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The Last Drop - Part 3/3

Title: The Last Drop
Series: Phoenix Wright/Ace Attorney
Characters: Diego Armando/Godot
Rating: PG-13
Summary: Against all odds, Diego recovers from a five-year coma. But as his health improves, the rest of his life falls apart.

Part 1 | Part 2



A month later, Diego was wheeled into surgery. He slept for twelve hours in recovery, and when he opened his eyes the doctors had arrived with something metal, slightly heavy that they closed his hands around.

They guided his hands the first time, showing him the proper angle and position to put it on. Two latches, one on each side, fit comfortably behind the ears. It was fitted to him and would stay secure. Once the sensors made contact with the implant it would work, they explained.

It flickered and suddenly it was like someone had thrown a light switch in his head. He actually flinched, gasped, reached up to cover it to block the light—but the visor didn’t work that way, they explained. It had nothing to do with his eyes. It fed signals into the implant and along into the part of his brain that processed vision. It would work even in the dark.

And once the signal had righted itself and he noticed the headache developing, he also noticed the total lack of color.

“It’s not perfect,” the doctor explained. “It can’t interpret color and doesn’t display certain color signals at all, and it has a little trouble with some digital displays. But with the results of this technology there is the hope we may one day be able to correct blindness even in extreme cases. Thank you for your cooperation, Mr. Armando.”

He didn’t seem to be listening. He was busy examining himself, his thin body, the machines around his hospital bed that had kept him alive for five years.

The doctors brought him a mirror and he saw himself for the first time.

Nobody had told him about the hair. He sifted a hand through the ghostly white strands, fascinated at the contrast between them and his dark skin on the visor’s display. He traced the line of the visor around the side of his head and the three slots in the front of it. They couldn’t have made it more gaudy-looking if they’d built it out of neon green binoculars. It looked like the top view of a toaster. He looked like an extra from a bad science fiction movie. Toasterface.

His fingers traced over the shape of his face and his cheekbones, the scruffy goatee that had grown back after the nurses shaved his face a few weeks ago.

He still remembered what his face had looked like before, but…

Really, he couldn’t recognize himself.

------------------------------------------

Diego could picture it in his head as clearly as a movie.

She would come whenever she got a chance. Sometimes in the mornings, sometimes on her lunch breaks. Sometimes after court let out for the day and sometimes in the evenings. She would walk through the hospital doors and they would wave her in without security. She'd been here enough that they knew better.

She would come to the side of his bed and pull up a chair, and she would sit. She would reach out and take his hand, lacing her fingers together with his and squeezing, praying that he might squeeze back. She would brush the hair out of his eyes. She would trace his scratchy jawline and whisper in his ear. She would tell him about her latest case-- puzzling things out loud so that he might be able to offer his help. And though he stayed silent, she had a few epiphanies just vocalizing her thoughts to him. He was sure he'd helped her break at least one case by listening.

"Diego," she would say softly, pressing her forehead against his. "You'll be back soon. I can tell you're trying hard to come back to me."

She would watch for a moment to see if his eyes would flicker, if his fingers would move, if he would take an unsteady breath and suddenly come surging back to life. He never did, but that didn't mean anything. She would smile solemnly and lean down and kiss his lips, thinking of the fairy tales she used to read her little sister when they were younger. This was no magic kiss, however.

Still, he slept.

But perhaps next time. He'd certainly wake up next time. It had to be soon.

And she would wait as long as it took.

If only he would hurry. If only he would finally arrive. Today. Or tomorrow. Or the next day, or the day after that…

-----------------------------------------

It was really a miracle how quickly he was recovering, considering it was likely he might have never moved again. It wasn’t as though the patient had just stumbled out of bed and taken a few laps around the room. His muscles were damaged and so weakened that it was difficult for him to stay upright.

At last, it finally seemed he was ready to stand. It had taken months of physical therapy to even get to this point, and the doctors were still unsure he was strong enough, despite his constant attempts to prove them wrong.

The therapist was behind him, helping him stand and supporting his hands on the rails of the walker. His chest heaved and there were beads of sweat running down his face from beneath the glowing visor.

“That’s very good,” Dr. Silas told him. “Remarkable. It’s incredible that you’re able to stand so soon in your condition.”

The patient didn’t respond, gritting his teeth together as he forced himself to keep standing, even as Dr. Silas tried to gently pull him back down to the wheelchair. He seemed to resist for a few seconds, but slowly complied as she helped him sit.

“It’s important not to push yourself. With time and repetition your muscles should regain their strength again and you should be able to walk with some assistance within a few months.”

“I’m not a patient man, doc,” he said in a low voice.

Dr. Silas smiled sympathetically. “I’m sorry, Mr. Armando. But you need to be patient with this. I think that’s enough for today, so let’s get you ready to go back to your room.” She turned around to write a few notes on his chart.

And as soon as her back was turned, he leaned forward and clenched his hands around the rails. He exhaled a short breath and pulled himself up out of the wheelchair, stumbling slightly until he was fully standing and leaning against the walker.

Slowly, resolutely, he moved his arms to the side rails and began slowly pushing with his legs, inching himself forward with the squeak of wheels.

Dr. Silas suddenly turned around and nearly dropped the clipboard. “Mr. Armando!” she gasped and rushed forward to him. “That’s enough! You’re not ready!”

As though he hadn’t even heard her, he struggled to put one wobbling leg in front of the other. It didn’t take him far, just a few more inches, but the strain on his body felt like he may as well have been trying to lift a car.

“Mr. Armando! Please stop! You’ll only exhaust yourself!”

She tried to stop him herself, putting her hands on his back, but he tossed his shoulders to get her away from him as he kept pushing himself along.

“Mr. Armando! Diego—”

At last, Dr. Silas stepped in front of him and stopped him, catching the walker from the front. “Stop! You’re done for today! It’s dangerous to push yourself too hard!”

Gasping for breath, he glanced up at her and his mouth quirked into a bizarre smile. “Ha…! Why didn’t you say so?”

“I did say so!”

“Ah. Sorry,” he said. His arms and legs were starting to shake, and he began to slump just as Dr. Silas reached him with the wheelchair. “I didn’t know you were talking to me.”

-------------------------

He would not leave the hospital for another few months, but he would spend those months training himself.

He trained himself to stand up and to balance, ignoring the advice of the doctors that he simply wait until his weekly therapy. Once he could balance again, he trained himself how to walk. The doctors offered him crutches, but he threw them off to the side of the room as soon as they’d turned their backs. He would stand up from his bed and walk around the room slowly, stumbling, dragging his feet and clutching his IV stand to pull it along with him as he went.

He would make up little routines. Walk in the shape of letters. Walk to the window and back. Walk around the perimeter of the room fifty times. If he stumbled or fell, he had to start over again and keep going until he did it right.

Soon his balance was back to normal, but he still didn’t stop walking. The damage made him limp, and his exhaustion showed in his stride. He would straighten himself up and walk in a mimicry of perfect gait and posture. If he leaned or tripped or dragged his foot, he had to start over and keep going until he did it right.

He would leave his room and walk down the hall, slowly at first, but with near militant-perfection, never limping or taking a step out of line. He walked back and forth until it looked and felt natural again. Soon, unless he was tired, it became impossible to tell he had ever lost the ability to walk like a normal person.

With walking came the freedom to make his way around the hospital. He would visit the nurses, take the elevators up and down, raid the employee lounges for extra coffee when the orderlies refused to bring him any more. He went to the gift shop every day and took a newspaper to read in the waiting room.

People would always stare at him. Patients and visitors alike couldn’t help but notice the visor, the tan-skinned man with the striking white hair. They whispered and made comments, the staff often lectured him or told him off or tried to get him to break from his routines, but he would meet them all with a perfectly calm voice and a perfectly straight face.

He trained at it, until he could meet any reaction to his appearance with utter stoicism. Soon, that straight face became a smile.

Because the staff had learned quickly how pointless it was to argue with the visored man, he was more or less granted the run of the place. And despite how infamous he was with the staff, over time his name began to fade away. Everybody knew the name Diego Armando, but the man in the mask was beyond such a moniker. He never acknowledged it in any case. He didn’t need a name. He was just… him.

At last, one drizzly April day, he was finally discharged from the hospital. The papers had been signed, everything finalized, the insurance company had one of the largest claims in the history of their existence on file, and the masked man waited for them to bring him the last of his things he’d checked in with almost five and a half years ago.

Sealed in a plastic bag was a folded pair of men’s slacks, a dress shirt, shredded on the operating table, a suit vest and a black tie. He threw those in the garbage can in the lobby immediately.

Tucked underneath the clothes was a leather wallet containing expired credit cards and a California driver’s license, also expired. He pulled each of them out of their pockets long enough to look at them, then threw them carelessly into the trash. As he prepared to fold up the wallet, a lump was sticking out of the cash pocket.

It was a silver ring, just his style, and it had been a present for Diego’s birthday mere weeks before the incident. She had fretted for days before picking it out, trying to decide if he would like it or not. He’d loved it, of course, and teased about buying a ring for her in the near future. Mia had laughed, her face turning red, and he remembered feeling the swell in his heart as he realized he wasn’t joking about that.

“Wear it on this finger,” she’d said, helping him to slide it on his index finger. “We can move it over later, after it’s official.”

He squeezed the ring in his palm, then opened his hand and slid the silver band back onto his index finger where she’d placed it five years ago. The wallet was shoved back into his pocket.

The automatic doors slid open and he left, walking with perfect stride, not a hint of weakness in his step.

------------------------

He could picture it in his head as clearly as a movie.

There was a man sleeping in the hospital, a man who should have been in the prime of his life. He was a lawyer, handsome and successful, brought to his knees by poison and by the treachery of a pretty little woman with a heart as black and cold as hell itself. Like some kind of fairy tale prince, he lay there, day after day, with no sign of ever opening his eyes.

He had only one visitor. A beautiful woman would come whenever she could, and she would bring with her that charming smile and kind heart. She knew he couldn’t hear her, but she would speak with him anyway. She would talk to him, tell her about her day, murmur sweet nothings in his ear. She would stroke his hair and wash his face, hold his hand, crawl up into the bed with him, mindful of his fragile body and the cords that kept him alive. She would rest her head on his chest and sleep with him, where they could be together in dreams.

The man’s name… well, that didn’t matter anymore. All he had ever been was sealed away in memories. He would never awaken. The doctors had said so. He would spend the rest of his life in that bad, deep in the clutches of sleep. He would grow old and die in that bed and the beautiful woman who loved him would always continue to visit.

He was tragic. A pitiful tragedy.

Now, however, there was another man who had been in a strikingly similar situation as that sleeping lawyer. A man who had spent years sleeping as he crawled back from the depths of hell, then opened his eyes and saw nothing.

There was nobody who came to visit that man. He had no friends, no family, no lovers, no well-wishers. Nobody sent gifts or cards and nobody wished him a speedy recovery. There was nobody. Nobody would bother to look for him here.

Because people did not come looking for him. He went looking for them.

Any other man might have broken at this fate. Any other man would have fallen into despair. But not him. This man showed no signs of weakness. He was strong. He was cool. He was invincible. He could not be harmed by the aches and pains of recovery, nor by anything else. He existed like a ghost, slowly gaining strength, biding his time until he could leave this place and face the outside world.

But he was in no hurry. The world would wait for him as long as it took. Today, tomorrow, and the next day, and the next… they would wait for a lifetime if it meant having the chance to meet him, this unflappable god of a man.

Because he did not wait for anyone. He didn’t need to.

He was the one that everybody was waiting for.

---------------

Marvin Grossberg was weary and exhausted from a long day of research in preparation for his next trial. It was nearly 6:30 and he hadn’t planned to stay at the office this long… he’d just been ready to leave when he spotted what he thought might have been a contradiction in the court record. Pursuing it for an hour had ended fruitlessly.

He’d spoken on the phone with Dr. Goudy earlier that day, who had informed him that Diego had been released. After her death, Mia left most of her possessions to her sister, but there had been a tiny caveat in her will leaving what remained of Diego’s possessions to Grossberg to take care of until he woke up. She had been so certain it was almost heartbreaking.

Honestly, Grossberg didn’t know what to do about the situation. His old heart ached on Diego’s behalf. It had always been painful to think of what had happened to a man like him; a vibrant, colorful man who didn’t just live his life—he relished every second of it. It was tragic and sick that he should be robbed of it and reduced to a stagnant shell of himself—even worse that he should lose the only woman who ever managed to tame his wild heart while he was sleeping.

Grossberg had made a vow to do whatever he could for Diego, however little it was. He hadn’t had a partner in the firm since Robert Hammond was killed two years ago (he’d hesitated to hire another. His partners always seemed to meet… unfortunate circumstances), but Diego was an old friend and his job would certainly be waiting for him if he wanted it.

Perhaps that was the real reason why Grossberg had lingered so long at his offices—the hope that perhaps Diego would stop by. He wanted to be there when he came.

The clock struck half past six and Grossberg had finally given up. He neatly stacked all his files and paperwork together and slid them into his locked desk drawer, then gathered up his jacket, briefcase and car keys and prepared to head home.

There was someone standing in the hallway when he stepped outside the door. Grossberg nearly leaped two feet in the air in surprise.

“Oh! Good gracious!” he gasped out, backing against the opposite wall. He stared at the shadow for a moment—tall and broad-shouldered, white-haired and tan-skinned, his eyes covered by a metal visor that glowed red in the dim hallway. He wore a long dark coat and had his hands shoved in his pockets as though he had been casually leaning there against the wall for quite some time. Hanging from his belt was a travel thermos and it didn’t take a rocket scientist to guess what was inside it.

“Good evening, Mr. Grossberg,” the shadow replied, giving him an unmistakable smirk. “Were you waiting for me?”

Grossberg hesitated before speaking. “Diego,” he finally said through a dry throat. “Diego, my boy. Is it really you?”

“Why don’t you figure it out yourself?” he answered cryptically. “I’m here for his things.”

Grossberg chose to ignore the strange use of pronouns as he turned back to the office door—it had closed behind him and he was grateful for the need to unlock it. It kept him from staring. “Of course, of course… please, do come in. You’re as welcome now as you were then.”

“Thanks,” he replied coldly, and followed Grossberg inside. He seemed to tense as they stepped into the familiar old lobby—the unused reception desks, the couches still neat in a row, the magazines—they were even the same issues as before.

It wasn’t until they reached the back offices that he seemed to get very uncomfortable. Diego froze in the doorway as Grossberg headed over to his own desk and set his things down, digging in one of his drawers and nervously mumbling. “It’s so good to see you up and around, my boy… I have missed your personality around the firm. It’s been so quiet the past few years.”

Diego couldn’t stop staring at the quartet of desks, still in the same configuration they’d been in back then. There was Grossberg’s desk, the fine mahogany polished to a shine and the same gaudy fisherman portrait hanging on the wall over it. There was what used to be Mia’s desk, empty and bare—that’s right, she had her own firm just before…

His own desk was blank too, everything that had marked it as his gone or tucked away. The shelf where he’d kept his coffee machine now held a small stack of binders and a thriving geranium in a small flowerpot.

There was Hammond’s desk too, also spotless but strangely starting to gather a sheen of dust. He passed by it and ran one finger across the surface, making a clear line in the filth. “Hammy’s falling behind on his cleaning, I see,” the masked man commented quietly.

“Er,” Grossberg hesitated. “I’m… I’m sorry to say that Robert is no longer… with us.”

He looked up at the old lawyer quite suddenly. “He quit?”

“He passed away,” Grossberg corrected. “He was murdered two years ago.”

There was a moment of silence before the visitor responded. “Well. Doesn’t that seem to be the status quo around here.”

Grossberg had no idea how to respond to that, merely continuing the dig through his desk. “I suppose they told you that Mia gave me most of your things when she…”

“That’s why I’m here,” he interrupted sharply. “Small talk is for the small-minded, old man. That’s one of my rules.”

“Very well.” Grossberg finally dug out a small key and a slip of paper in a plastic storage bag. A small metal tag with a number on it was attached by the key ring. “I had your things put in this storage facility… the claim check is here and the number is on the slip.”

“Thanks,” he said as he took the key and quickly pocketed it.

An uncomfortable silence filled the room as Grossberg tried to search for something to say before Diego left—but he seemed to have sensed the scramble for words and appeared to be waiting for him to speak. He wandered over to Grossberg’s desk and leaned on the corner, idly reaching for a framed photograph leaning against the computer. It depicted the Grossberg and Co Law Offices in happier times, taken at one year’s holiday party—Grossberg his usual jolly self, Hammond posed with an unnaturally serious look on his face, Mia smiling awkwardly and Diego himself back behind her, a hand on her shoulder, a broad grin on his face and a coffee cup clenched in his opposite fist. He picked up the photograph and stared at it long and hard.

“Diego,” Grossberg finally said. “I cannot possibly understand the pain you must be in right now. I would like to say something to make it hurt less, but I don’t think there’s anything that would come close.”

“You’re probably right,” he replied rather coldly. He was still lost in gazing at the picture.

“All I can do is offer my sincerest condolences… as well as my help,” Grossberg went on. “If there’s anything I can do for you, let me know. I would be happy to have you as a partner in the firm again, when you’re ready to come back to work.”

“Yeah?” he murmured, his voice picking up the slightest interest. “You’d take back a broken, empty man like Diego Armando?”

“Come now, Diego. You’ve been through a lot, but I can sense the old fire in you. It’s still there, waiting to be released,” Grossberg said with a chuckle. “You’re still one of the greatest attorneys I’ve ever met.”

“That’s sweet of you to say,” he replied. “But I’m sorry to say that life has ended.”

“Nothing’s ended, Diego. It’s hard to see them beyond the pain, but there are many good years left for you. You’re still alive. You still have your youth,” Grossberg assured him.

“Good years? Ha…!”

He whirled on Grossberg, his voice taking a sharp turn. “What is youth? Arbitrary numbers—and that’s all. Your youth might be scented of fresh lemons, but mine smells like a hospital. Look at me.”

“Diego…” Grossberg interrupted hesitantly.

“God dammit, look at me!”

He smoothed a hand over his visor, raking his fingers back through his shock white hair. “This heap of junk is what I have to live with, this medical miracle freakshow of a body! I beat every odd there ever was, and this is my grand prize!”

Grossberg didn’t dare to say anything else.

“What’s left for me?” he shot back. “Riddle me that, old man. Tell me why I shouldn’t have just died in that bed. The woman I hate is already rotting in jail. And the woman I love is dead!” With that, he slammed the picture face-down on Grossberg’s desk. The glass in the frame shattered on its surface, causing Grossberg to jump.

“All that’s left,” he murmured, staring endlessly at the shattered glass on the desk, “is Lady Justice. She’s blind, just like me. And I will see her will be done.” A dark smile rose on his lips, tempered with rage and hatred. “Bet on it—she’ll prevail. But I can’t do it here.”

Grossberg swallowed nervously after a moment or so. “What do you mean?”

“Consider this my two week’s notice, five years overdue,” he replied. He drew the thermos from his belt and unscrewed the lid, pouring a cupful of steaming hot coffee into the lid and swirling it around to enjoy the aroma. “I’m going into battle on my favorite playing field—but I’ll never face my enemy if I don’t take up the opposing colors.”

“You’re…” Grossberg took a moment to decipher his usual dense metaphorical speech pattern. “What do you mean?”

“The days of defending the guilty are over. Diego Armando is dead. I will become a prosecutor,” he clarified. “I will take up the sword and destroy the wicked myself.”

“Diego, please don’t be hasty,” Grossberg sighed. “You’re in pain. You’re upset—that much I know. I know I can’t possibly understand the extent of it, but do you think this is the answer? Throwing away your career—your past?”

“Why not?” he replied. “They’re mine to throw away as I please.”

“I beg you, Diego don’t try to do this alone. You need help.”

“I don’t need any help,” he shot back. “You, the doctors, everyone seems to think so—but you’re wrong. I’m all I have left to count on in this cold world. There’s nothing left for me but my destiny, forged in the fires of hell and sealed in blood. My own life’s blood—” He held up the thermos lid of coffee and abruptly downed it, without even flinching at the temperature or the taste. “—Blacker than a moonless night, hotter and more bitter than hell itself—that is my fate. I’ll swallow it all.”

He screwed the lid back to his thermos and stood up, turning towards the door to leave. “Nobody else can handle the bitterness. I take it on myself—I am the one who must live with this damnation. And I intend to do it alone.”

“Diego,” Grossberg said quickly, shaking his head. “Please. Think of Mia—would she want you to do this?”

He blistered suddenly, spinning around and facing Grossberg with a furious snarl on his lips. “One more thing. Don’t call me that dead man’s name.”

“What…?” Grossberg hesitated.

“My name, and you would do well to remember it,” he said sharply, “is Godot.”
Tags: ace attorney, fic, godot
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