Disclaimer: Hi I'm not dead I work six days a week and ten hours a day and a lot of overtime and it is a very physically demanding job so I spend a lot of time just collapsing in a heap and sleeping like the dead til I can get back to work

thank all the Norse gods and several other pantheons while we're at it that I really love my job


Without Wings

XIII.


Diego was stable, but still unconscious. Miles reluctantly revealed that the doctors weren't sure he'd ever regain consciousness. Phoenix would have liked to ask for more information but didn't want to distract Miles any further from driving.

They met Detective Gumshoe at the office. He looked just as down as he had that morning.

Quickly, Phoenix gave him the memo from Maya. Gumshoe read it, scratched his head, and sighed. "Well, pal, I probably shouldn't be doing this but… I checked the phone already, I didn't notice any suspicious call records. So, here you go."

Phoenix swiftly slipped the phone into his pocket to listen to later. He didn't want to make Gumshoe suspicious now, not if that meant the detective would take the phone back.

Besides, Phoenix admitted to himself guiltily, he wanted to hear Mia's voice again himself. At least once.

No one would begrudge him that, right?

While he was playing with the phone in his pocket, his hand closed around the ring. Phoenix's eyebrows drew together and he sighed. He wished they'd done something different. Maybe if he and Maya had gone in with Diego, they could have made a difference.

Maybe if they'd never stopped at home first, if they'd just gone straight to the office like Maya had wanted, they'd have been in time to save Mia- and without Diego getting injured. Maybe if Phoenix had gone in first, like he should have, no one else would have had to get hurt. At least if something happened to him, it wouldn't tear their little family apart the way losing Mia was going to. She was the one who'd brought them together in the first place, she was the one who held them together, and she was the one who convinced the rest that they deserved each other.

She'd convinced Phoenix that he could be more than just Miles' silent shadow.

The least he could have done was save her.

It was too late now, but he could still save Maya. Phoenix tried to get Gumshoe to understand that he'd like to see the autopsy report- he couldn't sign autopsy, assuming there even was a sign for it, but it wasn't like Gumshoe knew sign language anyway.

Miles either understood what his friend was trying to say or was thinking along the same lines, since he asked, "Has an autopsy been done?"

"Uh, yeah. But… pal… I'm not really supposed to…" At the look on Miles' face, Gumshoe trailed off, then sighed. "Yeah. I guess it can't hurt to give you a copy, huh?" He scratched the back of his head. "Listen, I… could get in trouble for this, but… Mia was my friend too, y'know?" he finished awkwardly. "And so are you, pals. So… take the autopsy report and go. Don't talk to the witness, don't get me into trouble."

"Witness?" Miles asked sharply.

"Yeah, Miss April May. She was in the hotel- hey! Stop that!" Gumshoe tried to glare and ended up looking more like Pesu did when he was pretending he hadn't gotten into the trash. "Don't you trick me into giving away case details!"

"Wouldn't dream of it," Miles promised, grasping Phoenix's sleeve to steer the other man out of the office ahead of him. There was still the option of exploring the inner office, but… well, Miles doubted the other police on the scene would allow that, and he frankly didn't think he was up to seeing it anyway.

It was bad enough that Phoenix and Maya had rushed in and seen their mentor and sister fading from the world.

Miles wasn't sure whether to be relieved or upset that they could easily walk to the hotel. (It was across the street, after all- it would be ridiculous not to walk). On the one hand, it was a lot easier to hold a conversation with Phoenix when they were walking.

On the other hand, he wasn't sure he was feeling up to a conversation just now.

So Miles did the same thing he'd done ever since they were children. He simply didn't look in Phoenix's direction, instead shoving his hands in his pockets and pretending to be completely absorbed in the act of crossing the street.

It was cruel, and he knew it. At least, he knew it now- Miles reflected with a pang that he'd hardly thought twice about just ignoring Phoenix when they were younger. It had seemed such a normal thing to do. After all, he was the only one in the von Karma household who ever paid any real attention to Phoenix. Franziska had started to acknowledge him more as they got older and as the three had started to band together more out of a desperate need for affection, but she found it all too easy to dismiss Phoenix even now.

Miles could still see, out of the corner of his eye, Phoenix trying to sign something to him. After he caught the words hospital and better? he didn't want to know anymore, so he sped up a bit, forcing Phoenix to speed up too.

Sighing, Phoenix let his hands drop to his sides and trudged after his friend into the hotel. It looked like the brief conversation outside the detention center had been a fluke. If he couldn't even get his best friend to listen to him… well, watch him, anyway… what chance did he have communicating with anyone else?

Miles continued to ignore him as they started up the staircase. Miss May was on one of the top floors, and there was an elevator, but… well. It was an elevator.

The worst of it was that Phoenix couldn't even bring himself to be angry.

He had been, a few times, when they were still young and had just been getting accustomed to Germany. Miles had been upset that Phoenix had quit trying to talk at all, even at night when they were alone. So he'd taken to ignoring Phoenix- until, he'd said, Phoenix quit messing around and just said something. Anything.

When Phoenix started to try- try, because he hadn't known any real sign language then, just various hand signs that Miles was used to interpreting- to sign I tried, I can't, I'm sorry Miles had refused to look at him.

Then, Phoenix had been angry. Why should Miles be upset? He still had a voice.

He'd been angry and he'd been obvious about it right up until von Karma had caught on.

Shuddering, Phoenix rubbed at the scar on his neck. He could still remember the feeling of that choker being pulled on hard enough to actually choke him. If he let himself, he could still feel the panic-inducing sensation of it restricting his airflow as von Karma lectured him in a low monotone.

He could still hear the recriminating words, even as his mind shied away from them. The lecture had been over how he had no right to be angry at Miles, how it was only thanks to Miles that Phoenix hadn't been left to the foster care system again, how it was to be expected that Miles would grow angry with Phoenix for being imperfect. von Karma had told him, shaking him, making him tear up and bring his hands up to try and force the choker even just a little further away from his neck, that Phoenix could never be anything but imperfect and had no right to be angry at Miles for being better than he was.

So Phoenix wasn't angry, even if he wanted to be, as he trotted up the stairs behind Miles. He told himself that repeatedly- he wasn't angry.

When they finally reached Miss April May's room, he was still telling himself that.

The witness in question turned out to be beautiful, bouncy, and apparently brainless. Unfortunately, she had just enough sense to prevent them from investigating the single suspicious thing in her room; the drawer that had been hastily left open.

"And who might you be?" Miss May inquired sweetly when she glimpsed Phoenix behind Miles. "Hmm, you're a lot cuter than your friend. Come on out where I can see you?"

Hesitantly, already not sure he liked this woman, Phoenix stepped out from behind Miles. As the woman studied him shamelessly he crossed his arms and glanced down at the carpet.

"Tee hee, silly!" she giggled. "Look at me, I want to see those gorgeous baby blues."

Startled, Phoenix's head snapped up and he stared at April May, confused.

When she moved closer Miles abruptly moved between them again, cutting off Phoenix's line of sight. "Miss May. Are you or are you not going to tell us what you witnessed the night of the murder?"

"Oh, you sound just like a lawyer from the movies," April May gushed. "Hmm, I dunno. Maybe if your cute friend there asked me?"

"I'm afraid that's only possible if you're familiar with American Sign Language," Miles said, not moving from his place in front of Phoenix.

Immediately the woman's demeanour became, if possible, even more falsely concerned. Simpering, she said, "Oh gee, I'm sorry about that! Tell him I'm sorry?"

Miles tried not to snap at her as he said stiffly, "Phoenix can hear you just fine himself. He's mute, not deaf."

Phoenix rubbed the back of his head, letting his gaze drop to the floor again. He really didn't want to be doing this; he only wanted to hear whatever the witness had to say so that he could get back to defending Maya.

Hold it- he was defending Maya. This was his case.

He should be the one asking questions right now.

Suddenly determined again, Phoenix started signing to Miles.

"What's he saying?" Miss May asked, watching Phoenix's hands move in fascination.

"He wants to know what you saw," Miles translated.

"Oh!" April May giggled again. "I'm sorry, I can't tell you that."

That was all they could get out of her.

"Now what?" Miles sighed when they were back outside the building.

Tiredly rubbing a hand over his eyes, Phoenix handed him the note with Grossberg's address and signed, Need to talk with him.

Miles unconsciously imitated his friend as he passed a hand over his eyes. "All right. We don't have anything to tell Maya just yet, so we'll drive over there."

To Phoenix's great frustration, it took Miles only a few minutes and a minimum of words to be let in to Grossberg's office. The man himself still wasn't there, which eased Phoenix's frustration a little, but not enough to really matter. At least they'd been allowed to wait for him, not simply turned away at the door.

If the front desk had even given him enough time to write a note, Phoenix thought tiredly, he could have had his interview with Grossberg by now.

That is, assuming Grossberg himself either knew sign language or had the patience to let Phoenix write everything down. Judging by his staff, Phoenix wouldn't count on that.

Actually, judging by simple statistics Phoenix wouldn't count on that. Sign language was a language, after all, and it was rare anyone without reason to learn it bothered to do so.

That line of thought led down dark paths, so Phoenix started looking around the office to distract himself. The place was outlandishly over-the-top; mahogany furniture, a cigar case that looked like solid gold, an oil painting that probably cost more than everything Phoenix had ever owned combined. (Which wasn't actually saying much, considering, but still).

All that, and yet not one book looked read.

Phoenix was starting to have serious misgivings.

Before he could get Miles' attention, though, he was pulled from his investigation of their surroundings by the sound of someone loudly clearing their throat.

"So you've been looking for me, I hear," Grossberg said as soon as they turned around to see who it was. Grossberg did not look at all the way Phoenix had imagined him.

Or maybe Phoenix was just disinclined to be polite at this point, especially as Grossberg had taken one look at them both and chosen to ignore Phoenix and address Miles.

"Phoenix is here to ask you to defend Maya Fey," Miles said shortly, clearly not liking Grossberg any more than Phoenix did.

Grossberg's entire demeanor changed abruptly at the mention of Maya's name. He acquired a hangdog look and started to stutter when he spoke. "Ah... Maya Fey. Yes. Go on. Er, be quick, I'm quite busy."

Doesn't look busy, Phoenix signed, earning himself an irritated look from Grossberg. Since Phoenix sincerely doubted the man knew sign language, the look was apparently solely for interrupting the conversation.

Phoenix was trying to be part of the conversation but that was clearly not happening any time soon.

It was difficult for the man to comment without knowing sign language though, so instead he talked over Miles as the younger man started to explain. "In fact I absolutely can't defend young Miss Fey, I'm afraid. A day's notice, hardly enough for anyone."

"We haven't even had a chance to ask yet," Miles snapped, stressing the we, before his expression grew thoughtful. "For that matter, nor have we had a chance to inform you the trial is tomorrow. How did you know that?"

"Look, it's impossible for me to defend her," Grossberg said, ignoring the question. "End of discussion."

Miles started to argue again, but as soon as Grossberg started muttering about how no lawyer worth his badge would take Maya's case Phoenix decided he'd had enough. He punched Miles lightly in the arm (Diego had gotten him doing that) to get his attention, then turned and headed for the door before Miles could come up with any reason not to.

Maybe Miles could simply stop watching Phoenix's hands, but Phoenix himself was perfectly capable of feigning deafness when he didn't want to listen.

They had only started down the street, not even near where Miles had parked, before he stopped Phoenix with a hand on his shoulder and a sigh.

"Now where?" he asked. "Back to see Maya?"

Phoenix nodded, hesitated, then added, I'll walk, meet you there. Need to think.

Miles didn't look happy with that idea. Thankfully, Phoenix's frequent trips to Kurain meant Miles no longer felt like he needed to shadow his friend everywhere, so after an even longer hesitation Miles nodded and went back to the car alone.

Three hours and no sign of Phoenix later, Miles was in a full-blown panic.

Phoenix, meanwhile, was lost and exhausted and of course it had started to rain, of course it had. Soaked through by now, because he hadn't dressed expecting to be out in the rain, he found an overhang between a couple of stores and huddled there as he went through his options.

He didn't have a cell phone, obviously, and it wouldn't have been any use to him if he had. Same problem with pay phones. Same problem, in fact, with trying to get help from passersby- if Phoenix had even thought he could realistically handle asking a complete stranger for help, which, when he thought about it, he had to admit he couldn't.

If I had a cell phone, I could at least try and send text messages, he thought in frustration, closely followed by, Wait, why don't I have a cell phone?

Because it had never occurred to any of them, of course. Which was a shitty excuse, but true. Who would he even call- well, text, anyway? He didn't actually have any friends that didn't either live with them or crash at their house so often they may as well have lived there. (Seriously, Gumshoe had spare clothing in the guest room and Larry had actually started leaving personal effects in the bathroom. It was getting ridiculous).

Phoenix pulled the whistle Franziska had given him some time back out of his pocket, stared at it, sighed, and put it back. It wasn't any use to him either, not without his friends around to hear it.

He'd really thought he was improving. He'd been an idiot.

Sure, I can manage out in public, he thought gloomily, so long as I have someone to babysit me. I'm not getting better, I'm still a fucking kid.

It didn't occur to him that a year before, he would never have thought of himself as needing to get better.