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The Cost of a Miracle

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Athena ran home, crying happiness.

It should be a contradiction, but it wasn't. At the end of the UR-1 retrial, she'd never been more excited and exhausted in her life. If she went to sleep now, her dreams would go for a run. They'd race around the broken courthouse, dancing in glee.

And Simon would be there, feather in his mouth and a smile on his face. Enjoying the wind and sun and simple joy of being alive.

Being alive. A joy too many took for granted.

Unbidden, her mind flew to scenes of death. Innocents, stabbed and killed. The guilty, chained and executed.

Was it really different, in the end? Did the human spirit travel to another place, if their circumstances were different? Did the afterlife care about human judgements? Or did they have their own system?

Athena gnawed on the question, tossing and turning in her bed. She was forestalling sleep. Why?

If I wake up... What if I wake up, and this is all gone? Everything I worked for, fought for, sold my soul and hoped to die for. When I wake up, will my dreams be real?

She'd just had the happiest day of her life. But every day needed to end somewhere.

"Good night, Athena!" Widget chirped as she turned him off for the night. "Sweet dreams."

She really thought she was going to have sweet dreams, tonight.

Instead, he showed up.

"My, my, my, how far you've come," the man before her offered a smile, which just made her more uneasy.

"W-who are you?" Athena fell out of her bed, fully dressed in her court attire. Widget rested around her neck, a tentative dark blue.

That's how she knew it was a dream. But not just any dream. She'd had this experience before. Several years ago, when all her working and hoping and praying took a... different turn.

Last time, she'd met with a demon. He was a larger man, with white hair and tan skin and a fondness for swimming. He wore the stereotypical red, and didn't beat around the bush even once. He knew what she wanted, and so did she. A business deal, through and through.

But this man... he wore light blue, with a pink tie. His long, blonde hair was coiled to the side, like a prosecutor she'd met in October. The light from outside shone off his fair skin, making him look almost angelic.

But Athena heard him speak. The voice of his heart was something no angel should  possess.

She repeated her question. "Who are you?"

"Hmph. I am but a single member of the recently departed. Does it matter? Since my passing, I have become yet another of the lower angels, with contracts for miracles any mortal can obtain. I am here to discuss a deal you signed with my, ah, colleague, several years prior."

"That was a miracle?" Athena questioned. She remembered the meeting of course. But it didn't make sense. "But... I made it. I became a lawyer-"

"Most of that was your own work, yes. Only the initial acceptance was altered. Though if you were curious, your deal guaranteed you the minimal passing grade regardless of action on your part."

Athena tried not to think about the implications of that. Or where she could have seen this man before. Gott, he looked like Klavier's twin.

"Okay, but how do you explain the Phantom being Fulbright? Wasn't that just coincidence?"

"Really? How do you explain a well sought after spy choosing to assume the identity of a months-dead officer? His body was found, his DNA well documented... He would be so foolish, to take that gamble.

"Unless, of course, he had a little push."

Athena gasped. "What are you saying?"

"My organization convinced him of his chosen identity. It wasn't hard: he was a shell of a man. Easily molded. We prevented Fulbright's body from being recognized and tricked the fingerprint scanners on the man's police locker," the demon laughed. "We even gave him the insane belief that the moon rock could be used to identify him. In truth, it would have been useless."

Athena stepped back, realizing something. "Wait, does that mean- Clay Terran-?"

"Yes, Miss Cykes. It's part of the price you pay for a miracle. My boss is a fair man: he will assist any mortal who makes a deal with him. But he also won't deny his gates a soul, for any reason. Any party a miracle saved must be paid with another's life."

"I killed Clay Terran..."

"Not technically, no. You did no killing with your own hands, nor did your wish request death. By your laws and mine, you are blameless," he paused, smiling at his own thoughts. "That said... I wouldn't mention this detail to Justice, if I were you."

That tone of familiarity, when he mentioned Apollo's name. She didn't miss it.

He knew Apollo. She could tell.

Dios, who was he?

She almost didn't want to ask. "What about the retrial? How did you have a hand in that?"

"Me, personally? I did nothing to help you. My organization, however, did several things."

"What?"

"First and foremost, we extended Mr. Blackquill's execution date beyond the intended timespan. I don't know of you are aware, but most death-row inmates die within five years. We had to give you a chance to save him, after all."

"Were you all responsible for Simon prosecuting again?"

"Believe it or not, no. That was all Mr. Edgeworth's doing. But my organization's work was still in progress at this point. Second for us was the matter of his sister, Aura Blackquill. With her mind obscured in grief and hate, she was already close to violence. It didn't take much to give her an idea."

"This plan seems really complicated," she commented.

He shrugged. "The original plan was to forge new evidence that implicated a third party, but that went against your contract."

The man sighed. "I don't see why such a matter was relevant to you. You'll never be caught in this world."

He knew Apollo... he forged evidence...

"You're Kristoph Gavin," she whispered. Then, with more force. "I have heard of you."

He shook his head. "I am but a new member of the lower order of angels. The order that helps humans in fair trade. Every miracle is delivered and paid for, with the ultimate guarantee."

Loss of individual identity, huh? Was it a choice, or something they had to do? The last demon she met did it, as well. Maybe it was a demon thing?

"Uh- ultimate guarantee?"

He smiled at that. "Why, don't tell me you didn't read your contract?"

"It's been a few years." And she hadn't taken it seriously at the time. Back then, it had all been a dream.

Maybe it still was.

"The 'ultimate guarantee' is the fail safe signed into every contract my order creates. It states that, if a mortal cannot pay the price of the miracle they requested, they will pay instead with their soul. Contrary to popular perception, the party in question dies the same way they would have otherwise. But no matter what they do or believe in life, their soul is my boss's to own. He does with it as he wishes.

"There is no escape, no redemption from this condition, and it is only invoked when a mortal refuses or is rendered incapable of paying for a service they willingly bought," he adjusted his glasses while speaking. "And that, Miss Cykes, is what makes the ultimate guarantee infallible."

Athena swallowed. This couldn't be real... But what if it was?

"So what do I have to pay for this? I remember it being in the contract, but I didn't fully understand what it meant."

Athena was fifteen, just applying to law school when it all went awry. Her uncle was a man of faith, and promised if she was a good person and prayed to the right place, her every need would be taken care of.

She tried every place until one responded. For better or worse.

Mr. Gavin smirked at those words, almost like he'd been hearing her thoughts. "You agreed to leave the payment up to the demon who collected their due, if any only if you save Simon Blackquill successfully."

He smiled, genuinely this time. It warmed her, if only the slightest bit. "I must say, that was clever of you. Your contract stated only the wish for the chance and ability to save him. Not to save him, necessarily. The distinction seems slight, but it prevented members of my order from merely possessing you and carrying out your wish with whatever methods they saw fit. You had to work for it yourself, and mostly on your terms," he laughed. "No, the only party I got to possess was Justice, that day. It was pleasant, until I had to leave."

She felt sick, remembering more about this man. He'd gotten the boss disbarred out of simple envy, manipulated his brother into condemning him, forged evidence without shame, and killed two men. Kristoph Gavin, the man who was praised for a paper thin facade, when she heard in every inflection of his voice how ruthless he was. Kristoph Gavin, a name of pettiness and cruelty.

Athena shuddered to think of what this man would ask from her.

But... she had to know. "So. What do you want from me?"

He smiled, approaching her. She tried to back away, but failed. He got closer and closer to her until there was no space between them.

And not in metaphorical terms. Kristoph Gavin was standing inside her. She couldn't see his spirit anywhere. Then she looked into the mirror.

His cold stone eyes shone through her sockets, squinting in an expression out of place. "I want my life back. To be a lawyer again."

His eyes landed on her lapel, "You're a new lawyer, no?"

Her breath hitched, in her mind. When she watched in the mirror, it didn't happen.

She wasn't sure he could hear her thoughts, so she spoke out loud. At least she could do that. "You want to possess me. In court."

His voice echoed in her head. The bastard was laughing. "And the occasional investigation. Don't worry, it won't be every case. Only those that interest me. You can even have any that put your personal friends in the defendant's seat."

A smirk. It looked so unusual on her face. This time, he used her mouth to speak. "Isn't that generous?"

A shudder. "How long?"

A scoff. "For as long as I want, Miss Cykes. Don't worry: I won't draw attention to myself. I'll do everything I can to ensure you remain believable. I'm good at fooling an audience. But if you see rumors you've developed an alter ego, don't be surprised."

Please let this be a dream. 

"Will you keep up your... usual tactics?" Will you forge evidence?

He answered both her questions, moving his -no, her- hands across her body, lingering on her chest just a second too long. She could have sworn he squeezed them, if only for an instant. "Not in a way that implicates you. Calm down, Miss Cykes. Phoenix won't suspect a thing. You're like another daughter to him. Sentimental fool."

Hey! Don't talk about the boss like that!

He just laughed. The demon really could hear everything, couldn't he?

Athena wished she could flip him on the ground. "And if I say no?"

"The ultimate guarantee goes into effect. Either cohabitate with a demon for some of your days, or become one. You'll do things just like me, for all eternity. All the good you can accomplish in your life will cancel out after centuries and centuries of making contracts, taking an eye for an eye and an extra coin for your purse. Your feelings of helpless anger, right now? You will inflict that, on thousands of mortals. And they will join you one day, in mutual suffering. In comparison, this is a small price to pay."

He hesitated, then added. "Oh, and don't even try to remove your badge early. I'll just ask for your body one week of every month, to do as I please."

Athena gulped. She knew she couldn't say no. But she wouldn't go down without a fight!

She had to minimize this. She wasn't just about to hand over court privileges to a murderer. Not with her body.

So she steeled herself, thinking on her feet. "I have three conditions. Agree to them, or I'll suck it up, and the real devil gets everything."

The prospect didn't faze him. "I like you already, Miss Cykes. What are your conditions?"

"Before that... if you violate my rules at any time, I refuse to keep paying and take the guarantee."

She was bluffing (for the most part), but he didn't need to know that. All he had to do was behave.

"First, you can only possess me on a case. The actual investigation, talking to our client, and court itself. Not during trial break, not when I consider taking a case, and never in my personal life. The second you take a case and the verdict is declared, you go back to whichever hellhole you came from." Maybe if she limited the time he could possess her, it would prevent him from doing anything shady.

"Second, I have to be aware of what's happening while you possess me at all times. If I find out I defended in court and don't have an accurate and distinct memory of it, that's a contract breach.

"Third, you can only use my body for defending. If you use me for anything else, say, to get revenge on people or murder or... Whatever else you might be inclined to do, you lose your deal. I am only a medium for business. Got it?"

For a second, all was silent. Athena couldn't hear him anymore. 

Then her hands moved on their own accord, up to cup her face tenderly, lowering to her neck and towards her badge.

Her heart pounded in fear. Her mouth didn't move down the words she heard. The cold lightness disappeared out of her eyes.

"You have a deal."

Chapter Text

Athena woke up the next morning, her head aching. She stumbled out of bed, standing in place as her vision went out. After a second it was back, and she started to mindlessly get ready for her morning run. She rubbed her temples, looking for some medicine. Usually she was more perky than this.

What was wrong with her? She fell asleep almost as soon as she got home, and yet it felt like she hadn't slept at all. Maybe she'd tossed and turned a lot last night. Maybe it was that dream she'd had.

Because surely that's all that was. A dream. Seeing Simon go free had reminded her of all the crazy things she'd done on her way to save him. Part of her mind still didn't believe it was real, so it came up with supernatural justifications for how yesterday had happened. Athena knew things like this occurred on occasion. She'd had more than one argument with her uncle about what constituted a miracle, and whether or not lucky coincidences truly existed. Each time she'd walked away feeling like she'd won.

As for why she'd seen that man, of all people... it was simple. She'd heard about him before, and knew he'd been Apollo's boss before Mr. Wright. Maybe her subconscious had simply been reminded of that fact when he testified against her yesterday. It was nothing serious.

Or so she wanted to believe.

Athena did her best to stop thinking about it, trying to focus on happy thoughts so she could have a good day. Psychology studies agreed: people who chose to focus on the good things in life could turn themselves into optimists, and live a happier life because of it. She grabbed her water bottle, bolted through the door and down the stairs. And thus begun her daily run through the heart of LA.

The air was colder than normal, but not chillingly so. The city didn't get that cold in the winter, she'd discovered. Not like her uncle's place at all.

It was relaxing, to run her thoughts away. Athena found that when she just focused on the movements of her body, she could solve any problem. Or at least, be calm enough to do so when she got back. This run was particularly cathartic. So much so she almost didn't want it to end. But her route was almost complete, and she needed to get to the office soon. Having a big day yesterday was no excuse for being late.

So she turned in to her apartment complex, running up the stairs and to her door. She fumbled with her key, stepping into her place with a pant and a sweat.

She finished off her water bottle, tossing it into the recycle bin and stripping down for the shower. Ohhhh that water felt good.

When she told Apollo that she ran at least a kilometer every morning before showing up at work, he'd been in awe. When Athena told him it woke her up better than coffee (and didn't come with an addiction), he nearly left the room.

But Athena liked her morning routine. It made her feel better, especially on mornings like these when she had dreams about Simon, or about Mom, or… random ex-lawyers coming after her soul. Yeah, that last one was weird.

She didn't even know if the guy was dead. How could he possibly show himself to her in the afterlife?

Athena shook her head. It wasn't worth thinking about.

She stepped out of the shower, put her suit on, and powered up Widget. The little screen flashed a bright green as it came to life.

"Good morning, Athena!"

"Good morning, Widget."

Oh, so you are used to talking to yourself. This should make our situation easier.

"Gaaaah!"Athena froze five feet from her doorway. "Who said that?"

In the most technical of terms, I'm not speaking. I'm communicating telepathically from my place inside your body. This, however, is not possession, as you retain full control of your physical self. In this state, I cannot control anything you do, only see what you see and communicate my thoughts in a way that only you can hear.

As for the question of who I am, I would hope my earlier explanation has jogged your memory. But if you truly forget this easily, posing as you in court is going to be more difficult than I anticipated.

"Holy... you're real?"

Indeed. One thing I would like you to understand about me, Miss Cykes, is that I do not joke around. If you can please keep that in mind, it would be most helpful.

So much for thinking that was a dream. Unless it wasn't, and she was imagining this too.

Trust me when I insist you are not, Miss Cykes. I understand this arrangement may take a certain amount of adjustment, but do try to keep up. The sooner you come to terms with your situation, the simpler this will be for the both of us.

She couldn't believe this was happening. "How long have you been in here?"

I haven't left since we last spoke. My boss was informed of my whereabouts, and assured me I wouldn't be needed for the foreseeable future. But if I ever don't respond to you, it means I have business elsewhere.

"...And you can read my thoughts?"

What do you think you're doing with mine?

Athena didn't know how to respond to that. Aside from the gross oversimplification of the brain's thought process, this invasion of her privacy was more than she was ready for. She didn't even want to think about earlier.

"So, you're coming with me to the office?"

Yes. If I'm ever going to use your body in court, I will need to be able to convincingly portray you. Such a feat will be impossible unless I acquaintance myself with your personality. Your body language. Your experience.

Athena felt sick. She hadn't thought agreeing to this deal would involve quite so much... cohabitation. Though to be fair, she hadn't given the logistics of demonic possession much thought to begin with. Who would? This was completely absurd even for her!

"Alright, fine. But... can you be quiet when I get to the office, at least until I'm alone? I don't want anyone to hear me talking to you."

Very well.

Athena waited a second to make sure he was done, then took out her key to the apartment and stepped outside. After she locked the door, she began to walk her familiar route to the Wright Anything Agency, trying not to think about what just happened to her. She had to act normal.

She walked in to Mr. Wright cleaning the office with Pearl and Trucy, his eyes widening with surprise at the sight of her. Did she look different than normal?

"Athena. I wasn't expecting you to come in today."

"Huh?" Athena's hands flew up to her face. "Why not? Today's a work day, right? Is the office going to be open?"

Mr. Wright stopped what he was doing to talk to her. "You had a rough day yesterday, Athena. I just got off the phone with Edgeworth, and he said he gave Prosecutor Blackquill vacation until New Year's to get his life back together." Mr. Wright studied her with a fatherly concern. "I was thinking of giving you some time to help him out. I can handle the office alone for a few days."

"Alone? What about Apollo?"

"He's helping Clay's relatives prepare for the funeral. I gave him until the day after Christmas." He gave her a hesitant smile. "Why don't you take the same thing? I want you two to be at your best when you get back. Get the rest you need, okay?"

"And stop by for the agency Christmas party, you got that?" Trucy entered the conversation, pulling Mr. Hat out from... somewhere. Athena had never learned where. "Mr. Hat and I are planning a very special show for the celebration!"

"Is that alright, Athena? I don't want you to feel like you have to be here after everything that happened. Take some time for yourself."

"That's fine, boss." Athena threw her hands together, purposely hiding Widget from view. "Thank you."

The boss smiled, and Athena felt a wave of revulsion ride through her, nearly knocking her back. What was that?

"Good. Edgeworth said Prosecutor Blackquill might be going to the Detention Center to check on his sister. You might be able to wait for him there."

"Sounds good, boss!" Athena flashed a smile and a peace sign, not even noticing that Widget had turned red.

"Um... Athena," Pearl spoke hesitantly. "Are you upset about something?"

"Huh?" Athena looked down, only to watch as Widget turned from red to yellow. That was weird. "No, I'm not. My... my mind just went somewhere else for a second. Maybe you're right, about taking a few days." She slumped for effect, wiping her forehead as she did so. "I might need them."

"Well, do what you need to do." Mr. Wright was watching her, and she did her best to look normal. "I'll see you in a few days."

"See ya!" She forced some extra cheer into her voice, practically skipping out the door. She ran down an alley, making sure she was alone before talking.

"Was that you?"

Hm... I must say, I wasn't expecting that to happen.

"Well, it did! How am I supposed to hide you if Widget can sense you're here?"

Your device around your neck. How exactly does it work?

"Widget? Well..." Athena tried to think. "He picks up on what I'm feeling based on his bio-scanning mechanisms, and is programmed to broadcast it with different colors, one for each of the core emotions. If I focus on a single thought hard enough, he'll blurt that out too, so be careful."

And if you were to take him off? What would that do?

"I haven't tried recently, but if I didn't wear him when I was younger, my ears would confuse me, and I wouldn't know which emotions were mine. I'd just react to all the emotions coming from people around me. Don't tell me..." she drooped. "Widget can't tell the difference between the two of us, can he?"

I wouldn't know, Miss Cykes. Medical technology was never my area of experience. But based on your description, it would appear I need to be more cautious in how I express myself.

"This could make things difficult." Athena fiddled with her earring, trying to think of how to cover this up. "I guess if it starts to happen too often, I can just say he's malfunctioning, or not fully calibrated on me. It's essentially the truth."

Still, she didn't want the boss to think she was angry with him, no matter what the demon inside her felt. Would Gavin be able to control himself around Mr. Wright when he took a case? What if Mr. Wright was her (his?) co-counsel at some point? What would they do then?

And how could Athena react that way to him? Mr. Wright was the kindest, more caring boss she was ever going to have! He found her when she was struggling, motivated her to continue, and completely accepted her for who she was, ability and all. She couldn't stand that feeling she'd gotten in her stomach earlier.

That feeling, that strong revulsion... Athena didn't have too much experience with hate, but she had to imagine that's what it felt like. How could anyone hate Mr. Wright so much?

Hm... Maybe you weren't the ideal young lawyer to take possession of to continue my career, but it isn't like I had many options. Not everyone sets themselves up for such an opportune scenario.

And as for your opinion on Wright... hmph. Trust me, Miss Cykes. If you knew him the way I did, you would understand exactly how I feel. You haven't seen him at his worst. I have.

"I don't care what you say about Mr. Wright, just... don't use me to go after him! That wasn't in our deal."

I recall. And quite the deal it was. You were very brave to stand your ground when I first came to you, Miss Cykes. Not everyone can.

Though perhaps I shouldn't praise you too much. After all, you also put yourself in this situation.

"Yeah, yeah, I messed up. But I was fifteen! What sort of organization lets fifteen-year-olds sign contracts involving their soul?"

According to most codes of afterlife law, fifteen is well past the age of adulthood. In the Judeo-Christian code, the age of adulthood is thirteen... not that it would matter. Anyone capable of calling out to the lower order is also capable of making a contract, no matter what the higher order attempts in order to ban it.

"And I thought our legal system was messed up."

Oh, it is. And yet, I'm here because I still miss it.

Did Athena sense actual nostalgia behind those words? Or was she imaging it?

Whatever it was, Gavin did see fit to comment on it. So, where are we going now? Will you take Mr. Wright's suggestion and visit the Detention Center?

Athena thought about it. Yesterday, she would have been thrilled to see Simon in his state of freedom, but now... she was hesitant. She didn't want to take her 'alter ego' anywhere, let alone near more people she cared about.

But if she didn't go, people might realize there was something wrong with her. Athena was slowly leaving her state of disbelief about the situation... and entering a state of shame. She didn't want anyone else to know what a stupid deal she'd made all those years ago. And besides, wasn't Simon the whole reason she'd done this? If this demon got to enjoy the benefits of her deal, she should too!

So she turned to the opening of the alleyway, ready to depart.

I see you've made a decision. Am I expected to remain silent once more?

"Yes. And keep your feelings to yourself."

Athena left the alley, turning down the path to the Detention Center... only to get there and realize visiting hours weren't open yet. She still had another hour. Not to mention, Simon was nowhere to be found. She snorted in frustration.

Luckily, Athena had a plan for passing the time. If she remembered correctly, the courthouse library opens at eight. Maybe it was about time she did a little research about her new partner.


"Okay, here's the archiving system." Athena sat down in front of an old looking computer. She couldn't believe anyone still used Microsoft 2016. "How do I use this thing...?"

If you're searching me, as I suspect you are, simply enter 'Defense Attorney Gavin' into the archive search engine, and it will point the way to all relevant files, not to mention give you directions to finding the physical copies. Or you can merely open the browser to the internet, and use it to find articles about me. Whatever you prefer.

Though I must say, I don't know why you'd go through this trouble. Anything you find in these documents I could have easily told you myself.

"Maybe, but would you tell the truth?"

No response. Athena figured that was the case. So she pressed on, typing what he told her to into the search engine. Over a hundred case files popped up instantaneously, all sorted by date. The most recent article was locked, labeled 'Jurist Test Trial- State v. Misham'. So Athena clicked on the next file, dated April 27, 2026. Upon clicking, she was redirected to another file, dated April 20, 2026.

'Case Overview (written April 29, 2026): After the discovery of a dead body in the early morning of April 17th at the Borscht Bowl Club, Phoenix Wright (age 33, piano player) was arrested for the crime. Evidence against him included fingerprints on the believed murder weapon (a bottle of grape juice- See Evidence List for details), an uncooperative nature surrounding discussion of the case, and being engaged in a game of poker with the victim (Shadi Smith, age and occupation unknown) at the time of the crime. The initial investigation was conducted by Prosecutor Winston Payne (age 61, now retired), as was prosecution during court proceedings.

'In regards to the defense attorney, Wright called his personal friend Kristoph Gavin (age 32, now incarcerated) about the incident before being arrested. Though it appeared he would be asking Gavin to become his attorney, Wright switched to new lawyer Apollo Justice (age 22, lawyer) at the last possible moment without stating his reasons. The trial was conducted three days after the incident at 10:00am in Courtroom No. 2, Judge..."

"Are all Case Overviews this boring?" Athena complained. "Who writes these?"

I suspect interns, but I suppose court stenographers may also be to blame. But if you're ever here late at night searching for legal precedent, it's best to get used to this style of writing.

Athena groaned, scrolling down to the bottom of the overview to find out when Gavin was arrested for the crime. She was pretty sure this would be the one.

'...took the stand as a witness to explain his knowledge of the case. At first, Gavin merely claimed he had seen the crime scene through a window and described a scene that implicated Wright as the killer. This testimony seemed satisfactory until Justice presented a previously unseen card to the court: an Ace of Spades, flecked with a drop of blood. Upon seeing the card, Gavin became enraged, insisting the card was a fraud and illegal under evidence law. Wright interrupted Gavin by claiming that only the person who removed the card from the scene could possibly make such claims, and that this outburst implicated Gavin far more than any previous comments had (see Trial Transcript for details).

'Furthermore, the drop of blood on the card implied that Smith had been struck while facing the wall of the room (and not the defendant as originally claimed). This fact revealed that the cupboard behind the victim's chair had been moved at the time of the murder to uncover a secret passage, thereby covering the window Gavin claimed to have viewed the crime scene from. After explaining away the fingerprints on the bottle as being switched with the true murder weapon upstairs, there was nothing left to implicate Wright as the murderer, and enough to arrest Gavin. The trial ended in a Not Guilty verdict.

'Though the rationale behind the arrest sparked much controversy, the trial for Kristoph Gavin (held a week later) ended in record time, with Gavin confessing and a Guilty verdict rendered soon after. After prosecuting the trial, Payne officially retired from the local prosecutor's office, saying his career had lost its drive long before, and standing before greenhorn Justice had only reminded him of the fact.

'Afterwards, the trials of State v. Wright and State v. Gavin became the center of several conspiracy theories, particularly in regards to the identity of Shadi Smith, the true motive for murder, and the appearance of the bloody ace. Many claim that such cases are perfect examples of the so-called "Dark Age of the Law" of our time and demanded a retrial, but Gavin himself stated he had no intention of seeking an appeal, and claims he killed Shadi Smith because he is a "evil human being".'

Athena sunk back in her chair, digesting what she'd just read. No wonder Apollo didn't talk about his first case. She knew Mr. Wright had been a piano player for a while, but he never mentioned getting accused of murder!

You mean, your precious boss didn't tell you? He didn't mention what it took for him to regain his badge?

A dark laugh reverberated through her head, sending shivers up her spine. This wasn't possible.

She saw what was wrong with the case, but she didn't want to believe it. Not until her colleagues had a chance to explain themselves. Even now, the demon's words echoed through her mind, planting the seeds of doubt.

But Athena denied that was the case. She wasn't going to let this get to her. He wasn't going to get to her.

So she turned to trials that Kristoph Gavin had served as the defense attorney on, all while the demon laughed.

The time came and went for her to revisit the Detention Center, all while she sat there. She read over a dozen case overviews, all the while wondering what exactly she'd brought back into the world.

Chapter Text

It was almost noon when Athena finally looked up from her browsing. "Simon!"

Surely he was at the Detention Center with his sister. Maybe he needed to collect his things from the prison, too. Maybe he was still there. Either way, Athena should be there for him. He needed someone at his side for this.

So, he's worth sharing your body with me?

"Of course he is!" Athena insisted. "Simon is the bravest, most determined person I know! He nearly gave his life for me, the least I can do is give up part of mine for him."

How poetic of you. His reply was dry, sarcastic even. From what Athena now knew about Kristoph Gavin, she doubted he'd felt that way about anyone in his life.

And so she took off without hearing another word from him, ordering him to be silent on the way over. Now that the Detention Center was holding visiting hours, the waiting room was getting crowded. Athena overheard lots of nervous chatter about the holidays, listening to people discuss what can and cannot be given to prisoners as Christmas gifts. Right as she was about to go up to the counter, Athena spotted Simon Blackquill stripped down to his work pants and undershirt. He was hunched over in a corner with a large bag in hand, not seeing or speaking to anyone.

"Simon!" she called out, giving him a big wave. He looked up at the sound of her voice, offering a brief nod of acknowledgement. The people surrounding them went silent.

Athena ignored their stares as she came over, doing her best to keep a large smile on your face. "So it's official, right? You're free now!"

"To an extent," he grunted. "Due to the apparent psychological trauma induced by being on death row for seven years, the state has appointed me a counselor I must visit every week until she's done with me. And while they process my release reports and clean my record, it is recommended that I neither leave the state nor apply for anything that requires formal paperwork, lest I be listed as a convicted felon."

"But you're not in a cell anymore," she pointed out. "No one's threatening you with execution, and you can go anywhere you want handcuff-free! What are you waiting for?"

"Prosecutor Gavin to conclude his interrogation of my dear sister. I fear her trial isn't going to end well." Blackquill turned to her, haggard. "There are news reports insisting she be charged as a domestic terrorist for what she's done."

"Mein gott!" Athena's hands flew up to her face, Widget jumping to a surprised yellow. "What is Prosecutor Gavin going to do?"

"I don't know, and I'm not in a position to find out." Blackquill's eyes darted to the counter, then around the room. "Mr. Edgeworth kicked me out of the Prosecutor's Office until the next year. By the time I'm back in court, Aura's trial will be over, and the Infernal Noise Machine will have put her away for life."

"Do you want me to defend her?"

Simon grunted. "Even if I said yes, Aura is bound to refuse. If she has any sense, she's going to ask for Justice-dono or Wright-dono."

"Well, if she wants Apollo, then her trial will have to wait until after Christmas. Apollo doesn't come back to work until the twenty-sixth."

"That blasted-" Simon shut his mouth before he got too loud. People were still staring at them. "Hmph. No matter. I'll simply go to Wright-dono, unless he's also taken an inpromptu vacation?"

"Nope! Someone has to watch the office while we're out." It was then that Athena remembered. "Speaking of, the boss gave me the same amount of time as Apollo so I could help you out. Anything you need from me?"

"Don't waste your time with me," he growled. "Take care of yourself. Yesterday, you could barely speak."

"Speak for yourself!" She bristled at his dismissal. "Yesterday, you were headed for the hangman's axe! Don't you need a place to live or something?"

"As it just so happens, Aura offered her apartment to me. But she left her keys at the Space Center, and getting there without the press latching onto my surcoat is going to be a death march into the sea."

"Is that why you changed some of your... wait." Athena paused. "If you don't have keys to her apartment yet, where were you last night?"

"Here. The prison, to be exact."

"But why?"

"Processing my release took hours, and the pillocks handling the matter were too tired to complete their task efficiently, it seems. They didn't understand why I refused to stay in prison one more night, and ended up taking until two in the morning to get everything sorted out. At that point, I decided I didn't want to traverse the city at that hour, and simply sat in this chair until morning, when the Detention Center opened."

"Sacrebleu!" Athena cried. "The point of yesterday was so you wouldn't have to spend another night here."

"Indeed."

Athena wasn't sure what to say next. "Do you have any money with you? If not, I can pay for us to get lunch somewhere. Then we can come back and talk to your sister. She might not be happy about it, but she's not going anywhere."

Simon snorted, the hint of a smile crossing his haggard face. "I suppose that's true. Where do you suggest?"

"There's a Burger Barn down the street. We can walk there."

Simon laughed. "My first taste of freedom will be the lowest common denominator of fast food. Very well. I can work my way up to the quality material."

"If you want somewhere else, just say so." Athena balled her fists. "I'm the one with the wallet, here!"

"For now, yes." He stood slowly, stretching the stiffness out of his bones. Had he really been here for hours? "By your lead, Athena."

Athena. After months of him referring to her by her last name, hearing him say it made her feel warm inside. It was closer to what she imagined meeting him again would feel like. Closer to what she wanted for him.

Walking over there, Athena almost forgot about her little situation. About what it had taken to get her and Simon to the place they were now. Watching him take in the sights of the city like it was all new to him, it made her feel better about the choices she'd made. She'd been rash to do it, but she hadn't been wrong.

If that's what it takes for you to come to terms with your fate, then yes. Risking your soul to save a man you knew as a child was the right thing to do.

"Be quiet." She snapped, getting Simon's attention.

"Hm?" He turned around, stopping in his path.

"Oh, nothing!" Athena was quicker to recover than before. "I thought Widget was about to say something, is all." she looked down at the device on her neck, even though he wasn't what she was talking to. "I thought I told you to be quiet."

"You ought to thank Aura for building that device, when you get the chance. Her pride in her work may be your way in."

"Maybe," she replied, mentally cursing the demon in her head. Was it premature to start researching exorcism? Either way, there was no way Athena was going to be able to keep this up forever.

When the sign for the restaurant came into view, Athena was more than grateful for the distraction. "There it is! Let's cross the street up here." She and Simon walked up to the nearest crosswalk, waiting for the lights to change.

Athena glanced at the prosecutor out of the corner of her eye. "How does it feel?"

"Hm?"

"How does it feel, walking around in public? Unescorted, I mean?"

He snorted. "You're as infernally peppy as that impostor, so it isn't that much different. But I suppose it's pleasant to no longer feel the chains of cruel fate on my soul."

Unlike Athena, she assumed. Had she broken the chains, or taken them upon herself? It was getting hard to tell nowadays.

No, she was being dramatic. Sharing court privileges with a demon wasn't a picnic, but she would take it any day over being wrongfully imprisoned on death row. Simon had gone through so much undeserved pain that she didn't have a problem making a small sacrifice for his life and happiness.

Or so she told herself.

When they walked up to the counter at Burger Barn, Athena ordered her usual cheeseburger while Simon deliberated on whether or not he should one with jalapeno cheese. She asked if they had any orange juice left over from the breakfast run while Simon got his first Coke in years. It felt so normal, so peaceful. She could hardly believe it was real.

Simon gravitated towards the table in the corner, the place where the fewest patrons could see him. Was he doing it to avoid attention?

"You excited?"

He raised an eyebrow. Athena sighed.

"Silly! It's the first burger you've gotten in years! Do you even remember what they taste like?"

"In the occasional dream, yes. But I would hardly consider this an important matter. The next time I sit on a couch, you're going to ask me if they feel the way I remember."

"Well, it's not like they have any in prison, right?"

Simon laughed, a wry tinge to the sound. "Not unless you knew the right people."

"You mean they let some prisoners have that stuff?" Athena asked. "Like who?"

Like me.

Athena jumped at the intrusion in the conversation. Simon studied her, a questioning look in his eye. "Are we a fidgety chick today?"

"...I'm fine." She mentally scolded herself, then Gavin. "What were you saying?"

Simon shook his head. "It matters little now, but I knew of this one man who served his sentence in solitary confinement. He was a persuasive man with friends in high places and used his snake-like tongue to get undeserved privileges. But he hardly has them now."

"Why is that?" Athena asked, suspecting she knew the answer.

Simon laughed, a hollow sound. "He's dead. They killed him off about a month ago, with little fanfare."

Quite rude of them, if you ask me. They didn't even send for poor Klavier when it happened.

Did Athena not tell this guy to be quiet?

And why would I be quiet when you're discussing me? Don't you know? Speaking ill of the dead brings bad fortune.

"Enough about prison," Athena insisted, steering the topic in a direction Gavin wouldn't feel the need to comment on. Or so she hoped. "What are your plans for the next few days?"

Simon looked away, eyes unfocused. "Badger Wright-dono into defending my sister, get her apartment keys from the space center, and see if she kept any of my old things. Knowing her, I imagine they were all thrown out."

"Do you have any money? You know, from before you were arrested?"

"Considering how young I was? Very little. But Mr. Edgeworth said I should be getting paid for the cases I took behind bars. The paycheck will be coming any day now."

"Any idea how much that is?"

"None."

"Hm... At least you have a job lined up?"

Simon snorted. "Indeed."

"If you need any help, I'm here for you. You know that, right?"

He looked away when he answered, repeating what he'd said before. "You're obligated to do nothing of the sort. Don't trouble yourself for my sake. You've done enough."

Oh, if only this man knew.

Athena stomped on her own foot, hoping the demon would feel the pain. "Of course I'm going to help you, Simon. I can't just watch you struggle and not do anything. That isn't who I am. You should know that by now."

"I know you're too stubborn to understand when to quit," he warned. "And not just in my case."

"Oh, and you're not stubborn?" she challenged him, eyes getting fiery.

He didn't budge."Simply ensure you don't get into messes you can't get out of. The clink taught me that better than any advisor could."

Athena was pretty entangled at the moment, but sure, nice advice. She briefly considered telling Simon what was going on, only to decide against it. Even if he believed her, what could he do about it? Not to mention how much it would upset him.

"Athena?"

"Yeah, okay," she responded distractedly. "Just... keep in touch with me, okay? We've been through too much to not trust each other."

The rest of lunch was terrible. Their first meal together with Simon freed, and both were too caught up in their own thoughts to carry a real conversation. And despite all of Athena's attempts to be happy for him, her mind just kept drifting back to herself, and what she'd done to get to this point.

Did she regret it? She didn't think so, and she'd never say it out loud. But things were still so unreal. How long would it be until the weight of her bargain really set in, really made her realize the cost of what she'd asked for? Had a deal with a demon really been the only way to save Simon? Would he have died without a savior from hell?

If it really was the only way, the world was more hopeless than she'd thought. Blind optimism could only keep her going for so long.

Hers or his, the feeling of cynicism was thick in the air. So much it almost choked her.

After throwing away their trash, Athena offered to walk Simon to the Wright Anything Agency, and then to the Space Center. Until he mentioned going there, she'd forgotten he hadn't actually been to either place in years. The only time Simon had been allowed to investigate in person was at Shipshape Aquarium.

Mr. Wright was surprised to see her again so soon, but Athena didn't say much about it. She spoke as little as possible, discreetly covering Widget to prevent another mishap. All in all, Simon didn't need her help for this part. Phoenix ended up agreeing to represent Aura in court, and promised to get her the lowest sentence possible for all the things she'd done. It didn't sound like easy work, but Trucy sounded excited to help him investigate again, and promised to testify as positively as she could about Aura's treatment of her hostages. They were likely to finish by Christmas Eve at the latest.

The trip to the Space Center was far more eventful. Simon thought he'd be able to ask Director Cosmos for the keys to Aura's apartment, only to walk in on the man getting fired. Arguing with the higher ups from the federal government took over an hour. If Athena had to guess, the only reason Simon got his hands on the keys was raw persistence on both their parts. And who says being stubborn doesn't have its advantages?

"Do you want me to go with you to see your sister?" she asked as they were leaving.

Simon shook his head. "I don't think sister dearest would be all that enthused to see you. Years of hatred are difficult to let go of for some."

Gee, Athena knew someone like that. He was living in her head!

Be as childish as you desire. My purposes with you have nothing to do with your boss. Though I wouldn't say the idea of taking possession of his associate in a trial gives me no pleasure.

Athena felt nausea at the thought. What did possession even feel like? Look like? Would she look different to others?

If you'd like, I can demonstrate. When we're in private, of course. You'd have to make an exception in the contract, however.

Athena didn't answer the demon right away. After parting ways with Simon at the entrance to the Detention Center, she had the idea of whipping out her phone, pretending to take a phone call as she spoke with him.

"I don't want to be in court the first time it happens. What's it like, anyway?"

From your end? I have no idea. I've only ever possessed one person, and that was Mr. Justice. And you, very briefly.

Athena stopped in her tracks, nearly colliding with the person behind her. "Wait. Last night? You mean, in my dreams?"

Yes. Best I can tell, the only physical difference is in the eyes. Which is odd, considering it was-

"Is it different for every person?"

Were you not listening earlier? I've possessed a total of two people in my time as a demon. Ask some other spirit. Or your coworker.

That didn't exactly fill Athena with confidence. "Well, the eye thing isn't that noticeable unless you're looking for it. I mean, the boss's eyes change all the time, and no one ever accuses him of being possessed."

That got him to laugh. Well, go back to your apartment, and we'll test things out for ourselves. Assuming you agree to doing this and don't go soul-selling over the affair.

Athena bit her lip, turning down the road to her apartment. "Can I trust you to not leave the apartment in my body while we do this? And give control back when I ask?"

It'd be very stupid of me to ruin this arrangement for myself over something petty. And on the first day, no less. You have my word.

That really didn't mean much. But what did she expect? "...Okay, fine. I'll head back."

Excellent.

Chapter Text

Athena fell face first into her couch, contemplating the consequences of what she was about to do. Had she really thought this through?

It almost sounded like a sigh in her head. When you're done being dramatic, tell me. Or do you really want me to take you by surprise in court?

Rationally, she knew he was right. If this was something they were going to do, they would have to have a routine well established, or else they would be found out. And Athena had no idea what would happen if they were. Would people try to preform an exorcism on her? Lock her up in a mental hospital? Athena's ears had already landed her in there during her formative years, and she had no intention of going back. The way some people treated patients in there was downright cruel. After UR-1, they were the source of her worst memories.

And besides, what was she really risking here? Sure, Gavin was evil, but he was also extremely pragmatic. There was always a grand scheme of things with him, if the archives were any indication. Athena couldn't think of how breaking their deal (here and now, at least) would help him, and didn't sound like he could be motivated by anything else. For all practical purposes, she was safe.

Unless she was missing something.

So Athena resigned herself to this... experiment. "Okay, I think I'm ready. Do it."

Finally. He sounded almost gleeful. Let us begin.

Nothing could have prepared Athena for what happened next. Her body froze. One by one, her fidgeting fingers stopped moving. Athena lost feeling in her arms, then her legs. After a few seconds, Athena felt like her whole body was numb. She tried to voice her displeasure, only to discover that her mouth couldn't move. She couldn't speak.

She was trapped. In her own body.

Athena could see her legs as she stood, but her sense of touch was still cut off. She could hear her footsteps, but something about it felt different, somehow. Less clear.

She vaguely saw her arms stretched over her head as he spoke. "Ahhh. The feeling of corporeality. So this is what resurrection must feel like."

That was her voice, but the sound... it was different, somehow. Less impassioned. All the inflections indicating emotional state were... gone. It was the Phantom all over again.

And that's when it dawned on Athena. Her ears! She couldn't use them when he was in control.

But could he? Athena couldn't see why not, but part of her didn't want to know the answer.

He walked her body over to a mirror, studying his (her?) expression in the mirror. His face had the mask of impassiveness, then dissolved into a frown. He made her look years older, all with the emotions in her face.

"I'm already going to be disrespected in court for posing as a child. But a female? Gaining credibility will be twice as hard."

Hey! Athena tried to object, but she had no idea how to in this form. She couldn't move at all. How had he been talking to her earlier?

He sighed, putting a hand in the air while he shook his head. "I sense your confusion, Miss Cykes. If you want to organize your thoughts into something coherent, work on focusing your words, and think about sending them to me. A letter with your mind, if you will."

Was it really that much effort? He hadn't made it seem that hard earlier.

What did she want to say to him? Speaking out was harder now that she had to think it through.

H-hey! Who says I can't be respected?

"I didn't say can't. I said it would be more difficult. Considering your ability, one would think you're a better listener than this." He studied her ears in the mirror while Athena zeroed in on her eyes. They really were a shade paler. The difference was slight, but it chilled her all the same. "Surely you're aware of the flaws in society? Don't be ashamed if you aren't. Truly, I never cared much for them myself. Now, they shackle me."

...You sound nothing like me.

He smiled, parting her lips like scissors. Her arms were crossed. "You're right. It's going to be a task, molding myself to your speech patterns. Do you have any suggestions for me?"

Athena had to think about that. Well for one thing, be positive. It took me years to make myself an optimist.

"You forced yourself into rose colored lenses?" he questioned her, fumbling with her clothes. "That's odd. Most people take them off when they reach your age. But very well." He bent slightly down, balling her hands into fists as he shouted. "I'm Athena Cykes and I'm fine!"

Something was off about the way he did it. Athena thought back to her times with Apollo, trying to figure out what he'd done wrong. I only do that when I take a case with Apollo. Even then, I usually flash a peace sign at the end.

"Hm..." he moved her hand up to flick her moon earring, capturing her motions almost perfectly. When had he seen her do that? "Like this?" He made one with his left hand up near his face.

Other hand. And push it away from you when you do it. Keep your arm straight, too.

He did it again. This time, it almost sounded like her. She could feel him cringing internally, but Athena was more creeped out at his expression. It was hers. Her face, her body... but his control.

He really was good at keeping a straight face. And without access to her ears, she felt vulnerable to him. He was quite the actor. A genuine falsehood, through and through.

"So, any verbal tics I should be aware of? Aside from adapting my dear brother's fondness for German into a multilingual melting pot?"

Athena considered the question. She wasn't quite used to this level of self-awareness. It reminded her of her time in college, when her Psych 101 teacher forced them all to observe themselves like psych patients for an entire semester, behaving like the test subjects of their own experiments. Athena had changed most of her habits since then, but the basic principles still applied.

But Athena's personality was the opposite of Gavin's on a lot of levels. Most obviously when it came to empathy.

You're going to have to learn how to care for other people. I don't know how you can just imitate that.

He smiled. "Oh, that? That's easy. It might not seem this way to you, Miss Cykes, but people fake their sympathy for others every day. Just because you can tell doesn't mean the world can. Speaking of..." he was back to massaging her ears, "I wonder if I have your ability in this state. It would be most helpful in court."

Was it possible to feel violated by her own hands? Athena was beginning to think it was. Especially when he got handsy elsewhere.

Stop it!

He grunted, putting her hands down. "This is the strangest feeling yet. You try working out of the body of a man with poor eyesight who's significantly taller than you and not find it strange. Speaking of..." He wandered around her apartment to her bedroom, cracking open her closet.

What are you doing?

"There's a power dynamic associated with height. Did you know?"

I studied it briefly. Why?

"Do you own any heels, Miss Cykes?"

I don't think so. I can't even walk in them.

"Neither can I," he growled. "Of all the things I might have regretted not doing while alive, I did not think this would be a consideration."

Why are you so obsessed with looking powerful? There was a complex in there somewhere, she was sure of it. People would think it was weird if I suddenly just changed my style, you know.

"And why is that? People change their style all the time, particularly women. You're young, and you're still growing up. Is it really so unbelievable you'd want to look mature for once?"

For once? You've known me, like, a day!

"And I've seen how you dress for work. You honestly go to your law office and court looking like this?" He gestured towards her current outfit, particularly her short skirt and loose tie. "Considering your boss, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised."

Athena would have growled if she'd been able to. She could see Widget turning red through her eyes. If she focused hard enough, could she get him to say something? My body, my rules! You are a guest here. You don't get to tell me what I should and should not wear.

He shook his head, seemingly conceding. "Very well. Be perceived in court how you will."

As if Athena would ever fall for a trap so obvious. She silently fumed as he walked back to the mirror, asking her how she did this expression or phrased that thing. It was a hard thing to remember, and it felt like their "practice session" lasted for hours. They were just going through how her body moved in court when her cell phone rang.

He walked into the bedroom, looking around for the ringing phone. It was Juniper!

Give me my body back.

"Woods? Who is this?"

Give. Me. My. Body. Back.

He relented at the last moment, allowing Athena to regain feeling in her limbs just before the phone went to voicemail.

"Junie!"

"Thena!" Juniper's voice was weak. It sounded like she'd been sobbing. "Oh Thena... I just heard the news!"

Wait, what news? What could she- ohhh. Yesterday's news. "See Junie? I told you I would free Simon!"

"I'm sorry I didn't believe you, Thena. It's just been so long since you knew him, and when I saw Prosecutor Blackquill last October..." she coughed. "I can't believe I was almost a hostage!"

That's right. Juniper had visited the Space Center yesterday. She must have left right before the hostage situation occurred, narrowly avoiding the whole ordeal. Dios, it all felt like so long ago.

"Are you doing okay, Thena?"

"Never been better!" Athena chirped, ignoring the demonic laugh as she told her lie. "I'm on Cloud Nine!"

"Are you sure?" Juniper sounded concerned. Had she not been convincing? "I mean just yesterday, you were on charge for murder!"

"Oh, that?" Athena laughed. "I'm fine! Everything's been cleared up now. They caught the-" Athena caught herself just in time. "What did you hear in the news?"

"Just that you and Prosecutor Blackquill were released, and that the real killer has been found. Why?"

That's what she thought. The government was keeping the capture of the Phantom as quiet as possible. Wonder what they did to the gallery members. "Some of the information about the case is sensitive. Since it happened at the Space Center and all."

"Oh!" her friend replied. "I never thought about that. I'm sorry."

"No, it's fine. What are you up to, Junie? You're still on winter vacation, right?"

"Yes. Robin and Hugh came over to my house. They're the ones who told me the news."

"Are they still there?"

"Yes. They're in the other room at the moment, though."

Athena briefly considered asking to talk to them, but decided against it. Aside from a few mutual meetups with Junie, she'd hardly seen them since taking her first case. "How are they?"

"Good." Athena caught just a tinge of sadness in her voice. "Hugh's working really hard to learn the material."

"Is he having a hard time?"

"A little." She breathed in heavily. "But he's so stubborn. He wants to prove he's smart enough and won't let me and Robin help him."

"Too proud for that, huh? Do you think he'd appreciate it if I came over? I can say I want him to be my apprentice. Or maybe Mr. Wright could try!" Athena rattled off suggestions. "Does he have a teacher willing to help him out? Who's replacing Professor Means?"

Means is dead? This is news to me.

"Did I not tell you to-"

"Thena?"

"Oh!" Athena flushed with embarrassment. "Not you, Junie. Just a neighbor of mine."

Neighbor? More like a roommate from hell.

Juniper coughed before answering again. "I don't know when we're getting new teachers. The substitute judge professor is nice, but she won't be here long. Ms. Courtney wants to return to the bench next semester. Mr. Shields too."

"Is he the defense attorney guy?"

"Yeah, but the prosecuting side got their professor back, now that she's had her baby. Robin's happy." Juniper paused, likely working up the courage to ask her next question. "How is Apollo?"

"He seemed better yesterday, but I haven't seen him today. He took time off to prepare for Clay's funeral." Normally, Athena would suggest Juniper ask Apollo herself, but now wasn't the best time. He deserved the space to heal, especially after all the pain she'd brought him.

He was right when he accused her of killing his best friend. In a way, she had.

"Oh Apollo... you've all been through so much!" She sounded like she was about to cry.

"Junie, calm down. We made it through." Athena laughed uncomfortably. "Everyone's fine now."

"Are you sure? You sound a little strange."

Could Juniper tell, somehow? The thought seemed ridiculous, but Athena couldn't shake the feeling that everyone knew. Knew, and was judging her for a decision she made years ago.

"I'm just tired. Ran around a lot with Simon today, and he's got a lot on his plate. He's got a place to live, and job waiting for him, but... you know. Oh hey," Athena remembered one more thing about earlier today, "Junie? Did you study State V. Wright during school last year?"

"Huh? That sounds familiar..." Juniper stopped talking to her for a moment. Athena could hear her calling into another room. Was that Robin's voice? "Wait! We did talk about it in current events! I think I was a sophomore. That was Apollo's first case, wasn't it?"

"It was. Do you remember anything about the discussion?"

"No, I'm sorry. It was a long time ago."

So she didn't have any thoughts on the matter. Great. Athena was hoping she could get an outsider's opinion before she confronted the boss about what she'd seen. She still had no idea what she thought or felt regarding the matter.

"Why do you ask?"

"I... was doing some research this morning. On the Dark Age of the Law, actually. I wanted to understand it better." Athena was lying left and right today, wasn't she?

Juniper still sounded confused. "I see. We're a little young to know much about it, don't you think? Professor Courte always said people exaggerate it too much. I think the media played it up to be bigger than it was."

"That makes sense." Athena sighed, wishing she knew what to do next. "I'll... let you go, Junie. Thanks for the call."

"Glad to hear you're doing well, Thena. Maybe you can come up to see me tomorrow."

"That sounds awesome!"

A bit of happiness crept into Juniper's voice at the end. "Great! Goodbye, Thena!"

"Bye!" Athena hung up, only to be barraged with questions.

When did Professor Means die, if I may ask?

"He isn't dead. He went to prison for murder. You two were in the same prison." Athena paused, realizing something. "Didn't you see him?"

If you recall, I was kept in Solitary Confinement during my prison stay. Don't be surprised if I know less than Mr. Blackquill.

"How do you know Professor Means?"

He was a new teacher when I was a senior at Themis. The man stole my legal commentary and claimed it was his. And while he was credited for giving a daring reflection on our legal system today, I was forced to remain silent at the threat of expulsion. That commentary was my ticket into legal renown!

Athena shuddered at the sheer amount of anger coursing through her body. She didn't need her ears for this one. "What was your commentary about?"

My analysis of the work done by such figures as Manfred Von Karma and Blaise Debeste, who were praised endlessly despite being constantly followed by accusations of corruption. I wanted to point out how hypocritical the legal system was, especially in regards to prosecutors versus defense attorneys. The Initial Trial System only made it worse. My investigation fell just short of hard evidence and because evidence is everything in court- Athena froze at the mention of his maxim. Professor Means publishing my work didn't lead to their arrest, only him being sued ineffectively for libel. So called "Dark Age enthusiasts" claim Means- meaning myself- predicted the fall of almost every name mentioned in the book, foretelling the next legal age and beginning the Machiavellian philosophy that Means so arrogantly takes credit for. He scoffed. The pride of my senior year, stolen.

"And why exactly are you proud of this?" Athena questioned. "Thanks to people like you, the public lost trust in the system entirely! All this proves is you founded the Dark Age more than anyone thought."

If they lost trust in the legal system, it's because they finally saw the truth of the world they live in. A truth they had a right to know. Don't blame the messenger. Your precious Simon Blackquill would have died without my order's intervention. Your system didn't save him; a lower angel did at your request. Your faith in the people around you is nothing short of idiotic.

"Oh, and you're so high and mighty?" Athena was shouting into the air, driven on by both his and her own resentment. "You were executed for being as corrupt as the people you exposed!"

And yet, I never would have been caught if your boss didn't use corrupt means to entrap me. She hated his condescending tone in her head. She hated his laugh. She hated everything about this demon.

And most of all, she hated that it was true. All of it.

Corruption doesn't hide well, Miss Cykes. Once someone smells something off, you can't just convince them it isn't there. The only way to survive is to redirect their target. Give them someone else to go after and waste their energy on. Phoenix learned that from me.

Since gaining employment with the lower order, I've been blessed once again with a clear mind. Now that everything is visible to me, I've been able to see myself for who I am, and others for who they are. And the difference between myself and others is that I accept my own evil. In the end, that's the only difference that matters. Especially if you end up in the place I did.

Athena now knew where Means had gotten his ideas from, and it showed. Like student like teacher, it seemed. She was surprised Apollo had turned out as well as he did. It must have been a struggle for him.

But if he could make it, so could she. "What's wrong is wrong no matter who does it. Now that people are coming into the light and acting in the open, I'm sure people will realize there are trustworthy people out there."

If you say so, Miss Cykes.

"And if it makes you feel better, I was the one who accused Means in court. He went after Juniper two months ago, and no one succeeds at framing my friends. No one!"

Well then, I suppose I have reason to thank you. You have my gratitude. Know that his actions are not in any way different from how he was fifteen years ago.

Athena looked for the sarcastic edge in his voice, only to find none. It seemed he was actually being genuine for once. Even without her ears at work, she could always feel exactly what was stirring in his heart, and vice versa. On one hand, it was like they couldn't lie to each other.

On the other, it made her most vulnerable.

Chapter Text

Athena woke up the next morning, secretly wishing the past day had all been a dream. Maybe she'd been slipped a hallucinogenic drug without her knowledge. Or got a concussion in the fight with the Phantom.

Are you going to do this to yourself every morning? How long will it be until you accept the consequences of your actions?

But of course, it wasn't to be. His words had tormented her all last night, leaving her in no mood to deal with his commentary. Turns out, a common after-effect of demonic possession was headache. Who knew?

"I'm visiting a friend outside of town today, okay? There's nothing for you to do. I thought it was part of my deal that you wouldn't invade my personal life."

No, actually. The deal was that I would never possess you during your personal life. If you really want to be a lawyer, you should learn to distinguish differences such as these.

"Should I really be taking advice from someone whose career ended in their early thirties? I'm not sure that will work out for me in the long term." She snapped back, sinking to his level. "There's a reason you need me, you know. And whose fault is that?"

With accepting my evil came accepting my failures. In death, they torment me no longer.

It wasn't as though she believed that, but it was enough to get them off topic. "If you really want to be here to observe me, I need you to be as quiet as possible. I'm going to enjoy my time with Junie, and I'm not goint to have you ruin it."

I will keep quiet. You won't even know I'm here.

"Good."

Athena got out of bed, showering and dressing herself and praying that Gavin wasn't with her in the bathroom. He never said anything, and she hoped he never did. The embarrassment would probably kill her.

Athena didn't don her work outfit this time, opting for a T-shirt and jeans. The shirt was her shade of yellow, and had the words "Don't Worry Be Happy" etched on the front. It'd been an impulse purchase, but she'd ended up liking it. Athena smiled at herself in the mirror, then flipped the power switch on Widget.

"Good morning, Athena!"

"Good morning, Widget!" she chirped, beaming. She silently waited for snark from the resident demon, and exhaled when she heard nothing. Maybe he was going to keep his promise today. That would be pleasant. Maybe she could even forget about him.

Athena had slept in too late for jogging, so she downed a glass of water, grabbed a protein bar, and burst out the door. Buying bus fare went without incident, and the bus was right on time. The closest stop to Junie's house was still a half hour away from the real place, so Athena brought a bottle of water with her for the walk.

When Athena was younger, she had loved her trips up to Junie's house. The relative lack of people was easier for her ears to process, and made her feel less overwhelmed than the city did. Now that she was used to the constant noise, the wilderness made her feel empty. Lonely.

But Athena knew Junie preferred the mountains for health reasons, and she didn't mind going out of her way to see her. It was especially nice after they'd reconnected, even if this would be her first time at Juniper's house in years.

Should she have brought a coat? Athena vaguely remembered it being colder in the mountains, but she didn't have anything very thick. She'd gotten rid of all her snow gear upon moving to America. It didn't snow in LA, right?

She pulled up a game of Solitaire on Widget to keep herself occupied, one ear out to listen for her stop. It was the last stop on an hours-long route, so it shouldn't be hard to miss. The heater wasn't very good, and she shivered as they got further out of town. What was she thinking?

When she got out, she ran down the road at top speed, wishing she'd worn something warmer. It was eight degrees Celsius at best. She remembered Juniper's house being fairly close to the bus stop, but the route wasn't exactly direct. Lots of twists and turns, and only the occasional neighbor out here. But Juniper had a nice big garden in the front of her home, so it was easy to tell which was hers.

Athena grinned when she saw it, panting as she knocked on the door. A tall old lady with gigantic glasses and a wool sweater answered the door, smiling when she saw Athena.

"Athena, sweetheart! Juniper told me you were coming by. So good to see you!"

"Thank you, Ms. Woods." Athena always loved Junie's grandma. She was so warm, and the voice of her heart was eternally clear. Her presence was soothing for someone like her, especially at a younger age. "May I come in?"

"Sure, dearie. And please, call me Grammie. You always did when you were younger, no reason to be so formal now." She handed Athena a warm cup of herbal tea. It must have been brewing before Athena showed up.

"Oh Grammie, you're so good to me."

"You're welcome, dearie. Juniper is in her room. She might be listening to music, so you'll have to let her know you're here. Do you have any Christmas plans, Athena?"

"I do. My boss and his family are putting together a Christmas party at the office. I was going to invite Juniper while I'm here. Did you want to come, Grammie?"

She shook her head. "I don't go into the city much anymore. Mostly for doctor visits and Juniper these days."

"Doctor visits?" Athena was concerned. "Are you sick, Grammie?"

"No, dear. Nothing like that." For the first time in living memory, Athena caught a bit of discord in Grammie's voice. "Go on and see Juniper. Tell her I have tea in the kitchen."

"No problemo." Athena meant to put more enthusiasm behind her voice, but she was distracted. What was wrong with Grammie?

Still, it didn't sound like she was going to talk about it to Athena. Maybe Juniper knew something about it.

She knocked on Juniper's door. Sure enough, Gavinners' music was blasting through the wood. "Junie?"

The music turned off, replaced by the sound of running feet. The door flew open. "Thena! Did you wear that outside?"

"Yeah..." Athena slumped, wiping her forehead. "It's warmer in the city."

"Thena, you need to warm up." Juniper sifted through her closet, handing her an orange trench coat that clashed with her hair. Athena threw it on, sipping her tea.

"Thanks, Junie."

Juniper noticed the tea. "Did Grandma make that?"

Athena nodded mid-sip, causing herself to cough. "She wanted me to tell you she had a cup ready in the kitchen if you wanted any."

"She probably made it for you. Grandma knows how you are."

"Gee thanks." Athena didn't miss the implication. "It's cold up here."

"It's always colder up here. You know that."

"Yeah, yeah. I don't know what I was thinking."

Juniper examined her friend cuddled up on her bed, finishing off the tea and dropping the mug on her nightstand. "Don't worry, Thena. You can borrow a sweater while you're here. I was hoping you would garden with me."

Athena perked up instantly at the thought. She never kept plants in her apartment, but Juniper was magic with them. Juniper had a green thumb that bordered on witchcraft. Her vegetables always grew up to be bountiful, and everything in the garden was one hundred percent organic. Athena and Juniper always had so much fun growing radishes and carrots as children. They were the only plants Athena didn't seem to destroy.

"Sure, Junie! You know I love helping you out there." She looked down at her outfit. "Sorry I didn't come prepared."

Juniper laughed. "It's okay, Thena. You know I don't mind letting you borrow things. Here," she pulled an old sweater out of her closet, laying it at Athena's feet, "wear this over your clothes. I'm going to go tell Grandma. We can head down to the shed when you're ready."

"Sure thing!" Athena pulled her sweater over her head the second the door was closed. She found it tight on her breasts to the point of being uncomfortable, but tried to make a big deal out of it. It wasn't itchy, and it wasn't like Athena had any right to complain. At least she'd worn her sneakers over.

Right as she was about to leave the room, she heard Juniper's grandmother coughing in the kitchen.

Something must be wrong with her. Athena was sure of it.

But when she stepped into the kitchen, both Juniper and her grandmother acted like nothing had happened. Juniper finished off her cup of tea and smiled at Athena. "You ready, Thena?"

"You bet. Let's do this!"

"You two be careful out there. Stick together, you hear?"

"Yes, Grandma," Juniper replied, the happiness disappearing from her voice. "We won't go any further than the garden."

"Good girls. Don't let Athena forget to come back in before the evening bus. We can eat an early dinner together. I'll prepare it."

"That sounds wonderful!" Athena loved the woman's cooking. It'd been years since they ate dinner together. "Don't worry, this won't take that long."

"Come on, Thena." Juniper ushered her out the door. On the walk to the shed, she turned to her friend. "Sorry about that. Grandma was protective of Robin and Hugh as well."

"Why?"

Juniper didn't face Athena when she answered. "It's nothing. One of our neighbors must have forgotten to tell somebody when she went out of town. No one's heard from Ms. Singh in days, and Grandma thinks the worst."

"Someone is missing?" Athena stopped in her tracks. "How awful!"

"Well, she is older than Grandma. Most of us just think she took the bus to the city and forgot to tell anyone. It's only been two days." Juniper pulled Athena by the arm. "The shed is this way. I have the key."

Athena followed Juniper to the shed, waiting as she unlocked the place. There was no heating in the shed, so it was almost as cold as outside. "Junie, is Grammie doing okay? She mentioned going to the doctor, and I heard her coughing."

Juniper stopped gathering tools, looking up at Athena. She wasn't smiling anymore. "The doctors don't know what's going on with her. She's been going and getting all these tests done, but they still don't have a diagnosis. She's struggling, but she won't slow down for anything. She doesn't want me talking about it. Not even Robin and Hugh know. I'm... only telling you because you'll find out anyway." Athena assumed Juniper was referring to her ears.

"Oh my gosh... Junie," Athena stuttered. "You shouldn't keep this a secret. Let me know if there's anything I can do, okay?"

"Just don't say anything to Grandma. If she asks, I didn't tell you, and don't ask. She doesn't want to hear it."

Athena was still concerned, but she didn't press on, simply gathering the necessary planting tools. The soil would be hard this time of year, and they would have to plant the crops closer together to prevent erosion. It was all coming back to Athena now.

When she knelt down in the dirt with Juniper, Athena felt a wave of boredom wash over her. Sure, she didn't enjoy gardening as much as Juniper, but it wasn't that bad. What was going on with her?

Must be Gavin.

"So what did you do with Robin and Hugh yesterday? Other than talk about the trial, I mean?"

"We didn't do much. Played cards. Hugh didn't want to stop studying, so we had to drag him."

"Does he have any construction work this time of year?"

"I don't think so. He still doesn't talk about that side of him very much."

"Well, he kept it a secret for so long. I'm really not surprised."

"But he must know he can trust us! We're his friends," Juniper argued, distressed. With everything in the girl's life right now, Athena could hardly blame her. She'd been on trial for murder less than a week ago, her grandmother was sick with an unknown illness, she was entering her last semester at Themis, and to top it all off, one of her neighbors was missing! Junie might be soft spoken, but she was stronger than most gave her credit for. But behind every strong person was an equally powerful breaking point, and when it was crossed, all hell would break loose. Athena knew it.

And so Athena stood by her, spicing up the repetitive task of planting carrots with long, personal chats. Athena might not be the closest person in Juniper's life anymore, but she would always be one of Athena's best friends. Time hadn't changed that.

They'd lost track of time by the time the police officer showed up. His sudden appearance startled the girls.

"Excuse me, Miss. I'd like to ask you a few questions."

"Me?" Athena asked, looking up. The man was likely in his late forties, with greying hair and a salt and pepper beard. "I don't live here. My friend Junie does."

"Junie?" The officer looked around, spotting Juniper for the first time. "Oh, Miss Woods! Nice to meet you. I saw your name in the news last week."

"Y-Yes, Officer... Oldaugh." Juniper read off his nametag, blushing furiously at the mention of the bombing trial. "What's going on, if I may ask?"

"We've received a missing person's report for one Ms. Gonma Singh. Her visiting granddaughter called it in when she arrived this morning. Problem is, I'm not too familiar with this part of the county. Can you point me in the direction of her residence?"

"Yes, Officer," Juniper abandoned her task to lead the officer down the dirt road, Athena following close behind. "I... didn't know Ms. Singh had family."

"She lived alone? At her age?"

"Sometimes my grandmother visited to help her out. Ms. Singh can be very forgetful. I thought she might have gone to the city and forgotten to tell us."

"Excuse me, Officer?" Athena piped up. "Can you tell me more about this case?"

He looked at her, confused. "Not much to tell ya yet, Missy. Just a few hours ago, a young woman claiming to be Ms. Singh's granddaughter arrived in town with her brother, saying they couldn't find Ms. Singh anywhere and wanted to file a report. We instructed them to try contacting the woman, and nothing. They claim they called ahead and went to the agreed meeting place, but she was nowhere to be found. Then they said they already visited her house, but it's procedure that the police check as well. Miss Woods-" Junie perked up, "-how long has this woman been missing to your knowledge?"

"About two days. Grandma said she would call you tonight if we didn't hear anything."

"Two days?!" His gray eyes blasted open. "Every hour you wait, the missing person is more likely to be dead! Why the heavens did you wait so long?"

"You don't understand." Juniper flailed, using her hat to hide her eyes. "Wandering off like this isn't unusual for Ms. Singh. She's gone to the city for as long as three days before remembering to call my grandmother. She keeps promising to be better, but... it's like I said." Juniper coughed. "She's very forgetful."

"You don't think Ms. Singh is dead, right Officer?" The sound of Juniper's fear was rubbing off on Athena. "Surely she just forgot her grandkids were coming."

"I can't know that, and my boss promised we'd look for Ms. Singh until she was found. Are we close to her house yet?"

Juniper stopped in front of the one with a broken window. The yard was covered in yellow sand flecked with blades of grass. "It's this one. The window has been broken since Thanksgiving."

Oldaugh tipped his hat at the two women. "Thank you very much, Miss Woods. You two go back to your gardening now."

"Yes, sir." Juniper nodded, nearly running from the scene. Athena followed her, but reluctantly. Unbidden, a sense of thrill ran through her.

She whispered to the demon. "Really? Missing old ladies are exciting to you?"

Most exciting thing to happen all day, at least. Maybe she'll turn up dead and I'll have a case on my hands.

"Don't think like that!" Athena cried out, catching Juniper's attention.

"Are you okay, Thena?"

"Nothing... I was just thinking about Ms. Singh. What if she fell down and hurt herself somewhere? It's all wilderness out here!"

"I don't know. I've never seen the police come out here before." Juniper coughed. She was usually better out here, too. Must be the nerves. "Not many people live in this area. Everything's pretty quiet."

"Not like the city, I guess."

"Not at all." As the two approached Juniper's house, they saw Juniper's grandmother waiting on the doorstep, fists on her hips.

"Girls! I thought you said you were only going to be in the garden! I was worried sick when you two weren't there. Leaving the shovels out like that! I thought you might have been kidnapped."

"Sorry, Grammie," Athena apologized. "This police officer came by looking for Ms. Singh's house. Juniper led the way to her place. I didn't think we'd be gone so long."

"Someone called the police for the woman, then?" The elderly lady unfurled her fists, laying her arms at her sides. "I was just thinking about doing that myself. I do hope Gonma isn't in any trouble. Why, I visited her house yesterday, and nothing. Could have sworn I heard noises, but- Come in, dearies. I put your things away, and have dinner on the table."

"You didn't have to clean up for us, Grandma." Juniper hung her head, hat nearly sliding off. "We could have done it ourselves."

"Never mind that now. Get inside, girls. Dinner won't be hot forever."

"Grammie, you said you went to visit Ms. Singh yesterday?" Athena asked, unconsciously going into interrogation mode. "What did you see?"

"Nothing, dearie. Ms. Singh didn't answer her door, and I didn't go inside. Aside from the fact that her grass was overgrown, I didn't see anything worthy of my attention."

"Her grass? That's odd. When Junie and I were over there, her yard was covered in sand."

"Really? How strange." The woman didn't seem to think it was strange at all. Athena couldn't detect a hint of confusion in her voice. "Now eat up!"

It was a little earlier then Athena was used to eating, but considering she hadn't had any lunch, sitting down with the Woods family was the perfect way to end her visit. Athena was having such a good time, she almost forgot she had a bus to catch in less than an hour.

"Call me when they find Ms. Singh, okay Junie?"

"I will. Bye, Thena!"

"No, walk Athena to the bus stop. You two have no business going anywhere by yourselves." Juniper's grandmother insisted. Athena thought about pointing out that Juniper would be walking home by herself, but decided against it.

And so they made their way on foot. Athena had given Juniper her clothes back, but Juniper insisted she wear a coat home. Juniper was going to have to remind Athena to return it. Knowing Athena, she would probably forget.

"I wonder if the police are still there," Athena attempted to make conversation.

Juniper frowned. "Thena. You're on vacation. I'm sure the police will find Ms. Singh soon."

"I know, it's just... I can't help it." Athena clenched her fist. "Officer Oldaugh is right, you know. The longer a person is missing, the lower the chance they're still alive. What if Ms. Singh is lying in the woods somewhere, just-"

"Thena!" Juniper pulled at her braids. "Don't do that. You know I can't stand things like this!"

Athena went quiet, but her thoughts rambled on. If Juniper wanted to be a judge someday, she was going to have to get used to the thought of dead bodies.

Personally, I find the sudden arrival of the woman's grandchildren to be most suspicious. Two people no one knew existed just happen to show up days after someone disappears? Quite the stretch for a coincidence.

On the way back to the bus stop, Athena and Juniper passed Ms. Singh's house. Much to their dismay, the police were still there.

And there were more of them.

"Officer Oldaugh!" Athena took off without thinking. What were they doing digging in the sand? Why was that dog barking? "What's going on here?"

"You two again!" Oldaugh looked up from his report. "Go on now! This sight isn't for children."

"What sight?" Athena asked.

"It's none of your business, little girl! This area is under police investigation." The officer pulled a walkie talkie out of his belt. "Someone get a hold of a prosecutor. Over."

What? A prosecutor? But that means...

Just then, Athena caught onto the sadness in everyone's murmurs. She looked down at the sand where the last ray of sunlight fell, and screamed. Juniper lost it behind her.

The hair splayed out, the bony arms cradled around herself...

Oh, that poor old lady.

Chapter Text

"Boss? Mr. Wright? Hello? Are you there?"

"Hold on, Trucy." Athena heard shuffling in the background. "Sorry, Athena. You caught me eating dinner."

"It's fine, I was just calling because I-"

"What's going on?"

"I went to visit Junie outside town, and well..." Athena looked around the half-empty bus to see if anyone was listening in. "They found a dead body buried in a neighbor's front yard."

"They found what?" Phoenix Wright sounded surprised, but not as much as Athena thought he would. "You really do work for this office, don't you?"

"What do you mean?"

He sighed. "Nothing. So, do the police know who the body belonged to?"

"An elderly lady named Gonma Singh. She'd been missing for two days when her grandchildren came to town, asking the police to look for her. That evening, Junie and I passed by the victim's house, and they were digging her out of the ground."

"Any idea how old the body is?"

"No. The police shooed us away, and I had a bus to catch. It... really scared Junie."

"Scared Miss Woods? Or scared you?" Her boss laughed a little. "It's okay to be freaked out by a dead body, Athena. I've been in this business for years, and they still make unsettle me."

"No, it's not that." Though the sight had disturbed Athena more than she cared to admit, it wasn't what she was calling about. "I was planning to go up there and visit Junie-"

"-And by that, you mean the crime scene-"

"-And see what I can do to help," Athena finished. "If something happened out there, I don't feel like I can just stand by. If it was a murder, and someone gets accused... I may get involved."

"Athena, you don't need to do this. Listen to me." It was rare she heard the boss sound so stern. He had a fire behind his voice, a fire that only ignited in the heat of a case. "Two days ago, you were tied up in a case that had haunted your life for years. Don't be so quick to dive into a new one."

"I know, but I'm fine now! Seriously. Our office sometimes goes months without a case. Why shouldn't we take the opportunities as they come?"

"You shouldn't take every case that comes your way, Athena. Trust me, I've regretted enough to know. Besides, isn't it a little premature to talk about taking a case? The police just found the body."

"I know that, but they might have a suspect by tomorrow!" Athena insisted. "I promise I'll be done with this case before the Christmas party."

Her boss groaned. "That's the same thing I said about Ms. Blackquill's case. I'm hoping it remains true."

Uh oh. For a moment, Athena had forgotten her boss was on a case of his own. "Why, have things gotten complicated?"

"That's one way to phrase it. Let's just say this case may end up in a higher court than I'm used to."

"Really?" Athena was surprised. It couldn't be because it'd taken place in the Space Center, because Clay's murder still went to the district court. "Are they really going to charge Ms. Blackquill with terrorism?"

"Threat to national security, yes. And misuse of government resources. Turns out, her building of the Judge-Tron wasn't federally approved, and nor was her tampering with Clonco. Her death threats and hostage charges are being handled by our local district, but the government has some charges of their own to levy against her in federal court. When this is over, I have no idea where she'll be serving her time."

"How wonderful." Athena was almost glad she hadn't been asked to help.

"And she isn't exactly the most helpful of clients. She... doesn't quite understand why they can't just give her a jail sentence and be done with it. Turns out, her views on the legal system have improved very little since our last case. It could be a while before I'm able to even look at another incident.

"And that's why I don't want you getting involved with this one."

"What?" Athena was startled by the sudden loop around. "Why?"

"If you try and take this case, I'm not going to be there to help you. And no way am I calling Apollo back in until after the Christmas party. He deserves the time off. Athena... if you take this case, you're going to be all alone on the bench up there. And-"

"And you're thinking about what happened to me the last time I was up there by myself." Athena slumped over. That wasn't the proudest moment of her life. "I know."

"You'll get to that point of your career soon enough, Athena. Just... not yet, okay? If it makes you feel better, it took me a while to win a case without my mentor as well. Your time will come. You can visit Juniper tomorrow, but I don't want you diving in over your head."

Athena heard Trucy's voice in the background as she replied. "Okay, boss. I-"

"I gotta go, Athena. Trucy wants to show me something."

And with that, he hung up. Athena had almost an hour left on the bus, so she rested her head against the window and thought about her options.

Depending on how this case turns out, I may want it for myself. Though if you really are this incompetent on the bench-

"I'm not incompetent, okay?" Athena growled under her breath. "I'm just... kinda new to this whole lawyer thing. If I take this case, it'll be the second time I ever lead the defense."

Athena went tense at the wave of shock coursing through him. I... knew you were inexperienced, but this comes at a surprise. You've had your badge for how long now?

"Almost a year."

Just how are you still so new to this business? That's enough time to take at least four cases in your name, even for an agency as pitiful as yours.

She wasn't even going to bother with the demon's last comment. Besides, people were starting to look at her funny. They must think she's talking to herself.

So Athena pulled out her cell phone and fake-dialed a number. She gave a generic greeting, then got right to it.

"It's not as though I haven't been a part of other cases, but I'm usually the co-counsel. My first time in an American courtroom was last April, with Apollo. A few months later, I stood beside Mr. Wright. It was his first case since getting his badge back. It was... special. Then came my first case in October. That's the one I told you about."

The one where Professor Means got what he deserved?

"Yes, that one. And then came three cases in five days. Clay's murder, my case, and the courtroom bombing. I'm sure you know plenty about that."

I do. So out of six cases, you were only given a chance one time?

She frowned at the implication. "Well, not quite. The courthouse bombing case originally belonged to Apollo, but he was too injured to lead the defense, and Mr. Wright was too far away. So I stood in and kept the court in session until the boss could arrive."

My point stands. Placeholding does not a defense leader make, or else Prosecutor Edgeworth would be considered a defense attorney.

"What?"

Perhaps you should take this case for yourself. Does your agency contract specifically require Phoenix's approval for every case you take?

Athena tried to think. Had Apollo asked the boss before he took that case in Tenma Town? He was already working on it when she and Mr. Wright were at the airport, so she didn't think so.

But that didn't mean she was going to go through with this. Not when Mr. Wright specifically told her not to.

I find it highly doubtful this case took place within the limits of Los Angeles County. More likely, you would be going to a different detention center and a different courthouse. And since your legal license applies statewide but cases are filed by district, you could conceivably take this case without Phoenix ever knowing. The only way he would find out is if he was either told or your case made city news coverage. From what we know at this moment, the latter is quite doubtful.

"I'm not going to do this, Gavin. Not if the boss doesn't want me to. I don't like what he says, but I believe in him."

The same way he believes in you?

Athena gasped. "That's not-"

Isn't it, though? He clearly doesn't think you can stand on the bench by yourself. And who knows? Maybe you can't. But you seem to have forgotten something.

Really? "And what is that?"

Me. As long as I'm with you, you aren't alone. You may resent your situation, but you can't deny it has certain advantages.

She could have sworn she heard him laugh. It sounded so real. Like he was right next to her. Don't you want Phoenix to give you more cases? As long as he sees you as a newborn chick, he's going to hesitate. You're always going to be the agency placeholder. Little more than a glorified assistant.

"Stop it! You don't know anything about what my agency is like."

Yes, I do. You just told me. One in six is a rather small percentage, wouldn't you agree? Do you expect that percentage to change at all next year if you do nothing? At least make it equitable among lawyers and take a third. This is a chance for you to prove yourself. Phoenix must know by now how rash you can be. If you win a case he wasn't necessarily on board with, I'm almost confident he would forgive you in time. You're precious to him, remember?

Athena couldn't believe it. She was actually considering taking the advice of a demon over that of her own boss. Nothing she was doing in this scenario was how it should be.

Besides, it was still premature to be making decisions about a case that might not even exist yet. Athena wasn't in the proper state of mind to be making decisions about a case, not so soon after the last one.

Maybe Mr. Wright had a point.

When she got back to her apartment, she went straight into her routine for bed, setting her dirty jeans in the laundry hamper. She couldn't believe she hadn't done laundry in over a week. Maybe she should do that before visiting Juniper tomorrow. Give her brain something nice and tedious to focus on instead of demons and murder.

Mein gott, her life was weird.

You can delay your choice for as long as you need to. But in the end, I'd wager I know the path you're going to take.

"Shut up! Just... please. I need to sleep."

As if that will change anything. But very well. I'll be elsewhere.

Of course he would. Why couldn't he be "elsewhere" while she was awake?

Athena buried her head in the pillow, begging for the sweet release of sleep.


Athena woke up before dawn, not feeling any more refreshed than she had when she fell asleep. Her head was still pounding, but that was the new normal. Maybe a nice run would help.

She took her usual route, feeling somewhat okay for the first time since the HAT-2 launch. Gavin hadn't bothered her since last night, and while Athena doubted he was gone for good, he definitely wasn't there at the moment. She could feel it.

When the young lawyer rounded back around to her apartment. She was confronted by the most unpleasant of surprises in her fridge. She was out of orange juice! Athena could have sworn there would be at least half a gallon left.

So it wasn't just laundry she'd been neglecting as of late. Joy. She changed into something less sweat stained, put a list together, and walked to the grocery store across the street from Gatewater Hotel. On the other side of the hotel was her office. Should she stop in and visit Mr. Wright?

The way he'd addressed her on the phone, she doubted the boss would even be there. Knowing him, he'd probably taken Trucy with him.

She walked in the door not ten minutes after the doors were unlocked. It wasn't her normal day for a grocery run, and the store hardly had ten people in it. But that could be a good thing. Maybe she would get everything she needed before the Christmas dinner shoppers showed up.

She rolled up her sleeves. "Let's do this!"

"You got this, Athena!"

"Thanks, Widget." She beamed, glad to be talking to the voice that actually made her feel good about herself.

Wow, that sounded crazy. What were the psychological effects of demonic possession, she wondered?

It was an internet search for another time. Athena resisted the temptation of the dessert section and marched down the aisles. Bread? Check. Orange juice? Check. Protein bars? Two-for-one deal. This was progressing fairly quickly.

Right as Athena was making her way to the check out, a woman maybe five years older than her crashed into her with her cart, sending Athena and her basket toppling over. Her head hit the floor, making the lights go dim.

"Ohmygosh!"

"Uhhh..." Athena opened her eyes, waiting for them to focus. When they did, she saw a lady with brown skin and long black hair trying to help her up. "Thanks."

"Don't thank me too much. I was the one who ran into you. Uh oh..." She stopped speaking. Athena followed the path of her eyes, only to scream.

"My orange juice!" It had spilled open in the crash, emptying onto the floor.

"I'll pay for it, I promise. Let me find an employee. I'll be right-"

"Hey, hey! What's going on here?"

"It's my fault," she confessed to the man who showed up. His vest bore the company logo, and his name tag said "Ethan". He must have heard the ruckus. "I crashed into this woman here and her orange juice spilled all over."

He scowled, ripping a walkie talkie off of his vest. "I need a cleanup on Isle Three. Bring the mop." Ethan turned to the woman who caused the crash. "Be careful next time, will you?"

"Wait!" She stopped him before he could leave. "Let me pay for the damage. Here," she whipped out a five dollar bill, "keep the change."

"Hm. Thank you, ma'am." He didn't look quite as irritated as he was before. "Have a good day, you two."

"Here, let me help you get the rest of your stuff."

"That's not necessary," Athena assured her. "Don't feel too bad about it."

"You aren't hurt are you?"

"I don't think so." Athena felt around the back of her head. "I think you surprised me more than anything."

"Thank goodness. I've just been so distracted today. I didn't even realize how fast I was walking." Her voice dissolved in a sea of confusion. "Now how did that happen?"

"Something wrong?" Athena asked without thinking.

"It's nothing you should be concerned with, really. I'm zoned out, that's all."

"Are you sure?"

"Really. It's just my grandmother. She... died recently."

"Dios mio!" Athena cried. "That's terrible. Are you going out to visit her soon?"

"I came to see her, actually. But I didn't know she was dead. My brother and I got in town two days ago. We were going to spend a day in the city before driving up to see her." She paused, eyes going wide. "Sorry, I'm sure you don't want to hear any of this."

"No, it's fine. It sounds like you're having a rough time." Athena felt her heart go out to this woman. "How's your brother handling the news?"

"Not well. It's only getting worse for the two of us, in fact. They think... they-"

"Wait, who is 'they'?"

"The police," she spit it out. "They think my brother might have had a hand in our grandmother's death."

"What?"

"It all happened so fast. Last night, my grandmother was found dead. This morning, the city police knocked on our hotel door and turned my brother over to the sheriff of the next county."

Next county? Last night? How did she not put this together sooner?

"You're Gonma Singh's granddaughter. The one who called her in missing."

She broke down into a sob. "Yes, I- wait. How did you know that?"

"I was there! I was in the area with a friend when they found the body." Athena stopped herself from saying more. "I'm... sorry for your loss."

"Thank you," she whipped out a tissue, blowing her nose repeatedly. "You... saw her body?"

"Yeah..." Athena slumped. Just recalling the memory made her stomach turn. "It didn't look good."

"Oh..." Clearly that was the wrong thing to say. She was outright crying now. "I can't believe they think Khadga did this. We weren't even in the city yet when she went missing."

"Do you know what evidence they have against your brother?" The woman was walking with Athena now, accompanying her to get another gallon of orange juice.

"I don't. They wouldn't even let me see him. It takes me hours to drive up there, and I need to find him a lawyer before I can do anything else."

A lawyer? Athena couldn't believe this. She'd heard of coincidences before, but this one took the cake. "Do you know any lawyers in the area?"

"No!" she cried, reaching for another tissue. Athena could hear her overpowering sadness. It was so loud, Athena was losing her ability to think rationally. "I don't live here! I know nothing about this place. The police said his trial might be as soon as tomorrow. Please tell me you know a lawyer I can go to."

"There's a lawyer's office right next to the Gatewater, actually. I work there."

Her face lit up. "Really? Are you an intern?"

Athena flinched at the comment, Widget going red. "No, I'm a lawyer! Why, do I not look like one to you?"

"Sorry, sorry! I'm sorry." She flinched, pulling away from Athena.

The redhead took a moment to cool down. She shouldn't have yelled at her. "It's okay, I... am a bit new. My boss is on another case right now, and my senior partner is on vacation until after Christmas. ...So am I, actually." Athena had to force herself to add the last bit. She was going to listen to Mr. Wright on this one.

No really, she was.

"No." Was she about to bawl? "You're all unable to help me? What was the point of telling me, then?" Her eyes were turning red. "Do you know any other law offices?"

Athena felt terrible, now. "Not really. Like I said, I'm a bit new. I got my badge less than a year ago."

"Ugh. I guess I'm going to have to scour the city, then! I have money! And I don't trust public defenders. Especially the ones in that podunk town!"

This was ridiculous. Athena had a chance to help this grieving woman, and she wasn't... why, again?

Mr. Wright wasn't here. He couldn't see the woman standing in front of her as she cried her heart out in public. Maybe fate had brought them together after all.

"Wait!" She stopped the woman before she carted off. "I... I can help you. I don't mind cutting my vacation short for someone in need."

"Are you sure?"

"Of course!" Athena put on a brave face, flashing a peace sign with her smile. "If you and your brother want me, I'd be happy to take your case."

"You said you were new, but... I really don't have time to waste. Okay," she wiped her tears off her cheek, making an attempt at a smile. "I'll take you to my brother. We'll let Khadga decide. My friends call me Lida, by the way."

"Nice to meet you, Lida." Athena shook her head. "Glad I bumped into you."

"I think I was the one who did the bumping, but... can I meet you in the Gatewater Lobby in an hour?"

"Sure thing! Let me check out and get changed. Au revoir!"

Athena rushed through the checkout line, confronted with Ethan the employee once more. She raced home, put her groceries up, and changed into her last clean work outfit. Laundry would have to wait.

Right as she was about to leave, a familiar voice popped up out of nowhere.

I'm back from hell. Did you miss me?

She snorted, grabbing her keys. "Hardly. But there's no time for that."

Hm? Was I right, then?

"It's not official. I still have to meet with the defendant and see if he wants my help."

An attorney must bend to their client's wishes, after all. Well good. I'm glad for you. This almost reminds me of Justice taking his second case.

Athena expected to feel a wave of anger accompany the demon's words when he talked about Apollo. And sure, there was a tinge there. But most of it was pure nostalgia. He really had been Apollo's mentor, hadn't he?

She was in such a hurry to get to the Gatewater, Athena paid no attention to the little details littering her apartment. And in fairness to her, most of them were quite small.

But not the orange juice bottle. That one should have been obvious.

Chapter Text

Athena stopped in front of the entrance to the Gatewater Hotel, equal parts nervous and excited to see Lida once more.

Was she crazy? She'd just met this woman in a grocery store and offered to defend her brother out of the blue! What if this was all a mix up? What if Lida or her brother decided she wasn't good enough after all?

Then you go back home with your tail between your legs and mope around your apartment doing chores. Which do you prefer?

"Wow, nice pep talk. Why be a dead lawyer when you could have been such a great motivational speaker?"

I'm not here to console you. I'm here to feel like a lawyer again. What are you waiting for?

His gruff demeanor did nothing to hide his excitement, and Athena felt it. He really missed this, didn't he?

Never mind how I feel. Is taking over the only way to get anything done around here?

"Okay, okay. I'm going in." She stepped through the door, taken aback by the luxurious lobby. Before she could spot Lida, a well dressed bellboy with the beginnings of wrinkles on his face walked up to her, a placid smile on his face.

"Welcome to Gatewater Hotel, madam. I'm one of the many bellboys here to assist you. Would you like to try our exclusive Murder Suite? With it comes day tickets to Gatewater Land."

"No, thank you... sir." She couldn't help but notice how he never gave his name. "I'm here to meet with a guest. Said her name was Lida?"

"Over here, Miss!" A bangled hand darted up from over the couch. The woman from before stood, looking far more put together in a knockoff dress and costume jewelry. "Sorry, I don't think I asked for your name earlier."

"It's Athena. Athena Cykes." Athena brushed past the bellboy, shaking Lida's hand with a firm grip.

"My full name is Elide Pakhi. Like I said, friends call me Lida. Which means you can, too!"

Well, she certainly seemed very different from before. Had Athena met the same person earlier? "Nice to see you again. You wanted to go up to town together?"

"Yeah. You can ride in my car. I'll tell you all about the case on the way there. I mean, we need something to pass the time, am I right?"

Alright, Athena had to ask. "You certainly seem better than earlier."

"I know. Crying in a supermarket is so pathetic, am I right?" Lida waved it off. "It was just the shock. When I got back to my room and put my face on, I felt loads better. Still have a killer pain in the head, though."

"Tension headache? I'm no stranger, myself." Because of her ability, Athena used to get them all the time. She still did, occasionally.

"Must be." She mused on the thought. For a minute, Athena could almost see the girl who hit her with a shopping cart. She was gone before Athena could say anything, though. "Anyway, you ready? The car's in the hotel garage." She motioned for Athena to follow. "Come on."

Athena followed Lida out to a rather run down car, scraped up and at least ten years old. "Wow. You've had this one a long time."

She rolled her eyes. "Okay, it's actually Khadga's. He's a total cheapstake. He bought the car used and fixed it up himself. It works... so far. Get in."

Athena took to the passenger seat, strapping herself in right away. Lida was a bit of a reckless driver, and clearly wasn't used to the traffic of a big city. That led to a few close calls Athena would rather not think about. There were reasons Athena didn't want to own a car in LA, especially considering how much better they'd gotten about public transportation.

Once they left the city limits, things improved considerably. Athena finally felt safe enough to speak again.

"You wanted to tell me about your brother's case?"

"Oh yeah!" Lida sounded surprised, like she just remembered. "So I called the police station while you were gone. They weren't willing to tell me much, but I do have a few things that might help your case."

"Tres Bien! What did you find out?"

"Well, this one guy on the phone is super easy to flirt with, so getting information out of him with be a pinch for a girl as cute as you. But I think he's like, thirty, and you're...?"

"Eighteen."

"Oh good! It's not weird. Wait... a lawyer at eighteen?"

"Yeah..." Athena blushed.

She scoffed, but not in a mean way. "You go, girl! I'm still not done with college. Anyway, just be mindful of that if you need any hints. The police officer guy's an easy sucker."

"What did you get out of him?"

"Well, he mentioned my grandma's autopsy report is done. The doctor finished it late last night, and they think she died roughly a full day before they found her. That's the night Khadga and I got into town. We spent the day in the city."

"Were you with your brother that evening?" Athena asked. "You could give him an alibi."

Lida frowned. "No, not the whole time. We ate dinner together, and I wanted to go see this play in People Park, but Khadga thought it was stupid, and went back to our hotel room. I don't know what he did after that, but he was there when I got back."

"What time did you get back?"

"Like, four hours later." She cringed. "Kinda got lost on the way back. But it takes, like, an hour and forty minutes to get to Grandma from our hotel, so if he did go out, he wouldn't have had a lot of time. It just makes this whole story that much more ridiculous."

"I should have asked the bellboy if he left that night." Athena mused. "Darn!"

"Aw, sorry. Oh wait!" she nearly swerved off the road. "There was something else!"

"Um... you should be careful." Athena was starting to fear for her safety again. "If you need to focus on driving, I can wait."

"It's not me! It's the damn car. So hard to steer!" She let out a few swear words before continuing. "Anyway, let me tell you before I forget: the police guy on the phone mentioned a witness. I don't know anything about them, but the guy said he thinks he saw my brother. But really? I bet he's an old man. Everyone who lives in that area is old. It's, like, really depressing."

"Did the officer on the phone tell you any names?"

"No, sorry." She hit her head on the steering wheel, beeping the horn in the process. "I can't wait for all this to be over."

Athena would have to seek them out herself, then. Maybe Juniper would know. She was in town while the investigation was going on, after all. Until then, she guessed it wouldn't hurt to ask Lida a few more questions. "So what brought you out here in the first place?"

"Like I said, my brother and I were going to visit our grandmother. We didn't know she was going to die, obviously."

"Do you come out here a lot?"

She snorted. "As if! Khadga and I live eight hours away from here. My mom hated growing up in this old town, and she used to fight with her mom all the time. This would have been the first time Khadga and I met the lady. All I'd ever done before now is talk to her on the phone. And... now she's dead." Lida threw her hands in the air, seemingly uncaring. "I tried mourning her, but... it's hard, you know? I mean, when I heard the news... sure I was sad, but it was really just a shock, you know? Especially when it came to Khadga."

"Yeah..." Athena did her best to understand. "It would be like if I found out who my father was, only to learn he died months ago. It would be sad, but I'd probably recover." At least, that was what she thought.

She gave up thinking about her father years ago, but in the years after her mom died, she used to always wonder if her father would show up one day and tell her why he hadn't been there for her. It never happened, of course. When Athena was fourteen, her uncle convinced her to give up once and for all. Whoever her father was, he didn't deserve to know her.

She started listening again in the middle of Lida's explanation. "...odd, but see? You get it. But yeah. It took my mom forever to tell us who our grandmother was, and even longer for her to fess up to where she lived. Khadga and I just wanted to meet her for the first time. No way would he kill her!"

Hm... If what Lida said was true, it didn't sound like Khadga had a motive. That could help her in court later. What else could she ask Lida about?

"You were the one who called the police yesterday, right? About your grandmother being missing?"

"Yeah, I did. Kinda regret it, now that I think about it. We were supposed to meet her in front of this place's city hall, but she never showed up. Khadga and I waited for hours. We eventually found her house, but nothing. I thought she might have fallen in the woods somewhere, so I filed a Missing Persons report. Turns out, she'd been missing for a whole day before we even showed up! Weird, right?"

Weird, indeed. Athena couldn't shake the feeling that was going to be important later. She wished she knew ahead of time what the police were going to say about the matter. It was times like these when "Detective Fulbright" would have been helpful.

The rest of the drive over didn't reveal anything of interest, but Athena did learn a lot about Lida's sorority in college, her twenty-third birthday party, and how often she skipped class. She seemed nice enough, but Athena wasn't convinced. She couldn't hear any discord in Lida's voice, but something was off. Nothing about the Lida here was reminding her of the Lida from the grocery store. Had she really just been shocked by all the news, or was there more than met the eye here?

By the time they pulled up to the actual town (not the bus stop a half mile out), Athena still didn't have an answer. She decided to keep silent for the moment. "Do you know where the detention center is?"

"Huh?" Lida raised an eyebrow. "It's just a part of the police station, right?"

"Not necessarily, but I'm sure the police will know where it is." Athena tried to be positive. After she talked to Lida's brother, she could go find Juniper and investigate with her.

Gavin spoke up for the first time in hours. He'd been oddly quiet on the way over. Why do you need an investigation partner?

"Four eyes are better than two." Athena muttered, doing her best to keep Lida from hearing.

Depends on what you're investigating. And what your intentions are.

Turns out, the detention center was connected to the police station here. Not just that, this detention center only had three holding cells total, with no visiting area. Visitors went straight to the cells to speak with people.

As Athena approached, she got her first look at Khadga Pakhi. He had wavy black hair covering his face, brown eyes, and a worn leather jacket with a band tee underneath. He stared at her with a neutral expression, and didn't attempt to return Athena's smile when she offered it. Not that she blamed him, but... wow. Lida was the older sibling by a noticeable margin. No way was her brother older than sixteen.

"Khadga, say hi to Miss Athena Cykes. She's offered to be your lawyer."

He cocked an eyebrow, clearly not impressed. "You? A lawyer? Are you even out of high school?"

Athena was getting really tired of this, but she did her best to remain professional. "Yes. I've had my badge almost a year now."

"How old are you? Fifteen?"

"Eighteen." Athena could see Widget changing color. "And you?"

"Twenty-one."

Well, Athena guessed that one horribly wrong. "Great. So we're both older than we look. Do you want my help in court?"

She heard a scoff in the back of her head, followed by tangible disappointment. Don't do it like that. It's sloppy and unprofessional. Is this how your agency always looks for clients?

Athena ignored him, waiting for Khadga's response. He actually seemed to be considering it.

"Khadga?" Lida tried to push him along. "What do you say?"

"...I say you're cute. Wanna go out later?"

"Um..." Athena was not expecting that. "How about we look at your case first? Do you know anything about their evidence against you?"

He shrugged. "A guy questioned me. Thinks I came up here late at night to see my grandma."

"Did you?"

"No. I came here with Lida yesterday. But some village idiot thinks they saw me."

There was that witness again. "Did the man questioning you tell you who the witness was?"

"No."

"Do you have an alibi proving you didn't come up here the night Ms. Singh died?"

He sounded confused. "I was in my room that night. Took a nap."

"Did you talk to anyone when you went back to your hotel? Can anyone testify that you didn't leave that night?"

"I don't know!"

Athena frowned. "Mr. Pakhi, this is really important. If we can find evidence that proves you weren't here the night of the crime, we can prove you didn't kill Ms. Singh. If you're telling me the truth, this can be over before we even go to court."

"Are they really gonne try Khadga tomorrow?" Lida asked. "It's Christmas Eve!"

"That's not a holiday according to the legal system. But Christmas Day is, as of recently. So if your brother's trial takes more than a day, it would resume the twenty-sixth." For Athena's sake, she hoped it only took a day. Any longer, and she wasn't sure how long she'd be able to hide this from the boss. "But if I can prove you have a solid alibi, it could all be over today. So I need you to think: is there anyone or anything that can prove you never came here until yesterday?"

"Oh! I got one!" Lida smiled. "The bellboy at the front desk said Gatewater uses cameras in their parking garage for security. If Khadga never took his car out of there that night, would that prove it?"

"Hm..." Athena thought about it. "It would prove he didn't drive his car up here, but I know the bus schedule to this place. It stops about a half hour away from Ms. Singh's house at seven and ten pm. The ride up takes almost two hours-"

"Lida saw me at five."

"It also doesn't prove you didn't call a cab." Athena flicked her earring as she thought. "Do you have anything more solid? Did any of the hotel staff ever visit you in your hotel room? Did you order room service?"

"No. I didn't even eat dinner."

"So there's nothing? That's not good." Athena looked at their alarmed expressions. "I'll find something, don't worry. Does this mean you want me to take your case?"

"Depends." Her client was smirking now. "If I'm free tomorrow, will you go to dinner with me?"

"Khadga," Lida scolded. "We were supposed to leave town today. Mother wants us home for Christmas."

"We can drive at night. If we leave after dinner tomorrow, we'll be there by Christmas morning." He turned to Athena. "So what do you say, lawyer doll?"

"I... would think you'd be more interested in an acquittal." If Athena was honest, she thought he was being creepy. "Besides, why go out if we're never going to see each other again?"

"I want something to look forward to when I'm out. Christmas at my mother's house just doesn't do it for me."

"Khadga, are you really going to refuse her because she won't go out with you? Don't be an idiot."

"She hasn't said no yet."

Lida turned to Athena. "Miss Cykes, do you want to eat a romantic dinner with my little brother?"

"Not one bit!"

"Widget!" Athena cried, covering Widget with her hand. "Sorry, sometimes this little guy says what I'm thinking."

Lida laughed. Her brother scowled. "Fine, be like that. Just get me out of here, will you?"

"Will do!" Athena smiled, hitting her hand with her fist. "Just sign this letter of request, and I'll be back as soon as I have what I need."

He signed it, if reluctantly. Guess he didn't like being rejected.

"Good luck!" Lida called right as Athena was leaving. Athena waved as Lida sat down to talk with her brother, then left the detention center at full speed.

First stop: Juniper's house. If nothing else, her grandmother would have food, and Athena was getting hungry.

Right as she was about to knock, Juniper opened the door. She looked surprised to see her. "Thena?"

"Hey, Junie. I came to see you again!"

"I thought you were the police." Juniper let Athena in, then locked the door behind them. "They've been back and forth all night. They questioned Grandma earlier."

"Grammie?" It couldn't be. "She's a witness in tomorrow's trial? The witness who saw the defendant with her own eyes?"

Juniper shook her head. "No, she only heard noises. Who told you there was a witness?"

"The defendant's sister. She asked me to take the case."

"You're the defense attorney?" Juniper sounded a lot more surprised than she was expecting. Was it really that odd? "But... last week was so crazy for you. Don't you want to rest?"

"I can just sit around and do nothing for three more days! Don't you understand? If there are people out there who need my help, it's my duty to help them. That's why I'm a lawyer! I can't just sit back and watch someone suffer."

"I know how you feel, I do." Why did Juniper look so uncomfortable? "But isn't Apollo preparing for a funeral?"

Huh? "Yeah. What does that have to do with anything?"

Juniper looked like she wanted to be anywhere but here. "And Mr. Wright... Athena, you're all alone. Are you sure you want to try this again so soon?"

What was Juniper implying, here? That she didn't think Athena could handle a case without someone else holding her hand? "What do you mean 'try this again'?"

She gulped, breaths getting shaky. "Thena, I know you want to help them. But are you sure you can?"

The color drained from Athena's face as she caught on. Her hands flew to her cheeks as she stepped back, face slack with shock.

"Wait... that isn't what I meant." Juniper realized her mistake right away. "I meant, after everything you just went through! With... with the Space Center and everything!"

Memories of the courtroom bombing flashed before her eyes. And then, the trial after. Juniper on the stand, freaking out. That cruel, horrible prosecutor...

And that time Athena froze. Completely, utterly froze.

And it all came together from there. "You don't believe in me."

Juniper gasped. "No, wait! Thena, you're going to be a great lawyer someday. Don't say that."

"No. You think I can't do anything without my boss or Apollo." She clutched her arm to her chest. "You're not the only one, you know. Mr. Wright said the same thing to me yesterday. I bet Simon would, too. But for some reason, I thought you'd be different."

"Thena... does Mr. Wright know you're here?"

"Yes." Technically. "But that's not what matters. What matters is... you're wrong. You're all wrong."

"Wait..."

"I was asked to take this case. I'm going to take this case. And you what I'm going to do with it?" Athena felt her shock turning to anger. Her fire was coming back. But not in the way it should.

Juniper tried to speak, but Athena cut her off.

"I'm going to win. If you don't want to help me, fine. But I hope you come to watch. I want you to see just how wrong you were."

What had been a calm, consistent campfire the past few days was raging to a blaze. And it was burning the whole forest with it.

"Wait!"

Athena felt strong. Athena felt powerful, as she stormed out of that house before "Grammie" could say hello.

That was quite moving, back there. Are you ready to investigate in earnest now?

"I guess I have to, if Juniper doesn't want to help me."

Hm... perhaps I could me your third and fourth eye. Would you like that?

Athena nodded, hoping Gavin got the message. It was a sad day when a demon from hell was the only one on her side. But that didn't have to stop her, now did it?

The blazing energy was impressive, but Athena had to wonder how long it would last.

Chapter Text

Athena fumed on her way over to the crime scene, but was relatively calm by the time she got there. Officer Oldaugh was still there, along with a half dozen police officers. Where was the detective on the case?

They noticed her before she could say anything. "Hey, Miss! You can't play over here! This is a crime scene."

Athena suppressed a growl as she smiled. Somehow, she had enough sense left to not go off on them. "Yes, Officer. I remember. I was here last night."

"Hm..." The older man gave her the squinty eye, then nodded. "I remember you. You and your friend came with me to this house. You don't live here." He paused. "What are you doing back here again?"

"I'm here to represent the defendant, Mr. Khadga Pakhi." Athena spoke with a straight face, looking the man straight in the eye. Maybe someone today would take her seriously.

Her hopes were shattered when the policeman laughed. "Hoo boy! Aren't you a little old to play dress-up, kid?" he said in reference to her outfit. Upon seeing the badge, he continued. "What'd you do, take that off your daddy's desk?"

Athena was about to lash out when-

I wouldn't if I were you. Miss Cykes, if you act childish in response to their accusations, you will only seem more immature than you already do. A defense attorney should remain professional at all times if they wish to be taken seriously. Surely you were taught something about professional conduct at your office.

The worst of times were when Athena had to force her biggest smile, after all. Hadn't Mr. Wright told her that?

So Athena kept up her smile and addressed his assumptions as politely as she could. "I understand there may be a mistake here. My name is Athena Cykes. I have been a lawyer in the state of California since last spring. The defendant himself has asked me to take his case. I have the letter of request right here, if you need to see it. Where is the detective in charge, if I may ask?"

"Nowhere. The last detective this town had quit last month." He ripped the letter out of her hands, eyes going wide as he read it over. "No way this is legitimate. Aren't teenage girl lawyers a European thing?"

"They're an American thing as well, Officer. The minimum age for a lawyer to stand in court in the state of California is seventeen. I more than meet that requirement."

He still didn't look like he believed her. But the man was quickly running out of arguments. "No lawyers at the crime scene until the police are done with their investigation. I don't know how you city slickers do things, but here, we have strict rules and the rules are followed, you see? No Dark Age of the Law nonsense starting up in this town."

"Thank you very much, Officer. I'll be back in a short while to investigate. But before that happened, I was hoping to ask you a few questions."

"No questions until the cross-examination, kid! You want to defend somebody in our county, you need to follow the rules."

No way was that really a county rule. Athena had a feeling the man was just making it up. "...Fine. But the sister of the defendant told me she spoke on the phone to one of the police officers on the investigation. Could you at least point me in the direction of that officer?"

"What's it to you?"

He might have actual information for her, for one. "It's Ms. Pakhi's wishes that I deliver something to him. I'm just helping my client and his family, here."

He snorted. "Must have been the rookie. He was talking about some girl earlier." Oldaugh pointed her to a house across the street. "He's over there. Don't come back until we're done, y'hear?"

Athena beamed, still simmering on the inside. "Yes, sir! Thank you for your assistance."

The officer and his underlings got into an argument as she left, but Athena was no longer paying attention to them. "Arrogant jerks!"

Appearances may not be everything, but they do have quite an influence on how people perceive you. If you look and act like a rash teenager, people will treat you like a rash teenager. It's that simple.

"I'm not changing who I am just so some boorish old cop will respect me. I'm a lawyer whether he thinks so or not."

If the man could have sighed, Athena imagined he would. Your choice.

Athena did her best not to linger on it, turning Widget to sleep mode and setting him aside before she approached the younger cop. She didn't want to take any chances with this guy.

Lida was right. The guy looked Simon's age, give or take a few years. Unlike Simon, however, he still had a youthful glint to his eyes, and gave her a friendly wave when she walked up. Athena was careful to smile back.

"Morning, Officer."

"Mornin' Miss! Don't think I've seen you in these parts before."

Lida said she'd flirted with this guy to get information. That would have been fine, if Athena had any clue how to flatter somebody. Her last date was two years ago, and he'd asked her.

"I'm traveling here from the city. Do you live in this town?"

"Yes siree! Lived here my whole life. I almost moved to the city a few years ago, but it's so crowded down there, and the air just ain't right. You know what I mean?"

"It is nice up here. I've... met a lot of great people in town today."

Is this your attempt at gathering information? It's pathetic.

Oh, Athena would love to see this demon do better. She tried to convey as much nonverbally, but she wasn't sure if he got the message.

She was so absorbed in her conversation with Gavin, Athena almost missed the officer's cheery response. "Oh really? Who've you met?"

"Mostly police officers," Athena admitted. "I must say, you all are very... organized, compared to the city. Sometimes, things can be a bit hectic down there."

"I know, right? Did you hear that story about the defense attorney who took a whale to court?"

Athena knew exactly what he was talking about, but he sounded eager to tell her. So she feigned ignorance. "I can't remember. Why was an animal tried in their court system?"

The officer delved into a story he found on the internet, one rife with speculation and inaccuracy. But Athena had to admit, he was a compelling storyteller. She smiled and laughed at the appropriate moments, sometimes at Gavin's prompting. She hadn't felt this fake since that time Apollo asked her if she'd been to the Space Center. Or that time the Phantom first told her about "the scary Prosecutor Blackquill". She thought the guy would expose her at any moment. But he never did.

Was Gavin right? Were most people really this oblivious to dishonesty? Athena almost felt bad for them.

But she had to steel herself. How else was she going to find a lead before court began?

When he finished, she just shook her head, smile plastered to her face. "I have never heard that story before."

"Yeah, the city sees some crazy cases. I like this town, but sometimes I wish I got to see stuff like that. The case I'm on right now is soooo boring."

"You want a trial with an orca defendant?" She teased. "I'm sure this town has plenty to offer. Why, what case are you on right now?"

"You see this door I'm standing in front of?" He gestured behind him. "I'm guarding the town's only prosecutor right now. She's talking to Old Man Seamus. Guy says he saw some hooligan attack an old lady: Ms. Singh, to be exact." He pointed to the house Athena was just at. Had he not seen her there earlier? "Prosecutor's trying to get the guy's story straight, and I'm here to make sure nobody tries to bother them. My entire job is just to follow her around and make sure she isn't pestered."

"Yeah, that is boring," Athena admitted. "Who is this Seamus you're talking about?"

Yes, very subtle. This man would have to be an idiot to-

"Aw, you're gonna love this story!" His eyes lit up. Athena heard genuine happiness in his heart, and felt hers respond in kind.

Idiot, it is then. Who would have guessed?

"Old Man Seamus has got to be the oldest guy in town. I'm pretty sure he's ninety four or something crazy like that. He drives the police station nuts with his constant calls."

"What does he call about?"

"Noise complaints, mostly. The occasional suspicious activity claim, too, but nothing like what happened here. Ironically, the one thing he didn't call the police about was the one thing that actually happened."

"Ha!" Athena laughed. "I wonder why he didn't say anything about this one."

Her witness was an old man the police thought was nuts? No way was it that easy. She'd tear his testimony apart in under an hou-

...No, she would speak to him with respect, and listen to the voice of his heart until she knew the truth about what he saw. She wasn't disrespectful to the elderly. She loved Grammie!

And Grammie was a witness, too. She'd never treat Grammie badly like that. What was she thinking?

"Excuse me? Miss? Are you okay?"

"I don't know," Athena admitted before catching herself. "I mean, I was here last night. I saw the police find the old lady's body. They dug her up out of her own yard."

"You really shouldn't have seen that. I'm sorry," he clapped her shoulder. "Hey, if it helps, I squirmed when I saw the body, too. And I'm a trained cop!" He gulped. "Still my first murder case, though. And my first body..."

"You don't have many murders up here, do you?"

"Not at all. Especially not on this side of town. Almost everyone who lives here is retired. Why bother murdering someone if they're gonna drop dead in a few years anyway?"

"I'm not sure I'd look at it that way."

He froze, slowly realizing the implications of what he'd said. "Not that I- anyway. Everyone in the town knew the victim, and we all looked out for her. It must have been that outsider."

"Outsider? You mean her grandson?"

The police officer shrugged. "Not much of a grandson, if he was the one who killed her. What kind of family would beat an old lady to death?"

Athena hid her smile. "She was beaten? With what?"

"Oh, I'm sorry, Miss! I'm sure you don't want to hear all the gory details." He looked like he had more to say, but the sound of footsteps coming from inside the house cut him off. "You should probably get going. Don't want to let the prosecutor know I wasn't doing my job."

Athena didn't want the prosecutor to see her either. "Bye, officer!"

Athena walked away as fast as she could without running. It would be more suspicious if she ran.

Once she was a good distance away, Athena watched as a middle aged woman with wispy hair and a wrinkled frown left the house. She barked a command at the man Athena had been talking to, but Athena was too far away to hear. She waited for them to leave her line of sight before she came out.

As she walked up, Gavin felt the need to comment: You got quite a bit of information, I'll grant. But you should be experienced enough to know that not all witnesses are that easy. That man was practically itching to give you a case.

"I know," Athena muttered under her breath. And to think, he hadn't even asked for her name, or been the slightest bit curious as to what she'd been doing there. "But what next?"

There are a few different paths you can take here. Either you try your luck once more at the crime scene, or you wait for the police to turn their backs and speak to the star witness. Either way, I cannot stress enough the importance of keeping your cool. Evidence is everything in court, and you need to collect as much as possible if you want to form a coherent case.

"Yeah, yeah." In the end, Athena walked back up to the witness's house. She made sure no one was watching her, then knocked on the door.

"What is it now? Are the forests burning? We bein' invaded again?" The door swung open, startling Athena.

She'd never seen someone so old before. The man's eyes were barely visible behind the wrinkled skin, and the way his back hunched... he might have been taller than her, if he were standing up straight.

"No, sir. I just need to ask you a couple questions."

"You people just left askin' me questions! Can't you get it all out in one go?"

"But, sir! Please, I have to know just a few more things."

Athena wasn't technically lying, but the way she said it... It was necessary for the case, but she still felt disingenuous.

But she couldn't exactly stop now. Not if she wanted to win in court tomorrow. "May I please come in?"

"Feh. What's one more hour of my precious time? You youngsters think just because I'm retired, I got nothin' important to do? I got precious seconds left on this earth, and if you all waste my time with the same damn questions, I swear-"

"Sir, if you want me to go quickly, maybe we could get started as soon as possible?"

"Don't you know better than to interrupt someone like that? Pah! You're even worse than that other lady." He looked upset, but didn't say more. Athena took that a sign it was her turn to speak.

"So, from what I understand, you witnessed Ms. Singh being attacked on the night of the murder?"

"Damn right I did! Not just any old creep! A hooligan."

"Can you identify this... hooligan, sir?" Athena asked. "Say, if I showed you a picture, would you know that person was the attacker?"

"The other lady already asked me all this! She showed me a picture, I said it was probably the guy, and she told me to be more sure about it. Do you have anything new to ask me?"

So the witness wasn't positive about his account. Athena would have to bring this up again in court. But if this was all the town had to offer up in terms of witnesses, what was there in evidence? Wouldn't they need concrete evidence to compensate for the holes in testimony?

Still, Athena tried to think of another question. "Well... what do you know about Ms. Singh's family?"

"Family?" He looked at her like she was crazy. Athena shrank back. It was just something Lida had told her about. But Lida hadn't known all the details, and it kept coming up.

So she asked. "Yeah...family. Did you ever meet her children?"

"Children, huh?" The voice in his heart changed from irritation to sadness. A deep, dark well, accessible to only a few. "How long has it been..."

"Did Ms. Singh not talk about her children much?" Athena wasn't sure Lida could tell her this. It was bothering her.

"Child, Miss. She only had one. We... don't talk about it much, in this part of town."

Now there was discord. Athena wasn't sure what to think. Why would he feel so much sadness over a neighbor with an estranged daughter? He wasn't anywhere near as upset about Ms. Singh being dead.

"Sir... please. This is important. For Ms. Singh's sake... what happened to her child?"

"Poor ol' woman. She wasn't even twenty-five when it all happened. How long ago was that...?" He shook his head in wonder. "It was after the war ended. I remember that much. The whole damn capital was falling. That year, Gonma had a falling out of her own. And then it all went south."

"What do you mean?"

"It's one thing to fight with your family, 'lil missy. We all do it. But her child was so young... and gone too soon."

...Gone? That couldn't be right.

"Are you sure that's what happened? I heard Ms. Singh didn't have the best memory. Are you sure that's what happened to her daughter?"

"Of course I remember! That lady was sure of it forty years ago and she was sure of it forty days ago. Even when the rest of town wanted to keep looking. She showed me the neck of the woods where it happened. I'd just gotten back from fighting against forces of man, and her kid went up against forces of nature." He looked her dead in the eye. "Mountain lions."

Athena pulled back, stunned. She couldn't speak. She couldn't even move.

How could it be? Why wasn't he as surprised as she was?

Chapter Text

Athena stood before the small courthouse alone, with nothing but case notes and lingering paranoia stored away in her sleep deprived mind.

Last night had not been a good one. She knew several bits of information, but she didn't how how it all connected to the case at hand, or even if it did. She hadn't visited Lida or Khadga after talking with the witness, and stuck around town until the last bus was boarding. When she got back to her apartment, her attempts to organize the evidence into anything coherent were thwarted at every turn.

Gavin was utterly unhelpful. For all his talk of being her assistant, he was far more interested in assessing her current abilities than winning the case with her. Athena couldn't shake the feeling he was hiding something from her, but nothing she did was enough to get it out of him.

"Last chance, Gavin. If you've got something to say, I need it now."

Perhaps not. We'll see how things go today. I want to observe you in trial for your own merits. I will only step in if I consider it mutually beneficial.

At least Mr. Wright hadn't felt the need to call her again. He was probably too busy to bother. Athena thought about checking up on Apollo or Simon, but decided she didn't have time. If all went well, no party previously mentioned would have any idea she was here.

She stepped into the courthouse, and was led to the only defense lobby available. She had no idea how she was going to face her client.

"Miss Cykes! You made it!"

"Lida," Athena smiled, pushing through her muddled thoughts. "I wouldn't miss Khadga's trial for the world."

"You almost did," Khadga grumbled. "The trial starts in five minutes."

"The bus was late!" The young lawyer bristled, then sighed. "But don't worry: I have everything I need to prove you innocent in court. Best I can tell, the prosecution's case against you is shaky at best. I just have to keep removing bricks until the tower comes crashing down." Or so Athena hoped. But she wasn't about to let her client see her nerves.

He was still her client, after all. No doubts she had would change that.

"Are you sure you've got this, Miss Cykes?" Lida asked. "I was asking around town while you were investigating, and the prosecutor here hasn't lost a case in ten years!"

"Really?" Athena hadn't heard anything about that.

Lida nodded. "There's only one lawyer in town she faces on a regular basis, and he always loses to her."

Well then that doesn't mean much. Is she a good prosecutor, or is he a bad lawyer? As of now, we still don't know.

"Well, she's never faced me before. And if she thinks I'm gonna be as easy, she's got a new thing coming!" Athena flashed a peace sign, hoping to inspire confidence in herself before the trial started.

"So you did show up. Trial begins soon." A court bailiff stepped in. "I suggest you make your way to the courtroom."

"Thank you, sir." Athena nodded, then turned to Khadga. "I'll get you out of here, I promise."

She didn't get a response before entering the courtroom. Athena tried not to think about it.


"Court is now in session for the trial of Codja... Pank... how do you say this name?" The judge looked up, dark brown wisps of a beard attached to his chin. It was nothing like the long white that the judge in the city had.

"Khadga Pakhi... Your Honor." The defendant added the last bit as an afterthought, slouching in the rickety defendant's chair.

The courthouse here was certainly older than the one in the city. Everything was made of old wood, and whole sections were covered in dust. It probably hadn't been renovated as recently, and only had one courtroom for use at a time. When Athena glanced around her, she saw the gallery seating was under half the size it was in the city. Less than a dozen people were sitting in the stands, though Athena was glad to count Juniper and Grammie among them.

"Yes, you. The court will now hear arguments regarding the charges brought forth against this man. Will Prosecutor Marsanne please explain the charges against the defendant?"

"Yes, Your Honor," came the dry reply. Athena looked across the courtroom to study her opponent for today.

The woman was wearing a plain burgundy suit with unkempt hair, head resting on a hand as she sifted through papers on the bench. If Athena were to guess, she would say the woman was older than Mr. Wright by about ten years. She did not sound happy to be here.

Athena guessed it made sense. It was Christmas Eve, after all. Who (besides her and Mr. Wright) wanted to work on Christmas Eve?

"The defendant, Khadga Pakhi, is charged with murder in the second degree. On the night of the twenty first, he was seen beating local retiree Ms. Gonma Singh with a clothes iron in her own house. The prosecution submits both the murder weapon and autopsy report to the court."

"The court accepts this evidence." The judge's tone was as dry as the prosecutor's. Neither looked particularly invested in what was going on. How could they be so cavalier in a murder trial? Did they not care that someone's life had been lost?

Judging solely by the voices of their heart, they couldn't care less. "After beating the woman to death, the defendant buried her in her own front yard and returned to the city, where he was staying in a hotel. The body was discovered a day later, and he was arrested the morning of the twenty-third."

"HOLD IT! On what grounds was my client arrested for this crime?"

"Excuse me, Miss. No shouting in this court," the judge reprimanded her. "I know you aren't from around here, Miss..."

"Cykes, Your Honor."

"Pikes." Was he getting it wrong on purpose?! Why? "But we don't have screaming matches during our trials in this district. Our trials are civilized. We don't tolerate any nonsense, and the rule of law is followed. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Your Honor." Athena was incredulous, but did her utmost to keep it out of her tone.

"Were you not briefed about trial procedure this morning?"

"I'm sorry, Your Honor. I took the bus up here from the city, and was almost late."

"Almost late, were we?" The prosecutor snorted. "You must inspire confidence."

The bailiff stared at her quizzically. "You got to the courthouse after her. You live in this town."

This was going nowhere fast. "Still, my question stands. Under what circumstances was my client arrested?"

"To explain that, the prosecution wishes to call Officer Oldaugh to the stand." Prosecutor Marsanne didn't acknowledge Athena further as she went fishing through her bag. Athena wasn't sure whether to be relieved or insulted.

"The court recognizes Officer Joe Oldaugh as a trial witness." The officer walked up to the stand from his place in the gallery, saluting before introducing himself.

"My name, as stated, is Joe Oldaugh. I am a police lieutenant in this town, and served as the detective for this case."

"Thank you for that." The judge was reading something Athena couldn't see. "Will you please testify regarding the defense's question?"

"Certainly. This is my testimony, or Circumstances of Arrest, for the record."

The court stenographer gave him a thumbs up, and the officer went into it without a second thought.

"On the twenty-second, the defendant's sister reported Ms. Singh as a Missing Person.

"After searching around town for a while, the police went to check the woman's house. We searched the inside, and found signs of a struggle.

"When no one was found on the property, we brought in the police dogs to sniff for clues. One of them found her body buried in the yard.

"After hearing what bystanders had to say and analyzing evidence found in the house, we arrested the defendant for the heinous act of murder."

Athena listened to silence for several seconds before realizing the testimony was over. Was that all he was going to say?

"And that is why your client was arrested." The prosecutor was drinking out of a large bottle. Athena couldn't see the label from here, but she sure didn't think it was grape juice. How was that allowed, but not shouting in court? "His fingerprints were found at the scene of the crime, and a witness saw him attack the victim. I would say this case is solid."

"Wha- I wouldn't!" Athena protested, slamming the desk. "That testimony right now was one of the vaguest I've ever heard. Your Honor, I demand the right to cross-examine the witness."

He scoffed. "You city folk, always demanding this or that. And you wonder why the town isn't always welcoming to you." The judge shook his head. "I don't care for your tone, young lady. Do you have a reason to cross examine this witness?"

A reason to cross-examine? Why would she need that? The defense attorney was guaranteed the right to cross-examine, regardless of perceived necessity.

In our usual district, that is true. But I can't say I know if such a thing applies here. Gavin spoke up for the first time this trial. Athena wondered if he was as shocked as she was. Regardless, I suggest you play along. Things will only be worse for your client if you're held in contempt of court.

You have a reason to demand a cross-examination. Just tell them what it is and be polite about it.

Athena had to take a breath. "Yes, Your Honor. I want to cross examine this witness because I feel he left certain details unclear."

"So you wish to press the witness?" Prosecutor Marsanne didn't look up. "That's all?"

"...For now." Athena didn't see any contradictions in his testimony. Nor did she have the evidence necessary to point them out. "I just want a better understanding of this case. That's reasonable, right?"

"I suppose so," the judge sighed. "Fine. You may press the witness on anything you wish. Witness?"

"Yes, Your Honor?"

"Would you repeat your testimony for the young miss? She seems to be confused."

Athena disliked the implications of the judge's statement, but was grateful when the officer agreed to repeat himself. She fixed the policeman with a stare, bracing herself for what was to come. The lawyer got the sense she would only get one shot at this, so she had to make it count. And since she didn't have an organized plan of attack, the best idea seemed to be to press him on every statement.

"On the twenty-second, the defendant's sister reported Ms. Singh as a Missing Person."

"HOL- Wait a minute." Athena corrected herself before she could be criticized. "The defendant's sister reported the victim missing?"

"That's what I said, yes."

"Was my client with her when she did so?"

"Yes, he was."

"Why would my client go with his sister to report his own murder victim missing?" Athena asked. "Wouldn't he want to hide his crime?"

"Objection," the prosecutor said, no passion behind her voice. "It was Elide Pakhi who reported Ms. Singh's absence, not the defendant. Unless you're implying she was an accomplice, there's nothing unusual about what occurred here. She couldn't have known what had happened."

That didn't sit with Athena, but she couldn't think of a way to contradict it. So she altered her approach. "Officer Oldaugh, when Miss Pakhi reported Ms. Singh as a Missing Person, how long had she been missing?"

"Two days."

"Wait a minute..." That got the judge's attention. "But hadn't Ms. Singh died the night before? Why was she missing a full day beforehand?"

"That can be easily explained," the prosecutor interjected before Athena had a chance to continue. "Ms. Singh is known for her forgetfulness and tendency to wander. It's possible she went somewhere the day before her murder and forgot to tell anyone. Where she went isn't relevant to the murder, so it wasn't investigated. After all, it's only when she returned home she was murdered by the defendant."

"But that raises more questions than it answers!" Athena objected. "If she hadn't been home in a day, how did my client know she would be there when he was at her house? He couldn't have planned this murder."

"You're right," the prosecutor said flatly. "He didn't plan this murder."

"So you admit it?" Athena couldn't believe it. This had to be the shortest trial she'd ever-

Don't celebrate yet. Aren't you forgetting something?

"Yes. I admitted it at the beginning of this trial. Do you what 'murder in the second degree' means, Miss Cykes?" Prosecutor Marsanne took a swig of her... unidentified drink. "The murder was spur of the moment. Not premeditated."

Well, there went that argument. Athena resisted the urge to hang her head. "May I continue with the cross-examination?"

A laugh. "Certainly."

Oldaugh took a second to remember what his next statement was before repeating it. "After searching around town for a while, the police went to check the woman's house. We searched the inside, and found signs of a struggle."

"Can you explain these signs of a struggle to the court?" Athena asked, leaning forward on the bench. "The defendant was a fail old woman. I find it hard to believe she did that much struggling."

"The struggle was brief, I admit. But when the police searched the house, we found an ironing board turned over, and blood on the murder weapon from a single strike. Blood was also found on the floor and staining clothing, indicating the murder happened there."

"So the victim had been ironing when she was murdered?"

"Well, about to. The murder weapon wasn't plugged in, and there were no burn marks on the victim."

"Objection," the prosecution broke in. "Is any of this relevant to the trial?"

"Objection sustained." The judge agreed. "Miss Pikes, continue on or give up. Some of us have plans later today."

"I will continue," Athena declared without even thinking. There had to be something she could use here...

The judge sighed. "Very well. Officer Oldaugh?"

"Yes, Your Honor.

"When no one was found on the property, we brought in the police dogs to sniff for clues. One of them found her body buried in the yard."

"Is it the prosecution's claim that my client buried Ms. Singh's body in her own front yard?" Athena asked.

"It is," the prosecution nodded. She still wasn't looking at Athena. "He buried her body to hide his crime."

"But aren't there easier ways to do that? Why would he bury her in her front yard when he could have hidden her body in the woods just behind the property? Is there any evidence he was the one to bury her?"

"If you must know, the defendant's DNA was not found on a shovel, sand pack, or anything of the sort. But neither was anyone else's. As for your other questions..." the older woman shrugged. "What does it matter?"

"What does it matter? What do you mean 'what does it matter'?! Are you the prosecutor of this case or not?"

"So the defendant isn't smart. That doesn't mean he didn't commit the murder. He knew he had to hide the body, and he did. Who cares why he chose the method he did?" The prosecutor smiled. "Which brings me to another point I'm sure you'll bring up."

"What?" This didn't look good.

"Motive." Another swig. "You were going to ask about that, weren't you?"

"Eventually, yes."

"I knew it. And it's simple, really. The defendant wasn't in the victim's house to murder her. He was there to rob her."

"Rob her?" The judge's eyes widened. "Who would sink so low as to rob a defenseless old woman?"

"The same person who would strike her down and bury her when she came back home and caught him. Is it really a surprise that a murderer could also be a thief?"

"Objection! Where is the proof for these accusations?" Athena couldn't let her get away with this. She was bound to lose if she did.

She could feel the hopelessness from years past settling in. She thought she was past this! Hadn't that been what all of her last case was about?

"The police officer already told you, yes? We found the defendant's fingerprints on items at the crime scene. Would you like to know what items those were, Miss Cykes?"

"I... I would." Athena spoke through gritted teeth. Definitely not good.

"Heirlooms, jewelry, and a safe door. Ms. Singh was a woman of few luxuries. If your client had his way, she would be a woman of none. The prosecution wishes to submit these items as evidence."

So her client had visited the crime scene that night. He'd lied to her.

Athena looked over towards the defendant's chair. Khadga was slumped over still, not meeting her eyes. What if he'd really...

What are you doing? I know Phoenix's style, and for all its flaws, giving up on his clients at the first sign of difficulty isn't it. What has he been teaching his apprentices?

Gavin's point was crude, but he was right. What was she doing?

No. She couldn't do this. Not to him. Not to herself.

Athena shook the weight off her shoulders. She couldn't let her emotions get to her. She couldn't give up now.

She must be missing something.

"What am I missing here?" she whispered under her breath. She hated this. "Gavin?"

Well, if I were you, I wouldn't recommend questioning the evidence itself. In court, evidence is all but infallible.  But the arguments behind it? The details leading up to its presentation? Those are the aspects you can get away with questioning.

She could almost feel him smiling. And that's all I have to say on the matter. If you catch my meaning...

No, she didn't. Well, she did, but seriously? Could this demon be any more frustrating?

"...Wait."

"Well, if the defense is done talking to herself, I suggest we-"

"Hold it. When were these pieces of evidence analyzed?"

Both judge and prosecutor paused. "What are you asking, Miss Pikes?"

"The jewelry and stuff Prosecutor Marsanne just submitted. When was it analyzed for fingerprints?"

"Yesterday, during the police investigation," Officer Oldaugh answered. "Why do you ask?"

"My client and his sister were the ones who reported the victim's disappearance to the police. They told the police they had already visited the victim's residence before reporting." Athena remembered from her night with Juniper. "Can the prosecution prove these fingerprints were left the night of the murder and not the day after?"

"What?" The prosecutor nearly spit out her drink. She turned to the police officer on the witness stand. "Is this true?"

"...It is. I may have mentioned it to the girl before I knew her profession." Oldaugh had a tinge of happiness to his voice. He almost sounded impressed with her. "As for the lass's question, the police have no way of proving when the fingerprints were left."

"So my client snooped a bit while looking for his grandma. That isn't a crime!" Athena argued. "I will not let the prosecution use that evidence to make him a murderer!"

"Hm," the judge frowned. "The prosecution's argument may make sense, but I'm afraid the defense raises a fair point. As of now, the prosecution possesses insufficient evidence to convict the defendant."

"Urgh..." She was growling. Actually growling. That was a new one. "Wait. You can't say your client wasn't at the crime scene when the murder happened! I have a witness who saw him arguing with the victim herself just before the murder! I said as much!"

"Then I suggest you call this decisive witness of yours, Prosecutor. Why didn't you lead this trial with such a thing?"

"I... didn't think it would be necessary, Your Honor. Not with an opponent like this." She fixed her haggard stare on Athena, a single eye twitching. Athena stood tall, hands on her hips. It took all her internal discipline not to bite back with a response.

The prosecutor shoved her bottle to the side, nearly knocking if off the bench before speaking. "Since the defense needs further convincing, the prosecution wishes to call another witness. Will Seamus Goodwin please take the stand?"

The judge shook his head. "The court recognizes Seamus Goodwin as a witness. Will he please take the stand?"

"..."

"...Seamus Goodwin?" The judge glanced around the gallery. "Is the witness here? He's not waiting in the prosecution's lobby, is he?"

"Er, no sir." A bailiff spoke up from the back of the room. "Old Man Seamus never showed up to court today."

"I'm sorry, what?" Prosecutor Marsanne really looked like she was about to break the 'no shouting' rule. "Did I not tell him to... Ugh! Officer Oldaugh?"

"Yes, Prosecutor?"

"Fetch the witness from his home, if you will. We can continue the trial when he arrives."

"Until then, I'm afraid we'll have to call for a ten minute recess. When we resume, I expect the prosecution not to leave any more holes in her case. Am I heard?"

"Yes, Your Honor."

"Prosecutor Marsanne, meet me in my chambers. We have matters to discuss. Until the witness is here, court is adjourned." The man struck his gavel, and so it was.

Athena breathed a sigh of relief. That was close.

Indeed it was, Miss Cykes. Indeed it was.

Chapter Text

It took a few minutes, but the old man Athena had met yesterday was finally in the courthouse. As he was ushered onto the stand, Athena took the time to get a sense for his state of mind.

The old man didn't seem any less erratic than he had yesterday. If anything, his irritation had increased. Athena briefly considered pulling out Widget and performing a therapy session on the witness, but she doubted that would go over well in this court. The people of this town were already suspicious of her. Athena shouldn't make herself seem any more alien to them than she already did.

Agreed. Though while we're on the subject, I'd love to know how you integrate psychoanalysis into court proceedings. Would you be willing to instruct me on how to conduct these sessions?

"Maybe later," Athena answered out the side of her mouth. Seeing as the purpose of the Mood Matrix was to help emotionally vulnerable witnesses, she had a hard time believing Gavin would possess any talent for it. And they still didn't know if he could use her ears while in control of her body.

Three strikes of the gavel. "The court recognizes Seamus Goodwin as a witness. Will the witness please state his name and occupation for the court?"

"What's the point of statin' anything if you've already said it?" the witness protested. He was a short man, head no taller than Athena's shoulder. Though that may have something to do with his hunched back. "Ya know my name, and the whole town knows how long I been retired. Let's put that damn hooligan in jail already!"

"I couldn't agree more," Prosecutor Marsanne spoke up from her day drinking. "Mr. Goodwin, we spoke yesterday about the events you witnessed when the murder occurred. Care to repeat what you told me?"

He did not look like he cared to, but he also seemed to understand he didn't have much choice in the matter. "Fine. Let me testify. I call this one 'The No-Good Kid'."

"Very well. Begin when ready."

The old man cleared his throat. It took a few seconds. "I was on my nightly walk a few nights ago, jus' minding my own business.

"Gonma and I are friends, so I thought I'd make a courtesy call. I knocked on her door, and nothing.

"Usually she's home this time o' night. It was strange, so I looked in the window.

"And inside... what do you know! I saw that no good kid.

"He had rage in his eyes, and was staring at poor Gonma's old dead body.

"I left soon as I could. It's no good to get attention from a dangerous outsider like that, and I ain't a fighter no more."

Athena slumped from her place at the bench. Yet another shoddy testimony she would have to make sense of. How did this town do it?

She voiced her objections. "Your Honor, I have the same complaint here as I did the last time. This testimony is too unclear. I need to cross-examine him for a better understanding of the case."

"Your Honor, the defense wants to harass an old man because she can't figure things out for herself. That, or she's stalling for time. We'd be better served going straight into the verdict."

The judge looked back and forth between the two attorneys, then shook his head. "I'm afraid I side with the defense on this one. Mr. Goodwin could have spoken more clearly. However," he fixed his stone gaze on Athena, "I expect you to be kind to this witness, Miss Pikes. He's the oldest member of our town, and a well respected veteran. If I catch you badgering the witness needlessly, your defense will be dismissed."

"W- yes, sir." Athena struggled to keep her thoughts on the matter to herself. "I know what I need to ask about already."

"Good. Then you may ask it. Which statement did you intend to press?"

Which statement? Athena wasn't good with order like this. Which one was it where he said...

If you wish to ask about the same thing I would, it's the fifth statement you're looking for. The one where the witness claims he saw the body.

"The fifth statement," Athena said, concurring with Gavin. "Mr. Goodwin, you said you saw Ms. Singh's dead body, but how? Weren't you just looking through a window? If she were lying on the floor, you shouldn't have been able to see it."

"...When did I say I ever saw it? I don't think I did, little missy."

"What? Yes, you did!" Athena slapped the bench with both hands, then pulled herself back. "Mr. Goodwin, please recall that you said you saw my client, and that he was standing over Ms. Singh's body."

"Don't get yourself twisted, little miss! I only said I saw that hooligan over there. The police told me that Gonma's body had been where he was standing. I didn't lie about nothing."

Athena sighed. "Well, that's a completely different problem. Mr. Goodwin, you're only supposed to testify about what you personally witnessed. Not anything the police might have told you. If you testify to a fact you didn't witness, that can be considered perjury. Please be careful in the future."

"Come now, little lawyer. It's an honest mistake. No need to threaten Mr. Goodwin," the prosecutor hopped to his defense. "The police were a tad careless, is all."

"Well, Miss Pikes? Is there anything relevant to be gleaned from this slip of the tongue?"

Athena had to think about it. "If this witness didn't actually see the body, all he saw was my client. Is that correct?"

"What, the hooligan? Yeah, he was there. Clear as day."

"Are you absolutely sure, Mr. Goodwin? Yesterday, when we spoke, you expressed some doubt." Athena could feel it. She was getting close. Prosecutor Marsanne had tried to coach the witness, but Athena knew her trick. "Can you say, with absolute certainty, that the man you saw in the victim's home the night of the crime was my client?"

In the end, the witness decided to ignore what the prosecutor said. He was going to be honest. "...No. But it's probably him! That boy's an outsider, and no one in this town would hurt Gonma. I saw a hooligan that night, and there's a hooligan right there. Case closed."

"Objection! This case is not closed." Athena felt her voice getting louder, but she was unable to stop herself. "We don't have any proof that my client was at the scene of the crime. We don't even have testimony stating the fact!"

Silence in the courtroom. A few moments later, the judge struck his gavel. He too had to clear his throat.

"...As long as there's room for doubt, I can't declare a verdict in this trial." The judge seemed to be siding with Athena, but she couldn't be less happy about what came next. "If neither side has anything more to present, I will call for further investigation. Proceedings will be suspended until the twenty-sixth."

The twenty-sixth? Athena couldn't do that. She'd be back to work at the agency by then. If she skipped work, Mr. Wright was bound to figure out what was going on. He'd be furious if he found out she'd taken a case behind his back. Athena knew she wasn't prepared to deal with the consequences of that.

But Athena had also promised Khadga and his sister that she wouldn't give up on him. She couldn't abandon them in the middle of the case!

Then I guess that leaves you with only one option.

"What? What option is there?"

End the case today. Don't let the proceedings suspend. If you want to find the truth and not have Phoenix intervene, now is your only chance.

Was there anything Athena could use to keep the trial going? She had to do something!

"If there are no objections, then I declare this court-"

"Hold it!"

All eyes turned to her. "Miss Pikes. What is going on here?"

"I... think I may be able to find the truth about what happened that night. I don't need more time."

"Oh, really?" Prosecutor Marsanne looked genuinely surprised. "And how do you plan to do that?"

Well, she didn't have much in way of evidence. If Athena wanted to prolong the trial, there really was only one thing she could do. "Mr. Goodwin wasn't the only one to check on the victim that night. There was someone else who heard the struggle."

"There was another witness to this crime?" The judge blinked. "Who was this other witness, if I may ask?"

The prosecutor must have known where Athena was going with this. But either she was prepared to fend the younger woman off, or she didn't care enough to protest. No matter what the reason, Prosecutor Marsanne was silent when Athena named her first witness.

"And that person was... Ms. Brenda Woods."

"Me?" Grammie spoke up from the gallery. "I thought the police said I wouldn't be called as a witness."

"We didn't think so either, but Mr. Goodwin saw far less than he had let on to the police, so I suppose it's your turn." The prosecutor took her final swig out of the bottle, speech starting to become slightly slurred. "Give me twenty minutes to prepare this witness, Your Honor. I need to make sure I'm familiar with the fine points of her testimony."

The judge shook his head in disbelief. "Very well, I suppose we can try to wrap this up before Christmas. I have a service to attend this evening, however, so please do make it quick." He raised his gavel once again.

"Court is now adjourned for twenty minutes."


"Well, that witness was a disappointment," Lida spoke up in the defendant's lobby. "Good thing he didn't actually see anything, huh?"

"I don't get it," Khadga grumbled. "If the police don't have anything on me anymore, why can't I go?"

Athena groaned. "It's because in our legal system, it isn't enough to prove someone did or did not do it in a trial. You also have to be able to explain exactly what happened. Unless the prosecution lets up, which they never do. And unfortunately, the default explanation is always the one the police give." It was then that the lawyer remembered something. "Speaking of the truth of this case..."

"Yeah? What is it?"

"When I went to speak with him yesterday, Mr. Goodwin told me something very interesting." Athena stared her client and his sister in the eye, doing what she could to steel her nerves. "But I'm afraid of what it means."

Lida looked uncharacteristically nervous. It showed through in the voice of her heart. "What do you mean?"

Should Athena say it? What if her clients turned on her?

Whatever this fact says about them, it doesn't mean they murdered the victim. If you want to save your client, it's time they told you what they know.

With Gavin's encouragement, Athena was ready. "He... he said Ms. Singh's only daughter died about fifty years ago."

The siblings turned to each other, alarm in their eyes. Athena had to know. "The two of you... you aren't Ms. Singh's grandchildren, are you?"

Silence. For one long moment, Athena was scared. She had no idea where she was going with this.

Strangely enough, Gavin didn't feel the same. What did he know that she didn't? And how?

"...You're smarter than I thought, Miss Cykes." The lawyer flinched.

It was Lida who admitted it. Khadga looked like he wanted to protest, but he only spoke after thinking it through. "Does this mean we have to tell you everything?"

Athena put her hands on her hips, essentially repeating what Gavin had already said. "If you don't want to go to prison for murder, I need to know the truth. Why did you claim to be Ms. Singh's relatives if you weren't?"

"It was Lida's idea," Khadga crossed his arms. "She's the one who's been conning people to pay for her college. I didn't even know until I saw her doing research for this scheme. I just wanted a cut! Why'd you get me into this, Lida?"

"Official reports said the lady's daughter was missing, not dead! I thought we could convince her we were her family, and that she would give us her daughter's inheritance because of it."

"But why Ms. Singh? She's not rich. She's just a forgetful old lady." Athena was struggling to keep up. Was that all that it was, here? Petty criminals who were in over their heads?

The older woman groaned. "We couldn't operate in our hometown. Too many people knew us there. And the fact she was so forgetful was supposed to work in our favor. She was supposed to meet us and then forget the details needed to track us down." Lida balled her hands into fists. "But she must have gotten the meeting day mixed up! She probably went to where I'd be in the city a day before we got to town, and by the time I was there and Khadga was in her house, we still hadn't realized the mistake we made."

"Wait, so... Khadga was in Ms. Singh's house that night? He's the one Mr. Goodwin saw?"

"Yeah, probably." Khadga acknowledged. Athena felt terrible. "But I didn't kill her, I promise."

"Then what happened?" Athena was trembling. She couldn't believe she'd been defending criminals. "I need to know, or I can't prove your innocence."

"Lida was going to meet with the mark while I went to check things out. We found her address on the internet. The reports were from the seventies, so we weren't sure she still lived in the same place. When I got there, I entered the back door. I thought the woman would be off with my sister."

Athena was beginning to see the truth from here. "...But she wasn't. She was about to start ironing when you came in."

"I didn't mean to startle her! Honest!" Athena tuned in to the voice of Khadga's heart. He was afraid for his own sake, but not sad. If Athena were to guess, she would say he didn't care about Ms. Singh's fate at all. "But when she saw me, she tripped on the carpet. The iron flew out of her hand. It... wasn't pretty."

"So her death was an accident. Why didn't you say so?"

Is it not obvious? He was afraid of being accused of murder. He was an intruder to her house, after all.

Something horrible occurred to Athena. "You're the one who buried her in her yard."

"I panicked! I didn't want anyone to know what happened, so I hid her body. I wanted to ditch the place, but Lida said we had to lead the police to her body. She thought we could still get some of her money if we kept up the grandkids disguise."

Athena saw Widget turn red on her neck. "You would have been found out, I'm almost sure of it. What you did was stupid and cost a scared old woman her life!"

Khadga replied, but all Athena could hear was Gavin. That may be, but the fact remains that this man is your client. He was wrongly accused of murder, and it's your job to prove it.

"But-"

Being innocent of murder doesn't necessarily make you're a good person, Miss Cykes. Whatever you think of this man's actions, your duty remains unchanged. The truth is still that your client didn't murder the victim. Prove that and get Mr. Pakhi the not guilty verdict he deserves.

"You knew. I don't know how, but you knew." Athena felt like a fool. Had everything about this case been a test? How much control did Gavin have over what was happening here?

"Huh?" Lida raised an eyebrow. "What Khadga did was stupid, I know. But we made sure her body was found, and we didn't actually steal from her. You can't let Khadga get a life sentence for being in the wrong place at the wrong time!"

"Excuse me, miss?"

A bailiff walked in to interrupt their conversation, and Athena felt a burst of paranoia. How much had the man heard?

"The trial is about to resume. Prosecutor Marsanne has an announcement."


Athena stumbled back to her place on the bench, feeling her eyes shift in and out of focus. What was she to do? What was the prosecutor going to tell the court? Should she reveal the truth? What would happen if she did?

And where was Grammie?

The lawyer looked around everywhere. Neither Grammie nor Juniper were still in the gallery, and the witness stand was empty. She looked to the prosecutor, who had a second bottle in her hand. It was already halfway empty.

The judge spoke first. "Prosecutor Marsanne, what is the meaning of this?"

"I dismissed Ms. Brenda Woods. Her testimony was inconclusive, and the woman was in need of a doctor."

"Oh no," Athena whispered. Louder, she asked, "Will she be alright?"

"I hope so. Though she won't be having a good Christmas." Prosecutor Marsanne's tone was callous, but the voice of her heart spoke of genuine concern. She felt more for her fellow human than Athena's own client did. That stung. "It's thanks to her testimony that I believe there is nothing more to be gained from this crime."

"And what do you mean by that?" The judge was curious.

"She said she heard the victim shout and an iron fall to the ground, but that there was no evidence of another person at the crime. She claims that Mr. Goodwin may have been mistaken."

"Where does that leave your case, Prosecutor Marsanne?"

The older woman hung her head back. "Up a creek, to be honest. I have no proof there was anyone with the victim at the time of the murder, and no evidence to indicate who buried her. This was a waste of everyone's Christmas Eve." And then, something Athena never thought she would hear a bona fide prosecutor say in her lifetime: "the prosecution rests, Your Honor. The police will continue to investigate if they must, but the defendant can go."

Athena couldn't believe this. It didn't feel like she was winning, but she was. And she didn't even get a chance to reveal the truth to the court.

Should she say something? Should she interrupt the verdict to expose her client for what he was?

"Well, this is an unfortunate turn of events. It's been a long time since you lost, hasn't it, Prosecutor?"

She shrugged. "I grew complacent. Lost my energy. So has Defflin Ender, if you ask me."

Don't speak. Doing so will ultimately lead to the same verdict, no? And it's not as if you can afford to stay any longer.

Athena was still mulling it over when the judge spoke. "Well, sparing any objection... I guess that brings us to the end of the line. This court hereby finds the defendant, whose name I forgot how to say...

"Not Guilty."

Too late. Athena resisted the urge to hang her head.

Not many people were in the room, so applause was piecemeal. And even if it had been wholehearted and abundant, Athena still wouldn't have been able to enjoy it. Not while knowing the things she did now.

As she was walking out, Athena stopped Prosecutor Marsanne. "I wasn't expecting you to do that."

"And why not? I'm not prideful, nor am I an idiot. I know when I've been beaten." She tipped the bottle towards Athena. "Good job."

"Thanks, but- I really didn't do much."

"Did more than my usual rival does. Of course, he's on vacation right now. Wish I had money for that... only reason I have these," she indicated her glass companion, "is because my brother owns an orchard few hours out. Said I'd spend Christmas with him, so if you'll excuse me..." Not waiting for the other woman to speak, Prosecutor Marsanne left the courthouse.

Athena felt empty inside. She knew she ought to visit Grammie, but she couldn't work up the will to do so.

Why so silent? You've won your second case in court as the lead defense. And it's not as if your client was guilty.

But that's the thing. In a way, he was. And for all Athena's trust in her client, she didn't believe for a second that the man was sorry for his actions.

Athena was silent when she encountered Lida and Khadga again, only speaking up to say congratulations and give them a figure to pay. It felt odd, accepting the money from a case directly. Usually it went through the agency first.

Maybe if she kept this case a secret, she would be able to forget about it. She could confess to Juniper that she hadn't taken it with her boss's permission, and ask her to never mention it to anyone. Athena trusted her. And it was one more reason to visit Grammie.

But before she did that, Athena had to know. "What did you know about this case that I didn't? And how?"

He avoided the question. In order to assess your abilities, I had to know the truth before I watched you find it. In my assessment, I found room for improvement, but potential nonetheless. You ought to be proud.

Athena was in control of her body at the moment. She was sure of that.

But even so... who was really running the show, here?

Chapter Text

"Oh, Athena, you're here! Merry Christmas!"

"Merry Christmas, Trucy!" Athena responded cheerily, decked out in Santa-like red dress that clashed with her hair. "How's show prep coming along?"

"It's good." She smiled, then sighed. "I'm kinda sad that I'm performing alone, though. Last year, Polly did it with me."

She'd heard. Apollo liked to complain ad nauseum about how awful it was to serve as Trucy's assistant. She always wanted him to be the "victim" in her more dangerous tricks, and his avoidance of practicing them much with her beforehand constantly made the stage performance that much more unnerving. Trucy liked to tease him about what little faith he had in her, and Athena would laugh along. According to him, it was worse even than the first days of having Mr. Wright for a boss. One, at least, had gotten better with time.

That was one good thing that taking time off had done for him, at least. Athena would have to check on him once he arrived. Ask how the funeral was coming along. If he felt up to returning to work after it all.

As for Trucy, her response was standard. "Well, I'm sure he'll be happy to watch it this year. I'm looking forward to it."

"Thanks, Athena!" Trucy beamed with her hands behind her back. She turned to look at the time, and was shocked. "I need to finish getting ready. I'm on in twenty minutes!"

Without another word, the young magician scampered off into the back of the Wonder Bar. Mr. Wright and Mr. Edgeworth had rented out the place for a joint Christmas Party, inviting people from all sides of the courtroom, plus a few friends. It would be the first time the Chief Prosecutor had celebrated the holiday since becoming an adult. Hopefully, tonight's hijinks wouldn't ruin it for him.

Back at her uncle's home, Christmas had been a very traditional affair, steeped in the Christian faith. It was one of the few times that the man had been successful in forcing Athena to go to church. But here, it just felt like an excuse to party. They wouldn't be exchanging gifts, praying, or anything of the sort. And then six days later, they would do the same thing for New Year's Eve, just with added fireworks. It was different, in a good kind of way. Athena was looking forward to it, if pensively.

No matter her day yesterday, Athena was determined to have a good time. She'd been ignoring Gavin all day in the hopes of such an outcome, and with success, too!

Honestly, she was just hoping he would take the hint and go away for a while. Maybe if she didn't engage him, he would get bored.

Athena had invited Juniper and her grandmother to the party as well, but Juniper declined, preferring to stay in the mountains with Grammie while she recovered. The doctor had let her go home, but she still didn't feel up to travelling to the city, least of all for a party.

It's just as well. You don't want to risk them letting slip about your adventures these past days.

Yesterday, Athena had explained her situation to Juniper. Her friend hadn't been approving, but she'd been willing to keep Athena's secret, and asked only that Athena keep her in the loop about Apollo and his condition. Athena had teased her about that, laughing. It was a easy change of subject. Athena had invited Juniper's Themis friends too, but they had other plans already.

While Athena did want to tell her boss eventually, she didn't feel like now was a good time. Maybe a few years down the road when she had more trial experience under her belt, she would look back on the episode in her life and laugh. Mr. Wright probably would, too.

"Hey, there stranger. Long time no see."

Speaking of Mr. Wright...

Athena turned around, greeting the older lawyer with a bright smile. "Hey there, Mr. Wright! Merry Christmas!"

"Merry Christmas to you, too. Glad you could make it." He studied her for a moment puzzled. "Where's Widget?"

"Oh, he's in my bag." She pointed to her small clutch purse, which also had her phone, "I didn't want to have him on my neck for tonight."

"Ah, okay." He bought her explanation one hundred percent. "Is it working alright?"

"I think so. I still don't know what happened a few days ago."

"Didn't do a therapy session on yourself?" He was joking, but Athena had a hard time laughing. It hit just a little too close to home.

"So, how's the case with Aura Blackquill coming along?"

Mr. Wright slumped, a lock of hair sagging on his forehead. "It's coming. The first day of trial for her state-level crimes was yesterday. And even though the plea was guilty, it got extended into a second day."

The famous Phoenix Wright, knowingly taking the case of a guilty client? Pleading guilty from the start?  My, how things have changed.

"Oh no, why? Did something go wrong?" Athena asked, sticking to her promise of ignoring the voice in her head. "Is there a dispute with the charges being filed?"

"Something like that. I thought Prosecutor Gavin and I were on the same page with the twelve hostage charges served cocurrently, but when I got to court, he wanted to up the charges to aggravated and add conspiracy to commit murder. He thinks that because she said some things over the course of the retrial, she meant to kill people if things went wrong." He shook his head, almost incredulous. "I didn't think what she did was enough to count for conspiracy. The legal bar on that is a lot lower than I thought."

"What?" Her hands flew to her face. "Doesn't he think the original charges are enough?"

The older lawyer paused before answering. "Best I can guess, the Prosecutor's Office is under public pressure to be harsh. I protested, and even called Trucy to the stand to prove my client hadn't used violence in the hostage situation. I tried to get Ms. Blackquill to clarify that she wouldn't have killed anyone, but that wasn't convincing enough." He sighed. "I don't want to bother Edgeworth or Prosecutor Gavin at Christmas about it, but I do wish I knew why they changed their mind. Did they forget she still has to go through federal court as well?"

Puzzling as ever. "I don't think that's it. How does your client feel about the situation?"

More slumping. "She's unrepentant as ever. As far as she's concerned, freeing her brother is worth some jail time. But at this rate, I think it's gonna be more than some. And now Prosecutor Blackquill is on my back about it, and-" he stopped himself. "But enough of that. It's Christmas. I don't want to worry about cases today." Her boss smiled, though the voice of his heart remained strained. "How did that body they found near Miss Woods pan out?"

Athena shrugged. "It turned out to be an accident. The guy who caused it just freaked out and buried her."

"The police told you that?"

"...Yeah." Athena went with it, lying through her teeth. "It took some arm-twisting, but they told me everything. The prosecutor in that town isn't even pursuing charges, and the woman had no one left to protest that. There's nothing else to it."

"I guess not every case goes to court. Well, good. I'm glad they found the truth. And that you didn't get too involved." He fixed her with a look as he said the last sentence. Athena forced herself to not squirm as he did so, eyes darting to the hand in his pocket. He waited a few seconds before speaking to her again, though Athena could have sworn she saw his lips moving. "How's Miss Woods?"

"She's fine, but her grandmother is having trouble." Athena was glad to be speaking honestly again. "That's why she didn't accept my invitation to come."

"I'm sorry to hear that." Mr. Wright would have said more to her, but just as they were talking, a tall, loud man with light orange hair burst through the door, stumbling as though already drunk.

"Nick! Edgey! M-Merrry Christmas?" His speech was slurred.

Athena turned to see her boss's reaction. He seemed resigned to the situation. "Give me a minute, Athena." Then, to the man who'd walked in: "Larry! Long time no see, huh?"

The young lawyer ducked away, surprised at how relieved she was to not be talking to Mr. Wright anymore. She hoped it wouldn't always be like this. Things would suck if it were always so awkward between them.

She leaned back onto a bar stool, fingering a green tablecloth. There were at least a dozen people in the room now, and all talking loudly. Athena did her best to tune them out, briefly wishing she was wearing Widget after all. Should she get him out of her purse? He didn't really go with her outfit, but maybe it would help her concentrate.

Maybe there was something she could do to help Mr. Wright. Make it up to him, after everything he'd done for her. Even if it was just something small. But what?

Don't bother. He doesn't take to favors well. I should know.

Lost in her thoughts as she was, it took a few tries before Athena realized she wasn't alone. When a bronzed hand landed on her shoulder, she actually jumped.

"Fraulein Cykes? It was Cykes, ja?"

Athena turned around, almost running into Klavier Gavin, the former rockstar she'd met two months ago. The prosecutor Mr. Wright was having trouble with.

Kristoph Gavin's little brother. The very thought filled her mind with foreign emotions. Mostly rage, but tinged with something else. Something... softer.

Whatever it was, she did her best to ignore it. "Prosecutor Gavin. Didn't see you there."

"I didn't say your name wrong, did I? It is Cykes?"

"It is. I was just... lost in thought, is all," Athena explained, feeling tongue tied. "Merry Christmas."

The younger Gavin tipped his beer towards her, an acknowledgement. He took a large swig before continuing. "I was wondering if you might have seen Herr Justice. He's coming to the party, ja?"

"He said he would, but I haven't seen him yet. The last few days have been hard for him, after all."

"So I've heard. I tried to offer my condolences, but he didn't answer my call. You've been through a time and a half as well, no?" He asked as if he'd just remembered. "How are things for you, Fraulein?"

Well, I'm haunted by your brother's demon. He wants to possess me and act like a lawyer again.

Athena came to her senses before she said that. Instead, she gave a shrug, and cut her heart open for a guy she'd met twice. "Still pretty new. I feel like this weight... this huge part of me that I've been repressing for seven years is just gone now. If I think about it, it doesn't bring me pain. Not anymore. I should be happy, but I almost feel empty. Like I need to put something else in its place. Else I'm not whole." She shook her head. "It's unreal."

"I understand how you feel, Fraulein. I would have offered to aid in the drama last week, had I not been on a leave of absence myself."

"I heard. Your brother's death?"

"I didn't come here to talk about it." Klavier finished off the last of his can, the edge in his voice undeniable. "Forget I said anything."

At least he isn't asking how you knew. By request of my washed up little brother himself, my execution wasn't supposed to be reported on by anyone in the media. Sure, now he told her.

"I'm sorry. We've all been dealing with our own baggage for too long." She left the topic alone after that. "Well, at least it's done. And before Christmas, too."

Klavier agreed. "Now is a time for celebration!" He gestured at the empty space before her, smiling. "Could I buy a drink for the lovely lady? What do you like?"

Athena returned his smile. "Back when I traveled to Germany, they let me drink as much wine as I wanted. Here? I have to wait a few years."

"It doesn't have to be alcoholic, now does it? Are you fond of any sodas, perhaps?" His trademark smile was back. "There must be something of interest I can offer to a pretty girl like you."

"Sprite is fine, thanks." Athena felt a blush creeping into her face at that. It would have felt nice, had it not been for the voice in the back of her head. The one that was laughing furiously. She kicked herself in the shin, but he didn't get the message.

Lucky for her, Klavier didn't seem to notice. In under a minute, she had a large glass of fizzing clear soda in front of her. They talked for a bit longer, mostly about cases they'd seen or worked on. The compliments kept pouring in to the point where Athena felt obligated to return them. She could hear the voice of Klavier's heart. She knew he was only mildly into it. But part of her was just fine ignoring that, and that made it possible for Athena to enjoy herself.

"So Mr. Wright tells me you're the prosecutor on his case right now." Athena brought it up delicately, not sure where she was going with this. "How is that going?"

"Ach, it's a circus. Media all around the affair, none I can please. Herr Monochrome isn't too pleased with me either, I know. But Frau Blackquill can't be excepted from justice. No one, not even relatives of prosecutors, are that privileged."

If you were to let me talk to him right now, I could change his mind. I've always known how to get to my little brother. He was defensive towards me in my final days, but he wouldn't expect it coming from you.

Athena couldn't directly respond like this. So she did her best to communicate nonverbally her surprise that the demon would ever offer to assist Mr. Wright's case. After that, the deceased Gavin was silent. "I... guess I can see what you mean. But Mr. Wright says she still has to face trial in federal court, once she's done in this district. Don't you think they'll be strict enough on her?"

Klavier shook her (and her reasoning) off. "I didn't come to a Christmas party to be pestered about work. Perhaps I should leave." He stood up, then looked around the bar. "Fraulein Detective!"

He was gone before she could get another word in. So much for making it up to her boss.

"Great, he's gone."

Athena whipped her head around searching for the source of that voice. Her eyes finally landed on Apollo, who had been hanging in the shadows a few feet away.

"Apollo! You made it!" Athena felt genuine cheer seep into her voice. "Merry Christmas!"

"Thanks." He sat down opposite of Athena from where Klavier had been. This put him in the corner of the bar. No one else seemed to have noticed his arrival.

"I took a back way in," he offered by means of explanation. "I thought Trucy might see me, but she was busy getting ready. I take it she's performing tonight?"

"She is," Athena confirmed. "I'm sure she'll get excited when she sees you out in the audience."

Apollo laughed, once. "As long as she doesn't drag me on to the stage, I'll be fine with that."

Silence.

"So... how are you doing? How is... everyone?" Athena didn't know how to approach the subject with him. After the way Klavier reacted, she wondered if she should be bringing it up at all.

"Clay's father is a wreck, of course. His stepmom isn't much better. They have the funeral date set, though. They're gonna have him buried near his mother."

Athena choked up just hearing about it. "I'm sure they've been happy to have you around. Look, if you aren't ready to come back to work, you can talk to Mr. Wright about it. I know he'd understand. Just-"

"No, I'm fine. I want to go back," Apollo insisted, a hard cast to his eyes and his fist on the bar's counter. "Anything has to be better than thinking about this all day. I'd rather deal with someone's else's problems for a while."

"Well, don't forget about your own, either. Because that doesn't fix anything. You can spend years away from it all, but somehow it's gonna find a way to catch up to you in the worst way."

"Well, not so bad for Blackquill. Is he here?" Apollo asked, sounding glad to have the focus off himself. He motioned to the bartender, who threw him a beer. "I heard he took a leave of absence as well."

"He did, but it's longer than ours. He has until New Years to get his life sorted out, then Edgeworth wants him back."

"That's... not a lot of time. Does he have a place to live? Food? Money he can use until his next paycheck comes in?"

"His sister's place, yes, and not much," Athena answered all his questions. "But according to Mr. Wright, he spends most his time trying to help his sister with her case. She asked for you first, you know."

"Then I'll join Mr. Wright tomorrow and help him," Apollo promised. "I've helped clients with guilty sentences before, so it won't be completely new for me."

"You took cases with guilty clients before? I didn't know that." Athena steered the conversation from there, remembering another thing she'd been wanting to ask about.

"Well, not guilty of murder, but guilty of lesser crimes. They were just initially charged with murder. Both of them were pretty young, though, and caught in extenuating circumstances, so the court was lenient with their sentencing. Neither one got more than a few years."

"I see." Athena sipped on her drink before continuing. "I just realized: I don't know anything about your past cases. I know some of Mr. Wright's, but-"

"Well, there's not much to tell. My first case was a real wake up call for me, but after that, I felt like I could be ready for anything life threw at me. Anything before Clay's death. That whole trial... the last one, the retrial. When I was on the stand... I don't know what came over me. It's all kind of a blur, I felt really awful afterwards, and-"

"You don't need to apologize, Apollo. I believe you. I know things were bad. They looked bad." She raised her drink to him. "But that's all behind us. Merry Christmas?"

Apollo nodded, clinking their glasses together. "Merry Christmas."

Athena never got to ask Apollo the things she wanted to know. But just sitting there in the back with no eyes on them, it felt nice to chat about nothing. Sitting and laughing together, it felt like their pasts didn't matter anymore. Like they could be anyone else in the city, just enjoying their Christmas party together. It was a nice change.

They didn't get up until Trucy's show began. Everyone noticed Apollo then, and they all had to ask him the same questions. Over and over again. Some asked her too, but Athena was fine not being the center of attention.

And all through the night, Gavin didn't say another word to her. She could almost believe he was gone... if the shuddering resentment wasn't still buried deep within.

Athena cringed occasionally at the almost physical pain. She didn't always notice it, but it was always there.

Just like the man it belonged to.

Chapter Text

After a night of forgetting about her problems, Athena awoke the next morning to find them all present and accounted for. If one didn't count her brief visit five days prior, this would be Athena's first day of work in her new condition. At this point in the morning, as she was standing in front of the WAA door, she still had no clue what to expect. Her morning run had calmed her nerves, but only a little. Gavin had remained silent thus far today, but she knew he was still there. She could feel it.

Athena's hand reached for the door, trembling as it did so. What should have been an exciting return was clouded by the aura of foreboding. As Athena waited for her boss to answer the door, she shifted her weight from one foot to the next, flicking her earring back and forth while she swayed side to side.

A minute passed. Nothing happened. So Athena knocked again.

Silence.

This was odd. It wasn't like Athena was early. It was almost nine o'clock. The young lawyer tried the door handle, only to discover it was locked. She stepped back, lifting the mat to retrieve the spare key. If she'd have known she was opening the place, she would have brought her own.

Turning the key, Athena nudged the door open with little force. As the door opened, a note fell off from the surface of its other side. Athena picked the paper up, reading its contents aloud:

"'Athena,

"'Welcome back to work! Sorry I'm not here to greet you on your first day back. Aura's trial got moved up an hour, and I didn't get the notification until I showed up at the office this morning. By the time you get here, the trial should already be under way. I called Apollo as soon as I heard. While I'm writing this note, in fact. He's gonna be my co-counsel today, and Trucy's still on the witness list, so she has to be at the courthouse for every day of trial in case one of the attorneys calls for her. Pearl's already gone home. Sorry, but you're gonna have to go it alone this morning.

"'I hope we can get a verdict in this case today, but until we do, I need you to watch the office. Just in case we get any customers, you know? Pearl and I didn't quite finish cleaning the place, so if you would do that, I'd be grateful.

"'Thanks,

"'Mr. Wright'"

Athena sighed, crumpling up the note and throwing it away. She wasn't sure whether she should feel rejected or relieved.

This office was cleaned? I hardly notice a difference.

"Trucy throws a fit if we try to 'hide' her magic props. Something about how her storage closet at the Wonder Bar isn't large enough. I think she shares it with other acts over there," Athena explained. Really, other than the props being everywhere, the office looked pretty nice. There were still lines in the carpet from where it had been vacuumed, and the law books on the bookshelf had all been dusted off. When Athena walked over to check on Charley, she noticed that he had been watered recently as well. Probably earlier that morning, if she knew her boss.

Yes, that girl always had been irrational about her toys. Of course, when I knew her, her 'toys' made the Wrights more money than anything Phoenix did with his time. So perhaps she has a right to be demanding.

That was hard for Athena for imagine now. Were Trucy's shows at the Wonder Bar really that profitable? "What did Mr. Wright do before he became a lawyer again?"

Played piano. Terribly, I might add. Of course, it was all a front for the restaurant's illegal gambling service, in which Phoenix challenged various ruffians to poker. Gavin laughed, which was still an unsettling sensation given that he didn't have a voice. Athena could almost feel it vibrating in her own chest. That, too, Trucy aided her father in. Truly, he would have been helpless without her.

Why hadn't it occurred to Athena to ask Trucy about Apollo's first case? Sure, her name hadn't ever shown up in the courthouse case file, but hearing this convinced Athena that the teen probably knew a lot more than she let on.

But more than likely she won't tell you anything. If I had my guess, I would say she was involved in the scheme from the start. The forged evidence had to be brought to the court by someone, after all. Phoenix couldn't have done it from detention, and Justice was played for the fool.

"Forged says you!" Athena reminded him sharply. "For all you know, she found it after returning to the crime scene."

Impossible for the same reasons I gave during trial. An unfortunate move on my part, as it turns out. I regret to admit my objection placed me square in the middle of Phoenix's trap.

Recall that I am not denying my guilt, here. I am denying Phoenix's innocence.

Athena bristled, but she didn't have a response to that. The Mr. Wright she knew would never act so underhanded, but clearly, she hadn't known him two Aprils ago. She couldn't believe she was starting to consider Gavin's words. As if anything that lying demon said could be trusted.

She still hadn't asked Mr. Wright about the case in question. It wasn't right to proceed without getting both sides of the story, but how was she ever going to when even Apollo had driven her away from the subject? Was everyone going to spurn her?

Perhaps there was something in this office that could answer her questions. Was it too much to hope for that one of them had left evidence from the case lying around?

Athena walked over to Apollo's desk, checking the time as she did so. Though she highly doubted the trial would end anytime soon, she didn't want to be caught snooping through her coworkers' personal belongings. Maybe if they caught her, she could say she was tidying up?

The redhead stopped over Apollo's desk. She flipped through a couple stray evidence reports, then cringed. Why did Apollo have so much manga at his work desk? Sure, days at the office could get slow, but she didn't think some of the titles were appropriate for a work setting. Not that she would ever ask him about it, of course.

She opened a few more doors, sorting and sifting until she found what she was looking for. Finally, his case files. They were stacked up in a forgotten drawer, one on top of the other. Apollo hadn't yet received a copy for the Space Center case, it seemed, so the most recent folder was the case from Nine Tales Vale. Below that one was a far thicker file, labeled 'Jurist Test Trial- State v. Misham'. The one that had been locked on the courthouse computer. Somehow, that case too involved Gavin. She wondered why he hadn't commented on it.

Athena was half tempted to open the Jurist file first, but she decided to save it for later. There were two more files before she reached the bottom of the stack. There she reached down, pulling the file for Apollo's first case out of its dusty burial ground.

Athena was going to open it. She really was. But right as she worked up the courage to flip the front cover of the manila folder, her ears caught a knock at the door.

A customer? This soon after the last case? What was with this agency and its sudden spike in business?

She threw down what she was doing, just barely remembering to close the drawer. As the person outside knocked again, Athena ran over to answer the door. "Wright Anything Agency! How can I help you?"

At the door was an old man with a bald head but long grey sideburns. He wore a faded yellow suit and glasses with an expression that was unsettlingly familiar to Athena.

Her stomach clenched in revulsion. "Prosecutor Payne? What are you doing here?" Why had he changed suits?

"Retired prosecutor, actually. May I come in?"

Retired? Athena didn't remember hearing about Gaspen Payne's retirement. If anything, she thought Chief Prosecutor Edgeworth was going to fire him. Still, she stepped aside, allowing him to enter.

"You're Miss Cykes, right? The new lawyer in this office?"

Did he really not remember her? The bombing case was only what, nine days ago? "Yes. We met earlier in the month. Are you really telling me you don't remember?"

The old man blinked, as confused as she was. Then it came to him. "...Oh! Yes, I see what the problem is. You met my brother, Miss Cykes. No, no. My name is Winston Payne. I'm Gaspen's older brother. Truly, I apologize for his crude behavior towards you." He held his hand out for Athena to shake. She took it, but kept her grip loose.

"Nice to meet you, Mr. Payne. And there's no need to apologize. You didn't do anything." Was there really more than one Payne?

Yes. Do you not remember reading the case records together on the twenty first? This man was mentioned in the first file you opened. Among a few others.

Now Athena remembered. This Payne was the one who'd retired after trying Gavin! But what was he doing here, of all places?

The older Payne released her hand. "I am deeply disappointed in him. There were times in my day when I was cocky, sure, but I would never degrade a woman the way he did you and Miss Woods. Honestly! I don't know what's become of him."

"Did you come here to apologize, Mr. Payne?"

"Ah, no. I actually know someone in need of defense. Is your boss here?"

Athena's shoulders drooped when Payne asked for Mr. Wright. Of course he wanted to meet with him. "No, I'm afraid not. He and Ap- Mr. Justice are at the courthouse right now on another case. They don't know when it's gonna be over. If you'd like to come back later, I'll let Mr. Wright know you stopped by."

Payne thought about it, then shook his head. "No, I'm sure you'll do just fine. I faced a good number of rookies in my day, and this office never fails to produce talented ones. First it was Mia Fey, who started this firm, then came Phoenix Wright, then that boy... ah yes, Apollo Justice! I imagine you are just the next entry in a line of wonderful defense attorneys. Though your boss and I were something of rivals back in the day, know that I always respected him. Even after that horrible scandal that took his badge away."

Well, someone's grown a lot kinder since retirement. I remember him as being quite critical of defense attorneys. Particularly those who were lacking in experience.

That wasn't the angle Athena chose to focus on. "You'd like me to defend someone, Mr. Payne? Who is it?"

A sigh. "My dear son. He was supposed to come home from college this Christmas, but got caught in a terrible car accident on his way home from the airport. His taxi driver died in the accident, and now the police are saying Piercen had something to do with it! They're calling it a murder, of all things."

"A murder?" That seemed excessive for a car accident. "How did they come to that conclusion?"

"I don't know. All I know is what Piercin told me. My wife is with him right now. I promised I would get him a lawyer by the end of the day." Pause. "So, what do you say? Will you help him?"

Athena had to be honest this time. "I would love to, Mr. Payne. But I can't take cases without my boss's permission. We'll have to wait for him to say yes before I can give you an official answer. Is that okay?"

"But you'll do it? I can call my wife?"

"If Mr. Wright doesn't refuse," and that was a distinct possibility, "then yes. If you want to let your wife know, you can."

For his part, Athena's response seemed to have alleviated Payne of his concerns. "Well, I don't see why your boss would say no. Allow me to speak with her now."

Athena was silent as Payne walked to the other side of the room to use his cellphone. To her surprise, her phone rang right as Payne put his to his ear.

She answered right away. "Hello?"

Apollo's voice came through, emotions distorted by the technological barrier. "Hey Athena. How's the office?"

"Fine. Is the trial over already? That was quick."

"No, we're just in recess. Mr. Wright, Prosecutor Gavin, and the judge are all in the judge's chambers arguing about what the word 'aggravated' means. But we did convince Prosecutor Gavin to drop the 'conspiracy to commit murder' charge, so that's something. Is it nice and lonely over there?"

"No, actually." Athena wasn't sure how to broach this. "Do you remember Winston Payne? He was the prosecutor on your first case."

"...What about him?" Athena wished she was as good with emotions through the phone as she was in person. She could have sworn she picked up a tinge of fear in her coworker's voice, just then. Was it just her paranoia, or was it something more?

"He's here at the office. His son is in trouble, and he wants me to defend the guy. Can you tell Mr. Wright when you get the chance?"

"I can do that. And hey, if the trial here ends today, I'll be on the bench with you by tomorrow. If that's when the trial is. And if you want me there."

"Definitely! I'd love to ha-

"Sorry Athena, but I gotta go. recess is about to end."

"No problem, Apollo. Au revoir!"

"Bye, Athena."

Maybe if she had Apollo by her side, the boss would be more open to letting her work another case. Because it would be a lot harder to go behind his back on this one. He would definitely find out if she tried it here.

Not to mention lying is wrong, she had to remind herself. Seriously. What sort of person was she turning into?

Athena's ears tuned in as Payne was finishing his own phone conversation. "Yes, honey. I have complete faith in this girl's abilities... I don't care what Gaspen had to say about her. No, his courtroom etiquette was the disgrace. Honey, I faced several rookies in my time as a prosecutor. Of the dozens I met on the opposite bench, this agency produces only the best of them. Piercen will be in good hands... Yes, I love you too. Goodbye."

Athena turned to look Payne in the eyes as his phone clicked shut. "Who were you speaking to, Miss Cykes?"

"My coworker, Apollo Justice." Unbidden, an idea came to Athena. Well, not so unbidden if one considered her circumstances. "He remembers you, Mr. Payne."

Payne coughed, suddenly a bit nervous. "Oh really? Do I mind if I sit down, Miss Cykes?"

"Go for it." Athena gestured to a seat devoid of magic props, then moved a few so she could sit across from him. "And of course he remembers you. You prosecuted his very first case."

"Yes, yes. I remember it well. Made quite a stir in the press when it was over. Though the newspapers were kind enough to not use Mr. Justice's name too often, I would say."

That struck Athena as odd. "Why would you say that, Mr. Payne?"

"Because that case had something rotten hidden inside it. Something that made me realize this legal system is always gonna cling to its dirty tricks, and that the day that I would be too old to fight them had come early." He sighed once more. "That's the case that convinced me it was time to retire. I prosecuted the culprit that came out of it, and that was it."

"What about that case told you it was time? Wasn't it just another murder?"

Athena was leading this man somewhere. This was probably the closest she was going to get to a neutral account about what had gone down those twenty months ago. She wasn't about to pass up the opportunity.

"...No, I wouldn't say it was. I thought it might be a typical case at first, but you know Mr. Wright. He has a talent for making his cases anything but normal. The victim was a strange man indeed. The details of the case even stranger."

"How so, Mr. Payne? Mr. Wright and Mr. Justice... they don't talk about this case much. I tried to ask Apollo once, but he avoided my question."

"I don't blame the boy. It's not a case one wants to remember." Payne patted himself on the forehead, thinking of how best to phrase what he wanted to say next. "Let's just say... not a single soul acted honorably with regards to how that case was carried out. The closest to integrity was Mr. Justice, since I don't believe that rookie did it intentionally."

See? Does this not confirm what I've already told you? Are you going to believe what I have to say about your precious boss from now on?

Athena didn't want to believe it. "Did what intentionally? I don't understand."

"I didn't want to get the kid in trouble, is all. It was his first case! He didn't deserve it. Not after the same incident turned Mr. Wright into a... well." The former prosecutor refrained from finishing his sentence. "Anyone could tell he was at a bad spot in life. I felt bad for him, I did. And maybe I disliked the man they were accusing. But that doesn't make what they did the right thing to do."

It took Payne audible courage to get his next words out. "There was forged evidence presented in court that day. It wasn't officially entered into the Court Record, and the evidence itself wasn't used to implicate anyone per se, but... all the same. It didn't sit right with me. Seeing that very greenhorn I had faced ten years prior turn into a schemer, no offense to you or your boss today, made me feel ancient, indeed. I'd truly come full circle when I saw a former hero who had lived long enough."

This time, it was Athena's turn to sigh. It was true, then. Payne had no reason to lie to her. She was still going to ask Mr. Wright about the story, but there was no room to discount Gavin's account now. She had no choice but to believe that there was a hidden darkness not just within her, but in Mr. Wright as well. An inner demon who tormented him as well.

Just as she was about to reply, Payne changed the subject. "Which is why I'm happy to see Mr. Wright back to his old self. Mr. Justice is doing well too, from what I hear."

Athena barely head him. "Yeah. They both are."

"Now, I'm off to the detention center to visit my son. I'm going to help him submit his formal letter of request for you. Come when you've talked with Mr. Wright."

Honestly? I'd rather start my investigation as soon as possible.

Athena was in the middle of standing up when he said that. Gavin's words made her stop in her tracks. She conveyed her surprise as nonverbally as she could.

Yes, you heard me correctly. Miss Cykes, it's time you begin to repay your dues in earnest. This case is mine.

Chapter Text

It's time you begin to repay your dues in earnest. This case is mine.

The feeling drained out of Athena's fingers as she waved goodbye to Payne. Within the second, she had no feeling in her hands at all. Before she registered what was happening, the sensation had traversed her forearms, catching all four limbs in a net of numbness.

He was doing it again. Possessing her. But how had he done it so quickly? Last time, it felt like a full minute had passed before she lost all control. Why was this time so different?

As the door closed behind Payne, Gavin walked back to Apollo's desk. He pulled open the drawer Athena had closed to rearrange its case files. Unlike her, he was careful to place every folder back in chronological order. Unless Apollo thought fit to comment on the disturbed state of dust, there was no reason for him to suspect that she had been snooping through his belongings. The drawer closed with a slam and a furtive look.

"Clean your desk, Justice. I taught you better." His comment harbored an edge of bitterness, bringing the whole tangle of emotions back to the surface. For all his talk of certainty, it was clear that Gavin still didn't know how he felt about his former apprentice. Sometimes, his emotions tended more towards sadness, other times anger, and, in a few instances, a trace of happiness. A pride Gavin wanted to feel for something he couldn't take credit for.

But that wasn't what Athena was concerned with right now. How... how did you get me so quickly?

"Actually, Miss Cykes, overtaking you at this speed is much easier for me. Our trial run earlier was extended for your comfort."

Athena would have argued that it hadn't felt comfortable either time, but she didn't feel like pressing the issue. Not when she couldn't feel a leg to stand on. What are you going to do now? We can't investigate until we talk to Apollo and Mr. Wright. That's not going to happen until their day in court ends.

"No, I suppose not." He sighed, settling down on the couch while snatching up a law book. Once again, he cringed at the level of dust contained within. The cover had been dusted off, but it was clear the book had not been opened within the decade. "In the meantime, I'm going to work on a plausible explanation for your defending abilities to jump to my previous level. I've seen how you defend, and I don't want to feign inexperience any more than necessary." Sensing her desire to object, Gavin added, "and besides: it's been twenty months since I did my job in a courtroom. I can hardly claim to still be in my prime. A short review of trial procedure can only serve to assist me."

The next two hours could not have passed more slowly for Athena. The section of the book Gavin was reading covered exceptions to trial procedure and obscure precedents for legal maneuvers. All of it was stuff Athena either already knew or never expected to use in an actual trial. If she could groan, or even roll her eyes, she would have done so a thousand times already.

She hated not being able to physically express her emotions. Or speak. Or move.

At first, she tried to read along. When that became too dull, she prodded Gavin with questions, seeking to provoke him into conversing with her. Unfortunately, he didn't take the bait. It was though Gavin had set up a wall between them and left Athena trapped behind it.

His narrowed eyes, his single-minded focus... he was serious about this. Gavin had been a prideful man in life, and his work had been the main source of it. All of his time and effort had been focused on building a career and reputation for himself, and he wasn't about to let something as small as death and discreditation end his line of achievements. It was his work, and it would be a success. No matter what he had to do to make it so. Athena was starting to get that about him.

Not that it got the clocks to tick any faster.


It was half past noon when Apollo, Trucy, and Mr. Wright returned from the courthouse. The jubilant expressions on everyone but Mr. Wright's face told Athena all she needed to know about the outcome of the second day's trial.

Gavin, for his part, was careful to greet them warmly. He tossed the law book aside and jumped up with only a minor sense of awkwardness. "Apollo! Mr. Wright! You're back early. Did you win the case?"

"Prosecutor Gavin never accepted my version of the charges list, but the judge sided with us. The verdict was a guilty for twelve charges of hostage-taking on the condition that each sentence is served cocurrently. Actual sentencing will wait until after the federal trial has rendered their own verdict."

A pause. Fleeting, but noticeable all the same. What had Gavin heard that made him-

Oh. Heard. That must have been it. He wasn't used to Athena's way of hearing, after all. Why would he be? If his hesitation stemmed from what Athena thought it did... that confirmed their suspicions, alright. For better or worse.

To his credit, the demon recovered quickly. "That's great news!" Gavin put their hands together in a way that hid Widget from view. "Ms. Blackquill must be so relieved."

"She's in the minority on that." Apollo's hair spikes drooped as he spoke. "The press outside was not pleased to hear that the courts would be going easy on their 'terrorist'. We got pushed around a few times on the way back here. That, and... well. Gavin laughed it off in court, but he'd looked devastated when he realized he'd basically lost the case. Worse than any of the other times I'd faced him, save one."

"I bet he's just acting that way so the public won't think he's the bad guy. He has to at least make it look like his actions reflects the public interest, or they'll blame him. Klavier hates seeing dirt thrown on his name, regardless of the reason."

Now Trucy was looking at them strange. "Were you a fan of his too, Athena?"

Gavin seemed to realize his mistake when she said that. He backtracked slightly. "It's just the impression I get. K-Prosecutor Gavin and I... we talked about this case last night at the Christmas party."

Mr. Wright chuckled, then changed the subject. "You've always been perceptive. So, Athena. What's this I hear about Mr. Payne visiting the office?"

"He came in here not long after I arrived. He asked for you first, Mr. Wright, but I told him you had another case at the moment, so he asked me to defend his son instead."

"I... didn't realize Mr. Payne had a son. This is Winston Payne, right? The retired prosecutor?"

"Yes. I don't think his brother would have come in here. He... probably doesn't like us much after the bombing trial." Nor would he ever ask Athena to defend someone. Not after the performance she'd put up for him in court.

Yes, I froze. Can you let go of that any time soon?

Apollo snorted. "That's probably true. So what do you say, Mr. Wright? Can Athena and I head up this case while you debut in federal court?"

"You two are going to leave me alone in an unfamiliar courtroom? Ms. Blackquill will be disappointed in you for ditching her, Apollo," Mr. Wright teased.

"Don't worry, Daddy. I'll come with you!" Trucy promised. "I'll even stand by you at the bench."

The thought made him smile. "Sure thing, Trucy. As long as the court doesn't mind, you can join me anytime you like." Mr. Wright turned back to his underlings for one last comment. "Go ahead and visit your client in the Detention Center, Athena. Take Apollo's advice while investigating and keep me posted."

"Will do, boss!" Sure, Athena knew Gavin meant it sarcastically, but it didn't look like anyone else had caught on. "We won't let you down."

Gavin raced out the door, eager for the conversation to be over. They heard Apollo screaming for Athena to wait and Phoenix wishing them luck as he sprinted towards the Detention Center.


"So... Athena." Apollo was panting. It'd taken him five blocks to catch up with Gavin, even though Gavin had only run for four. The demon seemed to like his new speed and endurance, giving Athena the impression he hadn't been as physically active in his own life. "What do you know about this case?"

"Not a lot." Their voice was only slightly winded, and mostly pleasant. It was also the only one Athena could still somewhat detect emotion in without access to her ears, and that was more due to their mental connection than the sound of anything. "Mr. Payne told me the incident happened yesterday. His son, Piercen Payne, was taking a taxi home from the airport when the car got into an accident. The police found the driver dead. For some reason, they seem to be trying the case as a homicide."

"Sounds like a terrible Christmas at the Payne residence. But if what you say is true, then why murder? Why don't they think the death was an accident?"

"I don't know yet. There must be something Mr. Payne didn't tell us. I was hoping the defendant would have more information."

There was one thing that still bothered Athena about this situation: why did Gavin want the case? Was he really that eager to stand in court as himself again? Or was it about his connection to Winston Payne? It's not like they had faced each other that often, but- no.

You... you don't want to intentionally lose this case to get back at Payne for convicting you, right? Because you promised not to use me to take any revenge.

Gavin didn't answer right away, focused as he was on what Apollo was saying. "-hope they ran an actual investigation before arresting somebody. For all I know, they just put someone behind bars so they could go home early on Christmas. Seems like something this place would do."

"Of course not. Don't be ridiculous." Gavin addressed both concerns at once. "The police wouldn't do that. Right, Apollo?"

Apollo shrugged. "The phantom in the police force kinda shook my faith in their ability to do their jobs. It's not like the detective I worked with before Fulbright had any interest in her job."

"And who was that?"

"Detective Skye. She was at the party last night, if you remember her."

"Hm... I don't think we talked."

The walk was silent after that. Apollo kept glancing their way, as if he expected "Athena" to say something more. But since Gavin didn't have the slightest interest in continuing a conversation, whatever he was waiting for never came to pass. Athena wished she could talk to Apollo herself. Or at least assess how he was feeling.

After a few minutes, Apollo gave up waiting. "Did you eat lunch, Athena?"

Gavin flicked his (her!) earring as they walked. "I don't think so. Did you eat after your trial?"

"No. I'm kinda hungry, though. Did you want to stop somewhere on the way to the Detention Center?"

"I'd rather meet our client first. We've kept Payne waiting long enough. We can eat after. Then I want to visit the crime scene. Or at least, whatever's left of it." Considering the circumstances, they had to consider the possibility that emergency services had already cleaned up the site of the wreck. Here's to hoping there was still evidence to be found.

"Let's hope the crime scene isn't too messy, then." Apollo made a face, but didn't protest further. Once again, it felt as though time couldn't be passing slower than it already was, and the pregnant silences didn't help. The feeling was made worse by the fact that they appeared to be present on both sides.

"If you're so idle, focus on preparing arguments for the case," Gavin muttered under his breath.

"What did you say, Athena?"

"Just thinking about what our client will be like." He (she?) flashed Apollo a smile, but the brunet still looked confused. He was probably about to ask when Gavin called out, "here we are!"

Gavin skipped through the open doors of the Detention Center. Because the visiting area had been closed yesterday, a bunch of family and friends of prisoners were crowded in the waiting room, hoping to wish their dearest criminal a Merry Christmas. Some even had gifts that would have to be inspected for delivery.

On the opposite side of the room was Mr. Payne, who saw them first. "Miss Cykes! Mr. Justice! Over here, please."

The two lawyers made their way through the crowd and towards the sound of Payne's voice. "Miss Cykes, I'm glad to see you came after all! I was starting to get concerned." He turned to Apollo, beaming. "And you brought Mr. Justice! Fine young lawyers, the both of you. I hear you've come a long way since your first case. Isn't that right, Mr. Justice?"

"Well, I guess you can say that." Apollo put a hand to his hair, looking a tad... bashful? "It's certainly been a strange couple years."

That got Payne to laugh. "With Phoenix Wright as a boss? Always, I'm sure."

"Speaking of Mr. Wright, I have his permission to take your son's case. Can we talk to him now, Mr. Payne?" Gavin got right to business. "Is your wife still with him?"

"No, she went out to order lunch for ourselves. She'd been with Piercen all morning." Payne pat his forehead, trying to think. "Last I knew, the police were still questioning him. You two can visit him when they're done, I imagine."

"Mr. Payne, I was hoping you could explain a few things about the case to me." Apollo didn't waste any time either. "Athena was telling me about the incident on the way over. Do you know why the police are calling this case a homicide? Why not consider the car wreck a cause of accidental death?"

The forehead patting was back. "That's the rub, isn't it? Best I can pick up from my former contacts in the police force, the details of the death don't match up with the report filed on the accident. While the taxi cab was indeed sideswiped by another car, the damage was too mild to have killed anyone by itself. And because Piercen was the only other person in the car-"

"The police think he must have caused the driver's death in some other way," Gavin finished. "But that still doesn't rule out accidental death! What if the victim had a serious medical condition and the accident triggered it?"

Oh, like the case Mr. Wright and I took at the aquarium! I remember that.

"I-I wouldn't know," Payne confessed, becoming flustered. "I would love for the answer to be as simple as that. My Piercen would never kill anyone, let alone a stranger! He has no motive."

"We're going to try and speak with your son now," Apollo piped up. "Thank you for your help, Mr. Payne."

"It's nothing. Thank you for coming to Piercen's aid. Tell him his father is waiting for his lunch and will come in when you two are finished."

When the lawyers walked up to the front desk, Apollo went to ask the guard about visitation when Gavin cut him off. As it turned out, the police had been interviewing the young Mr. Payne but had finished just recently. They could walk back and speak with him now, if they wished.

"So, what kind of person do you think Mr. Payne has for a son?" Apollo's eyebrows suggested a teasing undertone, but Gavin answered the question seriously.

"Hm... I imagine a younger version of Mr. Payne, honestly. Straight-laced and acting confident, but nervous all the same. Someone who's easily rattled and currently has every reason to be." Gavin seemed to forget Athena had never met Winston Payne before today. Nor did he appreciate the reminder.

Apollo considered it, then shrugged. "I guess we'll just have to see for ourselves, huh?"

"I guess so."


Well. This was different.

In contrast to his father's balding grey, Piercen Payne had a full cap of dyed green locks. Hairs stuck to the sweat on his neck while other strands hid his facial features. Thick rims guarded his saggy eyes as he read to himself from... a medical textbook?

Gavin cleared his throat, doing his best to mute the surprise they both felt. "Excuse me. Are you Mr. Piercen Payne?"

"Wha-?" His head flew upwards as his chair went backward. He stopped himself from falling over just in time. When his eyes landed on Gavin and Apollo, he straightened his glasses and nodded. "Yeah, I'm him. ...Thought you were the police again for a minute, there."

"That's alright. My name is Apollo Justice, and this is my coworker, Athena Cykes. She's the lawyer your dad asked to take your case."

"Nice to meet you!" Gavin beamed, then turned their eyes down. "What were you reading just now?"

"Oh I was just... studying. Looking up some of the questions that were on my last exam. I'm in medical school." He offered by way of explanation. "When I finish, I'll be a licensed psychiatrist."

A psychiatrist, huh? Athena had studied alongside plenty of those! While she (and most psychologists) were more focused on talking their patients through their issues, psychiatrists targeted their patients' ills through the use of medication. Usually the two worked hand in hand when handling an individual's care. Now Athena was starting to want the case, if only so she could talk to this guy.

Ooh! Ask him about where he'll be practicing. Oh, and if he's read this new article about-

Gavin completely ignored Athena, choosing instead to ask questions related to the case. "How cool! I would bet you're eager to be out of here, then. What got you into this jam, anyway? Your father didn't seem to know much."

"Until the last interrogation, I didn't either. I still can't believe they think I killed a man! I've never been in trouble like this before. Not once!"

He looked like he was getting anxious, so Gavin said "why don't we start at the beginning? You took a taxi from the airport to see your parents on Christmas. What can you tell us about the driver?"

Piercen leaned back in his chair once more, hand brushing his hair back. From this angle, he looked a lot more confident. He had eyes like his father, but the face shape was far too angular to be an exact match. With that jawline... in other circumstances, Athena would have said it made her heart flutter. "I wasn't really paying attention to him at first. I was eager to get home. He talked on his bluetooth a lot, and his voice was pretty loud. I mostly tuned him out."

"Did he act unusually at any point leading up to your car accident?"

"Well, I'd never met the guy before, so... Maybe? He didn't seem impaired in any way. Otherwise I wouldn't have trusted his driving."

"Do you know the name of your driver?" Apollo broke in, eyes curious. "Maybe we could research more about him."

Piercen pulled his glasses up from one side as he considered the question. "I know the police told me, but I don't remember what it was. Ugh!" He threw the opposite hand down on the table. "Why am I suspected of killing a guy I don't even know?

"That's what we're trying to figure out," Gavin kept their voice low, steering the conversation back under his control. "Tell us if you remember. If not, we can ask the police afterwards. Why don't we skip ahead for now? Did you notice anything in the moments before the accident?"

"...The car next to us was not staying in their lane at all. At first I was too busy reading, but the driver kept honking at them. Then, when we were at a stoplight, we turned from the left line while they came at us from the center. That's when we collided. I'm not gonna lie. It scared me."

"And which intersection was this?"

Piercen told them the two streets and Apollo recorded the information for their investigation. Then Piercen felt the need to add "that jerk! He really got the passenger side of the car."

"You were sideswiped, yes?"

"Yeah! And this idiot guy- he doesn't even accept responsibility for the accident! I bet it's his fault that the poor driver is dead. But the police are insisting the injuries aren't consistent. They told me... They told me he was struck in the neck with a large blunt object. But the crash side had no large pieces of debris." Unbidden, he clutched his textbook closer to his chest. "They only gave me my book back after checking it for forensic evidence."

Judging by the fact they'd returned it to Piercen, should Athena assume it was clean? "Do you remember the name of the man in the accident?"

"It was weird. Like... Rogen Ageire? He was questioned first when the driver was declared dead. I was sent home. Then, first thing in the morning, Dad got a knock on the door. It was such a shock when I was placed under arrest!"

That must have been when the autopsy report came back. Apollo concluded the conversation by asking, "and that's all you know? Is there anything you can tell us about this accident?"

"...Just that I didn't do it. I have no reason to hurt anyone, let alone a stranger."

"Okay. Your father told us he helped you file your letter of request, so it looks like everything is in order. Apollo and I are off to investigate for ourselves. We will come back if we have any more questions. Once your parents eat their lunch, they'll be back in here too."

"Thanks, you two. I'm counting on you!"

Hey! I have more questions. Who is the prosecutor going to be? When is our first day in court? Where did they take the wrecked ca-

Oh, it was useless. Despite the numb, Athena still thought she felt her heart sink. How was it she always ended up being ignored like this?

Chapter Text

Once Gavin and Apollo had eaten a brief but awkward lunch, they walked their way over to the intersection Piercen had described. Just as Athena had feared, both cars had since been removed from the scene of the crime so as to not disrupt traffic. Only a single police officer continued to stand guard.

"Excuse me, officer?" Gavin walked up to the man with his chin high. When the officer glanced at them with a sense of derision, he continued to speak, pushing Athena's chest out so her badge caught the sunlight. "My colleague and I are the defense team hired for one Piercen Payne. We understand the supposed homicide happened at this location?"

"If you wanted to check the cars, they've been moved to the Criminal Affairs parking lot. They're being searched as we speak. The other driver's over there as well. Police are questioning him."

"Thank you, sir, but I actually wanted to ask about this area here. Why have you been assigned to guard it if the main bodies of evidence have been removed?"

"Same reason you're here, I'll bet." Gavin tilted Athena's head slightly, indicating he wanted the policeman to continue. "Making sure the police didn't miss any evidence, of course!"

Wow, you're a lot better at this than I am. The first time I tried to engage with a police officer in this country, he thought I was still in high school! Athena would have given more voice to her jealousy... if she wasn't curious to know how Apollo was handling 'her' sudden change in demeanor. She wished Gavin were looking at him right now.

Just as Athena was thinking that, Gavin turned his head to listen as Apollo spoke. "And have you found anything, sir?"

"Not a thing."

"Well, we might as well search the area anyway. Right, Athena?"

"Right, Apollo. Let's do this!" Oh, now Gavin remembered to act like her. "Au revoir, officer!"

"Yeah, yeah." Without another word, the officer trudged back to his post at the lightpole. Cars whizzed through the intersection at high speed, making casual conversation difficult.

Apollo had to try a few times to get Gavin's attention. "I'll check the field to the side of the accident. Debris might have flown into the grass. Is that okay, Athena? Um, Athena?"

This time, Gavin didn't face Apollo. "That building over there... do you see a sign that states its purpose?"

Athena focused on the area Gavin was looking at. Across the street from where they stood was a dull grey building with at least ten floors. Its shadow blocked the afternoon sun from touching the lawyers' feet. But there was something odd about it. Not the way it looked, not the seeming lack of light from any of its windows... but something far more menacing.

Memories.

Apollo answered Gavin's question, but Athena didn't catch it. Instead, her mind was filled with flashes, the ghosts of sensations she was denied when Gavin possessed her body. The high pitched whine of machines, the plush of spongy cloth in her ears, the low pitched whispers... the bitter taste of medicine on her tongue. Then, when she walked into an examination room... a small blonde boy? Waiting for her? With an equally blonde woman?

"Woah, Athena! What's wrong?" Gavin sent a glance down at Widget. The machine's color was flashing rapidly between deep blue and yellow... with small spots of red in between. "Have you been there before?"

"I think I have. It was a long time ago, though." As soon as Gavin gave voice to those words, the sensations numbed again. All Athena was left with was the distinct feeling she had something in her ears again. "I'm sorry, Apollo. There's no way it's related to our case."

"No, that's okay. Here, about you search the field on this side of the road? I'll check the sidewalks and try to examine the roadway when I have the chance. Just... face away from that place if it bothers you. And if you want to talk about it-"

"I will. Thank you." Gavin turned on her heel, strolling into knee deep weeds.

You don't need to be rude to him. He was just trying to be nice to me.

"You know that building as well?" His voice was hardly above a whisper. After a second of hesitation, he knelt close to the ground, feeling around the plants for anything that could be used in their current case. "What is this nonsense about headphones?"

As well? What could Gavin possibly mean by-

Wait. You saw my memories?

"Felt and heard, more like. Your inclination towards auditory stimulus is powerful. Not just in your senses, but your memories as well."

It used to be too powerful for me. I took a long time to get a handle on my ability. What could this mean? If Gavin had experienced her flashback, does that mean those people she'd seen were connected to him somehow? If so, Athena had a guess as to what else she'd seen just now. That little boy... was that Prosecutor Gavin?

"It was. But enough about the past. We need to search for evidence." Just as Gavin said that, he lifted her hand into their shared line of sight. Grasped in her partially gloved hand was... a badge of some kind?

What is that?

"Haven't you seen one of these before? It's a taxi driver's license. Based on its location and timing, I would guess it once belonged to the victim." Gavin turned the badge over, running Athena's finger over the print inscribed on the back. "Travis Danver, I see. I hope this man didn't have any grand aspirations when he died." He tucked the badge onto the hem of Athena's skirt, then continued to search.

Other than a few more bits of scrap, ones which could not be confirmed to have come from the collision, Gavin found nothing else. Returning to a standing position, he called out for Apollo. "I might have found something!"

"Great, what do you have?" Apollo was quick to come over. "I didn't find any evidence, but look: a storm drain."

Gavin leaned over slightly to see what Apollo was gesturing towards. "Yep, that is... what that is. What about it?"

"Well, what if the murder weapon hasn't been found by the police because it fell into the storm drain after the crash?" Athena could only assume that comment had earned Apollo a glare. "What? it happened in a case once."

"Not yours, though." Gavin didn't even bother to elaborate on what he meant by that comment. "No, Apollo. Look at this. I think I know the identity of our victim."

Apollo took the badge from Athena's outstretched hand. "Travis Danver... we should check this for evidence. I don't see any blood, but who knows whose fingerprints we might find."

"How do we do that? I thought only the police had forensic officers on their side."

"Mr. Wright used to keep a set of fingerprinting dust in the office. Trucy liked to play with it when she was little, so Mr. Wright bought her another set as a Christmas present," Apollo explained. "She told me during court recess this morning."

"Then we should run this back to her." If Athena didn't know better, she would think Gavin was smiling right now. "Why don't you see if she and Mr. Wright are still at the office? I'm sure Trucy would help if we asked. And while you do that, I'll head down to Criminal Affairs and start examining the cars."

Apollo sighed, hair horns flopping over as he slouched. "Why do I have to run and get Trucy?"

"Because this is my case? Oh, come on Apollo! I'm dying to see the real evidence in this case. I promise I won't do anything crazy without you." Did... did he really use her body to bat lashes at Apollo? Even if Apollo took it as teasing, it was... weird. "Please?"

Apollo practically rolled his eyes at Gavin's antics. "Okay, I'll go back to the office. This won't take long."

"Thanks, Apollo! See you at Criminal Affairs." Gavin ran off from the scene, pointedly not glancing at the mystery building as they passed. Behind them stood Apollo, scratching his head in confusion.

Athena hadn't realized how close they'be been to Criminal Affairs until they arrived at the building. Athena didn't think she'd ever been down to Criminal Affairs before. Good thing Apollo hadn't realized that, huh?

"Free of Justice, finally. Now it's time for the real investigation to begin," Gavin murmured under his breath, careful not to draw the lone officer's attention. He slipped down the crosswalk before the officer even acknowledged their absence. Athena couldn't help but notice that he was careful not to glance at the unmarked building as they walked past.

Why do you want Apollo gone? He's just trying to help you investigate. Athena processed the situation a second more, coming to a horrible conclusion. We... we aren't sneaking off to forge evidence, are we?

"Of course not, Miss Cykes. You don't think I did that for all of my cases, do you? This is my first case to pose as you in court. It would be a needless risk to add forged evidence to a case that can be easily won on my own." He let loose a small chuckle. Even though it was Athena's own voice she could hear, the sound still struck her as menacing. "As for why I wanted relief from our dear Justice... let's just say I find it patronizing to watch my own wayward apprentice attempt to guide me around a crime scene. And here I thought you were old enough to not require any sort of nannying."

That's not how it is at all. Apollo doesn't look down on me. He helps me. Athena wished she could sigh. At least she still could in her mind. And you don't know that this case is going to be easy. We haven't even seen all the evidence yet.

"Then save your needless worrying for when we do finally gaze upon the evidence, Miss Cykes. Perhaps we'll even catch a glimpse of our courtroom opponent while we're there." What sort of emotion was Athena picking up on the edge of Gavin's voice, just now? Whatever it was, it most certainly didn't sound good. "Until then, would you be so kind as to limit the amount you would have me seemingly talk to myself? You and I both now that psychiatric counseling is the last place we want to be."


"Are these the cars involved in the accident on Christmas Day? The one that ended in the arrest of my client, Pierce Payne?"

"You betcha!" A young woman of roughly Athena's height approached from behind one of the vehicles, proudly rubbing the area beneath her nose. She had a definite bounce in her step as she approached. "This yellow boy here," she slapped the roof of the taxi cab, "was the victim's car. Yesterday morning, it got into a nasty scrape on the passenger side with Mr. Green right over there." She gestured to her right. "So you're the suspect's attorney, huh? Don't think I've seen you around before."

"No, we haven't met before. I'm Athena Cykes, actually."

"Wait... the Athena Cykes? The one who was in the news about a week ago for the space center trial?" Gavin nodded, causing the woman to squeal. "Oh, Mr. Edgeworth told me everything about you! I'm so sad I missed my chance to see him prosecute in court again, but I hear it was amazing. It's been a years since he stood behind that bench."

"Mr. Edgeworth told you about me? Well, who are you?"

"Kay Faraday, at your service. At this time, I'm filling in as the detective for this case." Kay gave Athena's outstretched hand a shake. A vigorous one, by the looks of it. "You were supposed to get Detective Skye for this one, but she's still hungover from last night and called in sick. She also has a forensic exam at the end of the month, so I don't know when she'll be back."

"Wait, I'm confused. Are you saying you're not... normally a detective?" Athena watched as her vision shifted downward. She could only assume Gavin was slumping over the way she often did when confronted with the weirdos of a given case. "What's your regular job?"

"Assistant to the Chief Prosecutor. But don't worry: I didn't always sit behind a desk and take his calls. I know what a police investigation is supposed to look like, and I'm here as a favor to Edgeworth to make sure the police and the prosecutor both do their jobs right." Kay beamed, oblivious to Gavin's growing doubts. "what can I do for you today, Miss Cykes?"

"I want to investigate the cars for evidence, if the police will let me. But before I do that, is there any way for me to speak with the witness? You know, the man who was driving the other car?"

"Hmm..." Kay went fishing through her purse as she thought about the request. "I don't see why I wouldn't allow a defense attorney to investigate as well. Unless the prosecutor of the case says otherwise, I figure I'll let you as long as someone is here to supervise. As for the witness, I think he's done being questioned. You can go inside and ask for him, if you'd like."

A detective (or rather, a substitute for one) willingly turning over evidence to a defense lawyer? Now there was a surprise. Best not to look the gift horse in the mouth, as it were. "Thank you, Miss Faraday. I'll be back soon." Gavin turned and was about to leave when he stopped mid-step. "Oh, and if you see another lawyer dressed in red, he's with me."

"Got it! See ya later."

And with that, Gavin dove into the immense complex that was Criminal Affairs. He had to ask someone where the witness for his case was being held, but considering how few people were still on staff the day after Christmas? He might as well have said nothing and listened for the sound of voices. That's what Athena would have done. It wasn't as though the witness was being quiet.

"I'm telling you, that's all I saw! I have no idea where any weapon might have-" He stopped in his tracks when he saw Athena. "Great, who's this lady? Your daughter?"

"Athena Cykes, defense attorney." Once again, Gavin used the overhead lighting to flash her badge in the witness's eyes. "You're the man responsible for the car accident yesterday, correct? Mr. Ageire, was it?"

Ageire nodded once in acknowledgement of his name. "Well according to my insurance company, I'm at fault. But if the driver was dead at the wheel, then that car wasn't exactly safe on the road, now was it? Least I'm not being charged with manslaughter anymore. So I don't need no defense attorney anymore." He threw his buff arm in their direction, nearly smacking Athena in the face. "So scram."

"I'm not here to defend you, actually. I represent Piercen Payne, the man currently accused of the murder of his taxi driver. Could you come with me for a minute?"

"Where are you taking this witness?" The police officer, a rather standoffish man, stepped between them and their witness. "I have orders to keep Mr. Ageire here until the prosecution has sufficiently questioned him."

"Where is the prosecutor, anyway?" Athena caught that tone in Gavin's voice. He didn't actually want an answer to that question. But why? Did he not care? Did he already know? "It's bad form for a prosecutor to not at least observe the police investigation before taking their findings to court."

Actually, of all the cases I've been around for, the prosecution only appeared once on the investigation. That said, there may have been a few extenuating circumstances regarding Athena's initial experiences with this country's court system. She was beginning to realize that now.

"Prosecutor Gavin had another case to try this morning. There aren't a lot of prosecutors around for the holiday season, but he promised he'd handle things. He said he'd be here once the paperwork was filed."

Prosecutor Gavin? But that's... Athena did her best to convey the sounds of a gasp. You don't really plan to go up against him in court, do you? He's your brother!

"And?" Gavin asked curtly. To make it seem natural, he continued. "Why don't I just ask this witness a few questions while we wait? We can do it in the interrogation room. I'll be in and out before the prosecution even arrives in this building."

So that was the reason Gavin wanted this case. Athena should have known Gavin didn't care about the Paynes or car accidents. No, there was always an ulterior motive with him.

As Gavin led Ageire into the interrogation room, he put on a friendly facade before diving into questions. But no casual banter was enough to shake Athena's terrible feeling about the direction this case was leading them towards.