Little Lion Man
Rated T for bad language and explicit themes
Disclaimer: Ace Attorney and all related characters are the property of Capcom.
Summary: Serving a life sentence for murder, Diego thought he had nothing left to lose - until a stroke robbed him of the ability to speak and write. Now the prison whipping boy, he grows more isolated and alone every day...until the boy comes. Written for the Phoenix Wright Kink Meme. Original prompt was for a character to become unable to speak or write, and for a second character to learn to interpret him/her.
It could have been worse, they said.
It was relatively mild; his bad side wasn't completely paralysed, and with some occupational therapy and physiotherapy he would get most of his gross motor function back. That part wasn't new to him. He'd been through all that before, after the coma, coaxing his wasted body into doing what he told it. It was funny – he never thought he'd make peace with what Hawthorne had done to him, let alone find anything positive about it. And this time he still had two strong limbs. A weak physical form – even the eye on his bad side constantly streaming – Diego could handle.
The fact that he could no longer form language was what really frightened him.
Oh, he could still read, and understand when people spoke to him. He knew it could be worse. Some people in his condition wound up trapped in a Tower of Babel nightmare, where other people spoke gibberish and the written word might as well have been a child's scribbles. But when he tried to talk, and found his tongue and lips and brain could not remember how to form vowels and consonants, or tried to write, only for his hand to tense up or else scrawl nonsensical shapes on the page, he felt a panic unlike anything he'd ever experienced in his life. Even that fateful day in the cafeteria, when his eyes and nose began to stream and the convulsions started, didn't compare. The loss of language was proof that his brain was damaged.
Treatment for his condition had come a long way in the past twenty years, they said. He smirked, the numb side of his face twitching once before going slack. There were no cerebral implants or stem cell treatments for murderers who had the bad manners to survive a stroke. So OT and physio it was, and speech and language therapy.
The speech therapist was cute, and he tried as much for her as for himself. Slowly – very slowly – little words, little sentences. Cat. Mug. Man. Woman. Guard. They came out slurred, sinking into the saliva that gathered in the slack corner of his mouth. He tried not to show his frustration around his therapist, especially when she told him how well he was doing and he wanted to shout at her I used to be a lawyer, kitten, I've saved men from the rope and charmed women into bed using nothing but words and you're telling me "Coffee hot" is progress? That being able to write my first name after a month is an achievement? It wasn't her fault. God help her, she was trying so hard to do as much as possible before the higher ups decided "Good enough is!" and sent him back to prison.
And as soon as he could walk (with a leg brace), grip a lunch tray with both hands and use the can by himself, that was what they did. Put him right back on the wing with all his old friends, with a streaming eye and a pocketful of short, slurred words.
At least he got a cell to himself.
Diego was prepared for the taunting.
He wasn't prepared for how powerless it made him feel.
"MEEEEEEHHHHH!" Tigre pushed his tongue between his bottom lip and teeth, and continued making retard noises. Diego clenched his teeth and tried to ignore him. His own fault – he'd tried to tell the gangster to fuck off and it had come out as fuh och. "BELLLM!"
The other cons laughed uproariously. Diego felt a little pang when he noticed Daryan Crescend among them, making sure the whole room knew he thought Tigre's antics were hilarious. Crescend wasn't a friend – there were no friends in prison – but he used to cackle whenever Diego cut Gavin down to size or flirted with the one guard who was a notorious homophobe. Those days were all over now, Diego realised suddenly, and quickly turned his attention back to his food. Couldn't afford to show any more weakness.
"Could you please not dribble into your lunch?" Gavin this time, deliberately sitting opposite him just so he could express his distaste. "It's disgusting."
"I tink baby needs a bib!" Tigre howled, and a moment later Diego felt rough cloth around his neck. He twisted in his seat, and managed to get in one good lick on Tigre with his lunch tray before the other prisoners descended on him.
The guards were quick, at least, and by the time the brouhaha was over, Diego was the one in solitary. For his own protection, they said. He leaned his head against the cold wall and let out a deep sigh, the throb of his bruises nothing compared to his wounded pride. He would be the target for a while, he knew, that was inevitable. All he could do was shorten that while by not giving them more ammunition.
And that meant clamming up. Right now, forever.
He knew it was the right thing to do, that it would make things easier in the long run. But all he could think of was Mia, teasing him about how much he loved the sound of his own voice, and Diego wrapped his good arm around himself and wept.
Diego hadn't realised until then just how much he used to interact with the other prisoners before the stroke. He wasn't involved in any of the smuggling rings or dope rackets, and he didn't have the connections or vendettas that the mob- and gang-affiliated prisoners did. But he was always ready with a fresh remark when the gangster kids, or even Tigre, were boasting about how many asses they'd capped. Some of the older cons would point him out to young, nervous first-timers as an easy target, and watch with glee as he laid them out on their backs. He'd carved out a niche for himself as someone not to be fucked with, who didn't care about cooling his heels in solitary for busting some punk's lip. And he'd become an expert at subtly menacing Redd White whenever he was bored, silently stalking him until the purple-haired bastard was ready to make in his stripes.
Now all that was over. Word had spread about the fight, how the once dangerous Diego Armando was weak down one side and needed a peg leg to get around. Redd White strutted around like a preening, purple peacock, nothing to be afraid of any more. All the two-bit punks he'd ever walloped were circling like hyenas, and he found himself sitting alone at mealtimes so that no-one would start in on him about the drool that trickled down his chin when he ate.
Gavin was the only one who ever joined him, and that was only to make scathing remarks about his appearance. Gavin fancied himself as Hannibal Lecter, playing up the psychopath aspect of his character as often as possible. In the old days, Diego would wait for just the right moment, when Gavin had almost drawn his audience in, then deflate him with a lewd remark. Gavin was surprisingly prissy for a double murderer, and a well-chosen, clever dirty comment usually had him storming off in disgust. But that time was over too, and Gavin made sure Diego knew that he revelled in it.
"You disgusting old man, they should make you eat in the corridor so the rest of us don't have to watch you dribbling your food. Don't you ever wash your face?" A kick to his bad leg. "Answer me!"
Oh, he did want to answer, he had so many answers, but no way to articulate them. All he could do was keep spooning food into the good side of his mouth, and try not to let any slop back onto his plate.
"They should have let you die in a pool of your own piss."
Most days, Diego wished they had.
He smirked at himself, sitting on the outside looking in while the other inmates bantered, played pool and made deals with contraband and cigarettes. Of course it would take surviving two catastrophic illnesses before he learned not to take life for granted. He thought he'd hit bottom when he called Iris and bullied her into taking the blame for what he'd done. He thought – in a strangely comforting way – that things couldn't get any worse when the guards handed him his stripes and ran the door of his cell shut behind him. But Dante was right all along, it seemed, and he'd been nowhere near the final circle of Hell when he woke up in that hospital all those years ago, to find nobody waiting for him.
And didn't he deserve this slow march to Cocytus? Hadn't he murdered someone's mother, put two girls' lives in danger and sent a third to prison for the sake of his own selfish, stupid pride? But for that one fateful moment when he let his guard slip, he might have called the Fey clan family. Instead he'd swung in like a wrecking ball and smashed it to pieces.
At night when he couldn't sleep, with tears and saliva soaking into his pillow, Diego wished he could go back in time, grab his tormented, rage-filled younger self by the shoulders and yell you don't know how much you have left to lose, amigo. Forget revenge and go to grief counselling like the doc said. You have no idea how bad things can get.
And so it went, every day a little greyer (without red, the colours were all washed out anyway), every day more isolated and alone.
Until the boy came.