Time goes on.
After the dust settles once an old kingdom has fallen and a new kingdom has risen, and after the Justice Law Offices have officially opened their doors, there’s a rare moment in between fielding new clients and juggling cases where Apollo gets the chance to sit down and finish going through the evidence from the Case That Overturned Khura’in. He signs off on paperwork, completes mandatory filing, and in the midst of this admittedly comforting if menial process, he re-finds the photo of Amara that had played such a crucial role in the case: the one in which she holds baby Rayfa.
And it’s odd.
He doesn’t know why he sinks into the ratty sofa, staring at that photo for as long as he does while the clock ticks the seconds by on the wall. There’s something about evidence that has always been reassuring. Perhaps it’s something Mr. Gavin drilled into him; perhaps it’s something else. But there’s something undeniable and something inarguable about having proof that you were loved; something about being able to hold it in your hands and see it over and over again to combat that decades-long stain in your head that you were better sent away and not wanted.
It had been strange, too, the way his chest twinged when he asked Dhurke about it at the detention center all those weeks ago. Dhurke had laughed and so easily rebuffed the idea that the baby in the photo could have been himself. And Apollo wanted to say, he wanted to ask, Is it really so unbelievable to want to know that the two of you would have loved me as your own?
Because somehow, in some way, Apollo has always felt he wasn’t really a Sahdmahdi, no matter how much Dhurke called him his son.
He stares at the photo for a minute more before he files it in with the rest of the evidence. He resigns himself to the fact that the only proof he’ll have of being so loved as a baby will have to be a memory—a memory of a snapshot in a smooth pool of his father’s hand around his swaddled form.
Klavier spends weeks at a time in Khura’in.
It’s during one of the weeks that Klavier is home—and Apollo doesn’t quite know when and how he began to think of their little apartment above the Justice Law Offices in Khura’in as home—that Nahyuta descends from the palace mountain with a strange request. He says that Amara channeled Dhurke again—as she does every so often these days to help Rayfa and Nahyuta as they follow through enacting the change Khura’in both wants and needs—and in the midst of their conversation, Dhurke had a message for Apollo.
It comes in the form of a box they find in a crawl space Apollo didn’t even realize his new apartment had. It’s dusty and small, full of little trinkets Dhurke collected and held on to that he believes may have once belonged to the Justices. Nahyuta says it’s where he once stored the photo he had saved of Jove with his guitar for Apollo.
With their shoulders pressed together, Klavier and Apollo find a small cassette tape hidden beneath all of the other golden trinkets. On it, scribbled in permanent marker across a masking tape is written: For Apollo.
There are many good reasons to have a rockstar as a boyfriend, but one of them that Apollo is most grateful for is that somehow, for some reason, Klavier actually has a cassette player, the kind with an audio jack to stick headphones into the boxy black exterior. It’s in with some of the things he brought over from California in the not-yet-unpacked boxes upstairs and if Apollo gives him just a moment, he thinks they can listen to it today. They can listen to it right now, even. They don’t have to wait, Schatz.
Apollo’s fingers burn white from pressing into the cassette’s plastic casing as he listens to Klavier’s footsteps thump, thump, thump up the stairs.
When he returns, Klavier holds out both earbuds connected to the player in a silent question.
When Apollo shakes his head and takes only one, stuffing it in his right ear, Klavier puts his earbud in his left with an encouraging smile. Mikeko wanders over and curls in Apollo’s lap. Loudly, he begins to purr. Then, after a moment, Klavier presses play.
The very first thing the both of them hear is a quiet, husky laugh.
Their voices are different than what Apollo imagined.
He’s not quite sure specifically what it was he was envisioning when he dreamed about what his mother and father might have sounded like. Not that he’s never pictured it either while lying in bed in various foster homes throughout his youth, but his mother’s voice is warmer than he anticipated. She sounds lighter and younger and—impossibly—familiar.
His father’s voice is handsome, melodious. A pleasing baritone. Not very deep. He laughs between every other word, and Apollo can’t get over how happy he sounds. How happy they both sound.
You got it? Are you sure it’s working this time?
Yes, it’s working. Who do you take me for? A musician who doesn’t know how to set up his own recording?
Someone has to keep you humble, Jove dear.
Suddenly, the wall clock seems too loud. Apollo presses his hand into his opposite ear to shut it out, to shut the rest of the world out—to close it off, just for a moment, just for this one tiny second—so he can have this. So he can better hear the guitar as it is quietly strummed behind the voices of his parents casually talking to each other. At his shoulder, Klavier hums perfectly on pitch to a decades-old acoustic.
Anyway, hi, Apollo! This is Mom and Dad. You don’t know who we are yet because we haven’t met. You’re still taking your sweet time in your momma’s belly—
But god, buddy, we can’t wait to meet you.
Without fully being aware of it, Apollo curls up. Mikeko hops off his knees and migrates to Klavier’s lap. And somehow, and sweetly, and like a receding ocean’s tide, the world around Apollo melts away.
We’d like to sing you a couple of songs, if that’s okay. We know it’s cheesy, and it’ll probably make you eye-roll to hear it—you’re, what, sixteen? Eighteen? When are we giving this to him again?
The when’s not important. What’s important is that whenever he does listen, he knows our love will always be with him.
Well, gee, when you say it like that…
They sing to him, together, with pretty and perfect harmony. When his father sings high, his mother's voice swings low, and Apollo knows nothing about what makes music music other than what he’s learned through Klavier, but he knows they sound good. He knows that they sound as if they’ve been doing this all their lives.
Anywhere you go, I’ll be here, too. I am listening, I’m listening for you.
Somewhere across the chords, Klavier picks up on the patterns and phrases of the melody. He hums along and his fingers play against imaginary frets on his calf and Apollo watches his profile until Klavier’s hair bleeds textured gold and his face, for some odd reason, turns fuzzy as it blurs.
Speak as loud as you can. Tell me those words sitting on your heart. I’ll hear them from you wherever you are because I’m listening. I’m listening for you.
“W…what?” It comes out as a whisper, weaker than Apollo intends to be heard.
Klavier pulls out his earbud and when it falls, it dangles against Apollo’s arm. “Are you all right?”
“What? Yeah. Of course, I am. I’m fine. Why?” Apollo sits up. He doesn’t realize how tightly he’s curled and hunched over his own knees—or for how long he’s been in such a small ball—until he stiffly tries to unfold.
Klavier reaches for his face. He touches Apollo’s cheek. When he pulls back, Apollo can see his fingertips glistening and wet.
Apollo swallows. He touches his cheek, too; finds it cold under his fingers. “Oh. H-huh…”
Wordlessly, Klavier pauses the audio cassette. He reaches over and pulls Apollo in with both arms wrapped tight around him until Mikeko is forced for a second time to find a different place to sit because Klavier’s legs have unfolded and parted so that Apollo can slip in between. He falls into Klavier’s shoulder and wraps his arms around Klavier in turn, staring at some unfixed point on the wall behind them.
“Are you alright?” Klavier asks again, this time into Apollo’s hair.
Apollo takes a shuddering breath. “I…I think so…?” His fingers curl into the small of Klavier’s back. His eyebrows draw up tight. “I think so. It’s… it’s not like I’m sad. I’m not sad. But I’m… I’m something else. I think. I don’t know what—”
Klavier rubs his back in slow, soothing motions.
“I’m—” Apollo’s breath hitches. He presses his nose into Klavier’s shoulder and tries to breathe. Breathe. It’s getting harder by the second. “W-why am I crying?”
“Because it can mean a whole awful lot to you, Apollo. And sometimes, when you’ve been waiting your whole life for that one thing—once you finally have it, the relief can be overwhelming.”
Slowly, Apollo blinks.
Ah. So that’s what it is. A release of pressure after a question he’s had for so long finally receives its answer.
“Do you want to listen to it again?”
Apollo nods into Klavier’s shoulder. He lowers his head. He sniffs and squeezes Klavier tighter and nods again and again and again.
There are several songs on the cassette tape, but it’s the first one that becomes something Apollo hums in his mornings and something he can identify Klavier plucking his strings to at night. It becomes something more than a photograph and more present than a picture on the wall. It becomes a comfort in a way Apollo didn’t anticipate having before.
I’m listening. I’m listening for you.
Yeah, he wants to say back. I’m listening, too.