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Song Beneath The Song

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Chloe has always followed the music.

She remembers the first time, leaving behind her tea party and her stuffed animal-guests, following the soft strains of Clair de Lune through her house: out of her room, down the banister, under the kitchen table and up on the arm of the couch. She sat completely still and watched, enthralled, as her father moved his hands as if something else was moving them. When he finished, she watched his back tighten into a posture she knew well, and before she could leave, he turned around with an unfamiliar smile and invited her onto the bench with him.

Music has given her so much, like her relationship with her father. It gave her a scholarship to Barden and a best friend in Aubrey. It gave her the number of her first real boyfriend, one that didn’t lean into kiss her and laugh because it was just too weird. Music gave her a reprieve from life, from the responsibilities of being in school and trying to please her parents, from Aubrey. Even when she was at her lowest, music was the first hand reaching back out to pull her up.

The best thing about music is that it keeps giving.

And music gives Chloe Beca.

*

Just when she’s sure the Bellas are done for, that they completely failed, music leads Chloe to Beca Mitchell. She’s not sure what the pull is. Beca is dark eyeshadow and dark tanktops, and Chloe pulled her brightest sundress out of her closet today, the one that matches her eyes. Something about the way her shoulders seemed pressed down makes Chloe think she has a song inside her, just dying to get out, and despite Aubrey’s noise of objection, Chloe is thrusting a flier into this girl’s face.

It’s not really surprising that she’s turned down. It’s amusing, in a way that Chloe will never admit, how she manages to get a few jabs in at Aubrey, but all together, Chloe isn’t shocked and appalled when the girl with all the earrings turns her down.

No, it doesn’t get surprising until later. Music works that way.

It doesn’t get surprising until Chloe is in the shower, and a perfectly sculpted frat boy is getting the tension out of her neck. Somewhere between the door opening and her heart settling back in her chest, she hears it.

Maybe it’s the bathroom acoustics. They’re undoubtedly excellent. But the longer she listens to “Titanium,” the more aware she is. That’s just not bathroom acoustics. That’s the god of music sending down an angel. So she can’t be blamed for ripping open the shower curtain, because she’s never been one to ignore the music. And she can’t be blamed for the shock of realizing that the girl with the earrings and the scowl and the tight-lipped sort-of-smile is the voice. She can probably be blamed for insisting that the girl sing with her, but God, “Titanium” is seriously her lady jam, and there’s something about Beca’s voice that has her stepping in closer, despite their state of undress. And to Beca’s credit, the girl never wavers once she starts singing. She keeps her own tempo and never falters when Chloe joins in.

She never breaks eye contact either, and Chloe starts to notice that maybe Beca’s eyes aren’t as dark as she originally though.

So she insists that Beca come to rehearsal. When Beca says no, Chloe shrugs and says, she’s not leaving until Beca says yes. It’s probably more to do with the fact that Chloe is naked than anything else, but when Beca says yes, Chloe almost dances for joy.

Where music goes, Chloe has always followed, and the god of music sent her a gift, she decides.

Music has never steered her wrong and she’s absolutely positive it’s not going to start now.

*

Chloe still thinks the same thing after the auditions. There were some real standouts – that Cynthia Rose girl has a strong voice and that Stacie girl has potential.

Beca outshines them all.

Chloe sits up taller in her seat as she catches sight of Beca loitering in the wings and waves her closer. She can feel her face stretching and Aubrey’s sharp inhale next to her, but Chloe doesn’t care. Beca dumps out their cup of pens and sits cross-legged and takes a deep breath and Chloe thinks that she might just pass out.

Beca Mitchell has the voice of an angel and she’s singing “You’re Gonna Miss Me” like this was the reason it was written, so that she could sit at the edge of a stage in an auditorium on a college campus and blow Chloe away. She’s tapping her feet in time with Beca’s clapping and just like “Titanium,” she isn’t looking away. There’s something about Beca when she sings, the way her shoulders pull back and the corners of her mouth follows. It’s like the song she’s got inside of her is just bursting out and not even a scowl can stop it.

For the first time since they met, Chloe and Aubrey argue, actually argue. Aubrey won’t hear it. She just won’t.

“You know that we need her,” Chloe insists.

Aubrey shakes her head. “No. She’s… she’s insolent. She’ll just be trouble.”

(Later, Aubrey will give her a tight-lipped “I told you so” smile as Chloe stares despondently into her morning tea. But Aubrey is tactful, so she won’t actually say those four little words. Chloe will understand it anyway.)

For the first time since they met, Chloe stands up for her decision.

And for the first time since they met, Aubrey just gives her what she wants with a look in her eyes that says that Chloe will be sorry about this later. Chloe ignores it, her excitement bubbling over any fear she has that Beca won’t actually accept their invitation.

Beca answers the door in pajamas. “Uh, what?” She turns and squints at the clock. “It’s close to midnight.”

Chloe ignores Aubrey’s “grab them in what they have on” rule and nudges Beca back into her room. “It’s initiation night. Come on, put some clothes on.”

“What?” Beca asks, even as she pulls on a jacket. “Initiation night?”

Chloe beams, standing tall. “Of course. Haven’t you ever been a part of a group before?”

Beca is quiet too long for the answer to be yes, so Chloe continues over the awkward silence like it never happened, picking up the first pair of pants she finds on the floor, handing them to Beca. “We better hurry. I’m not supposed to let you get dressed.”

Chloe ducks her head and pretends to be busy as Beca raises one eyebrow up at her.

After a minute, Beca is huffing an “I’m done now” and opening the door for Chloe. “Bye Kimmy Jin,” she calls at her roommate.

The girl that Chloe didn’t even notice before doesn’t respond.

“Tough crowd,” Beca says, whistling lowly as they move down the hallway. “So, what’s initiation night consist of?”

Chloe grins widely at that. “Just you wait and see.”

Beca nods slowly. “Well. It sounds like a blast already.”

Chloe doesn’t know Beca well enough yet, but she would bet anything that the brunette is being sarcastic. Still, Beca starts humming some more David Guetta mixes and Chloe can’t help but hum along.

It’s the song she has stuck in her head later, after initiation, when she’s a few cups of punch in and still laughing at one of Fat Amy’s jokes. She watches Beca a few rows up, how that Jesse kid leans in when he talks and the smile on his face when Beca talks back. In one ear, Chloe can hear the wheels in Aubrey’s head turning viciously. In the other ear, she heard Beca singing, though the words sound different than anything Chloe has heard her sing before. As soon as Jesse climbs back down the chairs, stepping over the backs of them, a centimeter away from breaking his neck every time he moves, Chloe slides in, landing in front of Beca clumsily.

“I think you and I are going to be fast friends,” she decides out loud.

Beca does that slow nod again, the one that probably means she doesn’t really believe what Chloe is saying. “Well, you’ve already seen me naked, so…”

But that isn’t the reason. Chloe wants to tell Beca that that isn’t the reason at all. She wants to tell her about the music and how she was just following the notes hovering in the air that lingered right at the crown of Beca’s head. She wants to tell Beca that she found out she had vocal nodes, and she begged the god of music to send her some kind of sign that she would be okay- and then Beca Mitchell stumbled across their booth at the Activities Fair.

Instead, she swallows her words because it’s too soon, and Beca might not get it, and Chloe wants her to understand so, so bad.

“Make good choices,” Beca sings quietly to her.

She almost turns around – follow the music – but she follows her frat boy of the week instead and wakes up with a hangover, not ready to face Aubrey and her first day jitters.

But so, so ready for the music.

*

She’s never told a single soul, but “No Diggity” is on her Top Ten List of Favorite Songs Ever. It’s a list tucked away where no one will find it and it’s not to be confused with her Top Ten Lady Jams List. That list is mostly general knowledge and ever-changing.

Her Top Ten List of Favorites Ever is solidified and nothing has made a dent in it since Hanson came out with “Mmmbop.” It’s got a little bit of everything on there, including “No Diggity.”

Dr. Dre wasn’t kidding about his mellow accents.

So during the Riff-Off, when Beca comes out with Dr. Dre’s verse, she doesn’t just surprise The Treblemakers. Chloe feels her mouth drop open so hard that her jaw pops. Aubrey makes a strangled noise that sounds like she’s choking back on her stress-induced bile. But Chloe doesn’t pay that any mind, because Beca is rapping. She’s rapping Dr. Dre.

Chloe forgets what breathing is.

She snaps out of it when Fat Amy gets in on the song. The rest of the Bellas follow, the ones who don’t know the words giving Beca her background music. But Chloe can’t help herself. She mouths the words along with Beca, bobbing her head in time to the beat, crossing her arms over her chest and hugging herself tightly, afraid that she’ll do something foolish like grab Beca and hug her tightly for coming up with that song.

Beca doesn’t seem like the hugging type, and Chloe is sincerely trying to stop freaking the brunette out. Still, she lets the music roll through her and loses herself at the very end, her voice melding with Beca’s as they announce “we out!”

And they are, out of the competition, at least. Beca didn’t match the word “it” and it’s a dumb rule, even Aubrey agrees, but they bow out, falling over themselves as they shout to the empty campus how great they were. She swears she’s working on respecting Beca’s boundaries, mostly so she doesn’t scare Beca away, but she ends up with her elbow crooked around Beca’s as they make their way back to the dorm buildings, rambling on about how great of a song it is and how great Beca was at it and how great she felt during it and how great…

“Wow,” Beca drawls. “You don’t just get drunk on alcohol, do you?”

Chloe smiles, allowing herself a small victory when Beca gives an attempt at a smile back. “It’s music. How do you stay sober?”

She thinks there’s something in Beca’s eyes that says the brunette understand exactly what she means by that strange sentiment, but Beca blinks before she can really see the spark flare. “Sure,” Beca says. “Well, this is my stop, so…”

“See you at rehearsal,” Chloe sings, squeezing Beca’s arm as she untangles herself from the other girl. “Hey, you were so-”

“Great, right?” Beca guesses. Her mouth tips again into a shape a smile might make. “I’ll see you.”

Chloe nods and back in her room, when she’s sure Aubrey is asleep, she fishes that list out from her copy of “So Your Body is Changing” that she’s had since she was thirteen and is up until almost 1am burning a CD.

She casually drops it into Beca’s hands at the end of rehearsals the next day, and the next time she passes by the shower, she thinks she hears a few bars of “Mmmbop,” though she’s sure Beca would deny it to her dying breath.

*

That becomes a thing.

She starts making CDs, picking out songs that she used to listen to on repeat and songs that make her think of different times in her life. She makes the first CD without conscious thought. Beca sang “No Diggity” and if someone like Beca can appreciate that song, then Chloe doesn’t think she’ll judge her on the rest of Chloe’s taste.

If Beca does judge her, she doesn’t say so. She just takes each CD with as much enthusiasm as the first, and that Chloe can call it enthusiasm without exaggerating is genuinely reassuring. She always has something to say about the songs, and once or twice, Chloe catches sight of Beca’s laptop out and one of her CDs disappearing into the drive. Chloe never asks what Beca does with them, but she keeps making them and Beca keeps taking them.

The first time Beca gives her a CD, Chloe feels like her face might split wide open.

“It’s not a big deal,” Beca promises her, side-eying Aubrey’s empty chair. Aubrey ran to the bathroom after a particularly long vent-session in which Bumper was mentioned no less than a dozen times and Beca, surprisingly, was only mentioned twice. “I just have, like, two dozen CDs from you and I thought I’d return the favor.”

Chloe holds the CD case tight against her chest. “You made me a CD.”

Beca groans. “Oh, god. Don’t get weird. I’m not asking you to prom.” Chloe’s grin widens. “I’m not even asking you to listen to it. I’m just giving it to you.”

Chloe opens her mouth to tease Beca a little more, but the brunette ducks her head and Chloe swears, if Beca scuffs her foot against the cafeteria floor…

“You might not even like it,” Beca continues, her voice decidedly small. This is a whole new Beca, one that Chloe has never seen before. She looks and sounds and seems like a kid dressing in her slightly-built father’s weekend flannel and it makes Chloe shift uncomfortably in her seat.

“I bet it’s great,” Chloe says just as quietly.

Her voice seems to snap Beca out of whatever haze she was in, because that smirk slides back into place easily and it’s Beca again, standing in front of her. “Just wait until Aubrey…”

Chloe makes a show of how she’s already sliding the clear case into the side pocket in her purse. “See you at rehearsal?” she asks, spotting Aubrey coming back into the room. It’s not that she can’t be friends with both of them. It’s just that Aubrey is her person. She’s Chloe’s Meredith. Or maybe Aubrey is Cristina. The more she thinks about it, Chloe realizes that Meredith Grey and Cristina Yang are far too dark and twisty for Chloe and Aubrey, but the idea is the same.

Aubrey is her person. When the booze and the boys are gone, Aubrey is her person.

She brushes her fingers against the corner of the case in her purse and thinks about Beca and how Aubrey is her person, but Beca is her soundtrack.

That’s what the CD turns out to be. It’s one giant soundtrack of her life. All the songs she ever gave to Beca, from Blackstreet to Hanson to the summer she thought she loved Jimmy Buffet, is all stretched out and mashed together in a way no amateur could have done. She wonders how Beca could have found someone to mix all this music before she remembers that Beca works at the radio station, and then it makes sense.

She listens to it twice in complete awed silence. The third time, she’s dancing to it. Not Bellas choreography dancing. No, it’s more like “my-eighth-grade-crush-called” dancing; like “I-just-got-into-college” dancing; like “it’s-a-wedding-and-nobody-cares” dancing. Her arms are high above her head and she’s dancing like there’s no tomorrow.  This is her music with a heavy, club-sounding bass line and she feels it pulsing through her veins with a new rush she hasn’t ever felt before.

Beca took all her songs and gave her something new.

She puts the entire CD on her mp3 player and listens to it for a week straight and she’s starting to feel confident that Beca is exactly what this a capella team needed after all.

*

Music is sort of Chloe’s religion. She spent Sunday mornings worshipping at the bench of her father’s Steinway and prayed every night that one day, she could sing like Mariah Carey.

Her vocal nodules, they’re a test. They have to be. They have to be a test of her faith and her belief in the music. There’s no other explanation for it.

Keeping it a secret, though, is starting to become too much. And after that Sigma prick asks them to leave – by the way, she’s crossing Sigma guys off her list for good – she’s feeling emotionally raw and wronged by the god of music and it just comes out.

“I have nodes.”

Aubrey is the only one who grasps the severity of the situation. Chloe feels a steadying hand against the small of her back and she relaxes into it, thankful for someone carrying some of the weight, even if Aubrey isn’t aware of what she’s doing.

Chloe’s eyes find Beca’s. She can tell that Beca doesn’t know what nodes are, but she looks concerned all the same. So she lets Aubrey explain it and tries not to wince.

This is a test.

She’s an excellent test-taker, but she’s not sure if she’ll pass this one. The only way to combat this is to have surgery, and if she has surgery, she could lose some of her range. Music is as much a part of her as her hair and her eyes and her laugh. It’s ingrained in her soul, and some doctor wants to go in and cut a piece of that out.

“Is it serious? Or is this, like, a skin blemish. As opposed to skin cancer,” Beca clarifies, touching her arm to get her attention.

Chloe shakes her head. “I’m sorry, what?”

Beca repeats herself. “This nodes thing. It’s serious, isn’t it?”

“The longer I put off surgery, the longer it affects my vocal chords and my singing ability,” Chloe says numbly.

“You need to get surgery,” Beca says, like it’s easy.

Chloe sighs. “If I do, it could minimize my range.”

“So we find someone else to fill the gap if we need to.” Beca seems so earnest. Chloe isn’t sure how to react to it. Beca doesn’t show a wide range of emotion, not to her at least, and this Beca is just as confusing as the shy, vulnerable Beca who gave her a CD. “Come on, this is your health.”

Chloe gives Beca a sad smile. “I’ll wait until we go to the Finals and make a decision after that.”

Beca looks like she wants to argue but she shrugs after a minute and reaches into her backpack, pulling out a CD sleeve. “Here, I made this for you.”

“Another one?” Chloe perks up immediately. She scans the listing on the front of the CD but nothing that she knows jumps out at her. “Where do you even get this stuff? Is it from the station? It’s so good.” She winks. “I even added a few to my Lady Jams List.”

Beca makes a gagging noise but avoids Chloe’s eye and shrugs again. “Let me know if you like them. But do not tell me if they’re you’re new lady jam or not. Personal information, bro.”

Chloe grins and nods. “Come on, let’s get out of here. I’ve got a CD to listen to.”

She thinks, for a moment, maybe, Beca blushes.

*

The longer Chloe listens to the CD, the more realizes that yes, Beca knows what the Bellas need to really take that next step forward, and no, Aubrey will never let it happen.

She’s not sure what it is about the two of them, but they scratch against each other like two vinyl records. Every instruction Aubrey gives, Beca takes with a roll of her eyes and a half-assed attempt to follow it. Every suggestion Beca gives, Aubrey talks over.

Chloe can see both sides of this coin. On one hand, she knows that Aubrey wants to prove herself, that she needs to do that before she graduates. On the other hand, the world has moved on from the same old thing and Beca sees it. The Treblemakers see it. Even the BU Harmonics are singing more recent Madonna songs. But the Bellas are stuck in Aubrey’s infinite loop of guilt and grief, and Beca is the first person who pushes back against that. She tries to knock the needle off the record, and Aubrey isn’t having any of that.

So for the Regionals, they do their usual. Aubrey gets through “The Sign” without any problems, and she nails her own solo. They do well.

But they can do better.

Personally, she’s pretty sure the Sockapellas didn’t win based on their creep factor. And even that gave them enough points to give the Bellas a run for their music. It’s what she’s thinking about as they get to the lobby. So when she gets to the doorway and sees that Bumper has gotten into it with that group of guys who just can’t let go, who show up at every competition to relive their glory days, she isn’t ready for anything that’s happening.

There’s a lot of pushing and shoving going on and in the midst of it, with Aubrey pulling at Fat Amy’s collar, Chloe doesn’t remember to grab a hold of Beca.

She’s not as surprised when Beca punches that guy as she was when Beca started singing “No Diggty.” Sure, there’s the shock value that Beca “5-foot-Nothing” Mitchell just pretty much cold-clocked a guy, but Chloe isn’t really surprised that it happened.

No, she’s surprised when the police come and arrest Beca for that trophy breaking a window.

Chloe knows that Aubrey won’t go with her to bail Beca out, absolutely not, so she convinces Aubrey to do the next best thing: wait in Beca’s room, steadfastly ignoring Beca’s strange roommate, until Beca gets back. She’s practically falling asleep against Cynthia Rose’s shoulder, the pressure from the day and the strain on her vocal nodules starting to pile up, when Beca comes through the door looking surprised to see them.

“Oh, good,” Kimmy Jin says flatly. “You’re back. They’re really inconvenient.”

Chloe is smiling too widely at Beca to really hear any of Aubrey’s speech. She’s caught between wanting to tease Beca for getting arrested and ridiculously relieved that Beca didn’t actually have to spend the night in a jail cell.

But when Beca announces that she has something she wants everyone to hear, a mix she made up, Chloe’s heart snaps her back into reality. She watches Beca wake her computer up and Chloe watches tons of tiny screens pop up, all of them things Chloe has seen before in her music theory class where they actually built their own songs and it occurs to her.

Beca made those mixes.

“I didn’t know you did this stuff,” she says in awe.

Beca shoots her a smirk over her shoulder. There’s a moment where she’s saying something that no one but Chloe can hear, that no one but Chloe understands. And Chloe feels like a fool, because all she did was illegally download some Hanson songs and Beca actually spent hours matching bass notes to different songs and mashing them together.

Aubrey shoots down the idea, though. Chloe knew she would, but she still feels defeated, for Beca’s sake. She feels defeated because Aubrey can’t see that the Bellas need something to lift them up and give them confidence. But Aubrey is the bandleader and Chloe is following the music wherever it leads her. And to be fair to Aubrey, their set list has led them to the finals before. She can’t deny that.

Still, before she falls asleep that night, she texts Beca and tells her that she can try, emphasis on try, to talk to Aubrey about spicing things up a little bit, but she’s not making any promises.

*

Aubrey doesn’t budge. Not even a little bit. She actually tells Chloe that it’s enough. She’s heard enough about Beca and Beca’s ideas for the Bellas. She’s heard enough resistance from Beca and the rest of the Bellas, and she’s disappointed that Chloe keeps bringing it up to her. It makes Chloe feel bad and she immediately drops it. She throws herself into the Regionals routine, which isn’t hard. She could do this routine in her sleep if she wanted to. What’s hard is trying to shoot Beca glances from across the room, silently telling her to get off Aubrey’s back or there’s going to be a whole mess of things to deal with. Beca gets the hint eventually, after Aubrey tells her to can it, and shoots Chloe wounded looks for the rest of rehearsal.

“I thought you said-”

Chloe shakes her head. “I tried. She’s dead set on this routine.”

Beca runs a few steps to catch up with her. “Hey, wait. I think we can-”

“No, Beca. I can’t.” Chloe sighs when Beca jerks back a little. “Okay, listen. I tried really hard, but Aubrey… Aubrey wants to win. And she knows we’ll get through to finals with this one.”

Beca backs off for a second. “Okay. Well, here.” She presses another CD into Chloe’s hands. “It’s Christmas-themed, which might be lame, but, you know.” Beca smirks. “’Tis the season.”

Chloe rocks up onto the tips of her toes. “Christmas music?” she asks, her voice squeaky and hopeful. “Christmas is my favorite!”

“Well, yeah. You said that,” Beca says slowly. “And I’m not cool enough to really afford a Christmas present for you, or anything, so there’s this.”

“You…” Chloe takes a deep breath to try and steady the emotions swelling inside of her. “Beca, you didn’t need to get me anything.” She rests her hand on Beca’s arm and lets it linger there. She’s always been a ‘homemade gifts are the best kind of gifts” kind of girl. From the ornaments on the family tree every year to the trinkets covering the desktop in her father’s study, she has always forgone the store-bought gift when she could make something instead.

And knowing that Beca made these mixes, which must have taken forever, makes them feel more expensive than any store-bought CD she could have gotten.

Beca shakes her off after a minute, still blushing. “I have to get going or the stepmonster will send out a search party. You’ll text me, right?”

Beca sounds so hopeful that Chloe can’t stop herself from smirking and taking a few steps back, not giving an answer until she disappears around the corner of her car. She pops her head back out, grinning widely at the clear relief on Beca’s face. “Of course I will. I’ll let you know when I get home.”

“Yeah, okay,” Beca says quickly. “Whatever.”

“Whatever,” Chloe mocks as she gets into her car, shooting Beca one last smile and wave before she pulls off the curb.

She’s already got the stereo cranked by the time she turns out of Barden’s main driveway, and the music seeps into her bloodstream easily. This is one of her favorite things to do: get in the car and turn up the music until she can feel it pulsing through the steering wheel into her palms, up into her elbows and her shoulders until she’s bobbing her head. It completely surrounds her and she can forget about life for a while. It’s just her, the road, and the music and even in the confines of her car, she feels more free than ever.

When she gets home, she fires off a text and lets Beca know she safe and sound and laughs when Beca replies that the stepmonster is already starting in on her and she’s been home for two hours.

Chloe spends Christmas break splitting her time between watching Christmas specials, drinking hot tea, humming along to her parents’ piano duets, fending calls from Aubrey, and listening to the songs Beca made for her. Her father leaves a pamphlet on nodule surgery on her desk for her, and she shoves it into her backpack. She just wants to not think about it for a while. She wants to have a holiday break that doesn’t center around whether or not she should butcher her vocal abilities.

Your dad is right, Beca texts her.

Chloe sighs. I know that, but we have the Semifinals still.

When Beca texts her back, You’re kind of more important than Aubrey’s world-takeover mission, Chloe shuts her phone down and curls up in the corner of the couch with all of the Christmas movies she has where there aren’t sing-a-long songs.

She makes another mix CD, a little James Taylor and some harder stuff, like that one Lincoln Park song she usually doesn’t tell people she likes, and scribbles a note down and shoves it into the case, sending it off to Beca with the sole intention of seeing if the other girl can make a mix of this one.

A few days later, when she turns her phone back on, all she gets is one message from Beca.

Challenge accepted.

*

It’s the first day back from Christmas break and Chloe already wants to go back home where the hot tea is always flowing and her mom is always pulling her to the living for a Real Housewives marathon. Instead, she’s got lukewarm water from the cafeteria, Aubrey pulling her to their room where she rants and raves about the Bellas, and she’s got Beca voice in her head, humming songs off the CD she says she’s making.

It’s kind of stressful.

“What’s that?” Aubrey doesn’t wait for an answer, and pulls the corner of the CD sleeve until Chloe’s Modern World Civ paper and notes come down around it. “Is this the new Taylor Swift CD?”

Aubrey doesn’t wait for an answer this time either and shoves it into her computer while Chloe sits on her bed and prays for this to be over soon.

“Aubrey, why don’t you-”

But Aubrey is already queuing the CD up on her iTunes and cranking up the volume. Chloe holds her breath, afraid to say anything, but then Aubrey starts bobbing her head to the beat. “This is really good,” she says, spinning in the computer chair. “This isn’t TSwift.”

When Aubrey clicks down to the drive where the CD is importing onto the hard drive, Chloe feels like faceplanting into her pillow. Beca has some fancy program that names the songs, and they carry over whenever Chloe uploads the CDs to her music file. She watches Aubrey read the titles slowly, her spine straightening visibly with every track.

When the CD pops back out of Aubrey’s computer, she takes a minute to read the cover and the awkwardly-shaped doodle letters Beca swears she spent time on.

Chloe doesn’t want to just faceplant into her pillow. Now she wants to pull the covers up over her head and disappear for the rest of her life.

“She made you a CD?”

She can’t lie to Aubrey. It’s in their best friend code. They actually have one of those. Aubrey wanted it notarized but Chloe managed to stop that train of thought thankfully.

“She’s made me a couple.” Chloe keeps talking quickly so that Aubrey won’t interrupt. “They’re really good, Aubrey. Like, that’s what she does. She mixes music. And she made all of those songs and-”

Aubrey holds up a hand, silencing her. “So this is how she’s going to play it, huh?”

Chloe knows that look in Aubrey’s eyes, that slightly homicidal, mind-churning look. It makes her shiver a little, like the window is open or something, but she starts to shake her head anyway. “No, Aubrey. She’s not playing it at all.”

“She’s going to turn my best friend against me,” Aubrey continues, like she hasn’t even heard Chloe. “That’s just dirty. But if that’s how she wants to play this game then-”

Chloe stands up and grabs Aubrey’s shoulders. “Aubrey, stop. Beca isn’t playing me against you, okay? I am behind whatever Bellas decision you make. I just think we need to consider a few more options, okay?”

She isn’t sure what shocks Aubrey more, that Chloe actually spoke up or that Chloe thought about speaking up in the first place. Either way, Aubrey stares back at her for a few moments before shaking her head. “We go to the Semifinals with our original routine. That’s it.”

“Aub-“

Aubrey cuts her off with a firm shake of her head. “That’s it.” She stands up straight and shakes the conversation off of her shoulders. “I’m going to shower.”

When Aubrey gets back from the bathrooms, Chloe has downloaded and burned the new Taylor Swift CD and placed it on Aubrey’s nightstand as a peace offering.

Chloe doesn’t let herself fall asleep until she sees Aubrey place it reverently in her CD case.

*

Bumper hitting Fat Amy with a burrito is a new low blow, but they pull out of the gas station with Amy at the wheel and Chloe puts her headphones back in, determined to save her voice until the competition. She’s going to really need to hit that note if they want to win this, and she can’t stand losing, not when it’s not even the Finals.

In between a whole bunch of Beca’s mixes, Miley Cyrus comes on and she can’t help herself. She’s not a teeny bopper, but that song was on the radio for months and it’s catchy, and she’s always been the kind of person who dances in her seat while she drives.

So she starts humming.

She must be humming out loud, though, because out of the corner of her eye, she catches Cynthia Rose bopping her head to the same beat. And behind her, she can hear Stacie trying to match pitch. But then Aubrey turns around with a wide smile on her face that Chloe hasn’t seen in forever and she thinks to herself, screw saving my voice. This is Miley Cyrus. They can’t not rock out to this right now.

Then the whole bus, minus Beca, is full-blown singing. Chloe can see the way Beca looks so, so reserved. As if admitting that she even knows this song will ruin her street cred, or whatever it is that aspiring DJs have. She sees it and she wants to get rid of it. She wants to blow that tight-lipped line right off of Beca’s face. So she starts to sing to Beca, and Beca looks over at them, at her, wide-eyed disbelief on her face, and she laughs, but they keep singing.

And as the bridge winds down, they’re all leaning in and she’s smirking, daring Beca to take a chance, daring her to give in to that little voice in her head that’s shouting “I love this song!” over the booming one telling Miley Cyrus to go back to the Disney Channel. Beca gives a small shake of her head, like no, I won’t, but the smile on Beca’s face is growing and growing, and Chloe knows, from experience, that the song is going to burst out of her whether she wants it to or not.

“So I put my hands up!” Beca finally screams and everyone cheers before picking the lyrics back up.

Halfway through the song, Chloe stops singing. She stops and she just listens. She listens to the way their voices blend like a strawberry-banana smoothie, so effortlessly and easily. Cynthia Rose is hitting notes Miley can’t, and Aubrey has the pitch right on key, and even Fat Amy is getting into it in the front seat. But Beca catches her attention, shimmying in her seat and bopping her head like it’s a Dr. Dre song, not a Disney star’s claim to fame. She’s throwing her head back as she sings and just having fun. Aubrey is just having fun. They’re having a blast and they sound a hundred times better than they do when they’re doing their routine.

She always said she saw Beca’s point, about how they need to update themselves a little. But now, she actually sees Beca’s point.

More importantly, she hears Beca’s point.

And the look Beca gives her, just as the bus breaks down, tells her that Beca knows the conclusion Chloe just came to.

*

At least, Chloe thought they had come to the same conclusion.

They had a moment on the bus where they both realized the same thing, and Chloe thought, foolishly, she guesses, that they would talk about it, after the competition.

Instead, Beca took matters into her own hands.

Beca probably did make the music better. Chloe can’t deny that, not really.

But Beca should have waited, though. She should have waited or told someone, told Chloe, at least. Yeah, that group before them was good. Really good. But Beca should have told Chloe what she was planning on doing. Chloe would have understood, if Beca pulled her aside before they got on stage and said, hey, don’t worry. I’m going to start another melody behind you, so don’t freak out.

But Beca didn’t do that, and for just a moment, Chloe freaked out. Aubrey freaked out too, for much longer than a minute, but she pulled herself together much more effectively than Chloe thought she would have. The fact that Aubrey holds it together and they get past the curtains actually surprises Chloe, to be honest, but it gives her a moment longer to collect and prepare herself for the inevitable fallout.

“What the hell?” Aubrey asks, her fists clenched by her side. “You could have just ruined everything!”

Beca sputters before she explains herself. “They were falling asleep out there.”

“That little stunt might have just cost us the competition.”

“It might have just saved us,” Beca counters. Chloe can see the Treblemakers waiting behind them to get on stage, and that Jesse kid pushes his way out of the pack, listening to every word.

“Oh, really?” Aubrey looks to the rest of the Bellas. “Why don’t you ask the girls what they thought of your little improvisation?”

“Amy?” Beca asks after a long pause.

Fat Amy looks, wide-eyed, between Aubrey and Beca. “It was cool,” she admits, “but a warning would have been nice.”

Chloe shoots Beca a look that’s supposed to mean the same thing. She tries, telepathically, to let Beca know that some warning would have been really excellent. She opens her mouth to cut in a little on Beca’s behalf, but Jesse beats her to it.

“Hey, come on,” he starts.

Chloe watches Beca whip around. “I don’t need you to keep helping me,” she practically shouts at him.

So Chloe takes a step back. If she doesn’t want Jesse’s help, Beca probably doesn’t want her help either. And Aubrey would snap her neck. And Chloe is tired. Her throat aches something awful and she’s so tired that she wants to just get on the bus and go home. She’s about to ask if they can put a hold on this argument and let the Treblemakers go onstage so that they can sing, and then everyone can leave and deal with this in the morning.

But Beca is pushing past the Treblemakers and making a break for it, disappearing around the corner even as that Benji kid that hangs around the boys’ team follows after her, calling her name. Chloe wants to follow her, but Aubrey is breathing heavily and leaning on her and Chloe can only deal with one and half breakdowns at a time. She silently wills Benji to catch up to Beca and convince her to come back so they can get their score as a team.

When she finds out that they didn’t make it, that they’re out of the competition, Chloe sinks into the surprisingly cushiony seats of the Treblemakers bus and puts her headphones in, intent on avoiding every single Beca-made mix on her mp3 player.

Beca, who sent her a three-word response to the almost-essay Chloe sent her first, asking where she was and how she was and if should come back because they’re leaving right now.

Got a ride was all that Beca sent back.

And Chloe is so tired that she just shuts her phone off and goes to queue up a playlist that is slow and acoustic and not club-ready beats. Except that she scrolls through her playlists and realizes she took the acoustic one off to make room for Beca’s CDs. The longer she scrolls through her mp3player, she realizes that there’s hardly anything but Beca’s music, minus a few Miley or Taylor songs here and there. But they’re mixed in with all of the songs Beca made for her, so she shuts off that too.

For the first time, she chooses silence, because Chloe is tired.

*

A few days after the Regionals disaster, when Aubrey finally gets out of bed and leaves the room, Chloe calls up her mom and tells her to schedule the surgery for Spring Break. Her dad gets on the phone and tells her he’s proud of her making for the right decision and she doesn’t tell him that it wasn’t much of a decision.

They didn’t make Finals.

Her competitive singing career is over.

She didn’t really have much of a choice.

She painstakingly makes a playlist of all the songs Beca gave her and hides it under “Disney Music” on her computer because Aubrey hates the Disney soundtracks and would never listen to it if she borrowed music again. She transfers it to her mp3 player and listens to the tracks at night, softly, because even though they lost, even though Beca isn’t talking to her right now and Aubrey gets that homicidal look in her eyes whenever her name is mentioned, Chloe misses it.

Chloe misses how surprisingly easy it is to listen to music and enjoy it and not have to worry about things like her best friend ending up in prison for murder. The music gives her a reprieve from her classes and the empty rehearsal space and from catching Beca’s eye across campus and not being able to go over and say hello.

There’s no way to fix it. Not right now. So she listens to music all the time and sings in the shower without abandon because the doctors weren’t kidding about her range diminishing after the surgery and she determined to sing as much and as loud and as long as she can before that happens.

She makes one more CD.

It’s sad songs. Sadder than usual, at least. She doesn’t realize she’s putting together a CD full of sad songs until after she’s done making it and by then she’s too finished with it to go back and make a new one. It’s just that she’s sure if Beca can read between the lines, Beca will understand it: how scared she is about the surgery and how scared she is that she probably lost Beca’s friendship too. She’s scared that when she wakes up from the anesthesia, she won’t have either of them back.

She leaves it at the radio station on her way off of campus for Spring Break. Technically, Spring Break starts in two days, but she got permission from her professors and told Aubrey that it was her great-grandmother’s 90th birthday and her family was making her go home early. So she leaves the CD at the radio station with Beca’s name on it and hits the road to home, admitting herself to the hospital the same night.

She shuts her phone off until after the surgery but Beca still hasn’t text her back when she turns it back on. Chloe is actually a little disappointed, because she put so much into that CD. And there’s a chance Beca didn’t get it, but still…

Chloe wakes up and thinks she might have made a mistake. Music is everything to her. Music has given her everything and this is how she repays it: by letting someone stick sharp instruments into her vocal chords and poke around. She turned her gift into a medical lesson for the interns who scrubbed in on her surgery and she’ll never be able to take it back now.

She’s inconsolable for two days and won’t even listen to her mp3 player that her mom brought in. Eventually, they leave too, to go back to work and home and somewhere where she isn’t angrily writing how much she wants to go back and choose not to do the surgery.

Day three, though, she pulls her mp3 player out and untangles the cord and lies back against her seriously uncomfortable pillows. Her “Disney Music” playlist comes on, the fake one, but she doesn’t make a move to change it. Not when Beca actually found a way to mix something as campy as “Eternal Flame” with “Titanium.” Instead, she listens to it on repeat and drinks as much water as they’ll let her and doesn’t speak.

She’ll get her singing range back, but she’s going to have to be cautious. Since there isn’t any more competitive singing, she figures that it should be easy enough: scales every day, running through her range, testing the flexibility she has, and all at her own pace.

Except, on the day before she’s set to be released, still on no-speaking orders, she gets a text from Aubrey.

THE NE-YO KID IS A HIGHSCHOOLER!!! WE’ER BACK IN!

Chloe has to read it twice before she understands what it means, and then she’s jumping around in her hospital bed so much that she dislodges her IV line and things start to beep. It doesn’t matter to her, though.

They’re back in it.

They have a chance to win.

They’re in the finals and… And she just had nodule surgery. And they don’t have Beca.

Chloe fishes her phone out of the bedsheets and forwards the message to Beca, sure that Aubrey didn’t bother in the first place, and adds that Chloe really, really, really wants her to be there. She starts packing up her things, humming the tune to “Titanium” as loud as she dares.

*

Beca doesn’t text her back. She doesn’t show up at Bellas rehearsal, either. Not at the start of it, at least, and by the time Aubrey is throwing up years of pent up stress, she still isn’t there.

Chloe isn’t sure how they got to this point: to reaching across Fat Amy’s shoulders to get a good grip on Aubrey’s hair, just to pull it once, just to see what it feels like, and Cynthia Rose climbing the seats after Stacie and Lilly doing snow angels in… just thinking about it is going to make her gag. They were so respected, so respectable, but now they’re wild animals all screaming for attention.

She’s angry. She’s furious. She’s seeing red like she’s never seen it in her entire life, and it’s all centered on Aubrey. If Aubrey had just listened to her, if Aubrey had listened to the music, they wouldn’t be here. They could already be on their way to winning Finals. But no. Because Aubrey had to have it her way  and Chloe has always disliked that about her, how Aubrey has to have it her way or no way at all.

But now she doesn’t care what Aubrey wants. She doesn’t care what Aubrey feels or thinks or says. Aubrey was supposed to be their leader. Aubrey was supposed to guide them to victory. Aubrey was supposed to make sure they won something and Aubrey failed them all. Chloe failed them all, too. She should have stood up more. She should have said something one more time, bugging Aubrey enough that the blonde gave in. But since she didn’t, she’s angry. She’s more angry than she’s ever been.

And Beca decides that she’ll show up now, when Chloe’s eyes are filled with unshed tears, and Aubrey’s hair is a mess, and there’s no hope for any of them. That’s when Beca shows up and screams over them to knock it off, like she gets to have a say, like she gets to leave them and come back and pretend like she didn’t not text Chloe for almost a whole month.

No. That’s not how this works. That’s not how they work. And as soon as Beca steps close enough, Chloe is going to tell her that.

For now, she settles for trying to calm herself down, while Aubrey lists all the reasons why Beca should be banned from the Bellas for the rest of her life, and finds her center just as Aubrey tells Beca to go.

She holds her breath as Beca nods slowly, avoiding catching her eye, and grabs a chair, dragging it behind her as she starts to leave. The chair legs against the concrete grate against her ears, but every time Beca looks over her shoulder, Chloe looks away, determined to avoid those sad eyes she knows are looking back at her.

And Aubrey, sweet, slightly-manic, dramatic Aubrey, calls Beca back just as she crosses the line that would forever sever her from Bella-hood.

It’s only when Beca mentions how they don’t know much about each other that Chloe gathers the courage to bring up her surgery and how she can probably never go past a sharp G again in her life. Aubrey’s steady hand goes to the small of her back again, like she can hold Chloe together with just one touch, and Chloe loves that about Aubrey. She does. Underneath all that crazy, her best friend is still inside there. Fat Amy, Cynthia, Stacie, and even Lilly all look at her with a mix of sympathy and a sense of confusion, as if they still don’t understand how severe vocal nodules are.

But Beca looks at her with a mask of indifference on her face, like Chloe did what she did and Beca can’t change it  so why show that she cares. There’s a flicker, for a second, in Beca’s eyes, but it passes and Beca’s face is a blank canvas of no emotion again. Not even a scowl.

She does hear a little bit of concern later, though, when they’re in the empty pool and Beca has a chance to show off how she can lead this team to a victory, even if it with a song like “Just The Way You Are.”

“You good to lead?” Beca asks, her head tilted down enough to cover her eyes.

Chloe nods confidently. Even after the surgery, she can hit notes that Bruno Mars only dreams about. Which probably isn’t true, because his voice is odd and yet something to aspire to. But she can do it all the same, and when Beca counts it off, it’s easy to fall into her rhythm.

While she sings, her mind drifts away. Usually, she’s focused, a hundred percent, on the music, on her cues, on keeping pitch. But today, she’s watching Aubrey out of the corner of her eye, watching the excitement and shock growing on her face as Beca adds “Just A Dream” to the mix effortlessly. She’s watching Beca and the way she starts her clap/stomp rhythm that everyone picks up after a beat or two.

She’s watching the music come back to the Bellas; watching them come to life again.

When Beca cuts the song, there’s a moment where none of them speak or sing or even breathe, all too awed by what they just did and the potential sparking off them like little bolts of electricity. And then they’re yelling, jumping, all too excited and full of ideas to be quiet, their voices magnified in the empty deep end.

And Beca is smiling sheepishly, her eyes on Chloe even though Fat Amy is shouting in her ear wildly. Chloe smiles back without thinking about it, but catches herself after a minute and looks way.

She looks up to the sky and sends up a quick thank you. She’s not sure who will get it, but she thanks them all the same. Chloe thanks them for the music and for giving it back to her. She thanks them for validating her belief, that music will never really ever let her down.

She spends so much time saying thank you that when she comes back out of her head, she’s practically alone outside, except for Beca, lingering a few feet away, her hands in her pocket.

“I didn’t want you to walk alone.” Beca pulls her hand out of her pocket quickly, dangling a whistle from her finger. “And I have an official BU rape whistle. In case.”

Chloe holds up her wristlet, her own whistle hanging from the loop.

“Oh,” Beca breathes out. She thinks about it for a minute. “Well, my dad always says two whistles are better than one.”

“Your dad actually says that?” Chloe asks, trying to picture Professor Mitchell saying something like that.

“Well, no,” Beca admits. “But he would. If I asked him about it or… Listen.” Beca nods in the direction of the stairs and the dorm and starts walking slowly until Chloe catches up to her, staying a half a step away. Normally, Chloe would latch onto Beca and hold tight, despite the other girl’s clear aversion to physical contact. “I’m sorry. About Regionals and messing everything up and for not answering your texts or anything.”

Chloe thinks about it for a minute. She could make Beca grovel. She could stretch it out and see how long Beca would apologize for before she gave up completely. But she nods and smiles hesitantly. “Okay. Apology accepted.”

Beca raises an eyebrow. “Is apologizing to Aubrey going to be that easy too?”

Chloe laughs, her vocal chords tired and sore. “Where’s the fun in that?”

“Where’s the fun in Aubrey?” Beca mutters under her breath. She looks up and shrugs. “Sorry, habit. I’ll work on breaking it.”

Chloe gives in and loops her arm around Beca’s until they’re pressed shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip, and Chloe treds gently on Beca’s chucks. They walk in companionable silence, a music all on its own, and Chloe takes it in. There’s a lightness to the air that wasn’t there before, something hovering over them as they walk across campus.

When she gets to Beca’s floor, she untangles herself from the brunette. Beca takes a few awkward steps back, immediately shoving her hands back into her pocket like she has something in them that she has to hide. Chloe is about to say she’s sorry, for that mix CD full of those sad, angsty, emo-rock songs, but Beca wishes her a goodnight and ducks into the hallway before she has a chance to. Chloe figures she’ll just bring it up later and leaves it at that, turning back towards the stairwell to get to her room.

See, Chloe knew. She knew that music would give her something. She knew that the nodes were a test and she thought she failed, giving into the surgery, but it turns out that she either passed or that Beca is her second-place prize. Either way, she thinks she won, because she still has Aubrey, and she still has music, and she still has Beca.

She doesn’t know what it means, that she’s so happy that she still has Beca, but where the music goes, Chloe follows. The music just happens to be wrapped around Beca.

*

“I think we’re ready for Finals,” Aubrey says in the silence of their room. Chloe lifts her head off her pillow and pushes up onto her elbows. “I think we’re ready and I’m kind of…”

Chloe nods even though Aubrey can’t see her and throws back her covers, padding across the floor and sliding into Aubrey’s bed. Freshman year, when they first met, they spent hours like this, talking until they both realized their first 8am class was in an hour. She rests her head on Aubrey’s pillow and waits.

“I’m scared, a little,” Aubrey admits. She wrinkles her nose. “We’re so ready that I’m scared. That doesn’t make any sense.”

Chloe smiles a little. “You’re scared because you let the reins go on this one. That’s why.”

Aubrey breathes out heavily. “Yeah, I gave them to your… I gave them to Beca.”

“What?”

Aubrey looks up at her, a little further down on the pillow. “What?”

“You said you gave them to my what?” Chloe frowns.

“Honestly, Chloe, I don’t care.” Aubrey reconsiders it. “Well, I don’t care anymore. I cared before, but that was when she was undermining everything the Bellas stood for.”

Chloe sits up. “You don’t care about what?”

Aubrey follows her, crossing her legs and leaning back against the wall. “About Beca,” she says slowly.

“What about Beca?”

Aubrey’s mouth hangs open a little bit before she snaps it closed. “I’m talking about the huge aca-elephant sized crush you have on her.”

Chloe’s eyes widen, and she leans so far back she nearly topples out of Aubrey’s bed. “My what?”

“God, Chloe, stop being so dramatic about it. It’s not a big deal.” Aubrey studies her for a few minutes before her indignation goes away and she looks at Chloe with concern. “Oh, God. Do you not have a crush on her?”

Chloe can’t seem to find any words. She can’t deny it, and she can’t confirm it; she just can’t speak.

Her crush on Beca. Her crush on Beca. Her crush on Beca.

“Okay, listen. It’s not that big of a deal either way, okay?” Aubrey asks quietly, reaching out and touching Chloe on the shoulder gently. “If you do, you do, and if you don’t, then-”

“I like music,” Chloe interrupts, feeling like she’s in a daze. “I like music.”

“Right.” Aubrey pulls Chloe back towards the center of the bed.

“Oh my god,” she breathes out.

It kind of rushes her. It’s a surge of feelings, the kind she gets when she’s listening to her instrumental playlist and it shuffles from something like and airy, a track off of the movie “The Holiday,” to something from LOST. It builds and swells in her chest like an asthma attack and it rushes her. Their first meeting, and the shower and the way that Chloe held Beca’s gaze for so long – they were both naked, she tells herself, but it was more than that. The first mix CD and the way that Beca took the time, took hours, to blend her crazy tracks together into something that didn’t sound like mumbled voice. She thinks back to hearing “No Diggity” come out of little Beca Mitchell and the way it took Chloe’s breath away, how the first time Beca gave her a CD, she couldn’t stop listening to it. She thinks about Beca being her soundtrack, her music, her way back from surgery and her way back into falling in love with music all over again.

How did… How did that happen? she wonders.

The CDs. And the smiles. And way Beca holds everyone at arm’s distance but lets Chloe slip in now and again. And the music Beca carries in her step and in her earphones and how she shares it with Chloe.

That’s how it happened.

She exhales shakily but Aubrey catches her. “Come on.” Aubrey lays back down. “It’s time to get some rest. We have Trebles to aca-nihilate in a few days.”

Chloe lets out a strangled laugh and lies down but she can’t fall asleep, not with this huge weight resting on her chest and shoulders now. Aubrey snores softly next to her, but even the melody of that can’t calm Chloe down. She’s replaying every moment and every smile and every second of every track on every CD and what it adds up to is everything Aubrey said.

She turns over and Aubrey shifts next to her to fill the space. Chloe isn’t sure what she should do with this information now. She doesn’t know if she should sleep on it, or if she should get up and march down to Beca’s floor and demand to talk, even if she’s not sure what she would talk about.

When Aubrey nudges her sleepily and tells her to stop thinking so loud, Chloe decides she’ll figure out what to do in the morning. Tonight, she’ll just fight off Aubrey for pillow space and covers.

*

Chloe raps lightly against the window of the booth, looking around anxiously as if someone might be watching her, but it’s the late night slot and she only got inside as the DJ before Beca left the station. Beca doesn’t look up right away, her headphones blocking out most of the noise. Chloe knocks a little harder and Beca’s head snaps up.

Chloe grins as butterflies flutter in her stomach. She waves and Beca gives her a slow crooked smile in response, holding up a finger as something catches her attention. Chloe watches her turn a few knobs and lean into the microphone, her disembodied voice echoing in the station. A few moments later, Beca is pulling off her headphones and resting them on the desk, pulling open the door to the booth and turning a white knob near the door.

The place grows quieter with only a faint echo of a song that sounds familiar. Beca leans against the doorframe, one hand on her hip. “No newbies in the booth,” she drawls.

Chloe rolls her eyes. “Someone should have told you that, then.”

“Oh, they did,” Beca says, going back to her seat, pushing another chair into the open for Chloe. “And then they realized how talented I am.”

“You are,” Chloe breathes out. She’s being too serious already and she just walked in the door. She didn’t have much of a purpose, really. She didn’t even know what she was going to say. But she left her room to clear her head and get away from Aubrey doing scales and ended up here. Beca gives her a slightly uncomfortable look and Chloe rushes to continue. “You’re ridiculously full of yourself,” she adds, laughing a little.

Beca smirks. “Can’t deny talent like this.”

Chloe ignores her and looks around the booth. If she had to put people in boxes, this would be Beca’s. Aubrey’s would be light pink and filled with mirrors and all sorts of little trinkets that Chloe has come to associate with her best friend, but if she had to put Beca into a box and keep her there, in her mind, for the rest of her life, this would be it. There are CDs and records stacked on every available surface and headphones hanging off desks and hooks on desks. Beca looks so at home in the middle of it all, with her headphones hanging around her neck and her foot tapping against the floor.

“So this is what you do?”

Beca nods and takes it for the invitation it is, showing Chloe all the different pieces of equipment and explaining how they work. Chloe doesn’t really care. It’s interesting, that’s undeniable, but she’s focused more on Beca and how Beca’s eyes light up and how she smiles as she shows Chloe a trick with a mixer. Chloe watches Beca’s hands move as she talks and how Beca’s foot never stops tapping.

Beca is music.

There’s a difference, she knows. She loves music. Aubrey loves music. The Bellas and the Trebles and even the High Notes, they all love music. But Beca breathes and eats and sleeps and dreams music. There’s music in her step and in her smile and every time she speaks, it sounds like a melody Chloe knows but can’t quite put a name to.

She’s not sure how she didn’t see it before, but she feels like a fool for missing it.

“What?”

Chloe blinks hard. “What?”

Beca frowns. “I don’t know. You drifted off into No Man’s Land for a few seconds. If this is boring you I don’t have to-”

“No,” Chloe says firmly. “I’m interested. Sorry. It’s just late.”

Beca nods, unconvinced. She fiddles with a few more knobs, adjusting the volume of a track before she looks back at Chloe. “We’re okay, right?”

Chloe sits up a little straighter. “Of course we are. Why wouldn’t we be?”

Beca shurgs. “I was just asking.” She’s quiet for another minute before she sighs. “Okay, so, that last CD you gave me…”

“Oh.” Chloe sighs.

“Oh?” Beca sits up straighter than Chloe has ever seen her. “What does ‘oh’ mean?”

“Nothing. It doesn’t mean anything.”

Beca looks at her expectantly. “Are you sure? Because, that CD was kind of…”

“I know. It was-”

“The first guy who dumped me didn’t even send me that depressing of a CD,” Beca continued over her. “So, I don’t know. It kind of felt like…” Beca laughs brightly. “Wow, honestly, it felt like you were breaking up with me. Or that I had broken up with you and you were telling me how depressed you were.”

Chloe feels her face turn red. “That’s not what it was,” she mutters.

Beca looks a little relieved. “Are you sure? I know I just got back on good terms with the Bellas, but I didn’t think I was going to have to get back on good terms with you. Until that CD, I mean.”

“It was... I was…” Chloe shrugs. “Just forget about that CD. We’re good. We’re great.

Beca is still smiling hesitantly. “Friends?”

This should be her moment to say, “No, not friends,” but it’s late and she’s only just realized that she’s into Beca in a way that isn’t really part-time. And what if Beca is straight and completely freaks out? What if she’s straight and lets Chloe down hard? What if she’s isn’t straight, but she isn’t interested, either? So she chickens out and just echoes with “Friends.”

They listen to the music quietly for a moment before Chloe does her best to perk up a little. “We’re going to win Finals.”

Beca’s hesitation evaporates. “Hell yes we are. We’re going to make those Treblemakers our aca-bitches.”

Chloe laughs so hard her eyes water, laughing harder still when Beca puts on a face and says she’s offended Chloe thinks that’s so funny.

“Whatever, Donnie Darko.” Beca scoffs. “Not a break up CD. Yeah, right. No one just accidentally puts “Mad World” on a CD.” She pushes a new CD into the stand and points at a pair of headphones. “Come on. Be my guest DJ for an hour.”

Chloe picks up the headphones hesitantly. “Won’t you get in trouble for this?”

Beca shrugs. “Probably. But like you said, I’m talented. They’ll let me do this just this once.”

Chloe pulls the headphones on and spends the rest of Beca’s shift making stupid jokes and pressing buttons she probably shouldn’t press. When she falls asleep during her 8am the next morning, she doesn’t even care.

*

They’re supposed to be onstage in five minutes and Chloe decides this is the time to silently freak out. She’ll mess up. Her voice isn’t the same. She won’t hit those low notes the way they planned on her doing. She’ll throw up on an audience member and that’ll be it.

Aubrey steps up behind her, her hand at the small of Chloe’s back. “This is it.”

Chloe puts on a smile. “I know. Are you ready?”

Aubrey straightens up, squaring her shoulder. “My father always says, if you’re not ready, then get the hell-“

“Out of Kuwait,” they finish together. They have no idea what it’s supposed to mean, but they understand it anyway, on a level they can’t really explain to anyone else.

Chloe laces her hand in Aubrey’s. “This year, it’s ours. We worked too hard to give it up to anyone without a fight.”

Aubrey nods in the direction over Chloe’s shoulder. “Talk to her yet?”

Chloe looks back and gives a small smile when she catches Beca’s eye. “Talk to her about what?”

“Don’t play dumb, Chloe.”

Chloe sighs. “It’s not the right time yet.”

“And when is the right time? When we win?”

Chloe doesn’t want to make that promise. “I’ll figure it out. Or I’ll graduate and never have to deal with it.”

Aubrey sighs. “Fine.”

The Aubrey that Chloe knows never gives up that easily or without a fight, and it immediately tips Chloe off. “What? Fine what?”

The blonde shrugs. “Nothing.”

Chloe tugs Aubrey around the curtain. “What?” she asks, whispering furiously.

Aubrey snatches her arm back. “I just think she’s rubbing off on you in the wrong way. The Chloe I know would go over there and tell her.”

Chloe knows Aubrey’s right. She was the girl who burst in on Beca Mitchell, naked. She’s the girl who, freshman year, cornered Aubrey in the cafeteria and made the blonde sit with her every day until they were best friends. Chloe has never been afraid of saying what she’s thinking or feeling.

Until now. Until Beca.

“You two going to come on stage with us?” Beca asks from behind her. Chloe whips around, eyes wide. “Or are you breaking up with someone else now, Rick Blaine?” At their blank looks, she rolls her eyes. “Humphrey Bogart? Casablanca? Even I know that one.”

Aubrey sighs dramatically and pushes past Beca, making a hurry-gesture at Chloe over Beca’s head. As soon as she disappears from sight, Beca’s smirk fades into concern. “Everything okay? I was kidding about the breaking up thing.”

Chloe smiles. “I know you were.” She puts her hand on Beca’s arm, squeezing gently. “Everything is okay right now. But maybe we can talk? After they name us the winners?”

Beca nods, smiling. “Of course. I mean, fingers crossed I don’t end up in jail this time, but absolutely.”

That’s enough to steady Chloe’s nerves and give her the strength to get on stage for the last time ever.

*

Winning feels like a blur. It’s a blur of people and hair in her face and, unsurprisingly, Stacie’s boobs. The cheers from the crowds are roaring in her ears and Aubrey is screaming over her, the joy on her face enough that Chloe’s own face feels like it’s going to split in two.

They won. They actually won. They went on stage, and they killed it, and they won.

She’s so high on the music and amped up on her performance that she swallows her nerves and knows she only needs a few seconds of courage, really, but when she turns around to find Beca, the air goes out of the room. The sound follows it, rushing out of her head so fast she feels dizzy and she stumbles.

Chloe leans heavily into Aubrey. “What is…” Aubrey looks up and sighs quietly. “Oh.”

From where she’s standing, she can’t see much. She can only see Jesse’s wrists to his hands where they disappear into Beca’s hair. She can see how Beca is leaning over the row of seats, probably on her tiptoes. But from what she can and can’t see, she can tell that they’re kissing.

It’s like a movie, almost. The nice guy with the nice eyes and the right intentions get the girl. Chloe is the best friend, the supporting actress with the unspoken and probably unrequited crush, only it’s on the leading actress and not the leading man. Things start coming back into focus: the noise, Fat Amy dancing practically against her and Aubrey holding her steady.

The music, though, doesn’t filter back in. She can’t hear much of anything. It’s just noise. There’s no rhythm to it, no pitch. She can’t find a melody in it, like someone threw the needle on the record player in her head, and it’s just a whole bunch of white noise.

Beca and Jesse finally come up for air, laughing as they fall into one another, Jesse’s hands settling on Beca’s waist, awkward and fumbling for a place. Chloe looks at how disproportionate they seem to be, resting there, and realizes that he’s waiting for Beca to push them away and reestablish some kind of physical boundary between them. It comes a few moments later as Beca breaks out of his arms and starts looking around. She spots Chloe and Aubrey and rushes them, the smile on her face looking so out of place. She looks excited and on top of the world, but it comes to a crashing halt as she gets closer.

“Whoa. Why do you look like your puppy just died?” Beca reaches out and grabs Chloe’s arms, right under her elbows. “Is it your throat? Are you okay?”

Chloe has a moment of irrationality: she see’s red, she sees Jesse’s face, an angry voice in her head is screaming for Beca to let go. She stumbles back, pulling her arms out of Beca’s hands. She turns and ducks under Lilly’s flailing arms.

“Chloe-“

“Not now, Beca,” Chloe hears Aubrey say as she dodges the rest of the Bellas, making it to the curtains and disappearing into the wings. She can hear Aubrey’s shoes against the stage floor and calls out quietly for her best friend. Aubrey finds her leaning against a wall by the levers that control the different curtains.

“Are you-” Aubrey shakes her head and Chloe can practically hear the wheels turning. “Well, we have two options.”

Chloe looks up in confusion. “We do?”

Aubrey nods authoritatively. “We do. We can let that Treble win, or we can do something about it.”

“Do something like…”

“Teach him what it means to mess with the Bellas.”

Chloe weighs her options. She could do that, take Jesse down a notch and win Beca over. Or, she could forget it all. She’s graduating soon, and Barden will be in her rearview mirror then. She’ll be on the West Coast or back home, or somewhere that isn’t with the Bellas. Really, either way, she’s leaving Barden. But she finds herself shaking her head.

“No. I just,” she sighs. “Let them be. We’ve got a few weeks left. Let’s just be, okay?”

“Chloe…”

Chloe shakes her head again and plasters on a smile that makes her cheeks hurt. “I’m good. Come on, Aubrey. We won!” It sounds so hollow now, but after a minute, Aubrey is genuinely grinning, jumping up and down.

They take the trophy home, Chloe ignoring Beca’s questioning glances, and put it on Aubrey’s desk. They curl up together on Chloe’s bed, just watching it shimmer in the light.

When Aubrey falls asleep, a smile still on her face, Chloe spends the rest of the night making one last CD and falls asleep with Radiohead’s “Exit Music (For A Film)” stuck in her head.

*

Chloe sees a blur of dark flannel coming at her out of the corner of her eye. Beca practically slams into her even though Chloe tries to sidestep her, and the two of them stumble off the sidewalk for a minute. Beca doesn’t move away but actually finds a way to get a grip on the collar of Chloe’s dry clean-only shirt, twisting it in her fist.

“Okay, it was funny the first time. Ha ha, Chloe made a sad CD.” Chloe feels the color draining from her face and she feels queasy. “But you said we were fine. No big deal. Except we aren’t. Because now I have two break-up CDs from you, and you won’t return my texts, and every time I breathe near you, you go breathe somewhere else.”

Chloe looks around and gently pries her shirt out of Beca’s fist. “Beca, maybe we can do this some other time. I’m kind of late for class.”

Beca shakes her head. “No. I’ve been trying to do this for two weeks now. It’s like you disappeared off the face of the Earth.”

“Okay, well-”

“Explain it to me,” Beca demands. Chloe realizes she’s holding the CD sleeve, the one with just Beca’s name scrawled across the front. “Because this is some Grey’s Anatomy music on here and I don’t get it.”

That CD was such an oversight, but Beca isn’t wrong. She downloaded all of the Grey’s Anatomy music and picked the saddest ones off it and made a 30-song masterlist. She never should have made it. She should have just cut off all ties of communication and left it at that, but she couldn’t leave it alone.

Or rather, the music wouldn’t leave her alone. 

Chloe shrugs, because she doesn’t have much to say that isn’t “I think you should break up with Jesse because you wouldn’t have aca-babies as cute as the two of us and he’s got clumsy boy-hands and remember how great our voices sound together?”

Beca sighs, frustrated. “You broke up with me. Twice. And I don’t even get an explanation.” Chloe stays quiet. “Do you understand how frustrating that is? I mean, give me break, Chloe. At least when Jesse broke up with me, he had the decency to explain why. In nice, short little blurbs that he put under every song, but still.”

Chloe catches up to that conversation five seconds too late. “Wait, what?”

“I said, it’s frustrating that I don’t even get-”

Chloe waves her hands wildly. “No, no. That other thing.”

Beca raises an eyebrow slowly. “I said, when Jesse broke up with me, he gave me a reason.”

“Jesse broke up with you?” Chloe can hear the hopeful rise in her words and tries to tamper it down. “Did he… I mean, why?”

Beca doesn’t look amused. “Is that what this is about? You like Jesse so you broke up with me because of it?” She doesn’t wait for an answer. “I know I haven’t had very many friends that are girls, but I know the chick version of the bro code, okay? You should have…” she trails off when she realizes that Chloe is laughing. “What?”

“I don’t like Jesse. At all.” Chloe tries to control herself. “Why did he break up with you?”

“It was a mutual decision,” Beca says defensively. “He felt like an older brother, or something. Maybe a cousin. Because thinking about kissing my older brother gives me a headache.”

Chloe nods. “Want me to sick Aubrey on him?”

Beca sighs. “No.” She opens her mouth like she’s going to say more but snaps it shut again. Her voice is low, but Chloe still catches the muttered, “Then if that’s not it, then why-“

“What?”

Beca shakes her head. “It’s nothing. I just… Jesse said something else that…” Beca frowns. “No.”

But Beca has a look on her face and Chloe knows it. She knows it because after Aubrey clued her into her own feelings, she went to the bathroom to wash her face and stare at her reflection in the mirror for a bit. She knows that look on Beca’s face because she’s seen it on her own: that wide-eyed look of suddenly realizing something about yourself that everyone else knew before you.

Chloe looks down, suddenly aware of how close they are to each other and how Beca is so lost in thought and not moving away from her. There’s a faint buzzing in her head now, growing stronger each second. “What?” she asks again.

“He said it was…” Beca shakes her head, laughing a little. “He said it was telling that I was kind of blah about him breaking up with me. Mutual decision to break up, I mean,” she added quickly. “But I was epically pissed that you broke up with me. Twice.”

“Yeah you keep saying that. Pissed, huh?”

Beca is starting to smile now and Chloe knows that face too, that “I get it and it’s good” face.

“Epically,” Beca corrects. “It’s just unfair. I don’t even get a reason from you. Just a CD of crappy music I can’t even mix together. It would have sounded like a soundtrack to someone dying tragically.”

Chloe starts to smile a little bit as the buzzing in her head starts to take shape. Beca catches her and stares at her in disbelief. “This is funny for you?” Chloe smiles wider. “I don’t believe you.” Beca throws her hand up to illustrate her disbelief.

Chloe laughs and catches Beca’s hand as it comes back down. “Can I have that CD back?”

Beca looks down at the CD in her hand. “You want it back?”

“Please?”

“I don’t know. I mean, you might just end up giving it back to me eventually. I feel like I should hold onto it just in case you change your mind.”

Chloe shakes her head quickly. “I’m not changing my mind.”

Beca shrugs. “You gave me two of these, you know. And I asked, after the first one, if we were good. And you said we were. You said, ‘friends’.”

Chloe nods. “I know. And I meant it.”

“And then I got this one from you anyway,” Beca continues. “So, if I give it back… Friends?”

Chloe stops and stares at Beca thoughtfully. The last time, Beca said “friends” and Chloe wasn’t ready to accept what “not-friends” might have meant. She was scared and nervous and out of her comfort zone and firmly, deep into Beca’s territory. But now, out in the open, with a National Champions title under her belt and her surgery behind her and her confidence centering her, she shakes her head no.

“No?” Beca asks.

“No,” Chloe confirms. “Not friends.”

“Not friends, because…” Beca trails off as Chloe laces their hands together, weaving her fingers into the empty spaces of Beca’s hand.

They both look down at their joined hands for a moment and Chloe wonders what Beca is thinking. She wonders if Beca is okay with that, if this, in the middle of the campus, is okay. She wonders for so long that she’s about to give up. But just as she’s ready to gather her pride and leave as respectably as she can, Beca’s hand flexes, squeezing gently as Beca settles their hands together more firmly.

“You’re not as sneaky as you think you are.”

Chloe shrugs. “I’m a lot sneakier than I thought I was, actually,” she admits, because she never really saw this coming either.

Beca looks unconvinced, but nods. “I mean, first, you bust through my shower curtain, and don’t think I didn’t see you sneak a peek at the goods.” Chloe rolls her eyes. “Yes, you did. And then you made me a CD. My parents did that, when they were still together, I mean. And you broke up with me. Twice. And put “Mad World” on a CD. So, I figured you were really serious or something.”

“I was,” Chloe says, her free hand reaching for the CD. “But I’m taking it back.”

“I’m not sure that’s how it works.”

Chloe pulls the CD free, tucking it into the pocket on her purse. “That’s how it’s going to work. And maybe I’ll recycle it one day, who knows?”

Beca starts to protest. Probably to tell Chloe how that’s unfair and rude, but Chloe doesn’t feel like hearing about it, because she probably won’t recycle the CD. She’ll probably go back to her room later and put it in the back of her “So Your Body is Changing” book, if she doesn’t throw it out all together. Instead, Beca inhales just as Chloe leans in closer, kissing her softly and lingering for a moment. She pulls away minutely, kissing Beca again, quickly, satisfied now.

Beca stare at her, a little wide-eyed, smiling.

Chloe grins and starts humming under her breath. They start walking, their hands still laced through, and Beca rolls her eyes when Chloe winks at her.

“You’re humming “Titanium.” Really?”

Chloe nods, smiling wider. She hears the music now, instead of the static and the fuzz.

“Pick another song,” Beca requests, though she shapes her words to the melody of the long.

“It’s our song,” Chloe proclaims.

It takes only a few more feet before Beca is whispering the words to the song and Chloe picks up at the chorus, grinning at Beca out of the corner of her eye.

*

Chloe has always followed the music. It’s led her in circles and in squares and she’ll never reach a sharp G again, but as it took things away, it gave her something better to fill the empty space. She can hit the low notes now, and it opens so many more doors. And as Beca starts to sing a little louder, Chloe’s voice slips in behind her, echoing it and matching the lower pitch perfectly.

Music keeps giving and giving and once, she thought it took, too, but music is layered that way; just when she thinks she knows the melody, there’s one underneath she’s never considered, that’s just begging to be heard. Beca gets that. Beca pulls the music apart and layers it over more music, making it something it never could have been before. She does it to the Bellas, too. And she does it to Chloe.

Chloe always thought that the best gifts music gave her were her parents and Christmas piano marathons, until it gave her Barden and Aubrey.

Then, she thought that was it, but music went and gave her Beca.

She has a feeling it’s not even going to stop there.