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Jacob had a favourite room in the Library.

Contrary to what anyone who knew him – the real him – would immediately assume, it wasn’t any of the numerous rooms dedicated to artwork and sculptures from various time periods and regions throughout history. Not the Baroque room, nor the Greco-Roman wing, nor the Ming Dynasty hall, nor the Rococo room, nor the Impressionists room.

Although, that last one was pretty high up on the list, if he was being totally honest.

It wasn’t any of the artefact rooms. Not the Greco-Roman Artefacts room, nor the Oversize Artefacts room, nor the New Artefacts wing – not even for the sense of personal satisfaction and accomplishment that that particular room brought. It wasn’t the Perishable Artefacts room, nor any of the other bizarre and oddly specific rooms housing all sorts of magical items.

It also wasn’t any of the rooms that he ended up spending the majority of his time. It wasn’t the Annex, or the Reading Room, or any of the several training rooms and gyms where he and Baird sparred. It wasn’t his personal dormitory room, for when late-night studying turned to early-morning and getting back to his apartment felt like too much of a hassle.

Jacob Stone’s favourite room in the Library was the Music Room.

Not to be confused with the Musical Artefacts Room; that room was the home of Pan’s pipe and Gabriel’s horn and drums that filled anyone who heard their beat with an unquenchable bloodlust and berserker rage. The Music Room, on the other hand, had nothing truly magical about it, other than simply being within the Library.

Just because it wasn’t magical didn’t mean it wasn’t amazing. As far as Jacob could tell, it contained every piece of music ever written, from original manuscripts to modern arrangements and everything in between, from all of recorded history and from every corner of the world. The entire left-hand wall, along with the back wall, opposite the door, was filled with towering floor to ceiling shelves, stuffed to the brim with music.

Not only that, but there were dozens, if not at least a hundred, instruments, also from all throughout time and geography. The entire right-hand wall housed them, along with dozens of cases, no doubt containing regular instruments, should someone wish to play but didn’t have one of their own. Most of them were the prototypical examples of the instruments, but there were a few that were clearly one-of-a-kind specialty instruments, or made more for show than for actual functionality.

Like the violin made of black stone, in its red silk-lined case, or the bulbous Conn-O-Sax off in one corner.

The first time he stumbled across the room, Jacob didn’t really do anything within. Mostly, he just wandered around the room, staring wide-eyed at the enormous shelves of music that made up the walls. He studied the names on the spines of the bound books, and pulled a couple of thinner manuscripts out, mostly just to see if they were actually as varied and extensive as they appeared to be.

They were.

He ended up leaving the room after only ten minutes or so, partially because it was already getting late and he wanted to get home after their mission earlier that day. Partially, however, it was because he felt almost guilty being in there. Like he hadn’t earned the right to be there, or something.

He visited the room two more times after that, over the course of four days. Both visits went much like the first, full of enraptured fascination as he perused the sheet music and unabashed curiosity as he studied the instruments. Neither visit lasted long, no longer than twenty minutes apiece, in fact, but the towering shelves of music and warm, comfortable atmosphere followed him around like a ghost for days afterwards.

It took him another week to go back again.

When he did, he carried a simple black tote bag in one hand, and a soft black case in the other.

See, his companions and colleagues knew that he wrote under multiple identities. They knew about Oliver Thompson, the one with a doctorate in architecture. They knew about Griffin Griffould, a savant in ancient Celtic art and history. They knew about James McKelvie, a master of Native American art. But they didn’t know about all of his identities – or at least, they didn’t know their names and areas of expertise.

They didn’t know about Sophia Spencer, with her two PhDs, one each in Ethnomusicology and Historical Musicology, as well as three BMus Degrees in musicology, composition, and performance, and an MMus in musicology.

Jacob had always loved music. From as early as he could remember, weekends and after school hours were marked with old country songs crooned from his father’s old radio. Visits to his grandparents were filled with church music, from choir songs to old gospel tracks to the thunderous majesty of the pipe organ. Not only that, but music was art was literature was architecture; they all influenced each other. Protest songs, anthems of kings and countries and revolutions, folk songs and songs of worship – history was told with a time signature and between bar lines.

By the time he hit high school, he’d started learning to play for himself. It wasn’t out of place at all for any guy in his hometown to strum out a Cash or Nelson tune on a guitar, or plunk their way along a melody on the piano. While he could play both instruments, and play them well, neither of them ever called to him. He had a decent singing voice, but not one that lent itself well to classical music, to opera or lied or anything like that. It was too nasal, and too warped by his accent to accommodate Italian or German or French when it was sung.

Not that he didn’t still sing – though if any of his teammates found out about that little side project, he might just die of embarrassment on the spot.

He loved listening to the brass, but trying to play the horns was a different story altogether. He found buzzing just wouldn’t come to him, and on the one and only occasion he had actually managed a decent buzz, he nearly ended up passing out just trying to get an actual note out of the trombone. He had nothing against the woodwinds; he could play most of them without too much difficulty.

Except for the flute. If he was the sort of man more concerned about how much other people thought he fit their definition of a man, he’d never admit that that damn silver tube bested him. As it was, he instead refused to admit defeat. He’d get a goddamn note out of there one day.

No, none of those instruments felt quite right in his hands. It was the strings that slotted into place, that made him feel like he found a part of himself that he never knew was missing. The day he first picked up and played a violin was like the first time seeing a piece of art, or the first time reading a poem. He’d found his home.

He played all four of the main Western string instruments. He taught himself how to play violin, and then did his best to transfer his skills from one to the next down the line, along with some assistance from beginner music books. Thank god for Shinichi Suzuki.

Sure, the violin had the greatest volume of repertoire, including one of his personal favourites, Willem Ten Have’s Allegro Brilliant. He could find just about any piece from any composer in any era of music to play for the instrument – not to mention the sheer volume of pieces transposed and arranged for the violin that were originally written for other instruments, as if they didn’t have enough in the first place. He could pull every possible emotion from the strings, let his bow glide like water or strike like lightning and make the same series of notes be utterly unique.

Sure, the sound of the cello was like the first rays of sunrise in the golden hour of the dawn, or a warm mug of hot chocolate on a cold winter’s night, or curling up in bed with a good book. No one knew that better than Vivaldi. Of course, his virtuosity on the violin was well known, and he composed a great deal for all string instruments, along with most others that existed at the time. But there was something about his Sonata in e minor that just made it feel like that piece was the whole reason he learned cello in the first place, the thing that made it all worthwhile.

The double bass… well, the double bass didn’t have the breadth of repertoire that most of the other string instruments did. Its sound was so low and rumbling that you couldn’t sink into it like a cello’s, and it often got drowned out by any other instrument around it. Very, very rarely did it have any remotely interesting parts in ensemble pieces. But it was the backbone of the ensemble, the foundation on which the rest of the music was built – and Jacob knew better than anyone how important a strong foundation was. It was in just about every ensemble, from concert band to wind orchestra, from symphony orchestra to jazz band, from string ensemble to the most basic jazz trio. And just because it didn’t have a large amount of music written specifically for it didn’t mean that what it did have wasn’t excellent – Vanhal’s Concerto in D Major could attest to that.

But of all of them, it was the viola that Jacob felt most drawn to. He didn’t know if there was any one particular reason – whether it was the tone of the instrument, that could be warm and rich or bright and piercing from one note to the next; whether it was a particular piece that he had heard that had drawn him to the instrument; or whether it was just a desire to represent the perpetual underdog of the classical music world.

He had been working on preparing Rebecca Clarke’s Viola Sonata before he found the Music Room, but as much as he loved that piece, he felt it was only right to begin something new in this new space. He perused the shelves, looking for new music to learn.

He… didn’t actually manage to pick a piece until the next day; it wasn’t until his phone alarm went off, telling him that it was midnight and he should get going if he wanted to get some actual sleep that night, that he jerked out of his reverie, sitting cross-legged on the Music Room floor and surrounded by a veritable avalanche of music.

Eventually, he managed to narrow down his multitude of options. The next day, he had Bruch’s Romanze up on a music stand, ready to learn. He went through the motions of getting his viola ready to play. Sure, it was something that he’d done a million times before, but that made the process almost like a form of meditation. Tuning the strings, slipping on the shoulder rest, tightening the bow, gliding the rosin across the hairs – those settled him more than any breathing exercise ever could.

Once he was ready, he touched his bow to the strings and began to play.

Jacob hadn’t really expected to find anybody else in the Music Room.

He knew that it was a room that was open and available to anyone who found themselves in the Library, and it wasn’t as if he wanted to hoard it all to himself…much. He supposed it was only a matter of time before someone else found this place. Though if anyone were to be in the Music Room, he would have thought it would be Jenkins, with his encyclopedic knowledge of the Library and appreciation for history. Or Flynn, who possessed much the same qualities. Or Eve, trying to find him to haul him out on a mission. Maybe Cassandra, though the only reason he could think why she would find herself in the Music Room was because she was simply exploring the vast, labyrinthine halls of their workplace.

Essentially, Ezekiel Jones was the last person he expected to find there.

And yet, there he was. Jacob had just been walking in the door, viola case in one hand and the sheet music for Glazunov’s Elegie for Viola and Piano in the other, when he stopped dead in his tracks the moment he realized someone else was there.

Ezekiel sat at the grand piano in the centre of the floor – the one closest to the door – with his back to him. Perhaps the most startling part of the whole thing was that he was playing, and not like Jacob expected him to play, picking out a pop song one note at a time on the keys.

No, he played like a damn virtuoso, his fingers flowing like waves over the piano’s keys, pulling melody and harmony and rhythm from them as easily as he could pull a jewel from a safe. Jacob stood rooted to the spot, transfixed, as he listened to the thief play. The piece sounded familiar, but he just couldn’t think of what it was. It was definitely from the Classical era, or very early Romantic – Beethoven, maybe?

Jacob somehow managed to drag himself in from the doorway. He walked, slowly and softly, over to wall beside the piano. He set his case and music down, and brought a chair from against the wall to sit next to the piano bench. There was no way Ezekiel hadn’t noticed him, but he gave no acknowledgement, too focused on the music. Jacob was more than content to just tip his head back, close his eyes, and go along for the ride.

It was another minute or so before he decided to speak.

“I didn’t know you played,” Jacob said softly, his voice sounding like tires over gravel.

He heard a little puff of laughter over the piano, and the music changed, clearly transitioning from one movement to another. “There’s a lot you don’t know about me, mate.”

Jacob gave a little acquiescing bob of his head. “That’s true.” He opened his eyes again and looked over at Ezekiel. “When’d you find this place?”

“Just last night. I’ve been itching to play, and my current residence is too small to fit a piano, and I refuse to stoop so low as to play on an –” he shuddered exaggeratedly – “electronic keyboard.”

“And here I thought you’d be all for the highest-tech instrument you could get your hands on.”

“There are certain things in life you don’t sacrifice. You always get name-brand condiments, you always replace the Apple charging cord with one that actually works, and you never play on anything other than a real piano.”

Jacob chuckled. “Can’t argue with that.” He fell silent again. Ezekiel hadn’t stopped playing throughout their whole conversation. The movement he was on now – probably the third, judging by the tempo – was like white water rapids falling from his fingers and over the keys, turbulent yet captivating. “When did you learn how to play?”

Ezekiel didn’t answer right away. Whether it was because the passage he was on was particularly difficult, or he was just figuring out his answer, Jacob wasn’t sure.

“I taught myself, years ago,” he said finally. “There’s this one story I heard, way back when – there’s these thieves robbing a bank, right? They’ve got everybody else held as hostages, and they’re trying to break into the main safe. One of the hostages gets his phone out and tries to call for help, but they catch him and break his wrist; he tells them they’ll regret that.”

He paused for another few seconds of music.

“The robbers demand that the guy tells them the code for the safe. He tells them that there’s two codes – the first one is just a number pad, and he gives them the code. When they input it, the whole front panel of the safe opens and there’s a keyboard inside. The guy whose wrist they broke is a famous pianist, and the second code –”

“ – Is Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata,” Jacob finished. He’d heard that story before, or read it online somewhere, maybe. That was why the piece Ezekiel was playing sounded so familiar, and yet he couldn’t figure out what it was; most people only recognized the melody of the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata, but he’d walked in while Ezekiel was playing the second movement.

“I guess it’s not really a story – more of a joke, really, and it’s probably not real,” Ezekiel said, raising one shoulder in a blasé shrug. “But it stuck with me. At first, I used that story so that m- Lenore, wouldn’t be mad when I stayed late after school to practice. I think I just told myself that I was only doing this because it’d be a useful skill to have at some point, like some safes just happen to have keyboards in them that you have to play an entire fifteen minute long sonata just to open.”

“It’d make about as much sense as anything else we’ve had to deal with,” Jacob said drily.

Ezekiel laughed as he rounded out the final movement – the presto agitato – with a flourish. He rested his hands on the keys for a moment, eyes closed, and took a deep, slow breath. He reopened his eyes and began playing again, a different piece this time.

This one Jacob knew without any hesitation. He raised a brow at Ezekiel.

“First Moonlight Sonata, and now Clair de Lune? ‘S this theme you got goin’ on intentional, or what?”

“Hey, no disrespecting the moon! Every good thief appreciates the night – we do all of our best work then!”

From that day, it took a little while before Jacob actually played anything with Ezekiel around. Hell, it had taken him near a week before he’d actually played anything in the Music Room with nobody else around – he sure as hell wasn’t ready for an audience. He’d hoped to be able to snag the room while Ezekiel wasn’t using it, and the same vice versa. Except somehow, every single time he wanted to use the Music Room, Ezekiel wanted to as well.

At first he thought the thief was just antagonizing him, trying to be an asshole about the whole situation so that he’d get first dibs on the room, or something. He even confronted Ezekiel about it, but he just laughed it off, completely unbothered by the accusation. It just… turned out that the two of them had the same idea at the same time, repeatedly.

Two weeks after their first meeting in the Music Room, and Jacob still hadn’t gotten his viola out with company. Instead, he worked his way through transposing a handful of his favourite violin pieces for viola.

Which was surprisingly difficult when he was accompanied by an incredibly rousing rendition of Rondo Alla Turca. And unless Mozart had come back to life and written a few extra repeat signs into the manuscript, Jacob was pretty sure the piece had gone on for much, much longer than it was supposed to.

He looked up from his pages and glared at Ezekiel. “Do you mind? I’m trying to work here!”

“And I’m trying to practice,” Ezekiel shot back. He hadn’t even tried to make the words sound sincere, never mind the enormous shit-eating grin on his face.

“Pretty sure you’ve got it,” Jacob grumbled. Ezekiel leaned forward and folded his arms on top of the piano’s music shelf.

“Y’know, if you don’t want to hear me play anymore, you could always take a turn at filling the silence.” He nodded towards the viola case tucked mostly underneath the chair Jacob was sitting on. “C’mon, play us some fiddle tunes, cowboy.”

“It’s not a fiddle, it’s a viola,” Jacob corrected, completely on autopilot. As soon as he realized that he’d actually spoken, he redoubled his glare against Ezekiel. “Why do you care?”

“Wow. I get interrupted in the middle of my practicing, spill my guts about my musical background, and then serenade you for the past two weeks, and you won’t even repay the favour?” An impish smirk curled across his face. “And here I thought you were supposed to be some sort of southern gentleman.”

“Alright, already, you made your point,” Jacob groused. He heaved a put-upon groan as he hauled himself out of his chair, but he did get his viola out and music set up without further complaint. He played the Glazunov Elegie, as it was the last piece he’d been working on before his self-imposed ban.

He could see the vague shape of Ezekiel from the corner of his eye as he played, but he didn’t pay any attention to him. Something about playing for someone other than himself, especially someone else who appreciated the music… He didn’t play louder than usual, or any better than he had before. Nonetheless, there was some quality to his sound that it didn’t have before. Not confidence, per say. More like completeness. Music, just like all other art, was made to be shared with others.

As he finished playing, holding the final note for as long as he could, gradually letting the bow stroke lighter across the strings and letting his vibrato get slower and wider until that final D died away, he chanced a glance up from the fingerboard. He locked eyes with Ezekiel; he couldn’t say he’d expected the wide eyes and small, solemn smile that he wore, but then again, when did Ezekiel Jones ever do what Jacob expected?

It was a couple of months after that that they finally had a third member to round out their little trio.

Ezekiel was sat at the piano again, playing Schoenberg’s Zwei Klavierstücke expertly – though anybody less familiar with the twelve-tone method might think that he’d forgotten everything he’d ever learned about the instrument. Jacob sat beside him on the piano bench, towards the higher keys, with his back to the piano. He had his head tipped back and his eyes closed while Ezekiel played, and he leaned back with his elbow resting on the key block.

“I’m surprised you actually like 20th Century stuff,” Ezekiel said. Jacob recognized the bait for what it was and bit anyways.

“Hey, if Pollock and Mondrian are considered great artists – which they are, by the way – and if Libeskind is a brilliant architect – which he is – then I see no reason for Schoenberg and Cage and Penderecki and the like to not be considered great musicians.” He turned his head towards Ezekiel and opened his eyes just a sliver. “Art, in all its forms, evolves all the time, alongside culture and society and humanity. The 20th century was marked with enormous social change from two World Wars, the Technological Revolution, and increasing globalization. Of course music reflected those changes, and of course all these creative types would be eager to experiment with new technologies and methods.”

Ezekiel finished the second movement, then immediately circled back to the first again.

“So does Xenakis get to be included in the great musicians list?” he asked, shit-eating grin firmly in place.

Jacob shuddered exaggeratedly at the memory of Metastaseis permanently etched into his brain. “Nope. Nuh-huh. I will appreciate tons of art and artists that most people say don’t count, but I do not appreciate Xenakis.”

Ezekiel cackled as he finished the piece. He shuffled the music around on the shelf, stacking it back up and getting it ready to pack up.

“I love Schoenberg’s work; I know atonality gets a bad rap, but honestly, how cool is that? Taking this system that’s existed for hundreds of years and turning it inside-out and backwards, and still making something that actually sounds good?” He patted the music bag he’d just slipped his sheet music into. “I’ve also got his piano concerto, but I haven’t worked on it as much yet.”

Jacob hummed in acknowledgement. “If you like his stuff, you should take a look at Makrokosmos sometime. Now that is a work of genius.”

“Oh!” They both turned at the sudden voice from the doorway to find Flynn standing there, one hand still on the knob, looking even more awkward than usual. “Sorry, I didn’t know you were using the room. I can just –” he made a jerky gesture over his shoulder – “I can – I should go.”

The poor guy was totally out of his depth. Eve and Cassandra had taken off about an hour ago for a girl’s night out – which they dragged Jenkins along to as well? Jacob wasn’t gonna question their thought process too much. However, their plans had the unfortunate side effect of leaving Flynn alone with the two people that he had the weakest relationships with out of everyone on Team Library.

Jacob lifted a hand and gestured him in. “Naw, don’t worry about it. Better to be in here that wandering around the place like a lonely ghost.”

“Besides,” Ezekiel piped up, “it’s not like there’s a two-person maximum on the room. The more the merrier.”

Flynn flashed them a smile, awkward and short-lived, but genuine. He walked slowly into the room, his eyes trailing over the shelves, not out of wonder, but out of wistfulness. Perhaps even longing.

“D’you play?” Jacob asked softly. He was mostly trying to put Flynn at ease, but he also was genuinely curious. The man had so much knowledge in such a wide array of disciplines; it was certainly possible that music was one of them, despite the fact that he hadn’t really mentioned it before.

“Yes! Yes, I do.” Flynn paused. “Well,” he tilted his head. “I used to. I haven’t really… had the chance.” His gaze fell to his hands and he shook his head, his voice softer and more wistful than just a moment ago. “Not for a long time, actually.”

Jacob extended his hand towards the shelves of instruments. “You could play again now?”

“Judgement-free zone,” Ezekiel backed him up. “Besides, music’s always better with an audience.”

Flynn flashed another little smile, then turned back over to the shelves. As he walked slowly along the wall, looking for an instrument, Jacob wondered what he played.

He was confident to the point of being egotistical at times, though rarely without reason. He was clever, his mind moving faster than the rest of him ever could. He loved a challenge or a puzzle or a seemingly impossible situation. If Jacob was a little less charitable, he’d also say he loved the sound of his own voice. If he was being honest, he’d say that he’d just gotten used to only having his own voice to hear.

Maybe it was a little unfair, but just about anyone who played in an ensemble could tell you that certain musicians’ personalities matched to the instrument they chose. The confidence and solitude narrowed it down to one of four in Jacob’s mind: trumpet, flute, saxophone, or violin. Flynn didn’t seem like a saxophonist, and he wasn’t enough of an asshole to be a trumpet. He certainly could be a violinist, but Jacob didn’t think so. The callouses on his fingers came from sword fighting, not string playing.

So a flautist, then. Of course he would play the one instrument that Jacob couldn’t.

Jacob craned his neck around to see which instrument Flynn would pick, to see if he was right. He watched as Flynn stopped at one particular shelf, about a third of the way down the wall, where the space between it and the shelf above it was so skinny that Jacob could barely fit his hand in flat. He pulled something out from the shelf, and a moment later Jacob watched as he popped a reed into his mouth.

Dammit. Not a flautist, then. He called across the room.

“Clarinet or saxophone?” Flynn’s head whipped around, wide-eyed. He manoeuvred the reed into the corner of his mouth.

“Clarinet.” He continued walking down the wall, looking for an instrument to go with the reed. “I took lessons all through middle and high school, played in the school concert band – I even did one of my bachelor’s degrees in ethnomusicology! But by then, history and comparative religion and mythology kind of –” he waved a hand around in an incomprehensible gesture – “took over.”

It didn’t take him much longer to find an instrument. Once he did, he meandered over to the other wall and started looking for music. Jacob and Ezekiel watched him the whole time, hopefully looking less like they were staring and judging and more like they were just politely interested. He hesitated over a couple of manuscripts, but moved on after a couple of moments. He eventually pulled a sheaf of music from one of the shelves, then retreated to assemble his clarinet.

He paused again when he was finished, his eyes fixed on the instrument in his hands. He breathed deeply, in and out, and flashed one last nervous glance at Jacob and Ezekiel. Then, he began to play.

He was a little rough around the edges, but his tone was rich and full, and he played with a musicality that could never be forgotten, not with time or distance or anything else. The piece was short, and relatively simple, but it was beautiful.

Flynn pulled the clarinet away from his lips. He looked over at his audience, the silence hovering uneasily in the air.

“Was that it? Or was that just the first movement?” Jacob asked.

Flynn blinked, looking a bit taken aback. “No – that is, yes, that was, uh, that was just the prelude. From the Victorian Kitchen Garden Suite.” His eyes slid away from them as just a hint of tension crept into his shoulders. “I know that wasn’t my best –”

“Well, let’s hear the rest of it, then,” Ezekiel said. He crossed his legs and popped his elbows up on his knee, then plonked his chin on his clasped hands. “Even I know you’re not supposed to applaud between movements.”

Flynn looked at him, startled. Jacob watched his eyes flick back and forth between the two of them. After a moment, he chuckled.

“Alright, then.”

He brought his clarinet up once more, and played the rest of the suite. It was elegant, and charming, and had a quality to it that reminded Jacob of visiting his grandparents – the aural equivalent of sunlight streaming through dusty windows to catch on old-fashioned floral upholstery and decorative plates hung up on the walls and the carpet being some awful orange-brown colour that was in style forty years ago, for some god-forsaken reason. Both antique and timeless.

When Flynn finished the entire suite, he was greeted with heartfelt applause from the both of them. He grinned, and gave a goofy little bow in recognition, which had all of them laughing lightly. The grin stayed on his face as he came back up, but a light had been lit behind his eyes. He bounced on his feet, like his legs were trying to carry him off but his brain was making him stay there. He held up a finger.

“Hold that thought.” He hurried back over to the shelves, looking through them haphazardly for another piece. About two minutes and a shelf and a half later, he cried out a victorious “Ah-HAH!” and came racing back over to the music stand.

“This one was always a favourite of mine.” He cleared his throat and straightened out his shoulders. He spoke the title like a formal presenter. “Immer Kleiner, by Adolf Schreiner.”

“German for “Always Smaller”,” Jacob whispered to Ezekiel. The thief nodded his understanding as Flynn began to play. The piece was jaunty and fun, he had to admit. The upbeat tempo and light-hearted melody certainly fit Flynn’s personality. He almost thought it was just a regular piece, and he had to do a double-take at the first twist in the piece. He heard Ezekiel’s huff of incredulous laughter beside him.

By the time Flynn finished, mouthpiece triumphantly crowing the final note, Jacob and Ezekiel were in stitches, halfway on top of each other and breathless with laughter. Jacob struggled to get himself under control, but every time he tried to take a steadying breath he just started giggling again.

“Wh-where did you e-heven find that?!” he gasped. Flynn grinned back at him.

“Oh, the wonders of a university music library.” He placed a hand over his heart and turned his gaze upwards. Ezekiel nearly collapsed under a fresh bout of laughter. Flynn chuckled again as he organized the music before he put it back on the shelf.

“I’m a little surprised you went for a piece like that,” Jacob said. He was cut off by a sharp elbow to his side.

“Nah, c’mon,” Ezekiel wheedled. “It makes perfect sense. Taking the forms and structures that exist and bending them until just before they break. Making something totally new and different out of something old; still respecting what came before it while constantly moving forwards.”

Jacob smiled. “Having tangible evidence of the evolution, not just of the art form, but of culture and humanity along with it. Finding something that was created hundreds of years ago, but it gets remade over and over again every time someone new interacts with it. Kept alive by the sharing of knowledge and joy between people.”

He turned to catch Flynn’s smile, proud and fond. “The connection forged between people, honing their craft and creating something incredible. The trust and respect they have in one another, knowing that they’re also putting their heart and soul and blood, sweat, and tears into it.”

“It was Plato that said: music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything,” Jacob rumbled. “It was Tom Petty that said: music is probably the only real magic I have encountered in my entire life – there’s not some neat trick involved with it. It’s pure and it’s real.”

“Well, not the only real magic,” Ezekiel said with a smirk. They all grinned at that. None of them spoke for a long moment, not wanting to break the ephemeral moment they found themselves in, this quiet understanding and balance that the three of them had never managed to achieve before. Eventually, Flynn softly clapped his hands together.

“So, what have you two been working on?”

Two months later, they performed Schumann’s Märchenerzählungen for an audience of three. From his vantage point, Jacob could see both of his fellow musicians well; more than that, he could see the tension drain from their shoulders, could see the lines of stress on their foreheads smooth out, and he could see Ezekiel’s relaxed, genuine smile. Flynn couldn’t, of course, as there was a clarinet in the way, but he had no doubt in his mind that he would be if he could.

They finished to a flurry of applause from their compatriots. As the three of them bowed together in recognition, it was the most at peace Jacob had felt in a long, long time.