Alley Cats

By Cyberwulf

Rated T for bad language and drinking

Disclaimer: Ace Attorney and all related characters are property of Capcom.

Summary: Having served his prison sentence, Diego has no job, no friends and a drinking problem. Phoenix tries to help. Written for the Phoenix Wright Kink Meme.

xxx

Diego's door was always open. That was something Phoenix couldn't understand. Diego could smirk and say he had nothing worth stealing, but everybody had something that could be parlayed into a few bucks. He was amazed, every time he entered the tiny apartment, that none of the less savoury inhabitants of the tower block had made off with the TV or the coffee-maker or the radio. They weren't top of the line, but they'd bring in enough for food, or a bill. Maybe even a hit, depending on the drug.

Phoenix did believe Diego when he said he didn't care if someone came in and killed him in his sleep.

There was no sign of Diego in the kitchen-cum-dining-cum-lounge area. Phoenix put the chain on the door and ventured cautiously into the little corridor at the back of the apartment. The man might be - sleeping, Phoenix thought charitably. The bedroom door was wide open, and a quick inspection confirmed that the room was empty. Across the hallway, the bathroom door was ajar. That room, too, was empty.

Worried now, Phoenix went back into the main area of the apartment. His anxiety lessened when he noticed the sliding door to the fire escape was partially open. He moved out onto the narrow, steel walkway and let out a sigh of relief as he looked down the staircase. Even two storeys up, there was no mistaking that head of wavy, white hair.

Diego didn't even look up as Phoenix came down the green metal stairs. He was sitting on the second last step from the very bottom, wearing a sports jersey – not basketball or football, that was all Phoenix knew – and washed out grey sweatpants. He had a mug of steaming coffee in one hand, but Phoenix was more worried by the brown paper bag beside him, the neck of a bottle just peeping out.

"Hey, Arman-"

"Shhhh." Diego moved the bottle so that Phoenix could sit down, resting it against the inside of his leg. He gestured to the trash-strewn alley. "You'll scare them."

Phoenix looked. Half a dozen stray cats peered cautiously at him from the trashcans and boxes across the way.

"Psh-psh-psh." One of the cats ventured a few paces out of its hiding place, ears up, on the alert. "Psh-psh-psh-psh. Kitty." Diego took a scrap of bologna from a packet on the step above him, and tossed it into the alley. The cat darted forward and began to devour it. "Good girl."

Another cat made a move, emboldened by the prospect of food. Diego called to her too, and threw another scrap of meat into the alley.

Phoenix looked at him, and lifted an eyebrow. Diego smirked.

"Some old men feed pigeons. I feed cats." He rubbed the back of his neck self-consciously. "They're good to have around. Kill vermin."

"Not if you spoil them with people-food," Phoenix pointed out.

"Ah, that's where you're wrong, Trite," Diego replied. "Feed a cat, and she'll hunt."

That didn't sound right to Phoenix, but he'd learned not to argue with the older man's logic. Especially when he'd been drinking.

"Thought you had –"

"Shhh," Diego interrupted. A black cat with a red collar appeared at the mouth of the alley. When Diego called to him, there was no hesitation – he strolled over and jumped up onto Diego's lap.

"You have a home to go to, don't you?" Diego murmured, tickling the cat under his chin. "Some little girl who pets you and lets you sleep on her bed. But you come here every day for the free food, you fickle little bastard." He offered the cat a scrap of meat. The cat snatched it from his hand and leaped down, trotting away with his prize. Diego sighed, and had a swig from his mug.

"I thought you had a meeting with your parole officer," Phoenix remarked, doing his best to be nonchalant.

"Did," Diego replied. "We met this morning. Had coffee. It was nice."

"You, uh…" Phoenix tried to think of a tactful way to phrase it. "…you get there early?"

"No, Trite, I showed up late, drunk and dressed like a bum."

Phoenix winced at the older man's irritation. He had no doubt that if Diego's drink wasn't fifty percent booze, he'd have gotten a face-full of scalding coffee.

"Sorry," he murmured. "It's just…I worry about you."

"Ha…!" Diego took a long swallow of coffee-flavoured liquor. "You would."

Phoenix wanted to say something else, but couldn't come up with anything he hadn't said a dozen times already. He could scold and shame and plead and nag, the answer was always the same - (I killed a woman, Trite. Might have killed that little girl instead.) He could tell Diego that he wasn't alone and that people cared about him, but that would just provoke another sneering dismissal.

The worst thing was, he'd been where Diego was now – no career, no friends around, everything he'd worked for since high school, gone. He understood the lure of the bottle; he'd given into it a few times over the seven years between losing his badge and clearing his name. But he'd pushed through it and come out okay, won that long battle not only against Kristoph but his own demons, too. Technically there should be some magic combination of inspirational words he could use to get Diego to start turning his life around.

Except he'd had Trucy, and there was no time for selfish wallowing and whiskey tears when a little girl badly needed a stable Daddy. He had a goal to work towards. He had been wronged, and his anger over that injustice had given him strength when things looked bleakest. Diego had none of those things. Diego had blood on his hands and a prison sentence that was too short. If he'd died behind bars, he'd have felt like he'd paid for his crime. Being set free, being told to resume his life like nothing happened…that's what Diego couldn't live with.

"Psh-psh." Diego leaned forward a little and beckoned to a small yellow cat hiding in a cardboard box. The cat came forward cautiously at first, then scampered over when Diego tossed a scrap of meat onto the concrete just in front of the steps. The cat gobbled up the morsel and promptly jumped up onto Diego's lap. Phoenix couldn't help smiling as the cat made herself comfortable on Diego's chest.

"How's my girl?" Diego murmured, stroking the cat all the way down to the tip of her tail. He stopped on the second stroke, and brushed some of the fur back from her side. A patch of bare skin and a long scar came into view. "Oh, the SPCA got you, did they?"

Taking advantage of the distraction, Phoenix reached over and gently grasped the bottle in its brown paper bag, and began to lift it up.

Diego didn't even look at him. "Put it back."

Phoenix abandoned his attempts at stealth and simply snatched the bottle while Diego still had both his hands on the cat.

"Listen, if you're not gonna offer your guest a drink, I'm just gonna help myself."

Diego watched, mouth turned down in suspicion, as Phoenix unscrewed the cap and brought the bottle to his lips.

"How do you know I haven't been pissing in that all afternoon?"

Phoenix shrugged. "You've been drinking all afternoon, so whatever's in here is probably fifty percent proof anyway." Still, he had a cautious sniff before taking a swig from the bottle. Whiskey – a little stronger than he was used to.

"Hey, hey." Diego reached for it, but his movements were clumsy and Phoenix avoided them by scooting a few inches away. "No more for you. You're supposed to be a responsible parent."

Phoenix had a second mouthful, then, making sure Diego was still watching him, brought up the nastiest loogie he could muster and spat it into the bottle.

Diego burst out laughing, causing the yellow cat to start with fright and take off back across the alley. He snatched the bottle back with surprising swiftness.

"You think that bothers me, Trite?" He drained what was left in his mug and took a flask from beside him. Phoenix watched as he filled the mug halfway with coffee and then topped it up with whiskey. Diego took a sip, and looked around. "Where'd my little kitty go?"

"Why don't you get a cat of your own?" Phoenix suggested. Now that he thought about it, a pet would be good for Diego – it'd provide companionship, and he'd have to sober up or at least cut down on the drinking to take care of it.

"Bastard landlord won't let me," Diego replied.

Phoenix deflated. There went that idea. He reached up for the packet of bologna and had a go at feeding the cats himself. They cautiously approached the scraps he threw for them, sniffing warily at the unfamiliar scent.

"You do this every day?" Phoenix asked.

"Nothing else to do."

(Except drink,) Phoenix was tempted to say, but he bit the remark back. Diego hadn't contacted anyone to say he was out of prison – it was only by chance that Phoenix had seen him one day, walking back from the grocery store in a wifebeater and sweats. If he hassled Diego too much, he might quit his shit-hole of an apartment and move to some other dilapidated tower block without any word of warning.

He heard a clink of ceramic on metal and looked around. Diego was slumping back against the steps, a faint smirk on his face. The coffee mug, now empty again, had slipped out of his fingers and was lying on its side next to him.

"Hey, Trite." Phoenix frowned – Diego's speech was a lot more slurred than it was a few minutes ago. "Did you know…if you take the same amount of caffeine…and the same amount of alcohol…at the same time…" Diego paused, and Phoenix could see him mouthing the next few words to himself, making sure they were the right ones. "…the caffeine wears off first?"

Phoenix groaned. "I am not carrying you up all those stairs."

Diego just smirked. "Then you'll have to leave me here for the cats to eat."

With a sigh, Phoenix stood up and began to manoeuvre Diego into a standing position. Diego at least co-operated – probably not keen to pass out with metal steps digging into his back – and hung onto the railing while Phoenix quickly grabbed the flask, mug and what was left of the bologna, and stuffed them into the big front pocket on his hoodie. The whiskey bottle could be conveniently 'forgotten'. He looped an arm around Diego and began to help him back up the fire escape.

It was slow going. Diego was taller and heavier than him, and Phoenix was pretty sure that if he tripped and fell, he wouldn't be able to catch him. Luckily Diego seemed to be somewhat aware of this, and gripped the railings tightly for support as they made their way up. Phoenix wondered what would've happened if he hadn't been there. Would Diego have known when to stop before he became incapable of getting back upstairs? Did he have more to drink than usual because he knew Phoenix wouldn't just leave him like that? Phoenix felt a small smile quirk at the corner of his mouth. He wouldn't put it past Diego to get into this state on purpose, just to give him something unpleasant to do.

They reached the sliding doors and Phoenix managed to get Diego inside. Diego pulled away from him and weaved his way down the tiny corridor to the bathroom. Phoenix listened to him pissing loudly while he put the flask, mug and bologna away.

He paused before closing the fridge. There was food in there – fresher food than in his own fridge. That was the worst part of this whole thing. Diego's apartment was neat and tidy. There was no bin overflowing with bottles, no stack of pizza boxes with things growing on them. He fed himself, he shaved, his clothes – even the slob-casual wear he favoured when he had nowhere to be, which was most of the time – were always clean. He stuck to his medication and kept his appointments. It would be much easier to make Diego realise he had a problem if Phoenix could point to vomit-stained, pissed in clothes, an apartment that was a health hazard, stacks of unpaid bills and signs of malnutrition. The only thing Phoenix could really pick at was Diego's lack of a job, and for all he knew, the man's medical condition and criminal record meant he simply couldn't get one.

He heard the toilet flush. Turning to look down the corridor, he saw Diego stumble from the bathroom into the bedroom. Putting his hands in his hoodie pocket, Phoenix followed him as casually as possible. He found him sitting on the bed, having successfully managed to pull off his sneakers.

"Gonna lie down for a while," Diego mumbled, putting his visor aside. He swung his legs up onto the bed and rolled onto his back.

"No no no."

Phoenix quickly pulled Diego back onto his side. Diego blinked a couple of times, a confused look on his face.

"Oh. Thanks."

Phoenix shrugged, glad Diego couldn't see the blush coming into his cheeks. "Hey, if I let you choke on your own vomit, that's negligent homicide."

Diego snickered. "Knew you weren't coming round for my sake, Trite."

Phoenix paused, then sat on the bed.

"You're right," he said quietly. "I do come here for selfish reasons. Because I could've stopped it all if I'd just read Mia's old files sooner. Because it could've been me lying in a hospital bed for five years." He looked at Diego, wondering how much of this the other man could comprehend in his current state. "And if I save you, then I won't feel guilty any more."

"Ha." Diego managed to prop himself up on one elbow. "Well…since we're being honest…I'd miss you if you stopped coming."

Phoenix smiled back. "You're drunk. I can't trust a word you say."

Diego laughed and lay back down. "Go on, Trite, get out of here." He groped for the pillow and pulled it close. "And don't lock that door."

Phoenix stood up and crossed to the bathroom. He returned with the big towel, and spread it on the floor next to Diego's bed.

"I'll see you round, Armando."

He left the door unlocked.