None of the notes were coming out right.
Some days, the notes came with ease, flowing out from his fingertips effortlessly. Those were the days Kylo lived for, the days where he could coordinate every rhythm, bring out all the lines and blend the black and white markings of his sheet music into something beautiful. It was when he felt most powerful, in control and rightfully entrusted with the privilege to play these works.
But that day nothing worked right. Kylo was close to breaking something, wanted to tear at the baby grand in the dirty practice room until it was a splintered pile of wood and ivory. He was stumbling through the third movement of his concerto, which had usually been so solid under his hands. Now it was a mess; he tripped through his runs and banging out the notes too loud, too Romantic, not refined enough in the way Beethoven demanded. Kylo had always been over brimming with passion, his artistic inclinations more suited to the pounding chords of Tchaikovsky or the oozing harmonies of Rachmaninoff, the colors that floated atop the surface of impressionist pieces like Ravel and Debussy, a wash of static above loose structures. Beethoven though, Beethoven commanded fire, honed and sharpened, to be wielded with precision. And if there was something Kylo lacked, it was the ability to harness his passions.
He huffed, blowing a loose strand of hair out his face, only for it to come fluttering down in the same place, obscuring his worn down score from his sight.
Three short raps came from the door behind him. He sighed and turned around to see Rey standing on the other side of the glass, violin case strung across her back and hands full of coffee and pastries.
"What?" he asked shortly, clipped and angry.
Rey leveled him a look, the one that said without words you can't pull that shit on me.
"Sorry," he said, and let her in.
"Much better, Kylo," she cooed. "How's the Beethoven going?"
Kylo groaned and viciously scrubbed a hand against his face. "Like shit. The third movement sounds terrible."
Rey moved Kylo's bag off the plastic rickety chair and sat down, placing the coffee cups and paper bags on the closed lid of the piano.
"You're not supposed to put drinks on there," Kylo mumbled.
Rey shrugged. "These pianos live in filthy practice rooms, covered in a film of grime. I'm pretty sure the damage is done."
Kylo threw himself onto the piano bench and reached for the Styrofoam cup that was his, diluted with so much sugar and cream it barely resembled coffee. Rey's sat there steaming, black as night.
"So the third movement isn't going well?" Rey prodded.
"My fingers keep stumbling through the runs and ornament," Kylo sighed, "I'm going to botch it tomorrow at the audition."
The words tasted acidic on his tongue, and Kylo glared accusingly at Rey. It had been her doing of course; Kylo would have never willingly signed up for an audition, would rather have sequestered himself into a room and poured hours into practice and never so much as perform a lick of his concerto for anyone but his professors. He felt suffocated sometimes by the task of finding art and flexibility within such rigidly written pieces. There was only so much one could get away with, and every artistic choice he made felt like the wrong ones. At least with Jazz, there was some freedom, and Kylo found himself wistfully thinking back to the days of playing piano, sitting on his Uncle Luke's lap while he taught him the chords and bars of all the standards.
But Kylo was not a jazz pianist anymore; had not been for quite some time.
"Ren, you'll be fine. You've just got the pre-audition jitters. You can't learn or fix anything the day before, just do a run through and patch work, and then go home and get some sleep," Rey instructed.
Kylo sipped from his coffee, nutty and tooth rottingly sweet, with just the barest hint of the acrid taste of coffee to cut through it, and stared at Rey. "I'm not getting any sleep tonight."
Rey stared at him with knowing eyes, assessing him, and he felt himself caving under her scrutiny.
"You're not usually this keyed up before an audition," Rey said, "is something else bothering you?"
Ren dropped his eyes down, away from her gaze, and stared down at the drink in his hands. "I have no idea what you could possibly mean," he muttered.
The soft crinkling of paper bags caught his attention, and he looked up to see Rey fishing out a muffin for him- cranberry orange, his favorite.
"You sure about that?" she asked as she passed the pastry to him. "Because you left Professor Hux's looking pissed."
"I always leave his class pissed off," he deflected.
She gave him an arched eyebrow. "More so than usual."
"Well, you were pretty pissed at him too!"
Rey rolled her eyes and took her own muffin out of the white pastry bag. "Ren, come on. You couldn't have been that angry at him for being a dick to me. He's like that every class. What happened?"
Ren huffed and turned his gaze to the piano, to Beethoven's piano concerto sitting there, the pages limp and well-worn.
"Nothing happened," he said carefully.
Rey sighed and set her food down on the piano lid so she could place a consoling hand on Ren's knee.
"There, there, you moody thing, I'm sure he'll come around to your charms eventually," she teased. She sat back and began picking apart her muffin, popping pieces messily into her mouth. "How about you play some of the ending of the second movement, to practice the transition into the third? You always play the second so well, maybe that will give you the momentum you need when you get into the third."
Ren grimaced at her and nodded, setting aside his own treats and turning back to the piano. He let his fingers curl, following the natural shape of his hand, spreading them to the right intervals, and took a deep, steadying breath.
Bach gave us God's word, Mozart gave us God's laughter, and Beethoven gave us God's fire, was how the quote went. But as Ren began the second movement of the concerto, letting the tinkling melody flow out from him, he found himself disagreeing. Beethoven gave man God's beauty, with harmonies as clear and crisp as the glassy water of lakes, the deep emerald of the ocean beneath cliffs, the clarity and cleansing a breeze could offer in the heat of summer. Ren felt the pull of the tendons in his hands, the opening and closing of positions, and felt himself disconnect momentarily, a part of him spectating while he played. It always happened this way, in the heat of performance, where he felt like audience member himself, observing from a withdrawn place in his brain. His old piano professor Snoke had said it made him less precise, made him sloppy, but he could not help it. His thoughts would wander along with the line, pulled down paths he could not control by the phrasing.
He thought of Beethoven, lonely and cantankerous, and wondered what he was trying to broadcast through the slow, flowing Adagio, sweet and bitter in the way the chords wandered. He wondered if there was any sort of plea there, or if he was just being a romantic again and prescribing feelings and purpose to places they had no business being, to absolute music.
The movement turned poignant, and aching, and Ren thought of Hux, angry like Beethoven, with the temper to match, and felt his stomach twist, the crescendo ratcheting up in his fingers. There he went again, seeing feelings and interest, projecting where he should not. But he could not stop it.
The notes climbed, trilling in whole steps and half steps, high and dulcet, honeyed, and Ren thought of the way Hux's hair looked in the sunlight as they walked together that one day, the sun brightening it like the feathery golden edges of some illuminated scripts, bright despite their age and all it had endured. The melody returned to something more steady, march like and progressive, until is sank low and slowed, and Ren pictured Hux's green eyes, glinting in the low light of the office, and let the music trail off briefly, before the bright attaca of the third movement.
The notes came out perfectly for once, and Rey was right, the momentum of the second movement, the assurance and stability it gave him, carried him through on sure fingers. After running the particularly winding sections, and successfully executing them, he looked up at Rey through the sweat soaked strands of stray hairs. She was smiling at him, wide and proud, and clapped for him when he dropped his hands into his laps.
"Bravo!" she said. "That was seriously good, Kylo."
"Thank you," he said, shy under the onslaught of her praise. Affirmations always left him uncomfortable, especially when it came to his performance, because he lacked so much when it came to classical music. But Rey was always genuine, and living with her for two years had made him learn to accept her kind words as graciously as he could.
"Whatever your mental script is for the second movement, stick to it," she continued, "it's working."
Kylo nodded, and picked up his pencil to make a quick note on his score, right at the beginning of the movement.
Hux he wrote in his messy scrawl.