beca couldn't help the sardonic laugh that came out of her mouth.

"They don't support anything about me," she replied, then she let out another sigh.

"I don't think I turned out the way that they wanted me to."

Beca could see that Posen wanted to ask more, but Gail flashed a sort of "wrap-it-up" gesture. Posen nodded at Beca, and the brunette gave a small smile back.

"So, what are we going to see from Beca Effin' Mitchell tonight?" Posen asked, flipping back into judge mode, and Beca blinked rapidly.

"Tonight? You mean Wednesday?"

"Jesus, Mitchell," Posen groaned as her expression broke. "Have you no sense of showmanship? We'd be airing this right before your performance. So, yes, what will we see from you at Wednesday's show?"

"You could warn a girl," Beca muttered, then she took a deep breath and started again. "I'm singing We Are Young by fun."

Posen eeped out an inhumanly high-pitched noise.

"Cut the cameras!" she called, voice still high, and Beca looked to the crew, to Hannah, to anyone for help. Posen was on her feet at the door.

"Gail! Car! Now!" she shouted, then she stormed out.

"What'd I do?"

"You were absolutely great, Becky," Gail praised. "Amazing. Couldn't have planned it better myself. So wonderful. Can't wait to see you later."

"You guys are coming back?" Hannah butted in. "Can I go home?"

"No," Gail replied. "Take dinner and be back here with a crew later tonight, around seven. We'll be back."

Gail followed Aubrey's path out of the suite, and Hannah turned to Jerry and his crew.

"This show is so stupid," Hannah mumbled, and Beca laughed.

"That's what I've been saying," the brunette agreed. She could feel anxiety start to build up in her, though. That was definitely not a positive reaction.

"Do you know what's going on?" she asked Hannah.

"Nope," Hannah replied. "And they couldn't pay me enough to care."

Beca nodded.

"Yeah, I get that."

"Becs!"

Chloe came barreling into the room as she called to her friend. The redhead saw Jerry and his crew first, saying hi to each of them by name, then she found Beca on the couch.

"I just saw Bree run out, is everything okay?"

Beca shrugged.

"We don't know what happened," she replied. "But I guess they're coming back later, so I'm sure we'll find out."

"Then we don't have much time!" Chloe exclaimed. "Come on!"

Chloe pulled Beca up from the couch and into the hallway. In the kitchen, she grabbed her yellow cup from the counter and turned to Beca.

"Drink?"

"What? Drink what? Wait, what's going on?"

The entire cast of women was in the pit, with Katherine and either Jessica or Ashley (shit, I really need to figure that out) on chairs from the dining table pulled up behind the couch. There were take-out containers everywhere, and the TV was in sleep mode. The women turned as they heard Beca and Chloe come in.

"Shortstack!" Amy called. "We're having a Beca Effin' Mitchell marathon!"

"Ah, ha. No," Beca replied, stepping back towards her room. "No, I'm not doing that."

Chloe whined as Beca twisted out of her grip. She saw Stacie and Flo share a look before they got up to clear the take-out containers, headed to the kitchen.

"Yes you are! We are!" Chloe pressed, reaching back out to her. "We got you Chinese! The whole house voted!"

"I didn't!" Beca protested.

Suddenly, there was a hand on each of her biceps. Flo and Stacie had bracketed her on either side, and they were slowly guiding her to the couch.

"It'll be fun," Stacie whispered seductively in her ear. "Voyeurism is hot."

"I would not try to escape," Flo warned. "I wrestled cartel members, and you are much smaller than them."

"Chloe!" Stacie called. "Vodka, and the Chinese food!"

Stacie and Flo forced Beca down the steps into the pit and onto the center section of the couch. Flo went back to the front corner, but Stacie sat down right next to Beca. She kept a defensive arm braced over the smaller woman.

"Seriously," Stacie said, dropping her voice. "You need to watch. It's important that you know how they're representing you on the show."

"But-"

Chloe appeared over her shoulder, leaning over the back of the couch and offering her a red solo cup with a bit of clear liquid in the bottom.

"Please?" the redhead pleaded. The blue sweater made her eyes pop with color, and right now, they were huge and round, begging Beca to agree to this.

"It'll be really fun, I promise."

Groaning, Beca grabbed the cup of vodka and downed it, handing the empty cup back to Chloe.

"More," she said, then she sighed. "Let's get this over with."

Somebody brought the TV out of sleep mode, and Beca sank into the couch. And even though she knew she was going to regret watching the show, but she didn't think she'd immediately cringe.

The show was already cued up to her audition, and Beca was red before they hit play. The women around her laughed and sang with her, and Emily and Chloe were both trying to do the cup routine. Amy guffawed as the song ended.

"That was really lame, Beca," she said seriously.

"They made me do it!" Beca tried to explain. At least the alcohol was hitting. She felt warm, especially with Chloe's hip in line with hers. Somebody shushed the group as the judges gave their comments, and Emily and Chloe gave up on their cups in favor of settling back into the couch.

Beca knew they were all there to see her reaction to her performances on the show, but she wasn't even paying attention. Chloe had sunk into the pillows at Beca's shoulder, leaning some of her weight against the small brunette.

The vodka had to be working double-time, because Beca's skin was on fire.

Onscreen, Beca was telling Posen that American Idol was a garbage show, and the women burst into laughter.

"That wasn't very nice," Katherine said in her ear as she leaned over the couch.

"Well that's on-brand for me, then," Beca shot back, and the older woman laughed.

"You really didn't watch, did you?" she countered, and Beca turned to look at her. Katherine was smiling and shaking her head, and Beca mirrored the motion.

"Just watch," she said, flicking her head back to the TV.

The show caught up when Beca and Jesse were outside the room.

"-I like singing. But when people act like they're better than everyone else, I get pi- uh. Ticked. I get ticked off," Beca said onscreen.

"But that wasn't the only twist that the day had to offer! Beca was about to make a brand new friend," Jesse's voice boomed over the pair talking onscreen.

"Yep, we got one through! Beca is going to Hollywood! And you are?"

It was weird to see the scene from this angle. Chloe was hugging her tightly, and Beca watched as the version of herself onscreen tried and failed to keep her eyes off the redhead.

She watched herself glance at Chloe's eyes, her lips, and at their arms where they were connected.

Chloe had turned forward to introduce herself, but it was like Beca forgot they were on TV at all.

She only had eyes for Chloe.

"Watch out, Hollywood! Beca is coming for ya! And hopefully Chloe too!" Jesse said onscreen, and then the show cut to commercial.

"Okay, who's got the remote?" Chloe called as she sat forward. She grabbed Beca's cup off the table and handed it to Beca, who shot her a look of gratitude.

"We don't need to watch my audition."

"I mean, I'd like to," Beca said under her breath, but apparently it was just loud enough for her seatmates to hear. Chloe flashed her a dazzling smile, and she felt an elbow at her other side.

"I bet you'd like to watch her do everything, huh?" Stacie whispered, and Beca flushed.

"I don't- I didn't-"

"Don't be crass, Stacie," Chloe said. “We have to keep moving!"

CR exited out to the main menu of the show, and Beca was shocked to still see her and Chloe hugging onscreen. It was covered with blue from the show, and Beca realized suddenly that production had used the picture of the pair as the cover art of the episode.

"What the hell," she laughed as she took a large swig of her mixed drink. Chloe looked confused for a second, glancing at the TV.

"Oh, yeah," Chloe brushed off. "I guess we made an impression."

"What does that say at the end of the description? Hashtag Beca and Chloe? And then Hashtag Bloe?"

"Don't worry about it," Chloe again tried to downplay what was onscreen. "CR! Next episode!"

"Are they- is the show, like, putting our names together?" Beca pressed.

Chloe hummed and squinted at the TV. Her mouth opened and closed once before she spoke.

"Do you know what a 'ship' is?"

"Like a boat?" Beca smiled and shook her head. She went to take another drink, but her cup was empty again.

She was so confused at what was happening here. Did the show give them, like, a couple name? Or was that like a thing, like everyone that got through the auditions got their names smashed together?

She felt Stacie laugh on her other side.

"Hot stuff, you're in for a treat," she purred. She wrapped an arm under the smaller woman and tucked her head against her shoulder. Beca saw as Chloe watched Stacie cuddle up to her, and the redhead quickly finished her drink.

"Refill?" she asked Beca, and Beca nodded. Chloe took her cup from her and stood, striding quickly into the kitchen.

Stacie hummed against Beca's shoulder and started to whisper in her ear.

"Is Chloe looking?" she said softly. Beca was definitely tipsy now, and she thought Stacie might be too. Beca twisted her head between them and saw Chloe in the kitchen. She was glaring at the pair on the couch and, when Beca made eye contact, the redhead shot back something from her cup and went to refill it.

"Yeah," Beca breathed. Stacie smiled. Their faces were really close. Beca had to blink to get her eyes to focus.

"Don't let her drink too much. And you need to slow down too," Stacie said softly. "You guys need to talk, and you shouldn't be wasted for that."

"About what?"

Stacie laughed and extracted herself from Beca’s side, leaning back towards CR instead.

"You'll see."

"Are we ready?" CR asked, and Beca turned her attention back to the TV. Onscreen, Beca was onstage at the Hollywood week theater with only a mic in front of her.

"You skipped the voice over?"

Chloe was back, setting hers and Beca's cups on the table and sitting back down next to Beca. She sat a little farther away this time, and Beca knew her face betrayed her disappointment.

"Do I need to go back?"

"No, it's okay," Chloe replied. She turned to Beca. "Beca, Jesse said you caused waves at your first audition by standing up to the feared judge Aubrey Posen, but that tonight, you would hopefully redeem yourself."

"Got it memorized?” Stacie teased.

Chloe glared at Stacie as the scene started. Beca was rapping No Diggity in the most awkward way. At the time, onstage, it had felt fairly normal to just start going, but now watching it back, she wanted to hide in embarrassment. Beca pulled the collar of her leather jacket up around her face.

"Wait, here it comes," Chloe said, pulling Beca's arm back away from her face. She pulled it onto her lap, and Beca's hand landed on Chloe's thigh. Still embarrassed, Beca spread her hand out and gripped Chloe's thigh tightly, and Beca heard the redhead gasp.

There was singing happening on the screen, and cheering happening around them, but Beca couldn't focus. She glanced over and saw that Chloe's eyes were glued to the TV, but her mouth was open in a loose "o." She could feel that the redhead was breathing fast.

"I can't get her out of my mind!" Beca sang on TV, and Beca turned to watch just as the camera cut. It was a bad angle, all the way across the auditorium from the front corner of the stage, but Beca could clearly see Chloe standing in the middle of the crowd. A few other women were standing too, dotting around the numerous women that were there, but they were all looking at Chloe.

"Wow!" onscreen Chloe called back.

"I think about the girl all the time!"

"Wow, wow!"

The auditorium exploded, and so did the room that Beca was in now. Everyone was singing, dancing, and cheering, and even Beca was smiling. But a little bloom of anxiety was starting to grow inside her, and it flared even bigger when "#BecaAndChloe" appeared in the corner of the screen as the song finished.

Seriously, what's going on? Why do they keep putting me and Chloe together?

They called the rest of the women onstage, and Beca saw the camera zoom in on her and Chloe again. She remembered that they talked after the performance, but what she was watching on TV looked… intimate. They had their arms wrapped around each other, and, again, Beca was just staring at Chloe.

Chloe was looking at her too, but at least the redhead looked like she was listening to the judges.

Beca watched herself watch Chloe. Her eyes were basically heart shaped.

It was a lot.

On the couch, Beca pulled her arm away from Chloe. She tried to make it look casual by grabbing for her drink, but she settled further away from Chloe on the couch. The redhead shot her a questioning look before she turned to CR.

"To the groups!"

Beca sat back, quiet as the rest of the room discussed the show. Beca knew Chloe was better at the whole TV thing that she was. Her alcohol-addled mind began to turn in more sinister ways. Was the show manipulating Chloe and her together so they made for better TV?

Or worse, was Chloe using her?

She didn't like the thought, and she didn't like the way it took root. But it explained a lot. Why else would somebody like Chloe be interested in her? The redheaded was way too good for her. And she obviously wanted to set herself apart from everyone else, Beca knew that from day one.

And what better way to do that then to grab onto someone that was already a problem?

Chloe was the golden child, and Beca was the bad kid.

It was ratings heaven.

The paranoia only got worse from there. There was the interview that Beca gave where she said she wasn't worried about changing songs because their group had a good captain. The camera had followed her line of sight across the lobby to Chloe, who saw the camera, and saw Beca, and then she smiled so softly and sweetly.

Then, a camera had gotten a shot across the mezzanine lobby of Chloe comforting Beca in the middle of the night. There wasn't any audio, but Jesse had certainly taken some liberties in his voice-over, saying "the night had certainly gotten to a few of the contestants, but it brought them closer together."

And onstage the next day, they saw when Chloe convinced Beca to sing with their group during their soundcheck.

Beca was quiet, and the rest of the group had settled in too. Beca couldn't read the mood. Maybe it was just late enough that everybody was getting tired from the long day, but Beca didn't think that was it. She felt like they were seeing through the whole thing too.

But she was also pretty amped up with her anxiety and alcohol.

CR clicked off the group episode as Beca and the other women advanced to the next round. A couple women got up to get refills or snacks, including Stacie and Chloe. Beca watched as CR skipped a few down, settling on the last of the solo episodes.

"Only one more, Beca," she offered, and Beca let out a helpless laugh.

"I hate this," she spat, but CR laughed in return.

"I get it," she said. "You and Red seem pretty close though, eh?"

Beca laughed, but it was hollow again. She stood and turned away from the TV, facing the kitchen. Chloe was watching her, and the redhead smiled softly, but Beca only scowled.

"It sure seemed that way, huh?" Beca said to CR, who frowned.

"What?"

"Whatever," Beca replied. "I just- it's TV, you know? Reality TV. Which means none of it is real."

"You should ask her about it," CR pressed, and Beca scoffed.

"Right, should I wait til the cameras come back? I bet it'd be a really dramatic episode," she asked. CR only shrugged.

Suddenly, Beca was done. She didn't want to participate in the pageantry anymore.

"You know what?" she said loudly. "I think I'm just going to go to bed."

Emily and a couple of the other women protested.

"But we're so close! You have to see the Plaza interview," Emily cried. "You can tell that you guys are, like, so similar. And she really likes your song."

"I was there," Beca replied sharply. "I know what happened."

"Becs? Is everything okay?"

Grimacing, Beca turned to the voice. Chloe had walked back down into the pit and was standing on the other side of the couch, watching Beca closely.

"I'm just fucking fi-"

But Beca's outburst was cut short by the back door sliding open as Posen, Gail, and the crew came back in.

"Oh, good, you're all here," Posen said. "Can we get everyone to come to the pit?"

The women resettled uneasily, hiding beer bottles and anything that had a brand name on it at Gail's direction. Jerry stayed up in the main area of the dining room and set up his camera while he sent his other camera operator into the corner of the pit to face the women.

"What's going on?" Stacie asked Posen, laying a hand on her arm, but the judge shook her off.

"And I have to do this on camera?" Posen turned to Gail, and the producer nodded.

"Ratings. Gold," Gail responded, and Posen took a short, deep breath.

"Okay," she resigned. "Is everybody ready?"

"Aubrey," Chloe said slowly. She stayed standing behind the couch, behind Beca, as Stacie fell into the seat next to Beca. "You're scaring us."

"Okay, ladies!" Posen started, clapping her hands together once. "It seems there was a miscommunication in the specs for this week's live performance."

She cleared her throat and forced herself to keep eye contact with the women.

"It's true that we are going to do pump-up songs, but there was an additional stipulation that was intended to impact song selection," she explained. "I wanted each song to be a song made famous by a- by a woman."

Posen sucked in a big breath and plastered on a motivated smile.

"After some review with the producers, we're going to keep the stipulation," she continued. "A Posen never compromises. Like my dad always said, 'If at first you don't succeed, pack your bags.'"

The women shuffled awkwardly at that, and Posen went on.

"That means that some of you will need to select a new song," she started hesitantly. "Jessica, you can't sing Andy Grammer. And Emily, we'll have to find something other than Shape of You. And Beca-"

"Bullshit!"

The women turned to look at Beca at her outburst.

Oh, had she said that out loud?

Right, I’m drunk.

"Beca, you had something to add?" Posen asked through gritted teeth.

"This is bullshit," Beca repeated.

"It's fine," Emily jumped in, looking to a blonde contestant that must've been Jessica. The blonde nodded enthusiastically in agreement. "We'll pick something else."

"Thank you," Posen said with a rough exhale. She turned back to Beca hesitantly. "Beca, you've only been working on it for a couple hours, and-"

"What a fucking night," Beca shouted sarcastically. She stood from the couch and pushed her way out of the pit and towards the back door of the main house. She felt a hand try to pull her back - probably Chloe - and her anger doubled.

It was all about ratings.

Every bit of it.

She threw open the sliding door and took off into the darkness. They wanted ratings? They wanted a song? Well, she'd give them a fucking song.

Noooo problem.

Chapter Text

Beca rolled and stretched on the bed, trying to get her bearings on where exactly she was as she woke up Monday morning.

"She's been in here all night," someone was saying. "And normally we wouldn't even, like, care, like at all, we'd let her work in here as long as she needed, but we kind of need the space to work on our songs too."

"We worked a little bit this morning, just on our phones," another voice said.

Beca got off the bed. She'd lost the leather jacket, but the ripped jeans and tank top had stayed, askew from an unrestful night of sleep. She stumbled beyond the partial wall of the bedroom into the kitchen.

Pool house, right, that's where I am.

And apparently other people were, too.

"Beca!" Carl greeted her. "I heard some shit went down last night."

Emily, Katherine, and Jessica were with him too. Beca tried to blink out of her sleepy hungover-ness.

"Do you need the studio still?" Carl asked, and Beca shook her head.

"I already did a song," she yawned. "On the keyboard. We can figure it out later."

"The whole thing?" Emily asked. "Can we hear it?"

"Fine," Beca started, but her body had other plans. She went to clear her throat, but instead she coughed loudly as her nose was still clogged from sleep and her windpipe felt like sandpaper.

"Actually, my voice is kinda shit right now," she grumbled.

Katherine gave a low chuckle.

"Vodka," she said. Beca was about to tell her that it was probably from the late-night scream singing, but Katherine stopped her.

"I'll take sleeping beauty here and get her some tea," she said, wrapping an arm around Beca's shoulders. The small brunette tried to shake her off, but Katherine's grip was tight. "Emily, are you okay here with Jessica?"

Emily gave the okay, and Katherine ushered Beca out of the pool house.

"Don't mess with the recordings on the keyboar- ah! Fuck that's bright!" Beca shouted as she stepped outside. She rubbed her eyes furiously as she let Katherine guide her around the pool.

"You won't find any sympathy here," the older woman chastised. She pushed Beca through the sliding glass door into the main house.

"Sit," she ordered, and Beca did, taking a seat at the end of the dining table. She stretched and felt her pulse echo through every limb in her body, especially her head.

Reverberating bass hangover headache.

Ouch.

"You put on quite a show last night, Beca," Ms. Junk said as she started a kettle of water. "I think you owe a few people apologies."

"Where is everyone?"

Katherine narrowed her eyes at the brunette before answering.

"They went shopping," she said. "They were supposed to rehearse today, in the studio, but somebody had taken up residence and refused to leave. You know, we had to wait for Carl to get here with his back-up keys because that 'somebody' locked us out."

"I bet that somebody's a real asshole," Beca replied sleepily. "Or, hey, maybe she just got blindsided by reality TV bullshit and had to scramble to stay competitive on a show she doesn't even like."

Katherine let the moment hang there for a moment as she busied herself around the kitchen. Beca idly tapped her pockets for her phone. Maybe she left it in the pool house. Or on the couch.

Not that it mattered.

But man, what a night.

She had plowed into the pool house, eyes wild, head heavy with alcohol and anger. The drums were her first instinct, until she realized that not only did she not have any practice on the instrument, but she also didn't have the proper motor skills for drums at the moment.

The keyboard, then, she thought.

And she stayed there for hours.

It was nonsense at first, the chords and keys clashing together chaotically, but a single discordant set - F#, G#, and B - made her pause. This was after she'd used the looping technique that Carl taught her too, and soon she was finding synth tones and heavy electronic bass.

She was obsessive - and a little manic - with all of her focus zeroed in on the sound she wanted to make.

And then she started singing.

Screaming, really, which was why her throat hurt so bad. The song itself wasn't hard, and the melody didn't really lend itself to screaming. But every line of the song made Beca's blood boil, even as the drunkenness started to wane.

She rode the wave of anger until she had to pee, stumbling through the kitchen to find a small suite with a bathroom and a king bed. She used the facilities and then fell face first onto the comforter, where she stayed until the group came in this morning.

Katherine hummed from the kitchen, pulling Beca out of her reverie.

"You weren't the only one that had to change your song," she said softly. "My daughter, and that sweet Jessica, they're both in there working on new songs as well."

Beca groaned.

"It's still bullshit, dude," she replied, still rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. "All of this is."

The kettle started to boil, and Katherine pulled it off the stovetop. She grabbed a bag of tea and poured the boiling water over it, adding a bit of honey as well. She brought it to Beca and sat down across from her.

Beca mumbled a thank you and stared at the steaming cup.

She didn't even like tea.

Beca played with the spoon in her cup of tea, swirling the liquid around methodically. Even her stirring was in rhythm, her spoon tinging against the ceramic mug in time.

"The only thing I'll say is this," Ms. Junk said after a moment. Beca glanced up and, seeing the openness and genuine care in her expression, she promptly returned her stare to the mug in front of her.

Ting. Ting. Ting. Ting.

"This place can be as real as you decide to make it, reality TV show or not," she said. "You just have to be honest."

She stood, but Beca didn't look up this time. Katherine walked back into the backyard without another word, leaving Beca at the table alone.

Which was how she liked it, right?

Beca prided herself on her ability to be independent, to be alone. But suddenly she felt something akin to loneliness. What was it with these women? She didn't ask for friendship, or kindness, or tea.

And she certainly didn't ask for advice.

Everyone here was being so nice to her, without prompting or reason, but still Beca couldn't trust it.

She'd be an idiot to trust it.

Because just like everyone else in her life, they either wanted something from her or they were going to leave. That's just what people did.

It was better to keep to herself. To be alone. She didn't need them anyway.

God, this show was so good at getting her worked up! She'd feel great, then awful, then confused about how awful and great she felt. There was no escaping the emotional gymnastics they kept putting her through.

But was that the show, or was that something she was doing to herself?

Beca groaned and took a sip of her tea.

And it was delicious.

Of course it fucking is.

*****

Beca retreated to her room and fell back asleep.

Then, when she finally decided it was time to get up and do something, she spent more time than she wanted to admit figuring out how her large rainshower worked.

But once she did, she was able to get cleaned up, and Beca emerged from the steamy bathroom feeling a little bit more like herself. She tried to remember if she had to do anything else for the show today. She figured there might be some cameras milling around, so she made herself presentable before she went out into the kitchen.

The house was still quiet, which Beca was grateful for. She raided the fridge in peaceful solitude, scavenging whatever was left of the Chinese food from the night before.

It was bizarre, going from the hectic first day yesterday - where there were no fewer than ten people running around and giving orders - to the silence of the house today. The first floor feels even bigger when it’s empty, Beca mused as she reheated an untouched helping of fried rice in the kitchen microwave.

She wondered what the other rooms looked like as she ate, but she decided against going upstairs.

She didn't care that much.

Especially when she didn't know when everyone else would be back.

Speaking of which, she should probably find her phone, in case somebody texted. She checked the couch first, turning over pillows and feeling around the lining of the piece of furniture. She reached under too, but there was no phone to be found.

She hadn't spent any time anywhere else on the first floor, besides her room, so that only left the studio.

Beca made the short trek from the main house to the pool house, hearing a deep synth melody emanating from the small building. She walked in to find Carl and Jessica working on a spirited rendition of Material Girl. Emily and Katherine were at the island in the kitchen, and they waved Beca over as she entered.

"Hey! Hi! You came back!" Emily said first. "Here's your jacket back, and I think your phone's in there. I tried to text you, like, an hour ago, and I heard something buzz in the bedroom. So I went to look, and I found your jacket there. Along with your phone. Presumably."

Beca gave a tight smile and took the jacket from Emily, nodding over to Jessica.

"She's good."

"Isn't she though?" Emily gushed. "It's so cool, it's like, I'm just so lucky to even be on the show with all of you guys. You're so good, it's intimidating."

"Uh huh," Beca replied. She took out her phone and scrolled through it, seeing the text from Emily and a solid twenty-something unread messages in the S15 group chat.

Chloe had texted her too, outside of the group message, and so had Fat Amy. Without reading them, Beca clicked out of the app and pocketed her phone.

"Hey, I wanted to talk to you about something," Emily went on. "I have this song I've been working on - that I wrote, actually - and I was wondering if I could sing it for-"

"I think that'll work!" Carl cheered as Jessica finished the final chorus. Beca and the Junks clapped softly, and Jessica did a little curtsy bow.

"So!" Carl said. "Madonna, and Cheap Thrills by Sza, those two are ready to go."

He got up from the keyboard and motioned for Beca to come over.

"Show us what you've got, Mitchell!"

"Right now? Okay, yeah," Beca replied. She got up, and Emily and Katherine followed. The entire group formed a semi-circle around the keyboard, with Beca in the center.

"Uhm," Beca started, pressing the buttons to get the keyboard set up. She cued up the recording she'd done the night before, then changed the voice of the keyboard so it sounded more electronic.

She pressed play on the loop, and a quick, deep bass began to thud through the amps, offset by various sound effects. A distorted snare tapped out a triple beat as Beca began to play full chords on the keyboard. They delayed in time with the beat, distorting as Beca held them.

Look inside, look inside your tiny mind,

then look a bit harder.

Cause we're so uninspired, so sick and tired,

of all the hatred you harbor.

So you say it's not okay to be gay?

Well I think you're just evil.

You're just some racist who can't tie my laces.

Your point of view is medieval.

Beca nodded along as she flipped off the drums, leaving only her keyboard tone to fill in at the chorus. She hit all the notes in the chords individually as she ran up the scale, singing as she went.

Fuck you.

Fuck you very, very much.

Cause we hate what you do, and we hate your whole crew,

so please don't stay in touch.

Beca began to repeat the chords as the chorus built, and she felt her voice begin to strain. It wasn't the key so much as the song itself, which made Beca want to punch something.

Or someone.

Still, she went on singing until the end of the chorus.

Fuck you.

Fuck you very, very much.

Cause your words don't translate, and it's getting quite late,

so please don't stay in touch.

She was about to switch the drums back on for the second verse when she felt Carl's hand on her arm. She turned, pulling her hands off the keys, to find the group of musicians gaping at her.

She had forgotten they were there.

"You did that last night?" Emily gasped. "Beca, oh my gosh!"

Beca nodded.

"What, was it… like do I need to do something different?" Beca asked cautiously. She brushed her hair out of her face to find Carl watching her with a curious expression.

"That's an original composition?" he questioned, and Beca nodded again. Carl whistled loudly.

"Let me ask the boss," he said as he shook his head. He stepped away and pulled out his phone. Emily immediately filled his place next to Beca, now laying her hand on Beca's arm.

"You know what would be awesome?" she started to say. "What if you-"

"Wait," Carl said sharply. Both Beca and Emily turned and saw he was smirking.

"'Eff' You," he laughed. "Can you do that for me? Please?"

Beca laughed as she realized that she probably couldn't say 'fuck' on national TV. She nodded, and Carl did too. He stepped outside, replacing the phone at his ear.

Emily leaned forward to press a key, and Beca jumped.

"What if you- I mean. Can I say something?" Emily asked as her eyes darted around the women surrounding the keyboard. Her gaze landed on Beca, shyly meeting the older woman's eye.

"What are you thinking?" Beca asked, and Emily blushed.

"Well, I know you don't, uhm, watch the show," Emily said, now averting her eyes from the smaller brunette in front of her. "But this is, wow! This is unlike anything they've ever put on air."

"Really?" Beca asked, looking to Katherine and then Jessica for confirmation.

"Usually, contestants will slow things down," Jessica agreed. "So they can show off their vocals."

"So that's where I'm thinking, what if you sike them out, you know? Start playing a slow, moody ballad, then wham!"

Beca felt her first smile that she'd worn all day start to form on her lips. Playing the song like that would be super entertaining, mostly because she'd get to mess with Posen's head.

Now that would be fun.

"Okay, so maybe just piano?" Beca asked, switching the tone of the keyboard back to its Grand Piano setting. She started to play the chords, slow and somber, repeating the lyrics of the first verse.

Emily and Jessica nodded along.

"That's what the songs normally sound like," Katherine agreed. She wore a small smile as she watched Beca play.

"And they'll be all like, 'what!? We told them to play pump up songs!'" Emily said. "And then, after the sad chorus, you come in with the drums!"

Clicking the playback button, Beca did just that, and she switched the keyboard back into the synth tone as she sang the second verse. Both Jessica and Emily danced haphazardly to the beat as Katherine just laughed.

"They're going to be so surprised!" Jessica exclaimed as Beca went into the chorus.

"I'm not sure that they'll know what to do with you," Ms. Junk added.

As she finished the second chorus, Beca cut the drums again, playing the arpeggiated notes under the third verse. Then, for the last chorus, she quickly switched the tone back to the regular piano to play herself out slowly just as Carl came back into the pool house.

"Oh no,” he laughed when he heard Beca's latest remix. "Those judges are going to kill me."

Chapter Text

The Junks and Jessica left Beca with Carl in the pool house to work on the vocals, since Beca kept frying hers. He taught her to sing lower, to push the sound out of her chest instead of her throat, and soon Beca was getting through the song easier.

Even though she knew the whole purpose of the show was singing, she didn't realize how much effort would go into it.

She had to think about how she would sing every individual note, in every individual line, through the whole song. If she zoned out for even a second, she'd go flat or sharp or "pitchy," whatever that meant.

With mixing, she knew she could come back and change something if she did it wrong.

Not with singing.

There was the live aspect, of course, no redos there.

But there was also the way that singing something birthed each note into existence and immediately abandoned it. You couldn't go back and change a note. You couldn't pitch it up or down.

Once you sang a note, it was final.

The melody consumed Beca's thoughts so completely that, as she walked back into the main house, she was surprised to see cameras. It seemed the other contestants had returned from shopping and brought a film crew with them.

"Beca!" Emily called out, which made most of the other women turn. Even though Emily had called her, Beca's gaze quickly fell away from the young brunette to find Chloe.

Standing in the kitchen, doing absolutely nothing of note, and god, she looked stunning. She was wearing blue again; this time, it was a long shirt under a blazer, with the blazer sleeves rolled up. The light blue long sleeve shirt stuck out of the bottom of the shortened blazer sleeves, the ends lapping over her hands like gentle waves.

She looked so confusingly cozy.

Immediately, Beca looked away. After last night - namely, after watching the show and seeing how much they focused on her and Chloe - she just needed some space from the whole thing. It was just a stupid crush.

And Beca didn't want to be remembered as the woman who went all goo-goo eyes for another woman on a TV show.

She didn't even know if Chloe was into it at all, or if the show had told her to do it. Beca might have been drunk last night, but she couldn't deny the nagging feeling that maybe the show had put Chloe up to this as some kind of story, what with the hashtags and all.

Maybe they'd tell Chloe to break her heart in the middle of one of the episodes.

Beca knew how manipulative Gail and John could be.

And Posen was Chloe's friend for chrissakes.

It was all starting to look a little too convenient to Beca.

You could talk to her. You could ask her directly.

Beca scowled at her own thought.

Because even if it wasn't something the show made Chloe do, and even if Chloe was into her the way she was into Chloe, it wouldn’t last.

It never did.

Everyone left eventually.

And besides, this show was supposed to be about getting her music out there anyway, so why was she getting all worked up? It was stupid. It was a distraction. It was dumb reality TV show nonsense that Beca wanted to stay away from.

Still, she had to participate a little bit, so Beca had wandered toward Emily. She caught the tail end of the conversation, gleaning that Emily was talking to a cameraman about changing her song and getting the new one down. Emily brought Beca into it too, saying she had worked on a new song before dragging the older brunette on camera with her. Beca grimaced as she answered the man's questions - what she was singing, why she chose it - and all the while, she could feel Chloe's eyes on her.

She clearly wanted Beca's attention.

Maybe she wants to talk to you or something.

Yeah, she scoffed back to herself, and maybe she wants to make me a laughing stock on TV. She’s a stranger, Bec. Leave it alone.

Beca excused herself from the interview and tried to sneak around the room towards her bedroom, but Chloe caught her at the bottom of the stairs.

"Hey," she smiled. "We missed you last night."

"Uh huh," Beca muttered to her shoe laces.

"And today, we missed you at the mall. But that probably wouldn't have been your 'scene,'" Chloe went on. Her voice was low, somewhere between a hum and a whisper.

Intimate.

The word floated through her mind freely.

It made Beca want to pull her hair out.

"I got you something," Chloe said, and she pulled out a small bag from inside her purse. She shook the contents into her hand and offered it to Beca with a barely-restrained smile.

"I know you don't wear a lot of gold, but these would go great with your outfit for Wednesday," she started to say, and Beca took a deep breath before looking in Chloe's hand.

Laying in Chloe's palm were two spiral gauges, black with golden swirls, and a wide gold cuff with an intricate pattern, for Beca's cartilage piercing. There were also two gold hoops with a similar pattern.

"The buttons on your pants are gold-ish," Chloe explained. "And I just thought it might add a little pizzazz to the outfit."

"Plus, I got some too," she added sheepishly, plucking the hoops from her hand. "And a bracelet. So we could, you know, match."

"You bought me jewelry?"

It came out louder than she anticipated, and Beca felt rather than saw the heads start to turn in their direction. Conversations started to peter off as Chloe spoke again.

"It's not a big deal, Becs," she tried. "I just thought-"

"You just thought you'd buy me matching jewelry so you could play into this whole will-they-won't-they thing?" Beca cut her off. She could feel her pulse behind her eyes. She felt trapped, caged by this house and these women and this absolutely perfect person who- who-

She huffed angrily.

"God, it's so predictable,” she heard herself saying. “You conveniently give me matching jewelry while the cameras just so happened to be here? I wonder if they'll catch our 'special moment' and blow it way out of proportion again, huh? But no, you were 'helping' me!"

Beca barked out a laugh.

"Do you think flirting with me will get you more time onscreen or something?"

Chloe recoiled with a small gasp.

"Beca, can we go somewhere and talk-"

"No, we really can't," Beca cut her off. "I don't need your help, or your charity, you're not my girlfriend!"

Beca pushed past Chloe, and past a cameraman, back through the hallway into her room. She slammed the door of the master and locked it, looking around the room for something to distract her from her stinging eyes and thrumming pulse.

Her eyes darted to the wall, and she wondered briefly if they’d make a big deal if she broke her hand.

Ugh, probably, she seethed to herself. Fine. I’ll work on music.

She dropped into the desk chair, pressing her laptop’s power button with a tad more force than necessary before throwing her headphones over her ears.

The quiet that came with the nearly noise-cancelling equipment helped center her, but the silence was broken by a few faint knocks. She cranked up the thudding bass, stubbornly ignoring them in favor of something she could actually control.

When she finally paused the mix some time later, no one was knocking anymore.

Hours passed as Beca fiddled impatiently with her 212 vs. Bust a Move mix, trying to get the first switch just right. Soon, her frustration gave way to her favorite type of work: the complete zen state of rhythm, of eighth notes and offbeats.

She started to get hungry, and only then did she remember where she was and who else might be there. There was no way she was going to risk going into the kitchen. Not right now. Not when she had finally worked herself out of her anger.

So she ignored her growling stomach and crawled into the comically large California king bed, flipping on the TV out of sheer necessity.

She didn't watch a lot of anything - TV or movies or YouTube - but anything was better than her own thoughts.

She was halfway through some inane acronym police drama (NCICS? CSINS? NSI?) when the show cut to commercial.

It was her onstage, and she was singing I'm Still Here onstage for her solo, the band swelling behind her, then the music cut as the screen went black. CR flashed on the screen, then Fat Amy, then Stacie, with dramatic musical hits punctuating their vocals.

Then Jesse's voice came in.

"This season, on American Idol…" he said. "Things. Just. Might. Get. Crazy."

There was a clip of somebody crying - Beca didn't recognize the woman - and somebody collapsed onstage. Ms. Junk hugging Emily. Jessica looking worried as she rubbed Ashley's back.

And then it was her again, in the pit at the house, yelling "Bullshit!" at Posen.

Well they sure edited that fast, Beca thought. Some intern must be working overtime.

"Tune in live Wednesday, 8 PM, 7 PM central," Jesse continued. "And don't forget, we like you just the way you are."

The commercial cut to Katy Perry screaming and clapping, then to Chloe singing Just The Way You Are as it faded out. Chloe locked on to Beca through the screen, all big, blue eyes that looked so open and honest and that sweet smile, the one that made Beca's heart melt. Beca drank it in, getting lost in the redhead's eyes for a moment until she remembered one important thing.

Chloe wasn't looking at her.

She was looking at a camera.

Beca slammed the remote until the TV shut off, and she was left in the darkness. In a room that wasn't hers, in a house she didn't recognize, in a town she didn't know, with women who were determined to get under her skin.

But that didn't mean that she was going to let them.

*****


The next day, cars started to take the women to the House of Blues around 9 AM. They separated the women into two groups, and Beca was in the second wave that would leave around one. She slept in, waking only when her stomach wouldn't let her sleep any longer. Thankfully, she found an array of muffins in the kitchen. She picked up a blueberry one and glanced at the clock - 11:30.

She went back to her room and got ready at a leisurely pace, throwing on black skinny jeans and a blue flannel, and taking time to pack her laptop. She slipped her headphones around her neck, connecting the cord to her phone.

She had no intention on talking to anyone today, and nothing screamed "fuck off" like giant headphones.

She walked back into the living area and saw that Ashley, Stacie, Fat Amy, and Lilly had come downstairs. There was a PA talking to them as Beca came in.

"-so make sure that we have all the lighting cues. No one's going to think you're a drama queen if you speak up," the guy was saying. He looked like he was in his late twenties, maybe early thirties, with dark hair and eyes.

"Also, please make sure that we got any equipment you need out of the pool house," he added as he checked his list. "The keyboard and the acoustic/electric are already over there."

"Do they have a mic stand?" Amy asked as she gyrated her hips. "Because I need the stand to do my moves."

"I'm sure we can accommodate," the PA replied. "Okay, everybody ready? We'll need to take two cars."

"I'll ride with Beca," Stacie volunteered sweetly. She blinked slowly at the PA before turning to Beca, shooting daggers with her eyes outside of the PA's range of vision.

The production assistant laughed.

"Okay, so I'll take Stacie and Beca, and I think Flula is already in the SUV in the driveway," he said.

The other women started towards the door, but Stacie made a beeline for the shorter brunette.

"I think we should chat," she said as she linked her arm with Beca.

"I'm good, thanks," Beca replied sarcastically as she tried to put on her headphones. Stacie swatted them away and almost knocked them out of Beca's hands.

"Dude!" Beca jumped. "Do you know how much these cost!?"

"Don't call me 'dude,'" Stacie shot back. "And I don't care. I'm not letting you put those on. You're going to listen to me."

The taller brunette forced Beca into the backseat of the SUV as the PA climbed into the front.

"You girls want any music?" he asked, craning his neck around to look at them as he reached for the radio.

"I'd like that!" Beca shouted back, but Stacie leaned forward in between the seats to lay her hand on the PA's as he reached for the stereo. He looked up at her slowly, mouth hanging open, and Beca knew what kind of look Stacie was giving him.

She spoke to him in a low voice that Beca couldn't hear, and the man let out a choppy, nervous laugh. He turned on the radio, but he adjusted the sound so it was all in the front seat.

Stacie came back to the back seat and sat against the door. She stared at Beca as the smaller brunette scrolled through her phone. After a minute of clicking in and out of the messages app pretending to read them, Beca sighed.

"Fine. What?"

"Talk to Chloe."

"No," Beca shot back, and the words started tumbling out of her.

"I don't want to talk to her! I don't want to talk to any of you! I hope I get kicked off just so I can leave and never have to hear from any of you ever again!"

Breathing heavy, Beca sighed and looked at Stacie.

She was watching her like a mother watching their kid's tantrum.

"You done?"

Beca shrugged and clicked back on her phone, only to have it pulled from her hand.

"Jesus!"

"You can ignore me all you want in a sec," Stacie said. "But first, I need you to listen."

The smaller brunette grumbled something affirming, and Stacie took her chance.

"Chloe made me promise not to get involved," she said. "I don't know why, honestly, because I'm good at this kind of thing, but it's her life. So you tell her I said anything, and I will make sure that you regret it. Got that?"

When Beca didn't say anything, Stacie huffed. She rolled down the window and dangled Beca's phone over the open road.

"Yeah, whatever! Jesus, dude!" Beca shouted. "Don't drop my fucking phone!"

Stacie rolled her eyes and closed the window.

"You're so dramatic," she lamented as the car re-pressurized.

"Okay," Stacie started again. "Remember when I told you that you needed to watch the show? Because you needed to see you?"

Beca nodded.

"Well, I think your spastic little tantrum showed that I was right. And before you say anything," Stacie warned as Beca opened her mouth to cut her off. "I lied. You didn't need to see it for you. You needed to see it for Chloe.

"She's, like, one of my best friends, so I kinda want to kill you," Stacie continued. "Because you said some really fucked-up shit to her yesterday."

"How do you know she's not using me for the show?" Beca countered before Stacie could stop her. "How do you know she's not just flirting with me for the drama? For the narrative or whatever?"

There was a moment as Stacie thought, then she burst out laughing. At Beca’s expression, she attempted to stop as she sighed.

"I forget that you don't know her, like, at all," she groaned. "Of course you don't get it. Chloe doesn't have a bad bone in her body. She likes you, dumbass. You're just going to have to trust me on this."

She handed Beca back her phone as she sighed again. Beca went to grab it, but the leggy brunette pulled it back and grabbed Beca's wrist. Their eyes locked, and Stacie narrowed hers.

"Just, don't hurt her on purpose," she said seriously. "And if you do end up rewatching the show, take your eyes off yourself for literally a second and look at her. Look at the way she looks at you. That's all you should need to know that Chloe isn't being fake."

"Whatever," Beca mumbled as she took her phone. She plugged her headphones back in and put them over her ears, letting La Roux flood her thoughts.

It was another forty minutes before they were pulling up to the venue, and Beca was relieved to see that there was only one other SUV in the backstage drop-off area. It looked like the other women had already left, which meant she wouldn't get a lecture from Ms. Junk, or a string of compliments from Emily.

And she wouldn't have to see Chloe.

The women did their sound checks, running through their numbers with the accompaniment as well as the lights. Beca went first, so there was plenty of downtime for her to work on her newest mix in the green room backstage. She found food, and nobody disturbed her- probably because she didn't know where she was.

After a subpar sandwich, she lost track of time as she again immersed herself in her music.

She got up to stretch and check out the rest of the venue when her phone chimed with an email. The subject was "your shit," and the email address had the name Evil Hag.

Curious, she clicked on the notification, opening a short email.

"Yo, I stole your email address from the show," the email said. "Send me your music shit. I've got a friend who DJs at the club we're going to after the show tomorrow. He might play it."

The email was simply signed "Plaza"

Okay, so that’s probably the coolest email I’ve ever gotten in my life.

Aubrey Plaza was asking her to send her mixes - to send her her mixes - so her friend could play them.

At an LA club.

How fucking cool would that be??

To have an actual DJ play one of her mixes?

But more importantly, which ones should I send??

Before she could second guess, Beca rummaged through her laptop files, finding a couple of her best club mixes and attaching them to an email. She played it cool in her response, leaving out all the exclamation points she wanted to type.

This was big!

This was so cool!

And now she had Aubrey Plaza's personal email address?

She wanted to tell someone, scrolling through her phone to find her Atlanta friend group message, but before she could type to them, she stopped.

She knew they wouldn't believe her, or if they did, they wouldn't understand how big of a deal this was.

One of the problems of having friends that were the "ironic" kind of cool meant they didn't really get excited about anything.

She scrolled back up, seeing the unread messages from the women on the show (avoiding one name in particular.) Her finger hovered over the group messages.

At least they would believe her.

She couldn't do it though. Instead, she exited out of the app and turned the phone screen off.

It was stupid, anyway.

The DJ probably wouldn't even play anything.

Beca continued packing everything up and took off around the venue, wandering the space until she was back at the stage.

Lilly was up, whispering into a mic as the band tried to play quieter and quieter so they could hear her. Beca heard Carl call stop, and she leaned out of the curtain to see him.

"I think that's enough for the day," he said. "Let's get you ladies back to the house."

"Is it going to be like this every week?" Beca heard somebody ask on the other side of the curtain.

"Pretty much," another voice responded. "Usually, there's drama and a ton of drinking at the beginning. Not that anybody sees it. But then the contestants get really competitive and moody as the show goes on."

"Is that why they put everybody in the house this year? Instead of apartments like before?”

There was a pause, then the second voice spoke again.

"I guess ratings were down."

Beca heard the pair walked off. Beca ambled towards the stage door, and towards the cars, thinking about what she had overheard.

So the contestants weren't always in a house together, that much made sense. It probably cost more to have a house big enough to host all of them rather than apartments like they said.

But were there cameras on all the time in other seasons? Were they tracking everybody's movements, or coupling people off? Or was the show trying to capitalize on all the drama that typically happened behind the scenes?

And had they said ratings were down?

The drinking, though, that made sense too.

She started to wonder what that meant for her- for all of them - but then the rest of the group showed up outside, and Beca was shoved into the backseat of an SUV between Fat Amy and Ashley. Amy elbowed Beca as the car started the long drive back to the house.

"So, you plan to win this thing, Beca?" she asked.

"What?" Beca laughed. "No, not a chance."

Amy nodded with an apathetic expression.

"Yeah, I'm doing the show for exposure, too," she replied. "I think I'm going to do movies. Maybe some characters. Like Fat Amy Winehouse, I did that one in New York. I dunno, I'm pretty great at being an actor. Like, look."

Amy pushed her face back, eyes squinting, her lips pulled down and quivering. She gave a few fake sobs, then she waved her hand across her face, resuming a somewhat normal expression.

"You know what that was?"

"Uh," Beca replied. "You looked pretty sad, I guess."

Amy gave a little fist pump and sighed happily.

"Crushed it," she said softly, and Beca smiled.

Amy talked about herself for most of the ride back, with little to no input from any of the other people in the car, and then soon they were pulling back through the security gate.

There was a group of people in the living room but Beca avoided all of them, making a quick dash to her room. She shut and locked her door again, turning on the TV to full volume to dissuade anyone from checking on her. She ignored the other women who she could hear in the kitchen and in the pit. She heard them laugh and shout, and when they got food delivered, and when they started singing. She couldn’t block them out, no matter how much she tried.

And she definitely tried.

Maybe I should tank my performance tomorrow, she thought. At least then I’d get to go home.

Although, she was here for at least another week anyway, since they said they wouldn't announce the winners until next week.

And she didn't really have the cash to stay in a hotel or get another last-minute plane ticket.

Besides, she liked the composition she'd put together. And with Carl's help, she felt pretty confident in the vocals too. It was everything else - Stacie and the other women, and their drama, and her confusing feelings about Chloe - that made it all so complicated.

It didn't help that all of the other contestants seemed comfortable there. Beca felt out of place when they talked about the show or singing, or shopping, or even about each other. It was weird that they all got along so easily. Wasn't this supposed to be a competition show? Shouldn't they all be at each other's throats or hoping that somebody messed up?

Why were they so nice?

She thought about what Ms. Junk said, during Hollywood week, that Chloe being nice to her was unusual for these shows. Beca agreed, but she couldn't make sense of it the way that Katherine seemed to be able to.

Maybe she would ask her.

Or maybe she wouldn't, it didn't really matter.

She'd probably get kicked soon anyway.

Beca felt her stomach rumble, and she paled. She couldn't go another night without eating, but she didn't want to go into the kitchen to see everyone.

Whatever, Mitchell. Don't be a baby. Sack up, dude.

She took a deep breath and opened her door, only to see that somebody had left her a plate of pizza just outside the threshold. There was also a beer with a red solo cup over its neck.

She didn't stop to think about it as she grabbed the plate and pulled the meal back into her room. She cracked the beer on the edge of the desk and took a huge bite of the pizza. It was still warm.

Jerks.

*****


The day of the show was uneventful, except for the nerves. Everybody pretty much stayed in their own spaces, or, at least, it seemed that way to Beca, because she didn't see anyone until they were getting together to go to House of Blues.

Everybody got to rehearse one more time, but Beca didn't watch any, choosing instead to stay backstage in the green room, where they had set up a viewing area for the show. There were chairs seated audience-style facing a TV screen and a snack table with all sorts of singer-appropriate treats and libations. Beca sat in the back, headphones on, falling back into her role of generally ignoring everything around her.

Once they were done rehearsing, a PA walked them through the events of the night.

The contestants would stay in the green room for the duration of the show, where they would watch all of the performances and feedback in real time. And there were cameras in there too, so they'd be on camera all night.

After they performed and heard judge comments, they'd run offstage to yet another camera to promote their call-in vote number, then they'd go back to the green room with everyone else. Once everyone was done, they'd go onstage to say hi to the crowd again, and then it'd be over.

Before Beca was able to get too overwhelmed, the venue started to fill up, and the women were told that the judges had arrived. The women watched on their monitor as Jesse took to the stage, welcoming the crowd and getting them warmed up for the evening of entertainment.

"Ladies!" a voice pulled their attention off the screen and towards the back of the room. Posen had come in with Hannah, the PA.

"Welcome to your first live show!"

The singers hooted and hollered as Beca took in the judge's presence. She was wearing a variation of the flight attendant outfit again, but this time she had the gestures to match. Beca stifled a laugh at the realization.

"The sopranos: Jessica, Chloe, and Lilly. The mezzos: Cynthia Rose, Flo, and Stacie. And the altos: Fat Amy, Emily, Ashley, and Beca," Posen finished with a sigh. "It's time to take the oath!"

"We shall start with the blood of the contestants that came before you!" Posen called, and Hannah reached into her bag and started handing out small, unlabeled bottles of red liquid.

"Legally, I need to state that this is not blood. It's Boone's Farm," she said as she passed them out. "Also, I have to state that, if you're under twenty-one, you're not allowed to drink these. So just wait til we leave."

Posen shot her a look as the women laughed, then the blonde continued.

"Now, repeat after me!" she cheered. "'I,' then sing your name."

The women chorused in a cacophony of various tones, which only made Posen flinch a little bit. Beca laughed and cracked open her wine.

"'Promise to fulfill the duties and responsibilities of an American Idol contestant.'"

Amy burped loudly as she finished chugging her tiny bottle of wine.

"Didn't we already agree to that with the contracts?" the Australian shouted.

"Just say it!" Posen shrieked, and the women mumbled the line back.

"'And I promise to never have sexual relations with anyone from The Bachelor or Bachelorette franchise, or may my vocal cords be ripped out by wolves.'"

"Oh, I can't say that, babe, you know that," Stacie replied, and the women laughed.

"Me either," Flo said as she sipped her wine. "Or, is 'the bachelor' different in this country? I am speaking of the one eligible man in my home village."

"Do you guys want to see a dead body?" Lilly whispered.

"Okay, fine!" Posen screamed. She heaved forward, and, taking a deep breath, resumed speaking.

"This is your first live show, Idol-bitches!" she shouted. "Prepare to soften the beaches!"

She strolled out of the room with Hannah in tow, and distantly the women heard cheers as Jesse left the stage.

It was show time.

They sent CR out first, and the woman bodied Since U Been Gone like a seasoned professional. Beca laughed as she watched Aubrey Plaza openly hit on her and then again Katy Perry asked her to sing at her niece's baptism. CR smiled graciously and jogged offstage, making it all look effortless.

Beca downed the rest of her wine as she started to get anxious. She knew she wasn't nearly as smooth as the other competitors. She wiped her palms on the sides of her pants, feeling around her person for her phone. She found it and clicked it on, looking to distract herself, when she saw a text from her dad.

"We're watching!" it read. "Thoughts and prayers, hope you make me proud!"

Beca placed the phone face down on her knee and turned her attention back to the screen as the words resounded in her head.

Proud.

Thoughts and prayers.

She tried to watch the performances, but her vision was starting to swim.

Stacie and Lilly went backstage to get ready, as Ashley was onscreen singing Wannabe by the Spice Girls, dancing around the stage with a wide smile.

Beca couldn't focus.

She wasn't drunk… this wasn't drunk.

It was more like a panic attack.

"Beca?"

Beca turned to find Emily and Katherine regarding her closely.

"You don't have to be nervous, you know," Emily started. "You're literally so talented."

"But, it would be okay, if you were nervous," Katherine added as she drank what was presumably Emily’s wine.

"Yeah, totally okay, like I would totally-"

"Guys? I'm fine," Beca cut in. Her eyes darted back to her phone, then to the screen. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the Junks look at each other, then they split and sat on either side of the smaller brunette.

Emily moved to grab Beca's hand, then stopped, her hand hovering for a second before it fell back in her lap. Beca stared at Stacie singing Moulin Rouge, both the French and the English words hitting Beca's ears like a foreign language.

"We're here for you," Katherine said softly, and Beca sucked in a deep breath.

"We'll just- we'll be here."

Stacie finished to raucous applause, and the camera turned to a red-faced Posen, which made the other women that were still in the green room chuckle. Chloe and Jessica left, as they were up next.

Lilly was up then, and when the band started to play It's My Party And I'll Cry If I Want To, Beca’s brain felt like it broke open. She couldn’t help the insane laughter that bubbled out of her throat.

The Junks slowly started to laugh too, and after a moment, CR joined in as well.

Amy only shrugged.

"Whatever floats her tits," the Australian sighed, and Beca leaned forward, laughing hard.

The show was going so fast that Beca barely had time to register that Chloe was up next before the redhead was on screen. She had a short sleeve navy shirt, and a tiny white tank top that was already starting to ride up over the edge of her low-slung, skin-tight jeans.

A brassy electric guitar resounded, and Chloe swung her head down, throwing her red curls over her shoulder before leaning into the mic.

"Let's go girls," she spoke/sang, and the crowd burst into cheers.


I'm going out tonight,


I'm feelin' all right,


I'm gonna let it all hang out.


Wanna make some noise,


really raise my voice,


yeah, I wanna scream and shout!

Chloe writhed around the stage, almost putting Stacie's performance to shame with the looks she was throwing over her shoulder.

"Damn," CR groaned from the back of the room. "I don't even like country music, but Red could get it."

"I think she's spoken for," Amy shouted over the song. "When we were rehearsing, she said she was going to dedicate the song to someone special."

Beca tried to tune them out, but the only thing that could keep her attention was Chloe onstage.

And fuck.

The redhead in question kicked out a leg and twirled her mic cord around, out of her way, and began stalking to the edge of the stage as she sang.


The best thing about being a woman


is the prerogative to have a little fun, and-


Oh, woah-oh-oh!


Go totally crazy!


Forget I'm a lady!


Men's shirts, short skirts-


oh woah, oh, oh! Really go wild,


yeah, doing it in style!


Oh woah, oh, oh, get in the action,


feel the attraction.


Color my hair, do what I dare!


Oh woah, oh, oh, I wanna be free,


yeah,


to feel the way I feel.


Man, I feel like a woman!

"C'mon, shortstack," Amy suddenly said over her shoulder, and Beca jumped.

She had zoned out there.

No reason why.

"We should go backstage."

Chloe finished her song to generous applause, but as Beca and Amy made their way through the backstage to wait in the wings, they couldn't hear the judges' remarks. The band started moving things for Jessica's Material Girl as Chloe came offstage, standing at the mark to tell people to vote for her.

"That one goes out to a very special someone," Beca heard Chloe say to the camera. "I hope you know who you are."

Chloe spun and saw that Beca and Amy had walked up and gasped.

"Oh! Hi!" she said cheerfully. Her face was flushed from the performance, and she dragged her gaze up and down Beca's form.

"Nice work, ging," Amy said. "You really know how to work a crowd. One member in particular."

Beca forced her eyes to focus as Chloe gazed at her. She couldn't think. Chloe had dedicated the song to someone special-

Her boyfriend?

"Good luck, Becs," she whispered, pulling Beca in for a close hug. A wave of vanilla hit Beca right in the pit of her stomach. "I know you'll do great."

She took off down the hall as Amy called after her.

"Yeah, I'll do great too, don't worry about Fat Amy! Fucking twig bitches."

Beca's breaths started coming in short gasps as Jessica finished her song, and the judges gave their notes. Beca was next, and she was hyperventilating.

Her dad was watching.

Chloe was watching.

Chloe's special someone was watching.

Everyone was watching.

"Amy, I don't know what I'm doing here," she gasped out, and Amy clapped a hand on her shoulder.

"Just living the dream!" she said. Then, turning, she saw the state that Beca was in.

"Oh, shit," the Australian groaned. "Uhhh. Okay. Look at me."

Amy turned and grabbed Beca by the shoulders.

"Look, you're going to be fine. You're Beca Effin' Mitchell," she said. "Have I ever let you down?"

"I mean, I don't know you," Beca gasped, but her breathing was starting to slow as she thought about her words. "But based on what I do know, being unreliable seems like a hallmark of your personality."

"Really?"

"Yeah," Beca laughed.

"But I'm not sure we have time to unpack that right now."

The crew was moving the piano upstage, front and center, as Jesse came back out.

"How's everybody doing so far?" he asked, and the crowd cheered. Behind him, the crew signaled that they were tested and ready to go.

"Look, nobody's going to die tonight," Amy said softly. "Okay? The stakes are literally so low. It's just a stupid singing show."

Beca nodded.

"Okay, yeah," she replied as she took a deep breath. "Yeah."

"Next up, Beca Mitchell!"

*****


Eff you, eff you very very much.


Cause your words don't translate,


and it's getting quite late,

so please don't stay in touch.

Beca raised the last note up, then back down again, resolving the chord progression as the song ended.

The next thing she knew, she was staring at a crowd that was chanting her name.

Chanting!

It was insane, the way they responded to her and her music. She was in awe. She didn't even know if she hit all the notes, or all of the cues - she pretty much blacked out, honestly - but the crowd had eaten it up. They were losing their goddamn minds.

It was unlike anything Beca had ever experienced.

"Please tell me you put that together," Plaza started the judge remarks. "Because if you didn't I'll literally die."

Beca laughed.

"I did, yeah," she replied as Plaza fanned herself. "I just recorded the drums on the piano, based on what I liked. Emily - uh, Emily Junk helped with the composition though. She told me to add the piano-only parts."

"You have a career in this industry," Katy Perry said, and Plaza nodded. "I can't wait to see what you do."

"Wow, thank you."

All eyes settled on Posen, and the blonde judge tutted.

"Oh, don't you dare, Posen," Katy warned, but Aubrey Posen just sniffed.

"You were a little pitchy," Posen said, and the crowd started to boo. She spoke over them as she stared Beca down.

"Just don't let your showmanship overshadow your vocals," she said. "This is a singing show, after all. Thank you."

Beca rolled her eyes, which apparently everyone could still see, and the crowd laughed. They cheered again as she made her way offstage.

"Becaw!" Jesse called, standing at the camera where she was supposed to ask for votes. "Come here!"

"That was amazing!" he cheered. He handed Beca his mic and pointed to the camera.

"Anything to say to America?"

Beca thought about it for a moment, then laughed.

Everything came crashing down around her. The Chloe shit, the Posen shit.

The dad shit.

"That song was for a very, very special someone," she said sarcastically. "I hope you know who you are."

Jesse laughed as he stepped further into frame, sidling up next to Beca.

"I just hope it wasn't for me!" he laughed, and Beca laughed too.

"No no," she offered, and Jesse wiped fake sweat from his brow. She looked directly in the camera with a shit-eating grin.

"I think they'll know."

The next song started - Dance With Somebody by Whitney Houston - as Beca made her way back to the green room. She was still smiling when she came in, but when she took stock, she could tell that the vibe was very much off. Junks were gone, probably getting ready to sing, and so was Flo. But Chloe and Stacie weren't there, and Jessica and Ashley were staring at her as if they wanted to kill her.

"Hey, chief," CR called her over to where she and Lilly were standing near the snacks.

"You're in deep shit," CR started with a subtle shake of her head.

"You're lucky I didn't bring my extensive knife collection," Lilly whispered, but Beca pretended that she didn’t hear her.

"Why? What happened?" Beca asked happily. She was still feeling the performance, and she wasn't about to let anyone ruin her mood.

"Man," CR groaned. "You basically just told that redheaded ray of sunshine to fuck off on national TV, you really don't wanna take some responsibility for that?"

"What? The interview?" Beca replied. "I was just being an asshole. The song was mostly for my dad, the absolute homophobic dick. I didn't think Chloe would think I was talking about her."

"You used her words," CR shot back. "You said exactly what she said about you in her interview."

"About me?"

"Yeah, about you," CR sighed. "Are you really that dense? That girl is mad crazy about you, and you just mocked her and all the feelings she has for you."

"But that's not- I thought-"

"Where is that little shit!"

Stacie stormed into the green room, glare pinpointing Beca in a heartbeat. Frozen in fear, Beca stop still as Stacie crossed the room and grabbed her tightly by the bicep.

"Ow!"

"With me, now!" the taller brunette roared, pulling Beca out the way she came in, down the backstage area, and through a door. She pushed Beca into the alley and let the door slam behind them.

"What the fuck did I tell you, Mitchell!" she screamed. "I told you not to fucking hurt her!"

"I didn't mean to!" Beca shouted back. "I was just- just-"

"She's fucking crying in there, you fucking dumbass!" Stacie continued. "You meant to make her feel stupid!"

"I didn't know!" Beca cried. Hot tears burned her face and stung in her eyes.

At least there weren't any cameras around to catch her crying this time.

"You didn't know what?" Stacie seethed.

"I didn't think she was talking about me! I thought she, like, had a boyfriend or whatever!" Beca shouted. Stacie rolled her eyes.

"Yeah fucking right, Mitchell!"

"Why would I think that somebody as perfect as Chloe would give two fucks about me?" Beca shouted.

"Because she's been giving two fucks about you since you met!" Stacie screamed back. "What, you think she kissed all of us during Hollywood week?!"

Beca stopped short in her reply, sucking in air between gasping breaths. She wiped the bottom of her nose with the back of her hand, sniffing back snot.

"She told you about that?" she asked quietly.

"She wouldn't stop talking about it for the last two months," Stacie growled. "And you kept blowing her off, refusing to meet up, and then you get here and throw tantrum after fucking tantrum-"

"Well I didn't know!" Beca fumed.

"Yeah, and you didn't ask either," Stacie spat back. She sighed heavily. "We all told you to talk to her. Why couldn't you just talk to her, like a normal fucking person?"

Beca groaned loudly.

"God, I don't fucking know dude!" she sighed. "I've never felt this way!”

"Well," the taller brunette sighed. “… you fucking blew it now."

Beca blanched.

"No, I can fix it," she tried frantically. "I'll apologize, I'll go right now-"

"The hell you will, Mitchell," Stacie growled again. Beca tried to push past her, back through the stage door, but Stacie didn't let her.

"Let me go!"

"No!" the taller brunette shouted, shoving Beca back across the alley.

"You're not going near her again, not unless she tells me otherwise," she spat. "You're going to give her some fucking space, and maybe, by the grace of an ever-fucking-loving-and-fucked-up God, just maybe, she'll let you speak to her again. I'm serious, Mitchell. You fucked up. Don't go anywhere near my fucking friend, you hear me?"

"Stacie-"

But Stacie was gone, back inside the venue, and Beca groaned loudly in the empty alley.

God fucking damnit.

Chapter Text

Beca made her way back to the green room to grab her stuff, but she didn't stay.

She didn't want to see Stacie, and she wasn't allowed to see Chloe, so she didn't want to see anyone.

Thankfully, there weren't many performances left anyway. In fact, when she thought about it more, she realized that everyone was probably done by now.

The brunette got her bag and went straight to the cars, not bothering with the final stage call. She figured she was already a pariah; she didn't need to call more attention to her own drama. As she slipped into the backseat of the unlocked SUV, she sighed.

She couldn't believe that she had hurt Chloe. Again. It seemed like since they met, all she'd done was hurt the redhead.

At least that tracks with my five-star personality, she thought grimly.

But all Chloe had done was try to reach out, over and over again. It didn't seem fair or real, the way that Chloe kept giving Beca all of these chances.

Which made Beca question if any of it was real. It would make a lot more sense if Chloe was being manipulated into being nice to her.

But if CR and Stacie were right, and Chloe did have real feelings for Beca, then Beca had been treating her like shit since day numero fucking uno.

Beca had denied Chloe's friendship on the first day of Hollywood week by not sitting next to her, for no other reason than the fact that she figured she was better off alone. Then again, at brunch, the brunette had rejected juice, of all things. And she made Chloe feel like an idiot for literally just being nice.

(But was that all it was? Just Chloe being nice?)

Whatever, at least she kinda apologized for that.

But then with groups, Beca had let Chloe and the other women down. She was already struggling with the song, and then she missed her alarm and almost ruined their chances of staying on the show at all.

She couldn't do that again.

So she tried to keep away from everyone - especially the redhead - during solos.

All the while, though, Chloe kept worming her way in. Persistently, she kept giving Beca chances, kept offering support and care.

For some unknown reason, Chloe wanted Beca to do good. To succeed.

And the redhead kept giving Beca the tools to do so.

Beca just couldn't trust it.

As Beca waited for someone to take her back to the house, her thoughts stayed on Chloe, on the softness of Chloe's lips against hers on that last night of Hollywood week.

She did remember, then, if she told Stacie about it.

So why didn't she say anything?

If Chloe would have said something, Beca would've known that the kiss was… something. Something that actually happened. Beca could have... processed it, maybe?

Maybe if they had talked about the kiss, Beca wouldn't have been so skeptical about the way the show portrayed the two of them.

But then, Chloe probably thought that Beca was watching the show as it aired.

And that I was, what? Okay with it?

Happy with it?

Totally infatuated with a hot and caring redhead and, like, totally stoked to see our weird budding whatever-the-fuck be used as reality TV fodder?

Beca groaned.

It was all so fucking stupid, anyway.

Obviously she was attracted to Chloe. But when Beca watched them onscreen, she couldn't understand why it looked like they both were.

She couldn't get why Chloe was being the way she was.

And she couldn't get why everyone else seemed okay with it.

After what seemed like an hour of stewing in her own thoughts, CR and Flo climbed into the SUV with her, along with a driver, and they started towards the house.

Beca tried to sulk and ignore them, but Flo was reeling from her Party In The USA performance, and Beca tuned back in when the Guatemalan voiced her excitement for the rest of the night.

"I am excited for my first American club," she gushed. "I believe it will be a life affecting experience."

"Wait, we're not going home?"

"Hell nah," CR responded. "Most of us have reasons to celebrate, remember?"

The SUV dropped them off on a busy street, in front of a huge line of people. Somebody must have called ahead, because the women went straight into the club without checking IDs.

The club was huge inside, and at least two stories, with what looked like a couple bars on each floor. There was a big dance floor in the middle of the first floor, and the second story wrapped around in an open mezzanine.

And it was packed.

The women were escorted to a VIP area up on the second floor, and without even so much as a word, a hot waitress brought the women a round of shots.

"They did not need to bring eight drinks," Flo said hesitantly. "There are only three of us here."

"I'm not complaining," Beca mumbled, picking up one of the shots. CR raised two in response.

"Me neither."

By the time the rest of the contestants started arriving, Beca, Flo, and CR had had a fair share of alcohol. And even though CR wasn't particularly hospitable towards Beca, at least she was drinking with her.

CR tried to explain everything to Flo - much to Beca's dismay - but Flo didn't seem to understand the animosity.

"In my country, women died of dehydration, of diarrhea, during their periods," she said, swaying back and forth slightly with the effect of the alcohol. "What you are experiencing? It will pass."

CR shook her head and downed the final shot on their tray as Jessica, Ashley, and Fat Amy were escorted into their section.

"Beca," CR sighed. "You better recognize the situation you're in."

"What situ-aesh?" Amy called, grabbing a pair of shots off a passing tray before the waitress could even set it down.

"I don't want to talk about it anymore," CR groaned, waving the topic off with an errant gesture. Ashley and Jessica shared a look, then grabbed shots off the tray as well. Amy grimaced as she took both of her shots.

"Does it have something to do with the fact that Shortstack is trending again?"

"I'm what?" Beca shot back, quickly grabbing her phone. She didn't have the Twitter app, so she quickly pulled the site up on her phone’s browser and saw that #BecaAndChloe was in the top twenty trending topics.

A quick scan of the top tweets revealed that most of the Twitter-ers were not on her side.

Tweet after tweet, Beca read sympathetic comments about Chloe, about how she "didn't deserve" the way Beca had treated her, and about how "authentic" her emotions were, while Beca was just being "dramatic" and "childish."

"Do you think Chloe has seen this?" Beca asked Amy, and Amy shrugged.

"I dunno," the Australian placated as she picked up the last two shots on the tray. She downed them both and shuddered.

"Maybe the ging went blind."

"I didn't."

Beca looked up to see that Stacie, Lilly, and Chloe had arrived at the VIP section, with Aubrey Plaza in tow.

"Chloe, I-" Beca stood, moving towards Chloe, but Stacie stepped between them. She pushed Beca back into her seat.

"We're here to drink, dance, and have a good time," the taller brunette said firmly. She glared at all of the women in front of her, her gaze settling on Beca last.

"That okay with everyone?"

"Sounds like a goddamn plan!" Plaza cheered, and a handful of women joined her.

Another round of shots appeared, and as Beca reached for one, Stacie shoved her hand away, giving the smaller brunette's shot as a second drink to Chloe instead.

Okay, Beca thought sullenly. I'll just get drunk on my own.

And an hour later, that was exactly what she had done.

She peeled off from the group, moving instead to sulk at one of the bars on the first floor as most of the women hit the dance floor. The DJ was okay, playing a steady set of club mixes and anthems. In spite of everything, Beca found that the alcohol and the music was loosening her up.

She sucked down rum and cokes as she watched her housemates lose themselves in the music.

She was jealous; she couldn't deny it. She wanted to feel as free as they did.

But she couldn't, with the weight of her own fuck-ups on her.

As the alcohol sank in, her eyes stopped seeing the group as a whole and instead sought out only Chloe, her lithe body writhing in time to the heavy beats. She watched Chloe dance with Stacie, with Aubrey Plaza, and with CR, along with a smattering of attractive men who ventured into the circle of women.

Beca's blood started to boil as she watched one guy wrap himself around her, pulling her hair off her shoulder to whisper into Chloe's ear.

She could tell the redhead was getting drunker too, as her hips began to swing a little harder, a little farther, and Beca decided she'd had enough.

She didn't need to torture herself.

She pulled our her phone to text one of the drivers back to pick her up when she noticed she was bobbing her head to the beat of Release Me. She nodded along with the track - it was a little heavy on the drums, but still good - and then Bulletproof swept in.

She jumped to her feet.

"Holy shit!" she screamed, pocketing her phone and slamming the rest of her drink before she moved towards her group of women across the dance floor. She pushed her way through the crowd, finding Plaza after a moment of searching through sweaty bodies.

"This is my song!" she yelled over the music, and Plaza laughed.

"I told you, dude!" the celebrity yelled back as she twisted and turned. "Your shit's good!"

"This is my song though!" Beca screamed. Hearing her song over the speakers, Beca started to move her body to the beat.

And there was no denying the song was infectious, as the crowd continued to weave themselves around the beat, flowing in and out of time with Beca's mix.

"This is so cool!" Beca tried to say, and Plaza pulled the small brunette into her body.

"Just keep sending me what you have," she yelled. "You could probably even have a spot, if you wanted it. Like if you wanted an hour or something. I'll ask Javier."

"Who? What?" Beca asked reflexively, but she didn't really care. This was her dream. She was literally living her dream, right now, in this club. Her mistakes faded away as the bass thudded through the speakers, giving way to the synth of Bulletproof.

This was it.

This feeling was why she came on the show.

It felt so vindicating to be reminded of why she was doing all of this. It felt right. Beca danced to the beat she’d basically memorized over the last year, heard every fill and tweak. She felt delirious - this whole club was dancing to something she wrote.

It was a high she knew she’d chase forever.

It might even make her want to stay on the show.

Beca was grinning broadly as the mix came to a close. The next song faded in, and surprisingly, it was another one that Beca recognized.

Natalia Kills, in a club in LA?

After La Roux?

Whatever, it wasn't like Beca was complaining.

Strong guitar chords thrummed as a bass-boosted remix of Problem started, and Beca felt every low note deep in her body. She was feeling good.

Alcohol, adrenaline, and latent relief flooded through her as the track looped its intro, and suddenly Plaza stepped away from her, moving towards CR as the woman beckoned the judge over.

And Beca was face to face with Chloe Beale.

Beca didn't think. Couldn't think. She stepped forward, wrapping her arm around the redhead's waist and pulling her close.

Sweat, drippin' down my neck.

Thinking 'bout your tattooed knuckles on my thigh,

boy, boy, boy.

Chloe leaned into Beca's body, awkward with drunkenness, sliding a leg between the brunette's. Her body began to roll in time as Beca wrapped her other arm around Chloe's waist.

The redhead's arms went around Beca's neck, and Beca curled her head against the taller woman's shoulder.

Cold shower, you've got no

power to control

how I make you my toy, toy, toy.

Beca put possessive hands against Chloe's hips and rolled sinfully against her, and Beca heard the redhead inhale sharply.

My hips rocking as we keep lip locking.

Got the neighbors screaming

even, "Louder, louder."

Lick me down like you were

rolling rizia, like I'm smoking.

Come and put me out.

Just as Chloe started to look up into Beca’s eyes, the brunette spun Chloe in her arms, pressing up against the her backside, pulling her hair like a curtain, away from that perfectly freckled neck.

I'm your dream girl,

this is real love.

Beca ran her lips up the column of tendons, against the shell of her ear as she softly hummed the next lyrics.

But you know what they say about me.

"That girl is a problem.

girl is a problem.

girl is a problem, problem."

She felt Chloe shudder and press against her, rotating her hips so that she dug into Beca, pressing against her in a way that felt so right and yet not enough at the same time.

But then Chloe ran a hand up, and back, threading itself in Beca's hair and pulling the woman closer, if that was possible. Chloe was taller, but as she danced, the woman had dropped down, and now Beca was wrapped tightly over her shoulder.

Oh baby,

you're so bad, boy.

Drive me mad, boy,

but you don't care what they say about me.

The brunette's hands bracketed Chloe's hips, but the redhead’s hand flew out of Beca’s hair to grab Beca’s hands, forcing one up onto her rib cage, and the other, lower, against the front of her hip.

"That girl is a problem.

girl is a problem.

girl is a problem, problem."

God damn problem.

Beca unintentionally gripped with both hands, the one at Chloe's ribs bunching up the fabric of her unbuttoned short sleeve shirt and tank, while the other hand tightened around Chloe's upper thigh. Chloe arched under her palms, pressing further into the curve of Beca's hips.

I got your name hanging from my chain.

Don't you want to claim my body like a vandal?

Got the cure underneath your shirt.

Don't you want to save this dirty little damsel?

It was Beca's turn to gasp when Chloe spun back around, eyes meeting hers, their gazes locking as Chloe righted herself. She had one hand entangled in her own hair, and the other found its way to Beca's hip, then further, pulling Beca into her with her hand on the smaller woman's ass.

Beca's hands settled higher this time, on the curve of Chloe's middle back, where her shirt had been pulled up surreptitiously. The pair started to slow as they got impossibly close, and Beca felt intoxicated by the proximity.

Got my mink coat falling to the

motel floor, you're on the bed

wolf whistling. "Louder, louder."

Your lips smudging all my makeup,

kicking both my heels off.

Come and pin me down.

Beca's palms were flat against the flush skin of Chloe's back as the redhead clawed at the nape of Beca's neck, raking against the sensitive skin as their hips rolled in perfect synchronicity.

Then, suddenly, cold air rushed in, and Beca opened her eyes to see that Stacie had pulled Chloe away from the smaller brunette and was now standing in her place.

She shoved Beca back, lifted her fist, and swung, connecting solidly with Beca's jaw.

It slowed then, only for a moment, as Beca felt the sting of the impact. Her eyes returned to Stacie but she wasn’t seeing anything, wasn’t focusing.

Then the noise came back, and Beca could hear that the song was still going. She blinked back tears as she tested her jaw, opening and stretching as she brought her hand up.

She touched it softly, and even through the alcohol, she could feel the tenderness.

"Leave," Stacie yelled over the music. "Before I hit you again."

Beca tried to look over her shoulder, to Chloe, but the older woman hid behind her friend.

"Fuck," Beca whispered.

And she turned to leave, the Natilia Kills song chasing her out as she stepped onto the pavement of the cold LA night.

We're hell-raising, and we don't need saving,

cuz there's no salvation for a bad girl.

We're rock bottom, but there ain't no stopping,

cuz they don't know nothing about love.

We're hell-raising, and we don't need saving,

cuz there's no salvation for a bad boy.

We're rock bottom, but there ain't no stopping,

cuz it's you and me against the world.

Chapter Text

Beca barely ventured out of her room on Thursday. But come Friday, everybody had to meet in the pit to hear about the next week's theme.

And since nobody knew who was going to be cut, they all had to prepare a song.

From her room, she heard everyone making their way downstairs. She waited until most of the voices quieted before she joined them, slinking into the background of the festivities.

The couch was full, and Katherine, Carl, and a few others sat at the dining table. Beca leaned against a column between the dining room and entryway as she tuned into Posen, who was addressing the group.

"We'll start today by working on Mama I'm A Big Girl Now! from Hairspray. Then you'll get with Carl to pick solos. And I'm so excited to announce our guest mentor and performer will be Tony, Grammy, Emmy, and Oscar winner, the Broadway legend herself, Liza Minelli!"

The women cheered, and Posen beamed.

"She'll be here tomorrow, then again on Tuesday at the theater," she continued. "So you ladies better have your shit together."

She dismissed the group, telling them to be in the pool house in twenty minutes. Beca stayed by the pillar as Posen passed without even looking at the brunette.

Better than the alternative, Beca thought.

The women began to leave, and most of them ignored Beca completely. Flo shot her a sympathetic look but didn't say anything, and CR tutted as she shook her head.

"Hey, shortstack," Fat Amy said as she approached. "Imma have to, ya know, keep my distance for a bit. You're bad for business."

Beca nodded, looking over Amy's shoulder and catching Stacie's glare. Chloe was next to her, but the redhead wasn't looking her way.

Honestly, it wasn't as bad as she expected.

So what if everybody was freezing her out? She got what she wanted, essentially.

To be left the fuck alone.

So maybe this was good. They'd leave her alone now. No more confusing acts of kindness or attempts at friendship. No more stupid crushes.

She could just do her music.

Beca ambled back towards her room, choosing to play on her phone for the interim before joining the rest of the competitors in the pool house. She came in just as Carl was assigning parts, standing at the keyboard with the women spread out around him.

"-and so then you'll sing- oh! Beca!" he called to her as she came in. "Grab a sheet!"

"Sorry, I was- uh-"

Stacie rounded and narrowed her eyes at the younger woman.

"'Sorry'? That's rich, coming from you," Stacie growled.

"Don't worry about it, Beca," Carl jumped in. "Come on."

Carl split them all up, putting Beca in a group with Lilly and Stacie. They were given the character Tracy's parts from the song. Chloe, Amy, and Ashley got the Amber lines, and the last four - Emily, Flo, CR, and Jessica - would sing for Penny.

Thankfully Beca knew most of the words already. While Hairspray wasn't one of her favorite musicals, it was one of the few movies she actually watched, mostly because her mom loved to sing along.

They'd put it on a lot when her mom got really sick, because it always made her mom smile. And even though the song was only in the end credits, Beca always let it play through until it was over.

She liked the music, even though it was a bit hokey.

Plus, the blonde was hot.

So as the other women tried to keep up with the complex melody while they learned the lyrics, Beca focused her thoughts on the next week.

A week of Broadway songs. She could work with that. Maybe she'd sing some Webber. Or Sondheim again.

Okay, probably not Sondheim again.

Too hard. Too much.

And they'd get to work with Liza Minelli, that was pretty cool.

Beca started singing the second verse with her group, chancing a look up at Carl. Instead of locking eyes with him, she found Chloe staring at her.

Her eyes were wide as Beca met the crystal blues. Chloe's gaze shuddered slightly as the redhead sucked in a shaky breath.

God, she really knows how to make me feel like shit, just by looking at me.

Beca quickly looked away, out the window, then to her original target Carl.

She could still feel Chloe looking at her, but she wasn't about to deal with that right now.

The run-through ended, and Carl was pleased. He told the women to learn their parts and practice with their groups. Thankfully, he said, they'd just do some simple choreography, walking around each other in their groups, so they would work that out on Tuesday when they rehearsed in the space.

Otherwise, it was time for everyone to pick their songs.

Carl said the same parameters as before would be in effect now; all contestants had to pick songs made popular by women.

As he started to throw out classical musical examples, some started asking about modern musicals like Dear Evan Hansen and Hamilton. The musical director reluctantly agreed but clarified that the song list would still have to be approved by Posen and, to some extent, by Liza Minelli.

Ashley immediately tried to claim Defying Gravity from Wicked, but Carl talked her down to No Good Deed from the same show. Fat Amy picked something from Cats.

Roxie from Chicago, that was Jessica, after trying something else. Flo said she wanted to do I Feel Pretty from West Side Story, stating it was the only show she had seen parts of in Guatemala, due to its "gang elements."

The women bickered about who could sing what, and what parts were even still available, but Beca stopped listening. She watched as Chloe said something to Stacie, and the tall brunette shot her a look.

Then Stacie ushered Chloe out of the pool house and out of sight.

Carl set up a rough schedule for the women who had already picked, telling them to take an hour break for lunch, and that they'd each work for a half hour or so. One by one, the rest of the remaining women picked, and then Beca was the only one left in the room.

Rather than chance fate to see Chloe and Stacie again, Beca mumbled her song choice - Life Upon The Wicked Stage from Show Boat - and hurried back towards her room.

This time though, she remembered to grab snacks (so she could stop sneaking out at 2 AM to hoard.)

She managed to get inside the safety of her suite without any interruptions, but Beca was starting to think that was less about luck and more about the choice of her housemates.

She'd be offended if it wasn't so convenient.

Instead of diving into new mixes to send to Plaza immediately, Beca rehearsed her song a few times. It was another one of her mom's favorites- though why she'd let Beca perform it in a talent show at 12, Beca wasn't sure.

The song wasn't exactly appropriate.

Still, she knew the zesty lyrics, saccharine as they appeared to be on the surface. And even though her jaw still hurt from where Stacie had hit her, Beca was having fun singing the song.

From the safety and relatively soundproofed security of her walk-in closet, anyway.

After that, Beca realized she still had a couple hours to kill before she would need to be back in the studio.

She could hear women in the pit, singing parts of their songs and others from shows that they hadn't picked. She could hear them talking about going out to lunch, going to see some of the sights before they had to practice.

Beca almost laughed. That sounded awful.

Instead of listening to another slapstick-comedy cover of For Good, she slipped her headphones over her ears and went to work.

*****

Plaza was probably going to regret giving Beca carte blanche to send whatever she had.

Because in the last day alone, Beca had sent three separate emails with old mixes, and she'd also started four and a half new ones. Beca was inspired - not only by the music she'd heard Wednesday, but by the club itself.

It was different than the ones Beca had been able to sneak into in Atlanta.

The big clubs in Atlanta, the ones with lines and wait times, they were so rap-heavy. And the bars were always a mix of country and sugar pop.

But the club they went to had the same taste that Beca did. All the DJs at the club took pop and weird samples and dominating bass and made it something that you wanted to dance too.

Hopefully they would go back.

Maybe she could convince Plaza to introduce her to the DJ that played her mix.

If the judge didn't hate her, anyway.

Would Plaza care that the other contestants were mad at her?

Probably not.

But she might have to separate herself from Beca as part of the show, depending on if the fans still liked her.

Beca clicked her phone on, scrolling over to the internet tab that had Twitter on it. She still didn't have an account, but now that she knew they were talking about the show, she would find herself scrolling through the hashtags to see what they were saying about her.

She couldn't help it. It was the worst form of narcissism and masochism.

(Without actually having to watch the show.)

She watched as people used the #BecaEffinMitchell tag to say they were still going to support her or whatever, and that they were voting for her, maybe because they wanted to see what would happen if she stayed on the show.

But people said they were going to stop, too.

Somehow she'd scrolled so far back that she was seeing people talk about her I'm Still Here performance. It was weird; that happened so long ago for her, but the episode only aired last week. Again, the pool was split. Some people said she was a badass with a great voice, and others said she was dramatic.

Beca wondered how much they'd actually seen on the show. Seen her nerves and the way she broke down.

Eh, that was actually pretty dramatic.

It wasn't until she was almost at the bottom of scrolling that she saw Chloe's name. It was her account, Beca realized suddenly - ChloeTheGinger.

It was a picture of Beca from the show, and something else, and as Beca read, she realized the original tweet had come from the show's official AmericanIdol account.

She clicked on the picture of herself onstage singing, and underneath was the closed caption I'm still here!

She scrolled, and another picture popped up, this one of Aubrey Posen gritting her teeth.

She scrolled once more, and a final picture of Posen rolling her eyes appeared, and the closed captioning for that one was Beca [censored] Mitchell.

The show had tweeted the pictures with the simple caption #BecaEffinMitchell.

And Chloe had quoted it somehow, adding two heart-eye emojis along with a crying laughing face. Beca checked the date - it was from last week, when the episode aired.

So #BecaEffinMitchell had only started because Posen hated her so much and was mad that her performance was good enough to keep her on the show?

Why was that so fucking funny?

Posen had tried to insult her, to throw mud on her name, and the people who were Beca's fans used the hashtag to show their support?

Beca bit her lip to keep from laughing out loud. No wonder Posen hated her - even her friend had quoted the tweet!

Something warm bloomed in Beca’s chest. Maybe there were people out there, like her. People that supported the way Beca lost control every once in a while. Or liked the way that she was kind of a mess.

Or, maybe they just really hated Posen and thought they had an ally.

But Chloe didn't fit into that second category, the ones that hated Posen, so did that mean she supported Beca?

Well, she might have.

She probably didn't now.

Even though Beca knew that it took two to tango - not that the dancing they'd engaged it could be considered anything more than vertical foreplay - Beca was the one who had screwed up. With the shout-out after her performance, and even back to the jewelry thing too. No, Beca knew she was definitely the one at fault.

Glancing back at her phone, she fought every urge to click on Chloe's name. She knew the redhead wouldn't be able to see that that Beca was looking through her Twitter, but it didn't feel right to stalk through the woman's posts.

So, she tossed her phone back on the desk and started on her music again.

The rhythms carried her all the way into Saturday, and Beca woke up feeling almost refreshed. Rehearsal had gone well yesterday, and Posen had approved of everybody's songs. Today, Liza Minelli would be here to hear what everyone was singing and give some notes.

Then, they'd have all Sunday and Monday to rehearse with a full band. Tuesday, they'd be in the space, with Liza giving final notes. Posen mentioned something about them singing in a theater instead of House of Blues, so Beca was excited to see where they were going to perform.

The only issue was that, today, they were all supposed to sing a section of their song in front of Liza, in the pit. Carl had already moved his keyboard to where the ottoman used to sit, and the house was buzzing with people as everybody got their hair and makeup done.

So they would all be there, when Liza gave comments.

And it was going to be filmed.

They had probably told her that at some point.

Somebody put Beca in her ripped skinny jeans and told her to tie her navy flannel around her waist. They gave her dark eyeliner and told her to wait in the living room, that somebody would tell her where to sit.

There were too many people in the first floor common areas for Beca's entrance to have any impact. Cameras were being set up, and PAs were barking sternly into their headsets. Beca heard somebody say that Liza would be onsite in twenty, so she poured herself a glass of water and scrolled through her phone.

"Mitchell," somebody called, and Beca looked up. Hannah the PA was gesturing her towards the couch.

"You're going to be part of the group on the couch," she said, leading Beca over and angling her slightly away from the corner, on the leg of the U.

Hannah looked around surreptitiously, then she dropped her voice to a whisper.

"You'll be on camera the whole time," she said quietly. "They want you to have some weird reaction, so try to keep it neutral."

Beca thanked the PA as she took off. Stacie was already seated left of Beca, on the bottom of the U, and Ashley was on Beca's other side towards the front of the room. And Fat Amy was at the top of their side.

They put CR across from her, and Jessica was next to her.

No sign of Chloe yet.

"Worst seat in the house," Stacie lamented loudly, and CR chuckled. "Do you think being a self-righteous bitch is contagious?"

Beca scoffed and shook her head, but she didn't respond.

She didn't need to get punched when there were cameras around.

Amy sighed loudly and gave a slight cough.

"Maybe," she said unevenly. "Maybe we could try to cool it?"

"It's fine," Beca responded before Stacie or anybody else could. She bit her tongue before another sarcastic comment found its purchase there.

Stacie sucked in another breath to say something else, but the thought was cut off as a timid PA brought Chloe into the pit. They put her next to CR, on the bottom of the U, mirroring Stacie.

Beca went back to her phone as the women tried to make small talk. They brought Lilly in and put her between Beca and Ashley, which only shoved Beca closer to Stacie. The taller brunette groaned and rolled her eyes.

Flo was placed next to Jessica, and Emily went in between Chloe and CR.

With everyone set, Posen reappeared at the front of the pit.

"Okay, is everybody ready?" she lilted nervously. The women gave a half hearted response, and Posen gasped.

"I need you Idol-bitches to be ready!" she barked, and a slightly more enthusiastic murmur ran through the women. Posen patted her outfit - a sensible polo and pant combo that made the blonde look like she just stepped out of a magazine - and smiled tensely.

"This is our first real celebrity," she said. "Everyone will be polite and respectful. And you will all give 100%. Like my dad always says, 'Always give 100%, unless you're donating blood or getting a divorce.'"

"Babe, we've talked about your dad's quotes," Stacie said softly. "They don't make any sense."

"Of course they do," Posen replied, aghast.

"Not really, no," Amy butted in.

Posen gasped again, looking to Chloe for help.

"Chloe?"

Without realizing it, Beca glanced at Chloe as the redhead looked up suddenly. Her eyes were unfocussed, and she blinked a couple times before taking a breath. She stammered out something vaguely affirming, then looked down again, studying her cuticles.

Holy shit, Beca thought. What's going on with Chloe?

It couldn't be because of her, could it?

Beca didn't have time to dwell, because somebody announced that Ms. Minelli was in the building, and Beca found herself sitting up straighter. The Broadway legend entered to enthusiastic applause, spearheaded by Posen.

"Ms. Minelli," she said reverently. "It's an honor!"

"Oh the honor's all mine!" Liza responded. "And please, it's Liza! I'm such a big fan of your work, Aubrey!"

Posen blushed deeply as one of Liza's assistants swooped past the celebrity towards the women in the pit.

"Hi," he said hurriedly. "A couple of ground rules. Liza will offer some of you a hug or a handshake, you are expected to accept. Try to hold eye contact if you can, but not when you sing. No questions or autographs until the cameras are off."

He leaned in conspiratorially to address only the contestants.

"I had a TV show host ask for an autograph in the middle of an interview once," he sighed. "Awful, just dreadful."

The women laughed nervously as the assistant pulled back.

"Liza's familiar with your performances so far," he went on. "She wants to see your personalities come through in your songs today. She won't be harsh, but she may say things you don't want to hear. Please remain respectful. She's a living legend; she knows what she's talking about."

"Okay!" he called over the women and the couch. "Are we ready, Liza?"

"Well I think so," she replied, then laughed. "But I'm not the one to ask. Aubrey? What do you think, should we start this thing?"

Beaming, Posen gave a succinct nod.

"Then let's get singing!"

*****

After a little disclaimer that this session was only about song selection, Carl got to work introducing the acts as they stood to sing.

Liza's assistant had been correct in saying that the celebrity would tell it like she saw it. She had already told CR that She Used to Be Mine from Waitress wasn't "as spectacular as you are!" and asked the singer to choose another song. Carl introduced Stacie and her song, but Beca didn't recognize it.

Carl started playing hard chords, and Stacie started to sway her hips.

I've got a sweet tooth

for licorice drops and jelly roll.

Hey, sugar daddy,

Hansel needs some sugar in his bowl.

Liza squealed and immediately spun around the couch.

"Is this allowed?" she asked Posen, and the blonde judge shrugged.

"If you think so," she replied. "Hedwig is a female persona, but it's up to you."

Stacie went on undeterred. She dropped to her hands and knees and began to crawl across the floor towards Liza, who screamed and cheered with everyone else.

I'll lay out fine China on the linen

and polish up the chrome.

If you've got some sugar for me,

sugar daddy, bring it home!

She laid herself on the couch next to Liza, twisting and turning, giving the celebrity a full show without actually laying on top of her. Even Beca laughed as Stacie continued to perform.

Black strap molasses,

you're my orange blossom honey bear.

Bring me Versace blue jeans,

black designer underwear.

The brunette made her way back towards the piano and began to hang against Carl.

We'll dress up like the disco, dancing,

jet set in Milan and Rome.

If you've got some sugar for me,

sugar daddy, bring it home!

"Okay, okay!" Liza protested as she laughed. "Stop, Miss Conrad! I'm not sure we can take it!"

Carl stopped playing, and Stacie smiled as she fixed her hair. She flipped it over her shoulder before turning to Liza.

"You know your brand, honey, I'll give you that!" the celebrity laughed. "You're outrageous! And you're very sexy."

Stacie poo-poo'd the compliment as the other women laughed and whistled.

"And you can sing. There's no kidding around," Liza went on. "That voice, it's on. It's on pitch, and it's strong. You could win this thing."

Stacie gave a demure yet determined nod.

"I'll do whoever it takes," she said solemnly.

"Do you mean 'whatever it takes'?" Liza laughed.

"I'll do that too."

Everybody laughed as Liza waved Stacie out of the spotlight. She resumed her seat next to the celebrity, and Liza pulled her into a half hug.

"Well, we have three more," Carl sighed, obviously a little distraught. "Chloe, you want to come sing your song?"

The redhead agreed, slowly stepping into place. The women tried to hype her up, but Chloe wouldn't take her eyes off her socked feet.

Carl switched the keyboard to a crunchy synth noise as Chloe started to sing.

Women have been making bad choices

since the beginning of time.

Are you going to be another one of mine? Oh.

Chloe looked up finally, eyes shining with tears, and looked towards the back of the room as she got into the rhythm of the song.

Used to think you were from outer space.

Who's that bright-eyed guy at your place?

You're kinda cute when you're not so shy, wow.

Carl started in with a rounder synth, running the notes like the original song, as Chloe closed her eyes.

But I've been here before.

Have I come back for more?

Another chapter in the history of wrong guys.

You used to be so "eh,"

a limp lackluster bore.

But now you're turning into something I just can't ignore.

The beat picked up as Carl started playing bright, repeating chords. Beca was lost in the song, caught in the harsh rawness of Chloe's heartbroken performance.

Had she done that?

Was Chloe singing about her?

She glanced a look at Liza Minelli, and the celebrity had her hand clasped to her chest. She was just as enthralled as they were.

Chloe continued to belt out the lyrics.

Charlie, honestly,

I've been hurt like this before.

Is there really more to you than

what I always thought?

How can you surprise me anymore?

More?

More?

Carl resolved the chord as Chloe brought the chorus to its close with a little gasp. The room exploded into applause as Chloe's gaze fell back down to the floor.

The clapping faded, and Liza still hadn't said anything. She leaned against Stacie as she got up from the deep couch, walking up to Chloe.

"That was wonderful, dear," she said softly. She grabbed Chloe's hands and lifted them, and Chloe's gaze rose to meet Liza's. Beca could see there were a few tears running down her face, and she looked away.

"You're incredibly talented," Liza continued. "But you've lost your sparkle, that little twinkle in your eye. Your happiness. I'd hate to see the person who took it."

Beca heard Stacie huff loudly next to her, and she looked over to see Posen clamp a hand onto the taller brunette's shoulder. Stacie was trying to kill her with a glare, and Beca wondered if Liza was looking, but she didn't dare glance over to check.

Cheeks red, Beca re-adjusted her gaze on her phone in her lap.

Liza told Chloe that the song was perfect for her and, after giving her a small hug and a few more encouraging remarks, the celebrity let Chloe help her back to their seats.

Thoughts rushed through Beca's head as Emily sang to Carl's guitar accompaniment. It was something she didn't recognize - So Big, So Small from Dear Evan Hansen.

She still had to perform.

And she was singing something kind of stupid.

And Chloe was singing about her.

And Chloe thought she was a mistake.

Fuck, how had she screwed this up so royally? It was clear, now, that Chloe really did like her. Or the redhead was the best actress of their generation.

No, Beca thought reluctantly. The feelings were real, somehow, and not contrived or manipulated by the show.

Beca was such a fuck-up. She should've just asked- just talked to Chloe before running off with her assumptions. They had bonded in such a real way, but on the show - from what little Beca had seen, anyway - it didn't look authentic.

Beca couldn't believe it then, but she could now.

Carl called her up and introduced the song, and Beca gave it her best. The simple, sarcastic melody started, and Beca was barely through the first two lines before Liza stopped her.

"No, no, no," she said, and Beca sighed.

She was annoyed, but she wasn't surprised.

"I've seen you power through Sondheim," Liza chastised. "I'm not letting you sing Hammerstein."

"Yeah, okay," Beca relented to the floor, and she heard Liza laugh.

"Pick something true, something that resonates with you!" the celebrity pushed, and Beca chanced a look up. Chloe wasn't looking at her, choosing instead to keep her eyes down, so Beca was able to focus on Ms. Minelli as the celebrity spoke.

"It seemed to me, when I was growing up - in the turmoil of growing up - that I could always find a song that explained to me how I felt," Liza explained. "Something that made me feel better, and that said it so much better than I could ever say it. You need to find one of those."

"What if I don't want to feel better?" Beca countered, and Liza laughed again.

"Well then find something as hopeless as you are!"

Beca felt herself smile as the other contestants and crew gave a polite laugh.

"I will be back on Tuesday, you know," Liza said to Beca, but then she stood again and addressed the group. "I'll be back Tuesday, and I expect to see more, to feel more than I did today. Don't let me down, okay?"

The women agreed, and Beca went straight back into her room. She felt her eyes burning with unspilled tears, which she blinked back.

Stupid, this is all so stupid.

There was a knock on her door, and Beca groaned.

"Honestly? What, dude?" Beca screamed through the door. "What could you possibly want?"

"It's CR," a voice called back through. "Carl wants us out in the studio."

Beca groaned again and went to open the door. It wasn't until she opened it that she saw that it wasn't just CR but Stacie too, and instead of letting Beca out, they forced her back in.

"Great," Beca said sarcastically. "Are you guys here to make me feel like shit again?"

"You'd deserve it," Stacie grumbled, but CR put a hand on the brunette's arm.

"We're here for Chloe, remember?"

Stacie rolled her eyes and looked at her nails.

"I wasn't lying," CR said first. "We really do need to go to the pool house."

"Let's go then," Beca replied as she tried to push past the pair, but Stacie stood in her path.

"Don't make me hit you again," she warned her.

"I'd hit back this time," Beca spat back, and Stacie scoffed.

"Like you could reach."

"Ladies! Damn, this isn’t WWE!" CR cut in. "Cut the bullshit for a second!"

Stacie kept her glare leveled at Beca for a moment before Beca broke it, looking over to CR.

"What do you want?"

CR let out a long exhale. She looked at Stacie for help, but the tall brunette shook her head.

"This was your idea," she mumbled, but CR shook her head.

"No, no," she replied. "You came to me."

It was Stacie's turn to let out a breath now. She blew it up to the ceiling before looking back at Beca.

"We want you to apologize to Chloe," she said. "Not for you, and not to get back together or whatever, but for her. She's miserable."

"Yeah, and I'm a fucking bowl of sunshine with sprinkles," Beca shot back, sarcasm oozing out of every pore. "At least she doesn't have to change her song. Again."

"That's not the point," CR cut in. "We need Chloe. Your surliness is expected. The show doesn't work if Chloe's sad."

Beca let out a sardonic laugh.

"I get it," she laughed. "I'm dispensable, but Chloe's important?"

"That's not what I said," CR tried, but Stacie stepped in.

"Get over yourself and apologize so Chloe can move on!" she seethed. "For her, for us, and for the show! For everyone except yourself."

"Fine!" Beca shot back. "Fucking fine, I'll apologize!"

"After we go pick new songs," CR said. She turned to Stacie. "I'll make sure she goes to Chlo's room."

"No need," Stacie countered as she stared Beca down. "We'll be in the pit."

CR sighed, defeated.

"Alright," she agreed, then she gestured to Beca. "Come on, let's go."

*****

Carl convinced CR to sing Satisfied from Hamilton, only because she actually could, unlike Jessica who had tried to pick it first. And when Beca couldn't decide on anything, he set up a playlist on Beca's Spotify for her to pick from. They were all songs the band could already play, and some of them fit Minelli's comments to her, Carl told her.

She walked out of the pool house still upset, so when she remembered she was supposed to apologize to Chloe right that very moment, her mind went blank.

She didn't know what to say.

There was too much to apologize for, and some of it that she hadn't even figured out yet. How was she supposed to make any of this better if she didn’t even understand it herself?

It doesn’t matter, she thought sullenly. You have to do this. It’s not for you. It’s for her.

Chloe and Stacie were sitting at the table as Beca and CR came in. Chloe looked up, then dropped her gaze again when she saw it was Beca.

Beca cleared her throat, and the blue eyes popped up again. Swollen, like she'd been crying, but still bright.

Duller, a bit, though.

"Chloe? Can I talk to you?" Beca asked, her voice distant from her own ears. It sounded small and weak, and Beca tried to clear her throat again.

Chloe glanced at Stacie, who rolled her eyes but nodded.

"Go ahead," Chloe replied, and Beca looked around. Katherine, Emily, and Flo were in the pit, and Jessica was chopping up fruit in the kitchen.

The cameras and crew had cleared out at least.

"Right here?" Beca confirmed, and Chloe nodded. Beca sucked in a deep breath and nodded.

"Okay, sure," she started. "I'm, uh, I'm sorry."

The stale apology hung in air as everyone tried to go about their business and pretend they weren't listening.

"Sorry for what?" Chloe countered, and Beca blanched.

"I'm sorry that we fought," she stammered. "I was mad, and I overreacted last week. This show just makes me crazy, and I-"

"Seriously?"

Beca stopped and met the redhead's eye.

"You think I'm mad because you yelled at me over jewelry?"

"No," Beca tried. "I know-"

"No, you don't," Chloe replied sharply. "You think you know but you don't."

The redhead took a deep breath, looking away, then back to Beca with tears in her eyes.

"You push away anyone that could possibly care about you," she sighed. "Why is that?"

Beca looked away, blinking wildly. Everyone was quiet now as they listened to the conversation.

"I don't know," Beca whispered toward the stairwell.

She couldn't even look at Chloe.

God, this fucking show!

"Well, you better figure it out," Chloe replied, standing and walking towards the stairs. "Because I'm done with - with whatever this is."

"Chloe-"

"I'm done!" she called as she started up the stairs, Stacie hot on her tail. The leggy brunette turned once to glare at Beca before calling out for her friend as she followed her.

"God damnit!" Beca cursed under her breath. She wiped her eyes haphazardly with both hands, scrubbing her face before moving to cross the room towards her suite.

"Beca, wait," somebody called after her, and in her confused state, Beca actually turned to see who it was. Katherine was moving through the dining space to her, a hand out to grab the brunette's arm.

"Walk with me," the older woman said, and after a moment, Beca obliged.

Anything was better than going into her room and sobbing.

Katherine led Beca outside, through the backyard in the chilly night air and back into the pool house. The smaller brunette stood helplessly in the entryway until Katherine ushered her into the kitchen and sat her down at the island.

Katherine stood on the other side and stared at her until Beca looked up.

"What was that?" she asked.

"I don't know!" Beca cried as tears fell down her cheeks. "They told me to apologize, and I just- just-"

"Beca, breathe," Ms. Junk replied, and Beca took a shaky breath. She tried to even it out as Katherine watched her.

The older woman's face fell as she sighed.

"That wasn't right," Ms. Junk said softly.

Beca only hiccuped in response, and Katherine turned around. She started to talk to Beca again as she rummaged around the cabinets.

"Chloe deserved more than that, and you know that. She deserves a real apology, not one that's fake or incomplete. She needs to hear that you're sorry, really sorry. It can't be half-assed."

Self-deprecatingly, Beca laughed.

"Oh, I definitely full-assed it," she said, and Katherine frowned at her before turning to the sink and starting to fill a cup with water. Beca didn't stop though.

"I'm such a loser," she moaned. "I screwed it all up, like I always do. Like I always have. I just keep messing up all the good things-"

"Stop," Katherine cut her off, slamming the glass of water down in front of her. "That's your problem, right there."

Beca looked up through her tears.

"You need to take ownership of your actions without making yourself the bad guy," Katherine said. "You're victimizing yourself. You need to stop being so self-deprecating. You're not seeing the bigger picture. If you keep thinking of yourself as the victim, you're never going to be able to fix this. And that is what you want, right? To fix this?"

Beca shrugged, and Katherine sighed.

"Well, then I agree with Miss Beale," she said simply. "Figure it out."

She turned to leave Beca there in the pool house but stopped before she reached the door.

"Also, if you make it through on Wednesday, you're helping my daughter with her song," she said. "She might be one of the only ones who can help you get back on your feet."

Beca sighed and nodded. She'd do whatever to figure out this mess.

But not right now.

Because right now, she needed a new song.

It felt like the only thing she could actually try to do, with everything else so far out of her control or understanding.

She clicked on the playlist that Carl had set up for her, clicking through the songs until the room was filled with jazzy piano. It was one she knew, but she hadn't heard it in a long time, and she moved over to the piano to play along as she sang.

That's the one.

*****


Not a loser anymore,


like the last time or the time before.

Beca swayed as the pianist ran the keys up, then back down to the chorus. She stared into the bright lights of the theater - The Los Angeles Theater, an institution in the LA musical theater. If only her mom could see her, singing her guts out on this illustrious stage for Broadway legend Liza Minelli.

She didn't even have to check if Liza was happy with the selection.

The song was right; she could feel it.


Everybody loves a winner,


so nobody loved me.


'Lady Peaceful,' 'Lady Happy,'


that's what I long to be.


Well all the odds are,


they're in my favor.


Something's bound to begin.


It's gonna happen, happen sometime.


Maybe this time, I'll win.

Beca ran the chorus again, louder and more unhinged, and the band went with her. She crashed through the last lines, hitting the strain in her voice, and then the auditorium fell silent.

Except for one lone pair of hands clapping.

"Now that!" Liza called. "That is the right pick! I couldn't have sang it better myself, and I did!"

Beca laughed into her mic, said thanks, and exited the stage.

She didn't bother going into the audience or lobby with the rest of the contestants and crew. Nobody was talking to her anyway.

Thankfully, old theaters were full of nooks and crannies to hide in, and Beca waited out the rest of the rehearsal day in a small room above and off stage right. She sent Plaza another pair of mixes and then just sat, listening to her songs and letting herself rest.

She had done something right, and she let herself be happy with that.

She rode back to the house with Amy, who tried to talk to her about the theatrics of her performance. Apparently, Amy was going to do her performance of Gumbie Cat in full cat costume and makeup, from the paws all the way to the asshole.

"That's a choice," Beca laughed.

"What can I say, I'm committed to my craft," Amy replied. "I'm just glad they're letting me perform my art."

On show day, dressed in the outfit Chloe and Hannah had picked out for her nearly ten days ago (grey jeans and a black thermal), Beca cheered with everyone else as Liza Minelli performed. Then she sang with her group at the top of the show, narrowly avoiding Stacie as the woman nearly stepped on her to steal their group's solo during Mama I'm A Big Girl Now!

The audience clapped, but they obviously weren't totally into it. The song was a little weird for a group of full-grown women to sing, but whatever. It wasn't their choice.

She followed the other contestants to sit onstage this time, not hidden backstage while the other women performed. Jesse had said that two people were going home and wouldn't be able to perform, and Beca started to feel her typical nervousness under the bright lights.

Chloe went through first, then Emily was selected and sang. Ashley sang so well she could've put Idina to shame, and Jessica rocked Roxie better than Renee.

Then Amy, in her crazy cat outfit.

CR went up next and, with a little help from a band chorus and the audience, she had the whole auditorium on their feet.

They even let a woman sing Alexander's parts, which Beca thought was respectful.

Then Jesse came back onstage, and Beca realized with a start that it was just her, Stacie, Flo, and Lilly now.

She was in the bottom four.

She could go home.

It didn't seem like a real possibility before this moment, what with all the drama, but all of the sudden Beca was sweating.

Maybe she was too pitchy last week.

Maybe enough people got mad at her for how she treated Chloe and didn't vote for her.

Maybe she was too much of an asshole-

No.

She wasn't going to let herself spiral into self-deprecation.

If they let her through, if people voted for her, she'd do her best.

If they didn't, she'd figure it out.

"In no particular order," Jesse said dramatically. "The next performer, who will move on to the next week of the competition, and another week of your votes…"

Jesse smiled broadly as he read the card.

"Beca Effin' Mitchell!"

Chapter Text

Beca followed The Junks into the empty American Idol house. The other women had gone out to the club again, presumably to celebrate. Even Flo and Lilly went, but maybe they just wanted one last night before they went home.

It'd only been ten days, and people were starting to get kicked off.

It was weird how weird that felt.

For some reason, it felt like they were all supposed to stay here together. Knowing that the house would get quieter as people were kicked off the show felt wrong.

Regardless of the fact that Lilly and Flo were celebrating their last night, Beca decided to go straight home. She wasn't going to push her luck and get alcohol in the mix again.

She couldn't trust herself not to find someone.

A certain redheaded someone.

Even though Chloe hated her, Beca was still drawn to her. That was new. Beca was usually pretty respectful of the "fuck off" vibe, having employed it herself more than a few times. But with Chloe, Beca couldn't keep her eyes off the redhead.

Especially when she sang.

Beca blamed it on the fact that Chloe had that kind of star quality that demanded attention. Everyone felt pulled into each note, and each turn of her hip as Chloe danced across the stage, they had to. It was Chloe.

Honestly, she'd probably win this thing.

Looking back at the night, Beca felt confident that her performance had gone well, too, and Liza had even called her "a revelation!"

But she was tired.

She had felt it onstage earlier as she waited to sing. Felt the pressure to look unaffected, and felt the fans and castmates alike shooting her mean looks.

Beca was exhausted by it.

She was tired of pretending she didn't care about performing well.

Of pretending she didn't care about Chloe. Or what other people thought about her.

Beca didn't realize she put so much energy into being standoffish.

"You did really good tonight!"

Beca was halfway across the dining area when the voice called her back. She spun around to see that Emily and Katherine had detoured to the kitchen. Katherine was sitting at the counter watching Beca, and Emily was across from her at the sink.

The girl looked just as nervous as she had when they met.

"Thanks."

Beca continued towards her room, only to be interrupted by the younger brunette once again.

"You could- like, you could stay up. With us," Emily offered. "Last week we made popcorn and talked about the show, while everyone else was out. Just the performances, not the drama. It's just to figure out our own feelings about it, before I go online to look at anything.

"It calms me down," she added when Beca didn't say anything. "We had to start doing it during, what, solos, Mom?"

"After those first episodes of Hollywood week started airing," Katherine confirmed.

"I'd watch everyone doing so good, knowing I was coming here to perform instead of them, and I'd freak out," Emily laughed. "I'd go on Twitter and Facebook, and all these people would be so mad that their friend or favorite didn't make it. I started to feel really guilty that I did make it."

"Not to mention all the gross people objectifying my underage daughter, and the rest of you, too," Ms. Junk added.

"Ew, wait, what?" Beca jumped in before she could stop herself. "I mean, I've seen what they say about me, but…?"

She gestured vaguely in the direction of Emily with an incredulous look, and Katherine nodded.

"Most of them are really nice," Emily butted in, but Katherine waved her off.

"We knew what we were getting into," the mother sighed. "Perverts, the lot of them, but that's why I'm here. And that's one of the reasons that we talk about the shows first. It gives us some perspective."

Beca nodded with a tight lip smile as the microwave chimed. Emily grabbed her bag of popcorn and emptied it into a large bowl, putting in another bag to cook. A silence fell over the group as Emily busied herself with drinks and popcorn toppings.

Katherine, however, was still watching Beca.

Beca could see it out of the corner of her eye- hell, she could feel it. Ms. Junk was looking at her expectantly, and she fought the instinct to look over.

She didn't really want to hang out with a teenager and her mom.

And she didn't really want to talk about the show.

But this was an olive branch, a real one, one that let Beca out of the self-isolation she had forced herself into for the last few days. The self-isolation that was starting to tax her so inanely. She didn't know how much longer she could act like she didn't care about the show.

Or about Chloe.

She was good at being alone, but this much spite was starting to make her feel lonely.

So maybe if she just...

Nah.

She couldn't be around two of the most positive people in the house without dying of boredom.

It would have been different if it was Amy or CR, but the Junks?

They’ll drive me crazy.

"I think I'm just going to-"

"Beca!" Katherine cut her off suddenly, and excitedly. "Did you tell Emily the good news?"

"Uhhhh…"

"What good news?" the younger brunette asked.

"Beca's going to work with you on your song tomorrow," Ms. Junk finished with a twisted smile.

Beca paled and immediately started to backpedal out of the situation, but Emily's squeals drowned it out.

"Wait! Are you being serious?!"

Beca looked between the Junks. First, at Emily, as the young singer tried to hide her excitement behind a poorly constructed and unbelievable frown. Then at Katherine.

The elder Junk had her brow dropped, and her lips slightly pursed, as if to say, "you get one more chance, Beca."

"Uh, yeah," Beca swallowed. "We can collaborate or something."

"Man! Yes!" Emily cheered. "Who else feels like a winner tonight!?"

Ms. Junk laughed, and Beca tried not to roll her eyes. But she was smiling too.

The joy was almost childlike.

Which made sense, because Emily was basically a child.

"Can you sing it for me?" Beca went on, and both Junks turned to her, surprised.

"I might want to put some stuff together tonight," she explained. "I don't know. Is it, like, pop?"

"Yes! Maybe," Emily shot back. "Sing? Right now? Right here? Right here right now."

"Yeah? Is there a problem?"

The microwave dinged again, and Emily added the second bag to the bowl. She took a deep breath.

"It'll be better than when I sang it at auditions, I guess. But, okay, I'm not quite finished with it though," she sighed. "So let's not be a dick about it."

"Emily!"

"Sorry Mom, that was crass, wasn't it?" she laughed. Another deep breath, and then she started to sing.

When tomorrow comes,

I'll be on my own.

Feeling frightened of

the things that I don't know.

When tomorrow comes, when tomorrow comes, when tomorrow comes.

And though the road is long,

I look up to the sky,

Darkness all around-

Emily stopped singing.

"That one, I'm not-" she stammered. "I'm still kind of tinkering with that verse. Nothing's really set yet."

"You're good, dude," Beca replied.

The young woman really had a phenomenal voice, and it was fun to hear her sing something she wrote for herself, and in her tone.

"Keep going."

Emily smiled broadly, then closed her eyes.

I got all I need when I got you and I,

cause I look around me

and see a sweet life.

I'm stuck in the dark,

but you're my flashlight.

You're getting me, getting me through the night.

Emily broke from the melody and started snapping and swaying, then playing imaginary drums and guitar.

Good, Beca thought, she has some ideas about accompaniment.

The younger brunette cut suddenly and ended the song on a wild trill.

You are my flashlight.

"It's- it's good," Beca said. "It's a really good start. I'll put some stuff together tonight, and I'll meet you out here in the morning."

"Woo!" Emily whooped, swinging her fist around her head like a lasso. Her mom cheered as well and got up to join her.

"Beca for the win!" Katherine yelled, and Beca suppressed her laugh, but not her cringe.

"All right, I'm just gonna-“

*****

Beca pulled her headphones off and rubbed her eyes. She'd been at it for an hour- oh, make that hours, if the clock in the corner of the screen could be trusted.

It was nearly 2 AM.

Beca wondered absentmindedly if anyone else was back from the club yet.

She listened to the quiet house around her.

If they had come back, they'd gone to sleep, along with the Junks.

Beca was happy with what she'd put together so far, as it'd definitely save them time tomorrow. She had built the library of sounds that she wanted to use- a basic piano, then a modded piano, with trap and dubstep type 808s and snares. She set up a channel for her midi so she would have all the right sounds available to her.

Now, it was time to set up the song file.

She opened a new window in her mixing software and started singing Emily's song softly to herself. Emily was singing it slow, but Beca wanted to speed it up - maybe not right away, but sometime in there - and the key…

Beca tried to hum the song again, picking notes out on her midi.

Had Emily sung in D? C? The woman had a low range, but C was typically too low, especially for those notes at the beginning.

Wait, Emily said she had sung it for her audition, right?

Beca flipped over to a new tab and pulled up YouTube, searching for Emily Junk's audition for American Idol. A few videos popped up from the official page - last week's Cheap Thrills, and Emily singing Say A Little Prayer during groups. One that looked like her solo from Hollywood week, too. Beca found the audition and put it on.

Emily looked younger, even though it wasn't even six months ago. Jeanclad and wearing a patterned white top, the tall brunette had hunched slightly, trying to take up less space as she introduced herself to Plaza, Posen, and Perry.

The last of which was trying to get the girl to come out of her shell.

"Well, whenever you're ready, Emily," Katy Perry sighed sweetly, and Emily took the same deep breath that Beca saw her take tonight.

As she sang the song she wrote, Emily changed.

She stood up straighter and her face opened up, blossoming with every word. Hey eyes were closed, but her smile widened as she sang, and Beca found herself grinning dumbly at the screen.

Emily was just so cute.

And more than that, she was a badass singer.

A powerhouse, really, that could hit the high notes when she remembered to actually sing them.

(Which she didn't during the audition, and again tonight.)

(So maybe the key was off!)

But as Beca watched Emily perform, she realized that that confidence only came when Emily sang. And it didn't transfer to everything.

She needed to find that starpower in her movements and her stage persona.

Because right now as Beca watched the song come to a close, Emily looked like the kid she was and not the soloist Beca knew her to be.

"That was the best performance we've seen all day," Katy Perry gushed. "And how old are you?"

"Fifteen. I'll be sixteen next month," Emily responded with a smile.

"At fifteen, I was smoking cigs behind the local theater," Aubrey Plaza offered with a funny, old-timey voice. Perry and Posen turned to her.

"I wasn't really," Plaza sighed. "But her talent intimidates me."

Posen glared before turning back to Emily.

"You're pretty young," she said ruefully. "I'm not sure that you'll be able to take that confidence that you have when you're singing and translate it to a stage presence that can command a crowd."

Woah, Beca thought as she blinked at the screen. Posen and I actually agreed on something.

"I totally get that," Emily nodded in the video. She leaned down to pick up her bag. "I'll come back in a couple years."

"Wait!" Perry jumped in with a laugh. "We haven't said no yet!"

Beca laughed. Emily almost walked herself off the show before it even started.

Wait, am I actually enjoying American Idol?

Beca tried to brush it off as the scene played out. The judges agreed to give Emily a chance, and they gave her a golden ticket to Hollywood. Emily was flabbergasted but as she ran out to her mom, Beca saw that Katherine wasn't surprised.

She told Emily that she knew all along, and Jesse agreed as he addressed the camera with a platonic hand clapped onto Emily's shoulder.

The video ended, and the recommendations for more of Emily's performances popped up on the screen. Beca queued the solo performance and began to watch.

Each time, Emily would come onstage like she didn't belong there. Even with her group, it looked like she had wandered onto the wrong stage and decided to make the most of it.

And even up until last week - tonight's performances weren't online yet - Aubrey Posen kept telling her that the lack of confidence was killing her.

To be honest, it was killing Beca too.

Emily was one of their strongest performers, but she couldn't work a crowd.

It was like Emily forgot they were there when she performed.

Maybe it was just because she was younger and therefore didn't have quite the awareness that some of the older performers had.

But Posen had been trying to tell her, and it hadn't gotten much better in the last couple weeks.

Beca couldn't help but wonder if the same thing was happening when Posen gave her feedback on her performances.

It was hard though, to stand up there and get feedback then remember it next week.

And Beca couldn't expect Carl to remember what every woman was supposed to work on.

The Cheap Thrills clip ended, and another one began to autoplay, this one being an Amy's group from Hollywood week. Beca sat, entranced by Amy's solo as she dominated the group of contestants. It was clear that she was the standout star of the crew, both in stage presence and in vocals.

That is, until she tried to sing one of the particularly high notes of Wide Open Spaces and fell out of pitch. She was a little off on the next note, too, having come out of the previous note at the wrong tone, but then she righted her melody and finished strong.

“Good performances, everyone," Posen said when it was her turn. "Amy, you were exceptional. But you were a little pitchy on your solo."

Holy shit, Beca gasped. I finally know what pitchy means.

Video after video, Beca watched as other contestants sang their hearts out only to receive harsh remarks from the judge Aubrey Posen.

CR, Stacie, Ashley, and others too - almost all of them.

Except this time, instead of rolling her eyes and flicking her middle finger in Posen's general direction, Beca could understand.

Even with her own feedback, on her own songs, as those videos had popped up too. She heard what Posen was trying to tell her - focus on the song, not the performance. Remember this is a singing show, so vocals come first.

Beca actually agreed with Posen.

As awful as it was.

And the performers would come back and make the same mistakes. It was so hard to watch; with Beca's ear for music, she could hear exactly what wasn't right.

If it was one of her mixes, she'd have paused the track and made the correction right then. Tweak down the emphasis on "ride," scale up the end of the "time." This section's too slow, let's pace that out or change the tempo.

It would be easy.

But here, the judge had to tell the performers exactly what was wrong, which was what Posen was trying to do.

Beca was reeling. She'd spent - oh god, it was after 3:30 - she'd spent an hour and a half watching American Idol clips and agreeing with Aubrey friggin' Posen.

What was happening to her?!

She closed her laptop and climbed into bed, but her mind was still wide awake. She hadn't even checked the key for Emily's song; she had completely forgotten.

She flipped on the TV and, to her surprise, found that the whole house was linked to the same DVR system.

All of the backlogged episodes of American Idol sat there, staring at her, begging her to watch.

Well, she thought sleepily as she queued up Hollywood week, episode one.

Maybe one episode wouldn't hurt.

*****

"Well somebody looks tired!"

Beca stumbled through the threshold of the pool house, RedBull in hand. It was after eleven, but Beca felt like she hadn't slept at all.

Probably because she hadn't.

Six episodes. She watched six episodes of American Idol in the middle of the night. She was through solos - she skipped hers and Chloe's episode, couldn't quite do that one yet - and started in on the groups. Say a Little Prayer had been interesting, and so had Wide Open Spaces by The Chicks.

Amy was definitely a stand-out performer of the latter, along with Stacie, and Beca was surprised to learn that Emily was the only person out of the four minors that got through from her group. There were a few others, but most of them got kicked out during the last round of solos.

Beca yawned sloppily and adjusted her equipment in her hands.

The Junks were already in the studio, of course, but otherwise the space was empty.

Perks of a day off, Beca reasoned.

"I'm fine," Beca grumbled, swigging a generous gulp of her energy drink. "I was working late. Research. Whatever."

Emily jumped to her feet, bouncing from one to the other.

"Did you work on the song? Do you have anything?"

Beca nodded, then paused.

"Not, like, not anything recorded," she said, and Emily's expression fell.

"Oh, it's cool, I get it," she sighed. "Maybe when I have something more real, we can work together."

"Woah, no," Beca laughed. She moved across the space towards the desk with the mixing board to began setting up her equipment.

"We're going to work on this today. I have some stuff picked out. You were ready to give up that easily, like your audition?"

The Junks swiveled around, and Beca felt them staring at her even though she was underneath the desk. She finished plugging in her laptop then she crawled out and looked between the mother and daughter.

"What?"

"You watched my audition?" the younger said, and Katherine just smiled smugly. Beca scoffed.

"I couldn't remember the key of your song," she said defensively.

Why had she mentioned the audition?

Her brain was still struggling to turn over this morning, and she grabbed the near-empty can of RedBull to finish it off.

"But you watched them give her notes?" Katherine hummed. Beca felt her skin coloring.

"Look, do you want my help or not?" she snapped, and Emily shot to attention.

"Of course!" she nodded reverently. "Yes, I do!"

Katherine only laughed and shook her head. Beca returned to her equipment, connecting the midi to the laptop then the laptop to the charger and the soundboard. Something chimed on, and Beca clicked on the notification to get the hardware set up.

"So what key is it in?"

"Hm?" Beca looked up. "What?"

"What key is Emily's song in?" Katherine pushed, gaze set on Beca. Emily looked between the two of them before she spoke up.

"Yeah, I actually don't know," she sighed. "I tried to figure it out, but I can only pluck it out on the piano, I don't know the notes or what they mean. I never studied them, to know. Like there's a couple black keys- sharps, I think, not flats - but… I don't know... "

Beca opened her mouth once, then shut it.

She hadn't rewatched the audition to figure it out.

Her eyes narrowed on Ms. Junk as the older woman started to laugh again.

She knew she didn't know the key.

"Shut up," she growled, and Katherine only laughed harder.

"What?" Emily said. "I don't get it."

"Nothing, hun," her mom told her. "Go turn on the keyboard and play the notes for Beca here. She'll find it."

Emily shrugged and skipped across the room to the keyboard, turning it on and starting to pluck out her few notes.

"Thank you," Beca mumbled to Katherine, and the older woman held out a mug that Beca had missed before. Inside, Beca could see steam rising from dark liquid.

Coffee.

"No problem," Katherine hummed. "I'll leave you girls to it."

*****

It turned out Emily sang the song in D, but with Beca's persuasion, she was able to raise it to E flat. She could still hit all the notes, and they were crisper, and the 808s sounded better to Beca. Plus she was able to put a few high harmonies in there as well.

They walked back towards the main house in the late afternoon, and the song basically completed. Beca still wanted to tweak a few of the build-ups as they weren't quite cresting the way that she wanted them to.

But the whole process had been really fun.

It was cool, building something from scratch. Emily had an idea for what she wanted it to sound like, but it was Beca that took the vague melody and aggressive air-guitar and turned it into something else.

Sure, it was more of a "club mix" than a pop song, but they'd worked on a piano version too.

They were about to go back inside when Beca looked up through the sliding glass door. The first floor was packed with women. They hadn't noticed Emily and her approaching, and they were laughing at something Amy was doing with a baguette.

The smile fell from Beca's face, mouth resetting to a hard line instead.

"You should hang out with all of us," Emily tried. "They would, like, forgive you or whatever. I know it's complicated but-"

"It's not complicated," Beca scoffed. "They hate me."

"They don't hate you," Emily sighed. "Really. It's, like, the opposite. Like Chloe is still crazy about you."

"What?"

Emily closed her eyes tightly and bit her lip. Her eyes flitted inside, then to Beca.

She pulled Beca away from the door, out of the window's breadth.

It was cold, and getting colder as February came to an end in LA. The sky was overcast and threatened rain overnight.

Beca was glad; the perpetual sunshine of LA was really messing with her brain. She missed the Georgia storms, the ones that shook the windows and blew the power out.

"Look, I shouldn't say anything," Emily whispered. "It's totally not my place. But Chloe still wants to, like, be with you. She tells people to stop talking shit about you, and she was seriously pissed at Stacie for hitting you. Like, they fought all day. I swear she's in love with you."

Beca blinked rapidly.

Chloe didn't hate her?

Wait, Chloe loved her?

"But you can't say anything," Emily went on hurriedly. "You have to talk to her yourself. Because after you tried to apologize and stuff, she got really sad. Like seriously sad. And then, when she was practicing her song this week, she just kept crying."

Beca thought a moment, then nodded.

She'd have to make it up to Chloe, in a real way.

Which meant she needed to watch the show.

Which was going to hurt. A lot.

But she needed to watch Chloe for Chloe, see how the redhead felt about her.

Beca had downplayed Chloe's part in all of this, written it off as her own imagination and then a fabrication of the show.

If she watched the episodes with them together, watched Chloe and accepted that what she was seeing was fact, then maybe she'd see it.

And then maybe she could apologize for real. Maybe she'd even figure out her feelings along the way.

Because this sure didn't feel like a crush anymore.

"I won't say anything," Beca said aloud. "But I'm not going to hang out with all of them. They don't want me there."

Emily shrugged and nodded.

"Fine," she replied sadly. "Will you at least show them the song?"

Beca sighed.

"Whatever," she sighed out in acceptance, and Emily squealed, beelining to the door.

Beca followed close behind, stepping in after Emily and jostling the equipment in her hands.

Emily was already talking a mile a minute about how Beca had mixed her song and helped her record it, and all the tips Beca had given about singing and the harmonies they sang.

Beca alternated her gaze between the wall and the floor, not daring to look around at the other contestants. She could feel them looking at her- whether out of anger or surprise, she couldn't tell.

They probably assumed she was back in her room like always. So seeing that she wasn't - that she was in the pool house with Emily - was weird in itself.

"Well quit yappin' about it,'' Amy cut in, effectively silencing Emily. "Let's hear it."

Emily glanced to Beca, who gave a simple nod. She made her way to the pit, past Amy and CR, and stood at the built-in shelves by the TV. She grabbed the aux cord from the sound system and plugged it in.

"Play the piano one first!" Emily called, and Beca looked back up towards the main room.

Chloe and Stacie were on the couch, with CR leaning against the back of it. Amy was at the dining table with Ashley and Jessica. Katherine was in the kitchen with Flo, and Emily, who had wandered over there. Lilly was there too, hovering in the shadow of the stairs.

They were all there.

She spun back around and busied herself with her laptop. She pressed play on the piano version, and her simple melody started. Emily's voice joined, then drums. It wasn't until the second pre-chorus that the strings started, and Beca listened for when she started singing harmonies.

It was beautiful. Simple, but beautiful. Emily's voice was really powerful, especially bared like it was now.

The whole thing had a Fray/OneRepublic vibe that Beca could appreciate, but it wasn't really something she was drawn to.

The song ended, and the women started applauding, much to Beca's surprise. She turned around to see them cheering for Emily, who was grinning as she curtseyed.

Well, all but one.

Chloe's eyes were on Beca, steadfast and true. They were full of tears, and shock, and Beca quickly turned back to her laptop.

She pressed play on the club version, and soon snapping snares and modded piano filled the first floor of the American Idol house.

Amy and CR whooped, and Ashley and Jessica jumped to their feet with a cheer. The women were up and dancing around each other. Stacie got up from the couch and threw an arm around Emily, pulling the younger brunette into a dance. Katherine clapped along.

Beca felt her face pulling into a wide smile. This was all she wanted: to see her music make people get up and dance. It was liberating and intoxicating, to see everyone enjoying the remix.

Even if they hated her, the song was good, and it made them want to move.

It was her actual dream.

Her eyes scanned across as Flo stepped between Ashley and Jessica to dance with them, and Lilly looked like she was beatboxing. The smile stayed as her eyes moved, settling on Chloe last.

She tried to prepare herself, but she still wasn't ready for the redhead's gaze. Perspective narrowed, and it was like they were the only ones in the room. Chloe was watching her, expression indeterminate, with wide, shining eyes. Dimly, Beca was aware that the song was ending, but now she heard it like she was underwater, lost in a sea of blue.

She felt her breathing stuttering as she tried to suck in breaths.

How could I think that this was faked?

That what was happening wasn't real?

The song began to loop, but Beca didn't notice. Chloe's eyes were shifting, from something like awe to heat. Fiery passion under red locks, and she was angry, Beca could see it. Her eyes turned, and her nostrils flared, but that heavy layer of anger blanketed something else too.

Arousal.

It hit Beca square in the jaw, much too close to where Stacie had hit her. Beca almost physically recoiled under the metaphorical blow.

Chloe was pissed, but she wanted her.

Maybe it was the rhythm of the song, or the fact that Beca had made it, Beca didn't know.

It was potent though, and Beca knew that if she stayed under that gaze any longer, she'd combust.

She unplugged her computer roughly, and the song cut off.

There were groans and shouts, and Beca blinked.

Right, there were other people here.

"Nice one, shortstack," Amy groaned. "You killed the mood."

"Not surprising," Stacie spat, but Beca ignored her as she busied herself with her equipment yet again.

"Yo, you really make that, DJ?" CR called out. Beca gathered up her things and took off to her room.

"Well, we did," Beca replied over her shoulder. But Emily was there then, stopping her from going down the hallway.

The younger brunette pulled Beca into her arms as she shook her head.

"No, guys, it was all Beca," she practically sang. "She knew what key to put it in, what harmonies to use, the tempo, everything. She's like a musical genius."

"Are you gonna send it to Plaza?"

"Why would she send it to Plaza?"

Beca froze.

It was the first thing Chloe had said since they'd come inside.

She was approaching slowly, as were the other women. Beca had been so close to her room before, and now everybody was in the kitchen, watching her.

She could feel the transition between hardwood and carpet under her feet, but Emily was still wrapped around her, holding her in place.

And the rest of the women were staring at her.

"You didn't know?" CR responded from her place at the bottom of the stairs. "Beca's been sending mixes to Plaza, and her friend's been playing them at the club. First it was that Bulletproof mix from last week, right, Beca?"

Beca nodded dumbly as Emily grabbed tighter. She wanted desperately to get out of the situation.

"And then last night, she played that one again, along with Bust A Move/212 mix," CR explained. "He might've played others too. The only reason I know about the Bust A Move one was because Plaza was actually looking for you, shorty. She wanted to introduce you to a producer that liked your stuff."

Emily squeezed so hard Beca thought she was going to pop.

Either from that, or from her own excitement.

She couldn't believe it. It was actually happening. She might actually get to make music for a living.

"Beca!" Emily screamed in her ear. "That is so cool!"

And they were all there, staring at her. These women who had been there for her, and then let themselves be pushed away.

They were back again, ready to support her if she let them.

She felt them holding their breaths, like they were waiting for Beca to decide whether to brush it off or not.

"That is… insanely cool," Beca breathed out, and Amy whooped. CR clapped as she laughed, and Jessica and Ashley cheered. Flo rushed forward and piled on top of Emily to hug Beca.

"Okay, not that cool! Ah!"

Amy tried to hug too, but by that point, Beca had wrestled free and was headed back to her room.

"I have to work on songs!" she yelled over her shoulder, and she heard the group laugh and jeer, but they let her go. The door closed behind her, and she leaned against it with a sigh.

Maybe everything didn’t suck.

*****

Friday was scheduled to start with the theme and song choice of the week again. By the time Beca was out in the main room, everyone was already settled on the couch. She resumed her place against the pillar by the entryway.

Cameras were rolling, and Aubrey Posen was already there, this time wearing a bright red top under a leather jacket.

Beca realized with a start that she needed to get some more clothes for the show this week.

She'd officially run out of outfits.

"Is everybody finally here?" Posen asked, shooting Beca a pointed glare. "Are we ready to get started?"

The women cheered, and Beca gave a roll of the eyes as Posen quieted everyone.

"Okay, so this week is 80s week!" she sang out, and the women cheered again. "We're going to do a big group number mashup, and I've already worked with Carl on the parts and solos. And we're doing it a cappella!"

Chloe and Stacie cheered, but everyone else looked a little nervous as they clapped.

"Each performer will sing one song that, again, will need to have been made famous by a woman."

Beca scoffed, and Posen's expression tightened, but she didn't look over.

"We'll have a couple of guest mentors that will be here Monday," she went on. "So they won't be involved in song selection. And since the group number is a little bigger this week, we'll be rehearsing that all day tomorrow and most of the day Sunday."

"'We'?" Amy asked, and Posen grimaced.

"Yes, 'we,'" she replied through a tight expression. "Because I'm going to be your coach on Sunday!"

Now everybody looked really nervous, and Beca couldn't blame them.

She'd watched the remainder of episodes last night - in the secrecy of her own room, of course - and she now understood why most people were scared of Posen.

The woman was relentless in making each performance perfect. And because of her background on the show, she knew exactly what she wanted out of everyone.

The trouble was, she could only give them bits of feedback.

It seemed like that was going to change this week.

Even Chloe looked nervous when Posen talked to her. Beca had gone back to watch all their episodes, too, and she was surprised to see that Chloe didn't really know how to act while Posen gave her notes.

As for the rest, the parts they had together. Beca was okay. It hurt at first, but as she watched, Beca felt the pain turn into something else.

Beca thought back to the way it felt to watch Chloe sing this time, hearing the notes low in her stomach. First, the joy and happiness on Chloe's face made her feel guilty, as she knew she was going to hurt that happy woman.

But then the camera zoomed in, and Beca watched Chloe's hands move the neck of her guitar as she sang Edge of Seventeen.

She couldn't help but wonder about how it'd feel to have those hands on her again.

Curling at the edge of her hairline, short nails scraping her neck as Chloe's hips moved against her.

Beca sniffed suddenly.

Last night, it was okay to let herself get ridiculously turned on and take matters into her own hands, so to speak.

But right now, it probably wouldn't be appropriate.

In the span of the last two days, she'd binged the entirety of their American Idol experience - well, from Hollywood week to now, as the last episode was posted last night. And because of it, she had a much clearer view of what the show meant to everyone.

Amy didn't need the show; she was rich. Like, real rich. Her dad had died in a freak yacht explosion, and Amy had inherited millions of dollars.

Jessica was doing the show because it was her fiance's dying wish. That was an intense episode.

Chloe had her own thing going on with vet school, but a lot of her interviews centered on the other performers.

(She'd even mentioned Beca a few times. She spoke of Beca in an inspired, wistful way, with her gaze off in some distant corner of the room.

She obviously cared about her, which made Beca feel super weird. In a not bad way, but still. Even though Beca knew it was real now, it still didn't feel right.)

The show was just a fun thing for Flo, who had her own juice truck business. Stacie was the same way, because the woman was a graduate level research scientist pursuing a masters in microbiology.

(How was that even possible?)

Besides Beca and CR, who was failing pilot school, Aubrey Posen was the only other person who really needed this show to work.

But the judge was going about it all wrong. She was limiting the range of music for the performers which was making it harder for them to pick songs they could sing.

By only letting the contestants sing songs by women, or forcing them into awful group numbers that tried to shove them all into the same box, she was stifling them.

She needed to celebrate the differences.

She needed to help them find their voices.

But it wasn't like Beca wasn't about to tell her that.

Posen dismissed the group of contestants from her lecture, and they all started towards the pool house to work with Carl. They got their pages for the group number, and Carl gave them each a copy of the arrangement so they could listen and practice. The parts were already broken out by each person and group.

Then came song selection. Fat Amy said she wanted to sing Like a Virgin by Madonna, and Beca just laughed. The group turned to her, and Beca stopped suddenly.

"What?" Amy scoffed. "Don't think I can hack it?"

"No, it's not, uh," Beca stalled. She took a deep breath.

"If anyone's watched the show, they're not going to believe that you're singing Like a Virgin," she said, and CR and Ashley gave a slight chuckle.

"Yeah, that's the point," Amy laughed awkwardly. "Hit 'em with the comedy."

"But remember what Posen said- I mean," Beca started, then stopped. She didn't want the whole group to know she watched the show. She took a beat, then sighed.

"Last week, Posen said she wanted more range from you," she sighed.

"Awh yeah, she did, didn't she?" Amy said. "But what does that mean?"

Beca looked at Carl, who just waved his hand to let her continue. She didn't dare look around the group. Their looks might make her lose her nerve.

"Try something real, not performative," she said. "Pat Benatar, maybe. Something emotional."

Amy swallowed thickly.

"We Belong always makes me cry," she said softly. "Reminds me of my only true love."

Beca laughed.

"Exactly," she replied with a quick nod.

A silence fell over the group before CR spoke up.

"Posen called me 'pitchy'," she sighed. "What the fuck does that mean?"

Again, Beca looked to Carl, but he was only smiling widely.

"Beca, why don't I sign up everyone who's ready, and you can talk to everyone who doesn't know what they want to sing yet?" he asked with all the innocence of a teddy bear.

Beca rolled her eyes; she didn't believe for a second that he wasn't forcing her into helping, for the sheer reason that she was decent at it. But then Stacie and Chloe were talking to him, and CR was still looking at Beca, so the small brunette sighed.

"'Pitchy' just means you're falling off of a note, probably because you're unfamiliar with the key or the song," Beca started to explain. "You're singing songs that are higher than you're used to?"

"Hell yeah I am," CR groaned in response. "She won't let us sing any songs by men!"

"It's not a huge problem," Beca said with a laugh. "There's plenty in your range, especially from the 80s. Here, look."

By the time they were done, CR, Amy, and Ashley were belting Angel of the Morning as Carl got them signed up. Ashley and Beca were going to work on an arrangement for I Think We're Alone Now, because they'd have to change the key for her range.

When Beca looked up, Stacie, Chloe, and Jessica were gone, and the Junks were on their way out. Carl appraised her from his place at the piano as the rest of the women walked out of the pool house.

"Anyone ever tell you that you could do that for a living?" he asked, and Beca laughed.

"Help people? No- no one," she replied. She scrubbed her hands over her face.

"What, are you worried about your pick?" he asked. "What are you going to sing?"

"Well," Beca sighed, pushing a hand through her hair. "I have a plan."

Chapter Text

Beca started rehearsing her song, and she realized it was definitely going to take some practice.

Not only did she feel uncomfortable with the whole rock-n-roll vibe she was trying to put off, but the key was a little tricky - which itself was exacerbated by the fact that she wanted to sing it loud, with her full heart.

She wanted to get it right.

For Chloe.

And Joan Jett deserved respect.

She was also trying to learn the group number which weirdly enough wasn't fully set in the 80s. Ace of Bass was a 90s band, and Turn the Beat Around was from the 70s.

But Beca figured that Eternal Flame being in '88 was the focal point, so she just went with it and tried to learn the background vocals and solo.

It was Saturday morning, before the group rehearsal, when Beca awoke to the sounds of Stacie trying to sing Nasty by Janet Jackson.

At 7 in the morning.

She tuned it out at first, turning over in bed and setting her intentions on going back to sleep. Usually she was tired enough to sleep through whatever was happening on the first floor. But Stacie's attempted vocals kept breaking through her slumber.

Beca could hear that the backing track didn't have any melody for her to work off, and Stacie couldn't find the key.

Beca meandered into the communal space to find Stacie standing in the middle of the dining area, hand to her ear. She was straining to find the rhythm, notes, anything to sing along with. She glanced outside to see that PAs were moving stuff in and out of the pool house, setting up for the group practice.

Beca forced herself into the kitchen, ready to get some caffeine for the day if she wasn't going to be able to sleep any longer. She was only there a moment before the backing track cut off abruptly, and she looked up.

Because Stacie had obviously taken stock of the smaller brunette's presence. Sure enough, Beca saw she was staring her down across the room.

"Look," Beca said, turning back to her kettle. "I'm not going to say anything."

"Good," the taller brunette responded. They sat in silence as Beca filled the kettle.

And she didn't say anything.

But she couldn't stop herself from thinking about the feedback that Stacie had been getting.

Like Beca, Stacie had been told that her performances were relying too much on the presentation instead of the vocals. Stacie had one of those voices that drove Beca crazy - not because it was bad, but because it was so good, and so misused. The tall brunette could take any song and own it. She dominated whatever she sang.

It probably drove Posen nuts, too, to see that talent squandered.

She watched Carl direct the PAs around outside. They were moving equipment into the garage.

To create more space in the pool house, maybe?

Or were they going to practice in the larger space?

The whistling kettle broke her thoughts, and Beca poured herself a glass of hot water. She prepared her tea the same way that Katherine had prepared it for her last week - black, with honey.

She glanced up to see that Stacie still stood by the sound system, scrolling through her phone.

It seemed like she didn't want to start singing again with Beca there.

Well, if she was here to hear it, Beca might as well say something.

"If you didn't hate me," Beca heard herself saying. "And, if you wanted to hear what I thought-"

"Which I don't," Stacie shot back.

"Which you don't," Beca agreed. "I'd say that you picked the wrong song."

Stacie barked out a laugh and fell into the couch.

"That'd be stupid," Stacie said offhandedly, turning on the TV, but Beca knew she wasn't really listening to the bitchy words of Joel McHale.

"It would be stupid," Beca called across the room. She let her tea steep, stirring every once in a while as she waited to throw out the tea bag.

"It would be stupid to sing a song that didn't have a discernible melody when the judges want to hear you display your vocal talents, instead of your- uh, sensual ones," she said aloud, to Stacie and also to no one in particular.

Stacie muted the TV suddenly. Out of her peripherals, Beca could see that Stacie had turned around. But Beca kept her gaze fixed on her cup.

"What would you know about my vocals?"

Beca laughed at her cup, and, after taking a second, she pulled her eyes up. Stacie was glaring at her with narrowed eyes, which Beca chose to ignore. She didn't know why she was doing this - helping Stacie, or trying to anyway - but she couldn't stop. Not when she knew how to fix it.

"I only know what I hear around here, around the house," she said with a shrug. "I don't know your vocals professionally, because I haven't heard it. I assume it's expansive- your vocal range, that is. I assume you have, like, a five octave range."

"It is! I think."

Beca shrugged again.

"I guess we'll never know," she sighed, picking up her mug and taking it to her room. She was halfway down the hall when she heard Stacie call her back.

"Wait, Beca?"

Beca swung her head back out into the kitchen and saw that Stacie was sitting on the edge of the couch, head thrown back, not even looking in the direction that Beca went.

"What would you pick?"

"For you?" she asked, and she heard Stacie groan.

"Obviously," she strained. "Usually I'm so good at reading Aubrey, at figuring out what she needs-"

"Gross, stop," Beca laughed. She stepped back into the kitchen tentatively.

"You seriously want my opinion?"

"Well, it seems like you have one, so," Stacie sighed, turning to finally meet her eyes. They were wide, and pleading. But they were also over the bs. "Just, say it."

"I'd make you sing Total Eclipse of the Heart."

"No shit?" Stacie laughed, her tough expression breaking as it crinkled into a smile.

"No shit," Beca replied with a laugh of her own.

"Why?"

"Because you could dominate it, dude," Beca explained. "You could do whatever you wanted with the melody. You could force the high notes, or run on the lows. It's known enough for you to get the votes, but you could have your fun. You could really make it your own, if you wanted."

Beca sipped her tea, eyes fixed out the window. A PA almost dropped the keyboard, and she flinched.

Stacie would want her to explain further, or she wouldn't. It wasn't up to Beca to drive the situation after all they'd been though.

Sure, Stacie had no reason to trust Beca, and yet the smaller brunette felt that for some reason, she would. There was something about Stacie that was so talented at sussing out the legitimate from the illegitimate, and she knew Beca was right this time.

"Okay," Stacie said softly. "Show me."

"Here? They're busy, in the pool house. I can grab my equipment, or-"

"There's a piano upstairs," Stacie said. She stood from the couch and started towards the stairs.

"Wait, what?" Beca laughed. "Really?"

"Have you never been upstairs? There are two whole-ass other floors up there."

"No," Beca said with a gentle laugh. "I, uh, I never had a reason."

Stacie rolled her eyes and reached out to the smaller brunette.

"You're so dumb," she groaned. "C'mon, it's on the second floor."

*****

Beca and Stacie found the right key for the Bonnie Tyler song, after a few tries. And they found the limits of Stacie's range, finally, but it did take a minute as well as the help of a few passers-by. Emily and Katherine were the most helpful on their way downstairs.

The second floor opened up to a small seating area, with a piano against the inside curve of the house by the stairs. Stacie said Emily and Katherine had their room at the end of the hall, and the one right next to them had been Flo's until recently. Ashley had been upstairs in the other double with Jessica, but when the Guatemalan left, Ash had moved down a floor, into Flo's old room.

That one had a view of the backyard, like Amy's and Stacie's rooms on the second floor.

But only Stacie and Amy had access to the shared balcony that could be seen from the pool.

("Gotta be in the action, shortstack. I'm the life of the party."

"I just wanted to watch people get nasty in the pool."

"Seriously, guys? Really?")

Jessica, CR, and Chloe were up on the third floor, along with Lilly up until yesterday, Stacie told her.

Beca didn't realize how much she didn't think about where the other women slept. It felt unnatural to walk up the stairs, to find a full seating area and piano that most of the women just walked past every morning.

Beca was still playing the piano for Stacie when she heard someone coming down from the third floor. It was still early, and Jessica was already downstairs, so Beca figured the most likely culprit would be the one she dreaded the most.

"Stace! You sound phenomenal! Did you learn how to play- oh," Chloe started, then stopped when she saw Beca at the piano. The brunette stopped playing, cutting the chord short, and Stacie faltered.

"Chlo," Stacie said softly.

The redhead just shook her head as she continued down to the first floor.

Stacie shot Beca a sympathetic look, whispering a quick "thank you" before following her friend.

Beca didn't know what she should do. Awkwardly, she stood from behind the piano and moved to go downstairs herself.

But what if she ran into Stacie and Chloe? She didn't want to hear that conversation, and she definitely didn't want to be part of it.

So Beca waited.

She paced the length of the second floor common areas, biding her time. She found a bathroom, and some french doors that led out to fake balconies at the front of the house. The second floor was probably as large as the first floor, if not larger, but it was all bedrooms. She figured the third floor was the same.

She stopped herself from going up the second flight to snoop up there. It still didn't feel right to just wander up there.

She glanced at her phone and saw she only had a half hour before group rehearsal was going to start. She couldn't stall any longer, so she slowly made her way back downstairs. To her dismay Chloe was still there, and a camera crew had come in. And they were interviewing her.

"-not my problem anymore." Beca heard her say. She stepped out onto the bottom landing of the stair and could see that Chloe had her back to her, facing the cameras. Stacie was at the table with the Junks.

"Would you forgive her, if she apologized?" the PA next to the cameraman asked.

"At this point, if Beca actually apologized, I don't know what I'd do," Chloe replied. "I don't think I could ever forgive her, no. I think she needs to grow up. And besides, this competition is about singing."

Beca froze at the bottom of the stairs, watching Chloe as she spoke. She couldn't see her face, but it didn't matter.

Chloe had written her off.

Chloe had given up.

The cameraman saw Beca, and he pulled the camera off Chloe and focused it on the brunette in the background. The PA looked up and sighed.

"Damn, that's gonna be good."

Chloe turned then, and then the group at the table realized what was happening, but nobody called her back when Beca ducked her head and went down the hallway to her room.

Beca from last week would have slammed the door, falling onto the bed in a fit of self-pity and anger.

Beca from last weekend would have hidden in her room all day, rehearsals be damned.

Even if she had overheard that two days ago, Beca would have internalized it, putting all her energy into feeling bad for herself.

But something was different.

It happened when she sang Maybe This Time, but more than that, it happened when she watched herself sing the Cabaret song.

It had been late last night, or the night before. Beca had just suffered through all of the Beca and Chloe moments for the second time when the new episode was posted.

Chloe was first, and she sang beautifully. Heartbrokenly.

And Emily talked about her mom raising her as a single mom. That was heartbreaking too, when Emily sang So Big/So Small and started tearing up.

Fat Amy's cat thing was funny, but it fell a little flat. Her bit-style comedy was getting stale, and the judges tried to tell her, but she was too busy scratching the air and purring.

And then it was her, Stacie, Flo, and Lilly, and Beca saw the moment that her fears were allayed when they called her name. She went to her mark, and the band started playing, but Beca didn't start on time.

(She remembered that she lost her count.)

Beca watched her stage self take a deep, steadying breath. It was a rough start, and her voice was shaking, Beca could hear it.

But then she closed her eyes.

Not a loser anymore,

like the last time or the time before.

That had been it. She knew it then, and she knew it when she watched the playback. That was when something shifted in here, like it shifted in the song, and she saw it all plainly.

Nobody was out to get her except herself.

It was so clear to her. She thought about her mom, and her dad, and her music, and her ex. She thought about everything that she felt like happened to her - all the short straws she pulled, all the people that refused to listen to her and to her music.

Everyone had their ideas about her, even the people that watched the show.

Even Chloe, when Beca had pushed her away.

But that hadn't stopped Beca.

No, what had stopped her, and had stood in her path since she was sixteen, that was herself.

She'd focused on the bad things, the stuff that had happened to her, but she didn't process how she felt about them. She just pitied herself. She wallowed instead of rallying. She let life get to her, let it get her down and hold her there.

Because it was easier to think she couldn't do something because someone told her she couldn't.

When really, it was just herself who didn't think she could.

And then, with the start of the show, she'd met these women who wanted to help for some reason. They pushed her, slowly but surely. They made her uncomfortable just by being considerate.

They treated Beca better than she treated herself.

And she fought back, because she didn't think she deserved their kindness. Because she had trained herself into accepting less, expecting less.

It took her until now, watching back the show all the way through, to see that they weren't being nice to Beca because of some hidden agenda. They weren't planning on hurting her or embarrassing her; they saw someone struggling, and they tried to help.

Because Beca could see it too, as she watched the show back.

And even though she knew most of them were kind in their own right, she couldn't shake the feeling that a lot of that kindness came from Chloe.

Chloe, who - before she even knew Beca - had supported her. Because that was just what she did, just who she was.

Chloe, who comforted her and made her step outside of her spiraling thoughts.

Chloe, who had real, romantic feelings for her that she didn't believe. Couldn't believe, because she didn't think she was worth it.

Chloe, who had written her off.

Beca sucked in a deep breath as she got dressed for rehearsal. Sweats, and a tank top that she'd worn too many times at this point. She really needed to go shopping.

She'd have to ask someone.

And she would, because she was sick of letting herself get by with second-best because she thought she deserved less. She was done trying to shove her emotions down under self-immolation.

She was going to break her cycle of guilt and shame and pity.

Or, at least, she was going to try.

She was here, she was going to make the most of it.

And she was going to tell Chloe how she felt.

*****

Group rehearsal was going about as well as could be expected. They were all in the pool house, which had been completely emptied save a small speaker that Carl played their arrangement on.

But even with the extra space, the women weren't doing well. The songs were hard, and only a couple of the competitors knew how to sing a cappella. So by midday, Carl threw up his hands.

"I'm calling Posen over," he sighed, and the women groaned in protest.

"We need a backing track!" he went on, unconvinced. "It's too much. Most groups need weeks to learn how to do this, months even! You ladies can't learn this in a day, and you definitely can't learn it with the choreography too!"

"There's choreography?" Amy breathed heavily. The Australian was already winded from the singing alone.

"Like, a jazz square?"

"More like syncopated booty shaking," Chloe shot back across the room. Stacie hummed in agreement, but the rest of the women just stared.

"It's our college routine,” Stacie clarified. “She's doing the Bellas setlist."

"This sucks," CR spoke up. Beca saw Ashley nod, and even Jessica and Emily looked flustered. They had been at it for hours, and between the switching solos and background vocals in unfamiliar songs. All of the women were lost.

They needed something familiar.

A song that would get them going.

"Let's take five," Carl said as he moved through the group. He motioned for Hannah the PA to follow him, and, with an impressive eye roll, she did.

They stepped outside as he held his phone in front of him, and Beca could hear it ringing slightly as Hannah pulled the door closed.

Beca followed as the women moved slowly into the kitchen. They were dejected, and they had every reason to be. They knew they had a bunch of work in front of them. Not to mention, they might have to face the wrath of Posen.

"Chloe, did you say we're doing your old college routine?" CR asked.

Chloe nodded around the lid of her water bottle.

"Is that the recording Carl was playing for us? That's y'all singing?"

Chloe nodded again.

"From nationa-," she started, then stopped abruptly. "Regionals. Our junior year."

Amy burped loudly as she finished chugging a cotton candy Bang energy drink.

"Right, I'm going to look it up," she said, burping again. "I gotta see what I'm up against with this booty work. What were you called? Bellers?"

"No!"

The women turned to look at Chloe, who was coloring quickly.

"I'm sure we'll do something different, choreography-wise," the redhead tried, but her face was almost the same color as her hair. She shot a look at Stacie, but the leggy brunette didn't help. She looked nervous too, though.

Beca scanned the room to see that everybody else looked as confused as she did.

"Then I want to watch their mouths," Amy said slowly. "I want to know how to make that 'eyoooooo' sound."

"I'll show you!" Chloe tried, but Amy was already typing.

"Why don't you want us to watch it?" Beca asked, and Chloe shot her a nasty look.

"Because it's not important," she snapped at her. "No one needs to watch anything-"

"Found it!"

CR, Beca, Jessica, Emily, and Ashley crowded around Amy and her phone.

With a sigh, Stacie fell into a wide armchair that had been pulled out of the bedroom.

The video started normally. Ten gorgeous women with bikini-ready bodies, wearing - why was Beca even surprised? - what looked like flight attendant outfits. Through the screen, Beca felt her gaze fall on Chloe instinctively.

She's up front, and singing the solo, she reasoned.

But Beca knew that was just an excuse.

She watched as Chloe passed off the microphone to Posen, and the blonde started to sing, only to be interrupted by-

"Oh shit," CR winced.

They watched as Posen projectile-vomited on the first row of spectators. It got everywhere.

Beca was disgusted, but she couldn't take her eyes off the screen. Jessica dry-heaved and stepped away as Emily made a variety of sympathetic noises.

"Gnarly," Amy whispered.

The phone was ripped out of Amy's hands, and Beca saw it was Stacie that had confiscated the device.

"She's gotten a lot better," she said, clicking the phone off as she sat back down. "She's been going to therapy, and she rarely even burps now-"

"It was a long time ago," Chloe jumped in.

"Still, she wants us to sing that?" Beca asked incredulously. "Why would she want to relive something so awful? Especially when there are better songs out there."

"You just have to question everything, don't you?" Chloe shot back.

The room was quiet for a moment, and Beca flushed as she muttered a small, “sorry.”

"She's kind of right, Chloe," Emily said, breaking the silence. "I mean, the arrangement's so hard, and-"

"Look, she's a producer of the show, and we have to do what she says!" Chloe shouted. She paced out of the kitchen, through the back bedroom and into the bathroom, closely the door harshly behind her.

"Ginga's on the rampage," Amy said as quietly as she could manage.

There were murmurs of agreement, but Beca kept quiet.

"Should we talk to her?" Jessica asked Stacie, and Stacie sighed.

"We can try," she replied, standing and joining Jessica on the way to the bathroom.

The rest of the competitors stood in silence, drinking water or Gatorade.

Or, in Amy's case, a fresh can of Bang.

"Somebody should talk to Posen," Ashley sighed. "We can't sing that song. We'll look like idiots out there."

"I nominate Beca," Amy burped out.

"Seconded," Emily added. She shot Beca a guilty look when the shorter brunette guffawed.

"Sorry, Beca, but you're the only one that will stand up to her," the teen said. Beca looked at all the women, and they all avoided her pleading looks.

"Guys, Posen hates me," she said helplessly. "If I tried to talk to her, she'd make us do the song twice just to spite me."

"But you get music," CR replied. "You helped us all with our songs. You could explain to her, like, musically."

"You're a musical genius," Emily gushed.

"Stop saying that, giraffe legs," Beca spat back, and Amy gasped.

"I told you that in confidence!" she cried. "But it is true, you have giraffe legs."

Emily's mouth hung open in disbelief as the rest of the women laughed, only to be interrupted by Carl's and Hannah's return.

"Okay, so Posen said she would evaluate the situation tomorrow. Which means we have more work to do today. Are we ready to go again?" he asked, and Beca saw him do a quick head count. "We're missing some - Stacie, Chloe, and… someone else…"

Ashley told him that Jessica was missing, too, and that they were all in the bathroom. Carl asked her to go get them, which she did.

"Carl, I can't be here all afternoon," Amy lamented. "Stacie and I have a nail appointment at the mall at three."

And that was her opening to ask to go with. Beca cleared her throat and stepped forward just as Chloe and the others were coming back. Her mouth opened, but no words came out, and Amy was watching her with a curious look.

Maybe she just wouldn't go.

Get over yourself, dude!

"Can I come?" she asked Amy, and Stacie laughed.

"You need your nails done?"

"No, I, uh," she started, but trailed off. She let out a loud sigh. "I need more clothes. TV clothes."

There was only a moment of silence before half the room burst into laughter.

"What, you only bring two pairs of skinny jeans, shorty?" CR chided.

"She'll come to the next show in that oversized hoodie," Ashley joked.

"I can help you look, if you want," Emily said, which only made Stacie and Ashley laugh harder.

"Yeah, shortstack, there's a kick-ass airbrush kiosk," Amy added. "It's where I got this made."

It was only then that the group looked down at Amy's shirt to see it was in fact airbrushed, hot pink and purple on cool grey, with hot pink sleeves.

The tight baseball tee read "Private Dancer."

Even Beca laughed this time, and she glanced over to see that Chloe was smiling too.

"Okay, okay, ladies," Carl corralled the group. "Let's take it from the top."

*****

They didn't get any better at singing the medley.

In fact, if she was pressed about it, Beca would say they got worse.

But at least the trip to the mall was fruitful.

The stipend check from the show had hit her bank account. It wasn't much, but it was enough to get two pairs of jeans and a couple tops.

She was on the clock, and she still didn't feel 100% confident in picking stuff out, so she stuck with what she knew - long sleeves and tight.

One shirt was a basic red v-neck, another was purplish. And new black jeans that fit a little better than the ones she brought, and a pair of dark blue ones. She also found a grey coat that she knew the producers would like, because she'd seen other people wear the same thing.

And more tank tops.

She'd have to ask if there was, like, laundry somewhere, though, because she didn't buy new sweats.

It was funny, because, as much as Beca was happy that she was staying on the show, her emergency mall trip had really shined a light on the fact that the brunette hadn't packed or prepared like she was going to be on for more than a couple shows.

Now, she at least somewhat understood why the other women laughed at her when she said she needed more outfits.

It was only week one. Did she think she was going to get cut this early?

Honestly?

Probably.

She asked Amy about laundry on the way back to the house, but all the blonde said was that she had "someone to do that for her." It turned out that person was Ms. Junk, and Stacie said that the mother had only done Amy's laundry because she'd left it on the machine.

The machine that was in the basement.

Apparently there was a full other floor that Beca knew nothing about.

Unfinished, but still.

Beca planned to do a load of laundry overnight as she worked on a new mix. She tried not to let the show affect her mixes, but Chloe's Just The Way You Are solo from Hollywood week wouldn't get out of her head.

She wouldn't send it to Plaza or anything, but it was a nice way to feel close to Chloe when the redhead wouldn't talk to her. Other than snippy retorts, anyway.

The other competitors were being nicer again, though. Probably because Beca was helping them with their songs. Something that had somehow become common knowledge in the house over the last day.

Because, while Beca had planned to do laundry overnight, she ended up being a sight-reader at the piano for a couple hours.

The competitors had less time to rehearse one-on-one with Carl this week because of the big group number, so Beca had somehow been elected in-house pianist and coach without her knowledge.

They were desperate, they said, so she let herself be led upstairs to the instrument.

She found a good key for Ashley on I Think We're Alone Now, then Emily showed up and wanted to run through her song, Call Me by Blondie.

And when CR and Amy came upstairs with tequila, the whole thing had gotten a little out of control.

Beca was wrapping up with Jessica (We've Got The Beat by The Go-Go's… it was a lot…) when Amy laughed loudly.

"Did you want to practice, shortstack?" she asked suddenly, and Ashley laughed too. "We're done using you for talents."

"I'm good," Beca grimaced. "I haven't tried to play and sing this one, and I'm not sure-"

"Here, take a shot," CR insisted, and Beca obliged. The tequila went straight to her head - as had the other drinks the women had insisted upon - and Beca was suddenly happy to try to play her song.

She pulled up some sheet music, not sure if it would help. If anything, she could just read the guitar chords and play along.

She blasted out a few intro chords and started to sing.

Midnight, gettin' uptight, where are you?

You said you'd meet me, now it's quarter to two.

I know I'm hanging, but I'm still wanting you.

Hey Jack, it's a fact, they're talkin' in town.

I turn my back, and you're messin' around.

I'm not getting jealous; don't like lookin' like a clown.

Beca sloppily pounded out a few punctuated chords, and Amy cheered. Emily started clapping along, and Jessica and Ashley added little background harmonies.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw someone coming up the stairs.

She didn't stop though.

I think of you every night and day.

You took my heart, and you took my pride away.

I hate myself for loving you.

Can't break free from the things that you do.

I wanna walk, but I run back to you,

that's why I hate myself for loving you.

She ran her hand down the keys before her fingers found the chords again, and the group behind her cheered.

This was fun.

Really fun.

She'd never really had a group of music friends before, and now, she did. To sing and play with.

It was cool to be around people like her.

Even if they were nerds.

She finished her interlude and started singing again.

Daylight, spent the night without you,

but I've been dreamin' 'bout the lovin' you do.

I'm over being angry 'bout the hell you put me through-

hey man, bet you can't treat me right.

You just don't know what you was missin' last night.

I wanna see you beggin', say, "Forget it" just for spite.

Dimly, Beca became aware that the women behind her were quieter. She pushed on, powered by the sheer inertia of alcohol and Joan Jett.

I think of you every night and day.

You took my heart, and you took my pride away.

I hate myself for loving you -

can't break free from the things that you do.

"Seriously?" a voice cut through, and Beca stopped playing with a start.

She turned slowly, knowing what she would see and yet hoping that her drunk mind was playing tricks on her. Alas, it wasn't, as she turned to find Chloe fuming at her with Stacie just behind her.

"You think that I did this to you?" the redhead snarled. "That this is my fault?"

"No!" Beca replied. "I just- I can't stop. Thinking about you, I can't stop thinking about you. I just keep coming back to- to you. And I kinda hate it, because-"

But Chloe didn't wait around to hear what Beca's explanation was. The redhead bolted up the second flight of stairs to the third floor.

Beca dropped her head into her hands and yelled loudly.

"Were you really going to try to win her back with that?" Amy laughed.

"Shut up," Beca groaned into her hands.

"No, really," CR pressed. "Because that song is about lustin', not lovin'."

"I said shut up!"

"... For what it's worth, you sounded really good."

"Emily, I swear to god."

Chapter Text

Beca was sweating. She wasn't out-of-shape per se, but she definitely wasn't in shape, if group rehearsal was any indication.

Posen made them hit the ground running.

Literally, the judge made them run laps around the garage.

They were only allowed to stop when Posen found Amy lying behind the air conditioner, doing what she called "horizontal running." For how much Bang the Australian drank, Beca wasn't sure that the creatine was helping much.

They finally went inside the garage and found that, much to their surprise, the building wasn't a garage at all. It was more like a warehouse/studio space with hardwood floors. Some unfortunate PAs had had to bring in large mirrors, which they set up along the back wall.

The contestants were enjoying a brief respite when Posen jumped back into coach mode.

"Okay, Chloe, why don't you run through the routine?" she asked.

Chloe looked taken aback as she glanced around at the other women.

"The Bellas routine?" she replied hesitantly. "That would take ages to learn. And I don't remember all of the steps to the full routine, it's been so long-"

"Of course we're doing the full routine," Posen sighed happily. "If it was good enough to get us to Lincoln Center, it will be good enough for American Idol."

"But Bree," Chloe pushed. "We only have a day."

Posen flashed Chloe a tight smile.

"Well then I guess we better get started," she responded, tone clipped. "Ladies, let's hear what you've got so far. Five, six, seven, eight!"

Only Chloe started strong, singing the woahs that started the backing vocals. Stacie had the first verse of I Saw The Sign, and as she picked up the melody, the rest of the women fell roughly into their parts.

Only, Stacie didn't really sing. It was more of a raspy, bluesy moaning.

I got a new life, you would hardly recognize me,

I'm so glad.

How could a person like me care for you?

Why do I bother when you're not the one for me?

Oh, woah woah woahhh.

The women were supposed to be watching Chloe as she tried to make it through the old routine, but their attention was stolen when - in an apparent fit of passion - Stacie suddenly grabbed her breasts as she belted her last line.

Is enough enough?

Beca stifled a laugh and heard Jessica and Emily do the same as they tried to hold their vocals steady. Ashley was up now, stepping forward, and Chloe started directing air traffic with her fingers?

No, really, what was she doing?

I saw the sign,

and it opened up my eyes.

And I am happy now, living without you.

I've left you all alone.

Beca couldn't stop watching Chloe as the redhead continued her weird hand gestures - that is, until she saw that Jessica was bobbing over her shoulder, trying to sing the echo on the main melody.

And Amy hadn't quite gotten the "eyoooo" down, sounding less like an instrument and more like a dying Tamogatchi.

It was too much, and Beca almost missed her entrance to her solo.

She stepped back slightly and brought her hand to her ear to hear herself as she started to sing the main lines.

I saw the sign,

and it opened up my eyes.

I saw the sign.

CR and Ashley were off on the bass notes; one of them was sharp. Emily forgot the words that she was supposed to be repeating and chose to sing random vowel sounds instead.

And Chloe wasn't singing at all?

Beca tried to keep singing through all the "saw the sign" lines, at least so they could get to the Eternal Flame part when Chloe was supposed to sing. They were better when Chloe distracted away from them.

They made it, and Beca forced the women into the right key to back-up Chloe appropriately as the redhead started her solo.

Close your eyes.

Give me your hand, darling.

Do you feel my heart beating?

Do you understand?

Beca sighed. At least Chloe’s part was going well. Stacie was a little late on her high echo bit, but otherwise the background melody was going okay.

Chloe stepped back and looked to Emily, but the teenager didn't step forward. She closed her eyes tightly as she picked up where Chloe left off.

Do you feel the same,

or am I only dreaming?

Is this burning an eternal flame?

They were doing okay until the "dreaming" line. Chloe had automatically started up choreography again, and she did a fake sleep/stretching move that Beca had to bite her lip to keep from laughing at. And she wasn't the only one who saw it.

"Oh hell nah," CR whispered.

"I'm wearing a crop top on Wednesday," Amy said out loud. "I can't raise my arms more than six inches."

Posen shot Amy a look, and Beca took a deep breath to get her breathing under control right as they moved into the last song. They were still making something that resembled music.

“Resembled” is a strong word…

Beca focused in on CR as she started them on Turn The Beat Around, but her attention was immediately split. Someone was too high - Jessica, maybe - and Ashley's guitar sound effect was flat.

She tried to sing louder to get them back in key, but the whole thing was really starting to fall apart. And it didn't help that Chloe had her hands over her head in some kind of spirit-finger motion.

CR ran the notes of her last "turn it around" part, then started the chorus.

Turn the beat around,

love to hear percussion.

Then it was Amy. And truthfully, up until this point, Beca had thought the song was rough but salvageable.

But when Amy stepped forward to sing her solo, before she even started belting her part like she had in practice yesterday, Beca knew they were doomed.

Maybe it was the way Posen's eyes bugged out of her head.

Or the fact that they started rushing way off beat.

Off key, and off beat, with Amy off to the races.

It was a nightmare.

Chloe was trying to clap as part of her choreography, but no one could hear it over Amy.

Turn it upside,

love to hear percussion.

They tried. They really did. But Emily couldn't find her note, and Stacie couldn't keep the pace. Beca slammed a hand over her ear, to listen for the melody, but she couldn't find a single note in the right chord. None of that stopped Amy though.

Turn the beat around, you gotta turn it around.

Love to hear it-

Then Jessica tried to take the high notes, and her voice cracked.

"Okay! Stop!"

A smattering of notes ended at odd pitches, and Beca watched as Posen glared. Her eye twitched, and she made a little heave forward with a small burp.

"Woah!" Amy yelled, jumping back. "She's gonna blow!"

Posen's eyes darted over to her, then she turned away. She took a deep breath before turning back to the competitors in front of her.

"Okay, that was two steps away from being almost horrendous," she laughed sarcastically.

"I hope you all remember the way you feel right now, so you will never want to feel this way again," she went on. "Chloe, your voice didn't sound Aguilerian at all."

The redhead walked to the back of the room to get her water, ignoring her friend. Posen scoffed at her and kept pushing.

"Chloe, for serious, what is wrong with you!"

"She was the best one out of all of us," Beca butted in.

Chloe kept her gaze on the back wall, but Beca saw her eyes flash over to a mirror to look at Beca.

An icy blue glare shot through the glass.

Whoops.

"Like that's a big accomplishment!" Posen barked, pulling Beca's eyes off the mirror. The blonde looked like she was about to explode. "That was the worst performance I've ever seen!"

"We just started yesterday," Stacie tried to say, but Posen scoffed.

CR tried next.

"We're new to all this bull-“

"And hell is just a sauna!" the judge cut her off.

"Aubrey?"

The women looked over to find Carl standing with producers Gail and John Smith. Beca didn't know when they came in- but by the looks on their faces, they had seen some of their performance.

And they weren't happy about it.

"Can we see you outside?" Gail asked, but it wasn't a question.

Posen took a deep breath, then she took a step forward.

"Of course," she breathed out. "Carl, can you run through the background vocals on Turn The Beat Around while I'm gone?"

Carl nodded, and Posen followed the other producers out of the garage.

It was twenty minutes later when Carl let them take a break. They were better, but that wasn't really saying much.

Although when Beca looked around, she was surprised to see that Posen hadn't come back in yet.

She was getting a drink of water when Stacie nudged her.

"CR told me you were going to talk to Aubrey about the songs?" she whispered, and Beca grimaced.

"I really wasn't."

"Well, you need to," she shot back. "Go now, while she's away from the group."

"Dude, I don't-" Beca started, but Stacie wouldn't let her finish.

"We can't do it," the older brunette sighed. "You heard us. Nobody thinks we should do this."

Beca looked up for a way out, but all she found was that almost every other woman knew exactly what conversation she and Stacie were having, and they agreed with Stacie.

CR rolled her eyes and gestured outside. Amy tried to mime walking with two fingers on her palm, then jerked her head towards the door. Ashley and Jessica both nodded at her.

Even Emily, who was getting help from Chloe on her part of their song, shot her a pleading look.

"Jesus, fine," she relented. She finished her water and stepped outside.

February had just ended, but the cold snap that had hit LA last week hadn't let up. It was too cold, but the burst of chilly air hit Beca favorably. The chill settled deep in her chest, and she breathed it in with each full breath.

"The network said they're going to have to reconsider the length of the full season."

That was John, Beca realized.

"It's just not feasible to keep this going," Gail added.

"Just let me work with them, I can make this work," Posen pleaded.

"You have until Wednesday, and I can't promise that that will be enough," Gail responded.

It was quiet for a moment, and Beca came around the corner of the garage to find Posen alone. John and Gail must've gone off to the main house or to a car.

Posen crouched in the corner, and Beca was reminded of herself during Hollywood week. When she didn't know if her group would pull off their performance.

She cleared her throat to get Posen's attention, and the blonde stood up.

"What is it, Mitchell?"

Beca went to speak, but she found she couldn't find the words.

What can I say? What would mean something to Aubrey?

"That sucks," she tried, and she mentally cursed herself.

"Yeah. obvi," Posen replied with a sigh.

The silence stretched between them, and Beca felt compelled to speak again.

"What do they want?"

Posen scoffed.

"Ratings, they want ratings," she replied. "How, or why, or by what means, they don't care. They just want the show to get more viewers."

"Have you thought about more popular songs?"

The way Posen looked at her made Beca realize she had said the wrong thing, and she immediately tried to get out of the situation.

"I didn't mean-"

"No," Posen laughed. "I know exactly what you meant. You’ve been on the show for, what, two weeks? So you think you know what the audience wants? What everyone should sing? Do you know what did well last year? Or the year before?"

Beca swallowed around the lump in her throat.

"No, but-“

"No, you don't," Posen cut her off. "You don't know, because you don’t even watch the show.”

"But I've watched- I've read-” Beca cut in. She was trying to think of something, anything that might break through, and she huffed. "They need the balance. The old, and the new. They want something exciting. Not just drama- but some drama, and talent. They want to see something different.”

Posen laughed harshly.

"Thanks for the feedback, Mitchell," she sighed. "But social media isn't our only barometer. It's not just Twitter-"

"But it's not not Twitter!”

Posen threw her hands up helplessly.

"I can't listen to everyone!" she cried. "I have to rely on what has worked, and I know what that looks like!"

Beca kicked at the gravel of the driveway. She knew that Posen had the experience, but she also knew what she could hear.

Music was something that she understood, and what they were doing wasn't right. It wasn't what the people wanted to hear.

"In case you haven't noticed, everybody pretty much dozed off during Mama I'm a Big Girl Now!" she said to the rocks. She couldn't look up at Posen. "If you just opened it up, just a little bit-"

"It's not your job to decide what we do and when we do it."

It was the tone more than anything that told Beca to give up. Posen wasn't going to listen to her. It wasn't that Beca was wrong, or that what she was saying didn't have merit.

It was just that Posen wasn't going to listen to it. No matter what.

Beca gave a shrug of defeat, turning to head back into the garage.

"Fine," the brunette sighed. "Don't say I didn't try."

She went back inside, and Posen followed after a few minutes.

When the blonde judge took away Beca's solo and gave her a few lines at the end, Beca wasn't surprised. She saw a few of the other women react - she saw CR throw her hands up, and she saw Emily look between Posen and her - but she didn't make a big deal out of it.

She knew Posen was just trying to punish her. Maybe the judge was even trying to get her kicked off by any means necessary.

Beca didn't stop her.

What could I do anyway? she thought to herself as Posen started to put them into lines for choreography. Posen’s the boss here. Stacie and all them wanted me to try, and if it gets me kicked off, so be it.

But then she remembered how good it felt to play piano and sing with them, and how she would be leaving things with Chloe, and she couldn’t help herself.

She had to keep trying. She would keep helping the women with their songs.

And maybe she would find another song to sing to Chloe.

She couldn't leave things like this.

So in front of Quincy Jones and the other talented 80s/90s producers - apparently, the guest mentors for this week - Beca broke down and begged Carl to let her change her song to something less aggressive.

But Carl said no.

Specifically, he said that Posen said no.

So Beca put her head down and put the work in. She refused to give up this time. She rehearsed Hate Myself For Loving You with her full heart. She got favorable feedback from the guest mentors, and she felt as good as she could about her performance going into Tuesday.

If Posen was going to force her out, she was going to have to work for it.

Tuesday, they all got shuttled to a television lot for rehearsal. They were supposed to work on the group performance first, but the women were struggling. There was no other word for it. Chloe had to break it down, simplify the choreography for them, and Beca felt a pang of guilt in her stomach.

She wanted to help the redhead - to lead the group - but it didn't feel right.

She didn't want to put herself next to Chloe.

She didn't feel like she belonged there.

But when they were running it the last time - sans choreography, for a moment, just focusing on the sound, with the plan that they would rehearse all out again later - Beca got an idea.

A crazy, helpless idea.

She asked the producers if she could rehearse her solo first, and they let her. It went well enough, and everybody was pleased with her performance, so she left the stage motivated.

She had an idea that might help them move forward.

She found a seat in the back of the auditorium to work. It was just like the start of Hollywood week: hidden in the back and hoping nobody called her out. But this time, she had her laptop running in her lap.

Her idea would only work if the songs sounded good together.

There were women rehearsing onstage as Beca worked through her mixes She got to an old one, found I Saw The Sign online, isolated the vocals, and- yep. Her original idea was correct - I Saw The Sign worked with Bulletproof.

She would have to try later, when they were back onstage rehearsing again. Maybe they would go for the shift in tone, or maybe they wouldn't, but she would still try.

She settled further into her seat and opened her Just The Way You Are mix. If she got it just right, she could show Chloe. She could show her how she felt instead of relying on her song.

Well, she was still relying on a song.

But it was different. Because this song was Chloe's, from the show.

So maybe Chloe would know that Beca watched, that she understood now, that Beca knew it was real between them.

Or you could just tell her.

The thought flitted through Beca's mind, and she chased it back out the way it came.

She could tell Chloe how she felt, that she understood the depth of the emotion. That she wanted to be with her, and that she was sorry for the way she treated her, and she wanted to make it right.

She could tell her.

She just didn't want to.

Yeah, that was it.

She wasn't scared or anything.

It was hours before Beca stretched her shoulders and rolled her neck out, flexing her back against the auditorium chair. She felt okay about her mix, and she slipped her headphones off her ears.

Maybe she would find some food.

Amy was wrapping up her We Belong performance, and Beca tried not to listen, but she couldn't help the critiques as they ran through her head. The Australian was having trouble with the high notes, and as the performance ended, she shaded her eyes to look into the auditorium.

"Shortstack, are you out there?" the blonde called. "Can you meet me backstage?"

Beca nodded, then realized that Amy couldn't see her.

"Yeah," she responded, cautiously shouting across the empty seats. "Stage left!"

"Is that this way, or…?"

"Oh my god."

Beca laughed as she jogged towards the right side of the stage, waving to Amy as she approached. The Australian waved from the other side, gesturing towards the curtain, which Beca took to mean that they were going to meet somewhere in the middle. She hadn't even noticed that Chloe was onstage, ready to rehearse her song.

And Beca realized suddenly that she didn't know what Chloe was singing this week.

She'd been involved in everyone else's pick this week without even realizing it.

Without thinking about who would be cut, and whether Posen would get her wish and Beca would be kicked off.

And without thinking of Chloe’s choice.

The band started up, guitar and bass drum heavy, and Beca recognized it instantly.

Ho-boy, this is going to hurt.

Chloe huffed into the microphone before she started to sing.

Your love is like a tidal wave, spinning over my head.

Drowning me in your promises, better left unsaid.

Chloe crossed the stage, taking her mic stand with her, dragging it by the neck.

You're the right kind of sinner to release my inner fantasy.

The invincible winner, and you know that you were born to be.

The drums hit, and Beca felt glued in place. She wanted to leave, to go help Amy or work on a mix, or find food, but she couldn't move.

At least, she couldn't, until Chloe started the chorus.

You're a heartbreaker, dream-maker.

Love-taker, don't you mess around with me.

You're a heartbreaker, dream-maker.

Love-taker, don't you mess around - no no no!

Well, that settled it.

Chloe was much better at picking songs than she was.

Beca didn't stick around to hear anymore; it was clear that Chloe thought she was bad news. At least it was a relief to know that Chloe wasn't sad anymore.

It seemed the redhead had finally started pinning the blame where it belonged.

Stop it, dude. You were trying to be less self-deprecating, remember?

Beca shook out her negative thoughts and focused on helping Amy. It wasn't hard to break it down for the Australian. It was really only the chorus, and Amy just didn't trust herself to go that high. Beca just had to play it for her, to give her the opportunity to try.

She worked with CR after that, because the woman still didn't feel totally confident in her Juice Newton song.

Beca tried to explain that there was nothing complicated about the melody, and that the only tricky bit was the accompaniment, but CR couldn't make the song work for her.

"I can't deal with this straight shit!" the woman protested loudly. "Who wants to be called an angel?! She's such a bottom!"

Beca laughed in spite of herself.

"Well, you just have to pretend, dude," she tried. "The song can be meaningful. Maybe she's a power bottom."

CR sighed.

"I just don't get it."

Beca was about to run through Jessica's song when Gail Abernathy-McKadden showed up.

"Becky!" she proclaimed loudly. "A word?"

Beca stood from the backstage piano and followed Gail into the hallway. It wasn't that wide, and there was already a camera crew back there, so Beca had to scrunch in next to the producer.

"We want to know about your song," she said. The camera crew was getting set up, adjusting the lens to the lighting, and Beca started to get hot under her collar.

"What do you want to know?"

"Just, tell us about it," Gail said offhandedly. She stepped back, forcing the cameras forward, and Beca suddenly found herself talking to the equipment.

It wasn't unusual at this point, but it wasn't exactly a natural shift.

She still didn't feel like she really got it.

"Whenever you're ready," Gail offered, and Beca held back a sigh.

"So," she started, slowly, picking her words carefully.

She only had one shot to get this right, and she knew she had to be specific.

"I'm going to sing Hate Myself For Loving You."

"Can you use past-tense, Becky?" Gail called, popped her head around the camera operator.

"I can sure try," Beca sighed. She took a deep breath and started again.

"I sang Hate Myself For Loving You, by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts," Beca said. She tried to imagine her ideal scenario - that Chloe heard her- really heard her, and what she had to say.

She put herself in that reality.

"I tried to switch to Time After Time on Monday, but Carl didn't let me," she said with a smile. "I'm glad he didn't."

"Why?" Gail yelled over the cameraman's shoulder.

"It wasn't enough." she said wryly. "Cyndi Lauper doesn't bring enough self-loathing to the table, at least for where I was."

"And where was that?"

"I was alone," Beca admitted. "When I picked that song, Hate Myself For Loving You, I felt abandoned. And I wanted to be there. I wanted to hate myself."

Gail was quiet, and so was everyone else in the hallway, so Beca went on.

"Thing is though, self-pity doesn't hold up under pressure," she said. "I wanted to feel bad, and the women in the house - one, in particular - they wouldn't let me feel bad for myself. They wanted the best for me, and I pushed them away.

"And a part of me hated myself for it," Beca continued with a sigh. Her brow set at a harsh angle, and her lips pulled together. "I couldn't stop thinking about them - about, well, about Chloe, honestly. I couldn't pull myself together. They kept pushing me. Kept challenging my pride. And I knew I was hurting them, but I didn't want to give in. Thankfully, now, I know that what the only person I was really hurting was me. And I-"

"Okay, so it wasn't about sex with Chloe?" Gail asked.

Beca barked out a laugh, looking past the cameras at the producer.

“What? No. If I- if we- look. I promise you," she said seriously. "If I ever get a chance to sing a song about loving Chloe, truly and fully, you'll know."

The producer sighed.

"Okay, cut," Gail said, and the cameraman dropped his equipment off his shoulder.

"Maybe we can use some of that, I don't know," she sighed. "Let's go see if we can find Emily."

The cameraman pushed past Beca down the narrow hallway, and Gail followed without another word to Beca.

The brunette laughed in the suddenly vacant space.

Reality TV, my ass.

*****

They had an hour until the show started, and Beca could tell everyone was nervous.

But weirdly, she felt okay.

She'd tried the Bulletproof addition at their soundcheck earlier and, after some pushback due to shock, John Smith had insisted that it become part of the actual show. He got Beca an extra mic to sing her part loudly enough, and he told everyone to act surprised when she started singing the added song.

That was probably because Posen hadn't been at rehearsal, and so they were trying to make her mad.

But at that point, Beca didn't care.

The rest of the soundchecks had gone pretty well. Amy sounded better, and CR finally accepted her song for what it was, so Beca felt good as okay.

Honestly, she wasn't even thinking about getting cut.

And she didn't think anybody else was either. Tonight's show felt more about making the group performance work more than anything else, and Beca couldn't blame the women for being nervous about it.

Choreography was rough, but there was something deeper than that. The women just weren't clicking. They stood onstage, breathing hard after yet another failed attempt at the final song. PAs were running around, and the audience was due any minute, and they knew they should get offstage and into final touch-ups.

But nobody wanted to leave.

Not when the performance wasn’t ready.

"Okay," Stacie sighed into the heavy silence. "Can I just say we're fucked if we don't figure this out?"

Ashley and Jessica agreed, and Beca saw Amy nod out of the corner of her eye.

"I think we can do great," Emily tried, but CR protested loudly over her.

"Yeah, if by 'do great' you mean 'fuck up,’” she lamented. She turned to Beca, who tried to avoid the bold woman’s eye.

"You've got ideas, DJ?" she said. "You've been working on mixes all week. And you already nailed the Bulletproof spot.”

"Beca?" Stacie echoed softly. "Is there something we can do?"

Beca looked around the performers and found helpless looks everywhere. Jessica looked like she was going to cry, and Ashley looked like she was going to punch someone. Emily couldn't pull her eyes off the floor.

Amy was so dissociated that Beca stared at her for a full twenty seconds before the Australian met her eyes.

And she didn't look at Chloe.

The auditorium doors burst open with the first rush of people, and Beca took a short, deep breath.

"Okay," she said softly. "Follow me."

She led the women offstage, down a short staircase, and into a large bathroom. The competitors all fit comfortably in the open space in front of the stalls, and they all turned to face Beca.

The brunette gave a heavy sigh as she tugged at the sleeve of her purple thermal. She fought the urge to fiddle with the new gauges in her ears.

It wasn't like she was prepared to inspire the confidence of eight amazing singers.

She was scared, just like them, and she really didn't want to fuck things up.

But who knew who was going home?

Who knew if the group performance would be their last song?

If it was going to be hers, and she was going to go out singing Bulletproof under Ashley's solo, then she'd be damned if they didn't give it their all.

"Chloe?" she asked loudly, breaking the silence. Her eyes were closed tightly, but she could feel the group stir.

"Yeah?"

"Can you sing Just The Way You Are again? Like you solo?" Beca asked, eyes still screwed tightly shut.

She couldn't believe she was doing this, making one of her mixes real. She wondered if the other women would get it, but it didn't really matter.

She knew it would work, if Chloe would sing.

"Sure," she heard the redhead agree, and Beca opened one eye hesitantly.

She found Chloe instantly.

It wasn't Chloe's actual look - a calming yet guarded gaze - that spurred Beca on.

It was the trust.

After everything they'd been through - after everything that Beca had done - Chloe trusted her in their moment of crisis.

They all did.

If Beca said she had an idea, they would listen. They would try it. Because they knew that Beca felt the music, understood it in a way that went beyond melody and harmony.

Beca knew what worked and what didn't.

And Chloe trusted that she wouldn't lead them astray.

Again, they all did.

It was a lot, Beca realized.

Trust, but also expectations.

Respect.

But she had to pay the toll.

Can I handle this?

Only one was to find out.

"Okay, I'll cue you in."

Beca started singing the high part of the Just The Way You Are melody. She pointed at Emily, who started to sing the same part, then to Jessica, who sang lower. CR joined her, and then Stacie added a rhythmic mid-note.

Beca nodded to Chloe, and the redhead started to sing.

Oh, her eyes, her eyes

make the stars look like they're not shining.

Her hair, her hair

falls perfectly without her trying.

She's so beautiful, and I tell her everyday.

Amy found the bass notes, and Ashley was making a high-hat-type noise, but Beca didn't care. She took a deep breath and brought in her mix.

Uh, uh, I was thinking 'bout her.

(I know, I know)

Thinking 'bout me.

(when I compliment her, she won't believe me.)

Thinking 'bout us, and what we're gonna be.

(It's so, it's so, sad to think she don't see what I see.)

I opened my eyes, it was only just a dream.

(But every time she asks me 'Do I look okay?' I just say.)

It was only just a dream.

She could hear it, and she knew the group of women in front of her did too. The door to the bathroom open, and she glanced over, behind the rest of the women. Posen had come in, and no one else saw.

She didn't stop. And neither did the other competitors.

She was glad Emily knew the song she was singing, because the teen went with her in the chorus, contrasting Chloe as they continued to sing.

(When I see her face)

So I travelled back down that road.

Will she come back? No one knows.

(There's not a thing that I would change)

I opened my eyes - it was only just a dream.

(Cause you're amazing, just the way you are.)

It was only just a dream.

(When I see her face-)

They kept going, repeating the chorus, and someone started to stomp and clap. The harmonies, the tone, and the rhythm of their added percussion - it all blended together, and Beca smiled.

It was perfect.

It was exactly right.

It was better than any mix she could've assembled.

Definitely better than the version currently pulled up on her computer.

It was art.

The chorus came to a close, and Beca took the note low, along with CR. The chord clung on the tile walls of the bathroom as the ceramics bounced the echoes around them, and Stacie laughed.

"Wait," she giggled. "Are we actually good at a cappella?"

"Damn right you are," Posen called from the back of the room, and the rest of the women turned, shocked to hear another voice inside the bathroom.

"Don't worry about the choreography or the cuts," the blonde judge said. "If you guys can sing like that - like a group - you'll be just fine."

Amy whooped, and Ashley and Jessica started clapping. Emily cheered too, and CR threw an arm around Stacie's shoulder. Beca was smiling as she watched the women get psyched for their performance, letting her eyes move slowly around the room.

Because she knew where they were going to end.

But then the women started to file out, and Beca got shuffled into moving. She was almost at the door when she felt a hand pull at her arm.

"Nice mix, Becs," a soft voice said, and Beca couldn't even look up.

"It was nothing," she mumbled to the tile, and the hand on her arm fell away.

"Oh," Chloe replied, and Beca felt the redhead bristle. "Yeah, okay."

The door opened, and Beca stood there, silently hoping that the door would stay open, that Chloe would wait, but then it fell shut, and Beca was left inside alone.

"God damnit," she whispered.

Chapter Text

The group number went fine. Rough, at first. But by the time Amy and Jessica brought it home, the crowd was feeling it.

Honestly, Beca was just happy that they didn't complete fuck it up.

And there was no feedback after the performance, so even though Posen was fuming, Beca got away with her little addition.

Then the brunette was picked to sing first, which was a surprise. Beca sang Joan Jett, rooted in place on the stage, focusing on the melody.

"Can I just say that it's, like, really cool to see you grow and change?" Katy Perry asked her as the song came to an end.

"I mean, personally, I miss the cup, but yeah," Plaza added, and the audience laughed. Beca gave a little eye roll before turning to Posen.

Beca could tell she was still mad about the group performance. But instead of running at her with it, Posen laughed quietly to herself.

"You know what, Mitchell?" she finally said. "Something changed in you this week, and it came through in your performance and in the way you worked with everyone. Good job."

Beca blinked in the bright stage lights as the crowd clapped.

"Seriously?" Beca laughed, and Perry and Plaza joined the audience in laughing. She brought a hand to her face and was surprised when her fingertips came back wet with tears.

When did she start crying!?

"Beca, can you please just take the compliment and get off my stage?"

"You don't have to tell me twice," Beca laughed, and she quickly turned to run off. The crowd clapped and laughed again as she made her way to the camera to ask for votes.

"Quite an emotional performance!" Jesse said as she approached.

Beca tried to stop laughing, but she couldn't.

"I honestly didn't even know I was crying," she gasped through broken breaths. "Jesus, it seems like I do this every week."

"Any reason for the tears tonight?" Jesse prodded, and Beca sighed. She took the mic from Jesse and looked dead into the camera.

"I messed up, and I'm sorry," she said. "I hurt you. I want to make things right."

"Uh, who are you, and what have you done with Beca Mitchell?" Jesse laughed, stepping into frame. Beca brushed her hair behind her ear and smiled sheepishly.

"It's been a long road for me, Swanson," she sighed. "And I ain't there yet."

"Uh huh," the host replied with a laugh. He nodded towards her ear.

"Cute earrings."

Beca turned her head to show the black and gold spiral gauges and gold ear cuff.

"Someone told me I didn't wear enough gold," she said simply. "I figured I owed it to them to give it a shot."

Jesse shooed her off, and Beca went to the green room backstage to watch the rest of the show.

Stacie ran through Total Eclipse of the Heart like Beca knew she could then joined the younger woman backstage. She was able to conjure up two tiny bottles of tequila somehow, and the brunettes shared a drink as they watched CR rock out.

Then Jessica performed, and she seemingly took Beca's advice and limited her bobbing.

So far, everyone was getting positive remarks, and Posen shocked everybody by saying that this was the best week yet, performance-wise. When Emily got called up, Beca watched the teenager push herself out of her comfort zone, moving around the stage as she performed Call Me.

She even kept her eyes open for some of it too.

It was awkward still, but it was the most anyone had seen from the girl since her audition.

When she came to the green room, Stacie and CR cheered loudly and pulled Emily into a large group hug.

But Beca could see that Emily was looking for someone, and when the teen's eyes fell on her, they both smiled broadly.

"Thank you," Emily said through her grin. "I'm not sure I could've done that without your help."

Beca rolled her eyes.

"Yeah, well, don't get used to it."

Amy, Ashley, and Chloe were still onstage waiting to perform, and Perry called Amy forward. A hush fell over the green room as the camera stayed on Ashley and Chloe.

They were in the bottom two.

Chloe was in the bottom two.

Beca liked Ashley. She had since the beginning. And Jessica was back there with them, and she was obviously extremely worried about her friend.

But Chloe couldn’t leave.

Was Stacie right, that the show didn’t work if Chloe was sad? Did the voters not vote? What was going on??

Beca tried to pay attention as Amy sang her song. Then after too, when the Australian received a serious amount of praise for her song selection. Amy said that Beca helped, and CR gave her a little punch in the arm. Stacie threw her arm around Beca's shoulders.

"We couldn't have made it through this week without you," the taller brunette said softly. "We owe you a lot."

But Beca had stopped listening again.

She was watching the screen, as Jesse amped up the crowd.

Somebody was going home, and that somebody could be Chloe. She was freaking out. Chloe was talented enough to win this competition, and everybody competing knew it. If this came down to something stupid like the voters took her side instead of Chloe’s-

Well, Beca was about to go onstage and tell them to kick her off instead.

Because Chloe belonged on the show more than anyone else. More than any other performer. Chloe was the single most talented singer they had on the show, and if the viewers didn't -

Posen jumped in over Jesse by saying no one was leaving this week.

Oh, Beca sighed. Guess I don't have to cut a bitch.

Ashley sang her song, and then Chloe sang hers, but Beca could barely see through the adrenaline coursing through her veins. The night literally couldn't have gone any better, but that brief moment of fear when she thought that Chloe was leaving had left a lasting impression on Beca's nerves.

All of the women were staying for another week until two would get cut at the same time at the end of the next show, someone said.

And the group number went well, and she performed her best.

Still, she couldn't help but feel amped up.

Because they almost kicked off Chloe!

Chloe!

The most talented one there!

She tried to tamp down her reaction as the women piled into their SUVs. Chloe wasn't leaving, and Beca knew that the redhead probably wasn't even really in the bottom two. They probably just did that to make everybody nervous.

She worked on her breathing in the backseat, squashed between Stacie and CR, as thy made their way across town.

Not home, though. Unlike last week when Beca went home with the Junks, she figured she deserved a night out.

(Well, that, and Stacie threatened to post her video of Beca drunkenly singing We’ve Got The Beat with Jessica from a couple days ago.)

She probably wouldn't drink that much, but she still wanted to go. And maybe it wouldn’t suck. CR was talking to her again, and Stacie wasn't threatening to hit her, so she felt okay.

Plus, she wanted to hear if they played one of her songs again.

Their car arrived at the nightclub last, and she followed the other contestants upstairs to their VIP section. Plaza had gotten everybody drinks, and - instead of shooting back the liquor like she had before - Beca just sipped the shot of tequila.

It was nice to listen to good music and good conversation.

She'd even chanced a look at Chloe a few times.

The redhead had only met her gaze once, though. Chloe's eyes passed over Beca slowly, almost hesitantly, as the redhead took another shot.

But then Chloe smiled - a small one, but still - and Beca let herself smile back.

She might have a chance to make things right between them after all.

The club was packed, and where Beca thought her housemates would be tearing up the dance floor, they pretty much stayed upstairs for the first hour. They sipped mixed drinks and bopped to the music as they sat.

"It was a long night," Ashley lamented loudly when Amy called them boring.

"I want to celebrate, but I also kind of want to cry?" Jessica added, and Beca saw Chloe nod.

"I'm just happy all my ladies are still here," CR said cheerfully, and Stacie agreed. "But at some point, we're really gonna have to sneak Emily into this club."

Jessica and Ashley laughed and agreed, but Stacie looked wary.

"Do you think there are minors in here?" she asked nervously. "Because I don't vet my make-out partners, and I don't want to go to jail."

The group laughed as the P!nk song came to an end and a thudding bass kicked in, along with a distorted voice that they all recognized.

Beca's remix of Flashlight started to play in the club.

Beca was nearly deafened by the shrieks around her. CR and Stacie were on their feet first, followed closely by then Jessica and Ashley. Amy was already halfway downstairs when CR pulled Beca up.

"Ah!" Stacie screamed, pulling out her phone. "I gotta record this!"

Beca let CR and Ashley pull her downstairs and onto the dance floor, and she screamed the lyrics with her cast mates. No one else in the club knew the words, but their group did, and there was a little circle of them, dancing and singing in the center of the dance floor. Even Beca joined, and out of the corner of her eye, she could see Chloe grinning madly.

Beca looked around then to see the all of smiles on the faces of the women she'd come to know, and she smiled back.

She felt like she had friends.

Real, supportive friends.

The song came to an end, and she felt her phone ring in her pocket.

She glanced at it to see it was Emily.

She laughed and pushed through the group, making her way through the crowded club and out the front door to the sidewalk.

"Hey, kid," Beca said when it was finally quiet enough for her to be heard.

"They played my song!?" Emily shouted. "Stacie sent me a video! I didn't even- when did you-"

"I sent it to Plaza earlier this week," Beca replied. She could hear the grin in her own voice. "I didn't want to get your hopes up or anything, but I thought they might play it. I guess they played all the other ones."

"Beca! Oh my god!" Emily screamed. "I can't thank you enough!"

"It was all you, Emily," Beca said seriously. "That's your song. Those are your words. This is your moment."

The teenager went on for a few more minutes, and Beca let her as she stood outside the nightclub. The weather was starting to turn, and it was getting a little warmer. But it was still too cold to stand outside much longer, especially since Beca had left her coat inside.

She started to tell Emily that she had to go when she looked up towards the door.

And there, watching her, was Chloe Beale.

She was looking up through her lashes, and she was biting her thumb as she smiled at Beca. Emily was still talking, but Beca wasn't listening anymore.

Her thoughts were occupied elsewhere.

Specifically, on a very real wish to be a certain nail trapped between a certain pair of lips.

"I, uh, I gotta go," she rushed into the phone. Emily was saying bye, and Beca hung up, only breaking her gaze on Chloe for a second as she shoved her phone back into her pocket.

When she looked back up, the redhead was closer.

Much closer.

"I was looking for you," Chloe slurred, and if she wasn't standing within arm's reach, Beca probably wouldn't have heard her. Chloe rolled her tongue over her lips, and Beca watched the slick muscle trace across them. She coughed and blinked, yanking her gaze off the redhead as she gazed across the street.

"Well, you found me," she said, laughing awkwardly. She turned back to Chloe and squinted.

"What, uh, what can I do ya for? I mean, what can I do for you? What- uh. What's up?" she said, popping the P of her last word.

Chloe stepped further into Beca's space, and the brunette moved backwards. Her back met brick, and she inhaled sharply. The redhead stood at her full height and put a hand next to Beca's head.

"I was thinking 'bout you, thinking 'bout me," Chloe breathed, and Beca could smell the tequila on her breath. She closed her eyes and sucked in a deep breath as Chloe continued to lean in.

"Chloe-"

"Thinking 'bout us," the redhead whispered, and Beca could feel her breath against the shell of her ear. She felt Chloe chuckle, and the upturned corner of her lips glanced the ear cuff Beca was wearing.

A spark shot through Beca like she was shocked, followed quickly by one of those stubborn thoughts.

This isn't right.

Chloe traced her tongue over the piece of jewelry, and Beca felt her breath catch as she gasped. Panicking, she rolled out from underneath the redhead, who fell forward slightly in her drunkenness.

And as hard as it was to ignore her body - which was screaming at her to go back into Chloe's arms - Beca knew in her heart she'd made the right call.

Because Chloe was really, really drunk.

"Chloe," she whispered. She closed her eyes again, dreading what she was about to say, but she couldn't do it. She couldn't be with Chloe when she was like this.

"I don't want to mess this up again," Beca said. "I like you, Chloe, but I can't do this. Not here, not while you're- well, while you're drunk. Remember last time we were drunk here? It's not- I want it real."

Beca sighed as she opened her eyes. Chloe was leaning against the brick, one arm cushioned under her head, staring at the wall.

She wasn't looking at Beca, which made everything easier. At least for the moment.

"Maybe we can talk tomorrow?" Beca huffed. She hugged her arms around herself and kept her feet planted on the concrete. She didn't really trust her limbs at the moment.

Because Chloe was pushing off the wall, and she opened her eyes, and they were full of tears again.

"I thought you wanted me," Chloe hiccuped, and Beca squeezed herself tighter.

All she wanted to do was take Chloe into her arms and never let go.

Ew.

"Chloe, I want you so bad, it's not even funny," Beca laughed helplessly.

"Then kiss me," Chloe pushed, stalking towards Beca. "Kiss me, right now."

"I can't do that," Beca sighed. She stepped back again as Chloe got close. "Not like this."

Chloe stopped, swaying slightly, and her somber expression slowly contorting into one of anger.

"Beca Mitchell, I want you to kiss me!" she yelled, and Beca looked around. There were a few people out, but they weren't paying attention.

But that didn't mean Beca wanted to have this conversation here, in the state that they were in.

"Can you please ask me that tomorrow?" she tried, and Chloe flared again. She started to move towards Beca again, and the brunette began to worry that Chloe was going to test her resistance again.

And she didn't know if it would hold.

She stepped back and doubled down.

"Why don't we go inside, get some water?" she said quickly. "It's probably time to head back to the house anyway-"

Chloe laughed loudly, and Beca winced.

"What do you want from me, Mitchell?" she demanded, and when Beca didn't respond, she barked out another laugh.

"This is ridiculous," she said incredulously. "You're ridiculous. You do all that stuff that really makes it seem like you like me, and then you take it all back. I'm done."

The redhead started pacing back into the club.

Fuck!

"Chlo-"

"No, Beca," she shouted down the sidewalk. A couple people were looking now, but Beca didn't care.

She couldn't take advantage of Chloe, but she couldn't lose her.

"Do you want to be with me, right now, or don't you?"

Beca went to say that absolutely, yes, of course she wanted to be with her - but now? Right now? Beca knew it wasn't right.

Chloe took Beca's silence as an answer, turning heel and stalking back into the club. Beca went to follow, to try to find someone to take care of Chloe - Stacie, maybe - but she lost track of Chloe in the crowd. She went upstairs to try to get a better vantage point, and she was scanning the crowd when someone pulled her by the arm.

Beca glanced over to see that it was Aubrey Plaza.

"Hey, the DJ wants to meet you!" she shouted. "He has a break right now!"

"Gimme a second," Beca responded, still looking for Chloe. She spotted her at the bar where she was ordering another drink, and Beca sighed.

At least I found her.

"What? I can't hear you!" Plaza shouted. "Come on, we only have like two minutes."

Beca glanced between the dark-haired celebrity and the redhead down below. She groaned and pulled out her phone, quickly scrolling to Stacie's message thread.

Chlo's drunk, she typed quickly as Plaza pulled Beca across the mezzanine. She went to type another one for good measure.

At the center bar.

First floor by the dance floor.

Still being led, Beca typed out a final message.

Can you get her some water?

Stacie sent back a line of positive emojis (sparkles and smileys, mostly, but that was good enough for Beca), and Beca clicked her phone off with a sigh of relief.

Just like Stacie trusted her to be honest about music, she trusted Stacie to look out for her friend. It was easy to remember, considering she'd been on the other side of that loyalty before.

"Luke, this is Mitchell, the musician I was telling you about," Plaza shouted. Beca finally looked up to see that they were behind the booth, in another VIP section. There were a couple people around, but Plaza seemed to be referencing the guy sprawled out on the couch in front of them.

Luke was older and blonde, with a jaw that was chiseled like a statue. There was an attractive woman draped over each of his shoulders, and he whispered something to one of them before he stood up.

"Mitchell," he grinned, and Beca was caught off-guard by his British accent. "You've got a serious ear for music."

"Uh, likewise," Beca replied. She pulled her phone out of her pocket to check if Stacie had said anything else.

There were no messages, so she clicked it off.

"Listen, I'd love to introduce you to a buddy of mine," Luke continued. "He works over at Residual Heat. He's heard your stuff, and he wants to hear more."

Beca bobbed her head in a sort of nod. The music was loud, and her mind was still on Chloe.

"And I'd love to hear you spin," the DJ went on. Beca brought a hand up to her ear and started pulling at her gauges. "Do you have a set?"

"Sure," Beca said.

Wait, she didn't have a set.

She sucked in a deep breath and choked on her own spit.

"I mean," she coughed. "I can make one?"

Luke laughed and clapped a hand over Plaza's shoulder.

"This one's got spirit," he said cheerfully, and Beca couldn't tell if he was being serious or sarcastic.

"I already talked to Javier," Plaza said. "He said she could try a half hour on a Wednesday, if you'll vouch for her."

Luke nodded and turned back to Beca. She resisted the urge to check her phone again.

"Tell you what," he said, reaching into his back pocket. He pulled out a money clip and slipped something off the end, handing it to Beca. She turned it over in her hand and saw that it was a business card.

"Send me something this week. I'll have my guy come by if your set is legit."

Beca nodded again. She tried to focus on what they were saying- to be here, to realize and participate in her literal future in the music business, but she couldn't stop thinking about Chloe.

Did Stacie find her?

Was she okay?

"Yo, dude," Plaza nudged her.

"Right," Beca blinked out of her thoughts.

"Thanks, man, I really appreciate it," she said to Luke, and the tall guy grinned good-naturedly.

"I always like finding someone new," he said with a shrug. "And being where I am and in the job that I'm in, I get to do that. Plus, any friend of Plaza's is a friend of mine."

"Oh, we're not friends," the dark-haired celebrity replied, and Beca momentarily flushed with panic again.

"We're sisters. Twins, actually," she deadpanned. "We were separated at birth, because our parents got divorced, but we reconnected when we were sent to the same summer camp. Then we switched places. She's actually the real Aubrey Plaza."

"Uh huh," Luke nodded, eyes wide and full of sarcasm.

Beca looked between the two of them. There was obviously some joke she wasn't getting, and neither of them were letting up or letting her in.

"We're not actually twins," she said slowly. "I'm on Plaza's show."

Luke laughed as his attractive friends rejoined the conversation. One of them handed him a shot.

"You're back on, baby," she hummed, and Luke shot back the brown liquid.

"I need something by Sunday, Mitchell," he said as he walked back towards the booth. "Don't fuck this up."

She nodded, and the two of them watched Luke resume his place behind his equipment. She was about to check her phone again when she felt Plaza elbow her sharply.

"Ow!"

"Dude! Have you never seen The Parent Trap?! What the fuck is wrong with you?"

*****

Beca laid her head down on the countertop of the pool house kitchen.

Putting together a set honestly shouldn't be this hard.

She knew it was just her nerves, once the reality of the literal life-changing conversation she'd had last night actually sunk in this morning. She was obviously worried she wouldn't be good enough for Luke or for his producer friend, which lead her to stare dumbly at her barely-not-blank screen.

She'd started with her mixes that she knew Luke played - the 212/Bust A Move mix, and Release Me vs. Bulletproof.

And she had to get from one to the other, so she found some other 90s hits.

Sir Mix-A-Lot, always a crowd favorite. And she had a mix with Jump by Kris Kross.

From there, she had Shut Up And Dance vs. Moves Like Jagger, that was a good mix for this kind of club.

But what about the popular hits? Did she need to work in Bruno? Or Sheeran?

Or, god forbid, Miley?

She used Ex's & Oh's by Elle King in a mix, but it was with Nice Guys Finish Last by Cobra Starship, so Beca didn't know if it was accessible.

And what about Rihanna? How was she going to fit her in?

Actually, anywhere after The Weeknd would be fine, and The Weeknd could go anywhere.

But what about Taylor Swift?!

Beca groaned. She knew what this was supposed to sound like. She knew what Luke had been playing at the club. She could hear all the bits and pieces, and she knew where she should put them, where they belonged in the arc of a set. But she had so many ideas- so many thoughts about how it could all fall into place, and she couldn't make sense of any of them.

A half hour set was the longest thing she'd put together.

And it was more than a little daunting.

In the back of her mind, Beca knew there was really only one way to get through this. She needed to get her shit together, make her best run at it, and then ask her friends for help.

But she wasn't ready for that yet.

So she spent another hour recording her Fuck You remix while simultaneously hiding away in the pool house. Away from prying eyes.

And away from Chloe.

Beca hadn't seen the redhead since they fought last night. When she got back to the American Idol VIP section, all she'd found was a very wasted CR and Amy duo. She called Stacie, who confirmed that she'd gotten Chloe back to the house and that the rest of the women had left too.

So she'd lured the stragglers into an SUV with the promise of Taco Bell, which, thankfully, was not only still open but also cheap enough that she could actually buy it for them.

The only person who had come to see her in the pool house was Emily, and that was only to heap praise and gratitude on the older brunette. Beca reiterated that Emily was the one who had all the great ideas and kicked her out of the pool house before the girl melted into a puddle.

Because Beca could ignore most of the ridiculous praise, but she wouldn't be able to ignore tears.

And then the aspiring DJ had set to work on her setlist for Luke, and the whole thing was driving her insane. She couldn't straighten out her thoughts.

So she decided to go take a nap.

It was hours later and long after dark when she awoke in her suite.

"Beca!"

Was that real, or was that in her dream? She'd been dreaming about something, a pool of light, bright lights, like the edge of a stage-

"Beca! Come out here!"

That was - unfortunately - very real. Someone was yelling at her from the living room.

Beca rolled off her bed and threw on some (freshly washed) pajama bottoms.

"This better be important, because I was asleep," she grumbled as she trodded into the kitchen. The remaining competitors and Ms. Junk were spread out across the living room with cans, cups, and carryout scattered around them.

"Somebody recorded last night's episode!" Emily said. "We're all going to watch it together!"

Beca yawned and rubbed her eye.

"Yeah, I'm not gonna do that."

"Ohhhh, no," Stacie called, jumping over the back of the couch and blocking the way back to Beca's room. "You're not getting out of this."

"Yeah shorty, you have to stay!" CR added. She was rounding the dinner room table, and the look she gave made Beca feel like she was going to be flanked if she tried to run the other way.

"It wouldn't be the same if we watched without you," Emily pleaded.

"Say, is there a way to check who recorded this?" Katherine said, apropos of nothing.

"Fine, I'll stay!" Beca said, and most of the women cheered. They pulled Beca to the couch and resumed their spots.

Amy and Jessica were on the far side, stretched out over the wide length of the U. Emily was tucked in the corner next to Stacie.

Chloe was in the middle, with Amy on her other side, and then CR, further down.

Only Katherine stayed off the couch again, choosing instead to sit behind it in the wide office chair from the desk.

Beca noticed Chloe hadn't moved from her spot on the couch. She’d had barely even glanced over her shoulder when Beca had come out, choosing instead to keep her gaze turned down on her phone in her lap.

Beca didn't know if that was a good sign or a bad sign, but it didn't feel encouraging.

And depending on what they put on the episode, what made it to air from the last week?

She wasn't sure if she wanted to watch with anyone, but especially not Chloe.

But the opening credits were already rolling, and her castmates were cheering, and Amy was pouring her a mysterious mixed drink. Begrudgingly, she sat down on the couch as well.

(Next to CR, on the front edge of the couch, so she could leave quickly if she needed to.)

(…and so she couldn't see everyone's reactions, because they were sitting behind her.)

The episode started with the group number, and Beca tried not to cringe. It was the best they could've done under the circumstances, but she still didn't love their medley performance. Most of the women had done okay though, and by the end they were all singing along, even Beca.

They had flashed to Posen too, when Beca added Bulletproof into the mix, and it was fun to see the blonde's reaction up close.

With the size and resolution of the living room TV, Beca could almost see the blood pumping in the judge's forehead vein.

Beca was up first to perform, and the producers didn't edit in anything before the brunette's performance. She was shocked, to say the least.

She knew Gail said she didn't know if the Tuesday interview would make it to air, but Beca thought they'd put in something.

It was probably for the best that they left it out, Beca thought as she watched herself perform. I need to talk to Chloe myself.

She finished up and got her feedback, along with a couple kudos from her competitors in real time. Amy made some crack about her fashion sense, and Beca turned to tell the Australian to that she could take her comments and stick them "down under" when she heard Jesse through the TV.

"Quite the emotional performance!"

Oh wait.

Shit.

"Any reason for the tears tonight?"

Beca whipped her head back forward and stared at the floor in front of her.

"I messed up, and I'm sorry. I hurt you. I want to make things right," Beca heard herself tell the camera. She winced and kept her eyes trained down, training her gaze onto the contents of her cup.

"Hah! Gaaaay!" Amy hollered, and Beca heard a few people laugh. Stacie gasped.

"Are those the earrings?!"

"Damn, you got it bad, huh?" CR chimed in, earning more laughs.

"Oh my god," Beca mumbled before chugging her drink.

She didn't chance a look back, but she didn't leave. If that was all they were going to show, she could make it through. The after-performance interview was embarrassing, but it wasn't the end of the world. And depending on what was going on with Chloe, maybe she could still fix things.

But that was a pretty big "maybe."

Stacie was next, and Beca was surprised again when she saw that somehow, a camera had caught her helping Stacie rehearse at the house on Monday. They had been upstairs, and the camera POV was from the top of the stairs, so Beca figured that they just hadn't noticed someone come up.

They were laughing, and then Beca was telling Stacie that she should switch up the chorus. She played the leggy brunette in, and Stacie went high, but Beca stopped her and made her sing it low, building through her "Forever's gonna start tonight" lines so the chorus/bridge was suspended roughly.

The episode cut to a talking head of Stacie.

"Look, Beca was going through it," she sighed. "But she knows her music. She helped me pick my song, and then she helped me rehearse it. And we had a lot of fun. I'm glad she decided to suck less."

The women in the room laughed as the Stacie onscreen started to perform.

Beca turned to flick Stacie off across the pit, and the older brunette blew her a kiss in return.

She couldn't help glancing at Chloe, but the redhead was watching the screen with a focused, pensive gaze. Beca could see that her brow was knit, like she was confused or angry. But Beca couldn’t figure out why her behavior would upset the redhead.

Shouldn’t Stacie forgiving her be a good thing?

Or was this the same anger from their fight?

God, it was all so confusing.

No wonder she hadn't had a girlfriend since high school.

The show continued with more performances and talking heads. True to her oblivious nature, Beca didn't realize that the other competitors - her housemates, her friends - were all grateful for her help during the week. But seeing and hearing it all at once, watching her play piano for them and seeing them take her feedback, she felt a sense of pride.

She'd never considered herself a "helpful" person, but here she was, coaching and teaching.

It was different, but it wasn't bad.

It was actually kind of nice.

Amy nailed We Belong, and instead of Jesse's onstage announcement that they were down to the final two, they had the host dub over a bumper for the commercial.

"When we return, we find out who's going home," he said dramatically. "And we find out the real story of Chloe Beale and Beca Effin' Mitchell."

The screen cut to Chloe, eyes flaring at dance rehearsal, then to Beca in the hallway behind the stage.

"-loving Chloe, truly, and fully-"

Then the screen went black, and the streaming service started playing a commercial for some hospital drama.

The room was quiet. Beca blinked at the ceiling and rolled her lips tight.

"I think I'm good for the night?" she squeaked, standing and spinning a little, just enough to see CR on the couch. "This was fun, but-"

"Oh, now you're gonna bail?" Chloe cut her off. "I don't think so. Sit."

"Yeah, okay," Beca sighed. She felt a hand at her elbow and looked down to see Amy was reaching for her cup.

"Refill?" the Australian offered.

Beca nodded, and Amy poured the contents of her own cup into Beca's.

"I think you're gonna need it more than me," Amy replied to Beca's incredulous face, and the brunette heard CR sigh.

Beca didn't respond as she turned forward. The commercial was soon over and, after a brief interlude, Jesse was back onstage.

He was teasing the reveal, dragging out the decision on who was going home when Posen cut him off. That much Beca remembered, but she didn't remember that there were cameras in the green room.

So when they showed a split screen of Ashley and Chloe onstage next to a video of her reaction, she blushed.

She didn't realize she was that upset at the idea of Chloe going home.

She looked like she was about to punch a baby.

Ashley performed I Think We're Alone Now and teared up as she asked for votes. The show cut to a talking head where Ashley had an expletive-laden expression of relief, which made the women laugh.

But the levity didn't last long.

The camera was back in the hallway, on Beca, and she could tell it was the Tuesday talking head.

"I sang I Hate Myself For Loving You, by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. I tried to switch to Time After Time on Monday, but Carl didn't let me. I'm glad he didn't." Beca said with a smile.

In real time, Beca saw self-doubt flash through the eyes of her former self, but it didn't hold.

"It wasn't enough. Cyndi Lauper doesn't bring enough self-loathing to the table, at least for where I was."

The camera cut to Chloe in the dining room.

"Beca's incredibly talented," the redhead said, conflict pulling at every corner of her face. "I honestly think she could win this competition. But that's only if she decides she wants to. I tried to help her, but she wouldn't listen, and that's not my problem anymore."

The scene went back to the stage, where Jesse called Chloe up to sing. She stepped up to the mic and smiled broadly at the crowd.

But Beca could see that it was hollow, that the expression didn't reach her eyes.

She was faking it.

She was hurting.

"It was a heartbreaking week in the American Idol house," Jesse said in the voice over as Chloe waited to start, and Beca rolled her eyes.

If she knew him better, she'd kill him.

The scene cut back in the hallway with Beca.

"There's something about self-pity, about the way that it doesn't hold up under pressure. I wanted to feel bad, and the women in the house - one, in particular - they wouldn't let me feel bad for myself. They wanted the best for me. And a part of me hated myself for it."

The camera cut to a close up as they jumped in dialogue.

"I was hurting them, but I didn't want to give in."

The scene cut again, and they were in the dining room on Saturday morning.

"I don't think I could ever forgive her, no," Chloe was saying. "I think she needs to grow up."

The camera shifted to focus on a pajama-clad Beca at the bottom of the stairs behind Chloe. She looked crestfallen, and Beca watched as her past self took a deep breath before continuing on towards her bedroom. Beca's voice came on again over her retreating form, then they were back in the hallway with her.

"I promise you, if I ever get a chance to sing a song about loving Chloe, truly, and fully, you'll know."

Chloe's song started, and the redhead was killing it, but the room was silent.

"What the fuck was that, Beca?"

Beca whipped around suddenly to see that Chloe had gotten to her feet.

"What do you mean?" Beca replied. She felt drunk, but she knew it was an adrenaline spike at the situation.

But then she remembered Amy had given her a few drinks.

So maybe she was a little tipsy.

But mostly she was on edge and confused.

What was Chloe mad at? Was it last night, or the way Beca had talked to the cameras instead of her?

Was she ever going to get a chance to make this right?

"You professed your love for me to a camera crew, and then you rejected me an hour later?"

Chloe was furious, with tears streaming down her face. Red fury, from her chest to her locks, and she was blinking angrily against the tears. She crossed her arms over her pajamas.

Beca shook her head as she tried to backtrack.

"They recorded that interview on Tuesday," she tried to explain. "And they cut some stuff out. I wasn't talking about, like, being in love with you."

"Girl fight!" CR yelled.

"Oh, so you don't have feelings for me?" Chloe cried. "At least that explains why you completely shut me down last night!"

"I didn't- I couldn't- You weren't-" Beca stammered. "Stacie, you were there!"

She looked to the brunette for help, but Stacie waved her off.

"This has been a long time coming, and I'm staying out of it," she replied. "But I will say, Chlo, you were pretty fucked up. Did you guys talk last night?"

"She basically threw herself at me!" Beca yelped, and the group turned to Chloe. The redhead scoffed.

"I only went to find you because you wrote that stupid mash-up about me!"

"Oh, so that was about Chloe?" Emily asked.

"Oh yeah, absolutely," Amy replied, and Jessica hummed in agreement.

"That does make sense," Ashley added. "Very romantic, Beca."

"Okay, can we just-"

Beca clapped her hands over her face and let out a frustrated yell. She dug the heels of her palms into her eyebrows.

"Look, I- I'm not good at this," she said helplessly. "I'm not good at any of this! I don't do, like, words and stuff! And I haven't had friends like this in a long time. Or, like, more than friends. Ugh! Okay."

Taking another deep breath, Beca faltered, blowing the air out in a huff.

"I haven't really let anyone in, in, like, a long time. I built up these walls, you know? And I haven't let anyone penetrate them, get past the defenses, in- in forever."

"Not a good enough reason to use the word 'penetrate,'" Amy cut in.

Beca groaned and turned her full attention on Chloe.

"Can we go talk somewhere? Please?" she asked, and Amy whined.

"No, don't go!" she pleaded. "This is better than the show!"

"No, it's fine, I get it," Chloe shot back, and Beca felt herself deflating. Chloe moved around the far side of the couch, and Beca tried to come around to meet her. She grabbed Chloe's arm, but the redhead shook it off.

"I don't want anything to do with you!" Chloe barked, and Beca stepped back.

"Just leave me alone."

Chloe took off up the stairs, leaving Beca and the rest of the women in silence, save for the TV. The audience was cheering after Chloe's performance.

"Great work, as always," Plaza deadpanned. "Can you try not being perfect next time?"

The audience laughed, and Beca turned back to watch the feedback play out. The scene cut to Katy Perry's single, and the celebrity was frowning slightly.

"Chloe, you have a great voice, and you're very talented," she started, and the audience clapped. She waved them off and resumed addressing the performer onstage.

"But tonight, I saw something new in your song," she said. "You didn't believe that. You didn't feel that. It wasn't real to you, so it wasn't real to me."

The crowd booed, and Beca watched in awe. She must've left last night before they gave Chloe feedback, or the camera turned off or something.

Because she would've remembered this.

"I had a really hard time with it," Chloe agreed. Her eyes were cast down, darting back and forth like she was chasing a thought.

"You're losing yourself," Perry said. "You need to find her, so you can keep her with you."

Chloe nodded and walked offstage. She got to Jesse, who put a protective arm around her. She fell into the hug and closed her eyes.

"It's been a wild night," Jesse said. "Anything to say to the fans at home?"

Chloe opened her eyes and addressed the camera.

"I need your votes more than ever y'all," she sighed. She sucked in a breath and let it trickle out of her. "I wanna go after what I want."

"That's the spirit!" Jesse replied. He gave Chloe a tight squeeze and sent her on her way.

"Well, folks, another exciting night on-"

The TV cut off, and Beca blinked out her focus off the black screen. She looked around to find that Katherine was pointing the remote at the TV.

"Thanks for that," Beca said seriously.

Ms. Junk just gave a small, sympathetic chuckle.

*****

"Okay, let's get started!"

It was Friday morning. Bright and early and altogether unwelcome as far as Beca was concerned.

She leaned forward against the back of the couch, opting to stand behind it instead of her usual removed spot, and she stifled a yawn.

She'd barely slept, and yet she was here - full dress, full make-up.

And devoid of caffeine.

She grabbed her tea off the floor behind her and took a swig.

"We're doing a 60s and 70s week!" Posen said cheerfully. The competitors tried to muster up some enthusiasm, but obviously they were having trouble getting into the spirit this morning.

Beca wasn't even sure if Chloe had reacted to the announcement.

Beca glanced over at the redhead. It was annoying, but even now - even as distraught and confused as she was - she could never quite get over the way Chloe looked in morning light. It was ethereal, like she was shining from within. And sometimes inexplicably so, like today. Chloe wore a black and blue sweater with dark jeans to match her clouded expression, and there wasn't all that much light flooding in from outside.

But Chloe still emanated with brightness.

Rain pattered on the windows as Posen talked about "trusting the process."

Not for the first time in the last ten hours, Beca cursed herself for not handling last night better. She should've talked to Chloe right after the show. Or before, when the redhead reached out, after the group warm-up.

Anytime really, before Chloe had gotten too drunk.

But Beca didn't know what they were going to put on the air, and it's not like she planned to watch the episode with the group when she set it up to auto-record.

And she didn't know what Chloe was feeling.

She wasn't a mind-reader, for god's sake.

"...and instead of a big group number this week, we're switching it up!" Posen finished with a flourish, and Beca tuned back in, noticing immediately that something was off.

The blonde judge looked tense.

Tenser than usual, even.

"It'll be smaller groups - duets, actually!" Posen grinned maniacally.

Whatever, Beca thought. Duets might actually be fun.

Beca let her mind wander again. Chloe remembered Wednesday night, so Beca knew she wasn't completely out of it.

And there was a saying, wasn't there?

"Drunken words are sober thoughts"?

But then why did Chloe get so mad when they watched the show?

Shouldn't she be happy that Beca felt the same?

Maybe if Beca put some real thought into what she wanted to say about how she felt about the redhead, maybe she could make it work.

But Chloe thought she didn't want to be with her.

If the redhead could watch what Beca had said on the show and still think that Beca had anything but a big, stupid crush, what did she think?

"They don't need to be actual duets, and they don't need to be exclusively sung by women," Posen went on. "We want you to have fun with these, so don't be afraid to mix it up!"

And was Chloe really coming on to her, at the club last night? Beca thought back to the feeling of Chloe's tongue against her ear, and she shuddered.

She was insanely attracted to the woman.

But it was more, wasn't it?

Was it more for Chloe too?

Because the Chloe from a week ago, the one from the interview that they aired Wednesday, that one said she would never forgive Beca.

"But remember; we're cutting two people next week. The reason we're doing duets is because we'll cut the pair of performers who have the lowest votes!"

Beca thought about how she felt. It was more than lust, and, god, it was more than a crush at this point. The last few weeks had been hell, and it wasn't just because Chloe wasn't all over her.

It was the absence of Chloe. It was the fact that she was so near, and yet Beca couldn't even talk to her.

That hurt. More than she realized.

She had missed Chloe a lot.

"Stacie and CR, you'll be paired together," Posen was saying.

"And Ashley and Jessica, of course."

If Chloe hadn't been avoiding her - if they would have just talked like everyone told them to - Beca's sure they would have figured it out by now.

As soon as Beca had seen the show and believed that what they had was real, she should have just forced Chloe to talk to her.

But then she hadn't, she realized. Instead, she made it all weird again by talking to the show about it instead of Chloe.

And that was why Chloe so mad.

Maybe she was having the same doubts that Beca was, about doing the whole relationship-for-views thing.

"Amy and Emily, I want to see something good out of you two!"

But Beca wasn't. She wanted all of it. But with Chloe was so mad from last night, Beca wasn't sure she'd get the chance to say anything. She certainly wouldn't get any time away from the group; Chloe wouldn't let that happen again.

If they just had a chance, to get in the same room together, to be alone-

"And Beca and Chloe," Posen finished with a grimace. "You'll be our last duet pairing."

Beca looked to Posen, then over to Chloe, who was gaping at her.

Well, that'll do it.

Chapter Text

"Okay, so we're all set? Duets from any era, by anyone, and solos from 60s and 70s women! I can't wait to see what you ladies prepare!"

Beca slumped against the back of the couch as she took another drink of her tea, swallowing down a heavy sigh.

It was one thing to want to be with Chloe alone to talk about everything.

It was another to be forced to do so by the show.

Chloe evidently felt the same way. She rounded on the Posen as the judge tried to leave the pit.

"Bree, can I talk to you?" she asked. "I don't think-"

The blonde turned around and plastered on that fake smile again.

"It's out of my hands," Posen sighed. "And I hear that you two need to talk anyway."

"We really don't," Chloe said. She looked around for back-up, eyes landing first on Beca. The brunette gave a timid shrug, and Chloe rolled her eyes. She moved on to Stacie, but the other brunette didn’t help either.

"I don't know why you think I'm going to get you out of stuff like this," Stacie said. "I'm basically the one who got you into it."

"By the way, thanks, babe," she added with a wink at Posen, and the blonde blushed.

"It was the producers who put them together! It happened before you called last night," Posen whispered with a furtive look around. "And may I remind you, we are still on camera!"

Stacie smirked and turned, throwing a saucy look at the camera in the corner. She tossed her hair and pursed her lips at the equipment and the crew behind it.

"I never forget where my single is."

Chloe stomped her foot, and Beca bit back a laugh as the full sound of the childish gesture was absorbed by the plush carpet.

"Bree, seriously!" Chloe groaned. "I can't work with her!"

Amy raised her hand from her place on the couch.

"Yeah, actually, I'd like to switch, too," she said. She glared at Emily, who sat opposite of her. "Giraffe legs over here can't keep up with my talent. I need a seasoned soloist."

"But!" Emily jumped in. "The important thing is that we have fun, right?"

"Emily, don't take this the wrong way, but you're the dumbest person alive," Amy shot back.

"Amy..." Katherine warned over the couch.

Posen hummed a shrill tone as her smile stretched tighter.

"Partners are set," she asserted. "So pick your duets, and pick your solos, and get it done."

She flitted off, up the singular step towards the foyer and out the front door of the house.

"You called Bree?"

Beca turned back to the pit as Chloe confronted Stacie. The redhead had made her way back around the couch, stalking towards Stacie on the far side.

The tall brunette narrowed her eyes with a scoff.

"All I asked was if she could lock you two in a room somewhere," she replied. "I thought it would be more like a broom closet or a bathroom. I didn't think she'd make you sing together."

"What would even be the point of that, Stace!" Chloe fumed. "I'm not going to forgive to her!"

"Standing right here," Beca muttered. She gave Chloe a little wave, but the redhead ignored her.

"No, you know what, Chloe?" Stacie asked. She stood her full height in front of the smaller woman, but Chloe didn't back down. "You're being as stubborn as she was. You're being stupid, and you're being immature. Everyone here knows that you're in love with the midget!"

"Hi, hello, still here?"

"I'm not in love with anybody!" Chloe shouted. "And if I was, I certainly wouldn't need any help making it happen."

Stacie laughed derisively.

"You're lying to yourself," she replied. "No one's buying it, Chlo!"

"Guys!"

The group turned to Beca, and she felt her courage falter a bit under the heated gazes. She took a deep breath and turned to Chloe.

"Chloe? Pick us a song, and I'll just sing it," she asserted. "I won't do anything weird, and I won't, like, talk about it on the show or anything, anymore. Just tell me what to sing."

"And everyone else?" Beca continued, opening up to address the rest of the group.

"Stay out of it."

At that, she took her tea and retreated to her room.

*****

Pool house in 5.

Beca stared at the text. It'd been hours since the theme assignment this morning, and no one had come to talk to her. She'd been idly scrolling through 60s/70s playlists looking for something to sing and trying a few songs out.

But nothing was right, and she couldn't stop thinking about the duet.

Then, she'd gotten the text from Chloe.

She picked up the only thing she really needed; a Redbull, even though it was after 4. Her phone was about to die (Again? Seriously? I really need a new phone.) but she decided against bringing her charger.

If Chloe was still upset, they wouldn't be working together long.

She grabbed her hoodie and threw it on over her tank top for the short trip across the backyard. The rain hadn't let up, and she wasn't about to get a cold when she had a duet to perform with Chloe this week. This morning, she'd wanted to talk to Chloe alone about their - friendship? relationship? - but now, all she wanted to do was sing her best.

Beca wasn't about to be the reason that Chloe got kicked off the show.

And Chloe obviously wasn't ready for anything more.

I'm not sure I blame her, with all the confusing shit I put her through, Beca thought as she stepped outside. Rain fell in heavy drops on the balcony overhead and the texture concrete beyond the cover, and Beca breathed in the damp coolness.

It wasn't as earthy as Georgia, but it was still comforting. The smell of a storm.

She looked up and saw the lights in the pool house were on, and she sighed resolutely.

I'm just going to sing, Beca reminded herself. I'm not going to make it weird.

She sprinted across the concrete and yanked open the closest set of French doors, almost falling into the pool house with her frenetic momentum.

"It's just rain, Beca. It's not going to kill you."

Beca shook the few drops of water out of her hair and glanced around. Chloe was at the piano bench, guitar in hand, and Beca sucked in a breath.

Guitar Chloe was one of Beca's biggest weaknesses. She'd known it out during Hollywood week, but the whole thing really came into focus when she watched the episode. It was like a siren's call to her; every time she saw Chloe around the instrument, casually strumming or tuning, she was pulled to it.

Pulled to Chloe.

Strong hands, and stronger fingers, wrapped around the neck, pressing every perfect point-

She coughed.

"I wasn't- I mean, I didn't-" Beca stammered. She closed her eyes tightly.

Don't make it weird!

"Whatever," she sighed. "I just didn't want to get wet."

Too late for that, Beca thought.

She watched Chloe gently set the guitar aside. She balanced it against the edge of the bench and turned her attention back to Beca.

"So," she started. "I found a song that I think will work."

"All right, shoot."

Chloe took a deep breath, reaching beside her for her phone. She clicked through and found what she was looking for. A cheery orchestra filled the small space through the speakers - Chloe was using Bluetooth - and Beca laughed.

"Seriously? Don't Go Breaking My Heart?"

Chloe huffed and folded her arms over her chest.

"Duets are hard!" she groaned. "They're all about love, or sex, or, like just about to have sex, or angry sex!"

Beca laughed again, but Chloe shot her a glare.

"I'm serious," she said. "Anything that we pick is going to be, like, super loaded. Everybody's going to read into it."

She sighed, obviously frustrated, and her arms dropped to her side.

"Just, sing this? Please?"

Beca swallowed any of her sardonic retorts. She'd try.

She had to, for Chloe.

She cleared her throat and jumped in the song.

"Ooo, ooo, nobody knows it," she sang to the windows. "When I was down-"

"I was your clown," Chloe jumped on the next line, and Beca glanced over.

She'd seen it before, the look that Chloe gave her when they sang together. In the backyard, when they sang Bulletproof.

Then again when they sang the Just The Way You Are mash-up she made.

It was intense; the redhead's eyes locking onto hers in a way that gripped Beca, held her just so. She knew that Chloe was probably just trying to get the melody right, and that she needed to look at her to do that. But the feeling that the look inspired arrested Beca so thoroughly that it almost scared her.

She wanted to look away, to escape the pull of those crystalline blue eyes, but she couldn't.

Ooo, ooo.

Nobody knows it.

"Nobody knows," Beca sang. "Right from the start-"

"I gave you my heart," Chloe sang back.

"Oh, oh, I gave you my heart," they harmonized, and Beca fought the urge to gasp. She looked away, squinting at the pool outside.

They both knew the song.

And they both had good voices.

So of course it was going to sound absolutely fucking perfect.

Like, literally, better than the original. Better than anything Beca had heard in recent memory.

But those were the only reasons, though, that it sounded so good.

No other reasons.

Chloe turned off the song with a stuttering sigh.

"I have some others," she said softly. "But I haven't found anything that isn't… complicated."

Beca tried to get her breathing and her thoughts under control. There was no way she was helping the situation.

“We could do Fleetwood Mac. Or, isn't there a Stevie Nicks duet?" she asked, and Chloe nodded as she grimaced. She scrolled through her phone and clicked the song Beca was referring to.

“I, uh, left Fleetwood Mac off the list. But I pulled the duet, since I've saw you working on a mash-up with her stuff," she said as the song started to play. Beca nodded in time with the wailing guitar and tinny drums. They were the trademark sounds of the 80s and catchy in their own way. She saw Chloe mouthing the words, but she didn't sing, and Beca wasn't familiar enough with it to sing along, so she just listened.

Baby, you come knocking on my front door.

Same old line you used before.

And I said, "yeah," well what am I supposed to do?

I didn't know what I was getting into.

A man joined, and the voices dueled for dominance over the melody. Beca imagined her and Chloe singing, and she immediately blushed.

She was starting to see what Chloe meant about duets being a lot.

Stupid producers.

So you've had a little trouble in town.

Now you're keeping some demons down.

Stop dragging my, stop dragging my,

stop dragging my heart around!

A brief interlude, and then Stevie was back. Chloe actually started singing this time, softly, under her breath, and Beca couldn't help but watch her. She watched her lips form around the words with great care, like she was thinking hard.

The redhead kept her eyes down on her phone.

It's hard to think about what you've wanted.

It's hard to think about what you've lost.

This doesn't have to be the big "get even."

This doesn't have to be anything at all.

Then, the man's voice, but Chloe kept singing.

I know you really want to tell me good-bye.

I know you really want to be your own girl.

Chloe looked up and caught Beca staring, and Beca looked away. Chloe stopped singing as the two singers sang together again.

Baby, you could never look me in the eye.

Yeah, you buckle with the weight of the words.

Stop dragging my, stop dragging my,

stop dragging my heart around!

Chloe clicked the song off, and the pool house was silent save for the rain pelting the windows.

"A little on the nose," the redhead said after a moment, and Beca chuckled involuntarily.

"Yeah," she agreed.

Another silence hung between them as Chloe looked at her phone. Beca was restless. It was so awkward and stunted between them. Everything felt forced, and she hated it.

Especially because she felt like she was the one causing all of the awkwardness.

She cleared her throat.

“So no Stevie. Anything other contenders?”

Chloe picked another song, and Beca blew the air out of her lungs.

"Chloe, I can't sing I Got You, Babe with you."

"I was trying to find a solo! It's in the same era!" Chloe said quickly, scrolling through her phone for something else. "I didn't even - whatever! I was just-"

She clicked something, and they were back in the eighties. Tonal synth and shuttering percussion underscored a female vocalist.

They let it play, and then Beca spoke.

"I don't know this one."

Chloe shook her head, signifying that she didn't recognize it either.

What would you think if I told you

I've always wanted to hold you?

I don't know what we're afraid of;

nothing would change if we made love.

"Oh my god," Beca laughed.

"Ugh!"

Chloe turned the song off and slammed her phone on the bench next to her. She threw her head back and groaned at the ceiling.

"Okay," Beca jumped in. She pulled out her phone and searched for a playlist. "Okay, we can find something."

She scrolled through a playlist titled Top 100 duets, wincing as she read the titles. She found a different, musical playlist that seemed more promising and started scrolling.

"What about this one, from Oklahoma!?" she asked. She put it on, and Chloe looked back to her.

She gave a little tilt of the head, and Beca realized she didn't know People Will Say We're In Love.

Okay, this might be a hard sell.

"We could play it up?" she tried as the song played. Chloe shot her a skeptical look, but it wasn't a no, so Beca kept going.

"You know, be a little cheeky? We could be mad at each other. The lyrics - well, listen."

She moved across the room, pulling the stool from underneath the bar and moving it close to where Chloe was sitting. She held the phone up between them, and Chloe leaned in a little bit.

She could probably hook it up to the speakers, like Chloe did.

She probably should.

In a second.

Why do they think up stories

that link my name with yours?

Why do the neighbors gossip all day

behind their doors?

I know a way to prove

what they say is quite untrue.

Here is the gist, a practical list of

"don'ts" for you.

The song went on, but Beca stopped listening. She was too busy watching Chloe. The older woman was listening intently, with a frown threatening to break at the corners of her lips.

She was beautiful; red curls framing her face like ivy. Copper silk clinging to the curves of face and shoulders, gently and winding, and Beca was close enough to smell the vanilla that she'd come to associate with Chloe. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath in.

"It's still too much," Chloe sighed, and Beca's eyes flew open. She looked up to find Chloe gazing at her. They were within arms’ reach - Beca could lean forward and kiss her.

She watched Chloe's eyes flit down to her lips, and Beca felt hers do the same, and she quickly sat up straight.

Too close.

Beca clicked the next arrow desperately, and the familiar tune of You're The One That I Want from Grease started.

"Yeah, that won't work either," Chloe sighed. "If we sang something like this, they're going to think we're together."

Beca nodded.

Would that really be so bad?

"What?" Chloe asked.

Beca coughed and turned away, reaching for her Redbull.

"Did I say something?" she replied after she took a drink.

She hadn't said anything, had she? She didn't say that out loud, no way.

"No, but your face..." Chloe started to say, but then she stopped. She shook her head.

"Nothing, nevermind," she said sharply. "Go to the next one."

Beca clicked on the next song. It started with a whisper, so she leaned in, and Chloe did too.

I feel your fingers

cold on my shoulder,

your chilling touch

as it runs down my spine.

Watching your eyes

as they invade my soul;

forbidden pleasures,

I'm afraid to make mine.

Beca jumped up and ran a hand through her hair, pausing the song.

"Jesus," she muttered, refusing to look at Chloe. "Who knew, uh, Jekyll & Hyde was so, uhm-"

"Yeah," she heard Chloe reply.

Silence stretched between them once again. The storm was picking up outside, and Beca screwed her eyes shut.

She should leave.

She could find a song on her own, and they could practice tomorrow.

She was about to suggest the plan to Chloe when she heard the redhead curse loudly.

"Shit!"

Beca spun to see that Chloe had jumped up and was rushing to the door.

"What is it?" she asked, but the question was quickly answered when she heard Chloe rattling the door.

"They locked us in!"

Beca felt her stomach drop.

"What? How?"

"Check the group message!” Chloe yelled as she shook the doors. Meeting too much resistance, she pulled out her phone and started a Facetime call.

Beca clicked out of Spotify, scrolling to her messages. There - in the permanently muted group message - Beca saw a picture of Amy and Jessica grinning next to multiple chairs shoved under the handles of the pool house's French doors. The picture had come from Stacie, whose voice suddenly came through Chloe's phone as the video call connected.

"What's up, doll?"

"This isn't funny," Chloe said. "Let us out."

"Did you pick a song yet?"

Chloe glanced over to Beca, who shrugged.

Why would that matter?

"No?" Chloe said. "But-"

Beca heard Stacie laugh through the phone.

"Beca, dear," she called. "Chloe obviously didn't see the rest of the messages. Can you read them to her?"

Beca skimmed the messages quickly and sighed as she rolled her eyes.

"They're not letting us out 'til we pick a song."

"Or you guys fuck, whatever comes first," Stacie added cheerfully.

"Yeah, I wasn't going to say that part," Beca muttered, but Chloe had turned her attention back to her friend.

"Stacie, you can't leave us in here. There's no food," she reasoned, and Beca heard Stacie laugh again.

"We stocked the cabinets this afternoon while you two were off sulking," she replied. "You have everything you need - food, water, even booze."

Somebody yelled in the background of the call, and Stacie asked them to clarify. Once the person - CR, by the sound of it - repeated themselves, the older brunette laughed again.

"Right, and a bed," she added suggestively.

Chloe stomped off into the bedroom, and Beca heard the bathroom door shut. She could hear Chloe yelling at her phone, but she couldn't hear the specifics, so she didn't try to listen.

So, she was locked in the pool house with Chloe for the foreseeable future?

Maybe all night?

Didn’t I tell everyone to stay out of our shit!

She checked her phone. It was after five, and she was starting to feel a little hungry. Maybe she'd make them something-

She heard Chloe scream at Stacie again.

On second thought, maybe she'd just find a song for them to sing so they could leave.

Her phone chimed to tell her it had 5% battery left, and her stomach growled.

She scrubbed a hand over her face and sighed.

They'd figure something out.

*****

Twenty minutes later, Chloe came back into the kitchen. Her eyes were puffy, and her face was red, but Beca tried not to look.

Instead, she focused on the messy island between them. The surface was littered with packages, bottles, and bowls that Beca had pulled out of the cabinets around her. Something beeped, and she flipped back around to the stove, giving one of her pans a quick stir.

"Sorry," Beca rushed as she tried to move some of the containers away from the edge. Chloe blinked at her as she stood back.

"I figured, well, I was getting hungry, and I don't work well when I'm hungry, and I didn't know when you'd be back, so I decided to make something before we picked a song. That way we can just get it done."

Beca pushed a piece of hair off her forehead thoughtlessly.

"But whoever stocked these cabinets is a moron," she went on. "Because all I found was two bananas, a half bag of doritos, and some pasta. So I went into the fridge and found that somebody had been living here? At some point? Or, at least, they were here for a little bit, because I found marinara and milk and butter. And so I grabbed the- uh, the vodka. And I'm making pasta. With vodka sauce."

Chloe surveyed the mess, and, with an air of defeat, she fell onto one of the stools that lined the edge of the countertop. She pulled the bottle of vodka toward her and took a swig without a word.

"Okay, yeah," Beca said. "I can get you a cup though, because I don't know whose mouth has been on that."

Chloe flinched, either in response to Beca's comment or at the alcohol. Beca grabbed a cup and threw a couple pieces of ice in.

"There's Sprite in there too," she offered. "If you want to mix it."

But it looked like Chloe had opted out of any mixers as Beca watched her pour an ample amount of vodka over the ice. She was about to say something when the timer went off again.

The sauce was simmering, and the noodles were done, so she drained them in the sink. She pulled some toasted bread out of the oven and plated everything up.

They ate in silence, with Beca still standing at the counter against the back wall. She was happy that she'd been able to make them something half decent. She wasn't sure what would have happened to them if she had to make dorito-banana sandwiches.

"You can cook," Chloe said, suddenly breaking the silence.

Beca nodded with her eyes down.

"A couple things, yeah," she replied. "I had to learn, when my mom got sick."

"Your dad taught you?"

Beca let out a coughing laugh as she tried not to choke on her penne.

"I taught myself," she managed to get out as she caught her breath.

"As much as my dad fancied himself a 'teach a man to fish' kinda guy, he didn't really teach me anything."

She looked up and saw Chloe was confused, and she sighed.

"It's a Christian thing," she brushed off. "My dad, he's a religious studies professor at Barden."

Chloe nodded and resumed eating.

"So my phone's dying," Beca said a second later, and Chloe glanced back up. She gestured towards Chloe's phone, which was sitting on the counter beside her plate.

"Can we use yours to find a song?"

The redhead nodded again and unlocked the phone. She clicked her music app and navigated through something, then clicked a song.

Muted, jazzy brass resounded in the small kitchen as the music picked up through the living room speakers.

Beca listened through the first few lines.

Stars, shining bright above you.

Night breezes seem to whisper, "I love you."

Birds, singing in the sycamore tree.

Dream a little dream of me.

Beca couldn't stop her smirk.

"This is, like, the most romantic song I can imagine," she laughed, and Chloe gave a hopeless smirk around her fork.

"Still a good song," she offered through a mouthful of pasta.

"And, am I supposed to sing Louis Armstrong?" Beca asked. "And you're singing Ella Fitzgerald?"

"Shut up, Mitchell," she warned as she clicked the next song.

Now I've had the time of my life.

No, I've never felt this way before.

Yes, I swear, it's the truth, and I owe it all to you.

"You're kidding," Beca laughed.

The guitar picked up, and Chloe finished her vodka water. She stood from her place at the counter as the guitar and drums picked up, and she gave a little swivel of her hips.

"If you can do the lift, I think we could kill it," she said sarcastically over her shoulder as she danced into the living room. Beca followed, slowly, carefully, like whatever tentative truce they'd struck was a house of cards she could unwittingly knock over at any moment.

Which she would.

Undoubtedly.

It was only a matter of time.

"So we take each other's hand, cause we seem to understand the urgency!" Chloe sang, and Beca laughed.

"Just remember!" she called to Chloe's retreating form, and the redhead turned.

"You're the one thing," Chloe sang, and Beca finished the line as the male vocalist.

"I can't get enough of."

"So I'll tell you something," Chloe went on.

"This could be lov-" they started to sing, but Chloe fell off abruptly, turning to face the drumset.

They were quiet, but the song continued, and Beca grabbed the stool, pulling it to the center of the room. Chloe let the song play through the chorus before shutting it off.

The quiet parts were getting unbearable at this point. It was like every time they took a step forward, they took two back, and Beca cleared her throat.

"May I?" Beca asked, reaching out for Chloe's phone. The redhead shrugged and handed it over.

Beca searched something, clicking through a couple songs before she found the right one.

"Hear me out," she said, then she clicked on the song. The piano-like chords at the start of Chainsmoker's Closer swelled, and Beca started talking quickly as Chloe's face fell.

"We go ultra-modern. This song literally just came out."

"Beca-"

Hey, I was doing just fine before I met you,

I drank too much, and that's an issue,

but I'm okay.

Hey, you tell your friends it was nice to meet them,

but I hope I never see them again.

"Beca, this song is literally about ex sex," Chloe yelled over the music.

"Is it?" Beca winced. "I just thought, maybe-"

She tried to mumble her way through the pre-chorus, but she didn't know the words.

I know it breaks your heart -

moved to the city in a broke down car and -

two years, no calls,

and now you're looking pretty in a hotel bar, and

I can't stop.

No, I can't stop.

Apparently Chloe knew the words though, because she took the high part over the chorus, and Beca let her gaze soften as she watched the redhead sing.

She was mocking Beca, trying to call her attention to the words, but Beca felt her eyes widen.

Even if she was making fun of her, Chloe's voice was still amazing.

And the song was sexy.

So baby, pull me closer

in the backseat of your Rover

that I know you can't afford.

Bite that tattoo on your shoulder.

Chloe was still singing, but Beca wasn't listening.

She was thinking about if Chloe did bite the tattoo on her shoulder, her canines digging into the supple flesh as Beca gasped, Chloe clenching around Beca, clinging to her as she-

Shit!

"Shit!" she whispered, and she clicked on another song.

"Britney Spears and Madonna?" Chloe asked, incredulous. "Two of the sexiest people alive?"

"They're not fucking!"

"No," Chloe sighed. "They're just trying to get people to fuck them."

Me Against The Music's looping guitar rang through the speakers. Beca tried to breathe, tried to control her reaction.

She needed to reign it in.

Sure, she'd indulged in a drink too, but she wasn't drunk.

She needed to get her shit together. She owed it to Chloe to do this right. To focus on the music.

And she was determined to do just that - to just sing - until Chloe picked up the song with a perfect Britney impersonation.

I'm up against the speaker,

trying to take on the music,

It's like a competition,

Me against the beat -

I wanna get in a zone.

I wanna get in a zone.

"Nevermind!" Beca shouted, and Chloe laughed.

"This is useless," Beca mumbled as she clicked next on the song.

Another 2000s hit, Promiscuous, and Beca groaned.

"Duets are hard," she said helplessly, and Chloe sighed as she slumped into the armchair that had migrated from the bedroom onto the drumset side of the living room over the course of the last few weeks.

"That's what I was trying to tell you," she replied.

The incessant beat continued to beat through the speaker, and Beca felt like it was mocking her. It was a bop though.

She hummed along, and Chloe did too.

At least they weren't at each other's throats. They weren't fighting, and Chloe seemed less upset, after the phone call and dinner. Maybe Stacie had talked to her, or maybe the redhead was just tired.

Beca didn't know, and she was a little scared to trust it.

"Roses are red, some diamonds are blue. Chivalry is dead, but you're still kinda cute."

Beca laughed as Chloe sang. She met the redhead's eye, and Chloe's brow shot up, challenging Beca to respond.

"Hey - I can't keep my mind off you," she replied. "Where you at? Do you mind if I come through?"

They laughed, and Beca dejectedly handed the phone back to Chloe. The redhead sighed and clicked back through the songs they'd already looked at as Promiscuous continued to play.

Beca continued to follow along with the song as it played until she couldn't hold it in any longer.

"I want you on my team," Beca sang under her breath, and Chloe didn't miss a beat in hitting the next line.

"So does everybody else."

Beca flushed. It was too much. She was too attracted to Chloe, too frustrated by the situation. She wanted Chloe, and she wanted to be with Chloe. She was trying to fight it, and everybody and everything kept trying to force them together.

She was trapped, figuratively and physically, and she couldn't take it anymore.

She felt like she didn't have any say in her life.

Like she was just a puppet for their theater.

And she was mad.

"We'll just do Wicked," she said aloud, louder than she was expecting. And louder than Chloe was expecting, too, by the looks of it. Her eyes jumped up to Beca as the brunette stood.

"What is This Feeling?" she grimaced. "Put it on."

Chloe navigated her app and clicked on the song.

The intro started, and Chloe took a second to jump in, but soon they were singing together.

There's been some confusion,

for you see, my roommate is-

"Unusually, and exceeding- uhm, - and altogether quite impossible-" Chloe stuttered.

"Blonde," Beca seethed.

All of the anger was coming to the surface. She was so frustrated by her lack of agency.

Chloe didn't want to be with her, but the show wanted them together.

And their friends wanted them together.

And she wanted them together.

The whole fucking universe wanted them together.

And she was trying to be nice, trying to hold back and fight the feeling, but she was so angry at this point. But at least there was a song for that.

"What is this feeling, so sudden and new?" Chloe sang.

"I felt the moment I laid eyes on you," Beca spat back, forcing eye contact with the redhead.

Chloe looked away, dragging her eyes to the windows.

"My pulse is rushing," she mumbled, but Beca heard her, so she kept going. She moved towards where Chloe was seated.

"My head is reeling."

"My, uh- what's the-"

"What is this feeling?" Beca sang loudly. She was in front of Chloe, but the redhead was refusing to look at her. She put a hand on Chloe's jaw lightly, turning the older woman towards her.

"Fervid as a flame," Beca sang, and Chloe quickly joined.

Does it have a name?

Yes, yes-

They were looking at each other now, and Beca was forcing the eye contact that Chloe held every time they sang.

She poured every ounce of emotion she could into the note as they held it together, and she saw Chloe falter.

Loathing.

Unadulterated loathing.

"For your- uh-"

"Your voice-" Beca growled.

"Your clothing!" Chloe remembered, and then she was up, stepping towards Beca with the same heat in her glare.

They sang together, and Beca felt a sick sense of pride in their matched energy.

Maybe they were finally getting it all out there.

Let's just say

I loathe it all.

Every little trait,

however small,

makes my very flesh begin to crawl

with simple, utter loathing.

Beca advanced on Chloe, stepping into her space. Chloe tried to pass her, but she tripped, and Beca caught her.

She pulled her up, close to her, as they continued to sing.

There's a strange exhilaration

in such total detestation.

It's so pure,

so strong.

The harmony rang out, perfect as always, and Chloe shook out of Beca's grasp, pushing past and then walking away from the brunette towards the kitchen.

But Beca followed as they continued to sing.

Though I do admit it came on fast,

still I do believe that it can last.

And I will be loathing you

my whole life long.

"I don't loathe you," Chloe said over her shoulder.

Beca laughed as the second verse started.

"That's news to me," she chortled. "Because it feels like you don't want anything to do with me."

"I don't get it," Chloe asked as she spun back around. Beca was right behind her, and she could see that the redhead wasn't expecting to see her so close. Chloe leaned away from the proximity, stepping back again, further into the kitchen.

"I don't get you," she clarified as the song continued to swell.

These things are sent to try us.

"What happened the other night?" Chloe asked. "Why didn't you-"

"Chloe, you were wasted," Beca tried to explain. She grabbed Chloe's hand and pulled it to her chest. "I didn't want to mess this up again."

The song was still playing, and they just stared at each other. As Galinda and Elphaba continued to express their loathing towards each other, Chloe was starting to fall apart. Beca could see it as the redhead pulled her hand away.

The ups and downs were starting to wear on her; although Beca thought they were conjuring an entirely different feeling in the redhead than the one she experienced.

Chloe looked tired, where Beca had been frantic.

Chloe was exhausted.

Beca was amped up.

They were both done, but for totally different reasons.

"Boo!"

Beca couldn't help singing the last Elphaba line, but Chloe didn't flinch. Instead, she paced back to her chair, reaching deep within it to dig out her phone. She paused the song before the next one started and turned back around, leveling Beca with a single look.

"What is this?" Chloe asked. "Why are we doing this?

She let out a sardonic laugh before she added, "And why is it so hard?"

Beca let out a sigh that she felt like she'd been holding for the last week.

This was her chance.

Don't fuck this up.

"Chloe, I like you," she said simply. "But I hurt you. I was selfish, and I was scared, and I'm trying not to be that person anymore. Because I fucked up, and I don't want to do that again. When you came onto me at the club the other night, I didn't know if you would regret it, if you were just, like, wanting to hook up-"

"I don't 'hook up'," Chloe butted in, and Beca breathed a heavy sigh.

"Okay, yeah," she continued as her gaze drifted towards the windows behind Chloe. "But I don't know that. I don't know you, Chloe."

"I want to, though," she added quickly, glancing back to Chloe. The redhead was regarding her thoughtfully - kindly, if Beca let herself be hopeful about it - and Beca closed her eyes.

"I kept putting myself first," she said. "Even in, like, feeling bad. I'm sorry. I can't do that again. So if staying away from you is the easiest way to not hurt you, I want to do that. Because it seemed like that's what you wanted. And it's easier, sometimes, to just stay away, but I can't stop lov-"

She turned away as she opened her eyes, away from Chloe, towards the kitchen.

"I can't stop thinking about you," she said softly. "I'm falling for you, hard. It's, like, more than a crush at this point, dude. And I don't wanna mess that up. I don't wanna hurt you."

"So don't."

Beca gasped. Chloe was right behind her, her voice ghosting over Beca's shoulder as if it was in her head.

"But I can't-"

"Stop thinking about how you might hurt me," Chloe cut her off as she wrapped her arms around the smaller woman. Beca inhaled deeply as she felt arms settle over her biceps, then high on her abs, and she melted into the touch.

"I'm all sorts of fucked up, and I'm not sure I'm going to get better," Beca whispered. "What if I screw up?"

Her gaze was still forward on the dark hallway into the bedroom, beyond the kitchen, and she listened as rain hit the windows rhythmically.

Chloe waited a moment before she chuckled, right into her ear. Beca felt it deep in her chest.

"I trust you," she replied, and Beca turned her head just enough for their eyes to meet.

And that was all it took.

A pure expression of trust.

Beca turned further, twisting in Chloe's arms, and Chloe leaned in slowly. They met in the middle with a kiss that took Beca's breath away - or, what was left of it.

It was soft, sweet, their lips melting and folding over each other with every unsaid thing that they couldn't wait to tell each other. Like a promise; an unspoken binding of some deeper affection that surged between them, between their lips as they sank into each other.

They fell apart, pressing their foreheads together as they smiled, and Beca felt a laugh bubble up inside her chest.

"We still don't have a song," she whispered, and Chloe's eyes flashed a shade darker than they'd been.

Shit, did I fuck up already? Is she mad?

"Yeah," Chloe exhaled seductively. "I'm not really worried about that right now."

She spun Beca fully in her arms until they were chest to chest, and Beca gasped.

"Why don't we work on the other thing?" Chloe suggested with a predatory kind of smirk. She ran a hand up Beca's arm, then her neck, twirling in the short dark hairs at the base of her skull.

"What other thing?" Beca asked as her brain shorted out.

Chloe gave a little giggle and leaned in, pressing her lips just below Beca's ear.

"If you come with me to the bedroom, I'll show you."

Chapter Text

Chloe pushed Beca backwards then immediately filled the space, stepping to the brunette as they moved through the kitchen. Gasping, Beca watched as Chloe reached between them, pulling the zipper of Beca's hoodie down and opening the soft material.

"It's been so hard to stay away from you, Becs," Chloe whispered as she slid the offending garment off Beca's shoulders. In spite of the heat, Beca shivered.

0 to 100 real quick.

They crossed the threshold into the dark bedroom as rain continued to beat against the windows. Beca felt the back of her knees hit the edge of the bed, but she didn't really register where they were standing.

Because everywhere was Chloe.

Lips pressed against hers, and Chloe's tongue running along the seam they'd made. Beca gave in, opening her mouth to the older woman, and one of them moaned. Beca felt it on her tongue, and on Chloe's tongue as it wrapped around hers.

Chloe's hands were at her waist, pulling Beca's tank top from the confines of her sweats.

They broke apart as Beca groaned, and Chloe pulled the shirt over Beca's head. She leaned back in and smiled against Beca's lips.

"It was so hot, watching you these last few weeks," Chloe murmured into her mouth, and the brunette pulled back.

"What?" she asked, blinking her eyes open. Chloe's eyes were already open, and she was watching her with pensive eyes and a soft, open smile. She ran a thumb over Beca's lips, and Beca inhaled sharply.

"You were changing, Beca," Chloe whispered. She continued to trace her fingers down over Beca’s skin. She ran a light fingertip down Beca's neck, then over her breastbone. Beca closed her eyes as Chloe reached the edge of her bra - a black sports bra, she didn't know this was going to happen! - and stopped to rest there as she spoke.

"You were helping people with their songs," Chloe smiled. Her eyes were cast down to where her fingers lay. "You were happier, too. It was a huge turn on."

Beca let out an exhale of a laugh, and Chloe looked up.

"It was hot to see me help people?"

The redhead's pupils were blown and dark, so much so that Beca could only see a sliver of her bright blue irises in the scant light that spilled into the bedroom.

Soft and open, but heated.

Like she wanted to devour Beca, but also like she wanted to hold her.

It was a lot.

"Mhm," the redhead moaned. In a quick move, she shoved Beca onto the bed and climbed on top of her. Beca surged upwards and caught Chloe, both hands sliding up her back to hold the redhead close. Her hips moved as Chloe's thighs came to bracket them, and Beca brought her face into Chloe's neck.

She pressed open mouth kisses into the taut tendons as Chloe stretched her head upwards.

"You were opening up," she went on, and Beca hummed against her neck. Her nose found the edge of Chloe's jaw, and she held it just outside the hard bone. She felt Chloe's pulse thudding wildly.

"No one knew why you were suddenly being so helpful," Chloe moaned as Beca nipped and pulled at whatever her mouth could find. "We couldn't trust it. And every time we turned around, you were there - playing piano for Jessica, or helping Emily with her song."

Chloe pushed Beca down sharply, and Beca let out a grunt. Chloe pinned her there and leaned over her, her silky copper curls creating a curtain around her face. She stared straight into Beca's eyes.

Into my soul, feels like, Beca thought with another shiver.

"Do you know how hot that was?" she groaned. "Not just the helping, but the song? Do you know what that did to me?"

Beca shook her head, eyes wide, and Chloe laughed. She took her hands off Beca's shoulders and brought them to her own waist. In a flash, her sweater was gone, and Beca was gaping at miles of freckled flesh.

Hard lines of abs and pecs. Toned muscles interrupted only by a plain grey bra with what looked like a little front clasp. Chloe was ripped, and with every deep, full breath that the redhead took above her, Beca watched the muscles strain.

At the junction of her shoulder and chest.

And on her ribs and just below, where her obliques bisected the smooth planes of her stomach.

Beca felt Chloe's eyes on her as she drank in the sight. The redhead put her hands on Beca’s where they had been glued to the hips above her, and Beca loosened the grip she didn’t realize she tightened.

"It was, like, killing me,” Chloe lamented. "You were finally being your best self, and I couldn't have anything to do with it."

"Why?" Beca asked, glancing up to meet Chloe's eyes.

"Because I didn't know why you were being so nice," the redhead replied. She leaned off of Beca, and the smaller woman moved to follow her with a keening sound, but Chloe held her off with a devilish grin.

Beca tried to prop herself up on her far elbow as Chloe settled over one of her legs, but the redhead kept Beca where she was by trapping her with an arm over the brunette's body.

Beca watched as Chloe's hand ran down her, outside the swell of her breast and over the sensitive skin at the bottom of her ribs. She hissed as Chloe scrapped her nails over her stomach, then further.

Then she fell flat on her back with a rough laugh as Chloe's wandering fingers met the waistband of her sweatpants.

Breathing hard, she screwed her eyes shut as Chloe leaned over her. Chloe slipped her hand into the loose fabric, sliding under her tight boy-shorts underwear and against her pubic bone.

"And then you did that mash-up," Chloe whispered. Beca felt the hot air on her cheek, and she opened her eyes right as Chloe captured her lips.

What did she just say?

To say she was overstimulated would be an injustice to the definition of the word.

Chloe was over her, holding her with the weight of her body, kissing her and touching her and yet she was also trying to have a very real, very important conversation.

Beca was drowning in her - in her touch, in lust.

Which, honestly, was totally okay with her.

Except that Chloe was trying to talk to her.

Chloe thrust her tongue between Beca's teeth, and she curled it, pulling Beca forward as the brunette tried to chase the retreating muscle. One of Chloe's hands threaded gently into Beca's hair while the other pushed further into her sweats, and Beca let a choked moan loose between Chloe's lips.

She felt the redhead smile as she continued to explore with her fingers. Beca inhaled sharply as the pads of her fingertips skimmed over Beca's clit.

Pushing forward instead, and Chloe began to rub against her sex.

Beca groaned loudly, pulling away from the kiss to fucking breathe for a second.

She heard Chloe chuckle.

"That mash-up was it for me," Chloe whispered, and all Beca could offer in response was a muted whimper, eyes still closed. Chloe stroked at her, and one of her fingers slid into her, just the first knuckle, and Beca chased it with her hips.

"I knew you were watching us, on the show," Chloe went on. "You were getting better for us. For all of us, really. You wanted us to be better."

"And it was so-"

Chloe paused, teeth clamping over Beca's cheek as the brunette squirmed beneath her.

"-fucking-"

She thrust one finger into her fully. Beca surged forward, clenching around it with a strained shout.

"-hot," she finished.

Chloe shifted and bit down on Beca's earlobe as the digit inside her started to move.

In and out, with precise intent. Beca was sweating, panting, grabbing at anything she could. Beca felt Chloe smile around the trapped flesh of Beca's earlobe as she tried to move with and against her. Chloe let her lobe go and giggled into Beca's neck.

"It was incredible, Beca," she whispered. "And it brought us all together. You brought us all together."

"Dude!"

Beca grabbed Chloe's arm to still it, her other hand sinking nails into the redhead's hip. Chloe gasped at the sharpness as Beca tried to steady herself.

"Why'd you stop?" Chloe whispered.

Beca sucked in deep breaths through her nose.

Wait why did I stop?

"Oh, right," Beca whispered. She pulled Chloe's hand out of her sweats, ignoring both of their protests, and she forced Chloe off of her.

"I can't do both," she said softly. She fought through the embarrassment and continued. “I can't, uhm, I can't listen to you when you're inside me. And I want to listen, but I can’t, like, focus.

Beca looked over just in time to see Chloe's worry break into a soft giggle. The redhead's gaze immediately softened as their eyes met.

"Sorry," Chloe replied bashfully.

They were next to each other on the bed, hands intertwined in Beca's lap.

She was still incredibly keyed up - she could feel her insides clenching around nothing in a rolling, stunted rhythm - and the coil low in her abdomen felt tight.

But she wasn't about to miss something important because Chloe was too busy getting her off.

She just needed Chloe to pick one.

"So are we going to talk, or…?" Chloe teased, running a finger up Beca's side.

Fine, she thought. I'll pick.

Beca flipped over and straddled Chloe's lap, pulling her into a deep, full kiss. She surged into Chloe's mouth, and their teeth clashed. Her hands came up on either side of the redhead's neck. They cradled Chloe's head, held it close as Beca continued her assault, moaning into Chloe's mouth as the redhead returned the sounds in kind.

Keens and whimpers from deep in her throat, in her chest.

Rumbling moans.

Stuttered breaths.

Like a melody all its own, the sounds of an unencumbered Chloe. Lilts and laughs and sighs, and gasps, all of them combining to form the score, and the blood rushing in Beca's ears provided a steady percussion.

Chloe pulled them apart with a small pop, and Beca buried her head in the deep tresses of red hair.

"I just can't believe-"

"Chlo," Beca warned, biting roughly on the soft skin under Chloe's jaw. Chloe gasped and rolled her body forward. She moaned as she came up, arms tightening around Beca.

"You can't blame me, Becs!" she whimpered. "It's been weeks!"

"Since you kissed me?" Beca asked, pulling back to look the redhead in the eye.

"Since we talked!" Chloe replied earnestly.

Beca rolled her eyes with a mocking huff, resuming her onslaught against the redhead's neck.

"I just have so much I want to tell you, about your performances, and your songs! It's been so-"

"Okay, no," Beca growled.

Beca stood and pulled her sports bra over her head, then stepped out of her sweats and underwear, leaving her completely naked in front of Chloe. It was dark in the pool house bedroom, but Beca swore she could see Chloe's eyes turn a shade darker in the low light. The brunette reached forward and popped Chloe's bra open.

Chloe made quick work of shedding the garment as Beca turned her attention to Chloe's dark jeans. She undid the button and zipper, motioning for the redhead to lift so she could take them off.

"I just think-" Chloe started to say, propping herself up on her elbows as Beca peeled the jeans away. With a groan, Beca quickly settled between Chloe's thighs and pressed a kiss at the top border of the lace panties she found there, low on Chloe's abdomen. The redhead's moan cut off her thought, and Beca smirked.

"Yeah, we're trying to stop that," she whispered into the skin. She wrapped her teeth around the fabric and began to pull.

Beca kept her eyes up on Chloe as she pulled the lace down. She watched Chloe watch her, felt the heat in the stare and heard the little gasping breaths that pulsed through the redhead. And she could smell her arousal as she slid down- then felt it, as she pulled the lace with her hand once she got them mid-thigh.

Chloe had soaked them. Beca could feel it on the damp fabric.

And she was about to taste it first hand.

"We have to be careful," Chloe sighed as she watched Beca. The brunette quirked an eyebrow as she kissed her way up Chloe's thighs.

"If we pick a sexy duet, I might fuck you onstage," she gasped, and Beca couldn't help the eye roll that she gave in response.

She pulled her mouth off the redhead's leg and tried her best to look serious.

"Chlo?" she said. Her tone was low and gravelly, and she loved to see the effect it had on Chloe. Her eyes fluttered closed, and her hips twitched up. But Beca had her thighs pinned under her arms, and she wasn’t letting her go anywhere.

"I mean this in the nicest way possible-" Beca said, then paused.

"Please shut up."

She didn't even wait to hear the response. Instead, she dropped down and pressed her tongue fully against Chloe's clit, and the redhead let out a moaning shriek.

Beca felt hands thread through her hair as she sucked and licked, spreading Chloe open underneath her with her tongue. The redhead fell back, and Beca forced Chloe's legs wider as she licked down, shoving her tongue through Chloe's wetness and into her.

Chloe's hips rose to meet her as she cursed roughly.

Beca curled her tongue inside, and she felt a hand tighten in her hair. Chloe's thighs threatened to close around her, and Beca had to fight to hold them open.

She moved back up, circling once around the redhead's clit with her tongue before pulling the nub between her lips. Another responsive hair grasp, and she opened her eyes, glancing up at Chloe.

Which, in retrospect, might have been the wrong move.

Because Chloe looked absolutely breathtaking.

Beca looked up the expanse of taut abs stretched out to peaked breasts, one of which Chloe had taken into her own hand, rolling a nipple between her fingers. Her neck was craned, as Chloe's head was thrown back in ecstasy, and Beca could see every muscle tense as she sucked.

Beca groaned at the sight and reached up, placing her hand over Chloe's, matching her roughness as she pinched her nipple.

Chloe's head snapped down to look at her.

Beca watched as Chloe's face broke open - a loud, gasping smile as she tensed - and Beca quickly shoved a pair of fingers into Chloe's core. She could feel Chloe come gently as a flood of wetness coated her fingers, but she didn't stop sucking or pulling the nipple in her fingers.

Instead, she pressed hard, flattening her tongue against the redhead as the fingers inside curled.

"Beca!"

Chloe screamed her name as she came again - harder this time - and Beca felt every contraction in the woman under her.

She closed her eyes and pressed, firm but still, as Chloe rode out her orgasm.

The redhead rolled and twitched, and Beca held her there, letting the older woman take what she needed from her. Stuttering breaths began to slow, and Beca felt like Chloe was finally starting to catch her breath. She pulled her tongue back with a little roll.

And then she felt Chloe giggle.

At first she thought it was aftershocks coursing through the redhead's body, but then she heard it.

A soft, simple sound that shook through the redhead underneath Beca's fingers.

Beca slowly pulled her fingers from inside Chloe and pressed kisses into her thighs. She moved up Chloe's body, kissing the underside of her breast as she went.

"Why did we wait again?" Chloe asked dreamily, and Beca smiled. She wrapped an arm around Chloe and pulled her into her chest as she laid on her back.

"Because I was too busy being an asshole," she said softly, in a serious tone.

Chloe just hummed.

"I mean I knew it was going to be good, but I didn't know it was going to be that good," Chloe sighed, raising a hand to lightly slap Beca on the chest.

Her hand fell heavily with overexertion.

"How dare you make me wait for that," she went on, grinning broadly with her eyes closed.

But Beca frowned into the sweat-drenched red curls that were splayed across her.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, leaning in to press a kiss into Chloe's hair. She felt tears well up and tried to blink them away but a few spilled over her cheeks. "I'm so sorry."

"Hey, wait, what?"

Chloe pushed herself off of Beca's chest so she could look into her eyes, and Beca quickly tried to wipe away the tears.

"Baby," Chloe said, reaching up to rest a hand on Beca's cheek.

She brushed a tear away with her thumb.

"Baby, this is perfect. You're perfect. And everything we went through? That's perfect too."

She let her hand slide down to the side of Beca's neck.

Beca raised her hand to hold it there, tightening against the redhead's.

"I'm just- free. I'm free of all the frustration and anger. I'm free to just be with you," Chloe sighed.

Beca felt the redhead reaching down with her other hand. It tightened at Beca's hip, and she felt her abs contract involuntarily.

"Let me show you," Chloe whispered.

Beca took a deep breath.

Chloe traced idly over the bottom of Beca's abs, letting her fingers meander towards Beca's core.

"You're so special, Becs," Chloe said as she let her hand wander between Beca's thighs. Beca gasped as Chloe curled her fingertips against her clit. She closed her eyes tightly and tried to remember to breathe.

"You're one of the best things that's ever happened to me," Beca heard Chloe say, and she dug her nails into the redhead's hip again.

It was all so heavy.

This thing between them.

And yet, as Chloe slipped her fingers into her, thumb coming to press her clit, Beca felt her chest open up. It felt like a light was spilling through her, through her core and out of her sternum - like a fountain, or a bubbling well. It broke her open with warm, seeking tendrils of… something.

Something serious.

Something real.

"I told you before, baby," Chloe hummed. "I trust you."

She nuzzled Beca's neck, and the brunette moaned. Chloe sped up the pace on her and in her.

"Not in spite of what we've been through, but because of it."

Beca fought the urge to push her off, to push her away. She was overstimulated again, but it was different this time. Chloe's fingers curled, and she cried out desperately.

She was gasping for breath and for something else, but she didn't know what it was.

The only thing she knew for certain was that it was going to overcome her, and she'd be powerless to it.

And she'd fall willingly into it, whatever it was.

Chloe continued to work her fingers into Beca, and Beca felt herself start to shake.

Too fast.

It was building too fast.

"I knew you were going to be special the moment I first saw you," Chloe said, the sound distant in Beca's ears.

She was on the precipice so soon, but she didn't care. She was about to break and spill over, if she could just-

"I love you, Beca. Come for me."

The feeling took her, up, and forward, and Beca let out a hard sob as she came. Her body wracked forward, and she clung to Chloe - her only lifeline - clawing and pulling at her as she shook.

She felt it in every cell. Each one tightening until it exploded with light, bursting inside her recklessly. Reassembling, only to burst apart again, as her body heaved forward, pulling Chloe into her as she choked on the air.

Tearing at the seams.

The tension pulled like it would never stop. But then it began to lapse and release her, and she fell back.

She was still keening, still clasping, until she felt Chloe fall with her.

Beca breathed in.

Fully, as if it was the first real breath she'd taken in weeks.

Completely, her whole body filled with that life-giving breath. It was suspended there as she held it, until she couldn't remember what she was supposed to do next.

She felt Chloe giggle against her chest.

"See?"

And Beca breathed out.

Chapter Text

Beca's eyes shot open.

"Ahhh! Dude!" she shrieked, scrambling for purchase in her foreign surroundings. She clutched at the sheets and attempted to grab a handful of copper curls.

Chloe had gotten up - for water? bathroom? Beca didn't know. She didn't even think about it. Her body was spent, and her mind had been floating aimlessly in half sleep, post-coital bliss as she waited for the redhead to return.

Which she did.

But not exactly in the way Beca expected.

Chloe moaned around Beca's clit as she released it, dragging a long, lazy lick up the length of her opening.

"I dreamed about what you would taste like, Becs," Chloe hummed into her. She lapped at the fresh wave of arousal that began spilling out of the brunette beneath her. Beca groaned.

"That's - ah! - that's so weirdly intimate."

Chloe pulled off of her completely, and Beca's hips surged forward to follow her as she keened. The redhead only smirked, eyes a little narrowed, as she propped her head up on her hand to look up at the smaller woman.

"I'm a little intense," she said simply - almost sarcastically - and Beca let out a gasping laugh. Her hips continued to roll against the air.

"No kidding," she scoffed, and the redhead responded with a scoff of her own.

"I can stop, if you'd rather-"

"What! No!" Beca whined. She tried to push Chloe's head back down onto her, pressing her hips up, and the redhead giggled and sighed sarcastically as she reached underneath. She grabbed Beca's ass and gave it a threatening squeeze.

Beca moaned as she tensed.

"Now," Chloe said, low and raspy. "Are you going to behave?"

The words were blown over her clit gently, and Beca was almost embarrassed by the way her hips continued to seek Chloe's warm, wet tongue.

She probably would have been, if it was anybody else.

If it was somebody she didn't love.

But she did love Chloe, and Chloe loved her too, Beca thought distantly. She was free to be whatever she wanted.

To do all sorts of embarrassing, cringingly cute things.

Things that made her roll her eyes or blush. Things she would have mocked before.

But with Chloe, it just felt right.

The redhead in question looked up at her from between her thighs and quirked an eyebrow. Eyes still locked on a panting Beca, she curled the end of her tongue so lightly against the brunette that she almost screamed in frustration.

"You didn't answer," Chloe said sternly, and Beca huffed.

"Jesus-fucking-christ, yes, dude, I'll behave!" she groaned, but she could feel herself smiling through her exasperation. Chloe was smiling too; Beca could feel it ghost against her clit, and she could see it in the older woman's eyes.

Dual moans resounded in the small pool house as Chloe descended onto Beca's clit, taking it between her lips, between her teeth, and teasing it with her tongue. The brunette threw her head back, fisting her hand in the sheets beside her, and pressing the other one firmly into Chloe's hair.

Call it the imp of the perverse, or whatever immaturity curse governed Beca's actions, but once Chloe got back into the rhythm, Beca smirked.

She couldn't let Chloe hold power over her.

So without thinking, the hand she had in the redhead's hair yanked as she pulled Chloe's head from her sex.

She was going to make a joke - specifically, she was going to sing I Got You, Babe with saccharine sarcasm - and she started to do just that as she pulled the redhead away.

But the gasping, high moan that came from Chloe as Beca pulled her hair was so fucking sexy that Beca forgot her plan.

Chloe leaned into the motion, letting herself be pulled as she moaned, and Beca let out a gasp.

"I got you- fuck," Beca whispered, and Chloe's eyes fluttered open as she smiled.

"Mm, babe," Chloe finished the lyric. Beca sat up quickly, sliding the hand in Chloe's hair down the side of her head to grasp tightly on the side of the redhead's neck, and Chloe moaned again.

This time, on the inside of Beca's mouth.

The brunette groaned into the kiss as their tongues met. Chloe was still between her thighs, but now there was nothing touching Beca's sex, and the brunette groaned again at the realization, hips rolling against the empty space.

Chloe pulled back from their kiss with a little giggle.

"I got you, babe," she sang, and Beca moaned as she curled herself into Chloe's neck.

"Stop singing," she growled. She licked and sucked at Chloe as the redhead hummed.

"You started it," she teased.

And then, to Beca's chagrin, she kept going.

"They say our love won't pay the rent. Before it's earned, our money's all been spent."

Beca felt herself smiling into the curve of Chloe's neck as the redhead sang. She rolled her eyes, then softly sang the next lines into the soft skin.

"I guess that's true, we don't have a pot," she sang. "But at least I'm sure of all the things we got."

"Babe," they sang together- Beca pulling back, and Chloe too, and they both burst into giggles.

Naked, in the dead of night, in the pool house outside the American Idol mansion.

Where they'd spent the last month fighting and screaming.

Chloe, in anguish that Beca wouldn't let her in.

And Beca, waging war against her instincts to keep people out.

But now, in a rainstorm, in the middle of the night, they finally got it right.

*****

Chloe was on the counter in the kitchen, head thrown back against the cabinets as Beca pumped three fingers into her, when Beca heard the door rattle behind them.

"Shit!" Beca whispered, but Chloe was gasping for air beneath her.

"Don't fucking stop, Mitchell," she growled, and Beca's fingers curled against her own will.

Chloe shrieked and clutched onto the brunette as she shook. Beca clasped a hand over Chloe's mouth as the redhead came.

"Anybody dead?" Fat Amy yelled.

The redhead was mid body-shaking, orgasmic roll when she heard Amy.

Her eyes flew open and immediately bugged.

"Just a minute!" Beca called over her shoulder. She gathered Chloe into her arms, off the counter, and tried to shove her past the partial wall into the bedroom. The redhead giggled as she fell into the room and onto the bed, and Beca tried to adjust the sheet she had draped over her body.

Just as Amy and Stacie came into view.

They looked around the kitchen slowly. Dishes were scattered around the island and counter from dinner the night before.

The only countertop that was cleared was a very specific spot, directly adjacent to Beca that, until recently, had been otherwise occupied.

Then they saw Beca in a sheet, flushed red and panting hard.

"Hey guys," Beca gasped. She pulled the sheet up self-consciously. "So we didn't pick a song yet, if you could just-"

"Yeah, deal's expired, shortstack," Amy replied. "Plus, it looks like other obligations were met… so..."

"Chloe?" Stacie called out further into the pool house. "Are you decent?"

"No," a lilting, giggling voice sang back from the bedroom.

Beca blushed further, and Stacie kept her eyes trained on Beca as she yelled again.

"Did this hobbit take care of you?"

"Hey!" Beca shouted back, but Chloe was louder.

"She can probably still smell me on her fingers, Stace."

Beca's eyes widened, and she gasped as Stacie smiled.

"Oh my god, Chlo!"

Stacie let out a small sigh before she reset her expression to a stern one.

"Okay," she said, volume normal as she addressed Beca. "I'm going to get Cum-brain Barbie in there and make sure she's okay. You-" she brandished a finger threateningly. "-are going to clean up the sex house."

"What? Why?" Beca whined. Amy scoffed as Stacie warned Chloe that she was coming in, regardless of the redhead's state of undress.

"Because it's Saturday," the Australian replied. "And I don't know if you remember this, what with the orgasms and all, but you're on a singing show. And this is our rehearsal space. For singing."

Adjusting her inconvenient clothing again, and trying to flatten her hair, Beca huffed. She could hear Stacie and Chloe laughing in the other room.

"Fine, I'll clean up, but- Stacie?" she called. After a moment, the older brunette stuck her head around the far corner.

"Damn, what'd you do to this woman?" she laughed.

Beca blushed and swallowed roughly.

"That's none of your business," she replied haughtily, but she heard Chloe laugh from the other room. The redhead mumbled something through her giggles, and Beca distinctly heard the word "counter."

Both brunettes flushed as Stacie glanced behind Beca to the hastily-cleared countertop space.

"Chlo! Not helping!" Beca yelled as she closed her eyes.

"Thanks, Becs," Stacie teased. "I'm going to dine out on this story for years."

"I think shortstack here did enough eating out for all of us."

"Okay!" Beca shouted.

The older brunette smirked at Beca through another round of giggles.

"If you're helping Chloe, can you-" Beca started, then she took a deep breath.

She was already embarrassed.

Might as well put it all out there.

"Can you ask her if she'll go to my room? To get showered and everything?" she asked. Her gaze flitted around the room, looking anywhere but Stacie as she spoke.

"I'm, uh, I'm not quite done, being with her," she finished lamely, and the older brunette shook her head.

"I'll ask," she replied, then she disappeared behind the wall again. Some more murmurs and laughs came through the open space as Amy and Beca stood awkwardly in the kitchen.

"So it was a good night, yeah?"

Beca rolled her lips into a tight line and nodded.

"Yeah," she said. She pulled up the remainder of the sheet she was wearing into her arm. "Yeah, it was all right."

"Okay," Stacie said as she rounded the open space out of the bedroom. "Amy, out. Beca, you have an hour. C'mon, Chloe."

Chloe came around the corner of the bedroom wall wearing her jeans and Beca's hoodie. She smiled softly at the brunette across the kitchen.

"Hi," she whispered, looking up through her lashes bashfully.

"No!" Stacie scolded. "Bad sex puppy! Go to Beca's room!"

Chloe whined as Beca tried not to laugh. After a huff, she followed Amy out of the pool house, but Stacie lingered.

"You guys talked?" she asked, and Beca nodded.

"It's real," Beca replied. "Thanks for that."

"Don't thank me," the older brunette replied as she turned to leave. "You're the one who has to deal with her mess now."

The door shut behind Stacie as she walked out, and Beca looked around the kitchen. Then she stepped to the side, looking into the bedroom as well.

They'd ripped through the space like a sex tornado.

It was a disaster.

It'd probably take at least an hour to clean, if not longer.

Beca smiled as she went back into the bedroom to get dressed.

Totally worth it.

*****

Two hours later, Beca backed into her suite.

"Okay, since our breakfast was rudely interrupted before, I brought-" she started to say as she turned around, but as she caught sight of Chloe, she lost her breath.

The redhead was stretching across Beca's bed, soft light spilling in from the numerous windows that lined the walls. She'd kept Beca's hoodie on, but her jeans were folded over the back of the arm chair, the sheet slung low around her waist as she stretched.

Glowing.

Every inch of skin that was bared was glowing, and Chloe even let out a little hum at the top of the stretch.

"Food?" she mumbled as she wiped her eyes, and Beca grinned broadly.

"Yeah, Chlo," she hummed, and Chloe blinked awake. She matched Beca's smile as she sat up.

"Fresh fruit and one of your secret yogurts," Beca said softly as she offered Chloe the plate, one hand still wrapped around her mug of tea.

The redhead sighed as she put the plate on the bed.

"How do you know about my secret yogurts?" she whined as she plucked a blueberry from the spread.

Beca smirked behind her mug as she sat beside Chloe on the bed. She blew on it cautiously.

"No reason," she replied, and the redhead laughed.

"Is that black tea? With honey?"

It was Beca's turn to sigh now. Chloe reached out and asked for it with little grabby fingers, and Beca smiled.

She handed Chloe the mug as she spoke again.

"So we're both creeps?" she asked. Chloe hummed as the warm liquid hit her lips. She thought about it for a second, then shook her head.

"I think we get a pass," she said finally as she handed the mug back to Beca. "Never thought I'd see you off coffee though."

"I still drink it, sometimes," Beca said as she sipped the tea. She picked up a piece of jelly toast that she'd made for herself. "Katherine got me hooked on this though."

Chloe's expression closed off for a second, her gaze shifting to the sheets, and her brow folded. Beca paused mid-bite of her toast.

"What?"

"Nothing," Chloe said hurriedly, but then she sighed. "It's just- you went through so much these last few weeks, Becs. I want to know everything. I missed you."

Beca smiled as she finished her toast. She wiped the crumbs from her face and leaned across the makeshift breakfast-in-bed to kiss the worried redhead.

"I missed you, too. I'll tell you whatever you want to know," she said seriously, and Chloe's anxiety began to fall away. She gave a soft smile as Beca looked on earnestly.

"But first, we have to eat," Beca said, sitting back. She picked up a couple blueberries and popped them in her mouth.

"You're right," Chloe agreed. She opened her yogurt, peeling back the lid, then bringing the plastic to her mouth. Beca watched as she licked it clean.

She didn't bother trying to hide her attraction as she watched. She licked her lips subconsciously, and she watched as Chloe finally realized what she was looking at. She watched the redhead's mouth form into a smirk, then glanced up at her eyes.

"We have all weekend," Chloe hummed as she grabbed a spoonful of yogurt.

Beca didn't know what she was referring to.

The talks that she wanted to have?

The song they still had to pick?

Or some other, dirtier thought inspired by the way Beca was staring at her tongue?

All weekend.

"Wait! Shit!" Beca gasped suddenly, and Chloe blanched.

"What is it, baby?"

Beca went to speak but stopped short.

"Some ground rules," she warned. "You're only allowed to call me baby when you're about to be inside me, or when you're already inside of me."

Unfortunately, by the way Chloe's eyes flashed darker and dropped down to Beca's lips, Beca figured Chloe saw the warning as more of a challenge.

"That can be arranged," Chloe confirmed, and Beca inhaled sharply.

"No, wait, I- shit!" Beca groaned. She put her mug down on the nightstand and fished her phone out of her pocket. She plugged it into the charger there, and it lit up.

"I have to put together a set," she explained, and Chloe tilted her head, confused. Beca explained what happened at the club Wednesday night, and that she needed to put together a set for Luke so she could maybe deejay there after the show this week, and Chloe bounced with excitement.

"Becs! Oh my god!" she squealed as she grabbed Beca's arm. "That's amazing! You're going to kill it! Can I listen?"

Beca nodded, and Chloe squealed again.

"Actually," the brunette replied. "I want everyone to hear it. I need some feedback on the songs; I'm not sure if-"

Chloe's eyes lit up, and Beca immediately got worried.

She loved the redhead.

But that didn't mean that she loved all of her crazy ideas.

"A party!" Chloe cheered, and Beca rolled her eyes. She grabbed a few more blueberries as the redhead continued.

"We'll have a party tonight. We'll listen to your set and give you notes! CR can tell you about the order of the songs, since she's so good at reading a crowd, and Stacie and I can tell you how much it makes us want to dance!"

Chloe picked up the plate with the remnants of their breakfast and moved to stand, but Beca caught her first. She grabbed Chloe's wrist and pulled her in for a deep, full kiss.

Beca felt Chloe inhale deeply through her nose, and Beca hummed into their kiss. She broke their bonded lips and sighed.

"I love that I can do that now," Beca whispered.

Beca felt Chloe's mouth slide into a grin as she opened her eyes.

"Yeah," she replied dreamily. "It's definitely an improvement."

They sat there, grinning like idiots for a minute, before Beca remembered why she'd stopped Chloe in the first place.

"I, uhm, I have to do a little work on my set," she stuttered. "But I do have to shower first…"

"Is that so?"

Chloe assumed an air of innocence, and Beca tried to fake seriousness.

"I do," she said slowly. She started to smirk but pushed it back down. "Did you know that LA's in a drought?"

Chloe laughed as she crossed the room to put the breakfast plate on the desk. She turned back to Beca, who had gotten up to meet her halfway.

She couldn't help it, because Chloe wasn't wearing any pants.

And the way that Beca's hoodie hung, just low enough to cover everything except the very bottom curve of Chloe's cheeks made Beca just about lose it.

"I did know that," Chloe smiled as she stepped into Beca's arms. "They're encouraging the conservation of water in any way possible."

But Beca wasn't paying attention anymore.

She was sliding that zipper down slowly, and quickly finding out that Chloe had chosen not to put on anything underneath.

"Becs?" Chloe asked, and Beca glanced up.

Dark eyes, almost true blue with the heat of her glare, and Beca felt her mouth go dry.

"Do you want me to shower with you?"

"I mean, anything for the environment," she rasped, and Chloe laughed.

"Anything for the environment," she agreed as she tilted Beca's face up into another kiss.

They stumbled backwards into the ensuite, Beca still fumbling with Chloe's zipper as the redhead slipped her hands under Beca's tank top.

"I'm kinda surprised you have the endurance for this," Chloe giggled into Beca's shoulder as the brunette reached into her shower to turn on the water. She scoffed as the overhead fixture started to spray.

"Excuse me," Beca shot back over her shoulder. Chloe just giggled again as her hands reached the bottom of Beca's sports bra, slipping underneath that too, to tweak a nipple.

"I'm - oh - I'm incredibly fit," she gasped.

"Oh, I know," Chloe whispered huskily in Beca's ear, and the brunette had to grunt to keep focused on adjusting the water temp.

"But I saw you huffing and puffing during those laps last week," the redhead sighed. She palmed Beca's breast, and the brunette moaned.

"I don't like cardio," she huffed, and Chloe snorted.

"What do you think this is?" Chloe shot back.

Beca was finally satisfied with the settings and leaned back out of the shower, kissing Chloe fully and forcibly. Chloe inhaled sharply into the kiss, stealing Beca's breath, and Beca pulled away.

"You're the exception," she smiled, and she watched as Chloe blushed.

"Wait, that's what makes you blush?" Beca asked, incredulous. She couldn't help the small snicker that bubbled out of her throat.

Chloe hummed as she pulled Beca's tank-top off, then her sports bra, trailing kisses down the front of the smaller woman's chest.

"Becs, baby," she purred as she sucked a nipple into her mouth. Beca groaned and immediately grabbed the back of Chloe's head to hold her there, but the redhead had already moved back.

"I don't think you want me to talk about the ways you make me blush," she moaned. She dropped to her knees and kissed low across Beca's stomach, and the brunette felt her hips flex forward. Chloe grinned up at her and slipped her thumbs into the waistband of Beca's sweats pulling them down in one move.

Steam was beginning to fill the room, but Beca knew that wasn't why she felt so warm all the sudden. Despite the breeze that met her naked form as Chloe stripped her, there was heat emanating from her core and up through her breast.

She was probably blushing, too.

Chloe dragged her teeth down the junction of Beca's hip, pausing as she reached the apex between Beca's thighs.

Beca sucked in sharply, and Chloe looked up.

"But yes, you make me blush, when you tell me that I'm different," she sighed, laying her head on Beca's thigh. Beca groaned as she flexed her hips forward again.

Chloe traced a finger over the opposite thigh absentmindedly.

"I think it's because you're hard to read, so I never know where I stand with you-"

"Oh my fucking god," Beca yelled as she reached down. She hoisted Chloe to her feet and pushed her sweatshirt off the redhead's shoulders before pulling her into the shower.

Chloe just giggled.

"You're an incorrigible gremlin," Beca said as she shoved Chloe against the back wall, and the redhead smirked as Beca kneeled in the shower basin.

"Takes one to know one."

*****

Beca leaned back from her desk and stretched. Her eyes were burning from staring at her computer, and her head was swimming with beats, but she was done.

At least, she felt like she was.

She pulled her headphones off completely, setting them on the desk beside her and reaching for her water.

"Is it ready?"

Beca glanced over her shoulder to find a relaxed Chloe at the head of her bed, guitar in hand, plucking idle notes out of a C chord. She had on a pair of short grey cotton shorts and Beca's black hoodie.

Wow, Beca thought. I got really, really lucky.

"Yeah," she grinned. "I think it's ready. Do you want to hear it?"

Chloe shook her head as she put her guitar next to her on the bed.

"I'll listen tonight," she replied as she stretched. "Or, I guess, in an hour."

"Shit," Beca groaned. She got up and walked over, sitting on the edge of the bed. "I'm sorry. I wanted to spend more time with you."

Chloe waved off the sentiment as she leaned forward, pulling Beca over until the brunette's head was in her lap. Beca closed her eyes as Chloe started running her hands through her hair.

"I'm excited to hear your set," she hummed. "I can barely wait now. I don't think I could wait another minute."

She sighed.

"I would say we could be late to the party, but I think the show found out somehow," she went on, and Beca looked up. Chloe looked sincerely apologetic.

"They're sending a crew to get some footage," Chloe finished softly. She worried a thumb between her teeth. "I'm sorry, Becs."

Beca sat up and moved closer across the bed.

"Why are you sorry?" Beca asked, and Chloe faltered.

"I don't know," she sighed with an exasperated gesture. Beca grabbed her hands and held them in her own. "I'm sure it's going to be harder to play when there's a crew here, and we haven't talked about what we were going to do about the show yet. I mean, are we going to tell everyone? Amy and Stacie already know, so they probably told everybody here, plus I've been in your room all day. But as far as the actual show-"

"Hey," Beca stopped her, using a hand on the redhead's jaw to turn Chloe to face her. "I'm not going to run anymore. I'm here. Fuck the show."

Chloe gave a thin smile through her anxious expression, and Beca sighed.

"I love you, Chloe, and I don't care who knows anymore. I'm happy," she said. Chloe's face broke open and she started crying, and Beca panicked.

"What? What happened? What'd I do?" she asked quickly, and Chloe gave a quivering laugh.

"You love me?"

You dumb fuck!

"Did I not say that last night?" she gasped. "Yeah, dude, I love you. Like a lot. I'm not sure why that made you cry, but-"

Another laugh burbled out of the redhead, and she wiped at the tears pouring down her face.

"I love you too," she said, and Beca felt herself smiling.

"Yeah, you told me, I think," Beca said through her smile. "The first time I, uhm-"

"Oh! Right!" Chloe laughed. The tears were still there, but she was laughing now.

That has to be a good sign, right?

"I'm sorry," the redhead sighed. "It's just been a long couple of weeks."

"I know," Beca agreed. She climbed all the way up the bed, slipping an arm under Chloe and then pulling the blanket over them. Chloe put her head in the crook of Beca's shoulder and wrapped a leg around one of Beca's. She put half of her weight on the smaller woman, but Beca didn't mind.

"Can I nap here, until I have to go get ready?"

"Of course," Beca sighed as she pulled the redhead closer.

"I have an alarm set," Chloe yawned against her chest, and Beca yawned too as her eyes started to close.

"Love you," Chloe whispered into her chest, and Beca grinned, eyes still closed.

"Love you, too."

She blinked, and Chloe's alarm was going off.

Or, at least it felt that way.

And though it happened a few times last night, in the dark bedroom of the pool house, it was different this time, to wake up with Chloe in her arms. The sun was setting, casting long shadows across the windows, but there was enough light to see the figure draped over her. Chloe's hair was spread across Beca's arm, tickling her neck where the redhead had burrowed, and Beca could see her leg moving under the blanket as she stretched against her.

"I don't want to get up," Chloe groaned into Beca's shoulder. The brunette chuckled.

"You really want the cameras to catch you slinking out of my bedroom?"

Chloe leaned up off Beca. Her hair was ratted up from sleep, and she only blinked one eye open.

"I don't slink," she huffed. "I stride. Stride of pride."

"Uh huh," Beca smiled goofily. "And you think it'll look that way on national TV?"

Chloe groaned as she pushed off the brunette fully so she could sit up. Beca did the same as she leaned against the pillows gathered at the headboard.

"They'll catch me eventually, because I'm not going to stay away," Chloe hummed as she smiled and stretched. "Why not now?"

Beca gave a little laugh.

"Maybe because the last thing they saw of us was another huge fight where you screamed about how you weren't gonna talk to me?"

Chloe froze, and her shoulders slumped.

"I'm sorry," she winced, but Beca shook it off.

"Looking back, I'm just mad that Stacie was right," Beca replied, and Chloe loosed a giggle.

"I think she knows me a little too well," Chloe said as she got off the bed. She stretched again with a sigh, and Beca tried to keep her thoughts PG as she watched the bottom of her hoodie skirt Chloe's curves.

She turned instead and cracked open a Redbull that was sitting on her nightstand.

(I should clean up this room if Chloe's going to be around, she thought as she looked around. Mugs and cans were scattered on the desk and nightstands.

Am I a slob?)

"But you're right," Chloe went on. "I don't want to do an interview without any underwear on. We should probably come out as a couple some other way."

Beca felt herself grin, but she quickly hid it behind a smirk.

"Wait, I don't remember asking," she said with a mock affront.

"About what?"

"I don't remember asking," Beca said slowly as she stood, stepping closer to Chloe as she wrapped her arms around her from behind. The redhead leaned back as Beca whispered into her ear. "-if you would be my girlfriend."

Chloe giggled and turned to kiss Beca on the lower part of her cheek.

"We're adults, Becs," she sighed as she leaned further into the brunette's arms. "It was implied."

Beca scoffed.

"I still get to ask!" she insisted, and Chloe laughed. Beca spun the redhead in her arms and brought her hands up to Chloe's jaw.

"Chloe Beale," she said, attempting (and failing) to hide her goofy grin. "Will you date me?"

The redhead dropped her head into an impish, twisted smile as she nodded.

"Cool, you're my girlfriend," Beca replied quickly, giving Chloe a quick kiss before adding a spank. The redhead yelped, but it quickly morphed into a full-on moan as Beca grabbed a handful of Chloe's ass.

"Now go get ready before I make you very, very late to this party," Beca growled, and Chloe giggled.

"We can be late!" she whined, but Beca stepped away with a wag of her finger.

"No, no! Out!" she replied, and Chloe began to sulk out of the room. Beca rushed forward and spun the redhead again, pressing a hard kiss against her lips.

"Hurry back, babe," she hummed against Chloe's lips, and she felt Chloe's face nearly split in two with a huge grin.

"Don't make it weird, Beale," she warned, but it was too late.

"Beca Effin' Mitchell called me 'babe!'" she shrieked in a decibel Beca was sure could only be heard by dogs. Beca winced through her smile.

"Eww," somebody yelled from the kitchen. "I can hear them being cute in there."

"Okay, seriously, go," Beca sighed, and, after one more kiss, Chloe left.

It was quiet in her room, for the first time that day, but Beca was still buzzing.

She was so happy.

She missed Chloe already.

And with that realization, she held back her vomit as she got ready for the party.

*****

Beca gathered her things and came out of her room twenty minutes later.

It was somehow surprising and yet not surprising at all that, as soon as she stepped into the kitchen, she heard applause.

"Fuck off, guys," she grinned, but CR had already clapped a hand on her shoulder.

"We're just happy you got your head out of your ass," she said.

"I knew it would work out," Emily added with a smile.

Amy scoffed.

"No, you didn't," she shot back. "You kept asking me all rehearsal yesterday - 'Do you think it'll work? Do you think they'll be friends? Or more?' Seriously, so annoying."

Beca laughed as Stacie came up on her other side.

"Can I get you a drink while you set up?" Stacie asked, nodding to the front of the pit. Beca saw that someone had put one of the narrow side tables at the front, in front of the ottoman. The aux cord was already laying across it, along with a power strip.

Beca asked for vodka for her Redbull and thanked Stacie before making her way across the room.

Somebody had their phone hooked up to the Bluetooth, and, as Beca was getting ready, they switched the song to Beca's club mix of Emily's song. She got everything in place, even hooking up the HDMI cable to the TV behind her so that she could play some visuals as well as keep an eye on her set if she had to leave the station.

Then, she looked around.

Jessica, Ashley, and Emily were on the sofa, deep in conversation. Beca could see Ashley nodding along to the beat, and Emily was trying her best not to sing along to her own song.

CR and Amy were lining up a row of shots, arguing about the best way to take tequila. CR subconsciously syncopated her argument to the rhythm, and Beca smiled as she hit the table on the down beat.

Stacie and Katherine were talking and laughing as they prepped food in the kitchen. Katherine glanced up and found Beca looking, so she reached over and picked up her beer. She raised it to Beca, and Beca did the same as Stacie smiled.

These were her friends. But more than that, they were bonded.

Even Flo and Lilly too, though they'd been gone for over a week.

Beca wasn't sure what "girl friends" looked like, but she was pretty positive that they weren't typically as good as she had.

It was like a sorority.

These were her sisters.

She trusted them, and they trusted her, and they were going to be bonded for life.

Which was so crazy.

The back door slid open, and suddenly, Aubrey Posen came in.

"Okay, are we ready? Crew?"

Somebody paused the music, and Posen ushered in the camera crew. She instructed one camera operator to set up by the hall to Beca's bedroom, and the other stayed by the door. She told the mic operator to put a mic on Beca, and both the sound guy and the judge approached her at her impromptu DJ station.

A camera crew, I could deal with, Beca thought. But this? Chloe's friend and my weird nemesis?

This might be too much.

"Why do I need a mic?" Beca bristled as the sound guy fitted her up. She'd kept it casual and classic - a black and grey flannel with black, ripped skinny jeans, but her ears were fully decked out in the jewelry that Chloe bought her. Beca brushed her hair off her shoulder to accommodate the mic, and she saw Posen the moment the judge saw the jewelry. The blonde scoffed, and Beca rolled her lips into a tight line.

"You're the star tonight, Beca," Posen grinned vacantly, and Beca suppressed an eye roll. "We want to hear what you have to say. It'll probably be you, CR, and Chloe with mics."

Beca flushed with fear.

"Hold on, why Chloe?" she asked, suddenly nervous. She didn't know if Posen knew about Chloe and her- if Chloe or Stacie had talked to her about it yet.

What if Chloe hadn't?

And what if Chloe didn't want to?

Would they have to pretend they weren't a couple all night?

Posen's grin stretched further into grimace, and Beca could see her fight to stay professional.

"Why would you care about Chloe?" the judge asked. "It's not like she cares about you."

Okay, great, Beca thought sarcastically, she's coompleeetely up to speed then.

Great.

This will be great.

Cameras signaled that they were set, and Posen checked her watch. She clapped once from the head of the pit where she was standing next to Beca.

"Okay, we're going to have fun tonight, ladies!" she said as she addressed the women. "And we'd like to ask that everyone pretend we aren't even here."

Amy hummed loudly.

"That's gonna be easier for some people," she yelled tipsily, and CR elbowed her in the gut.

Beca laughed towards her laptop. She was making sure that everything was set - the equalizer had been adjusted to the speakers, she'd check it during her first song. Visuals were set right - just basic, color-changing waves that accompanied the tracks. Beca would watch for reds, because she didn't want to blow out the speakers. She'd probably be right here the whole night, but still, if she needed to-

"Ah, Chloe, finally," Posen called towards the bottom stairs, and Beca glanced up. "Go get a mic."

Chloe looked stunning, in white jeans with a black tee tucked in the front. Beca couldn't read it across the room, but it looked like a band t-shirt, and it was far too big for her.

Wait, she thought suddenly. That's my Hollywood Undead shirt.

She stole my shirt!

And she's wearing it!

Beca dropped her eyes and started giggling uncontrollably. Chloe was wearing her t-shirt, after they'd fucked like rabbits all night, and her best friend - someone Beca routinely liked to piss off - had no idea that they were together.

And by the look Chloe was giving her, there was no way the redhead was going to stay away.

Tonight was going to be fun.

Chapter Text

Chloe got mic'd up, and Posen gave the go-ahead, so Beca moved behind the makeshift DJ station.

She clicked on the first song on her setlist - This Is What You Came For by Rihanna and Calvin Harris, a crowd favorite - and listened for peaking. She was solidly under the volume threshold, so she let it play where it was, volume-wise. The bass was pretty good, and it thudded through the speakers across the first floor.

On the actual night, on an actual set, she'd be adjusting and adding additional bass or drums based on the crowd. And she'd be mixing the songs together so the whole thing was a coherent set instead of a playlist.

But tonight, with her friends, she'd let the songs play.

Somebody dimmed the lights in the living room, and Beca was grateful for it. She grabbed her drink and took a cautious sip, scanning the space.

It was a different experience, having a captive audience.

Sure, she'd played mixes for people, and she'd heard Luke play a couple in the club and watched people react.

But being in control and watching people listen?

This was unique.

She hadn't done DJ gigs like house parties or weddings. And she wasn't old enough to DJ in the bars, so this was her first experience in watching a group react to her music in real time.

She was hyper aware of every bob, every nod to the beat.

Chloe loved it, turning her body fluidly to the beat in a way that Beca recognized intimately.

She flushed and moved her gaze to the other women.

Focus, dude.

CR liked the song, and so did Stacie.

But Beca could tell Amy thought it was overplayed.

Emily was harder to read, because she kept looking over to the DJ and flashing a thumb's up in encouragement. Which was sweet but not really what she was looking for.

And Posen had a sour expression on her face.

She probably couldn't afford the rights to the song and therefore wouldn't be able to use the clip.

Get used to that, Posen.

Beca's gaze fell back to Chloe, and she instantly knew the redhead could be her crowd barometer in any situation. She had stepped behind the couch and was talking to Jessica and Ashley, moving casually to the beat with a little twirl of her hips.

So it's a good song for dancing, but only if the crowd doesn't want to talk.

Chloe didn't look up at Beca, but the brunette didn't dwell on it. She was busy.

Harris faded out, and Beca's first mix faded in. It was an old one from high school with a lot of samples. She affectionately named it Good Sex after the lyric from the Best, Best Missy Elliot sample she used in the first verse.

But then it transitioned into Get Low over Maroon 5's This Love, and then carried further from there into 80's and 90's classics.

As they recognized the songs, Beca saw her friends start to move.

She finished her drink as she watched them. Stacie was first (of course this was a Stacie mix), even before Usher started. She sauntered over to where Chloe had joined Posen in the kitchen, shots in hand, and coerced the women into taking them. Ashley got up and pulled Jessica with her, wandering towards Amy and her tequila.

The party mash-up made people want to party.

She got that one right.

Even Katherine tapped her toe as she sat at the desk in the dining area. CR had joined the mom to chat, and their conversation fell by the wayside as they listened to the mix.

When Kiss Me started in the background, under Yeah!, Beca felt Chloe staring at her.

It was like a weird, sexy Spidey sense, and Beca felt it immediately. She wasn't surprised, though.

If anything, Beca was a little offended it had taken the redhead so long to look her way.

Beca glanced up to see that, even in the dimmed light, she could see Chloe smiling softly across the room. Heart eyes, and a kind, open smile, with that tint of admiration that she'd first seen all those months ago.

A look of love, Beca realized suddenly, and she rolled her eyes with a smile.

It should be illegal to be that distracting.

She looked away before the gaze got any more heated. She wanted to follow Chloe’s lead as far as how she wanted to play it on camera and how to tell Posen.

And as much as this was her decision too - how to come out as a couple - Posen was Chloe's friend first, and she wanted to respect that.

Especially when the redhead was wearing her clothes.

And looking so good in them.

But Beca knew she could easily lose herself in Chloe, and she needed to pay attention, read the crowd, and practice her DJ skills.

So she'd let Chloe handle Posen.

Doesn't mean I can't stir the pot though.

The last song of the mix - Ms. New Booty - was coming to an end. In a moment of inspiration, Beca slipped a different remix in her playlist after the Good Sex mix.

Her Hollywood Undead Levitate mix would be tricky to pull off in a club setting, because people might not know the song.

But she couldn't help playing it now. She had to see if Chloe even recognized the band whose shirt she was wearing.

Plus, it was a good song.

Unable to stand still, Beca slipped from behind the DJ station as the mix started, making her way towards the kitchen. Chloe, Posen, and Stacie were still there at the edge of the island, and Beca had to slide between Posen and Chloe to get to the sink.

"Just slipping in here," she hummed, purposefully low, and she heard Chloe cough over a gasp. She busied herself by shaking her empty can over the sink to throw it out, pretending to ignore the women next to her.

"This is good, Becs," Stacie called over the music. She put a little emphasis on the nickname, and it didn't go unnoticed by Chloe. The redhead huffed, and Beca felt herself smirking.

She tried to roll her lips to shake the expression, but she couldn't hide her smile.

"Thanks, Stacie," she mumbled as she handed Stacie a new cup, and the brunette filled it with a little vodka.

Posen sighed next to her, and Beca felt her smile threatening to turn into a full mock again.

"You're using really popular songs so far," the blonde said disapprovingly. "Except this one. I don't recognize it."

"It's not as popular," Beca agreed.

The lyrics had just turned over to the chorus, a resounding "I could take you straight to heaven if you let me; I could make your body levitate if you let me," and Beca looked at Chloe.

She mouthed the words along with the song and watched Chloe's expression darken.

A hint of hazy lust, just a flash, across an already dark room, but Beca had been in tune with Chloe since she walked into the room. She felt her body pulse forward and tried to keep her hip glued to the countertop.

Chloe really liked this remix.

Sexy songs are sexy, check that one off the list.

Also, my girlfriend is really hot.

Beca felt a smile curling at the edges of her lips.

My girlfriend, she thought, a dopey grin settling in. I think I like that.

Her gaze dropped down, and she saw Chloe's chest expand with a deep breath as she fumbled with her drink.

But Chloe didn't fumble with anything.

Unless-

Beca's breath quickened at the thought that Chloe was having trouble holding herself back from touching the brunette.

That was new.

She knew that Chloe liked her mixes a lot, and that the club music would make the redhead get a little hot under the collar. Hell, it was happening to Beca too.

Now that she'd crossed the room, and she was standing within a few feet of the redhead, she had second thoughts about staying away.

But when Beca's eyes came back up, she saw that Chloe was glaring at her.

Chloe was turned on; there was no question about that. Her pupils were huge, and her breathing was shallow.

But she also looked mad, and flustered, because she couldn't do anything about it. Not with Posen standing right there. Not without talking to her first.

And Beca realized that she was flirting with fire, because it didn't look like Chloe was going to let her off the hook for getting her all hot and bothered so quickly and under so frustrating of circumstances.

It was like they'd made some unspoken rule to stay away, and Beca was challenging it.

But she couldn't deny it was fun to watch the redhead sweat.

And, to be honest, she'd take any punishment Chloe decided to dish out.

The way Beca could feel Chloe holding back as she watched the brunette across the island, moving subtly - almost subconsciously - to the beat. Beca glanced down to see Chloe had set down her drink and braced her hands on the counter, gripping it tightly.

Not the first time today I've seen her grip the countertop, Beca remembered, and suddenly she was flushed too.

Okay, so maybe I screwed up.

"Who is it?"

"Hollywood Undead," Beca tried to say it casually, taking a drink as she leaned against the counter. She forced herself to look away from Chloe, choosing instead to look at the TV screen - some oranges were starting to hit. She might need to look at the levels.

"Huh, never heard of them," Posen went on. She turned to her friends. "Have you guys?"

Both Chloe and Stacie shook their heads during an ill-timed drink on Beca's part. She choked on her vodka with a laugh.

"What?"

"Uh, nothing," Beca said quickly, but she was doing a piss-poor job of hiding her reactions tonight.

"No, why are you laughing?" Posen pushed, perturbed. "Are you making fun of me?"

"No- it's not that," Beca grimaced through her grin.

She tried to stop laughing, but it was too late.

"It's just- Chloe? Aren't you wearing their merch?"

All four women looked down at Chloe's shirt and - lo and behold - the words "Hollywood Undead" were plastered across her abdomen, easy to read.

The remix ended, and silence descended over the group. Beca looked away as time continued to stretch.

Just when she thought she would snap and say something, her edit of 212 vs Bust A Move started up.

Beca heard Chloe clear her throat.

"Bree?" Chloe said cheerfully. "Can I talk to you for a second?"

CR and Amy started shouting excitedly as they recognized the song, and Beca looked over. They called her to the dining table for shots, but she waved them off as she finished her liquor.

Then, and only then, did she chance another look at the women in front of her.

Chloe and Posen were having some kind of stare-off, which Stacie obviously found comical. The leggy brunette was looking between them with a wide smile as the pair of friends waged a silent tennis match of wills.

One that Chloe seemed to win, because Beca watched as Posen gave a slight nod.

Chloe turned to Beca.

"Can we use your room?"

Beca bobbed her head in an awkward nod.

"Of course," Beca said. "You know where it is."

Did I really just say that?

They both flushed red, but in the dim light, Beca hoped Posen wouldn't see it. Stacie got it though, and she laughed loudly.

"Oh good god," she cackled. "You're as subtle as a brick."

Posen was about to ask Stacie what she meant, so Beca turned tail and nearly sprinted into the dining area. Amy cheered again, and CR pulled her into a tight side hug as they divvied up the shots.

CR and Amy continue to argue about the salt-tequila-lime order, and Beca tuned them out. She didn't turn around to look though either, because she knew if she caught Chloe's (or Posen's) eye, she'd be screwed.

Best just avoid the situation.

They were friends, after all. They'd figure it out.

As 212 faded into her Hooptie vs. Mustang Sally track, Stacie sidled up to her other side, so Beca knew Chloe and Posen had left.

Finally, Amy handed her a shot, and Beca took it greedily. She grimaced as the tequila hit her throat, not bothering with the lime as she turned to the older brunette.

"Do you think Chloe will be okay?" she burped, and Stacie laughed.

"Oh, hunny, she's not the one you should be worrying about," she replied, grabbing the tequila. She took a shot straight from the bottle, and the women around them responded with a mix of cheers and jeers.

"Get your lezzie germs off my bottle!" Amy shouted.

"I'm bi, thank you," Stacie shot back. She dropped the bottle to the table's surface and lunged for the curvy blonde, plastering an alcohol-sodden kiss against Amy's cheek and continuing to try to kiss her. The Australian pulled away as she cursed.

Beca laughed with CR and Katherine as they watched Stacie chase Amy around the room.

"That's a huge BPM drop," CR said, nodding towards the DJ station, and Beca grinned.

"It is," the brunette agreed.

The Hooptie vs. Mustang Sally mix was one that Beca had played with for years, only getting right once she was in the American Idol house.

The show had actually inspired her in a dozen little ways over the last few months.

Not that she would ever tell them that.

Especially not Posen.

"You're going to fade into it?" Katherine asked behind her, and Beca turned, opening the conversation between the two musicians.

Wait, Katherine knows about deejay shit?

"Yeah," Beca replied, then she laughed as the pair looked at her expectantly.

Might as well explain the whole thing, if they were asking.

"Actually, I'm going to switch in a sped up version of the Mustang Sally guitar line for the Bust A Move melody over the end of the last song, then slow that down. It probably won't be this slow though."

CR hummed appreciatively, and Katherine nodded.

"That could sound really good," the mom said. "Do you have to adjust for the key?"

Beca couldn't understand the joy that had joined the alcohol coursing through her body. She nodded and started going into the specifics as CR and Katherine listened to and actually understood what she explained.

How had she never had musician friends before this show?

Because this was so cool!

Being able to actually talk to somebody about what she was doing, how she planned to weave the entire set together, and what she did in her mixes. Since she started working on mixes, she'd tried to talk to people about them.

And after a few times, Beca gave up. They either didn't get it or didn't care.

Now, Beca was having full conversations about the nuances of pitch correction, and it felt good.

And so did the vodka and tequila that had teamed up with the Redbull in her gut. She felt her shoulders dip and swing in beat with the music, something she almost never did.

With a grin, Beca watched CR and the other women register the new mix as it started. It featured Jump by Kris Kross over a rough, older Diplo beat. CR liked it, but Beca could see that the older woman was having trouble getting into the rhythm of the Diplo beat.

It lacked consistent bass, relying more on snares for the first half of the song. Beca made a mental note to add more low, rhythmic tones. Maybe another synth.

But Ashley, Jessica, and Emily were up and dancing in front of the couch, and Stacie joined them. Amy had wandered back over to the group to get another drink, and she started talking to CR about the show, so Beca excused herself.

"Wait, Beca!"

The brunette turned to see Katherine was calling her back.

"I'm not going to stay down here very long, but I wanted to say that I'm proud of you," the older woman said, then she gave a short laugh. "Not that that means much. I mean, I'm just a random old lady-"

"No," Beca cut her off, and Katherine looked over. Beca smiled.

"It means a lot," Beca clarified. "I'm glad I helped your kid with her song."

Katherine smiled back, and the two women let the moment hang there.

"And Chloe?"

Beca sighed happily.

Chloe.

An incredible, amazing addition to her life. One that she was lucky not to fuck up, even though she tried.

Beca felt her eyes prick with tears, and she knew that the alcohol was hitting her because she was getting sappy. She blinked rapidly.

She'd pushed the redhead away, and it was a testament to Chloe's tenacity and intuition that she didn't immediately write Beca off.

The whole show, though, really, had been a test on how far she would let something implode.

She thought about how tired she'd been in the last few weeks, acting like she didn't care and like didn't hear the problems in the songs. Didn't hear the problems with the show.

Not that that mattered right now.

Because Chloe was there the whole time. A constant, whether Chloe acknowledged it at the time or not, and a driving force for Beca through every hard moment.

And now, that weight was lifted.

That dam was broken.

And Beca was allowed to be happy.

"Yeah," Beca grinned, wiping a tear that snuck past her lid. "We figured it out."

"So I heard," Katherine replied.

Drunkenness set it, and Beca felt lighter than she had in months. Her friends were all listening to her music, and dancing, generally having a good time. She might get to deejay at a real club on Wednesday, after singing a duet with the best girlfriend she'd ever had.

Where was she, by the way?

Bulletproof vs. Release Me started to play as Beca stumbled across the kitchen towards her bedroom, past the cameraman. He swung around to catch her in the shot as she reached the door.

It wasn't all the way closed, and Beca didn't mean to eavesdrop. She would've gone straight in if she didn't hear Posen yelling.

"You can't trust her! She's been nothing but trouble since this show started!" the judge shrieked. "She's probably just using you to get back at me and at the show!"

Beca threw the door open. Posen had her back to door, and she spun when she heard it open, while Chloe was over by the bed.

"Hey Posen," she said loudly, with an overwhelming overlay of sarcasm. She looked past the blonde judge to her girlfriend, and her expression softened.

"You okay, Chlo?"

Chloe looked shocked and a little mad, but she nodded.

"I'm all right," she said slowly.

"Okay, cool," she responded. She turned her gaze back on Posen, who was flushed with anger. Nostrils flaring, and body tensed, the judge took shallow, angry breaths as the brunette regarded her.

"I love that woman," Beca said, pointing across the room to Chloe. "You're an idiot if you think this has anything to do with the show."

Posen scoffed and shook her head.

"I mean, honestly, I know why you don't trust me. I've been a dick, especially to Chloe. But really, dude? Seriously? Are you really that conceited?"

"It's not conceited to see things at face value!" Posen replied. "I mean you-"

"Save it, Posen," Beca cut her off. She looked behind Posen to Chloe. "You wanna stay in here? Or go back out there?"

Beca could hear her mix starting to end as the club mix of Emily's song Flashlight came on, and the women left in the other room cheered.

"More shots!" Amy yelled. "Where's shortstack?!"

"I'll go," Chloe agreed, and Beca waited as the redhead crossed the room. Beca pulled her close in the doorway, pressing a firm kiss against her lips.

Chloe hummed in surprise but quickly melted into the brunette, who pulled away reluctantly before the kiss went any further. She smiled at Chloe and gave a little sigh.

"Twenty whole minutes that I couldn't do that," Beca laughed. "Torture."

Chloe giggled.

"Oh, totes."

"I've got my eye on you, Mitchell!"

Beca and Chloe broke concentration and looked over to the judge, who had crossed her arms. She tapped her foot impatiently, like a school teacher waiting for a class to be quiet. Beca smirked.

"Then you can expect to see a lot more of that," she laughed. "Didn't peg you as a voyeur, Posen."

The blonde flushed angrily and moved to storm past the pair. She marched forward, and Chloe had to press further against Beca to allow Posen to move through the doorway.

"We'll talk later, Bree!" she winced as Posen left. She turned back to Beca, brow knitting with worry.

"I'm sorry you heard that. She's just protective, I think," Chloe sighed. "Are you okay?"

Beca laughed loudly with her full chest.

"As long as you're good, I don't care what Posen has to say," she replied. "She's totally vain."

Chloe frowned.

"That wasn't very nice, Becs," she said.

"She wasn't very nice," Beca grumbled, but then she sighed.

"If you want me to apologize, I will, because I love you," she said begrudgingly. "Because I really don't care. But she has to apologize to you! She doesn't get to treat my incredibly hot girlfriend like that!"

Chloe laughed and pulled Beca into a deep, sensual kiss, sliding her tongue beyond Beca's lips. Meeting no resistance, Beca felt Chloe lick into her mouth, and she moaned.

"Shortstack!" Amy called. "Don't make me come back there!"

Beca reluctantly pulled out of the kiss and let her forehead rest against the redhead's, eyes still closed.

"How many more songs?"

Beca blinked her eyes open and found a heated glare waiting for her.

"Uhm," Beca grimaced sheepishly. "Like 5? 10?"

Chloe groaned and kissed Beca again, this time capturing her bottom lip between her teeth and pulling on it.

Beca's lizard brain kicked on with a start, and she pushed forward, pressing Chloe into the opposite door frame as the door flew all the way open. She was so focused on the soft, keening noises of the redhead that she barely heard the Australian growl in frustration.

"Be-car, you've got ten seconds!"

Chloe smiled into the kiss.

"Your fans are waiting," she mumbled against Beca's lips, and the brunette groaned.

"Okay, okay," she stepped away, scrubbing a hand over her face. She moved to walk down the hall, but Chloe pulled back by her hand.

"You finish this kick-ass set," she hummed, but then she dropped Beca's hand and motioned for the brunette to go. Beca saw a mischievous glint in her eye.

"You aren't coming?" Beca asked, and Chloe smirked.

"I know, I know. I'll be there in a second. I need to freshen up," she teased, and Beca knew Chloe had no intention to powder her nose.

Beca inhaled sharply.

"That's not fair!" she whined, but she heard Amy in the other room start to count down.

"10! 9! 8!"

Beca groaned and turned quickly, almost running into the cameraman. He dodged, leaning out from behind his camera.

"Hey, congrats, guys," he said. "We were rooting for ya."

Beca turned back to Chloe, and the redhead giggled then shrugged.

"At least now we can dance together."

*****

Chloe didn't come back into the main room until Shut Up And Dance vs. Moves Like Jagger was almost over, after the Uptown Funk remix and Flashlight were long over. Beca had slipped fully back into DJ mode.

Thankfully, the extra tequila shots weren't able to penetrate the intensity the brunette felt towards the music.

(I need to make sure I thank Chloe later for making me eat this afternoon.)

She'd moved back behind the table, working on some of the fading aspects of the software to practice transitioning between songs.

She'd also made her few notes about each of the songs, vowing to spend some time with them before she sent the set off to Luke the next day.

She was so entranced in slowing down her mix to fade into an unedited version of Starboy by The Weeknd that she didn't hear Chloe approach.

"You've got talented fingers," Chloe said softly, and Beca jumped. She kept her hands steady, though, and soon the next song was fading in.

"But I already knew that," Chloe went on, curling against Beca's shoulders. She pressed a kiss into the brunette's neck, and Beca glanced up.

Katherine was gone, along with the mics, cameras and Posen. Everyone else had settled at the dining room table, wrapped up in their own drunken conversation.

Far enough away that they couldn't hear them.

She smirked towards the redhead.

"You missed some of my set," she teased. "I thought you were excited to hear it."

Beca felt Chloe smile against the skin of her shoulder where the redhead had pulled down her flannel.

"I'll have you know I could hear every second," she hummed. "But I needed to feel it."

Beca scoffed, but her skin flushed, and she was sure Chloe could feel the way her pulse spiked.

She didn't say anything, though.

Didn't really trust herself to.

Chloe, getting herself off in her bed as the redhead listened to her perform in the next room?

Yeah.

That was…

Yeah.

"I expect you to be there next time," Chloe giggled. She bit Beca's tendons on her shoulder and Beca gasped. "You and your talented fingers."

"Oi! Red!" Amy shouted across the room, and Beca and Chloe looked up. "Leave the DJ alone and come take shots!"

They both laughed, and Beca shook her head.

"Get me some water?" she asked. "I'm almost done here. I'll meet you on the couch?"

Chloe nodded against her neck and peeled away. Beca queued up the next few songs with haste, not caring about the practice anymore.

But then, as her Don't vs. Crazy Rap mix started, she tried to quiet the horny part of her brain for just one more moment.

One more song of work, she thought. Then I'll just let them play.

Don't by Ed Sheeran was easy enough in a setting like this, but Beca was watching to see what everyone thought about Afroman. CR laughed and sang along, as well as Amy and Stacie, but the rest of the group didn't hear anything beyond the Don't beat.

So a maybe, then.

They were dancing, but it didn't hit like the other songs did. She decided to cut it short and faded the song down.

"Hey, dudes," she yelled across the room. Conversations petered off as the women turned their attention to the head of the pit.

"I'm going to put on a few more songs, but thanks for listening tonight," she said, and her friends gave a few whoops and a bit of applause.

She gave a soft laugh and shook her head.

She tried not to look at Chloe exclusively, as the redhead was grinning madly from the couch where she'd been talking to Jessica.

"Come find me if you have any tips or just feedback in general," she said. "I gotta send this to Luke tomorrow, so anything would help."

A club remix of Red by Taylor Swift started to play, and Emily cheered loudly, along with a few others.

"Uh-uh, you gotta turn that shit up!" Emily called out, and Beca laughed again.

"All right, all right," she relented, cranking the volume back up. Emily began to dance, if you could call it that - something like a sprinkler, maybe? - and CR flinched and ducked next to her at the dining table.

"Damn, okay!" CR shouted. "Chill!"

But then Jessica was there too, and Stacie, and then CR was surrounded by a plethora of aggressive Swifties screaming along to the remix.

Beca laughed and slipped around her table, eyes resettling on Chloe as she smiled. The redhead flashed her predatory smile and patted the sofa next to her.

The brunette fell onto the sofa with a dramatic flop, landing her head in Chloe's lap. The older woman laughed and went to feed Beca some water, upside-down, and Beca happily accepted. With minimal coughing, she got the drink down and grinned up at the redhead.

"Loving you is red," she sang softly, and she watched Chloe's eyes glaze over a little bit.

"Wait, is this yours?" she asked, and Beca nodded.

"I mean, I'll never admit I remixed a Taylor Swift song, but yeah," she shrugged. "What can I say? I like Red."

Chloe smiled softly and pulled her lip between her teeth, and Beca couldn't take it anymore. She hoisted herself up and pulled Chloe down at the same time, joining their lips in a tender and full kiss.

Cheers and sarcastic aws and coos sounded from all around, and Beca pulled out of the kiss to see that all of their friends were watching them.

"You guys already knew!" Chloe insisted, pulling away and twisting her body as Beca tucked her head behind the redhead as she groaned.

"You're just so cute!" Stacie sighed. "It's fucking gross!"

"Bechloe is legit!" Amy shouted, and everybody laughed again.

"Okay, okay, whatever!" Beca groaned loudly, only to be met with another chorus of cooing. She glanced at Chloe.

"We can leave," she whispered, and Chloe sighed with a shake of her head.

"Your fans," she said pointedly, and Beca turned out of the couch while Chloe turned in behind Beca.

CR was there, as was a red-faced, fast-breathing Emily.

"Beca, that set was awesome!" Emily started. Red faded out as another older mix started.

More samples, Baba O'Riley by The Who under C-Side's Boyfriend/Girlfriend, some Kayne and Ying Yang Twins too, and Justin Timberlake's My Love.

Emily talked about her favorite songs of the night, and CR circled back to the conversation they had earlier about the BPM drop, this time looping Starboy into the conversation.

She wasn't going to let it go.

It would be easier, Beca said, when she was working off an actual club audience to make sure the setting was right before throwing in a slower song. But, as her mix started to build up towards the last verse, Beca finally relented, agreeing to take the Hooptie vs. Mustang Sally mix out of the set before sending it to Luke.

"It just doesn't fit," CR said, and Beca reluctantly agreed. "And you have to fix that Jump remix."

Beca sighed, ready to dive into another discussion when she felt Chloe biting the back of her shoulder through her flannel.

"I'm going to-Oo-" she started to say, then cleared her throat. She felt Chloe giggle behind her.

"I'm going to add a low synth, I think," Beca replied, and CR nodded hesitantly.

"That could help," she agreed. "You wanna get together tomorrow? I actually have an idea."

Beca nodded as her mix came to an end, and 500 Miles vs. Titanium started. She felt more than heard Chloe take a deep breath, and then the redhead bit her again.

But this time, instead of letting go, Beca felt Chloe hum.

"Remember when we sang this?" Chloe said in a low voice as she released her, leaning up a little out from behind the brunette's back.

"We were in perfect harmony, and I just knew we'd always have that," she went on, and Beca felt pinpricks of sweat start to form all over her body.

A thrumming, low and constant, revved deep within her.

And it had nothing to do with the song.

CR was saying something- maybe to Emily, because the teen was nodding, and Ashley was on her way over, but Beca didn't register any of it.

She was somewhere else.

"You already know my body so well, baby," Chloe hummed, and she slipped a hand low on Beca's back. She found the hem of the brunette's shirt and started to play with it.

"Perfect harmony, even when we fuck."

Chloe let the hard consonant hang there, and Beca snapped. She'd only heard Chloe curse under the most compromising of circumstances, and if the redhead was that far gone right now, then Beca needed to get there.

Fast.

She stood suddenly, pulled Chloe to her feet.

"I am going to go, uh… change," she said awkwardly. "I queued up like another hour of music. Just random stuff. No more mixes. Club stuff. Diplo. Uh."

"Oh, you're going?" Stacie spoke up, and Beca slowly turned to her. She found the brunette smirking at her from the far corner of the dining table.

Please be cool please be cool please be cool.

"You going to change with Beca in her room, Chlo?"

Shit.

"I am, actually," the redhead said.

Beca immediately started pulling Chloe out of the pit and through the dining area. She tried to drown out the redhead by shouting more expressions of gratitude, but it didn't work.

"I'm not coming back, though!" Chloe giggled loudly to Stacie, and the older brunette laughed.

"Seriously, I love you awesome nerds!" Beca tried to yell as a distraction. "I consider you all some of my closest friends!"

"Why's that?" Stacie replied to Chloe, ignoring Beca completely.

Two steps to freedom, if I could just-

"I'm not going to be able to walk!" the redhead called, and the room burst into laughter.

"Chloe!" Beca huffed through a laugh as she yanked the redhead into the hallway.

"What?" Chloe said innocently. "It's true!"

Beca stepped into her suite, dropping her girlfriend's hand to pull the door closed and then forcing her against it.

"I know," she smiled as Chloe gasped at the impact.

"I don't want them to be jealous."

She captured the redhead's lips in a bruising kiss, forcing her tongue into her mouth. She curled her tongue over Chloe's greedily, pushing and pulling, taking every ounce of pleasure she wanted as the redhead moaned.

Beca shimmied out of her flannel, letting it drop to the floor as she drove her hands under the shirt Chloe was wearing. She dragged blunted nails up the redhead's obliques and coming to rest on the sides of Chloe's breasts.

Chloe pushed against the brunette, forcing her backwards across the room. She smiled against Beca's lips.

"No, no," she moaned, and Beca pulled back suddenly.

"Wha-"

The brunette was cut off as Chloe pushed her back onto the bed. The redhead shed her shirt in a quick move, starting in on Beca's jeans.

"You've been in charge all night," Chloe hummed as she undid the button, then the zipper. She inched the pants off the smaller woman as she looked up. Over the subtle sound of her playlist in the other room, Beca could hear Chloe's breaths coming fast and hot. Her eyes were dark and possessive, and Beca suddenly understood what it felt like to be prey.

"Do you know what it's like to watch you deejay?" Chloe asked as she resettled between Beca's thighs. She ran a finger along the inside of Beca's thigh, and the brunette squirmed under her.

She glanced down - her abs clenched as she gasped, Chloe looked fucking sexy between her naked thighs - and shook her head.

"You control them, baby," Chloe moaned. She brought a thumb to Beca's clit, and the brunette groaned loudly as she arched into Chloe's hand.

"You have them in the palm of your hand," she went on, pressing lazy circles against Beca. "Each flick of your finger makes them want to move. It's like watching you make love to an entire crowd."

Beca groaned as Chloe slipped a finger into her, curling and meeting that spot inside her. One of her hands fisted in the sheets, and she raised the other one in exquisite anguish. She reached toward Chloe, and the redhead's smirk morphed into a smile as she used her other hand to grab Beca's hand, squeezing it tightly as Beca closed her eyes.

"I'd be jealous if it wasn't so hot," Chloe said in a low voice.

She stopped moving, and Beca's eyes flew open as she looked down.

Chloe was poised directly over her clit, looking up at her through dark lashes, watching with wide eyes as the DJ moved beneath her. Beca shifted her hips forward in a desperate move, but Chloe just held still, smiling at her.

"You control them..." she sighed, her smile slowly transforming into something more devilish.

"And I control you."

She dropped, curling her tongue over Beca's clit as the finger inside the smaller woman started to move. Beca surged forward as another finger joined the first.

She cried out in ecstasy, hand still clasped around Chloe's as the woman worked her. She felt her body keening with lust, arousal pouring out of her and coating the redhead's hand.

With how precise Chloe was - not to mention the build-up of the night - it didn't take long until she peaked.

Her orgasm crested over her embarrassingly quickly as a warm glow settled in her every bone. She let out a breathless laugh as her body finally began to relax.

"Remind me to invite you to every show," she giggled, eyes closed, and she felt Chloe pull her fingers out of her as she moved up the bed to join the brunette.

"You better," she warned, but it came out less like a threat and more like a loving jab. Chloe laid herself over Beca's arm, leaning up to kiss the brunette before snuggling into her shoulder.

Tasting herself on the redhead's lips, Beca's arousal flared again, her body rolling out of its own volition. She winked one eye open as she glanced down at her girlfriend cuddling into her.

"You know we're not done here, right?" she asked.

"Oh, I know," Chloe replied seriously.

"Good."

Beca groaned with effort, flipping them over and landing astride Chloe's lap. The redhead shrieked, and Beca gave a soft smile.

"Let's get you naked."

Chapter Text

Tuesday came quicker than it had in weeks past.

Beca figured it was because she wasn't sulking anymore, and because she had Chloe by her side. The days just flew by in a flurry of music and moans. They'd wake up late, tangled in sheets and each other, and they'd get up to eat or rehearse.

But they barely left the room otherwise.

Beca was able to spare a few hours on Sunday to work with CR on the Jump mix, and they'd come to an agreement. A low, rhythmic synth would serve as additional bass, adding a bit of stability to the mix, and with CR's stamp of approval, Beca had sent the whole set off to Luke.

(By the end of the day Monday, Luke confirmed Beca would have a set Wednesday night, probably not the whole thirty minutes though. He also said that he'd ask his record label guy to be there.)

Alone in her room, Beca slowly got dressed for a day of cameras and rehearsals. She was nervous - mostly for the DJ gig and just a bit for the actual show she was currently competing on. Well, that, and the fact that she’d be on camera again for the first time since Saturday’s party.

It seemed like so much had happened in the last three days.

She threw on a thermal and some dark jeans, then sat at the edge of her bed to pull on her socks.

Chloe had left to go back upstairs to get ready, leaving Beca with an (increasingly rare) moment of solitude. Not that she wanted it, of course.

Not when the alternative was time with Chloe.

The redhead had helped Beca with her anxiety, talking Beca down every time the brunette tried to cancel on Luke in the last sixteen hours. Beca smiled as she thought about how close they'd gotten; intimately, sure, but also emotionally. They picked up right where they'd left off before, with Beca sharing almost everything with the redhead and Chloe doing the same.

Like on Sunday, after working with CR, when Beca came back to the room to find Chloe on the bed, playing guitar again.

"You know that turns me on more than anything else," Beca growled, and Chloe waved away the lusty comment.

"Shh, I think I have a duet for us!" she replied excitedly. She adjusted her phone to read the chords and started a simple, muted strum.

"Do you know this one?" she asked, and Beca shrugged.

"It sounds familiar..."

Chloe smiled and started to sing.

Do you hear me?

I'm talking to you.

Across the water,

across the deep, blue

ocean, under the open sky.

Oh my, baby I'm trying.

Beca laughed as she recognized it immediately. Jason Mraz and Colbie Caillat's Lucky, a nauseatingly adorable song about being in love that she couldn't agree more with.

She sat on the bed next to Chloe and jumped in on the next part, singing what she could remember.

Oh I hear you

in my dreams.

I feel you whisper

across the sea.

Keep you with me in my heart.

You make it easier when life gets hard.

Chloe picked up the chorus as Beca rolled her eyes.

"I don't know if I can do it, Chlo," she laughed, and a flash of worry clouded the redhead's expression. She stopped playing as her eyes fell.

"They already know we're a couple, I don't think-"

Beca leaned across Chloe's guitar and kissed the redhead softly.

"No, it's not that," she grinned. "I think that song might ruin my reputation as a badass."

Chloe's face broke open as she grinned and giggled. There was something about the way Chloe laughed, like it inspired everything around her to shine just a little brighter. Chloe's laughter took her whole body and soul with her on a careening, joyous ride, forcing things out of the darkest places.

Or, at least, forcing Beca out of those dark places.

Because she actually was insecure about the fact that maybe the show wouldn't like the happier version of herself. It was stupid, she knew that, but she wondered if they'd kick her off, or if the fans would stop voting if she wasn't all moody and cynical.

Chloe seemed to pick up on the fact that Beca was half-serious, and she schooled her expression into one to match.

"You're more than your rep, Becs," she said, reaching across to pull the brunette's hand into hers. "You're Beca Effin' Mitchell."

"But what if I'm not ‘Beca Effin’ Mitchell’ if I'm happy?"

Chloe couldn't stop the chuckle from escaping her lips, and she rolled them together tightly as she shook her head.

"You couldn't stop being the talented, no-BS, badass DJ that is Beca Effin' Mitchell if you tried," she said softly, then she sighed. "It's in you, baby. It is you."

Beca huffed and pushed the guitar out of Chloe's lap, climbing over her to take the instrument's place.

"That 'baby' shit is going to ruin my rep too," she said in a low town as she leaned in to kiss Chloe. The redhead giggled against her lips.

"What are you gonna do about it, baby?"

Beca shook herself out of the memory and checked her phone. They had about an hour until cars would get there to take them to the theater, and she knew Chloe wasn't ready yet. She gave her make-up a quick once-over before starting out into the hall. She grabbed a couple bananas and a water bottle, then went upstairs.

It was funny; in the last few days that they'd been together - and all the weeks before that, Beca still hadn't been up to Chloe's room.

They had shared incredibly intimate details about their deepest wishes and regrets, their families - hell, Beca told Chloe more about her dad than anyone else in her life - and yet Beca had never seen where the redhead had been living for the last month.

Beca rounded the first set of stairs, giving Emily in her room a passing wave as she continued upstairs, ruminating on the fact that Chloe probably was her best friend.

Which made their song choice even more fitting and cheesy.

At least her other song was cool. She was going to sing Carly Simon's You're So Vain as a little jab to Posen - a little "fuck you" to The Man - which would be fun. At the end of the day, she didn't care what the blonde judge thought about her, performance-wise or personally.

But it'd still be fun to remind the shrew in a public setting.

Neither Chloe nor Carl would tell Beca what Chloe was singing, so Beca knew she had to be ready for anything. The devious little redhead was probably going to serenade her with something super sappy or try to rile her up onstage.

Either way, terrifying.

Beca came to the third floor and looked around. She didn't even know the layout on this level, but Chloe had told her that her room was directly above Stacie's, so Beca turned the corner and headed towards the back of the house.

She heard Rihanna from the one in the corner, so Beca figured that one was CR's room. She continued around towards the far corner of the house, walking past an open door to an empty room on her way. She came to a partially closed door and, taking a deep breath, she knocked on it.

"Come in!"

Immediately - literally the first thought Beca had upon stepping into Chloe's room - was sunshine.

Every wall had a window, and some had more than one. Unlike Beca's room, where the multiple windows usually had curtains cast across them like she was a vampire, Chloe had all the curtains thrown open in a move that Beca figured was probably permanent. The carpet and linens were white, with only light woods to break them up.

Beaming in from every corner, Chloe’s room was categorized solidly as an abundance of sunshine, which only seemed to fit the redhead currently emerging from the bathroom.

"I don't know if I should go with- oh!" Chloe started, then stopped. "I thought you were Stacie!"

Chloe was wrapped in a plush white towel, with another towel wrapped around her hair. She was holding something sequined and blue, but Beca couldn't discern what type of garment the redhead was considering.

"Your room is so bright," Beca marveled, and Chloe smiled broadly.

"That's why I picked it!" she replied.

She gave a grand gesture around the room, and Beca breathed in deeply.

Vanilla.

Chloe was all around her, as the sunlight and vanilla perfume assaulted her senses. As much as Beca loved being in Chloe's space, it was almost overwhelming.

And she couldn't help it when her eyes strayed to the top of the redhead's towel.

Its hold was tenuous, Beca could see that across the room. One foul move, and the whole cotton cover would fall. Just like that first day she came to the American Idol house, Beca couldn't keep her mind off white terry cloth.

Only now, she knew what was underneath.

Beca tried to keep her mind out of the gutter as she moved through the room then into Chloe's bathroom. It was a jack-and-jill bathroom, with a shared common area that had the toilet, shower, and even a large bathtub. Beca was again struck by how well the room fit Chloe, as the tub was against a large window that went to the balcony and the backyard.

Beca laughed when she saw it, and Chloe was close behind. The redhead tucked herself around the smaller woman's shoulder as Beca took in the space.

"Isn't that weird to have the balcony right outside your bathtub?"

"Oh!" Chloe laughed, as if she'd just thought about the concept that somebody could see her. She hummed in Beca's ear.

"I guess I'm pretty confident, about all this."

Beca spun into the redhead, laying sure hands at Chloe's hips as she pulled the redhead against her thigh.

"You should be," she growled, and Chloe gasped over a laugh.

"We do not have time, Mitchell," she warned, and Beca debated the consequences.

Fuck my girlfriend, or be late?

Her hands slipped subconsciously to the edge of Chloe's towel, and she knew what choice her body had chosen.

"Uh-uh, no!" Chloe warned as she stepped away. "I have to get dressed!"

The redhead disappeared back into her private part of the bathroom, which was just a sink and a closet that Beca had missed on her first pass-through.

"Who's in the other half? Like, who shares the bathroom?" she asked, following Chloe into her closet. It was the size of a postage stamp; there was barely enough room for the redhead to turn around inside of it, much less with all of her clothes inside. Beca immediately felt guilty about her huge walk-in downstairs.

It wasn't even half full.

Chloe pushed past Beca, towards the shared section of the bathroom and beyond, into the other side.

"Well, it was Lilly," she called over her shoulder. "She was such an odd duck to share a space with. But since she's been gone, I took advantage of the extra space-"

She came out of the other closest holding a pretty patterned blue dress. It was like a geometric peacock.

"Can I wear this for the show?" she asked. "What are you wearing tomorrow?"

Beca blanched.

"Dude, I barely thought about what I'm wearing today," she replied hastily. "I have, like, three clean shirts, and I've worn them on the show already."

Chloe laughed.

"Right, I forget that you're fashionably illiterate," she said with a wink. Before Beca could protest, the redhead held up a hand.

"I'll match you today," Chloe sighed. "But we're going to have to go to the mall after rehearsal. I've got to pick something out for you tomorrow."

Beca agreed without much of a fight, because Chloe was probably right.

She needed more clothes, and she needed Chloe's help to pick them out.

She had since the beginning, and she probably always would.

At least Chloe was somewhat prepared for the whole “dressing someone else” thing. Even though she was in the younger half of her siblings, she said she'd been the most fashionable, and Beca believed it.

An older brother, an older sister, and a younger brother, and she'd helped all of them "find their style," her words, not Beca's.

For Charlie, it'd be preppy-athletic, and baby Joe had a softer, sweater aesthetic.

But Heather was a full-on jock for a number of years, rejecting Chloe's fashion input until her college career ended with an irreversible knee injury. The two of them grew a lot closer over those years when Heather couldn't compete, and Chloe wanted to help find a new way to be herself.

Always giving.

To a fault, almost.

Beca loved learning about Chloe's family and about the ways that they supported each other. She found out that Chloe was worried her parents weren't proud of her the way they were proud of her other siblings; Heather was a D1 soccer coach, and Charlie and Joe both worked at her father's law firm, but Chloe was always the wild child.

Not that vet school was that wild, in the grand scheme of things.

But it was to her parents.

Beca got that.

Chloe finished getting ready as Beca sat in her room, soaking in the full Chloe essence. It was exhilarating, watching Chloe move with such confidence in a space that seemed to be made for her. She flitted around her desk, back into the bathroom, into and out of the light, until Beca heard somebody yelling distantly downstairs.

She stepped into the hallway to get a better listen and found it was Katerine that was yelling up to the remaining women.

"First fleet is leaving!" she said. "Next round of SUVs will be here in fifteen!"

"Okay, I'm ready," Chloe said, pursuing her lips in the mirror by her door. Her rose-colored lips shone with lip gloss - Beca could almost taste it as she remembered the rough kisses from Saturday night.

"Should we head downstairs?"

"Actually," Beca replied coyly, stepping back into the room and bringing the door to a close behind her.

"I had a better idea."

*****

Thirty minutes later, a very sated Chloe and a partially sated Beca joined the others downstairs.

"Okay, that's actually very important," Amy said as the two approached.

"What is?"

"Are you guys going to knock boots on the third floor or the first?" the Australian replied, and Beca felt the heat rise in her cheeks. "I just need to know which bathrooms to avoid."

"Yeah, that wall is thin, isn't it?" CR chimed in, and Beca flushed further.

"I didn't- I don't-" Beca started to reply, but Chloe jumped in.

"We'll be on the first floor," she said definitively. "And if you're embarrassed about it, you can pee upstairs."

Amy scoffed as a PA approached.

"Fine, but I don't know if you know what you're signing up for, Red," she warned. "I don't know how much I can tolerate hearing when it comes to Shortstack's talented digits."

Chloe stifled a giggle as she curled into Beca's shoulder, but the rest of the group fell into a stunned silence, only to be cleared by the PA's cough.

"So, Shortstack- uh. Beca," he corrected. "Beca, you'll go with, uh, Flula…"

Beca chuckled as she pulled Chloe into her.

It was awkward, for sure. But Chloe made it better.

They rode together with an eccentric German and rehearsed separately, and Beca was able to help a couple people on their performances again. It was the first time she'd heard any of them perform that week - not for lack of trying on their part, because they had definitely been texting her - but most of the duet partners were able to work out their issues within the smaller groups.

She told Emily to slow up her rendition of Please Mr. Postman by The Marvelettes.

And she helped Stacie with her breath control on Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive.

She even helped Ashley with You Light Up My Life by Debby Boone.

(As much as she could, anyway. The song had its own melodic narrative, and there wasn't much Beca could do with it.

Thankfully though, the talented Ashley was able to take the song where it needed to go.)

Beca fell into her bed, joining a Kardashian-transfixed Chloe later that night. She let the day wash over her as the show played in the background, and she tried not to think of the challenges that the next day would bring.

"Do you think we should try to sleep separately tonight?" Chloe asked out of the blue as she turned off the show. "I don't want to keep you up."

Beca curled around her girlfriend with a sigh.

"I sleep better with you here," she yawned. "Is that lame?"

Beca felt Chloe laugh.

"I don't think so," she whispered. "Love you, baby."

Beca was too tired to fight the nickname, giving into the feeling instead with a small kiss that she pressed against the inside of Chloe's neck.

"Love you too, babe."

*****

"Welcome to week three of the American Idol showdown! I'm your host, Jesse Swanson, and we've got an action-packed show for you tonight-"

Beca tuned Jesse out as she stepped away from the green room TV. She could hear CR warming up her Respect song in the hallway to her left, and Chloe was running scales to her right, but tonight, she didn't care.

There was too much going on to care.

Amy started off the show with Can't Hurry Love by The Supremes, and Beca couldn't decide what to focus on. Should she practice her song? Run her setlist for the club? It was driving her crazy to know that she had not one but two career-defining moments happening tonight - and one, she couldn’t even prepare for. It was distracting to say the least, and all-encompassing if she was being honest.

She tried to remember that there were a pair of performers getting cut tonight, but it felt like nobody was worried about it.

Votes were already cast.

Sure, next week's performances were on the chopping block, but tonight?

Everybody was going to perform their solo and duet, no matter who was going home.

So, collectively, it felt like everyone just decided to sing their best.

Amy and Emily were singing Any You Can Do, which felt almost too on-the-nose for the cantankerous pair.

But it was fun to watch them duel, knowing that both women were extremely talented in their own right.

Emily powered through her solo as Stacie and CR got each other in the zone. For some reason, the two of them were able to feed off each other's energy, which was perfect for their Take Me or Leave Me duet from Rent.

While both women were effusively sexual in everyday life, the final performance together wasn't explicit; they truly felt like a couple vying for control. It was effortless, and the judges agreed, especially with their solo performances in mind.

After the commercial, Ashley and Jessica geared up for their performances. They started with Jessica, who sang Petula Clark's Downtown. Together, the pair sang Tonight You Belong To Me, and then Ashley closed down the joint with Debby Boone.

Then, it was Beca and Chloe.

Beca was worried that her song would fall flat, but with Chloe onstage with her, seated off to the side by the judges, she found it easy to tell Posen to fuck off, in so many words.

The crowd loved it, but whether they liked to watch Beca sing or to call Posen vain, Beca couldn't tell.

But seeing the judge's face after she finished was worth every second.

"An interesting song choice, Beca," Posen said as the song came to a close.

"I think it speaks to whomever wants to hear it," Beca added solemnly, and she flashed a wink at Chloe as the audience laughed.

"You and Chloe had a duet this week," Katy Perry spoke up. Beca let her eyes drift towards the edge of the stage towards her wonderful girlfriend, and she smiled.

"We did, yeah," she said, then she leaned into the mic. "And it couldn't have come at a better time."

"Why's that?" Perry asked excitedly.

"Well, is it okay if we show you?"

The judge nodded, and Beca extended a hand towards Chloe, who joined her centerstage. Beca situated Chloe on a stool with her guitar, and she stepped behind her.

Chloe counted them in, and from there, the song flowed like butter. The melody, the harmony - even the soft percussion of Beca's feet as she moved around the redhead as she played - all of it added up to a beautiful, painfully cute performance.

"I'm gonna barf!" Aubrey Plaza spoke up as the duet finished. "You guys are so cute that it makes me physically ill."

Chloe and Beca's eyes met before they turned back to the judge.

"Yeah we get that."

"Totes, yeah, sorry."

The audience laughed, and Beca shifted nervously from one foot to the other. Nobody was saying anything, and she was about to speak up again when Chloe grabbed her hand, forcing the brunette to look at her.

When she did, Beca sighed in relief.

She wasn't sure if she'd ever get used to being onstage, but at least if Chloe was there with her, she'd feel okay.

"I can see it," Katy Perry said, breaking the pair's gaze on each other. "You two have something real. I love it. I'm so happy for you."

Chloe responded gratefully as Beca rolled her eyes, earning another chuckle from the crowd. Of course Perry would get sappy; that was standard at this point.

Posen, though, was still a dark horse.

One that would continue to act as such, at least on the judging panel it seemed, as Posen merely asked Chloe to move on with her solo performance instead of providing any feedback.

For as much as Beca was at odds with the blonde, she felt a little slighted as she moved to the stool back to the side of the stage.

She'd come to rely on Posen's feedback, now that she understood it.

But whatever, she'd figure it out.

Jazzy guitar filled the theater, and Chloe moved across the stage slowly, regarding the crowd first, then the judges, flashing them a wry smile.

But then she dropped into a serious look and pointed at Beca as she started to sing.

Billy Ray was the preacher's son,

and when his daddy would visit, he'd come along.

When they gather 'round and start talking,

That's when Billy would take me walking.

Out through the backyard, we'd go walking.

Then he'd look into my eyes -

Lord knows, to my surprise -

The only one who could ever reach me,

was the son of a preacher man.

The only one who could ever teach me

was the son of a preacher man, yes he was.

Beca dropped her head into her hands as she laughed.

Chloe was singing about fucking her.

In the most dated, Southern way: by referencing her father specifically.

It was exactly right in hitting Beca’s humor. It was funny, but sexy, and just the right amount of guilt to make her feel like she was definitely going to get a call from her father later that night that asked her just how close she'd gotten to Chloe.

Nevermind the actual love song that they just sang together.

It was perfect - salacious, scandalous, and sarcastic - and Beca felt herself grinning from ear to ear as she dragged Chloe offstage after judge feedback.

"Hey, you guys have to come over here to ask for votes!" Jesse yelled at them across the stage.

Beca barked out a laugh as she pulled Chloe into her body. She felt the redhead hum into her shoulder.

"Fuck off, boy toy!" she said, flicking him off. "I'm going to take care of my lady! I'll ask them next week!"

Jesse laughed with a shake of his head as he turned back to the camera, but Chloe turned to Beca.

"I can go talk to the camera if you need to get ready for your gig," she offered, but Beca pulled her into a rough kiss.

"No way, Beale," the brunette growled. "That was a dirty trick you pulled out there. I plan to pay you back for it."

"And how's that?"

Beca rolled her lips and leaned into Chloe's ear.

"By making you wait."

Chapter Text

Beca and Chloe made their way back onstage for the reveal of who was going home. The other pairs - Stacie and CR, Amy and Emily, and Jessica and Ashley - were already out there, on their marks, waiting for the commercial to end.

When it was announced that Jessica and Ashley were going home, Beca was relieved that it wasn't her and Chloe, but all good feelings stopped there.

Just like before when Flo and Lilly left, it didn't feel right to send anyone away.

And Jessica and Ashley had been with her since Hollywood week.

Practically since day one.

Jesse started his outro, but Chloe was already pulling Beca across the stage and then into a hug with the departing pair. Beca grunted when she felt someone else join, and then all of the remaining contestants were in a giant group hug, with Jessica and Ashley at the center.

"-and don't forget to tune in next week for a surprise guest mentor and judge! Only a couple more weeks until we get to see who will be the next American Idol. Thank you, and goodnight!" Jesse called as the audience cheered.

The moment hung there for a second, with the women all gathered together onstage, and it didn't stop when Beca heard, "Clear!"

She could feel somebody crying on her, and she tried to hide her discomfort of having so many people pressed against her.

"It's all going to change now," Emily said solemnly. "This is, like, a real competition."

Beca felt somebody nod.

"I love y’all,” CR replied. "But Em's right. It's time to get serious."

Chloe leaned back to open up the circle, leaning towards Beca, and the brunette saw that Chloe was one of the ones crying. She felt her girlfriend take a deep breath and close her eyes.

"No matter what," Chloe said. "No matter who wins or who leaves, we will always have this bond. We'll support each other, and we'll stay friends. Okay?"

Beca surveyed what she could of the other women, and what she found wasn't necessarily inspiring. Ashley and Jessica were both a mess, and Stacie looked mad. CR was staring down at her feet, and Amy was looking off towards the crowd.

Even Emily looked distant, like she couldn't understand what Chloe was trying to say. Beca cleared her throat and shifted awkwardly within the body parts that surrounded her.

"Okay, for serious," she said, sighing. "I've never been one of those girls who had a lot of friends that were girls."

She took a deep breath and tried to make eye contact with everyone.

They were listening now, at least, so that was a start.

"I am now," she continued, looking up to blink some tears away as she smiled. "And that's pretty cool."

She steeled herself and went on.

"And I know it feels like everything's changing so fast, and we're all putting all this pressure on ourselves, you know? I don't want to fail. And I know you dudes don't either."

Amy wavered as she nodded at her.

"I mean, I'm probably going to win, but you won't, so sure, continue," the Australian butted in, and the rest of the competitors laughed.

"We're all weird about this stuff," Beca laughed, amused but undeterred. "The show wants to make us figure this stuff out on our own, but we can't. So we'll help each other. They can't tear us apart."

She could feel Chloe at her side beaming at her, but she didn't look. This wasn't about just them or about trying to make everybody feel better; she just wanted to tell them the truth.

"You know, when I look back on this, I won't remember performing and competing, I'll remember you weirdos," she sighed. "I'm going to miss you guys when this ends."

"Me too," CR agreed, then Stacie did too. Even Amy agreed. Beca felt Chloe take a stuttering breath in and realized she had to get them out of this before they spontaneously burst into song or some shit.

"I got my ticket-"

"Nope, no," Beca cut Chloe off. "We're not singing."

The group laughed, and Beca blinked tears away again.

Yeah, things would probably change now.

But honestly? That could be a good thing.

They would compete with each other, but they could do it together still. Beca knew that one of them would win the season, but she really didn't care who it was.

As long as she could say she helped that person do it.

"Well I don't know if you ladies forgot, but our little DJ has to get to her first real gig!" Stacie jumped in. "Let's live for tonight!"

The hug pulled tighter then released, and the group fractured apart to meet with the fans who had stuck around. Beca actually signed her first autograph, which was super weird, but at least it distracted her from the deejaying she was about to do.

And the emotional crap.

It was another half hour before everybody piled into SUVs, and somehow Beca and Chloe ended up alone in one. Beca was quiet, and Chloe let the silence be for once as they raced down the freeway.

But as soon as they went to take the exit, Beca started breathing fast.

"Okay, good, yeah, I prepared for this," Chloe said as she reached into her purse. She resurfaced with a small bottle of Jack Daniels honey whiskey, and Beca laughed.

"You prepared for my anxiety by bringing whiskey?"

"And Redbull!" the redhead shot back. "I didn't know what you would need!"

The car took the turn on the club's street, and Beca grabbed for the whiskey. She took a generous swig from the bottle and immediately her head stopped swimming.

Well, it stopped swimming in one way.

The anxious way.

But if she did too many more of those, it'd swim the other way.

And that wasn't good either.

She shot Chloe a look as her girlfriend offered the energy drink next. The redhead was practically bouncing in her seat.

"I'm so excited," she whispered, and Beca rolled her eyes. "This is going to be like, totes awes."

Beca nodded as she cracked the Redbull open. Another big drink, and then they were pulling up to the club.

They made their way upstairs where the other women were already seated, including their show judge and now somewhat friend Aubrey Plaza. Beca pulled her bag tighter to her body as she waved off shots.

"Oh yeah, you're playing tonight, aren't you?" the dark-haired celebrity teased.

"Yeah, should I go- like, where should I… am I allowed to just walk over there?"

Plaza laughed and rolled her eyes.

"C'mon, kitten," she grinned. "I'll take care of you."

Beca tried to turn around to say bye to her friends - or at the very least Chloe - but Plaza had whisked her away, pulling her across the VIP sections and introducing her to every bouncer along the way.

All of the security personnel made note of Beca's appearance at Plaza's request, and soon Beca was ushered into the VIP behind the booth. Luke was spinning, so she stayed with Plaza as the celebrity greeted the DJ's bartender and a few of his friends.

"Pipsqueak over here is doing a set," she said to one of the women, and the blonde gave a little tilt of her head as she regarded Beca.

"She's cute," she drawled down to her, and Beca rolled her eyes.

"She's taken," Beca shot back with what she hoped was mirth but was probably a little harsh.

But the gorgeous, tall blonde only laughed.

"Feisty," she hummed, sizing up the smaller woman. "Can I get you a drink? Is this your first time?"

Nerves came back, and any clever retort Beca could have said died in her throat. She swallowed hard and nodded, and Plaza stepped up to her side.

"Two Ketels and tonic," she said as she pulled Beca towards the couches. "Doubles."

The woman wandered off as Plaza set the two of them on the nearest plush surface.

It was loud in the club but no busier than it normally was. Beca checked her phone. She had twenty minutes before she had to go on, and Luke said that he was going to give her notes before she took the table. She'd practiced what she could, but if he made her throw in other stuff, she might not be able to make it sound good.

She pulled out a sheet that had her setlist on it, reviewing the page and her hand-scrawled notes for the umpteenth time.

"You're BEM?"

Beca looked up to see a tall, skinny guy with a bald head sitting across the VIP area. He'd been on his phone- and still was, actually - as he'd shot the comment at Beca and then immediately looked back down.

"Uh, I guess, yeah," Beca replied. The model came back with their drinks, and Beca grabbed hers desperately.

"Sammy, with Residual Heat," the guy said to his phone. "I've heard your stuff. It reminds me of early Benny Blanco. Garbage, but workable."

"Th- thanks," Beca replied.

"That kid could take a shit in his hand, smear it across a mixer and add a beat, and it'd be on Billboard for half a year," he went on. "I need that. Can you be that for me?"

"Uh…"

"She can," Plaza chimed in loudly. The exec held his phone aside as he looked at the celebrity, who was chasing the tiny straws in her drink around her glass with her tongue.

He shook his head and turned back to Beca.

"My time is like a toddler in a tiara - precious and short," he said. He settled back in his chair and resumed looking at his phone.

Beca sat there for a second as she waited for Sammy to finish his thought, Luke's beats thudding through the speakers.

When it seemed like he wouldn't say anything else, she looked around.

"Oh, is the conversation over?"

"Yeah, it's over now, it's done," he replied without looking up.

"Beca! I see you've met Sammy," Luke said as he approached. He used the bottom of his shirt to wipe his brow, flashing his washboard abs. "You ready to perform?"

Beca followed Luke to the booth, where the resident DJ showed her where to plug in her laptop. He offered his sample pad, but Beca declined, saying she'd preloaded everything she needed to her keyboard. He told her which of her songs she could play and which she most certainly couldn't. Beca nodded, making mental notes as she listened, rewriting her set in her head.

"You'll be fine," he said. "Just don't get on the mic. And no sex in the booth."

"Right, okay- wait," Beca started to ask, but then he was gone, back into the VIP section with the blonde model from before wrapped around him.

Well, Beca thought. This is the coolest thing that I've ever done in my entire life.

Beca checked everything in front of her as the filler song (What You Came For, conveniently enough) continued to play. Her equipment looked good, and she tested the sound in her headphones. Levels matched, the equalizer was set right, and she was ready to go.

Then she looked in front of her.

From this angle, the sprawling dance floor was massive, and there were probably more than fifty people scattered around. Towering amps dwarfed them as they swayed to the beat, and Beca knew she was about to control that beat.

She was about to perform for them.

Whether they knew it or not.

She was about to get nervous again when she looked across the mezzanine. She saw her friends in their normal spot, laughing and drinking- all except Chloe and Stacie. The pair of friends was up at the rail, looking across the expanse at the DJ booth - at Beca - and they both waved enthusiastically when Beca met their gaze. Beca grinned and waved back, taking a deep breath.

Stacie blew her a kiss, and Chloe smacked her as Beca giggled. She held up a finger to tell them that she'd start her set in one minute, and they smiled broadly, turning back to the group to get them ready to go downstairs to dance.

Then Beca slipped her headphones over her ears and sighed.

Showtime.

*****

Beca groaned as she turned over in bed.

Sunlight.

So much sunlight.

And for what?

What had happened to her cave?

"Morning, superstar," Chloe hummed, wrapping herself tighter around Beca's back, her hand coming up between naked Beca's breasts and staying there as she sighed.

Oh, right. Chloe happened.

Beca stretched her legs down and felt a familiar twinge between her thighs, smiling as she remembered what Chloe had done to her to make her feel that way.

And in the VIP bathroom, no less.

The set went off without too much trouble, and the executive from Residual Heat had stayed to listen to the whole thing- something that Beca was told was practically unheard of. He left as she finished, so Beca didn't get to talk to him, but she was hopeful.

And then there'd been dancing and drinking and celebrating and crying.

Orgasming, too, but that was less of a group activity.

Although Beca was pretty sure Stacie was in the bathroom listening.

Maybe Plaza too.

Beca let the glow of the morning soak into her skin with her uncharacteristically late-sleeping girlfriend wrapped around her, and she smiled.

With the exception of losing Jessica and Ashley, things were looking really, really good.

Something clanged in the kitchen, and Beca heard the front door slam.

Muffled voices trickled down the hall, one of them suspiciously shrill, and then Beca heard her and Chloe's phones go off.

Chloe rolled away from a whining Beca.

"Oh, hush," Chloe teased as she grabbed her phone from the nightstand. "You're so dramatic."

Beca pulled the blankets up and over her head as she hid beneath them.

"Whatever it is, I don't want any part of it."

"Shit," Chloe whispered, and Beca felt her jump out of bed.

Beca peeked her head out.

"Oh wait, is it serious?"

"We have our theme meeting today," Chloe rushed, pulling on her jeans and one of Beca's flannels. "Like, right now."

She disappeared into the bathroom as Beca groaned.

"Did we know that? I feel like I would've known if we knew that," Beca grumbled as she rolled out of bed. "Probably an email."

Beca heard the water running in the bathroom, so she figured Chloe couldn't hear her. She located a pair of sweats and one of her least worn thermals, pulling her hair out of her messy bun and running her fingers through tangled tresses.

She glanced in the mirror over the desk and laughed, flipping her head back down and pulling the hair back into an elastic on the top of her head.

There was no way she was going to tame that in time.

"Are we going to be on camera?" Beca called into the bathroom, and Chloe popped her head out, toothbrush hanging from her mouth.

"E-ou got da same 'essage I did," she mumbled, and Beca groaned.

"Are you using my toothbrush, dude!?" she cried. "That is so gross!"

"E-ou're so gwoss," Chloe mocked sarcastically as she stepped back into the bathroom.

With ramshackle outfits and eyeliner, Beca and Chloe stepped into the living room some time later to find cameras and a few women milling about. Katherine made them tea and asked about the night, which Chloe was more than happy to explain in great detail (baring the bathroom escapades, of course.)

As the last of the competitors arrived - and Jessica and Ashley too, though they stayed in the kitchen with Katherine - Posen called everybody into the pit.

"Well, I see we're slow to start this afternoon!" the blonde began.

Before she could roll her eyes, Beca felt Chloe squeeze her hand. They were on the couch together, squished into a soft corner, with Stacie on Beca's other side.

It was nice, being in the center of it now as opposed to being on the outskirts. Beca felt like she belonged on the show for once, and the feeling was a welcome one.

It was comforting.

"We're starting a day earlier this week because our guest judge will be here tomorrow," Posen said with a flourish. "And because it's time you ladies started taking this seriously. No more late night parties or other distractions."

She twisted her nose up in Beca's direction, and Beca let her eyes roll this time. She felt Chloe giggle against her side.

"She hates me," Beca whispered to her, and Chloe sighed.

"You know, you're more alike than you think."

Beca gasped quietly and turned away from her girlfriend.

"That's literally the meanest thing you've ever said to me," she said. Chloe giggled again.

"Don't say I didn't warn you."

"Ladies? If I'm not interrupting?"

Beca and Chloe looked forward to find Posen staring at them pointedly. The other women gave little "ooo" sounds.

"You're in troooouble," Stacie laughed, and Beca threw an elbow into her side.

"Right, as I was saying," Posen continued. "The guest judge is flying in just for this week, and with the exception of a few other engagements, she'll be here to practice with you all day, every day, until next Wednesday. It's a huge deal, and I don't expect you to take it lightly."

Amy scoffed and leaned across Chloe.

"I bet it's somebody like Miley Cyrus," she said sarcastically. "I think she just broke up with the Hemsworth again."

"No, no, it'll be someone old," Stacie shot back. "Tina Turner."

"I wish," CR piped up from the brunette's other side. "But I don't know if she sings anymore."

"Guys, seriously?" Beca chastised, and the competitors sat there in shock, and she knew what they were thinking.

Beca, chastising them for talking when Posen was talking?

Of all people?

They sat in silence, but then Beca spoke up again.

"It'll probably be Posen in a wig."

The whole group started giggling, and Posen stopped talking with a sharp sigh, glaring at them.

"You better not act like this when Dolly shows up."

"Dolly?" Chloe sat up. "Dolly Parton!?"

Posen sighed and reset herself into her professional persona.

"Yes, Dolly Parton," she confirmed, and the women before her began to murmur excitedly.

"You all have meetings with her tomorrow and Saturday, at her request. Closed door, only you and Dolly. I'll email you the schedule. Just, don't embarrass me," the blonde muttered as she stormed out of the pit. Beca watched as Posen angled herself to leave the house through the back door, but Gail called her over.

Both Gail and John were at the house today, which was unusual, but Beca figured that was a Posen problem, not hers.

"Oh my gosh, I can't believe we get to work with Dolly Parton!" Chloe gushed at Beca's side. Beca just smiled and nodded. "She's amazing, like actually a hero of mine. Do you know what she's done for the people of Tennessee? Not just Dollywood, but the area around, she's been-"

Beca felt her phone vibrate in her pocket, and she kept listening to Chloe excited talk about Dolly as she fished it out. It was an email with the subject line "BEM - Meeting 3/15."

Beca opened the email and scanned it, only realizing halfway through that it was from one of Residual Heat's interns - on Sammy's behalf - asking her to come in for a meeting to talk about joining their team.

She gaped at the phone, mouth opening and closing like she couldn't remember how to breath, only shutting it when Chloe turned to look at her.

"What is it?" Chloe asked, and Beca handed her the phone.

Chloe's eyes widened as she read the email.

"Residual Heat wants to hire Beca!"

The group started to cheer and clap, dog-piling Beca on the couch as the brunette yelped.

I've been here a month, Beca thought incredulously. I can't believe my luck.

The dog-pile began to let up, and Chloe pulled her into a hard but chaste kiss.

"I'm, like, so proud," she grinned. "I knew you could do it."

"Do what?"

Beca turned to the voice to see Posen had returned her focus on the competitors, making her way across the dining room back towards them. Beca noticed with a start something that she hadn't before; the judge looked tired and a little less put-together than normal.

"Residual Heat wants Beca to come in for a meeting," Emily said cheerfully. "She's going to be a music producer."

"What? No she's not," Posen snapped back.

The room fell silent. Camera operators froze in place, and the few PAs that had come to help stopped dead in their tracks.

Everyone knew that Posen tone.

That was her "this is not a discussion" tone.

"Yeah, there was a guy at the club last night," Emily went on warily. "He likes her stuff, and he wants her to work with him."

"Em-" Chloe tried, but the damage was done. Fire was back in Posen's eye, and she whipped around to Beca.

"I know you're not an idiot, Beca," she growled through clenched teeth, eyes flashing towards the cameras in the corners. "But you sure go a long way in disproving that from time to time."

"I don't even know what's going on here," Beca shot back.

The judge let out a mirthless laugh.

"That could be assumed," she joked sarcastically, and Beca flushed with anger.

"Do you want to tell me, or do you want to keep being a jerk?”

Posen sighed and forced herself into hard eye-contact with the smaller woman.

"You can't take a meeting with another production company while you're on the show, Beca," she said condescendingly. "Hollywood Records has first claim to all contracts generated by the show, not just the winner. And those rights don't expire until six months after the finale airs."

She scoffed before adding another quick comment.

"It's in your contract," she said. "You can read, right?"

"Bree," Chloe chided, but Posen waved her off.

"If she didn't read it, that's her own fault," she snapped. "I have too much on my plate to deal with this."

She turned on a heel and stalked towards the door, throwing it open and exiting through it.

Nobody moved. Beca could feel her friends and the crew looking at her, trying to figure out how she was going to react.

And to be honest, she didn't really know herself.

She was furious, sure, especially since Posen was so rude.

But mostly, she was confused.

Chloe tugged slightly on her arm, and Beca came back to herself, turning to her.

"Let's go look," she offered. "Maybe there's a loophole somewhere."

Beca nodded and let herself be led out of the kitchen.

*****

They spent hours reading the contract, and the more that Beca read, the angrier she got.

After fifteen seasons, the show had worked their contract into an ironclad agreement.

Original song or composition on the show?

American Idol retained the rights.

Finalist and runner-up recording contracts?

Hollywood Records had first dibs.

Whoever got recording contracts out of the show had to get an album out within the first four months of the finale airing, getting over $80k at signing and then another payout once the album was done. But their royalty rate was locked down at 15% for three albums (three albums?!), and they had to pay back marketing costs on the albums.

Not the whole thing, but still.

She shouldn't be surprised. It was a reality TV show designed to make money off its contestants, so of course they were going to try to capitalize on the talent that came through. Still, Beca was upset that she hadn't even tried to read the whole thing before she got out to LA.

She was embarrassed and upset, made worse by the fact that she had a real opportunity to be a producer with a different company, but she couldn't take it.

"Well, maybe I'll just get kicked off," Beca sighed.

"Yeah, I'm not sure if you could pull that off, Becs," Chloe replied. "The fans love you."

Beca glanced at her phone and saw it was well after seven. She rubbed her face and stood up.

"Come on, let's get some food."

They found the other women at the table in the dining room. Jessica and Ashley had flights out the next day, so someone had ordered a huge sushi spread that they'd set out. Chloe joined them while Beca grabbed some drinks - water, mostly, but she snagged what was left of the vodka as well, just in case.

Stacie was at the desk, writing the Dolly schedule on the whiteboard. Chloe was first on Friday, and Beca was disappointed to see she was first on Saturday.

"Bree doesn't want you two sleeping in," Stacie teased as Beca frowned at the board.

"I guess not," she sighed. "I don't know what you see in her, Stace. She's impossible."

Stacie laughed as she capped the expo marker in her hand.

"She was certainly a challenge, and that's always fun," she said, casting a sideways glance at the shorter brunette.

"You two are pretty similar, you know."

Beca groaned and turned toward the table.

"That's the second time I've heard that today, and I'm mad about it," she said as she set Chloe's water in front of her. She fell into the seat next to her girlfriend and tuned into the group's conversation, listening and also not listening as Jessica and Ashley told them what they were going back to.

She could probably still take the Residual Heat meeting, but she wouldn't be able to tell anybody. Probably not even Chloe, because she was close to Posen. And doing that would put Beca in the doghouse, no question.

Still, she could, although that might void the contract, and Beca was pretty sure they'd ask for the money they'd paid her.

Money she absolutely didn't - and wouldn't - have.

No, Beca was shit out of luck. She could try to win, but she wasn't sure she could write an actual album of original songs. Her talents were better in the production department, not singing.

Which was what Residual Heat wanted from her.

Maybe if she won, she could make a deal with Hollywood Records to produce instead of sing. That would get her behind the board - but for how long, Beca didn't know.

At least they didn't find anything in the contract about not being able to deejay.

That, it seemed, was allowed.

She just couldn't do a singing performance.

Which was more than okay with her.

After her spot last night, Luke said he wanted her to come back on Wednesday nights, knowing that the show was her main priority. He told her if she wanted to pick up any other nights, she could work an early shift on Fridays or Saturdays, but she needed to work on more popular mixes for the prime slots.

Still, Beca was upset about the contract thing.

But she also knew being mad at Posen was like trying to punch a brick wall.

The wall was there first, and she was the one that swung the fist.

She had options though, and she wasn't going home yet. She wasn't even going to try to bomb yet, because her contract was tied to the finale of the show. With her friends by her side and Chloe even closer, she could stick around for a few weeks, if they let her.

Ashley said she had an early flight, and Jessica said they were going to share a ride to the airport, so the women all clamored around to make their goodbyes.

"It's not like we're gone forever," Ashley said as Jessica wiped her tears. "We're all coming back for the finale."

"Yeah?" CR asked as she hugged Jessica, and the smaller blonde nodded.

"There's a big group number," she sniffed. "Lilly and Flo will be back too."

Beca nodded and gave stiff hugs, not bothering to wait for Chloe as the redhead moved to speak directly with both women.

She figured Chloe could give condolences and advice for hours - having been on the receiving end of it - and instead went back to her suite.

She spent a little time downloading new music. She isolated the vocals off a few of Bieber's new songs because she knew she could do something with them, then she opened up her writing software.

When she sat down to work on beats, though, everything was coming out moody and atmospheric.

Chloe came in and leaned against Beca, pressing her ear against Beca's headphones. Beca pulled off the headphones, and Chloe shook her head.

"I wouldn't be able to make anything happy either," she said solemnly, and Beca got up and followed her to the bed. They crawled in, holding each other for a moment.

"It's just going to get harder to see people leave," Chloe whispered.

Beca nodded.

"I really didn't expect to get close to anyone on the show," she replied, and the redhead let out a little giggle.

"Yeah, look how that turned out for you," she laughed.

Beca looked down at the two of them cuddled in bed and smiled. She shook her head softly.

"Yeah, I really screwed the pooch on that one," she agreed.

"Who would've thought big, bad Beca Effin' Mitchell would be the one to make new friends and get the girl?" Chloe teased as she pressed a kiss into Beca's chest.

The brunette sighed and pulled Chloe closer.

"Wait, seriously," she said suddenly. "How did that happen?"

Chloe laughed and pulled herself up to look her girlfriend in the eye.

"We can watch it, if it got recorded," she said with a smirk. "Although, unless they have secret cameras in the pool house, I think they missed the good parts."

Beca grinned as she grabbed the remote, scrolling through to find the episode from last night.

But when she clicked on the show, not only did Beca's TV out her as the source of the recording, but the artwork for the episode was Beca and Chloe kissing in the hallway outside her room.

"Wait, does that say- are you the one recording these!?" Chloe squealed, and Beca quickly flipped to another recorded show.

Kardashians.

Yeah, that made sense in this house.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Beca hedged as she scrolled through the Kardashian episodes.

"Then go back!"

"Uh, we should watch it together, as a group, don't you think?" the brunette tried, but Chloe was rounding on her. She started to tickle Beca's sides, and the brunette shrieked.

"Hey, no!" she shouted. "Tickling is so friggin' childish!"

But Chloe didn't let up, even as Beca dove under the blankets to tickle Chloe back, and then Chloe had her pinned down, and they weren't doing much tickling anymore.

Yeah, Beca thought as she leaned into the kiss, relishing the moan that followed as she pulled at Chloe's lip.

I can stay for a while longer.

*****

Chloe was gone when Beca got up the next morning, and when she wandered into the kitchen to find something to eat, she glanced at the board.

She checked the clock and saw that Chloe should have finished her solo meeting with Dolly over two hours ago, but when she looked around the first floor, she couldn't find her.

She went outside to see Emily and Stacie sitting in the warm March weather, so she sat with them for a bit, joking about seasonal depression as she ate her toast.

"Hey, have either of you seen Chloe?" she asked as she finished up.

Stacie shook her head, but Emily looked nervous.

"I passed her on the stairs earlier," she said. "She looked really upset."

"Shit," Beca cursed as she stood. She just figured Chloe'd gone to the store or something. She never guessed that the woman might still be here, in her room and upset.

Maybe it was residual sadness from the night before when she'd had to say goodbye to Jessica and Ashley.

Or maybe something really bad happened in her meeting with Dolly Parton.

Beca rushed up the stairs two at a time, tearing down the hall to Chloe's room.

She found the door ajar, and Chloe on the bed, crying softly into the phone.

"Oh, Mom, I have to go," she said with a sharp inhale. "I'll call you tomorrow after the appointment."

She hung up and wiped her eyes.

"Chlo? What's wrong?" Beca asked nervously. She joined Chloe on the bed as the redhead tried to compose herself.

"It's probably nothing," she said. "I just- well, Dolly said- okay."

She took a deep breath.

"Dolly is actually the sweetest person alive," she said finally, and Beca laughed as she grabbed her girlfriend's hand.

"Debatable. Have you met you?"

Chloe chuckled softly, nudging her shoulder into her girlfriend as she dabbed at a tear.

"I was working through 9 to 5, and she stopped me-" Chloe choked off the word with a little sob.

"She thinks I have nodes," she said. "She set me up with a doctor out here - tomorrow - to see for sure. God, I'm so stupid!"

Beca pulled Chloe into her arms and held her

"Okay! Hey, you'll be all right!" she said. "They can't kill you, right?"

Chloe shook her head in Beca's arms.

"No, they can't kill me," she sighed. "But they can sit on my windpipe and crush my dreams."

"Okay, Miss Dramatic Lady," Beca chided. "Isn't that painful?"

Chloe sniffed roughly as she sat up.

"A little. But I love to sing," she offered sheepishly in reply. Beca shrugged and wiped some of the tears off Chloe's cheeks.

"Okay, so, what?" the brunette asked as she moved to hold Chloe's hands. "You'd have to drink more tea or something?"

"You don't get it, Becs," she said quietly.

"I'd have to leave the show."

Chapter Text

Beca checked her phone for the third time in the five minutes.

She still had twenty minutes before she was supposed to go to the pool house, and Chloe left for her appointment almost an hour ago. She knew she probably wouldn't hear from the redhead for a while, and that she should be getting ready for her one-on-one with Dolly, but she couldn't focus.

And honestly? She didn't know how to get ready to work with Dolly. She didn't even listen to Dolly's music.

She knew that the celebrity had left her mark on the music industry, that much was obvious, but Beca didn't know what to sing from the blonde's catalogue. She barely recognized Dolly's most popular songs.

Chloe had helped, though.

She'd pulled up some of her favorites, ones that Beca might not know. She talked to the brunette about which ones would be in her range, which ones might challenge her, which ones the judges would like.

Chloe made everything better.

And if she had nodes, if she had to leave the show…

Whatever.

They'd deal with it, if it happened.

Beca grabbed her tea and started towards the pool house.

She'd just write or something, maybe check Twitter until Dolly showed up.

Stepping into the pool house, Beca kept her head down, eyes trained on the mug in her hand to keep it balanced as she pulled the door open.

So when she heard another voice from inside, she was more than a little surprised.

"Well hi! You're early!"

"Ah!"

Beca jumped, nearly spilling her tea down her front, and Dolly just laughed.

The blonde superstar was on the piano bench with a guitar in her hands, a notebook lying open next to her on the bench. It was quarter to 9, and harsh morning light flooded the small space. Dolly had on some sort of wine colored velvet suit that reflected the light all around her like a comfy, elegant disco ball.

Suddenly, Beca felt underdressed in her ripped black jeans and hoodie.

"You know, I don't always inspire that kind of reaction, but I'd be lying if I said you were the first!" she exclaimed. "I'm Dolly, are you Beca?"

Beca nodded as she glanced around awkwardly.

"I can go, if you're in the middle of something - I can come back-"

"Nonsense, I was just noodlin'," Dolly replied. She sat the guitar aside and gestured to a stool in front of her, by the desk.

"Come! Sit! Let's get to know each other!"

Beca clambered onto the stool, pulling her phone out of her back pocket to check it before setting it down, face up, on the desk next to her. She held her tea with both hands as she sipped it.

They sat in silence for a moment while Dolly flipped through her notes.

"Beca, Beca, Beca, I've heard about you," she mumbled as she scanned the pages. "Somebody talked about you. Who talked about you?"

"Uh, well, my girlfriend came in yesterday," Beca said slowly. "Chloe?"

"Oh! She is just a delight, isn't she?" the celebrity smiled, and Beca felt herself smiling too as she nodded. "I said to her, I said, 'you walk into any room, and every person there will remember you.' That's a rare gift, and I had to- well, you know, I had to explain it to her. She didn't get it, but I guess she wouldn't be her if she did."

Beca felt her grin stretching wider across her face as Dolly talked, and when she finished, the brunette let out a dry laugh.

"Did I say something funny?" the older woman asked honestly.

"No, it's just-" Beca started, then stopped with a shake of her head. "Yeah, that's exactly who Chloe is. You hit the nail on the head."

"It was interesting, you know? I didn't watch this show before comin’ here," Dolly went on. "I've watched in the past - I always love to see the young people doing their thing, but I knew I'd be on it this season, so I didn't watch. I didn't want to have any favorites before I showed up!"

She laughed, then let out a little sigh.

"But that girl?" she confided, leaning closer towards Beca. "She's definitely one of my favorites."

Beca couldn't keep the smile off her face even if she wanted to.

"Yeah," she agreed. "I totally get it."

"Shame about the nodes, though," Dolly tagged on, and Beca immediately felt her fear resurface. She reached over to her phone and clicked it on, but there were no new messages.

"Have you had them?"

"Me?" Dolly replied. "Oh sure. Every once in a while, especially in the old days. Back when me and Kenny were doing a lot of shows. I got nodes; I'm one of those people who can sing really, really high harmony."

She sighed as she remembered, bringing a hand subconsciously to rub at her throat.

"If you spend a whole show doing nothing but singing the high harmony, I mean, how long can you last? I'm not a trained singer. Mine just comes natural. But I went through a period of time when I had nodes on my vocal cords. They were soft nodes, what I think Chloe has, but I've had to take vocal rest on and off over the years."

Beca held back from checking her phone again. It was rude to keep checking, especially in front of a legit celebrity, but she was so worried.

"They went away though?" she asked, and Dolly nodded.

"Well, yes, I got lucky," she said. "I didn't want the surgery, so I would go on vocal rest for a couple weeks. A month was the longest. But they were soft nodes, and thank God, they healed up."

Dolly laughed and waved her hand dismissively.

"I'm sure she'll be fine!" she said. "I want to know about you! Tell me about Beca; I need to know who I'm working with."

Beca nodded and rubbed at one of her eyes roughly, digging the palm into the socket.

"Sure, yeah," she started. "What do you want to know?"

Another peal of laughter rang out of the blonde celebrity, and Beca was taken aback by how joyous it sounded.

It was like a little kid's laugh - loud, with a squeal to it, like she'd never heard anything funnier than the last thing she said.

"Well I don't know!" Dolly said. "Let's start with singing. Why do you sing? What do you sing?"

Beca shook her head as she took a long sip of her tea.

"I don't, really. Sing, I mean."

"Well, Beca, I hate to be the one to tell you this," Dolly responded conspiratorially. "But you're on a singing TV show."

"I know, I know," Beca replied, trying to shake out her thoughts. "I guess I sing. I like mixing better though. Music production. I play piano."

Dolly nodded and grabbed her notepad. She read another note, and then she flipped to a new page farther in. She said the words out loud to herself as she wrote - "Beca - piano, production" - and then she looked up.

"What kind of music? Electronic?"

Beca shrugged and nodded.

"Pop, hip-hop, anything really," the brunette replied, but then she flushed with guilt. "Although, I don't know many of your songs."

Dolly waved her off before adding another note to her page.

"Never you mind, darlin'," she said, making a stabbing gesture with the pen she was holding. "And you know? I love to sing, and I certainly love to sing the songs I do write, and I love to perform - I love my fans - but there's just something about writing songs that's just kinda like my personal time, you know?"

Dolly cast a forlorn but loving look at her guitar in front of her.

"I don't need anything other than me and just my instrument I'm using at the time, it's just my quiet time," she went on. "I go into my little zone, and I just feel like I can express myself in ways that I don't need a doctor for - you know, I don't need to have therapy - I can just kinda sing it all out, write it all out."

Beca let out a shaky breath she didn't realize she was holding.

"Yeah, no, definitely," she sighed. "It's the only way I've learned to really express myself."

"Well then show me!"

Dolly jumped up from the bench, and suddenly she was behind Beca, ushering her to the keyboard.

"I don't - I mean, I haven't-" Beca tried to say, but Dolly shushed her.

"Just play me what you feel, right now, give me something," she pushed. "I won't judge or nothing. I just want to see what you've got."

Beca took her seat at the keyboard and looked over the keys. She closed her eyes for a moment and tried to think about where she was, what she was feeling.

Chloe might leave the show.

She couldn't take her dream meeting with a production company.

She'd deejayed her first show.

She sang with Chloe.

She helped her friends with their songs.

She got together with Chloe.

It was a huge week, to be fair. And it'd only been a week.

And to her, Chloe was the common thread. Always had been.

So it was almost too much to think that she might leave the show before they even really got a chance to be with each other.

A melody came forward, slow and sad, and she resounded it easily. Key of C, easy, like a waltz or lyrical ballet dance, and her fingers trailed up and down the keys as she let the melody flow.

Then, before she even realized that she'd transitioned into an actual song, she heard herself singing.

People fall in love in mysterious ways,

maybe just a touch of a hand.

Well me? I fall in love with you every single day.

And I just want to tell you I am.

So honey now, take me into your loving arms.

Kiss me under the light of a thousand stars.

Place your hand on my beating heart.

I'm thinking out loud, maybe

we found love right where we are.

Beca felt a hand clap onto her shoulder, and she blinked out of the song.

"I didn't write that," she said quickly. "I just, I was playing something and that came out."

"It was beautiful," Dolly assured her. "And I liked what you were doing before, with the melody. That was beautiful too. But you said you don't really sing? Because girl, what I just heard was singin', no question."

Beca gave a half-hearted shrug.

"I'm not trained-"

"Well darlin' neither am I, but that hasn't stopped me!" the singer laughed.

Beca got up from the piano and crossed the room back to the desk. She clicked her phone again, almost reflexively, and then she grabbed her tea.

"There's something in you, Beca, just under all that black you wear," Dolly said pensively. When Beca turned to face her, the blonde was squinting at her from under her layered bangs.

"I don't know what it is yet. I can't name it. You're at war with yourself, or you used to be. I've got a couple songs for you that I want you to listen to, that I want you to practice on the piano, because you have got to play the piano for this. We'll get together Monday to see what fits."

She tore a page out of her notebook for Beca to write down the songs - Here I Am, Living On Memories of You, Old Flames Can't Hold A Candle To You, Down on Music Row, and a couple others. She wouldn't be able to learn all of them, but at least she had a place to start, something to work on.

Something to distract her.

"You know, it wasn't just Chloe who said something about you," Dolly said as Beca picked up her things to leave. "A few others did, too. Said you knew about music."

Her melodic laugh rang out again in the small space.

"And now I believe it!" she asserted, and Beca blushed.

"Now, if you come back and you like one of these songs, I don't want to hear me singing it, you understand? I want you to make it your own. I want Beca to come through, and I want to see who you are."

Beca let out a quick sigh and nodded.

"I'll try my best," she replied.

"I believe that too," Dolly shot back. "Now, get. I have to get ready to meet with- a 'fat' Amy? That can't be right."

Beca laughed as she made her way towards the door.

"Oh, don't worry," she grinned.

"She'll tell you all about it."

*****

When Beca's phone went off two hours later, she nearly toppled her desk with how quickly she stood, racing to the night stand where her phone was plugged in.

It was Chloe, but it was in the group message.

As Beca read it, she started to pale.

Hey ladies, what time is everybody done today? I have something important to discuss.

Stacie was the first one to respond back, shooting out a crude joke about how Chloe could just list the places she and Beca hadn't had sex to save everybody time.

Then Emily popped on to ask where Chloe had been all day, adding "and it's totally fine that you guys did it in the pool house. Nobody's mad."

A statement which Amy immediately refuted by sending a bunch of sick and middle finger emojis.

Only CR said something helpful, which was that her one-on-one was last and that it was supposed to wrap up at three.

Chloe said thanks and told everyone to go to the pit at four, and Beca knew.

Chloe was leaving the show.

Twenty minutes later, Beca had tried to re-immerse herself in her music when she was interrupted by her door flying open.

"What's wrong with Chloe?" Stacie yelled as she burst into the room.

Beca pulled her headphones to her neck and sighed dramatically.

"Good afternoon to you too," she drawled sarcastically.

"Bree's coming over, Chloe told her she had to come," Stacie went on undeterred. "Something's wrong. What do you know, hobbit?"

Beca sighed and, quickly saving her work, spun away from the desk. She pulled her headphones completely off her neck and set them on the dark surface.

"She's obviously going to tell us when she gets back," Beca tried, but Stacie wasn't having it.

"Emily said she was crying yesterday," she pushed. "Did you do something?"

Beca sighed through a sardonic laugh.

"I actually don't think it was me this time," the smaller brunette replied. She could feel tears pricking the corners of her eyes, and she willed them not to fall while Stacie was there.

But she knew the older woman could probably see them forming.

"Shocking, I know," Beca added sarcastically, and one of the tears fell over the edge of her eye.

Stacie's expression softened.

"It's bad?"

Beca didn't trust her voice anymore, so she simply nodded, and Stacie seemed to get the point.

"All right, c'mon," she said. "Come play piano for me."

Hours passed under Stacie's bossy instruction, and Beca was again glad to have something to distract her from what was going on. It took almost an hour just to get the cadence of She Don't Love You (Like I Love You) right, because Beca was so unfamiliar.

Then Katherine and Emily came by, and Beca played Emily's song for her, which was Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?

Katherine sang along too as the younger woman tripped over lyrics.

And then she had Stacie, Katherine, and Emily listen to the songs that Dolly had picked out for her, and the trio had more than a few opinions about what was right for Beca.

By the time Beca heard the backdoor open and she heard Aubrey and Chloe were talking downstairs, she had almost forgotten what was coming.

Chloe was quick in delivering the news of her diagnosis, but tears started flowing almost immediately. Beca stayed strong, holding Chloe's hand as the redhead told the group that she'd have to go on vocal rest - no singing, yelling or whispering for a couple weeks - and that she'd have to stop competing.

Chloe was crying, Stacie and Emily were crying, and Posen looking like she was about to, but then her expression hardened.

She rounded on Beca and set her mouth in a thin line.

"The key is early diagnosis," Chloe was saying. "I am living with nodes. But I am a survivor. I just have to pull back, because I am limited. Because I have nodes."

"Well at least it's not herpes," Fat Amy said sympathetically, and Beca stifled a laugh.

"Or do you have that as well?"

The laugh got through, and Beca started cracking up, along with Stacie and CR. They were desperate, sad laughs, the kind that would turn to sobs in the blink of an eye, but it still felt good to laugh. Even Chloe giggled a little bit through her tears, and Beca squeezed her hand.

"This isn't funny!" Posen spat, turning her full attention on Beca.

"I don't know why you're laughing at all, Mitchell," she scowled. "This is all your fault."

Beca stopped laughing and tried to adopt Posen's serious tone.

"It always is," she mocked. "Tell me, did I choke her too hard?"

Chloe gasped as Stacie and CR doubled over again.

"I knew the ginger was kinky," Amy lamented.

"Do you really do that?" Emily asked, wide-eyed.

"No, hunny, Beca was just making a joke," Chloe explained, shooting Beca a sideways glare. Beca just winked and turned back to Posen. She raised an eyebrow in challenge, and the blonde hummed shrilly.

"Chloe is a very... vocal person," Posen said carefully as she glanced at Emily and Katherine. "You put the show at risk by making her use her voice for non-show related activities!"

"You're insane," Beca scoffed. "You're a legitimately insane person. That's not a thought that a sane person would have!"

But then she heard Chloe sniff next to her, and her anger dissipated. She sighed and, without looking, she brought Chloe's hand up to kiss it.

"Fine, Posen, you're right. It’s my fault," she said. "How about we - I don't know - just support Chloe right now? Leave the blame game until after she leaves the show?"

Tears were coming for her now, and Beca was reticent to let Posen or any of these women see her that weak again. She hated crying in front of anyone, much less people who actually cared about her.

Or, in Posen's case, people who might use those tears to emotionally manipulate her through a reality TV show.

But there were no cameras tonight, only tears, and soon after pizza and sleepytime tea. They were about to watch last week's American Idol episode together, all cuddled up on the couch in the living room, but Chloe said she'd rather watch something else.

Secretly, Beca was grateful.

She didn't know if she could stand to see herself so happy with Chloe, knowing where she was now.

Chloe said she would stay through this week, but she wouldn't sing, and Posen said she'd work it out with production. She said she might be able to sing at the finale in a couple weeks if the swelling went down enough, but that would be the earliest.

When they crawled into bed later, Beca tried to make it easier the only way she knew how: ill-timed, self-deprecating comedy.

"Well, at least we haven't been together long," she sighed as she curled up against Chloe's back. "I mean, how much can I miss you when I barely even know you?"

She felt the redhead's body wrack with sobs, and she finally let her own tears fall too.

"When do you leave?"

Chloe sniffed forcefully.

"Thursday."

Beca took a deep breath and let it out.

That was it.

She was done.

She couldn't do this without Chloe.

She tried that, for weeks, and she got nowhere. She was nothing without the redhead by her side, and it was going to be incredibly obvious when she turned into mopey, moody Beca again as soon as Chloe left.

Well that settles it, then, she thought suddenly.

Time to get kicked off a national reality TV show.

Chapter Text

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."