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someone in the crowd

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Is someone in the crowd the only thing you really see,
watching while the world keeps spinning round?

- La La Land (2016)

Calum's fingers fly across the piano keys as he effortlessly keeps up with the fast tempo of the song, hours of painful rehearsal having paid off. His fingertips are sore, the violins and trumpets are ringing in his ears, the bass thrumming through his bones and the percussion gripping every muscle in his body as he tenses and strains, his feet involuntarily flexing as he races towards the bridge.

The lights in the concert hall are glaring, but he doesn't pay attention to that—focuses only on the keys as the song speeds up, the flutes chiming in during the build. His veins are electric, his palms sweaty and his body on fire, but it reminds him how alive he feels every time he's up on the stage, the band working perfectly together like a machine to create the jazz he so loves—months of poring over sheet music and compositions, all leading up to this moment.

He hasn't hit a single off chord, and he knows he won't—he's worked far too hard for that. There's critics in the audience, but they're not the only people he's trying to impress.

As the music swells, the instruments blaring, he knows his solo is soon—but he's far too fuelled on adrenaline and excitement to even allow nervousness creep in. His hands move purely on muscle memory as the pitch grows higher and higher, the drums booming out one final, fast beat before all goes silent and all that's left is the sound of the piano, slow and gentle. All eyes are on him and he adores it, can feel the spotlight and makes a conscious effort not to pull any stupid faces despite the perspiration and bright lights.

His hands are elegant and delicate along the keys and he knows it, playing a soft rift and moving with the piano, his head ducking accordingly as the tune picks up pace. It's perfect—he nails it and he won't bring himself to be modest about it—and he allows a small smile to grace his features as the other instruments gradually and then suddenly join back in, the atmosphere in the room alight with the flawless harmony of the piece.

The rest of the song flies past—the lights flare up and so does the music, hitting the final high notes before the composer finally finishes the song with a quick flick of his wrist, hand poised as all hands still on instruments, and Calum releases the final chord into the hall, beyond the stage and into the audience where everyone sits, mesmerised.

The pause seems to last forever—his chest heaving the way it always does when he puts his absolute everything into a performance, an unstoppable smile on his face as he tries his hardest to appear humble despite his pride in himself.

As the lights go up and the audience erupts into applause, an atmosphere of speechlessness and amazement washing over them like a tidal wave, Calum looks for only one person, and sees him sat in the centre of the audience.

In the bright light Calum finds it hard to see properly, but his eyes find the blindingly adoring smile and head of curly caramel hair in the darkness immediately, and as Ashton looks at him as if he is the moon and the stars and the sun combined, dazzling under the stage lights, suddenly all the long tiresome hours of practise and perfection are completely and utterly worth it.