foxysquidalso: (waiting for)
[personal profile] foxysquidalso
I haven't posted here in a while, for various reasons, but here, at last, is another Ace Attorney story. I am also working on a second AA story, which will be finished soon, I hope.

Title: Every Breath
Characters/Pairings: Mia, Diego, Phoenix; not really a pairing story, but there are mentions of Mia/Diego
Rating: PG
Warnings: Spoilers for T&T, mentions of death
Word count: 4850
Summary: Mia has one last task to carry out, and Phoenix needs to learn how to listen.
Notes: Written for [livejournal.com profile] luckykitty, the winner of my charity auction. Spans all the events of the first three games. The last part is set after Bridge to the Turnabout and shortly before the Zak Gramarye case.



Dying was never easy, not even for those who understood it best. There were few things Mia didn't know about death. She knew how it happened, and why, and what became of the body and the soul afterward. She was well versed in both science and the supernatural, but understanding was the beginning, not the end. Experience was something else, a greater knowledge, both more wonderful and more sad.

Death took getting used to.

It had happened so suddenly. She'd been given far less warning than she'd thought she'd have. She'd known better than to have any expectations, as death was so unpredictable, yet she'd had them. She'd counted on having a few more years, at least, in which to finish the things she'd started. Everyone believed their death came too quickly, she knew that, but she couldn't help thinking those universal thoughts. I didn't have time to prepare. It isn't fair. I don't want to die.

She stood in her office, gazing down at her own body, stunned and sad. She was a Fey. She was supposed to be good at these things, wasn't she? Why was it so hard? She was frozen in place like any shocked ghost, unable to leave the scene of her murder at first, watching all the events unfold. It was so hard to see her sister's tears, to see Phoenix's face go blank with bewilderment and grief. She watched them take her body away, the respectful yet impersonal way they moved it, covered it, carried it away. An object that had some significance, no longer a living being. Then she was alone, standing in a darkened room without any idea of what to do next, in spite of all her knowledge and training.

She couldn't leave. Not right away, with so many essential things left to do. Her death left confusion in its wake. Maya was accused of her murder, and Phoenix stepped up to defend her.

Mia remained with them through the trial, as a matter of course. After it was over--maybe she should have gone then, but she stayed. She never had trouble finding a reason not to go. Phoenix and Maya needed her. Phoenix wasn't ready to run the office on her own, or so she told herself. Maya wasn't ready to face the danger and drama that came with being a Fey. Mia kept close, usually not far from one or the other of them. They were her family, and she didn't want to leave them behind. It wasn't that she would ever truly leave them, but there were degrees of closeness, degrees of distance. Death wasn't a new life. It was an entirely different way of being. If she concentrated, she could sense them all at once, everyone she knew. She had only to reach out.

If she listened hard enough, she could hear their hearts beating. She could feel every breath they took. Because she was not an ordinary spirit but the spirit of a Fey, she was close to the living in ways she hadn't been, when she was alive. In other ways, she was more distant than she had ever been, but she clung to what she did have. It was too painful to drift away from them, so she stayed close.

Her sister, so brave and bright. Her cousin, whose gift felt as warm and radiant to her as the sun. Phoenix, who was on his way to learning everything she'd had to teach him, including the things she hadn't had time to tell him. Lana, as strong as she had ever been, if sadder now, and older, but who could avoid growing older? The dead alone had that power.

And Diego. He was so much closer than the others at first, in his state that was neither awake nor asleep. She could not only feel his breath and his heartbeat. She was aware of his presence near her. It was a sensation like someone standing in the same room, almost tangible, but not quite. A little more ground lost, and he'd slip away from his body. He'd join her where she was. If she'd tried, it was possible that she could have spoken to him.

He'd held on for years, and he would not stop fighting to live. He was like a flickering flame. Mia sensed that if she talked to him, breathed on that flame, it might pull him away from that fight. He didn't know what had happened to her. He might move toward her, away from where he truly wanted to be: among the living. She didn't want to risk that, though it was hard not to try to give him her support in any way she could, to give him her voice, as she used to do when she was still alive and went to visit him in the hospital. Had he noticed that she'd stopped coming? Did he miss the sound of her voice? She hated the idea that he might have sensed the lack and thought she'd abandoned him, but she restrained herself, kept quiet.

People died every day. Death was a natural event. It could be sorrowful, it could be fearful, and it could come at a time that felt far too soon, but it was not inherently wrong. What would have been wrong was interrupting a fight like Diego's. It was not her place to end that struggle, cool that heat. She could do nothing but watch it happen, helpless to aid him, except to will him greater strength and luck. Some battles had to be fought alone.

The doctors didn't believe he would recover, but Mia believed. She kept close to him. She urged him on silently. Though she was a spirit, she had no power over the living, but she could still hope. Hope was a kind of power, if one that she didn't know the full strength of, except that it could be great. In his sleep, Diego continued to hope and fight. It was the scent of coffee that reached him in the midst of his slumber, but it was hope that opened his eyes.

What Mia hadn't realized was that after that hopeful awakening, there would come a fall into despair. His first action was to try and find her. He called her old number. A stranger picked up. The number had been reassigned. The sight of him sitting alone with the phone in his hand broke her heart. His face was bare. He stared ahead unseeingly. He looked so much older beneath that shock of white hair. He stopped breathing for a moment, and did not remember to start again until a car horn sounded in the street outside, startling the breath back into his lungs. When he was told that she had died, it changed him, more than the coma had. She could sense his anger, yet unlike the time he'd been suspended between life and death, she had no sense that it would be easy to reach out and speak to him. He was completely closed off to her now, so much farther away than she could have imagined.

She was helpless to tell him what she most wanted to tell him: that he shouldn't be angry. That she didn't want that for him. He was furious with himself and with the world, and it did no good. It did nothing but make him more miserable.

"Diego," she said, as she'd said when he was alive, "Don't you ever give up?" He didn't, whether he was right or wrong. Sometimes that was a good thing, but sometimes it wasn't.

"Diego," she said, "it's time to let go." He didn't hear her, the stubborn, foolish man. He held on to her as if he were still dying and she was what was keeping him alive, but that wasn't true. He was so sure he knew everything, as always.

So sure that if she'd lived, they would have stayed together. Mia wasn't as certain of that. She cared for him, but she wasn't as reckless as he was. It was so like Diego to decide to class an intense but brief relationship as a lifelong love, without waiting to see how things turned out. He had a surprising way of being right about extraordinary things sometimes, but he could be devastatingly wrong. She'd never know which he'd been, where the two of them were concerned.

"Diego," she said, "be careful."

He was never careful, and he couldn't hear her, so her words couldn't help him. She could only listen to him breathe, listen to his heartbeat, watch him live and make his foolish choices. He was a foolish man, but she understood. She knew what it was like to be foolish, too. She had been once, and perhaps she was, still. Perhaps death couldn't put an end to foolishness.

She told Diego to let go, but she couldn't let go herself. She sat with him, in the cold, through that dark night up on the mountain. She was always with him, even when he didn't know, even when he felt the most alone. No one else was there to hear his breathing grow more labored and then break. No one else was there.

It was then that she realized she'd been making the same mistake. Holding on too tightly and too long. As she stood watching Diego in the courtroom, for what would be the last time, she knew in her heart that she did not want to go. Who wanted to leave the world behind? Even those who left by their own hand would hang back, regretting, wishing for another chance, another moment. Just one. She wanted one, too, but it was time for her to leave.

It was so good to be alive. All the people in the courtroom were alive. Their hearts were beating. Their lungs moved, filling again and again. Phoenix's breath came fast. There was sweat on his brow, but he wiped it away, took in more air, took a deep breath and held it until his heart calmed, then raised his hand. He'd become a good lawyer, his nervous moments shorter now, his words more sure.

Mia could feel every breath, and she knew that every one was as important as the one before. Until the very last. Some last breaths were longer than others. It could take a while to say goodbye. She was almost done with her own long goodbye, wasn't she?

She had one more thing to do before she went.

***


Phoenix couldn't quite say when he first felt it. The day the world began to feel emptier. It wasn't exactly after Iris' trial. No, a few days passed, maybe even a week or so, before he identified that itch under his skin. Something was wrong. Not terribly wrong, but undeniably different. It wasn't anything he could define easily, more like a feeling in the air, like when you woke up on a winter morning and though you hadn't looked outside yet, you knew it had snowed, using a sense you weren't quite aware you had.

It hadn't snowed. Not in LA, he was sure of that. He looked out the window anyway. Unsurprisingly, the ground below was bare, not so much as a little ice. He shook his head, wondering if he was imagining things. It wouldn't be the first time.

He put the thought out of his mind and went in to the office. He hadn't had a case since defending Iris, but that was hardly surprising. His cases tended to be few and far between. Not that he minded, because his cases tended to take a heavy toll, on himself as well as others. As long as he helped some people and made enough money to get by. That was all he asked.

He noticed Charley was looking parched and went to look for the watering can. He could have used anything to ferry the water from the faucet to the plant, but the can had been Mia's, and though it was small and dented and served no other purpose, he'd grown attached to it. He wondered if there was a story behind it. It wasn't as if you needed a watering can for a single plant. He'd never thought to ask her about it. Now he wasn't sure who he could ask.

He couldn't find the damn can anywhere. He could have sworn he'd left it in the usual spot, but it wasn't there. He wasn't quite sure why he kept searching, why he didn't give up and use a styrofoam cup or something sensible like that. He wanted to use the can, and so he would, practicality be damned. Also, he didn't have much else to do, honestly.

It took him a while to locate it, but the solution was simple in the end. He only had to look up. He blinked, uncomprehending. No wonder it had taken him so long to locate the can. It was sitting on top of the shelf, where no one in their right mind--not even he--would have left it. How had it gotten there? Who could have put it there, and why? He racked his brain for some explanation. There was no way someone would have broken in here for the sole purpose of moving the watering can, and he knew nothing else was missing or had been moved. Was there some anecdote he was forgetting, some event that had ended in him scaling the shelf with the can? Not only could he not remember such an event, but he couldn't so much as imagine one.

That didn't matter now. What mattered was getting the can down. It shouldn't be that hard, Phoenix reasoned. He pulled the chair from behind the desk over to the shelf. At first, it went smoothly. It wasn't a complicated operation. He climbed up into the chair, placing his feet carefully, reached for the can--

All too suddenly, it all went wrong. He wobbled, then staggered, then the chair seemed to slide out from under his feet. Trying to keep his balance, he grabbed at the bookshelf, but it was too late, and he fell. His grab accomplished nothing but the creation of a rain of books that fell along with him, hitting the floor, pages splayed, spines cracking. At least his own spine remained uncracked, as he lay on his back, gazing up at the ceiling. From where he was lying, he could see the watering can. He would say it was grinning down at him, but there was nothing about it that resembled a mouth, not even vaguely. It had a mocking air, that was for sure.

Phoenix remained where he was for much too long, savoring the feel of the floor against his back, until he decided it was a bit nutty to be lying there with his arms spread, among the fallen volumes. He hoped he hadn't gotten a concussion, but no, as he sat up, he felt fine. He also hoped that wasn't just a head injury talking, but he didn't feel any pain. You could tell when you really injured yourself, right? He rolled his neck and shoulders experimentally, but when he felt no twinges, he was reassured.

He sighed. He still had to get the can down, and now he had to pick up all these books, too. Fortunately (or unfortunately), it still wasn't as if he had much else to do. He started to gather the fallen volumes, but he didn't get very far. The first book, as he lifted it, trying to smooth out the pages that had been folded in the fall, released a hidden treasure, letting it fall to earth. It was a photograph. Curious, Phoenix picked it up.

It was a candid snap, of two people he recognized immediately. Mia stood on one side of the photo, and on the other, all but towering over her, was Diego Armando. The picture had clearly been taken at Grossberg's law office, at a party of some kind. This was obvious because Mia was putting a party hat on Diego's head, laughing as she did so, her nose crinkling slightly. Diego gazed down at her, in mock annoyance, though the effect of his attempt to look irritated was mostly ruined by the smirk he couldn't quite suppress.

Phoenix sighed. His mood hadn't been particularly cheerful a moment before, but it hadn't been outright bad. In the few moments it took him to look the photo over, his heart had grown at least twice as heavy. He stood, placing the photo carefully on the desk, then gathered up all the books and put them back on the shelf. He didn't bother to return them to their previous places. It didn't matter too much, did it? They were Mia's books, and she wasn't there to read them or care what order they were in.

He didn't attempt to get the watering can again. Instead, he watered Charley using a paper cup. When he was done, the photo was still on the desk, where he'd left it. He'd half-wished it would disappear, but unsurprisingly, it hadn't. He eyed the shelf warily, wondering if there were any more photographs tucked into the pages of the books, carelessly used as bookmarks, taking on new and greater meaning as the years passed. He was half tempted to take out the books, one by one, and shake them to see what other memories fell out. But that would have been a little strange, wouldn't it? Maybe he'd hurt his head after all.

Part of him wanted to tear up the photograph, or throw it in the trash, but when he moved to pick it up, he felt his hand guided to his pocket instead. Not exactly what he'd intended, but he slipped the photo into the pocket anyway.

Once the impulse to destroy the photo had passed, he was glad he hadn't. It would have been wrong to destroy something of Mia's. He hadn't spoken to her since the last day of the trial. He guessed she was gone, and he wouldn't see her again. It probably wasn't fair of him to wish for her back, when he'd gotten to see more of her after death than most people ever got to see of their loved ones after they were gone. Maybe he should have felt lucky. In a way, he did, but more than that, he felt sad.

He didn't look at the photo again until later that night, when he sat down on his couch and heard it crinkle. It wasn't that he'd forgotten it, but he hadn't been ready to look at it again. He pulled it out. It was slightly creased, the fold drawing a line between Mia and Diego. He studied both their faces. They looked so happy, so alive. That had been another time, maybe another world.

Studying Diego's open face, his fake dislike of the party hat, Phoenix found it difficult to reconcile this man with the one he'd known in court. Arrogant, posturing, and closed, not the kind of person to let someone put a pink and yellow paper hat on his head and laugh about it. It was as if the man in the photograph were a completely different person. Maybe he was. If someone who knew Phoenix now were to look at a picture of him from years ago, maybe they'd see someone entirely different there, someone they barely recognized. Or maybe not. Was he the same person, or wasn't he? Was Diego?

Phoenix got up from the couch and stowed the photo away in a drawer he seldom opened. He didn't want to get rid of the photo, but he didn't want to have to look at it all the time, either. Not that it made much difference, as he'd know it was there. He'd always have it with him now, a relic from a time he'd never known.

Once he'd begun, it was hard for him to stop thinking about Diego Armando. He'd already been thinking about Mia; he thought about her all the time, but Diego--he'd pushed him from his mind. He hadn't precisely forgotten about him, but he hadn't been going out of his way to contemplate him, either.

Diego had had a trial. Grossberg had defended him. Phoenix knew that. The court had been lenient, in light of Diego's state of mind at the time of the crime: the trauma and health problems he'd suffered. He was in prison now, but it was likely that in the event of his behavior being ideal, he'd be released in a few years. Sometimes Phoenix didn't think that was fair, but maybe that was unfair of him. He and Diego had forgiven each other and come to an understanding of sorts, but that didn't mean he was never angry about what had happened. It didn't mean he never felt resentful. He wasn't a selfless saint.

That damn picture. He couldn't get it out of his head. Maybe injured his brain after all, but that picture had done it, instead of the fall. He wished he hadn't seen the photo at all. It was like a glimpse into a place where he didn't belong. He didn't know much about what things had been like, when Mia and Diego had been together. There was a lot he didn't know, but wasn't that true of everyone?

Phoenix had started to feel like something was missing from his life, but now he felt that there was something he was supposed to be doing. Instead of a morning that snow had fallen, it was more like the morning of a test at school that he'd forgotten to study for. He'd always hated that feeling. He'd experienced it a lot as a younger man, and since he was living in LA, it was unlikely there'd be any snow days to save him from test taking. Not that he had to take any actual tests, lucky for him. Even when he'd been used to testing, he hadn't had the easiest time with it. He did wonder how he managed to make his way through law school and pass the bar. A miracle, probably. No, his school days were over.

Life, which was still in session, held other kinds of trials.

Phoenix tried to forget, but the world wouldn't let him. A few days afterward, the paper ran a follow up article about Iris' trial, which had become a scandal when the verdict had been reached. Phoenix read that paper in the morning, because reading the paper with breakfast made him feel like an adult. At the end of the piece, there was a mention of Diego's fate, his incarceration in Central Prison.

Later, sitting on his bike, staring up at the red light as he waited for it to change, Phoenix was reminded of the glow of Diego's visor. There was a café on one corner of the intersection, customers walking out its doors and across the crosswalk with paper cups in hand. Phoenix wondered what kind of coffee Diego got in prison. It probably wasn't very good.

Why did he care? He shouldn't have cared. The two of them, reasonably, could have nothing else to do with each other. What did they know about each other, really? Not much, and the time they spent together had been terrible. The things they'd remind each other of were terrible.

Terrible or not, he did care. He cared about Diego drinking crappy institutional coffee and being miserable about it, and probably thinking that was all the coffee he deserved after what he'd done, because Diego was that kind of guy. All those people with their paper cups from the café could drink as much coffee as they wanted and Diego couldn't, and that was fair, because he'd been imprisoned for his crime, but it didn't mean Phoenix couldn't think that it wasn't.

Mia had said he'd saved Diego, but what next? Was saying a few words in court enough to make a difference? Phoenix didn't feel like going in to the office anymore. He took a different turn and found himself biking down the paths of People Park instead. It was early in the day. Many people were headed to work as he had been, or to school, if they were younger, but that didn't mean that the park was empty. It was sunny, and the day was cool for the time of year. There were all kinds of people in the world, all kinds of reasons they might have ended up walking in the park on a beautiful day, so he found himself biking carefully and slowly to avoid the young children, dog walkers, joggers, and simple wanderers like himself.

He often biked by the park, but it had been a while since he'd entered the grounds themselves. Not for any particular reason. Time had passed, and he didn't always make the effort to diverge from his usual paths. He should have made that effort more often, he thought, as he took a sharp curve and then braked as his eyes widened at the sight before him.

There was a stand of trees. Phoenix didn't know what they were called, because he'd never paid enough attention to the names of plants. As a kid, he'd liked to make up his own names for flowers and trees, which made it difficult for him to talk about specific species, but he didn't have to worry, since he wasn't invited to many horticulturists' meetings. He might not have known the name of the trees, but he could see, without knowing, that they were in full bloom, covered in small, white, delicate flowers. They must have just bloomed. It was April. Spring was still new.

Phoenix dismounted from his bike and walked it off the path, over the grass, and into the shade of the trees. They reminded him of something, but he didn't know what. He closed his eyes and breathed in deep. He could smell the flowers, lightly sweet and fresh, but the scent brought him no memories or clues. He wondered what he was doing here, a full grown man standing in the park sniffing flowers and daydreaming instead of making his way to work. He was still wondering when a breeze swept through the air, stirring up more scent and cooling his face. Phoenix opened his eyes, wanting to see the flowers move in the wind, and that was when he realized what the blooms reminded him of.

White petals were falling from above and drifting around him like flakes of snow. It had snowed after all, as his senses had told him it would. It wasn't emptiness he'd felt. It wasn't a warning. It was a sign. The last time he'd seen snow had been up on the mountain. So much had been lost up there, but the snow had fallen nonetheless, fresh and clean, over all that ugliness. Phoenix took a deep breath, drawing in the breeze, the cool air, the scent of the flowers. Everything.

That night, Phoenix found himself opening that drawer again and looking at that photo. Frail and creased in his hands, but bright. He smiled down at Mia's face, at the crinkle in her nose. "I know," he said. "Whatever you say, Chief."

Phoenix knew a few people, and he had a few strings to pull. He had friends, and that mattered. Everyone needed a friend, didn't they? Especially when they'd gotten into some trouble. That was why Phoenix found himself walking through the doors of Central Prison with a cup in hand. White paper, the steam from the black coffee inside still rising from the hole in the lid. He talked to the guard, who'd been informed of the situation.

The prison hallways had gray painted walls. They smelled of bleach. They must have been cleaned earlier that day. The strong smell of the cleaner almost killed the coffee's richer, finer scent, but Phoenix kept the cup close, and the coffee was not completely overpowered. The visiting room was large, not to mention crowded that day, lines of tables surrounded by stiff plastic chairs, filled with both the hopeful and the hopeless.

It wasn't hard to pick out Diego Armando in any crowd, his legs long beneath he table and his visor bright. He turned his head as Phoenix entered the room, like someone who'd been waiting. Hopelessly or hopefully? Phoenix wondered. He was about to find out. He raised the paper cup in a kind of toast before he moved from the doorway forward into the uncertain future.

***


Mia smiled. It was time to go. She'd done what she set out to do. She felt Diego drink up the steam rising off his coffee. Felt Phoenix gasp out a slightly awkward laugh. For the last time, and that was all right.

Date: 2011-07-03 11:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] luckykitty.livejournal.com
That was lovely!!! Thank you so so so much. *happiness*

I love to see the three of them happy... Even though it makes me sad to think of Mia moving on, of course she must, and I loved seeing how you gave her final act. And I love to think that Phoenix and Diego remain friends beyond their shared caring for Mia.

*happiness again!!!*

Thank youuuu <3333

Date: 2011-08-01 04:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] foxysquidalso.livejournal.com
I am the slowest commenter of all, but I'm so happy you liked the story! ♥ ♥ &hearts. I tried my best to please. I do like to think of the three of them being happy, too, of course.

And you already know I have a soft spot for Phoenix and Diego being friends.

Thank you! And it was my pleasure--you picked a really great prompt.

Date: 2011-07-04 12:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] redvelvetaddict.livejournal.com
Awwwww I kept making little exclamations of ADORABLENESS during this entire thing! It turned out great :3
I love Phoenix's concern, and Diego's stubborn doofishness, and Miaaaa gettin' her mans to GO FOR THE FUTURE <3

Date: 2011-08-01 04:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] foxysquidalso.livejournal.com
Awww, thanks so much, I'm so glad you liked this! ♥!

That's right, Mia, YOU TELL THOSE MEN WHAT TO DO. They need the help, ha ha ha.

Date: 2011-07-04 06:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sam-cc.livejournal.com
Dawww, this was so very sweet. ;A;

I love these three, so it's nice to see them so well written. And I like your take on the relationships from Mia's point of view, too many people regard her relationship with Diego to be completely perfect, so I appreciate her thoughts in regards to perhaps it might not have lastest. But everything rang true here, Phoenix and Diego being brought together was very sweet and I really enjoyed reading it.

Date: 2011-08-01 04:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] foxysquidalso.livejournal.com
Thank you so much, Sam! I'm a little late replying, but I really appreciate the comment, and I'm so glad you enjoyed the story. ♥ I love those three too, and the different ways they relate to each other.

I think Mia and Diego's relationship could have lasted definitely, and I do love them as a pairing, but like many relationships, I think it would have taken a lot of work, especially with two strong personalities.

I love that Lana and Mia icon, by the way!

Date: 2011-07-05 05:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] armistice-day.livejournal.com
Haha, I really ran the gamut here, from touched, to amused, to saddened, to hopeful-- such a wonderful little story.

Oh, the ghost and the doofus and the cool guy. I can never get enough of the honest, natural way you write them all. A perfect resolution to an episode shared at different points in time.

There aren't enough hearts in the whole of the internet, but I'll leave a few here anyhow. ♥ ♥ ♥

Date: 2011-08-01 04:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] foxysquidalso.livejournal.com
Thank you so much! I'm so glad you enjoyed this one. Ha ha, "The Ghost, the Doofus, and the Cool Guy" would be a great alternate title, I agree.

I really appreciate it. ♥

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