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*

Aubrey dislikes rap music -- most hip hop, in fact. It's not hate exactly. That would require much more direct exposure. Like many things, it only makes her uncomfortable with an intensity that leads easily into dislike. Rap is something she'll never really be good at, even with practice. It's unsettling in its unfamiliarity.

There must be rules -- everything in life has structure and order of some kind, obviously -- but the function of it escapes her completely. It's like another language with its own grammar and accent; one that everyone else in the world seems to know, but no one will take the time to teach her.

Music is Aubrey's life. (If she were still a teenager and inclined toward childish dramatics, she might even call it her escape.) Whatever the hyperbole, the truth is that music is the closest Aubrey comes to relating to most members of her peer group.

Hip hop is a barrier -- a very real one.

She dislikes it greatly.

*

Aubrey dislikes rap music, but she loves Chloe.

She doesn't know this right away, of course. The first time they meet at auditions for the Bellas in freshman year, Chloe is only the competition. The enemy, as it were.

This is a habit of viewing the world that Aubrey has learned from her father -- one that's proven useful in many aspects of her day-to-day life. All of his lessons are useful, of course, each in their own way. It isn't like Aubrey to be ungrateful or inattentive (far from it), but strategy and plan of attack are two areas she's always excelled at.

The redhead has to have a weakness. Aubrey is so sure. Everything and everyone must have a flaw. (It's only fair, when Aubrey herself has so many.)

But Chloe is adorable and effortlessly charming in all the ways that Aubrey never will be. She smiles with a relaxed ease that comes naturally, almost as if she's not afraid of anything. Not the crowd, the judges, or even the possibility of failure. (There is nothing else in the world that fills Aubrey with as much dread as the potential for failure.) Chloe shines with a confidence so stunning and bright, it almost serves to calm Aubrey's nerves just through proximity.

Even then, when she is readying the resolve to hate her, Aubrey can't help but be wowed by Chloe's strength. One day, she will be Aubrey's rock, but in that moment she is her worst nightmare.

Aubrey's audition is fine -- only fine. She sings well (average), but keeps her smile in place. When her stomach tightens, as if to revolt, she only sings louder -- smile clenching and strained.

*

Chloe is perfect. Her performance is flawless, and so is the humility she displays after. She is exactly the kind of girl Aubrey always imagined herself becoming if she just worked hard enough at it.

Now she sees how wrong she was. There is none of Chloe in her.

(Eventually Aubrey will learn that Chloe's quiet calm isn't always the same as happiness. She'll know to recognize the days when the easy smile is just a little slower to appear. Chloe's brave face isn't all that different from her every day casual face, and it takes consideration and concern to notice. And Aubrey tries. She really does.

But that comes much later.)

*

Chloe likes hip hop, but then Chloe has a tendency to like everything. This is not limited to music or styles of fashion, although it applies there too. (Never leave Chloe alone in making food decisions; you'll never know what you're going to get.)

In their freshman year, for example, Chloe is paired with a business major as her roommate. They have nothing in common. She criticizes Chloe's taste in music, corrects her grammar, and even redecorates on Chloe's side of the room. (The greatest of her sins as far as Aubrey's concerned.) And yet somehow, Chloe even likes her.

It's a bit of a problem.

*

Of course Chloe would be drawn to Beca; she's always been a sucker for a lost cause, and Aubrey's almost certain that she's never seen someone look even half as lost in a daze as Beca Mitchell does. That's what Chloe must see in her too.

That day at the activities fair, Aubrey already knows that she'll be trouble. She's so alternative -- aggressively Other. Aubrey has spent her entire life working to solidify her place among Us and We, but here comes Beca with her mutilated ears and her black nail polish.

Beca doesn't make an effort to fit in or meet expectations. She sneers at expectation -- and achievement! -- and tries to degrade everything Aubrey and Chloe have worked so hard to put together for three years at Barden. She's laughing at them, and if Chloe weren't so busy making that face -- the one she usually saves for three-legged dogs or babies with lopsided heads -- then she'd probably see it too, and be outraged. Just furious.

Instead, she's drawn to Beca.

Just one meeting, and Chloe has found her new charity case. She's fascinated.

*

Because Beca is hip hop. She's electronica, trance, house music, and all other sorts of made-up things that come from the internet which aren't clearly defined or delineated anywhere. None of this is written down explicitly in a book somewhere -- at least not any of the books that Aubrey's ever read -- and it's not even like learning a new language. It's like trying to apply brand new scientific principles to our own world when they're based on the physics of some other planet.

Even Beca's gravity is different.

She's so flippant that it's infuriating, and her smiles are always pointed and cruel. She isn't sincere about anything -- not even effort, especially not effort -- and she makes Aubrey so angry, seemingly without even having to try. (Obviously. Because Beca never tries at anything, though she does take a very earnest and sincere sort of pleasure in the upset she causes -- without bothering to hide it!)

She is the worst thing to happen to the Bellas, but Chloe insists on keeping her, and that's final.

Aubrey never wins in a fight with Chloe. They don't have very many (and Aubrey can admit that it's usually because Chloe backs down first), but whenever they do fight Chloe's face usually goes blotchy and Aubrey feels like she might throw up. So she concedes -- even though her father thinks that concessions are a confession to weakness.

It's not like Chloe would tell anyone that she is Aubrey's weakness. It can be a secret. Friends keep secrets.

Which is why Aubrey hasn't said anything about the way she's noticed Chloe looking at Beca in rehearsals. Because she's Chloe's friend.

*

In addition to being a rebellious elf with attitude and fuck-off nail polish, Beca can sing. She has a good voice and she's not completely clumsy, so she could probably dance too, if she bothered to try.

They would all be so much better if they tried, but apparently that's out of the question.

Aubrey has spent her whole life trying (every minute, every day), and she's only asking for one semester out of them. Is it so hard? Are they that selfish?

Apparently so.

*

Aubrey's father always says: "Giving up is for losers who have already lost." It's very useful advice, and can be applied to almost anything in life.

It's helpful, for example, to keep in mind that Beca is just a speedbump. She's an obstacle to be overcome. Like a mountain or ass cancer. (Not that Aubrey thinks cancer is funny; she doesn't think Beca is funny either.)

Leadership is challenging. That's the point, really. If it was easy, everyone would do it and we'd never get anywhere from pulling in different directions.

This is one of the many ways in which Beca is secretly sabotaging them. It might not be deliberate. (It probably isn't, in fact, since that would require planning and effort, which are not a part of the Beca Mitchell repertoire.) The point is that Chloe has started to treat Beca like the little alt girl that could. Like Chloe's adopted her to keep her from doing raves in the street or selling crack or whatever it is punk shits do. Aubrey really wouldn't know.

But Chloe talks about Beca all the time, even when it's totally unrelated. Like Aubrey treats them both to froyo and Chloe feels the need to point out that Beca's never had any. Well obviously, Chloe, because that would require that she inject color and joy into her life.

But all Aubrey says is, "Oh, that's interesting." It's not. But apparently Chloe thinks it's super rude when Aubrey is honest about Beca. "You two talk a lot, huh?"

And Chloe just smiles a chipper smile, like she thinks that Aubrey's oblivious. Like she thinks that she's dumb and doesn't know her best friend is falling into a deep pit of despair and ugly jewelry.

"Yeah, I guess so," Chloe says, like that's all there is to it, so leave it at that.

*

But Aubrey can't just leave it at that.

Because Chloe means more to Aubrey than anything outside of singing. (Well, and her grades, her father's approval, and getting into Columbia; but after all of that comes Chloe and nothing else is close, not even her cat back home, Mr. Whiskers.) Because no matter what, Chloe has always been there for her.

When Aubrey ruined their chances in the finals -- and she knows that is exactly what happened, no matter how often Chloe tries to make it into some kind of upbeat life lesson about perseverance or kittens dangling from a high-wire -- Chloe was the only person to stick by her. After the phone call from her father, the text messages from the other Bellas, and the creepy voice mails from strangers who saw her "on the internet" (Aubrey also dislikes a great many things about the internet in general, come to think of it), it was Chloe who suggested a late night of Colin Firth movies and ice cream.

Aubrey considers herself a pragmatist, but she's a sucker for an english accent and a disarming smile, and Mr. Firth has both. (In addition to being a weakness, Chloe's worked out what most of them are. It's how she helps to build Aubrey back up again when life is being an enormous dickface.)

Like when Aubrey was stressing out over failing her Latin midterm, Chloe put Ace of Base on repeat for almost six hours and it absolutely calmed Aubrey down again. Because Chloe gets her -- that's what best friends do -- and she gets Chloe in a way that no alt asshole ever could.

So if Chloe is going to experience some sort of (disturbingly early) mid-life crisis with Beca as (a shitty substitute for) her sports car, then Aubrey is going to be there to support her, hold her hand, and drag her back out of the depths of hell.

Hell being Beca Mitchell's arms, of course.

*

Not that they're at a phase where arms are involved, at least as far as Aubrey can tell.

Actually, given the way Beca reacts to anyone moving within a couple feet of her (usually she looks on the verge of some kind of epileptic fit), there's a chance that Aubrey's intervention isn't even necessary.

But preparation helps prevent excess perspiration, so she starts working on a plan.

(It's color coded and there is a flow chart stored under her bed.)

*

            STEP 1: Alternatives to The (Cloyingly) Alternative

            Fight fire with even better (or at least more readily available) gay sex.


Now Aubrey is a Christian, and somewhere in the Bible it says that men lying together is a sin, but it also says the same thing about polyester (although actually, it's probably right about that) and football. Aubrey might not care too much about football personally, but her very religious family does, and so she has come to terms with "sin" operating on a sliding scale. A bell curve of debauchery, as it were.

So if what makes Chloe happy (for now) is weekly trips to vag town, then Aubrey can support her in that because it's probably not any more sinful than most of the things her cousins have done while tailgating. The particular problem isn't with the female anatomy per se -- though it does make Aubrey question a lot of the conversations they've had together -- but rather whose particular (slowly, lazily, sloppily) gyrating hips said female parts rest between.

To point: the problem is Beca.

The solution is (maybe) Cynthia Rose. (Or possibly Stacie. Aubrey's not 100% sure about her yet.)

Cons: more experienced with women, already in a relationship(?), possibly in the closet(??), already interested in Stacie, makes dubious hair dye decisions

Pros: definitely has good taste in women (this means she will like Chloe!!), not dating a Treble (or boning one in secret when everybody knows and it's not remotely a secret Beca), very talented singer, knows (most) of the dance moves already, doesn't argue constantly, IS. NOT. BECA.

All in all, the pros obviously outweigh the cons. It's not even really up for debate.

*

It's during a regular weekly planning meeting -- which she and Chloe both really get a lot out of -- when Aubrey initiates the first phase of the attack.

"Cynthia Rose looks really pretty lately," she says, swapping her own pink sharpie for the black she's designated as Beca's color (obviously). They're color-coding the chart for the next two week of rehearsals, and Aubrey's taking such particular satisfaction out of Chloe's agreement that Beca needs extra work on her dance form that it shows now in the pleased and pleasant lilt in her voice. "Don't you think?"

Chloe looks up from doodling something in the margins of her notes. "Mm?"

Hearts. Chloe is drawing fucking hearts in her notes, and Aubrey has to mentally count backward from ten before her smile flits back into place. Ten, nine. "I said--" Eight. Deep breath, fivefourthree-- you know what, screw it; "Cynthia Rose." The smile is probably as sharp and strained as the syllables, but at least Chloe is looking at Aubrey instead of the hearts.

The hearts that (jesus christ, does it say B.M.) travel the full length of the margins.

"What about her?" Chloe asks brightly.

"… she's cute, right?"

Chloe frowns, (probably) only slightly suspicious. "Well… yeah." She taps her pen against the round tip of one heart. Tap tap, and Aubrey's jaw clenches. "Why?"

"No reason."

Tap tap.

*

During Beca's extra dance rehearsal, Chloe eagerly volunteers to show her the moves.

For the fifth fucking time.

"Oh, I don't know." Aubrey claps her hands and then keeps them strung together, holding on like a lifeline. "I think maybe we should give someone else a try, don't you? Chloe?"

Judging by the look on Chloe's face, it's obvious she does not think so, which is all the more reason to intervene. "In fact--" Aubrey laughs like this is a completely casual and sudden realization. Like she's the sort of person who can be spontaneous! (That alone might explain the suspicious look Chloe's shooting her, but she pushes on.) "I think we should split up into teams. Cynthia Rose, how about you and Chloe?"

If Chloe's frown before was suspicious, the look right now is downright distrusting, but she eases back into a smile directed at Cynthia Rose. (No matter what, Chloe can always be relied on to be agreeable within the group.) Easy enough.

"And Beca, you're with me. Everyone else, pair off." Aubrey waves her hand dismissively, not caring a wit for their grumbling or suspicions. Maybe if they'd bothered to learn the routine properly -- or to take any of her cardio and workout tips! -- then they would have earned the right to complain.

Not that Beca has ever needed a reason to complain. She drags her heels walking over, and it's all Aubrey can do not to shout for her to straighten her back and stop making that face like she's sucking on a lemon.

Is it really so hard to be nice? To smile? Aubrey smiles all the time, even when she hates people!

She smiles at Beca, after all. (Does Beca have any idea how incredibly hard that is for her? No. Of course not. No thought probably ever crosses selfish Beca Mitchell's mind that isn't about downbeats or hipster bullshit.)

"Okay then," Aubrey smiles (because she cares to), and pulls her ponytail just a little bit tighter. "Why don't you show me what you can do?"

Beca lifts her eyebrow in her trademark sardonic shit-talking-without-actually-speaking way, and goes through the motions.

*

It turns out that what Beca can do is very little. Still.

"One, and two. Three and--"

Beca's jazz hands look like she's drowning. Her turns are half a beat too late. (Doesn't she like music? Doesn't she make music? How does she lack rhythm?) And her hand boxes look like smelly rotten eggs.

"It's like you're daydreaming," Aubrey says pointedly. "Thinking of Jesse?"

This catches Beca so off-guard that she turns the wrong way -- and then snarls. "Will you let it rest?"

"I don't know," Aubrey hisses, stalking in a slow circle around Beca. "Does Jesse let you get any rest -- at night? That would at least explain your poor form." And then, just so it's clear: "From all the sex."

"Jesus, Aubrey!" Beca says far too loudly, obviously desperate for attention.

And just like a mama cat looking over the most flea-bitten and scraggly of the litter, Chloe is suddenly there. "Hey, guys?" She's positioned herself directly in between Beca and Aubrey, as if she fears for either of their safety.

Probably a good thing too, because Aubrey wants to knock that smugly bemused look right off Beca's face.

(She is sleeping with Jesse -- probably -- and now she's just stringing Chloe along. Why Beca won't admit to her indiscretions and lack of dedication to the team -- so that they can all move on -- is beyond Aubrey.)

But what Aubrey says aloud is, "Maybe we should all switch partners."

"Okay." Chloe squeezes her shoulder, and smiles between them. "I'll help Beca, okay?"

It's not. It's absolutely not okay, but all Aubrey can say is, "Fine."

*

(The results of step 1 might be considered inconclusive, but only if Aubrey is feeling generous toward herself. Chloe doesn't show any particular interest in Cynthia Rose over the following week, and -- even worse! -- the lack of desire appears to be mutual.

It makes no sense.

Crisis condition elevated. Code Red.)

*

            STEP 2: Truth Will Out

            Admitting is the first step toward healing.

 

Once Chloe can acknowledge her feelings, she'll finally be able to move on from them. It's like a twelve step program, but the life-destroying harmful addiction is to aggressive cliches dressed in flannel.

But there's a (slight) problem. Normally, Aubrey can't get Chloe to shut up about Beca, but now she's barely speaking about her. (Maybe because Beca's spending even more time with Jesse, and Chloe's finally wised up on being played. Heartbreaking, yes, but for her own good in the end.) At least, that's what Aubrey's hoping.

But dreams are for suckers, small children, and cartoon characters. (Winners don't have dreams, they have goals and ambitions. Dreaming isn't for doers.) So of course Beca is still on Chloe's mind, and of course she brings her up while Aubrey's running on the treadmill, envisioning scaling Everest.

"You know," Chloe says. "Maybe Beca has a point." One of Aubrey's feet lands especially hard, and she almost trips before regaining balance. "About choosing different songs--"

"Aca-scuse me?" Aubrey clutches the side of the treadmill and hops off without any cool down. "Really, Chloe. I've had enough."

Chloe's eyes are wide and for one moment she looks on the verge of tumbling out of the elliptical. "Aubrey--"

"I get it, you know?" Aubrey is bent over slightly, panting, but that's not the source of the sharp pain in her chest. "You think she's cute and she's different, and down to dive your muff."

Chloe looks close to responding, but then her jaw just drops open completely; so Aubrey presses on, claiming the advantage.

"And I get that she makes you feel special, like you're the only person to ever make Beca Mitchell smile." Aubrey grabs hold of Chloe's shoulders and squeezes hard, like she can transfer conviction through osmosis. "But Chloe, you are special. Totally special." She shakes her, but only gently and with support. "And you don't need a closet case with commitment issues to make you that way!"

Probably Aubrey should be speaking quieter, but while she has always been very good at managing her time and her commitments, regulating emotions is something she still needs a little more work on. Still, the message is sinking in, she thinks!

"… Aubrey."

However slowly.

"Beca and I aren't--"

"I know, and that's the point." Another loving and reaffirming shake for good measure. "You and Beca won't, Chloe. You need to get that into your head, so you can get her out of your heart."

And she means it. Aubrey means it more than she's meant most things in her life. More than her girl scout pledge, valedictorian speech, or promise to make it to Columbia (some days, she's not even sure she wants to be in New York) -- this is real. It's so real, and it matters in that way that only other people can. (That's something Aubrey's dad never taught her. She had to learn it from Chloe.)

So that when Chloe's eyes water slightly without quite shedding tears, Aubrey knows to take her in her arms -- and hug her until the tiny tremors stop -- without asking any questions.

*

They watch Sandra Bullock movies and eat chocolate until Chloe falls asleep against Aubrey's shoulder.

She actually has a pretty big exam to study for, but she's made flash cards and can manage with just the one hand so Chloe sleeps on undisturbed until morning.

*

             STEP 3: Don't Get Mad, Get Even

            Whereupon Chloe's broken heart is avenged, and Beca stops being
            such an aggravating little shit (at least in theory).


The approach of semifinals is almost a relief. (Even if Aubrey wakes up some nights in a cold sweat; she just uses it as a chance for an early morning jog! No problem.) She and Chloe could both use the distraction.

That's how bad things with Beca have gotten for Chloe, who becomes more withdrawn and quiet every day. (Even if other people might not notice, Aubrey does.) Now the thrill of competition is the only thing to pull her back fully into focus. Because winning matters, and not just to people like Aubrey Posen. It evaluates and validates on a level that is truly profound.

Aubrey's father has taught her the value of winning -- most clearly and vividly by illustrating the heartbreak of loss -- and she wants this desperately. It isn't just for her; this will belong to all of them as a team. Even Beca.

*

Beca Mitchell does not understand the meaning of teamwork.

She deliberately (smugly) sabotages their chances in the semifinal and then has the nerve -- the audacity! -- to lie about her (tawdry, ill conceived, and poorly concealed) affair with Jesse. She even yells at Chloe.

Chloe. The one person who has bothered to stick up for Beca -- when she obviously doesn't deserve it -- has it thrown back in her face. It's outrageous, and if Aubrey weren't so devastated by the process of watching her dream of three years collapsing all around her, she would probably hit Beca.

Or at least humiliate her. (Aubrey knows quite a lot about humiliation tactics, though she prefers not to use most of them. She would gladly make an exception for certain people.)

The original plan -- when there had still been a plan, before the white hot rage and stinging disappointment -- was to ambush Beca with the revelation that they all know about Jesse, and yes they are all horribly betrayed and upset.

This would have been handled sometime before the finals. Aubrey would find irrefutable proof, and the Bellas would join together as one to eject Beca from the group. It could have been a (very therapeutic) bonding moment.

It was supposed to wait until after semifinals.

Beca wasn't supposed to ruin anything.

*

But Beca ruins everything.

They can't even kick her out of the Bellas now that the season's (prematurely) ended, denying Aubrey of even her revenge. (As if she hasn't taken enough!)

The only satisfaction is in seeing Chloe finally realize the truth about the depths of her little crush's selfishness. (And that's not very satisfying at all really, considering how hurt Chloe is after.)

And worst of all -- on a sliding scale of things that are all essentially awful -- is the fact that Beca still tries to deny her relationship with Jesse. She plays dumb (though she's obviously good at it, from so much practice), but who does she think she's fooling?

Jesse is the only explanation.

If not Jesse, then how could she continue to ignore Chloe? Logic dictates--

Though Beca Mitchell doesn't really seem big on logic.

*

"What'd you do this time?" Aubrey's father asks after learning about the semifinal results.

She's waited to tell him face-to-face, afraid that she might fall apart after a phone call. (It's the last thing Chloe needs really, to have to hold her friend together.) There is no room for that at home, so it simply won't happen.

The Aubrey Posen that exists at Barden has allowed herself to relax far too much, but the rules are different at home.

"I made mistakes," she says, and it's true. She got distracted and it kept her from doing what needed to be done -- namely, removing Beca from the team and entirely from Chloe's field of view -- and then they lost.

"Too bad," her father says gruffly. "Too late now."

He's right, of course.

He usually is.

*

Chloe doesn't return to school immediately following spring break.

When Aubrey calls to ask what's up, she can sense Chloe trying to avoid the subject altogether. A part of Aubrey worries that this too (still!) might be about Beca Mitchell; but then Chloe warns that she won't be reachable by phone for days ("email me!"), and Aubrey hopes this means that she'll be out of the country.

Maybe she's drinking something sweet and tangy somewhere warm, or doing body shots off of hot boys -- or girls, whatever, if that really is Chloe's thing now.

But that turns out to be wishful thinking.

*

"Why didn't you tell me?" Aubrey says, hoping she doesn't sound even half as betrayed and accusatory as she feels. "You know you can tell me anything!"

"I couldn't tell you about texting Beca..." Chloe's voice is painfully quiet, and Aubrey can't be certain if that's by choice or a byproduct of the surgery. "Not without you freaking out."

"I didn't freak out."

The look Chloe gives her isn't very amused. If anything, she seems tired.

Aubrey immediately feels remorseful. (Chloe really is her greatest weakness.) "I was... surprised." Which is true! Everything about that rehearsal was surprising -- not the least of which was the discovery that Beca's way of doing things isn't so bad really. It's almost a little fun.

*

Far less surprising is the discovery that Chloe hasn't completely recovered from her feelings for Beca. Watching the two of them leading the mashup in the pool, Aubrey can sense a relapse starting. Big time.

It's a bit of a problem.

*

And it only increases when they win -- they finally win -- the ICCAs and what really should be the greatest moment of both their lives up to this point is tarnished -- once again! -- by Beca Mitchell's stupid fucking mouth.

This time latched onto Jesse's face.

(Aubrey's never been so sorry to say, "I told you so," before in her life.

In fact, she doesn't even say it really.

She does think it a few times, though.)

*

            ADDENDUM: Don't (Just) Get Mad, Get Her Back

            Show Beca the error of her ways until she comes crawling back to
            Chloe (preferably over a bed of nails and broken glass).


Beca Mitchell might think she's hot shit -- and okay, maybe the rest of the Bellas agree at the moment (even and maybe especially Chloe) -- but the truth is she's nothing special. She's just another dumb freshman who can match pitch with only slightly good vocal range.

If you ask Aubrey, she doesn't pull enough from her diaphragm (far too much in her own head), which at least makes sense when apparently her own (stupid) head is where Beca Mitchell spends all her time. That is when she's not spending it attached to Jesse at the mouth or whatever it is that they do. Because they do everything together now, at least from what Aubrey can tell.

She even brings him by Aubrey's room (the one she shares with Chloe) to hang out, and Aubrey has to make some stupid excuse that makes her sound like an ass about not letting boys in while she's studying because they break the flow of the energy in the room or whatever. Just because stupid Beca can't see what a jerk she's being to Chloe.

"I'm fine," Chloe says, after they've gone.

It's not true, and Aubrey can tell, but it's probably good that Chloe sounds like she might almost believe it.

*

This part of the plan isn't very evolved, it's true. Aubrey never took into account the possibility of having to win over Beca Mitchell. She'd really only planned on the ability to crush her utterly -- beyond repair.

Chloe's capacity for caring was one variable she hadn't accounted for.

It should have been. This was a massive oversight on Aubrey's part.

It was Chloe who had approached Aubrey first, after all. (Back when Aubrey wasn't as adept at socializing as she surely is now, and the other aca-people intimidated her.) Maybe it was because all the upperclass(wo)men hated them -- out of jealousy, she and Chloe have since determined -- or maybe it was simply nerves, but Aubrey was on edge for most of her freshman year of acapella. Until Chloe.

*

"You're really good, you know," Chloe had said one day, without preamble.

Aubrey was immediately suspicious. She knew even then precisely how she sounded. She was good -- and getting better every day -- but not nearly as talented (or as confident) as Chloe.

"Thank you," she said slowly (guardedly), because she knew it's what she was expected to say.

"Maybe we could rehearse together sometime!"

Later Aubrey will learn that this is just how Chloe is -- that the exuberance isn't a ploy of some kind -- but in the moment she suspected that there must be some mistake. Perhaps, she thought, Chloe might have been a lesbian mistaking Aubrey's kindness and attention for interest. "Ohh," she said with a forced (but she felt, rather convincing) frown of sympathy, "actually--"

But then Chloe's hand was on her arm, and the touch was far from sexual. It was warm, very present, but somehow much more like a hug than a flirtation. Immediately, Aubrey perceived something soothing about Chloe that she had somehow missed before making direct contact.

"I thought we could be friends." Chloe smiled.

There was no way this pleasant girl with the easy smile had trouble making friends. Still, Aubrey could appreciate the gesture -- even if, "oh," was all she said in return.

Even then, Chloe had a thing for damaged goods.

*

It turns out Chloe was right. About becoming friends, certainly, but also about Aubrey's talent growing along with her confidence.

For an open-minded bleeding heart with a hard-on for a lost cause, she's still pretty perceptive, and always has been. (She predicted the ending of Gossip Girl would suck as early as season two, and she was totally right about that too.)

Aubrey really hopes that Chloe is right about Beca Mitchell and all of Aubrey's concerns have been misplaced.

Really. She does.

*

After he left the military, Aubrey's father took a job as a marketing liaison at a company that sells office supplies in bulk. He took it upon himself to organize company events and within five months had created an annual nature retreat single-handedly. It was intended to foster group cohesion, trust, and individual moral integrity.

He insists that productivity has never been greater, and Aubrey thinks that the odds are (relatively) good that he's not exaggerating completely when he says the junior sales reps enjoy the challenge of the obstacle course he began constructing in the event's second year.

Without that kind of a budget to work with, Aubrey will have to make do sans climbing wall, but she's fairly certain that trust falls will still be possible from a high enough ladder.

Time to start making phone calls.

*

All of the Bellas are invited on a group trip -- a victory tour, as it were -- and Aubrey simply won't take no for an answer. She invites Amy personally, and news travels quickly from there. While Aubrey never outright says that there will be sandy beaches at their final destination, it might have been heavily implied.

They're to meet at 0800 outside of her dorm, so of course Aubrey is ready and waiting a half hour early. (Punctuality has always been a priority.)

It's a good thing too, because it takes Chloe almost a full ten minutes to calm down after she notices the sleeping bags and tents in the back of the rental van.

"Aubrey!"

"Hm?" She's too busy checking and rechecking their supplies -- flashlight batteries, ice and cooler, first aid kits, granola bars, etc. -- to look up from where she's perched amidst the mess in the back.

"I told Beca to pack a two-piece when I invited her because I thought we were going to the beach," says Chloe. (Of course she did.) "The girls are going to be so--"

"Thrilled? Appreciative of all the effort I've put into this?" Aubrey sounds much more on edge than she'd probably like to, clicking her pen sharply after she finishes checking everything off. "I'm sure they will be."

"... Aubrey."

"Chloe."

"… guys?" Beca is standing there with a confused look on her face and a single bag slung over her shoulder. "Am I… really early?" She eyes the empty space around them, obviously taking note of the total lack of other Bellas.

"No." Aubrey turns from Chloe and offers Beca her most convincing smile. (It's hit or miss.) "Just on time."

*

Punctuality is apparently less of a priority overall for everyone else. (Not that Aubrey is surprised.)

Once they (finally) start to arrive, it takes some convincing for Chloe not to say anything until they're at least all out on the road. The news is met with an overall mixed reaction -- though largely positive, in Aubrey's opinion.

"Camping?" Cynthia Rose repeats slowly. "Like with a tent and no cell phone service?"

"We're just going into the woods, ladies. Not Mars," Aubrey sing songs in a way that's meant to reassure and keep the conversation playful. Because the whole point is to have fun.

They're having fun.

*

Beca is the only one not to complain -- which is probably a first for her since joining the Bellas -- and it's only once Aubrey is parking the car that she spots the look on the other woman's face in the rearview.

If possible, she's even surlier than usual.

Aubrey wants to ask Chloe what's up -- normally she goes well out of her way to excuse and explain Beca's poor behavior whether Aubrey wants to hear it or not -- but the two of them chose to sit several seats apart for the entire drive and have barely spoken to each other from what Aubrey can tell.

That's been happening between them more and more, ever since Jesse. She isn't sure which of them started it, but she sure as hell doesn't mind being the one to end this tension. Making the necessary tough decisions has always been a particular skill of Aubrey's.

*

It always comes down to organization.

Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with her priorities. Aubrey spent several hours coming up with the perfect schedule for their time away, but none of the other girls seem particularly interested in participating. There's supposed to be group fishing, fireside stories, and a trust exercise where she leaves them alone in the woods in groups of two to find their way back to camp.

Just normal camping fun.

If only all of her campers hadn't up and disappeared off to -

Well, somewhere.

*

Everyone is much more agreeable once they find out about the amount of alcohol packed away in the van.

Fat Amy in particular seems to have developed a sudden affinity for the great outdoors. "Wooo!"

Or at least shouting into it.

*

It's no surprise really how suddenly eager everyone becomes to help pitch the tents now that they know there's campfire drinking to look forward to. (Which they might have known already if anyone had bothered to read the chart Aubrey left helpfully taped to the side of the van.) There will also be smores and story telling.

Because believe it or not -- and Aubrey scarcely does -- Beca had the right idea one day at practice. They don't know enough about each other, and alcohol certainly helps with honesty. (Obviously, it's a problem. If Beca knew the real Chloe like Aubrey does, there's just no way she'd be distracted by a passing fling like Jesse. Chloe Beale is the real deal.)

It's probably lucky that nobody else appears to notice that they're one sleeping bag short. News like that might go down best after a little lubrication.

*

Aubrey's unclear on whether or not it was Amy or Stacie's idea first, but they're both strong proponents of escalating story time into (drunken) truth or dare. (Cynthia Rose becomes equally excited once she realizes that Stacie almost always chooses dare.) In fact, the only people to look absolutely horrified -- apart from whoever is sitting closest to Lilly when she chooses to answer with truth -- are Beca and Chloe.

Neither looks particularly thrilled, but that's just tough titties.

Everyone else is having fun, and it's all going very well.

At first.

Then Fat Amy is dared to call Bumper.

"Yes," she says. "I'll just call Bumper who is technically no longer a Treble," and that last part is very clearly directed right at Aubrey.

But he doesn't answer, and Amy declares his voicemail full. Aubrey is highly suspicious (mere seconds away from asking Fat Amy to hand over the phone), and it must show in her eyes because suddenly Amy's rounding on her. "Aubrey," she drawls, smiling with unconvincing innocence. "Truth or dare?"

Aubrey's lips purse, but her resolve is unflinching. "Truth."

The smile is immediately more excited. "Well, we're all wondering…" She swirls her beer and shoots Aubrey a look. "What's this thing with you and your father?"

She hadn't anticipated that.

Obviously the girls know that Aubrey's relationship with her father is complex (complicated and ever evolving), and she might have said some things that could suggest -

But she never anticipated this.

It's a mistake. A flaw in her own calculations -- glaring and obvious -- and in the moment she can't find any of her usual explanations at the ready. The ones she normally turns to when asked why her parents aren't in attendance at anything -- from science fairs to acapella finals. (They're very busy, extremely private, and incredibly humble.)

Now all she can think is that alcohol does make the truth far too easy and all the words Aubrey is close to saying -- she can feel them moving up into her mouth, rising from the acidic clenching in her stomach -- are awful, horrible, and nothing she would ever really want to say. Not out loud.

"No."

Even more unexpected -- far beyond all reason or possible calculations -- is the fact that it's Beca who speaks before anyone else. (Beca - who has tried her best to keep silent and apart all night, glaring at anyone who might consider bringing her into the game.)

"No family, guys," she says in a voice so quiet that even Lilly leans closer to hear. "Seriously."

Aubrey doesn't have to look to know that Chloe is nodding her agreement. Doesn't have to and can't, because right now Aubrey can't quite tear her gaze away from Beca's stare holding her own.

That feeling inside can only be Aubrey's immense (and incalculable) gratitude.

Inspired by Beca Mitchell of all people.

*

This is the very first sign -- of which Aubrey certainly hopes there will be many -- that Beca might actually be worthy of Chloe.

It's not much -- except that in that moment, it really feels like it's everything -- and it certainly doesn't mean that Beca is fully out of the doghouse when it comes to the Jesse thing -- whatever their thing might be exactly -- but if anything this only strengthens Aubrey's resolve.

She feels all the more justified in taking drastic measures. "Beca," Aubrey says once it's her turn to ask. "Truth or dare?"

Beca blinks owlishly, obviously confused. "… I'm not playing."

"You're here drinking with us. You most certainly are."

Beca looks angry with Aubrey in that particularly spiteful and petulant way that she's inclined to. (She's so much like a puppy that's contemplating whether or not to bite or roll over.) "Aubrey," she hisses, like they made some kind of deal and Aubrey's going back on the terms.

"Fine." The tension eases out of Beca's shoulders, but only for as long as it takes Aubrey to turn her head. "Chloe. Truth?"

There's a momentary panic that lights up in Chloe's eyes, as if triggered by her name said in such direct a juxtaposition with Beca's. She isn't far off. "Aubrey," she says, less annoyed and far more placating than her scrawny crush would ever try to be. "Don't--"

"We're playing a game, Chloe. Truth or fucking dare."

Aubrey's fairly certain that she hears one of the other girls gasp -- almost all of them are tense now, confused and whispering amongst themselves -- but she doesn't look away from Chloe. (Out of the corner of her eye she can see Beca tensing again as well, elbows pointing out at awkward angles and her mouth drawn in a stilted frown.)

"… dare."

Of course. With a dare, Chloe can always lay the blame entirely on Aubrey when she says, "I dare you to kiss Beca."

With a truth, Chloe would have to confess to wanting it herself.

"Dude," Beca squeaks, and drops her beer in the dirt. "What?" She exchanges a look with Chloe, and quickly (vigorously) shakes her head.

Chloe winces slightly (almost imperceptibly, but Aubrey sees, she perceives), and once again she's being rejected by Beca Mitchell.

This isn't going the way Aubrey would have wanted, but that's to be expected. Nothing with Beca has ever gone how Aubrey wants. Because what Aubrey wants (what she really wants most of all) is for Chloe to move on to someone more worthy of her time, attention, and heartache.

Like basically anyone else with a pulse would be fine, but here they are stuck with the predictably alternative girl with the heart and mind of an eight-year-old who pulls pigtails but won't follow through.

Except those aren't the rules of the fucking game.

"Aubrey," Chloe says, and her expression is utterly devastated, as if Aubrey has betrayed her. As if she's begging now. "Don't."

But concessions are a confession to weakness, and Aubrey loves Chloe more than she likes feeling good about herself, so she pushes forward. "You said dare, now you have to kiss Beca." And then, because Chloe obviously isn't feeling very truthful right now, and Aubrey wants to be certain, she adds, "On the mouth."

*

Except they don't. They don't follow the rules or participate in the game.

They don't kiss.

Beca leaves the campfire in a (clumsy, almost stumbling) huff, and Chloe chases after her. It's obvious that they don't want Aubrey to follow, but they're alone in the woods in the middle of the night after drinking (somewhat heavily), and safety outweighs most other concerns.

Still, Aubrey is careful to follow from a relatively safe (and quiet) distance. It's not that hard to track them, really. She just follows the sound of Chloe's voice -- slightly panicked and traveling ever higher, shouting;

"Beca, wait." And also, "Please just listen."

There's a sudden thudding sound of collision and dirt accompanied by an undignified squeak, and suddenly Beca's voice is coming from approximately ankle level. (Though it's close to there to begin with.) "… I am, I'm just walking." From the sound of things, that ought to be rather hard to manage since she seems to be having trouble getting back up again.

(Aubrey can hear the rough sound of bark and branches snapping. She listens closely, and she thinks she can hear both of them (Chloe too!) almost panting.)

"Would you wait?" Chloe's voice is quieter now, strained but trying to be soft. "… what happened?"

Silence.

"Beca?"

"… what's happening?" The sound this time isn't from up ahead, but directly behind Aubrey.

She turns to see Fat Amy leading the rest of the group, all bunched up together with cell phones out as makeshift flashlights. Well, it seems there's at least one thing that can get them to all band together as a group.

And that's Chloe's massive toner for Beca.

"Nothing," Aubrey hisses, worried that the rest of them might overhear the (obviously very private) conversation taking place just a few feet away. (It's one thing for Aubrey -- Chloe's best friend -- to overhear, but another entirely if all of the Bellas listen in.) "Let's head back to--"

"Are they kissing?" Stacie asks without preamble (or foreplay).

Aubrey breathes in sharply. "No."

"How do you know?" Denise asks, shooting Cynthia Rose a very pointed look that Aubrey immediately dislikes.

The other woman nods in response, saying slowly, "Yeah, maybe we should check."

"Enough!" Aubrey says, probably far too loud. (But she doesn't hesitate or linger to listen for a response from the other two, to see if she's aroused their suspicions.) "You all should know," she continues, thinking on her feet in a crisis -- just like her father always said to; "that we're actually one sleeping bag shy, and whoever is last back to camp will unfortunately be sleeping on the ground this evening."

Apparently the only thing stronger than the desire to voyeuristically leer and jeer at their fellow aca-people is the fear of potentially spending any actual time close to nature while camping in the wilderness.

Without any effort to disguise their rush, the other Bellas hurry back to camp, and (reluctantly) Aubrey follows after, pausing only briefly.

If she strains hard enough, she can hear the familiar lilt of Chloe's whispers. It's the same one she uses when she's on the phone with her mom while Aubrey is studying. It's the very sound of Chloe's consideration and concern.

"Me too," Aubrey hears her say, and for just that one moment -- and probably the only time ever in her life -- she is waiting anxiously to hear Beca Mitchell's voice in return.

But whatever the answer is, it's lost in the darkness.

Aubrey doesn't hear anything but the wind.

*

The rest of the group retires to bed early, but Aubrey waits close to the fire, dozing in a fold out chair.

It takes them nearly twenty minutes to return with Chloe leading the way, smiling bright, and Beca trailing after looking sheepish and slightly confused.

"Where'd everybody go?" She blinks and turns her head to examine the emptied chairs.

"They're all asleep," Aubrey says, more sharply than she had even intended. (But fine. Good. Let them know how inconsiderate they've been after they didn't even have the decency to kiss.) "And now--" finally, she thinks; "--I will be too."

"Where's--"

Chloe starts to ask, but Aubrey interrupts her by pointing, saying, "Your tent is there. We're one sleeping bag short, but Beca is the smallest. She should sleep with you in yours, good night." Just like that, Aubrey turns to go.

No allowances or time for arguments. (And judging by how much Beca is now sputtering, she would require a lot of time.)

*

             IN CONCLUSION: All's Well That Ends As Aubrey Intends

            In which Chloe's current (and certainly prolonged) obsession is fulfilled.
            (For now.)


Apparently, they do kiss that night.

Or rather, they did.

Chloe waits two full weeks (an outrageously long time) before telling Aubrey everything (well, partially), and even then it's only because she and Beca are dating now. Somewhat.

(Apparently Beca only calls it "hanging out," but the activities Chloe has implied go on at such hang outs are not usually shared between casual friends.

At least, not in Aubrey's experience.)

It goes something like this:

After Beca stormed off into the woods like a petulant child (though admittedly that's not quite how Chloe phrases it), she confessed to Chloe that she and Jesse broke up or fought or whatever.

They stopped "hanging out."

Chloe, being a terrific friend and better person than Beca Mitchell possibly deserves, had offered her sympathies and soothing words. She probably held Beca as she cried too. (Chloe never said that Beca cried, but Aubrey likes to assume she blubbered.)

And then sometime in between woods and tent, they kissed. Chloe is overall pretty vague about this part, leaving Aubrey to assume that Beca was clumsy and awkward to such an embarrassing degree that Chloe hopes to shield her from humiliation by keeping it a secret.

Which is all well and good, of course. They're welcome to their privacy. (Aubrey might have shorted them on a sleeping bag that night, but they had a tent all to themselves, after all.)

She just wishes that they might both be more forthright in acknowledging Aubrey's contributions to the relationship.

Namely that it wouldn't even exist without her efforts.

*

You just might think some gratitude would be in order.

Or that Beca might stop scowling and sneering all the time, like she's in on a joke the rest of the world is too stupid to know.

You might think (or hope), but Aubrey's not really holding her breath.

*

Aubrey doesn't like hip hop and she doesn't like Beca Mitchell, but she loves Chloe.

And Chloe loves Beca.

So even if everything (literally - it's everything) about her drives Aubrey insane, and even if they sometimes (often) clash, it doesn't matter.

Because Aubrey's pretty sure that they both love Chloe more than they love anyone else. (Actually, Aubrey sometimes thinks that Chloe might be the only person that Beca Mitchell even likes.) And for now (until the fixation has ended), that's good enough.

Because the fact (and way) that she loves Chloe is the only thing about Beca Mitchell that makes any sense at all.

Aubrey likes that about her.