A Single Step

"Go away." She barely mumbled it, but she knew he heard her; the same way she knew it was him on the other side of the door. He was the one who kept leaving the messages on her answering machine, kept her cell phone buzzing with missed calls until she threw it across the room in disgust. She just lay in her bed and stared at the ceiling, tracing and retracing the pattern first with her finger, than with her eyes when her arm dropped numbly onto the bed. Over and over, swirling in and out. It was all she could do to keep her thoughts moving, keep them moving and not in a standstill on the one thing that would overpower all other thoughts.

She heard the knock again and wondered dimly if people could be living normal lives out there, as if nothing had happened. She wondered about Diego, thinking he had probably told Grossberg she was sick or given some other excuse for her absence. Of course, she never got sick enough to stay away from work… but there was no way she could get up the willpower to set foot in the office. Not now.

And then she heard his voice, slightly raspier than usual.

"Kitten? I know you're there."

She didn't want him to see her like this… she couldn't pretend everything was normal. She couldn't open the door and greet him the way she always did, offer him a hot cup of coffee. So the young woman remained sitting on her bed, staring listlessly out the small window to a cheerless city street.

The anguish of her heart showed itself plainly on her features. Her eyes were lifeless, missing some vital spark. She wore a wrinkled shirt that hung limply from her slender frame and a pair of sweatpants, sharply contrasting the neat suits she liked to wear to work. Her long, brown hair was pulled up into a straggly ponytail, uncombed and uncared for. Her face was blotchy and red from tears, and over her whole person hung an air of defeat.

"Mia. Don't think you're going to chase me away that easily."

The sound of her name made Mia cringe. She couldn't find the energy to open the door and scream at him, to tell him she wished he would leave and not return. Her feelings stretched her between two terrifying things- she couldn't let him see her in this state of complete weakness, but neither could she bear the thought of him leaving. Because that would leave her alone… all alone….

Fear seized the crumpled figure lying on the unmade bed and allowed her to stumble towards the door, feel for the latch. The door swung open. Mia had expected to pretend, to cover up the pain with the largest smile she could bear, telling him she would be okay, that things would get better.

But when her eyes fell on Diego's face, the world started to spin. She collapsed, dropped onto his chest. Suddenly, she was crying- great, heaving sobs that came from the depth of her heart. His arms closed around her- and she blacked out.

When the door opened, the man on the other side was torn by what he saw. He didn't see an unkempt young woman who looked as if she had slept in the same clothes for four days… he saw the woman he had failed to protect and now was failing to look after.

….Exactly four days… exactly four days in which he had covered for her at the office, made numerous calls to her apartment, and even left fast food outside of her door when she didn't respond. But today, he knew he had to get in. Not only to her apartment, but into her heart. He knew he might lose her if she wouldn't let him in; he couldn't leave her alone any longer.

His heart broke if ever a man's heart did when he laid eyes on her. To him, the most beautiful creature on earth- so despairing, so helpless. She rushed to him, stumbled- passed out. He cradled her gently, feeling that she was a delicate and fragile thing and might break if he held her too tightly.

Mia woke up some minutes later to the smell of hot coffee, accented by Diego's strong cologne. It was a scent that filled the office every day and brought to her mind memories of the trial she wanted to lay aside… yet it was also so comforting, in a way Mia couldn't quite grasp. Lying on her couch, she looked up at him and felt the comfort flow through her mixed with the pain.

Diego kneeled, and she opened her mouth to speak, but he spoke first. "Don't shut me out, Mia." His large, rough hand was holding hers, gentle and warm- if ever anything could seem warm in this cold world. It seemed to him that her fingers barely grasped his. Tears trickled down her face, and he gazed at her sadly. Then he impulsively put his arms around her and held onto her. He didn't know how long it was until she pulled feebly away, chokingly gasping, "You don't have to be here, Diego."

There was nothing of his confident, teasing self in his expression as he whispered, "But I do, Mia. I'm as much in this as you." She tried to sit up, to protest, to say that the trial had been her battle and she alone had lost it, but crumpled in his arms before the words could form. Tenderly, he laid her back down again.

"Mia, have you been eating?"

Her only response was to look away. Rising, he helped himself to the contents of her fridge and added creamer and sugar to his steaming black coffee until it was tame enough for her taste. Mia watched him, her eyes following his every move, until he returned with the microwaved pizza.

Mia looked at the food and turned away, shaking her head. The tears had left trails down her cheeks and a few strands of hair clung to the wet drops. Something about her melted the edge around Diego's heart, the same something that pulled at him and stirred things deep within.

"No, Diego... I can't."

"Mia!" His voice was insistent. She knew she could only obey. "You can't hurt your body like this. Hurting yourself physically isn't going to stop the pain inside."

"No… but it makes it easier to ignore."

He bent his head over the food, pulling the pizza into bits with his fingers, holding back the tears that threatened to fall. He put a bite in her mouth and watched her chew. Diego ran his fingers affectionately down the side of her face. Oh, he knew it- he was in love with this woman. It had appeared seemingly out of nowhere. She had walked into his life and that one trial had changed both of them. He couldn't remember the exact moment he fell in love. He just knew that when he left court that day, he would have done anything to protect that woman who had stood by his side at the defense's bench.

"Does it taste good, Kitten?" He asked softly.

"Diego, I can feed myself." Mia mumbled, focusing her tired, bloodshot eyes on his deep brown ones.

"Of course you can, Kitten. I just like feeding you." The slightest hint of a smile on his unshaven face… then Diego curled her hands around the warm mug, holding them as she drank.

It was a slow meal; bite by bite, sip by sip… but he knew each one was a step towards the light. He knew she would have to continue taking life like this- in bite-sized pieces- until that incident, that case, was no longer looming over her. And he would never rest easy either until the woman behind this was locked away for good…

Mia smiled gratefully at Diego when the plate was clear and the mug empty. At least, it was the closest she could come to a smile. Only her lips moved; there was no change in her eyes. Still, it was something, Diego noted. A tiny step, but a step nonetheless.

"Feel better, Kitten?" It was a pointless question. He knew it. But with all his heart he just wanted to take the pain off of her shoulders and bear it himself. It was almost too much for him to see the strongest woman he knew broken down like this…

After a moment's silence, she whispered something.



"Can we turn on the TV?"

He nodded and settled down next to her, Mia's head resting on her shoulder because she lacked the physical or emotional strength to sit up on her own. One arm went around her, just holding her close to him. He didn't realize how weak she was until he noticed how her hands were trembling. He took one of her hands and covered it with his own.

"Diego… why are you doing this?"

The words were quiet, jumbled together, as if speech was a great effort for her. She, Mia Fey, who was never without something to say and say loudly.

"Because, Mia… I... I saw something in you that most people don't have. You have faith, and it's a beautiful thing. Don't let this take it away. Don't lose that beautiful innocence that looks out from your soul. I can't let you suffer, because you did nothing wrong."

He didn't tell her everything… not yet.

Mia leaned against him, her whole body trembling now. He thought maybe she would cry, but the tears didn't come. Instead she looked up, deep into his eyes. There was a spark of life there still- he could see it. He hadn't lost her yet.

Before he knew it, her lips were on his, and she was kissing him- weakly, but it was still a kiss. He returned it, not sure what it meant for their future, only that it was a step, a big step.