Every inch of her body cried out in pain as she lay on the ground. Her vision swam, her thoughts watery and distant as she tried to understand what exactly happened for her to end up like this. One moment, everything was fine, and the next, the world was upside down, and she felt like a truck had just crashed into her.
With slow, careful movements, she pushed herself up until she was sitting. Her head throbbed at the shift, and her hands burned when they pressed against the ground to support her weight. She looked at them, flexed her fingers and watched as the raw, sensitive flesh strained over the muscle. Burns. She'd been holding a piece of evidence, and it...it must have exploded. The entire room was a mess, covered in ash and debris.
A loud, piercing shriek filled the air. An alarm no doubt, the courthouse would have to be evacuated, all civilians sent home on the off chance there was another bomb hiding somewhere. A humorless, hollow laugh left her. She'd been a lawyer for all of a year and this was the second time something had blown up during a case she'd working on. Was this just a part of the job? An occupational hazard? She'd have to ask her boss about...
Her lungs didn't seem to be working right. She could feel the muscles in her diaphragm expand, the smoky air enter her mouth and throat...but she couldn't hear the rush of air when she inhaled. The soundless laughter broke off in a strangled gasp, lips parted to take in as much oxygen as she could, but still, there was nothing.
More than that, she realized, a cold chill running up her back. Her heart wasn't beating. She sat there, frozen, eyes unfocused and unseeing as she listened for the steady thumping that had followed her all her life. It wasn't there. All she heard was the alarm. Fingers scrabbled over the cloth of her shirt, clutching at her chest, a stab of panic jolting its way through her. Why wasn't her heart beating?
Were her injuries really that bad? Was she dying? Sure, she was burned, but there wasn't anything she would have deemed fatal. Maybe it was the impact? Internal damage?
A dull throb pulsed through her head and in her chest, fast and painful. Tilting her head back, she pressed two fingers into the side of her neck. The frantic rhythm of her heart pounded strong, and for the first time in her life what she felt and what she heard didn't match.
Something touched her arm, and she screamed. She was screaming, screaming loud enough that it hurt her throat, but her ears told her that she wasn't making a sound. In her haste to jerk away from whatever it was, she toppled over, the floor hitting her side. Scrambling against the cold tile, she found her balance and stood, her legs shaking under her weight. She made it all of three steps before hitting the wall face first.
Disoriented, unable to tell where in the room she was, she turned around. Backed into a corner, she faced down her opponent, ready to defend herself if she had to.
...it was...human. She stared hard at the figure, teeth bared in a snarl. Their expression shifted, but she couldn't tell what emotion looked out from behind their eyes. They put their hands up, palms out to her, their mouth moving. Talking, but as with her own voice, she couldn't make anything out.
The figure was dressed almost completely in blue. Athena paused, her stance faltering.
"...boss?" she said, and after a moment of hesitation, he nodded.
He'd heard her. His mouth moved again, but no matter how hard she listened, all she could pick up was the ringing. Slowly, she brought a hand up to one of her ears. There was a sticky wetness there, and her fingertips came away bloody. She looked up at him, watching his expression change again.
"...Mr. Wright?" Softer now, more like a plea than a question. The moment the name was out of her mouth, Phoenix came forward, gently tugging her away from the wall to enfold her in a hug. She clung to him, ignoring the pain in her hands to clutch at the cloth of his suit.
He was still holding her when the ambulance arrived.
She couldn't tell one emergency technician from the other as they crowded around her, one white coat indiscernible from the next. They took her vitals, careful to make sure she knew they were about to touch her before doing so. There were other people, further away, a blur of movement and clashing colors. One of them approached, the red suit and spiked bangs telling her it was Apollo.
They were talking. Everyone was talking to everyone else, and one of the doctors was tugging at her, coaxing her toward the ambulance. They kept their grip focused on her upper arms so as to avoid the burns. Before they could close the back of the vehicle, Phoenix climbed in, and was immeadiately confronted by a doctor.
Athena knew the rules. She knew that they were going to fight anyone coming with her if they weren't a blood retaliative. Before any of them could chase him out of the ambulance, she pulled her hand free from the one trying to bandage it, and grabbed for the older lawyer. She frowned pointedly at them while tugging him closer.
They let him stay.
The next several hours passed in a blur of activity and motion. Upon arriving to the hospital, they moved her inside, through what felt like an endless series of rooms that melted together into one incoherent mess. Athena kept close to Phoenix, an arm interlocked with his own as the paramedics let the way. He was the one solid thing she could cling onto.
Her chest rose and fell, her feet hit the ground beneath her. But with this noise in her ears, she couldn't hear any of it. She clicked her tongue, but the expected echo of the sound bouncing off the walls didn't return to her.
It was like her mind was floating in space. Like nothing around her actually existed, and she found herself tightening her grip on her boss's arm. She stumbled over her own feet, had to depend on him to steady her and keep her from walking into those around them. A doctor put his hand on her shoulder, and she cried out at the unexpected contact. Phoenix pulled her closer in response, his hand brushing over an unburned section of her arm.
They were made to wait in a room. She assumed it was small, examination rooms usually were. They had her sit on the hard, uncomfortable bed, and wait for someone to come look at her. Phoenix settled down next to her, a weight at her side, warmth and contact with an arm draped around her.
She stared at the walls in front of her, a mass of white that stretched over head, a dark grey underneath. There was no telling how far away it was, how big it was, where one wall started and another stopped. She had no idea where she was in relation to anything else, except for the bed under her, and the man beside her.
"...they can fix this, right boss?" she said, and she might as well have been screaming in a vacuum. Her eyes burned, her breath came too hard, too fast, and she clenched one of her injured hands into a fist to prove to herself that she was still there. "They're going to fix this. And...and I'll be fine! Like Apollo says! I'll be fine! They can fix this, they can fix this and I'll be fine. I'll be..."
A shudder ran down her back, her chest tight, and she had no way of knowing for sure but she thought she was stumbling over her words. Could he understand her? Was she talking loud enough? Was she too loud?
More weight, he pulled her closer, all but pulling her into his lap, his arms coiled about her while her head tucked under his own. Slow, careful motions, back and fourth, rocking her. Wetness in her eyes, leaving behind dark spots on his coat as he rubbed little circles into her back.
His breath was warm against her hair. He was saying something, talking, perhaps to calm his own nerves. Another sob shook her, and he let her cry into him. She couldn't remember the last time something hurt her enough to make her cry, not since she was young, back in those first days after Simon went away, after her mother went away, after Aunt Aura started hating her and she was alone.
She wasn't alone now, she knew she wasn't, but that didn't stop the feeling that if she couldn't hear Phoenix, then he wasn't there. That was the way it had always been. She always knew where everything was because of her ears, and now that was gone, and there was nothing there.
It was a long time before the tears stopped. Before he pulled away to dry her face with his sleeve. She murmured an apology, sore, puffy eyes looking up into his face, and she couldn't make any sense of the expression she saw there.
When the doctor came, the first thing he did was take off the bandages from her arms to properly clean her burns and give her fresh bandages.
The next thing he did was look at her ears.
She cringed as she felt the tube go in, easing the canal open so he could peer inside. The nozzle came back bloody, and he switched it out for a clean one when he checked the other side.
They were talking, and she had no idea what they were saying.
"...can you fix it?"
She'll be fine. They can fix it. They have to. She can't have had ears that were that sensitive only for them to break all in one go. Her ears had to have been stronger than that.
The doctor raised a finger, before stepping away to collect a clip board and a pen.
He wrote on a clean sheet of paper, then held it out for her to read. That was easier to do, she could focus on the written word.
"Miss Cykes. I regret to inform you that massive damage has been done to your eardrums. The sound waves from the explosion tore them both. I'm sorry, but your hearing isn't going to return."
Phoenix held held her while she read, as he had done throughout their wait.
"But...but what is this ringing? I can hear ringing. It's not going away."
The doctor responded, "It's called Tinnitus. The ear drum is made of many tiny nerves clustered together. Those nerves can be damaged to the point of no longer picking up sound, but the brain doesn't stop trying to translate noise from them. The result is a perception of sound when none is there."
...in other words, she's litterally hearing the damage to her ears.
Phoenix moved, pulling the clipboard away from the doctor.
"We'll get through this. You're going to be alright, Athena. I'm here for you."
She stared at the words, her chest feeling tight again.
"...how?" she asked. "How are we going to get through this?"
How is she going to do her job? How is she going to investigate crime scenes, interrogate witnesses?
How is she even going to recognize the people around her? Not everyone wears color coded clothes like Phoenix and Apollo.
How is she going to perform therapy sessions without being able to read her patients?
"We're going to work together. You'll have our support. Not just mine, Athena, you'll have Apollo, and Prosecutor Blackquill, too. We aren't going anywhere."
As if to back up his word, he continued to stick by her side. From the doctor's office, to the room they assigned her. They were keeping her for the night, and he didn't leave her once. Which was against the rules, but she wasn't going to complain.
In the morning, they let her go home. There wasn't anything else they could do for her, save give her painkillers and schedule a follow up appointment so they could keep an eye on her while she healed.
It was slow going, but she did heal. The pain in her arms faded, although the pain in her ears never would. Tinnitus was permanent, she would hear that ringing for the rest of her life.
Her friends paid close attention to her in the following weeks. Blackquill fussed over her like a mother bird, Apollo walked her through several pep talks, Trucy discussed her magic tricks with her. When everyone else was gone, Phoenix made it a point to be there. Athena wasn't left alone in the house for more than a few minutes at a time.
She practiced trying to tell people apart with Phoenix and Trucy. They both wore blue, so she had to find other ways to differentiate between the two of them.
Trucy wore a hat, for one. Phoenix had a gold badge on his chest. So one was slightly more blue than the other. It was a start.
The other challenge was having to learn to rely on her eyesight after a lifetime of perceiving the world through her hearing. At this point, she couldn't walk through her own house without running into things, managed to break a picture frame off the wall from bumping into it.
Learning sign language was going to be tough, because of this. Not for a lack of trying, her boss brought her several books from the library, and she was studying them often. It wasn't that she wasn't getting the gestures, it was trying to translate them when other people used them. Her friends were learning sign right beside her, but she could only understand what they were trying to say when they were signing right in front of her face.
It was frustrating. They tried to tell her it was okay to take a while, but it was frustrating never the less.
Phoenix promised her that he wouldn't replace her. Her job would be there when she was ready to return to it. And even if she couldn't get back to the courtroom, she'd always have a place in the agency.
She wasn't going to take that for an answer. Athena still wanted to be a lawyer, and she was going to give it everything she had. She'd learn sign language, get an interpreter, and go back to taking trials. She was going to give it her all, as she'd always done.
Her boss was right. She wasn't alone, and she could get through this.