A/N: This couple. Good gracious. Teensy first chapter. This should be less of a sobfest than give me your hearts to hold (though as per usual, I have no clue where it's going). I'm half convinced it'll be a spectacular failure, but I guess we'll see? Let me know what you think!

Disclaimer: Austin and Ally is definitely not mine.

"...with a swoop and a dart
out flew his wish
(it dived like a fish
but it climbed like a dream)
throbbing like a heart
singing like a flame..."

-e.e. cummings


Austin sighs, crumpling up the piece of paper he'd been staring at for the past ten minutes. He tosses it in the vague direction of the trashcan near the studio door, just as his best friend opens it. The crumpled ball of paper rolls to a stop at Dez's feet.

"Hopeless." Austin repeats, dropping his head to the table with a thunk.

"I see the song's really coming along." Dez says wryly, picking up the ball and uncrumpling it. He clears his throat.

"There once was a bullfrog

who lived on a farm

this is a love song


He raises his eyebrows in Austin's direction as he finishes reading. "A bullfrog?"

Austin lifts his head. "They're a romantic amphibian!" He replies defensively. "Haven't you ever seen The Little Mermaid? The bullfrogs basically carried the entire soundtrack."

Dez stares at him. "You used the phrase 'There once was a bullfrog who lived on a farm.'" He crinkles his forehead as he looks at the lyrics again. "And not even ironically."

Austin maintains a defensive glare for a few moments before his expression shifts to despondency. "I know. It's pretty bad."

Dez throws himself into the chair across from Austin and glances briefly at the piles of discarded sheet music. He shifts his gaze to the prone figure of his best friend, head buried morosely in the crook of his elbow. "I've known you for over a decade and I've never seen you this blocked."

Austin's reply is muffled. "I know." He sits back up, running a restless hand through his hair. "I've always been able to pull my music from my life. But lately, it's like... I don't know. Like I've lost inspiration, or motivation or something."

Dez takes a breath. "Have you considered consulting with another songwriter?" He says tentatively.

Austin looks at his friend, surprised and a little offended. "You think I need it?"

Dez shrugs. "As your best friend, I'm all for you working through this on your own." He pauses. "But as your manager, I don't think it'd hurt."

Austin frowns. "I just hate the idea of singing someone else's song. It's always just been me and the music. I like it that way."

"I know." Dez's voice is sympathetic but blunt as he continues. "But you haven't been able to write anything for months now. Your new album is slated to come out in less than a year, and we don't even have any material for it yet."

Austin shifts in his chair. He's known this was coming for awhile now; it's common for artists to collaborate with songwriters-encouraged, even. But the thought of working with someone who might not understand his vision, his music; it doesn't sit right with him.

Dez checks his phone and stands. "I have to go give a progress report to Jimmy." He stops on his way to the door, turning to Austin. "I'll forward you a list of prospective candidates in the area. Just... sleep on it. Okay?"

Austin nods as Dez walks out. Five minutes later, his phone beeps with a notification: Dez's list. He ignores it, picking up a pen and a new piece of paper instead. He sits and stares at the blank sheet pensively.

"Maybe I should try 'seagull' instead and see how it sounds?"

Fifteen minutes later, he scratches out his sixth try at a first line. "I hate when Dez is right." Austin grumbles to himself. He eyes his phone warily.

"Here goes nothing."

He opens the email with trepidation. There's a list of eleven people, with phone numbers and contact information in separate columns. He automatically rules out the first few names; they're Starr Records' in-house songwriters, and he knows that any song he writes with them will be tired and recycled-the opposite of his goal for his music. He grimaces at the next name; Tilly Thompson is notorious for saccharine lyrics and a heavy hand with the autotune button, and she definitely doesn't jive with Austin's sound. A couple names down the list he comes across Dallas Eliot, whose resume seems promising; but after a little online research, Austin finds that Dallas leans more towards technopop and electric rock, so he scraps that name too. Kira Starr, sixth on the list, is the obvious pick; she's got a solid musical background, Austin's worked with before, and to top it off, she's the boss's daughter. The problem is that Austin's always found her music a little flat: perfectly pitched and harmonized, decently written, but disconnected-almost sterile. He sets her aside for reluctant consideration before moving on. There's one songwriter left on the list, and as he murmurs at her name, he feels a faint shiver of something go up his spine.

"I hope you're the one, Ally Dawson."

The girl in question blows a piece of hair out of her hair in frustration. She and her best friend are in the process of moving into their new apartment, but getting her piano up the stairs to the fourth floor has proven difficult. She had decided to drive cross-country and make the trek from Miami to Los Angeles by herself, to save money on the moving company; now it feels like a bad decision.

"Why did we decide to live in a walkup again?" Her best friend's voice carries over the piano wedged in the stairwell.

Ally sighs, leaning on the instrument with a groan. "This apartment was the only one we saw that had soundproofing." She glares at the piano. "Although at this point, I might not even need it."

Trish's laugh turns to a sigh. She looks up the stairs hopefully. "Maybe we have deeply attractive, friendly, bodybuilding neighbors?"

Ally crinkles her nose doubtfully. "It's a corner apartment, and I'm pretty sure Mrs. Cuthbert from next door is, like, seventy." She pulls up her sleeves and lifts the closest side of the piano. "One more floor. We can do it. We are strong, independent, successful young women with goals and careers and biceps of steel."

Trish groans in response.

"I'll carry all your shoeboxes if you help me get this up the stairs." Ally cajoles. "And you can pick the movie for our next marathon night."

Trish's voice drifts up the stairs as the piano rises. "Oh, Ally. Bad trade. There are so many Zaliens in your future."

Four hours later, Trish and Ally have finally gotten everything up the stairs. They take a breather, sitting on the wooden floorboards of the living room, surveying their new abode. The rent is fairly astronomical, even by Miami standards, but it's in a safe neighborhood, has enough closets for Trish's incomprehensible collection of clothing, and it's clean and spacious. Ally's already in love with the buttery-yellow light that comes streaming in through the floor-to-ceiling windows in the nook where her piano sits. Even with boxes strewn across the floor, the space already feels like it could be home. It doesn't hurt that she's here with her best friend. Ally nudges Trish with her foot; the girl looks over, voice faintly reverent as she speaks.

"I can't believe these are our lives."

Ally nods. "I know." Her reply is wistful.

She remembers when they were sixteen and starry-eyed dreamers: when all they had were cotton-candy hopes and crazy plans and blind ambition. The nostalgia makes her think back to the steps that have led up to this moment: long nights in the practice room with her songbook, hyper-intensive college days at Julliard, the first time she got hired, then fired, and the uphill climb that's been her progress in the music industry. But now, she's finally at a good place in her career; her songs are radio hits all over the country, she's writing regularly, and she's fostered enough respect in the artistic community that she has the luxury of being able to pick and choose her projects.

Recently, she's been doing more and more work with California-based labels, and moving out west seemed the next logical step; Los Angeles offers more opportunities than Miami for an up-and-coming songwriter, especially one who doesn't sing her own songs. The final deciding factor came when she decided to accept Hollywood director Nelson Narts' lucrative offer: the soundtrack of his next Romeo and Juliet adaptation for the silver screen. Trish was already living in LA, breaking hearts, budgets, and board room silences as a managing editor for Augmented, a music publication fast on the rise in California. It was only a matter of time before the two decided to carry out college plans years in the making: best friends taking the city by storm.

Ally shakes herself out of the reverie as Trish yawns. "Want to order pizza?"

"Mushrooms on one half, pineapple on the other?" Ally's already on her phone searching for nearby delivery places.

Trish grins. "Just like old times."

Trish is unpacking in her room and Ally is hanging upside down on the couch, pickle in hand, when a shrill ringing comes from her cell.

Ally swings off the couch and trips over an open box as she reaches for the phone.

"Hello?" She answers breathlessly, shoving aside the box with her foot.

"Hi." The voice on the other end of the phone is pleasantly masculine. "Could I speak to Ally Dawson?"

"This is she." She replies politely. "May I ask who's speaking?"

"Austin Moon." The name is vaguely familiar, but Ally brushes it off; work in the music industry long enough, everyone starts to sound the same. "I was wondering if you were available for doing some consulting work on my new album."

Ally breathes in sharply. "I'm primarily a songwriter. I don't generally do much consulting." She says carefully. "I've been told my methods are... unconventional."

The voice on the other end chuckles. "Unconventional is kind of what I need right now." He replies sheepishly.

Ally tilts her head into the phone. She's only consulted on albums a few times; mostly, she prefers writing on her own, so she doesn't have to deal with someone else's voice in her head. Plus, she's got a lot on her plate right now, what with the movie and finishing up with her Miami clients. A rejection hovers on her lips before she pauses. She has to admit that she's intrigued. Artists rarely call her themselves, and it's even rarer that they admit to needing help. There's something in her gut telling her that this Austin Moon could be an adventure. And hey, if there's any place for new adventures, it's this city.

"Where should I meet you?"

Next up: Austin and Ally meet for the first time. And what does "unconventional" mean, exactly?