Hi guys, still remember me?
To everyone who's been waiting for (or has forgotten about) this story, a huge apology for the incredibly late update. I've been really, really busy. I also want to extend my thanks for your patience if you're still hanging around, and thanks for sticking with this.
To everyone who's just joining us, welcome and I hope you stay a while :)
I'm also a little worried. I haven't written in so long, so I hope that this isn't a complete disappointment. You might also want to reread the previous chapter - I know I had to, to get back in touch with my own story :P
I shall see you all at my End Notes :)
"Sis! How did it go? Did you get him a not guilty?"
"He-" Died. Mia faltered for only a moment, but it was long enough for Maya to realize something.
"Okay, you know what, sis? I'm coming over there. I'll catch the next train out of Kurain."
"But Maya, you can't just leave."
"Yes, I can," Maya said firmly. "You are my sister, and I can come and see you anytime I want. And even if I can't, I'll still do it."
"Maya," Mia's reproachful parental tone came out, but it died as quickly as it came. "Just be careful on the train, okay?"
Maya smiled on the other end as she rolled her eyes. "Yes, Mommy, I've taken the train on my own before."
"Oh, and one more thing."
"Thank you, Maya."
Mia was trying to clear her books of her pull-out couch when the doorbell rang.
"Did you remember to pack– oh."
It wasn't Maya.
"Diego? Um, would you like to come in?"
"Only if I'm not keeping you from your cleaning," he gestured to the array of items scattered around her living room.
"Oh, no, no, it's fine!" Flustered, and giving up on her cleaning, she shoved everything inside the closet and shut the door. "You can sit down…do you want coffee? I can make some," she offered.
"No, Mia, I'm okay," he chuckled slightly. "Just sit down."
"Just so that I don't come across as some kid of stalker, it was Mr. Grossberg who gave me your apartment address and sent me here. He heard about what happened and sends his condolences along with these…" Diego reached in to the plastic bag he'd brought with him. "Lemon cookies, lemon-scented candles, lemon spritz air freshener…and even lemon-flavoured toothpaste. He claims that the scent will do wonders."
"Lemon toothpaste? They make that?"
Diego laughed at seeing Mia's incredulous expression. "I'll take it that you're not a lemon fan either."
"Do you think he'll notice if I never come to work smelling like lemon?"
"Honestly, Kitten, by tomorrow, he won't even remember that he gave those to you. But that does remind me of the second thing…"
"Which would be?"
"Grossberg wants to know when you'll be ready to come back to work and take on a new case," he said, watching her expression.
She closed her eyes for a brief moment and took a deep breath in. "Tomorrow," she smiled at him.
"Tomorrow?" He raised an eyebrow.
"But only on two conditions. Firstly, I'm not taking a new case until I catch Dahlia Hawthorne."
"That's the Kitten I know," he smiled. "I'm sure I can arrange it. What's the second condition?"
"That you catch her with me."
His smile grew even broader. "Then she's as good as caught."
"You don't mind, do you?" she asked uncertainly. "I mean, it's fine if you'd prefer to take on other cases…I just thought that you wanted to catch her as much as I do."
"Of course I do. Besides, how could I ever turn down the lovely Mia Fey?"
A sudden crash outside interrupted their conversation.
"Ow, ow, ow!" a girl's voice yelped in the hallway. Upon hearing this, Mia leapt up to pull the door open.
"Maya! Are you alright?"
Maya looked up from her horizontal position on a luggage bag. "Oh. Hi, sis," she smiled sheepishly. "I, um, stubbed my toe on my bag and fell over."
"Oh Maya," Mia groaned, helping her sister up. "Will you ever get less clumsy?"
"Do you need help?" Diego offered, then smiled and extended his hand to Maya. "I'm Diego. I work with your sister at the law firm."
"Hi Diego! I'm Maya, and I'm a spirit medium…in training."
Something about that struck Diego as familiar, and he stared at her strangely for a moment before he started laughing. "You two are definitely related. Your sister said the exact same thing to me all those years ago when we first met."
"When you first met?" Maya echoed, raising her eyebrow and smiling impishly, throwing her sister a meaningful glance. Mia flushed and gave Maya a stern look in return.
Diego lifted Maya's bag to help her, only to stagger backwards from the weight. "What did you pack in here? Rocks?"
"I don't know…I might have."
Diego almost started laughing before he saw her face and realized that she was serious.
"I was in a rush," she explained. "So I just packed anything I saw within arm's reach. I think I may have brought my lamp…"
"Oh Maya," was all Mia could manage as she shook with laughter.
Diego shook his head, smiling, then turned to Mia. "I think I'll leave you two. Call me if you need anything, and I'll see you tomorrow, Kitten."
The moment the elevator doors closed on Diego, Maya nudged her sister. "Call me, Kitten," she winked.
"Maya!" her sister hissed.
"So when was this first time you two met?" Maya grinned mischievously.
Mia sighed, relenting. "He's the boy who gave me this scarf."
Maya's eyes widened. "Seriously? He's scarf-boy?" She jumped excitedly. "Do you like him, sis? Do you like him?"
Mia flushed scarlet. "Maya! Stop that!"
"You do like him!" Maya sang triumphantly, skipping back into her sister's apartment.
Do I? Mia asked herself. Oh no, Mia…what are you getting yourself into?
Mia had thought that working with Diego would be difficult to adjust to, but she fell into rhythm with her new work partner much more quickly than she'd expected. He had a witty sense of humour, but knew when to take her seriously; he had a diligent work ethic like her, but at the end of the day, he was always the one who stopped her from working too late.
Despite their relentless hunt for Dahlia Hawthorne, their conversations always managed to drift to something else. He asked questions that she'd never even considered, and she took her time gathering her answers, discovering things that she'd never realized about herself. He brought her to believe in herself, led her to face everything with perseverance and honesty, and taught her to be a little less harsh on herself. She in turn, brought them to constantly self-reflect; she was the perfectionist but also the emotional one, and she steered him to put his heart into whatever he did, like her.
Years later, the two of them would wish that they hadn't taken their time together for granted. Had they known how little time they had, they might have better treasured it.
Diego wasn't sure what it was exactly that attracted him to Mia. There was something very genuine about her, and he found himself opening up about things he never thought he would, completely comfortable with this woman he'd only known for a few months. They had found a way of connecting on a deeper level, and only then did Diego see how much had been lacking in his relationships with other people.
They were working late one night when the lights suddenly went out with a pop.
Diego groaned. "The fuse probably got blown. Sit tight, Kitten, I'll try to find the fuse box."
Ten minutes later, Diego returned to find Mia sitting on her desk, legs dangling, looking contemplatively out the window. He shone the flashlight in his hand at her. "Well, I found the fuse box, but I have no idea what to do with it."
Mia laughed. "It's okay. It's kind of nice like this, actually…the dark is comforting in its own weird way."
"Well, Kitten, if we're going to sit around enjoying the dark, then let's have some fresh air while we're at it."
Just behind the law offices was a little park and playground that provided a nice view out of the office window during the day. It was usually full of laughing kids, strolling adults, dog walkers and the like, but at midnight, it was dark and tranquil, the only sounds from the infrequent passing cars. Mia settled herself on a bench, and Diego sat down beside her.
"It's been so long since I've been to a playground," he shook his head wistfully.
"I feel so old now," she smiled, breathing in the warm, early spring air.
Diego leaned forward, musing something he couldn't seem to figure out. He turned to look at Mia questioningly, "You like the dark?"
Mia returned his questioning look. "Why do you find that strange?"
"Doesn't the dark hold a lot of uncertainty for you? You seem to be the type of person who likes being in control of things. That's why you're such a perfectionist – you like everything secure and stable, and you're uncomfortable with not knowing what might happen next," he said, studying her face carefully.
She looked on straight ahead, silent for a few moments, then answered quietly, "Observant, aren't you?" Fiddling with the end of her scarf, she hesitated again before continuing. "When you lose the important people in your life, you can't help but grow insecure. You become afraid of what tomorrow might bring, or more so, what else it might take away from you. I'm sure you understand that," she stole a quick glance at his face before elaborating.
"The other day, you asked me what I'm afraid of. That's my answer – feeling helpless and out of control. And maybe, even more than that, I'm afraid of admitting it," Mia confessed, her voice growing quiet. "Everyone thinks I'm so strong, but deep down, I'm just a coward who keeps running from her fears. Maybe that's why I like the dark…there are certain things that I don't want to see about myself." She looked down again, suddenly ashamed.
"You're not the only one."
She turned to look at him, surprised.
"I used to think that if I never let anyone know how insecure I was, and if I could hide that fact from myself, it made me a strong person. But I've come to realize that it takes more courage to admit that I'm inadequate on my own than it does to pretend that I can handle it all."
Mia let his words sink in. "You're no coward, Diego."
"Then neither are you," he said firmly.
"You overestimate me," she fidgeted, grasping for the right words and unsure of how much she should reveal. "You're the only person I've ever been able to admit that to," she confessed finally.
"The same goes for me," he replied simply, smiling at her.
When he saw her bewildered expression, it was his turn to grasp for words. "Mia, don't tell me that you haven't realized." He sighed and laughed to himself, "Kitten, for such a smart girl, you can be so silly sometimes."
"You lost me."
"Mia, do you honestly think that I go around telling this kind of thing to everyone I know? That you're just another co-worker to me?" If she doesn't read into that, Diego thought to himself, then I really don't know how else to spell it out for her.
Mia suddenly felt like a little girl with her first crush again, heart pounding in her chest. "Would you laugh," she said slowly, "if I told you that every time I saw you talking with someone else, I hoped that you were discussing the weather?" A shy smile spread across her face as she slipped her hand into his.
He didn't mean to laugh, but he didn't know how else to express the feeling of elation that suddenly filled him. He pulled her into his arms and smiled, "You, Kitten, are truly something special."
And that night, on a park bench under the moonlight, they kissed for the first time.
Mia had told Diego that she wasn't taking a new case until they caught Dahlia Hawthorne, but as the weeks went by, she couldn't keep turning a blind eye to the clients whose cases were refused. She realized how many helpless people were being given guilty verdicts simply because no lawyer wanted to take the risk of an "impossible" case. As she watched one client turned down after another, her sense of justice could stand it no longer.
One morning, Diego arrived at work and found Mia pleading with Mr. Grossberg to take a case that had already been rejected.
"Please, Mr. Grossberg! If you don't help these people, no one else can!"
"Mia, m'dear, you have to understand – this case is so huge that it'll be all over the front pages the next day. There is practically no chance that we can win this case, and our offices can't suffer that kind of loss."
"Please, sir, could you at least consider it?"
"M'dear, if you really want to help those people, couldn't you take the case yourself?"
That left Mia speechless for a moment. "Sir, I'll even do all the research and investigation. All that you have to do is present the evidence in court!"
"I'm sorry, Mia, you'll have to ask someone else. And if you'll excuse me, I have other things to attend to." Grossberg left the room, leaving Mia standing there, disheartened.
Diego stepped inside. "I think he's growing too old to take risks."
"Oh, Diego, I didn't realize you were here."
"And I didn't realize that you wanted to take on a new case," he raised an eyebrow.
She blushed slightly. "I'm not giving up on finding Dahlia, but I'm realizing how many criminals are going free…I can't just sit around and watch these innocent people be accused."
"You know that not every client is innocent, right?"
"I know. But I have faith in them. And if it turns out that they're guilty, then so be it. After all, it's our job to find the truth." She sighed in frustration, "I'm so useless…I'm just not ready to go back to court yet."
Diego felt her distress and took her hand comfortingly. "Did you ever consider asking me?"
She looked up at him, a smile breaking across her face, "Will you really do it?"
"You silly girl, of course I will."
In the following months, they continued their pursuit of Dahlia, but under Mia's insistence, took on some of the most hopeless and impossible cases Diego had ever seen throughout his career. Each time, Mia put all of her faith in their client, and Diego watched her, moved by her dedication and trust. She worked so hard finding suspects, witnesses and evidence, and Diego always thought it was a shame when she missed the culmination of all their work. But each time, Mia couldn't bring herself to re-enter the courtroom. Frustrated, she tried to convince Diego to force her, but he told her, "Kitten, there's no point in making another bad experience for yourself. I'm sure the time will come when you're ready again."
And it did. Many months later, when he wasn't able to witness it, she returned to the courtroom. In the end, that turned out to be one of the few things he was right about.
He sat down next to her on the park bench and handed her the cup of cappuccino she'd asked him to order.
"I think I'm going crazy, Diego."
He took a sip of his coffee. "Why?"
"I keep seeing hearts everywhere!" She handed him her cup and sure enough, the drizzled chocolate sauce on top resembled a lopsided heart.
"It's so weird," she continued. "I've actually been seeing them everywhere! Remember the fish fillet I had at the restaurant the other day? That looked like a heart."
"I thought it looked more like a really big nose," he laughed.
"That's because you were sitting across the table!" she protested. "And what about the slice of cheesecake I had for dessert? That was definitely a heart."
"Okay, fine. That one looked more like it."
"Even the lilies in front of the office are growing in the shape of a heart."
"We have lilies in front of the office?" he sounded puzzled.
"I think they were planted recently…But the point is, it's like hearts just pop up wherever I go."
"Maybe you're just in love," he smiled, kissing her cheek.
"But it's just so weird…it's like someone's been following me around and leaving hearts." She stared at her cappuccino thoughtfully. "Wait a second…" she turned to look suspiciously at Diego.
"What?" he shrugged innocently.
"It's been you all along, hasn't it? No wonder you always insist on making reservations!"
He smiled, surrendering, "I wish you could see the way your face lights up when you spot something." He reached over to lift the end on her scarf. Attached was a little heart pin.
"What?" Mia was flabbergasted. "How did you get that there without me knowing?"
He winked. "I just wanted you to know how much I love you."
They'd just finished visiting a witness in the hospital when they wandered to the baby ward on their way out.
"Look at that one in the middle! He's got the cutest ears!" Mia exclaimed with delight.
Diego laughed. "He looks like he's trying to dance."
"Aww, I think he's trying to wave at us. Hi, sweetheart!" She waved through the glass. The baby laughed and blew a spit bubble.
"So, Kitten," Diego said playfully, putting an arm around her, "how many kids are we going to have?"
"Oh? I don't remember you proposing," she replied in the same playful tone, crossing her arms.
"If I asked you right now, would you say yes?" he grinned slyly.
She made a mock-offended face. "Don't tell me that was your really bad proposal. Because if it was, I'm saying no."
He laughed. "Give me more credit than that, Kitten. There's no way I'd be so uncreative. Just you wait. You'll see then."
Every night, Mia went to bed and lay there, staring at the ceiling and imagining the vast stretch of night sky outside and the millions of twinkling stars. This night was no different, except that she was no longer imagining. Either that, or she was going crazy. Confused, she reached over the grab her phone and call Diego.
"Hi, Kitten. Didn't get enough of me today?"
"Diego, how and when did you break into my apartment and stick all these glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling?"
"Do you like them?"
"Well, yes, but how did you get in?"
"Simple. I was driving through your neighbourhood when I saw your sister walking home from the burger joint. I offered her a ride, and as we were talking, she inspired me to do this. Then she let me into your apartment. That's all."
"Why were you guys discussing glow-in-the-dark stars, of all things?"
"Maya said that you like spending summer nights under the stars. So that led me to think…"
"The stars make you feel less lonely, don't they? You like the dark, but sometimes it reminds you of how lonely you are."
Mia was silent for a moment. "And you want me to remember that I'm not alone anymore," she smiled.
"You were never alone, Mia. No matter how far away people seem, they're still out there, thinking of you and watching out for you. Don't ever forget that."
"With these stars here, I don't think I ever will. And Diego?"
You're the exception, right? You won't leave me too, will you? Mia felt so childish thinking those words, but it was a fear that dominated her life.
"Never mind. It's nothing," she lied.
"Are you sure?"
"Don't worry about it, Diego," she reassured him. "I'll see you tomorrow then."
"Alright. Sweet dreams, Kitten."
Whenever they had a day off, Mia and Diego enjoyed strolling the streets of whatever area they stumbled upon. They ambled around, hand and hand, with no plans in mind but simply enjoying each other's company. That day, they were spending the day in an old rural neighbourhood, walking along the main street that was lined with quaint little old shops. Passing by a little bookstore, Mia pulled Diego inside with her and immediately immersed herself in a book about séances.
She laughed. "Look at what it says: some people have been known to be so spiritually strong that they can call upon the spirits of dead trees and speak to them. This is so ridiculous, it's funny." Mia glanced up to realize that she was talking to herself.
"Diego?" Mia put down the book and started down the aisle of shelves, her pace quickening. She pushed the shop door open and stepped outside. "Diego?" she called again, her voice suddenly childlike and thin. She felt a feeling of dread envelope her as she turned to see a street of unfamiliar faces. It's okay. He just stepped out for a moment, she tried to reassure herself as she filled with panic. No, no, no, not again. This isn't happening again. Mia looked around frantically and glimpsed a red shirt across the street. She had one foot out on the street when a hand grabbed her wrist and pulled her back.
"Mia! Watch where you're going!"
She spun around to face him, adrenaline still pulsing through her veins as she was flooded with relief. "Don't disappear on me like that!" The volume of her own voice surprised her. He seemed taken aback too.
"Kitten, why are you so upset?"
She pressed her hands against her face, trying to calm down. "I just have this irrational fear of losing everyone, okay? Especially you. Who knows what I'd do if I lost you too? Run myself into a car?"
Diego's face suddenly hardened. "Don't you dare do anything of the sort."
She looked at him, surprised at his change in tone.
"Promise me, Mia," his face was creased with trepidation. "Promise me that you'll never do anything self-destructive no matter what happens."
"Diego, you're overreacting."
"Just promise me, Mia."
"Okay, okay. But nothing's going to happen to you," she seemed to be reassuring herself rather than him. "We're going to be normal people and live happy, content and uneventful lives. I'm never going to lose you. We've both had enough tragedy as it is, so –"
He suddenly embraced her mid-rant, holding her tightly against him.
"No more of this tragedy nonsense, alright? I won't ever let anything else horrible happen to you." A voice in his head was urging him to tell her what he was planning, but without a doubt, she would never let him go alone. He had to admit that he felt slightly anxious about his upcoming meeting, but he told himself that as long as he was careful, things would be fine.
He shook the worrying thoughts from his head as he reached into his pocket. "This is what I disappeared for." He held out his hand. She took the object from him to inspect it. It was a small key chain of a sleeping kitten curled around a coffee mug.
"Do you like it?"
She smiled at him. "I love it. It's so perfect for us."
He tucked a lock of her hair behind her ear. "I'm sorry for just walking out without letting you know. I saw this in a store we passed by earlier, and you were so engrossed in your book that I didn't think you'd notice if I stepped out for a moment."
"No, Diego, I'm sorry. I completely overreacted earlier."
"Kitten, there's no need for you to apologize. Besides, it's nice knowing how important I am to you," he smiled and kissed her forehead.
"You should have already known that."
"And you should know that I would never just leave you."
Mia smiled happily as she took Diego's hand. "I'm holding you to that promise, you know. So in fifty years when I'm old and wrinkly and you don't want me anymore, I won't let you go because you said that you would never leave me."
He slipped his arm around her waist as they started down the street. "I wouldn't leave you even if you took away coffee for all of eternity," he laughed.
And in those blissful moments on that beautiful day, all seemed right in the world.
Okay guys, I'm really irritated right now. I just learned that our FF document uploader does not allow for indents. Which I think is really, really dumb. Now it looks like I don't know how to paragraph, and all that text is so much easier to read when it's broken down with simple little indents. -sigh- Can we all petition for FF to add indents?
Enough complaining. I've decided that instead of taking up the usual space, I've put my end notes on my blog, and you can find the link in my profile under the "My Fanfics" section. Please take a look if you get the chance, because I explain/elaborate on a number of things in this chapter there. I've also posted a video that I found very inspiring, worth-watching and relate-able to this chapter, so please at least go for the video. (I was going to put the link directly here, but I don't know if that's allowed or not...)
As always, I'd love to hear your feelings about this chapter, and please drop by to say hi :) (And let me know if you find mistakes!)