Actions

Work Header

Legal Partners

Chapter Text

Miles Edgeworth was aware that he had wide-ranging and unpredictable interests. Language, judicial structure, tragically underappreciated thematic arcs in supposedly youth-oriented television shows, dog training strategies, sustainable tea farming methods? All had their own unique mental file drawer.

But what he really, truly loved was case precedent.

Oh, evidence was the guts of a case, but within a common law system, precedent determined which evidence would matter in the first place. If some approach had been disallowed by a previous case, knowledge of that decision could wipe out the defense's supposed ace in the hole. Conversely, proving some fact that the defense hadn't considered but could conceivably apply if viewed from the right angle? He understood why some people dreamed of going into architecture, because constructing a perfect argument on the perfect foundation of case precedent was fun.

"I have never, ever met a bigger dork than you," said Phoenix Wright with that old, damnably huge smile.

The logical connections Miles had been developing flew apart, and he gave a short, irritated sigh. "You promised not to bother me."

"You were grinning. I didn't know your muscles worked that way!" Phoenix actually hopped up on the edge of Miles' desk and sat there. Miles looked between his desk, then Phoenix, then his desk, then Phoenix, and waited for him to take the hint. Phoenix pointedly ignored him. "You were grinning while you read a case on...." Just as pointedly, Phoenix ignored Miles' outraged squawk as Phoenix flipped his legal text around to read it himself. "Tenant agreements? It's not even about a murder?"

Miles spun the book back into place and glared over the rim of his glasses. "The other involved party in the case has set up primary residency in Washington State. There are contradictory state laws that apply to what is now their shared investment property in Reseda."

"Uh huh."

Oh, Wright could shut right the hell up. He loved resolving legal contradictions. "Which means the case will inevitably go to the 9th Circuit court and they will make a decision that sets precedent for the entire western part of the country."

"About tenant agreements."

"Yes."

"That's what you were grinning about."

"Yes."

"I have never, ever met a bigger dork than you."

"That's it," Miles said, stood, and pointed at his door. "Out."

"But you promised I could use your library," Phoenix said with an expansive gesture at the bank of bookcases, then at the books he had splayed on the table between the two settees.

"We both know your eyes glaze over as soon as you try to read those, Wright."

"Not as soon as I try to read those," Phoenix corrected. His confidence wilted under Miles' level stare. "Just... when I start cross-referencing cases." Right. Because he pulled everything out of his hat in the thick of courtroom confrontations.

"Some of us actually work on a regular basis. Out."

"Fine," he relented and hopped up, although Phoenix made no other move to leave. "I actually was looking through those while you finished working on this case, because I had something else to ask you and I promised I wouldn't let it wait."

"Which is?"

"Trucy wants you for her Trivial Pursuit team. Apparently we're doing Tuesday Game Nights and we need more people."

"Out."

"Oh, and what are you going to do otherwise on Tuesday nights?" Phoenix challenged. "Sit in your apartment alone and iron your frills?"

Miles bit down before he could snap back Of course not, they're dry cleaned. "My Tuesday nights are not of your concern."

"Come on," Phoenix wheedled. "You might try to hide it, but social contact does you good. You're always happy after we go to one of her shows. I can tell. I bet I even have a picture of you smiling."

God, but he was tenacious, and even moreso when he was fighting on someone else's behalf. "So let me get this straight," Miles said with a different strategy. "You're constructing some sort of 'game night' where a team of myself and your teenage daughter would square off against... yourself, Justice, and Cykes, I presume?"

"Yeah, sounds like it."

"That hardly seems fair." Miles smiled, though not in the way Phoenix wanted from him. "Wouldn't your team need another member to have a chance?" Phoenix chuckled despite himself and Miles pointed out, "Besides, you have four people. That divides well already, and I'm busy."

"You've been busy since you were—" Phoenix caught himself, but Miles knew what he'd been about to say: since you were nine years old. "You're always busy." It was a believable enough cover if one hadn't anticipated his original argument. But Miles knew that Phoenix was going to use the behavior harshly imposed upon him by von Karma as some sort of personal failing, as if he had any right to do so, and this conversation was indeed over.

"Fine," Phoenix said glumly as Miles' stare chilled. "Enjoy your tenant agreements."

"I will. You know the way out." Miles sat and returned to his books, waiting for the sound of the closing door, but instead heard footsteps approaching. Irritated, he looked back up and saw Klavier Gavin in front of him rather than Phoenix making one last-ditch attempt to change his mind. "Gavin," he said, and schooled his voice free of any lingering annoyance. "What can I do for you? How's the Dawson case going?"

"That's what I stopped by to ask about," Klavier said with something in his eyes and voice that Miles couldn't quite place. He slipped into German for his next question, in what was a more blatant trick than he thought for treating the two of them like they had some personal connection. "Could you please authorize opening the locked Reidman case files from '21? Incident code CR-14."

This was intriguing enough that Miles went along with Klavier's ploy and answered auf Deutsch. "You've found a connection between the two cases?" Although their personalities couldn't be more different and he often found the man's behavior slicker than an oil spill, he respected Gavin's legal mind. And, he acknowledged as he forced himself into supervisor mode, the same behavior that he personally found eyeroll-worthy was good for office morale.

(Though, taking Skye's side against Gavin in that complaint two months back had filled him with more glee than he was willing to publicly admit. Workplaces needed strict propriety.)

Klavier nodded. "From what I see in the public files, yes, I think so. But there're some confidential files that need your authorization, and the really good stuff might be in there."

Miles brought up the named case and scanned it quickly. He hadn't been around at the time and wasn't familiar with it, but trusted Gavin's judgment. Ah, it was a military contract on classified but now outdated research that had led to some of the files being sealed. Fair enough. "Approved," he said, entered Klavier's employee code for access, and typed in his authorization. "Let me know if you find anything." Klavier nodded but didn't leave, and so Miles asked in English, "Is there anything else I can help you with, Prosecutor Gavin?"

After hesitating, Klavier chuckled and shook his head. "Verzeihung, Herr Prosecutor." The man needed to pick one language and stick to it. "I didn't mean to...."

"Didn't mean to what?"

"I'll need to have a little chat with Herr Forehead this afternoon, I believe," Klavier said in good spirits.

Herr who? Oh, right, his ridiculous nickname for Wright's younger associate. "I don't mind if you consult on some case aspects with your friends, so long as they're not assigned to the defense," Miles said, "but you of course realize that these new files are only authorized for your eyes."

"No worries there," Klavier promised. It looked like he was trying very hard to rein in the size of his smile. "I only want to say how fortunate he is to have me."

"All right, then," Miles said blankly. "Is that everything?"

"Ja. Thank you. I'll get back to work." Klavier bowed his head slightly and walked toward the door. As he passed the settees, his gaze snapped to the books that Phoenix had left open. He chuckled.

Wait a second. "Hold it, Prosecutor," Miles said and walked toward Klavier. "Were you listening to my personal conversation before you came in?"

"Not much," Klavier promised. "I was only waiting until the room was clear so that I didn't interrupt you. I heard you talking with Mr. Wright and...." He grinned, all slouchy twenty-something and tanned and confident and annoying. "Justice is lucky to have such a friendly person as myself paired up with him. It feels like Wright might be made of...." He frowned and considered his words. "Sterner stuff, after everything he's seen at his age."

At his age? That's my age, too. "Paired?" Miles settled on asking with a warning tone. He didn't care what his subordinates did in their personal time, but this wasn't a professional conversation to be holding.

"Forehead's my favorite defense attorney," Klavier said. "Call us what you will, friends or rivals or...." He spread his hands and shrugged. I don't like the possibilities of that 'or,' Gavin, because it feels like you're about to include me in whatever soap opera you're writing. "And everyone knows that Wright is yours."

Yes, they had indeed been heading for that speculation. "Wright is not mine," Miles said in a huff. "Yes, he's my favorite legal partner, but...."

Oh, god. 'Legal partner' had been the wrong phrasing. Gavin was grinning again.

Miles jammed his arms under each other and glowered at Klavier. If he couldn't defend, he'd attack. "And if you think your short association with Justice remotely compares to my entirely platonic and near-lifelong history with Wright, perhaps I should reconsider my assessment of your research skills. You are dismissed."

"I struck a nerve, apologies. I'll get back to work."

"I have put my life in his hands," Miles said when Klavier was almost out the door, "and... retaking the Bar... he...." What was wrong with him? He didn't need to justify himself to this man. And he was irritated with Phoenix, besides. But still, to hear that Justice and Gavin supposedly had any sort of superior relationship was ridiculous! That was all. He hated when people were wrong.

"A very tender nerve," Klavier said with that same loose smile. "Apologies again. I was clearly mistaken. I'm just an open sort of person, I suppose. If I like someone, I let them know without any doubt."

"Not that it is any business of yours, but Wright is perfectly clear on my feelings toward him."

"Ja," Klavier said with mock seriousness. "I heard."

Oof. Was there any law against blatantly fake tans? There should be. And cut your hair. Or untwirl it. And stop grinning all the time!

"You seem convinced of what you're saying," Klavier allowed. Though he sounded sincere, there was still something that Miles couldn't quite identify under his voice and smile. A certain sharp strain of amusement? "And I'm willing to admit when I'm wrong. I'm sure you could show me exactly that, ja?"

"Show you?" Miles repeated uncertainly.

"You can't make an argument without evidence." Klavier tilted his head. "So what about a little wager? Whoever can show their favorite defense attorney that they appreciate them more as a... legal partner will win."

"A wager?" This was absurd. And don't say legal partner again.

"Never mind. Just an idea," Klavier said lightly, like he had never even considered that Miles would actually go for the suggestion. "I suppose it's not the type of thing you'd want to prove. It doesn't seem very... proper, nein?"

Aha, that was the kind of amusement he'd been showing: knowing that Miles would back down and Gavin would win this argument by default. "Your proposal is unacceptable," Miles said and saw Gavin's grin form anew. The grin fell as he continued, replaced by surprise on Klavier's certainly surgically-adjusted face. (And to think, people called Miles a pretty boy. Hmph.) "At least, in its original form. We would need some neutral party to judge the outcome, and wagers typically have some prize beyond the simple satisfaction of victory. As well, there should be a specified duration or limited number of attempts. I expect my prosecutors to form their arguments more fully before they speak, Gavin. You disappoint me." If Klavier could play up his laid-back persona, well, Miles had a famous personality of his own.

"Fair enough. We'll submit judges' names for mutual agreement, give it two weeks, and what do you say to the loser buying the winner dinner?" Klavier asked.

"Agreed. Is there to be any cap on spending?"

Klavier considered it. "We're both hardly short on money, so...." He shrugged. "If you feel cash is the best way to Wright's heart, I suppose it should be left open to you."

Oho, the dismissive subtext there. "No spending cap, then," Miles said and held out his hand. "I expect a list of possible neutral judges before you leave today."

Klavier shook his hand disbelievingly, like the Miles Edgeworth in front of him might vanish into mist. "And the same from you?" he asked.

"Of course. And they can't know about this wager, naturally."

"Of course. Then I'm back to work on the Dawson case, I suppose." Klavier, bemused, actually waved as he left. "Tschau."

Miles pursed his lips as he watched Klavier close the door behind him, and strode back to his desk with purposeful steps.

Precedent and evidence was always key to winning any argument.

Considering how much more he and Phoenix had of both, this would be simple.

Chapter Text

The first decision about the judge was the easiest: no fellow prosecutors. "Who would risk telling the boss that he'd lost, ja?" Klavier said. "Especially when you take winning so very, very seriously."

Miles grimaced as he accepted his drink from the barista. (He'd ordered coffee, despite what casual acquaintances might assume. The coffeeshop next to their office used perfectly roasted beans, yet thought that a proper cup of tea could be made by dunking a bag in hot water.) Some reputations lasted far longer than was deserved. It had been years since he did absolutely anything for a victory. And if he still preferred to win, well, who enjoyed losing?

"I completely agree that we should disallow everyone I supervise," Miles said, though he privately suspected that many might be far less favorable toward him than Klavier expected. He was certain that the biggest sticking point in his appointment to Chief Prosecutor had been raised by Winston Payne and his jealousy over not being considered. Even with innocence proven, seven years had been a long time for the legal community to get used to the image of a disbarred, dishonored, and disheveled Phoenix Wright. Miles convincing him to retake the Bar had been vaguely scandalous. Miles studying with him had nothing 'vaguely' about it, and he'd had to prove that there was absolutely no way for even a High Prosecutor to gain access to that copy of the exam.

No, Miles had no problem with rejecting the people in their office. "We'll keep any supervisory pressure out of it. I want you to accept my win as a fair and just decision, after all," he said and sipped his macchiato.

Klavier smirked over the rim of his coffee. (Black, with ungodly amounts of sugar.) "You're very confident for someone who once tried to get your friend convicted of murder." His smile became positively angelic as Miles glowered.

"If we're lobbing accusations," Miles said coldly, "you have done far more to damage him."

"Fair enough, regrettably... but it's not my relationship with Mr. Wright that's under discussion, ja?" Klavier's eyes crinkled again as he sipped his coffee-flavored sugar.

Urgh. Gavin and Justice's relationship might be less epic, to use the most historic form of the word, but they also had fewer weak spots to prod. "Who else is on your list?" Miles asked, glad he hadn't gone for that biscotti. It was the end of a long day and he was looking forward to leaving the entire vicinity of his workplace once their bet was finalized. As soon as it was finalized.

"Lucinda with the curly hair, Monique with the beautiful eyes, and—"

"Who are these women?" Miles asked. Even without the third name, he was certain that they were all women.

Klavier turned a brilliant smile toward the baristas behind the counter. One, who actually blushed, had a vintage Gavinners pin among a dozen others on her apron. "Completely neutral parties," he said with a satisfied grin as he turned back to face Miles.

"You have a strange definition of 'neutral,'" Miles grumbled.

"You're not unattractive," Klavier said. "I might have that star quality, but there is no reason for you not to be popular with them as well, nein? Besides, a bit of attraction toward one party or the other shouldn't unduly weight their judgment. And I must admit, to the ladies you might have a bit of the...." He squinted, seeking the right term. "Sexy librarian look?"

He was clearly doing this on purpose to rattle Miles. Well, with the opening Klavier had just left, Miles could rattle him right back. "So: we've agreed that we cannot approach anyone who reports directly to me, and will allow for some level of personal feelings toward one or both involved parties so long as they can effectively analyze the evidence we present them."

"Ja! So we'll ask Lucinda," Klavier said.

"Incorrect."

"...Monique?"

Miles cleared his throat. "There's another consideration: to assess our efforts' effect on the targeted parties, the judge must have knowledge of their typical responses and moods." He let himself smile as broadly as any of Klavier's gloating grins. "We will ask Ema Skye."

Klavier wasn't grinning any more. "Ema?" he asked in disbelief. "I still hear her being teased about some old crush on you!" A crush which, despite his very best efforts, Klavier had never been able to duplicate toward him.

"A bit of attraction toward one party or the other shouldn't unduly weight her judgment. Right?" Mmm. Their coffee really was delicious. Miles reveled in his temporary victory for another beat, then set his mug down and studied Klavier. "Then perhaps we should take a different tactic and involve two judges: one who is likely to be favorable to me and one who is likely to be favorable to you."

"That sounds... possible," Klavier said, though he didn't offer any names. He clearly couldn't argue against the need to understand the targets and weigh evidence, and Miles doubted he'd arrived with suggestions who met all of those qualities. Not when he'd made decisions based on recent successful flirtations.

Fortunately, Miles was always prepared. "Would you accept a second judge who is not currently familiar with one of the parties, but is an expert with collecting evidence and could come quickly up to speed?"

"Perhaps."

"Excellent. My sister arrives for a month's visit in a few days. I'll let her know that she's been drafted."

Klavier wiped away the coffee he'd inelegantly spilled on his chin. "Your sister? You've collected Ema for your side and now you expect me to welcome Franziska von Karma? And besides, she's a prosecutor! She's already knocked out of consideration!"

"Who does not report to me," Miles said patiently, "which was the source of our problem there."

"Ja, and instead you have introduced new problems!"

With a pointed clearing of his throat, Miles asked, "Have you heard much about my sister, Prosecutor?"

"I... of course. Her family is famous in the history of German law practice. Your family is famous," he added, quiet and grumpy.

"And if you have truly familiarized herself with Franziska, what do you believe she would say if she heard that I was spending time on trying to curry the favor of a defense attorney?"

Klavier went very still and his eyes rolled toward the ceiling. Miles let him think. When the truth hit, Klavier's eyebrows rose high. "Ahh. I see. Perhaps something like... 'Miles Edgeworth, you foolish fool, you will reap the foolish punishment you deserve for this foolhardy foolishness?'"

"Mmm. I believe you've actually read her case transcripts, and that was also a little disturbing."

Lost in thought for another beat, Klavier sat up abruptly and chuckled. "Point well taken. All right, then. The fräulein detective and fräulein prosecutor to judge our efforts."

I encourage you to refer to Franziska as a 'fräulein prosecutor' to her face, Gavin. "It's probably for the best if I approach Detective Skye."

"I'm sure I could convince her."

Miles shook his head. "I must insist. However, you're welcome to approach Franziska in my stead, if you feel that the initial discussion grants some benefit to the asker." I wouldn't mind being out of whipping distance when she hears what we expect her to do.

The sharp gaze he got in return reminded Miles that, despite how easy it was to think otherwise when the man annoyed him, Klavier was quite intelligent. He was abruptly not the flirtatious rock star plucking judges from the barista pool, but the prosecutor who'd identified a case connection even behind a wall of locked files. In a few short seconds Miles' words had been analyzed for hidden traps, reverse psychology, and whatever other trick he might be trying to pull. The process was nearly tangible in the space between them. "I believe I will," Klavier said slowly. "Her contact information, bitte?"

Miles sent her profile and Klavier nodded thoughtfully as he saw it pop up on his phone. "I'll also forward you her itinerary, so you'll know when to contact her," he added, typing. "As I said before, I want you to completely accept my victory. I don't intend to win through dirty tricks."

"First time for everything." Klavier flashed white teeth when Miles glared at him. "Can't take a joke, herr?"

"Not that one," he said tightly. Yes, he was very sick of some reputations. How many years had it been?

Klavier nodded and let it go. "Well, then. We appear to have two judges. They haven't agreed yet, but...."

"I have an appointment to meet Detective Skye shortly," Miles said, checking the time, "and Franziska will be able to catch up on what she's missed once she arrives."

Klavier didn't miss Miles' certainty that he would be meeting with Ema after their discussion, and gave a chiding look. "Then in a fortnight, we'll hear who's done a better job of showing affection for our favorite legal partner." Klavier looked close to laughter at Miles' reaction. "You wish you hadn't used those words, right?"

"Like you wouldn't believe," Miles drawled. He held up his coffee. "Two weeks."

"Two weeks," Klavier agreed, and lightly tapped his drink against Miles'. "It's begun. I have to admit, I'm looking forward to seeing you...."

"Yes?"

"...Being nice."

"Being nice has nothing to do with this, Gavin. Appreciation and respect are deeper, richer, and frankly more mature concepts. I intend to demonstrate that, not send the man a bouquet of flowers and a thank-you card."

"I would enjoy seeing Wright's face if you sent him a bouquet of flowers," Klavier said thoughtfully. "Let me know if you do go that way, after all. I'll want pictures."

Despite himself, Miles couldn't help but smile—very slightly—at the suggestion and the image it raised. All right, he could see how Klavier's champagne-like personality boosted the office's mood. "Only if you do the same. Be sure to limit the size of the arrangement, though. As I recall, your chosen partner is a little thing. I'd hate for you to send over something that he could get lost inside."

"We're trash-talking the defense attorneys, now?" Klavier smirked. "Should I start with his hair?"

"Which one?" Miles asked flatly, and Klavier laughed. Yes, for all that Miles was still bewildered by that little corkscrew hanging next to Klavier's skull, the prosecution's superior hair was an undeniable fact. "All right, I'm off to talk to Detective Skye. Two weeks," he reminded Klavier, who nodded.

"I would put money," Klavier said slowly, "on knowing what you're giving to Wright for your first move."

"Oh?" Miles said, less confident than he wanted to sound. Was that prediction good? Bad? The simple fact that Klavier thought he could predict his actions was slightly unsettling, because Klavier was far more practiced with demonstrative behavior. Whatever he thought, he might very well be right. "And what would that be?"

"I'm not handing over any suggestions," Klavier said, then actually winked. "See you tomorrow, boss."

Miles left with a frown. Yes, he had already identified a perfect gift. Could Klavier truly have jumped one step ahead of him? All the way to the police precinct, he looked at his planned move from every angle.

As he'd collected Phoenix's books to reshelve them, it had come to mind: a new computer for the Agency, along with a year's subscription to Westlaw or LexisNexis. Phoenix was a truly gifted attorney, and him coming into the courtroom with greater access to information would be of benefit to everyone. So Phoenix couldn't bring himself to flip between dozens of law tomes, fine; Miles would circumvent that little problem and let Phoenix's talent flourish inside searchable electronic databases that did the cross-referencing for him.

It was perfect. It demonstrated Miles' acknowledgement of his skills, as well as the trust that he placed in Phoenix to always find the truth in the courtroom. It was, in short, exactly the sort of present that one would give in order to demonstrate a mature appreciation toward another professional. Even the timing after his recent reinstatement couldn't be more apt.

Right?

Ugh, he never lacked confidence when the law was under discussion. Why, now, was he suddenly second-guessing himself? Was it the cost? A year's subscription to one of those services would be expensive, and Phoenix might think it was too much. Maybe he'd think it was patronizing, like after all of those years of struggling he still couldn't pay his own bills. And Klavier had mocked the idea of just throwing money at this contest. But what if Miles did monthly payments instead of a lump sum....

No, that wasn't it. There was something about the idea that appealed to him less by the minute. All the way to the police building where Ema worked, Miles grew progressively less and less enthused about his gift. He'd planned to swing by the computer store after talking with Ema, place the database subscription order this evening, and then he could surprise Phoenix tomorrow morning. Immediately before the email from Klavier had arrived and they'd agreed to discuss their judge picks in person, he'd even begun picturing Phoenix's reaction when the man was presented with his gift.

In his imagination Phoenix had been startled, and initially reluctant to accept such an expensive present. But Miles had explained how it was to welcome him back to work, and then he'd joked about how now perhaps Phoenix and his associates would present a challenge to Miles' prosecutors. And then, softly, he'd explained how much he respected Phoenix as an attorney and how he wanted him to flourish like he deserved.

It was heartfelt. It was a million steps beyond what he would have done on his own, even if it was wholly accurate and sincere. So why did it now seem like the worst idea in the world?

For the first time he pictured Phoenix's reaction after Miles had left. Phoenix would set up his new computer, instruct Apollo or Athena to familiarize themselves with the agency's new law database, and then he'd... never need to look at another book.

Miles stared blankly through his windshield, barely seeing that he'd reached the precinct's parking lot and had pulled into the loading lane. What on earth was I thinking? he wondered, horrified. He'd thrown Phoenix out of his office just that morning, and then the very next day he'd remove that supposed reason for Phoenix to ever come see him? He'd politely thank me, Miles thought, feeling a headache prickle, and once I walked away, wonder how much I hated him if I paid thousands of dollars to make sure he never came to my office again.

"Remind me to thank you, Gavin," he muttered as his hands flexed around the steering wheel, "for making me question that decision." God bless that man's cockiness.

A sudden knock on his window made him jump. Exhaling, Miles grasped for control as he turned to see Ema Skye standing there, waving at him. "Detective Skye," he said politely as he unlocked the door. "I'm glad you agreed to meet with me."

"Thanks for the ride offer, Mr. Edgeworth," Ema said brightly as she strapped on her seatbelt. It wasn't a voice that many people heard out of her, now. Miles didn't know whether her different behavior toward him was due to lingering gratefulness for Lana's case, that crush Klavier had mentioned (did it still exist?), or from how he and Phoenix were the only people in her daily life who had first come to know her as anything but a professional failure. Miles knew what it was like to need a few people with whom one could let down one's protective walls.

Ema continued, "It's going to be nice to not deal with any ass-grabbing on the Metro tonight."

Of course, some things had changed.

"Er, well, I was in the area," Miles lied, "and I'm glad to hear you won't need to deal with any, ah...." He cleared his throat and focused on getting through a few quick lane changes.

"Still," Ema ventured when they were safely on a major thoroughfare, "you don't usually offer people rides."

The unspoken question hung there, and with a sigh, Miles nodded. "I have to admit, Detective, I have an ulterior motive in meeting with you today."

"Should I be worried?" Ema asked silkily.

"Certainly not!" Miles said. Glancing at her amused expression barely lessened his nerves. "I assure you, Ms. Skye, if you would prefer to leave at any time, you're free to—"

"I'm sorry, I was kidding." She rested a hand on his arm. "Really, I was kidding. It was just... you picked me up in your flashy car, say you have an ulterior motive... I thought I'd make a little joke. I know you'd never do anything like that."

He breathed a sigh of relief. To think, two months ago he'd been so smug over Klavier getting rightly rapped on the knuckles for inappropriate behavior toward the woman. "Perhaps this was a bad idea, after all," he murmured. "I'll drive you home."

"No, no. You wanted to talk to me about something. What?" She nudged his arm again when he stayed silent. "Mr. Edgeworth, what is it?"

"My 'flashy' car," he repeated, and tried to put on a smile. "Is that a code word for ostentatious?"

"Maybe, but don't change the subject. I wanna hear."

Hoping he wouldn't regret this, Miles pulled into the first parking lot on their side of the street and dropped his car into neutral. "All right," he said in the most professional voice he could muster. "First off, I would like to say that there will be absolutely no employment-related repercussions should you decline this request."

"Okay," Ema said warily.

"I understand that you sometimes provide information to my office, but you do not report to me, and so I felt it—"

"Just tell me." Ah, there was that Ema Skye voice that most people heard.

Right. Okay. Very delicately, he began, "I have gotten into a wager, and the other party and I are in need of a judge." Ema still looked intrigued and entirely relaxed, and so he continued, "I've bet Prosecutor Gavin that—"

"Yes."

"Yes?"

"Yes. I'll do it. I'll be your judge."

"Er." Miles frowned. "Don't you want to know what the bet is?"

"I don't care. You win." She clapped her hands together once and beamed. "Congratulations!"

As satisfying as that announcement of victory was to hear.... "We're looking for a serious judge," Miles told her with a chiding smile. "Someone who will genuinely weigh and consider the evidence. I proposed your name, and after... some significant resistance, Gavin agreed."

"Fine," Ema laughed. "Tell me what the bet is." He did, and her amusement died throughout, replaced by concentration. "Interesting," Ema said slowly. She studied her hands in her lap for a long beat, and when she looked back up to him, her eyebrows had pulled tightly together. "I'll still say yes, but I have some conditions."

"Of course. What are they?"

"You said that there wouldn't be any repercussions, no matter what I decided." As Miles nodded and reassured her, she held up a hand. "I also want to hear that, outside of work hours, I can ask anything and say anything and it's just a conversation between me and two guys, not between a detective and two prosecutors. If I can't get you to promise that I can ask anything I want, then I can't do this, because I wouldn't be using everything to make a proper analysis."

Something about that anything made worry build low in Miles' gut, but he forced it down and ignored it. It was only fair to allow Ema that flexibility, and of course she deserved reassurance that nothing she did during the course of this favor to him could possibly harm her career. "In the course of your judgeship, Your Honor," he said, and got the wry smile he'd been aiming for, "you may ask for any information without penalty."

"Okay. Then I'll do it." Ema leaned in close. "Is this about fucking?"

Miles' foot slipped off the clutch and the engine died. "I... I beg your pardon?"

"Is this really about showing how much you appreciate each other as platonic friends, or is this going to turn into a romantic comedy with a kiss at the end? I need to know the expected goals to assess how your behavior achieves them." His mouth gaped soundlessly, and so Ema continued, "That's only scientific, after all."

"Platonic!" Miles managed.

"All right." She hesitated. "Are you sure? Because I'm pretty sure that the fop would go for anything warm with a hole, and I know you don't like women."

"Detective Skye!"

"Fine, fine, I'll be nice. The fop would go for anyone warm." Ema's grin spread as Miles sputtered. "You said I could ask anything, and I've been wondering this for years, so I'm going for broke. Am I wrong about you? I mean, we've all seen so many women throw themselves at you and you are totally oblivious. Lana thought you were cute when you first started working there, I could tell. She kept trying to lean forward so that you'd notice her ass." Ema smirked. "You didn't."

"This was a mistake," Miles said in horror. And Lana had done what?

Ema tapped her chin thoughtfully. "But I shouldn't assume. Do you like... anyone? Asexuality is completely valid. And if that's what we're dealing with, then I do have a different picture of the situation." And then she actually pulled out a notepad, which Miles promptly snatched away. "Asexual," she slowly said, nodding.

"No! I mean." Miles inhaled. With how Ema still liked him, it was all too easy to forget how many people avoided the woman and how off-putting she could be when she put her mind to it. "It's simply not something I give much consideration to."

"Which sounds like asexuality to me, and that's totally okay. I was just curious." Ema pointedly retrieved her notepad and jotted something down. Numbed by the conversation, Miles let her take it without complaint. "All right. So I'm guessing that the fop is going to try to seduce Apollo to show how much he 'appreciates him,'" she said, completed with fingerquotes, "while your approach will be platonic. That might deserve a different scoring mechanism, or, hmm... should this have a qualitative assessment instead of forcing it into a quantitative rubric...."

"There are some," Miles said quietly, the words stumbling out of him. She was just working so hard, and as awkward as it was to admit this... he didn't like hearing his own relationship misrepresented yet again.

"Hmm?"

"I do feel... occasionally, I feel attraction."

Ema slowly nodded and scribbled something that she probably thought Miles couldn't see: low but existent sex drive. It was difficult to keep from resting his forehead on the steering wheel and risk sounding the horn. "And Mr. Wright falls in that group, or you wouldn't have bothered correcting me."

"But that is not what this is about," he said firmly. "I simply didn't want you to mischaracterize the facts. I am not interested in a relationship, I'm not pursuing one, and this effort is entirely platonic on my part. Understood?"

"Understood," she said, and once again sounded like Detective Ema Skye, Official Arm of the Law. At least, until she just audibly muttered, "Gavin's totally going to try to fuck him."

"Prosecutor Gavin can do whatever he likes," Miles said, face warm, and restarted the ignition. "So long as you, Detective, understand that my behavior will be quite different and assess it on its own merits."

She nodded. "I promise that I'll do a fair job, Mr. Edgeworth." Her fingertips brushed his sleeve as he checked behind them for any passing cars, and he glanced over to see her small smile. "And everything we've just talked about is totally confidential."

"I knew it would be, Detective." Actually, I should have gotten that promise out of her before I said anything. I'm far too rattled right now. "And now I'll take you home."

A few blocks rolled past them. Miles' embarrassment had nearly faded when Ema piped up with, "Do I get to hear what you're going to do beforehand? It'd really help my accuracy if I could witness the effects as they happen."

Uncertainty over the computer came crashing back and Miles let out a tiny, strangled sigh. "I... yes. You will. When I figure out exactly what it is that I'm going to do."

"You don't know?" Ema asked. "But you always know what to do. And how hard is it to show someone that you like them?" He flashed a quick sidelong glare and she held up her hands. "Platonically. Just... show him, Mr. Edgeworth. And not in that unresolved sexual tension way that you two have in court."

He slammed the brakes at a stop sign and turned a full-bore Miles Edgeworth glower on her.

Ema grinned. "We're still in the car. It's still confidential, so I still get to talk about it. Please don't say that you think Gavin is hot. Actually, don't even answer that."

Glad for the escape, Miles nodded mutely. No, he didn't find Klavier remotely attractive; too forward, too flashy. But the memories of his initial assessments of Kristoph were stomach-turning, now. Finding out the true nature of the man he'd only ever appreciated from a distance had gone to show him how very much safer it was to avoid all romantic entanglements. "You were joking about Lana, right?" he asked as he glanced at his phone's map and turned onto Ema's street.

"Nope. I thought it was weird until I got a little older and understood what she'd been doing." Ema smiled in that soft, distant way she sometimes got when her sister was under discussion. Lana was out of prison for her involvement in Gant's crimes and understandably didn't want to come back to work in Los Angeles. Denver had a good job opening for someone with her background, but that was a long flight separating them. "She didn't notice you for very long. I mean... it happened pretty soon after that." Ema studied her hands until he'd parked in front of her small apartment building, and when she looked back up, she seemed much more like the innocent girl he'd first met. "Thank you again. For everything. I hope you and Mr. Wright win."

"I hope so, too," Miles said. "But I anticipate your completely impartial judgment reaching that assessment, Detective. Are we clear?"

"Crystal. And just so you can breathe easy, I'm...." She gestured at one corner of her mouth, then mimed zipping across her lips. "But let me know when you've got something figured out, all right? I'll take notes. And," she added, sighing like Atlas himself had rolled the weight of the world onto her shoulders, "I guess I'll get in touch with the fop and tell him to do the same."

"I appreciate your participation."

"I appreciate the ride home!" Ema said cheerfully, and slammed the door.

Well, that had been infinitely more painful than he'd anticipated. Miles groaned and rolled his head between his shoulders, wondering how tense he'd be by the end of the week if Monday already felt like this. It wasn't like anything he'd said was a revelation to him; he'd been completely accurate in his descriptions, including his general disinterest in romance coupled with an acknowledgment of rare exceptions. It wasn't something that he'd put into words for another person to digest before, though. Ema's unflinching commentary had left him a bit dizzy.

You always know what to do. How hard is it to show someone that you like them?

Urgh. Whatever the answer was, it wasn't signing a credit card slip for a new computer. Not when it would give an undeniable message of pushing Phoenix out of his life and closing the door. Phoenix Wright cared far more about people than things; he'd trade a hundred new computers for time with the people close to him.

And there the answer was in flashing neon lights. Thankfully still on roads with low speed limits, Miles started chuckling after he swerved once from surprise. Oh.

Looking at it this way, the answer was obvious. There was only one perfect 'gift' to give Phoenix, particularly after the conversation they'd had. Once again he pulled into the first convenient parking lot, dropped out of gear, and began searching through his phone. There was the number that he'd dubiously entered as Phoenix insisted that he liked to have it in the hands of potential emergency contacts: Wright, Trucy. "Trucy," he said when she answered. "Yes, it's Mr. Edgeworth. I understand that you're searching for victory over your father and his associates."

"You make it sound so serious," she laughed. "But yeah! Are you seriously going to do it? Dad said you wouldn't...."

"I've reconsidered." Miles hesitated. He wasn't sure what a 'game night' entailed, really. "Should... I bring food?"

Chapter Text

There's a great case about to hit the department, Forehead. Hopefully they come talk to you. We'd have fun in court. ;) Klavier grinned in anticipation of his text being replied to, and that grin broadened when Apollo's name popped up on the phone's screen.

What?

Look up Ruby Lipps in the news.

...Uh, I think I hear Mr. Wright calling me... Even in text form, Klavier was sure that Apollo sighed and did as ordered after Klavier waited out his protests. Knuckles rapped on his desk in time to the latest brainstuck cycle of elevator oldies. Two lines from Coldplay. A chorus from Infinity Eight, back in the days when the band was all together and called themselves something about radiation. Verdammt, the radio stations back then must have been full of nothing but hits. He'd have to thank the building supervisor who'd listened to his request to replace adult contemporary with rock. Ah, there was Apollo typing again, finally: WHAT.

I told you we'd have fun, Forehead.

Bank robbery, a drag troupe, and an ice cream truck?????

Don't forget the puppies.

I can't decide if I want to pretend you never messaged me or hunt down Ruby.

I SAID we'd have fun, ja? ;)

Remind me to take that literally, next time. Wow.

Klavier chuckled and said his goodbyes. That was the mental break he'd needed from this endless case analysis, but it was time to get back to work. If Apollo did somehow land that client, he needed to have the Dawson case all wrapped up if he was going to request the spot versus his dear Herr Forehead. Actually, he wanted that case no matter what. How many times would he get to run an investigation that focused on a litter of trained puppies?

A figure in a dramatic coat strode past Klavier's open door and he allowed himself some amusement over the image of Miles Edgeworth, Very Serious Boss And Prosecutor attempting to maintain composure while Ruby Lipps appeared in full drag. (Klavier did hope that she would in fact appear as a she in court. Her show had terrific reviews, and he appreciated a skilled performer.) Edgeworth was an unquestionable genius, an honorable and fair man whose commitment to the truth was sorely needed as years-long rot in the department was uprooted, and by all indications, allergic to fun.

Was anyone's fur easier to ruffle? You could challenge him on legal matters and he'd swing back like a prizefighter, yet one discussion of a department Christmas party had him looking downright grumpy over all the 'wasted resources.' (Eventually some of the veterans in the department explained that he'd never been a fan of the holidays for as long as they'd known him, but that was still no excuse for looking so positively dour. Besides, who didn't love Christmas?) All it took was one mention of him as a 'sexy librarian' and he looked ready to sputter in outrage.

Klavier smirked. That one had been good; he'd have to remember it.

After starting a text analysis on the Dawson files, Klavier rolled a pen between his fingers and thought idly about the bet. There was something to be said for moving first and setting the tone, but, well... that assumed a fair fight. When it came to acting friendly, Miles Edgeworth was about as practiced as a ten year old kid trying out their first guitar. Klavier didn't want to play a flawless solo just before his competition struggled with basic chords. It'd be cruel.

And so, he was waiting to hear about Edgeworth's first move so that he could know exactly how softly to make his entrance into this competition. Two weeks was plenty of time to ramp up his efforts. If Edgeworth made the first move that Klavier expected, well... it would indeed be a nice, slow start, because Wright would have to struggle to keep a smile on his face as Edgeworth delivered several bookcases of law reference texts to him.

From what he'd overheard, it was all so obvious. Wright had come there to use Edgeworth's books. Edgeworth would attempt to solve this supposed problem by providing Wright with books of his own, and would promptly dust off his hands and believe himself to have shown that 'mature, professional appreciation' he'd discussed over coffee. Wright would be justly (if quietly) hurt over the brush-off, and Klavier would make a first, gentle move toward Apollo that didn't cause any resentment in the Anything Agency's offices the next day as the two attorneys compared their treatment.

Hell, after that, a couple of fast food dinners with Forehead would probably win him the prize, even with Ema as a judge. Of course, Klavier intended to do a lot better than McDonalds.

"Achtung! Talk to me," he said as he stabbed the button for his ringing phone's speaker.

"Aren't you supposed to say your name?" asked Ema flatly.

"My extension's not publicly listed, fräulein. Anyone calling here knows who they're speaking to."

"A professional prosecutor would identify himself by name." He could picture her tight, annoyed eyeroll. "Anyway, I agreed to judge your little competition. You and Mr. Edgeworth both need to tell me your moves ahead of time so that I can take accurate notes on their effects."

"All right."

"...That was a request, Fop."

He tapped the butt end of his pen against the desk. Rat tat TAT tatatat rat tatta tat. "I'll let you know."

"You don't know, either?"

Klavier's eyebrow raised, and he sat up straighter in his seat. "Edgeworth doesn't have a plan?" As Ema grumbled that damn, she shouldn't have said that to him, Klavier frowned in thought. He'd been counting on Edgeworth making an efficient (if misguided) move to open the competition. If he was going to take his sweet time shopping around for a set of law texts, Klavier might need to do something for Apollo without bothering to wait. "I'll have something for you by tomorrow."

"Fine. Oh, wait, I have a call from him right now." She hung up without saying goodbye and Klavier returned to his casework. The text analysis had turned up exactly what he wanted to see: one manager who had a higher-than-average incidence of discussing the corporation's research investments over a ten-year span. Too subtle to notice, unless you were looking at it in aggregate and with purpose. He entered the man's information into various legal search functions, ignored the clean arrest record, and chuckled at his real estate holdings. "That's an expensive house for someone with your salary, herr," Klavier crooned at the monitor. "Perhaps you've been selling that information you discovered?"

As he filled out the form to subpoena the man as a witness (who would be unwittingly implicated on the stand through his own testimony), the taps on the keyboard struck the same rhythm as the song running through his head. This was wrapping up nicely, Klavier thought, and sent the form in for processing. Maybe he'd manage to snag that case with the puppies, after all. He hummed the opening to another oldie as he rifled through documents in search of further ways to strengthen his arguments.

Midsong, his phone buzzed with a text and Klavier glanced to see what Apollo had to say now. Ema's name instead filled the screen, with only a single, short text below it: lol.

"Lol?" Klavier repeated, frowning. What the hell was Edgeworth doing? Ema laughing at whatever she'd heard in her call with Edgeworth seemed like an encouraging sign... unless she was laughing at Klavier. Which was more likely, he wondered: that Edgeworth would make an ill-advised move of friendship so awkward that it deserved laughter, or that Oscar the Grouch had somehow make such a very good move that Ema felt compelled to rub it in Klavier's face? Obviously, the bad Edgeworth move.

...No. Reconsider that. Which was more likely: that she'd rub a good Edgeworth move in Klavier's face, or that Edgeworth would screw up and Ema would actually admit it to Klavier, in all her hero-worshipping youth?

Oh, hell. Edgeworth wasn't doing the books, after all. He'd figured out something good. 

Klavier bit his lip and checked the clock, then did a mental time zone calculation. Franziska's flights weren't until tomorrow. Even with an early departure, she'd still be awake. He brought up her profile and dialed before he could lose his nerve. Franziska von Karma had been something of an idol to him for years, and unlike Edgeworth, he'd never met the woman to let that pedestal become slightly worn through inevitable, wholly human foibles. 

"Franziska von Karma," said a crisp voice after two rings. "To whom am I speaking?"

"Wie geht es Ihnen, Frau von Karma?" Klavier began formally. "Mein name ist Klavier Gavin."

After a pause, she replied in German, "From the Los Angeles Prosecutor's Office."

"You've heard of me. I'm flattered." 

"When I saw the phone number I assumed someone would be calling me in English." She hesitated. Although Klavier's tone had shifted away from his initial, stilted formality after their first exchange, Franziska sounded, if anything, more tightly wound. "Is this call in regards to Miles Edgeworth?"

"In a sense, yes." Her sharp, if small intake of breath confused Klavier until it dawned that she would be Edgeworth's next of kin, and that she had a very different image of why a call was being made to her by a stranger from her brother's workplace. "Nothing is wrong."

"...I see."

"I apologize for any confusion."

"Any confusion was only on your part, Prosecutor. A von Karma never assumes anything without all facts before her."

Oh, this would be fun. "Edgeworth gave me your name and suggested that you might be brought in for a... consultation."

"Ahh," Franziska said, and did sound far more relaxed. I doubt she'd ever admit how worried she was for that split second. "Well, a full month's holiday would be ill-advised. Perfection isn't maintained through idleness. Very well, Prosecutor; when I arrive in California, we can discuss your case."

If he was going to have any hope of bringing her around to his side, Klavier needed to lay the groundwork here and now. "Your brother didn't suggest that you'd spend your time on a case, Ms. von Karma. He expects you to assess his performance on a task."

"I'm listening," she said warily. "What's the task?"

Klavier twirled his pen again. "Oh, he wants to make Phoenix Wright like him." Boom. "Not romantically, I don't think." Boom.

"What? You are telling me that my fool of a brother thinks that I would willingly give up my rare relaxation time to assess how he behaves toward that spiky-headed courtroom performance artist? He believes that this is the sort of task to which a von Karma should apply her skills? You listen to me, Klavier Gavin: you will stand up, march yourself to that fool's office, and punish him on my behalf."

"That would land me in jail with assault charges, Ms. von Karma."

"Tch. I've never had a problem." Franziska huffed and prepared for another rant, but Klavier smoothly stepped in before she could continue.

"He's actually involved me in a wager. I'm also to express appreciation toward an attorney of my choice. You'd assess us over the next two weeks and decide which of us performed better."

"This is nothing but foolishness! Prosecutors should strive toward perfection, not direct their time and effort toward attorneys who have chosen such a foolish path in life. I have no desire to be involved with this, and if my little brother expects me to waste my valuable time, then perhaps I will make other arrangements with my social contacts and simply visit Miles Edgeworth when he's come to his senses."

Little brother? Wasn't she younger? I sense even an fiercer rivalry than I knew. "Or," Klavier said smoothly, "you could arrive in Los Angeles, make a cursory assessment of his behavior, and hand down... a defeat."

The line went silent for a long, meaningful beat. "I have no desire to offer a victory to either you or Miles Edgeworth, Klavier Gavin. This foolish wager is an embarrassment to both of you."

"Perhaps, but he was the one to suggest your name in the first place, Ms. von Karma. I believe his exact words were that he would inform you that you had been 'drafted.'" He could hear a quick, sharp exhalation over the line, like the breath of a snorting horse. "You have no opinion toward me or Mr. Justice, my attorney of choice, but... consider it. You could hand down a loss to both Miles Edgeworth and Phoenix Wright. Simultaneously. And your brother has agreed to accept your judgment."

"...Fine. Inform Miles Edgeworth that I do not want to have him pick me up from the airport. You will meet me, Klavier Gavin, and provide me with the salient details of this competition."

"I'm always pleased to do whatever a young lady requests of me," Klavier practically purred.

"Don't wear cologne."

"I'm sorry?"

"You sound like a man who wears cologne, and you probably wear too much. I therefore do not trust your judgment and prefer you to wear no cologne at all. Am I understood?"

"Er. Understood." If this is the sort of attitude that gets you von Karma's reputation or Edgeworth's position... maybe I'm satisfied with just being a simply excellent prosecutor. Imagine: an entire family allergic to fun. Brr. "Are you up for a ride on a motorcycle?" Every woman he'd ever known relaxed with that engine rumbling between her legs.

"Motorcycles are foolish risks and I will have a month's worth of luggage. Do not assume I will automatically penalize Miles Edgeworth, Klavier Gavin, if you insist on introducing yourself to me with such relentless foolishness."

"I'll bring a car, then," he said, rubbing his aching eyes. Klavier suspected that those jokes about her carrying a whip into the courtroom might actually be accurate. "Many thanks, Prosecutor von Karma."

"I'll see you at the airport."

Chapter Text

Phoenix's apartment wasn't new in the strictest sense of the word, but it had the feeling of a place that had yet to wholly welcome its occupants and become a home. Corners still held a box or two. A bookcase had one shelf lined with identical cheap storage baskets; each appeared to contain a random assortment of items that at least weren't on the floor any more. The furniture wasn't luxurious, but new and clean, and still looked as if had seldom been sat upon.

Miles observed all of that at a glance. He hadn't put down serious roots for close to a decade, and even his longer stays had always been in a furnished rental arranged by the local judicial branch or university. His only constants had been his phone, laptop, and dog. (The memory of her ever-whitening muzzle as she aged still sent a pang of loss through him.) Even now, with a permanent position that he intended to keep, he still hadn't bothered finding somewhere of his own. Real estate shopping took time and he enjoyed the Gatewater's new long-term corporate rental building.

"Thanks again for coming!" Trucy said as she pulled him further into the apartment. "Dad's going to be home really soon. They had something come in late and they're all pitching in so they can be here in time."

"Of course." He looked uncertainly down at the items he'd brought. One hand held a canvas bag full of drink options; the other, an expensive chocolate cake cut into tiny slivers. He'd thought they looked like good things to bring, but he was operating blind. It was unsettling. "Is this all right?" he asked, raising his hands slightly and nodding to their contents.

"Ooh," Trucy said, studying the cake. "This looks great. Thanks! You didn't actually need to bring anything, but you offered, and well...." She grinned and shrugged. "Never turn down free food, right?"

The words sent a throb of melancholy through him. That didn't seem like a lesson someone her age should have learned. "Is there somewhere I can put everything? I'd like to hang up my jacket."

Trucy led the way and he followed her from place to place. Hearing from Phoenix that he'd adopted a daughter had been mind-blowing, and hardly seemed like a good idea with everything he'd been going through. Miles knew that his own situation was far past unique and of course he viewed Phoenix as nothing like Manfred von Karma, but still, his entire body had clenched at hearing that some young child had just been adopted as the world seemed to be falling apart. The specifics hardly mattered. Even airplane turbulence could be a stand-in for an earthquake, and apparently any young child's adoption reminded him of moving to a solemn, joyless house where a decade and a half of brainwashing had commenced.

The interim years had changed his mind. He'd heard the girl described as a light in Phoenix's life and by all appearances the description seemed accurate. She was charming in her way, enthusiastic, and very talented with the 'magic' shows she was so proud of. Their peculiar family had come together, with that Apollo fellow bouncing around at the edges in a role that Miles couldn't quite pin down. Now they had an easier time ahead of them and happiness came more often. It was nice to see.

"We're actually going to have equal teams," Trucy said as she flipped through paper menus. "And without me filling an extra seat with Mr. Hat. So we're definitely going to kick their butts."

"Equal?" Weren't there five people at this gathering? Oh, right. "Did Ema Skye happen to invite herself over, by chance?" Miles asked.

"Yeah! Did she mention it to you?"

"Mmm. Obliquely." Miles pictured the two teams sitting opposite each other in that living room and couldn't help but smirk. On one side: Phoenix with his little lie detector stone, Apollo with that bracelet, and Athena with her necklace. On the other: the three of them, free of any such crutches. "With our superior logical skills, we're certain to triumph."

Trucy looked bemused. "I've got 'superior logical skills?' News to me."

Miles tapped his temple knowingly. "Your shows are masterpieces of behavioral awareness. You're able to play on people's perceptions and expectations, and by confounding those, deliver the appearance of 'magic.' I do hope you never get into crime; you'd cause no end of trouble to our detectives." Whenever Phoenix had invited him to her shows, he'd enjoyed attempting to tease out explanations for every illusion she presented. Often he couldn't, which he found terribly impressive.

"Oh." Trucy considered that, then grinned. "Thanks."

The first time he'd discussed Trucy's work with the girl, she'd been put out at how he'd tried to solve the tricks instead of simply enjoying them like the rest of her audience. After a few such encounters, the dynamic changed. Miles learned to compliment her on the illusions he couldn't solve and ignored the ones he had. In return, she began to like him.

"And so that other team will face our superior intellects with their little toys," Miles reiterated. "Our victory is assured."

"You've used this 'toy' before, Edgeworth," chuckled Phoenix, and Miles and Trucy turned to see him letting himself in. He held up his magatama. "Remember?"

"I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for what I saw."

"Yeah, there is," Phoenix said, shrugging off his coat and slinging it over the back of the couch. He rolled up his shirtsleeves. "It's charged with spiritual energy that looks into people's minds or souls."

"In all likelihood," Miles said patiently, "whatever energy is within that object resonates with heightened physical indicators in a target's body. In other words: when people lie, they get nervous. It's perfectly possible to measure such reactions."

"Maybe. Sure. ...So what's your explanation for the chains and locks?"

Miles narrowed his eyes. "Hallucinogenic properties."

Phoenix laughed and shoved the magatama back into his pocket. "Whatever you say."

"Lengthy exposure to Larry Butz would make anyone see things," Miles grumbled and Phoenix chuckled more.

"It's okay, Mr. Edgeworth," Trucy said, and leaned toward her father with a smirk. "Team Logic is still going to kick butt."

"Team Logic?" Phoenix repeated, and quirked an eyebrow. "You're on 'Team Logic?' You do remember that you're a magician, right? Top hat and all?"

"I'm a master of behavioral awareness," Trucy said haughtily.

After studying Trucy for a long beat, Phoenix turned to Miles and asked, "You have been here for ten minutes and this is how you have my daughter talking?"

Miles folded his arms. "Never speak down to younger people. They will rise to your expectations."

Shaking his head with mingled affection and annoyance, Phoenix said, "You'd probably say the exact same thing to a preschooler." Well, of course Miles would. He wouldn't expect an answer, mind, but how were children to learn new vocabulary if it was never used around them? "Truce, could you go ahead and order dinner? I need to ask Edgeworth something."

"Sure thing, Daddy!" Trucy said and plucked out one of the menus she'd been studying, then left with a phone pressed to her ear.

Concern built as Phoenix inclined his head toward the small balcony next to the dining nook. Miles followed him onto a small, still-empty platform with a view of a few struggling trees. Though he steeled himself for whatever Phoenix's suddenly serious expression might be regarding, the man didn't ask him anything and instead looked toward the sky. Miles followed his gaze to a spectacular sunset, where clouds were a riot of pink and gold across orange and indigo. This time of day was the only reliable positive of the city's famously awful pollution, and they both stayed silent for a few long beats to enjoy it.

"I forgot to notice things like that for a long time," Phoenix admitted.

"You had good reason to be distracted."

Phoenix half-smiled, then asked without turning, "What made you change your mind?"

"Pardon?"

Phoenix looked over until Miles met his eyes in return. They looked as deep as the darkening sky. "I wasn't surprised when you turned me down yesterday. Disappointed, sure, but I wasn't surprised. I hated that I had to tell Trucy no, but I'd warned her that was what'd probably happen. And then you texted me and said that you would love to come over. I don't get it." When Miles hesitated, Phoenix added, "I was happy! But totally confused."

"I... discovered that I had time open in my schedule, after all."

After a long second, Phoenix smirked and shook his head. "Fine, don't tell me."

"I'm telling the truth," Miles said in a huff. "I finished things faster than I expected, and I was able to... oh." Phoenix held up the magatama and it felt like the ground fell out from under his feet. Bad comparison to make, Miles, he thought grimly as he fought to steady his nerves. How on earth was he supposed to give a truthful answer to that question?

"Three locks," Phoenix said in curiosity. The small stone flipped back and forth between his fingers. Miles watched its movements cautiously, like he might a wasp's. "Huh. It's not anything bad, is it?"

"What? No, of course not."

"Okay." Phoenix frowned. "When I saw the locks just now, I guess I was concerned that you'd heard that you... had six months to live or something, and were reassessing your priorities."

"And you only had that level of concern over it?" Miles asked, one eyebrow arched. "And you only thought it would appear to you as a moderately intensive lie?"

"Point taken. I knew it wasn't likely, but I guess... well, part of me is always going to worry about you suddenly turning up dead." Phoenix folded his arms. Despite himself, Miles was distracted by Phoenix's dressed-down suit coupled with his bare forearms. It was a good look, and the close quarters of the balcony had him far more flustered than the open expanse of his office. "I guess you can't really blame me for that."

It took Miles a second to focus, and he grimaced and looked down. "That was nearly ten years ago."

"Well, some things are a big enough deal that you get to bring them up forever." Phoenix swallowed audibly. "Okay, then. This is all I can think of for why you're lying to me and don't seem all that concerned about it." He shrank into himself and asked in a softer voice, "Are you leaving again? Is this a way to say goodbye to everyone?"

"What? No. You know I've taken this as a permanent position."

"You've taken a lot of jobs that sounded pretty permanent, and they were always somewhere that wasn't here." Phoenix looked like a novice lawyer again, all coltishly young and uncertain. "And you're still living in a hotel."

"I've been busy, Wright. Do you know what a nightmare it'll be to find a place and get a mortgage settled in this market?"

"A mortgage," Phoenix repeated slowly. "So... not a rental."

"Not a rental."

"You're really staying here."

"I'm really staying here," Miles said patiently, "and so far as I know, I have more than six months to live."

"Huh," Phoenix said, and seemed equally relieved and befuddled as he studied his magatama. "Well, that's good to hear. I started worry-spiraling a little, sorry. I guess I just didn't know what to make of this, and you're usually pretty easy to predict."

What? Miles Edgeworth was a dense tome of knowledge, not a children's picture book. "I am not," Miles said with offense. He squared his shoulders and lifted his chin.

Chuckling, Phoenix gave him a fond smile. "Maybe not to most people. But I can predict you pretty easily, come on."

"You thought I was about to take a job in Europe again because I'd be dead in six months."

"Besides that."

The entire purpose of this exercise was to display his appreciation toward Phoenix Wright. Lying, as comfortable as it was, hardly accomplished that task. Although he felt like he was walking naked into court, Miles said toward his shoes, "I was abrupt with you in my office yesterday. I felt like this might help to make up for that." He bit his lip, found his courage, and looked up.

"A lock just broke," Phoenix said, startled. "That's the truth? You were... thinking about my feelings? Really?"

"Don't act like that's such an impossible concept, Wright," Miles snapped. "And I suppose you can't predict me after all, hmm?"

"Huh. Well, thanks." Phoenix scratched the back of his head, then reached out for Miles' arm. The sudden warmth made Miles jerk away in surprise, but Phoenix patiently tried again and managed to snag his wrist. "Open your hand, Edgeworth." Uncertain, Miles did, and frowned at the sight of the magatama being laid on his open palm. "Now, look back at me. Okay: I really appreciate this. Not only for me, but for Trucy, and I'm sorry I made it seem like I was so surprised at you being nice. I was surprised, but I should have hidden it a little better."

"Well, ah." Miles swallowed. "You're welcome."

"There, now we both know that we were telling the truth," Phoenix said, and scooped up the magatama with a grin. Hurriedly, Miles put his hand back down at his side. "You've still got some locks on you, but so long as you're not about to run off to Europe and die, that's your business."

"That's certainly not my plan," Miles said dryly.

Phoenix moved to open the door, then paused. "Speaking of Europe," he began, "isn't Franziska flying in soon? You said she was staying with you?"

"Yes, she'll get in late tomorrow." Klavier was welcome to the task. Franziska was always a nightmare after dealing with plane passengers and timezones.

"Please say that you reserved another hotel room for her," Phoenix said with exaggerated urgency, "and that you don't have to spend a month dealing with her in the next bed over. You promised me you weren't about to die, but I think having her as a roommate might test that. I'm pretty sure that one of you would get convicted of murder by the month's end."

The suggestion made him blanch. "Oh, good lord, Wright, I would never set myself up for spending a month with Franziska in the same room. It's a two bedroom suite."

Phoenix breathed a dramatic sigh of relief. "You were able to get a bigger room. Good."

"No, I always had a suite that size. The ones with two bedrooms have a better view, so I was sure to request one upon making my reservation." That earned a startled look from Phoenix, then a sharp bark of laughter, and Miles drew in on himself again. "What's so funny?"

"Oh, nothing. Just that you've been paying a two-bedroom rate for...." Phoenix smirked and shook his head. "Never mind. Sometimes I just remember that you and I have lived seriously different lives. Come on, I think I hear people inside. Apollo and Athena must be here."

Miles moved toward the door as it slid open, but Phoenix's half-bared arm stopped him. He swallowed and backed away. "Did you forget something?"

Even worse than Phoenix's casual dress was the slow, knowing smile that he directed squarely at Miles. He wasn't the younger man he'd looked like during their conversation. Miles was reminded that he'd been through a lot, even if his reinstatement had polished up some of that tarnish. Phoenix had been honed like a blade. For one sharp, terrifying second, Miles wondered if Phoenix was somehow aware of his attraction and planned to turn it against him.

"Just for the record, Edgeworth," Phoenix said, "you were totally believable just now as someone who thinks that the magatama's locks and chains are only hallucinations." And he winked.

"W-what?" Miles blushed. "Oh. Well. Be quiet."

"Solid argument, Mr. Edgeworth. I see why they made you Chief Prosecutor." Phoenix laughed and splayed his hand against the back of Miles' waistcoat, then pushed him inside the apartment. Miles let himself be guided and focused on not tripping over the metal track for the door. "Come on. It's time for you to have fun."

Chapter Text

"Oh god," said Apollo Justice when Miles returned to the living room, "Trucy wasn't lying, he's here." Everyone in the room turned toward him and the young man reddened to match his suit. "I meant to whisper that."

"Way to strike fear into the hearts of our enemies, Polly," sighed Athena Cykes.

Miles studied the two young lawyers. Cykes was nearly a complete unknown to him. He knew that she was competitive but could get flustered, and relied heavily upon analysis of her witnesses' emotional states. Useful information, if dry. Justice was only slightly more familiar. He could understand why Apollo had worked with Phoenix during his disbarment, and why they'd continued their professional association as Phoenix's life hit an upswing. From the sound of it, Apollo had bits of both behavioral extremes within him, the passion and the sarcasm alike.

But he was also easier to knock off-balance than Phoenix had been, even in their earliest face-offs. "Trucy," Miles said with a slow, satisfied smirk. "How were you describing yourself again? The label I gave you?"

"Huh? Oh!" Trucy folded her arms and grinned wickedly at her three foes. "I'm a master of behavioral awareness."

Apollo looked down at that chunky bracelet of his and looked back up with a frown. "Hey! That's my job!"

"Too bad, Mr. Edgeworth already gave it to me! He's got seniority!"

"Whatever, he's a prosecutor, he doesn't have any seniority over—" The argument died with a strangled noise in the boy's throat. Just like most people, he didn't seem fond of challenging Miles Edgeworth once he'd remembered the man's presence. "I mean. You can call yourself whatever you want, Trucy."

"Justice," Miles said in his most formal tones. "I observed your case two weeks ago. The murder in Glendora?"

"You watched my case?" Apollo asked, and swallowed. "I didn't know that." He shot a quick glare in Phoenix's direction; Phoenix shrugged and grinned unconcernedly. Whether the senior partner of the Anything Agency had known about Miles' presence was unclear, but there was no doubt that he didn't mind seeing his younger associates getting innocently rattled by the opposition.

Miles nodded. "You were going up against one of my newer hires. I observe their early cases to see how they're doing in court. You made quite a strong case with the placement of that handprint on the murder weapon."

Apollo started, then let a tiny, proud smile develop. "Really? Thanks, Mr. Edgeworth."

In the same pleasant tones, Miles continued, "What would you have done if Prosecutor Carmichael had challenged that evidence's validity on the chain of custody rule? There did appear to be a time when the weapon could have been controlled by some third party."

Apollo went silent for a second. "I... I hadn't... I mean, the fireplace poker was my whole case. They couldn't have disallowed it as evidence, could they? It's the murder weapon! You have to have the murder weapon in a murder trial!"

"And there was a ten minute stretch during the officer's car accident when someone else could have gotten their hands on it," Miles said. "If my prosecutor had done his job properly, not a single fingerprint on it would have been admissible. What would your strategy have been, then?"

Lost, Apollo turned to Athena. She shrugged helplessly. With a growing flush to his cheeks, Apollo planted his feet firmly and said, a little too loud, "I would have challenged that argument and kept the evidence under consideration."

"Chain of custody is an important rule," Miles said blandly. "Surely you'd want to respect it."

"I do!" Apollo swallowed. "I do. But to assume that someone altered the prints means that they would have had to follow the police car and break into it as soon as that other car ran into them in the intersection. They'd have to wipe the prints, get new ones on it, and do all of that without being noticed. In ten minutes. It's totally implausible, and so the only valid conclusion is that the prints on the weapon in court were the same ones that existed at the time of the murder." Then he took the big, deep gulp he'd clearly been dying for during his increasingly tense monologue.

Good boy. That would probably work with this district's judges, though probability wasn't certainty. "Nevertheless," Miles said, "the evidence could have been thrown out. What would your strategy have been?"

The boy's temporary victory crumbled. "But... I... more testimony, I guess," Apollo began, "or—"

"For god's sake, Edgeworth," Phoenix chuckled, "leave him alone." The doorbell rang and Apollo and Athena both lunged to let Ema inside. Phoenix smirked as the younger group greeted each other and Ema slapped their hands away from the snack bag she didn't intend to share. Trucy managed to steal a Snackoo, regardless. "You just had to try to rattle him, didn't you?"

Miles shrugged. "I was simply questioning the opposing council."

"You were throwing your weight around." Phoenix stretched out his arms, cracking his knuckles. "Don't even try to pretend you don't play up your rep when it suits you. Fortunately, there's someone on this team who you don't scare at all. And Edgeworth?"

It was difficult to hold back the hint of a smile. All right, maybe he had been having some fun with his terrifying reputation. "Mmm?"

"You were a guest professor a couple of times, right?" Phoenix waited for his nod. "Were you the most hated prof on campus, or just near the top?"

After a long pause to consider the question, Miles admitted, "I'm sure I was very near the top of the list."

Phoenix smirked. "I thought as much. Come on, let's go wrangle the kids."

The kids. A funny way to put it, and yet as they took their places opposite each other—Trucy's 'Team Logic' on the couch, and Athena's label of 'Team Defense' in a scattering of chairs—Miles couldn't help but notice the division between he and Phoenix and the rest of the people there. He'd always felt far older than his years. In his first trial he'd felt like he was facing a child, regardless of Fey having several birthdays on him. It had been arrogant, he admitted as he took his shirtsleeves up to his elbows in a series of neat folds. But now he and Phoenix really were the oldest people in the room, they were the ones with underlings, and it felt infinitely more comfortable than his twenty-something showboating. Perhaps this was the age he'd been meant to be ever since he was that serious elementary student who refused to read fiction.

He caught Phoenix looking at his bare forearms, but there was none of the distraction Miles had felt toward Phoenix out on the balcony. Phoenix simply looked amused at his increasingly casual dress. Of course. Did you expect anything else? He leaned forward to grab the game's instructions and gave Ema a wan smile when she wiggled her fingers at him. "So, what exactly are we doing?"

Trucy snagged the papers from his hand and began reading; or, rather, paraphrasing. "We each pick a colored circle dealie and roll to move it around the board. You have to answer a question in the color that you land on." She rattled off what all the colors meant; apparently, these game designers had neatly divided the sum of human knowledge. Tapping a spot at the intersection of wheel and spoke, she continued, "If you answer a question in one of these spaces, then you get the wedgie to put in your little dealie."

"Wedgie," Athena repeated, and giggled.

"And when your dealie is full," Trucy continued, "you get to move to the center of the board and win!"

It seemed straightforward enough, if far too reliant on lucky rolls. Still, a basic assessment of knowledge was a rather more pleasant experience than he'd expected. It wasn't chess, but it wasn't awful. "This seems like it would be more challenging as a single-player game," Miles mused. "Teams can cover each other's weaknesses and finish very quickly."

"Oh, that's how it's designed." Trucy eeped under Miles' frown that he turned on her. "But they do allow team play, look!" She shoved the instructions at him to no avail; the tiny print was a mass of blurs, soon pulled away again. "This is just a game that can go on forever with a big group if you don't tweak the rules a little."

"Like Monopoly," Ema drawled as she crunched her snacks. "Which is a torture method in the updated version of the Inferno. Seventh circle."

"You do have to get creative with Monopoly," Phoenix agreed. "Like robbing the bank."

Trucy nodded. "Or adding Godzilla."

"What are these games?" Miles asked, bewildered.

After studying him for a second, Phoenix smiled and reached for the cards. "Since you're the only one who hasn't played before, I'll give you a sample of what to expect." That seemed fair enough, and Miles nodded. Phoenix rifled through cards thoughtfully, retrieved a few, and shuffled them into some sort of order. "I'll stick to one category so that you can get a feel for the questions. Arts and Entertainment." Very well. "Which Russian-born composer of The Bells was also a famous pianist and conductor?"

Miles blinked. It was this easy? "Rachmaninoff," he said instantly. Apollo and Athena groaned and he looked at them in confusion. Whatever was that reaction for? The question was simple; it wasn't like there was a surfeit of men with all three roles and a Russian origin.

Phoenix smirked at his junior partners, held up a hand to forestall any more whining, and moved to the next card. "Which American director brought to life such characters as Duckie, Ferris, and Bender?" What on earth? Are those... dogs? Miles stared blankly until Phoenix moved to the next card. "Which of these is not a land in the Magic Kingdom?" Even with a multiple choice selection that followed, Miles had no clue. "What iconic television couple lived at 1313 Mockingbird Lane?"

This is humiliating, Miles thought as his face warmed. This was apparently one sixth of all human knowledge and he'd managed one question out of four.

"Which Grammy-winning artist sang tracks for both the Oscar-winning Roosevelt and the blockbuster hit The Samurai Clan: Assault on Neo-Tokyo?"

Miles sat up straight and jabbed a finger defiantly into the space between them. I know this! "Irena Bell," he proclaimed without thinking. He'd seen her name on the soundtrack countless times. There was a long, meaningful pause as he realized the trap that Phoenix had laid for his eccentric taste in entertainment. "Er. Roosevelt was an excellent movie," he said after that long beat. "Quite memorable."

As his younger associates blinked in confusion over whatever they were obviously missing, Phoenix's grin widened. "Really? What was your favorite part?"

You're going to pay for this, Wright. "The cinematography," Miles said flatly.

Phoenix smirked. "Yeah, that was great. What about the plot? What was your favorite part there?"

"...World War II."

Phoenix laughed and Miles had to admit that it was deserved. Oh, he would get Phoenix Wright back for that round of embarrassment. It was time to win. "You did that on purpose," he murmured as they set up the playing pieces. At the look he got in return that said obviously and that was for Justice, by the way, Miles squared his shoulders and focused.

He would score a victory in this meaningless trivia game tonight or die trying.

Twenty minutes in, it no longer felt meaningless. Questions that should have been simple would have their answers forgotten, the players left wondering whether they should risk the only name they could think of. Players would speak out before they conferred and often lose their team's turn in exchange for their confidence. It was frustrating. It was fun.

Athena scooped up the next card and scanned down to the right spot. "Okay, Team Nerds, tell me: what lightest metal element oh crap you're going to get this one, aren't you?"

Ema smirked, took a long drink of the beer she'd snagged from Phoenix's fridge, and raised her chin defiantly. "The answer's lithium, Psych Girl."

"I didn't even get to read the full question," Athena grumbled, "and why are you saying psych like it's a bad thing? Psychology is a science!"

"A social science," Ema sneered.

"Picking your major sounds like really serious business," Trucy said quietly to Miles.

As the girls began to argue about the validity of psychology as a field of study, Miles gave in and walked to the hallway closet where he'd hung his jacket. He'd passed off too many cards to Trucy to read in his stead; the typeface on the cards was quite small. He retrieved his reading glasses, settled them in place, and returned to the group.

Phoenix grinned delightedly when he saw them. It was an expression that would usually add a bright spot to Miles' day, but when his glasses were the cause of that smile, it was only worthy of a grumble. They were, apparently, confirmation of his Biggest Dork in the World status. If that's what Phoenix wished to call a dedicated student of the law, fine. Miles adjusted them the next time their team was called upon to read a card and scanned down to the text that was now clear to his eyes. Ah. A trick question. "Which Renaissance artist—"

"Wait a second," Phoenix said, and squinted.

"What?" Miles asked. If Phoenix was attempting to make fun of him yet again, the effort was misguided. He was not squinting. (Not anymore.) To the entire room's confusion, Phoenix squinted at him again, held up his hand, and slid off his chair and onto the floor. Bewildered, Miles rose from the couch to peer down at whatever Phoenix was doing.

Phoenix frowned and held up his hand again. "That was me telling you not to move." He angled his index finger and pointed at the couch.

"What in the world are you doing?" Miles asked. Next to him, Trucy tilted her head and studied her father.

"Sit down and look at the card again," Phoenix ordered. "Sit." His jaw set. "Sit!"

Miles sat and shrugged at Trucy. She shrugged back as he held up the card and studied it as he'd been ordered. Out of the corner of his eye, he could just make Ema scribbling observations down in her notebook. "Is whatever curiosity you have satisfied, Wright? The game is moving along, but that could quickly change if you insist upon—"

From his spot on the floor, Phoenix broke into a sudden, awed grin. "You look so much like your dad."

Miles froze. The card nearly slipped from his hand. "I... I do?"

At his reaction, Phoenix's smile softened. "Yeah, I had to get down here to have a kid's perspective so that I could be sure. It was something about the glasses just now. It really made me flash back. I can't say that I remember perfectly, of course, but...."

"No. No, that's fine." Miles readjusted his glasses for something to do. "It's been a long time, of course you wouldn't." His fingertips traced the edge of the card, and he met Phoenix's eyes full-on as the man retook his seat. "I'm not sure exactly what to say," he admitted, "but that's nice to hear."

"You know his dad?" asked Apollo.

"Knew," Miles corrected softly. "For a short time, which is why I'm surprised at his recollection."

"Oh." Apollo reddened again. It hadn't been a good night for the poor boy, and this looked to be one more thing that had him ready to sink through the floor. "I'm sorry." If he correctly remembered an offhand comment of Phoenix's, Apollo had also lost his parents early. That made Miles more sympathetic toward him, but Apollo probably felt all the worse for his mistake. Miles made a gesture that he intended as no apologies needed but didn't know if Justice saw it.

"I liked going over there, back then," Phoenix said. "I guess it stuck in my head."

"I suppose so." Miles would have preferred to let the moment ripen, this weight of decades between them that only they understood, but it was interrupted by the insistent skritch skritch skritch of graphite on paper. The room turned toward Ema in unison; she, lost in her note-taking, took another sentence or so to notice.

"What are you even writing?" Apollo asked. "If it's work, we promised we wouldn't do any tonight."

Concern began to burn inside Miles as Ema stayed flushed and silent; he had no idea what notes she was taking but was certain they would be difficult to explain. Her blush cleared abruptly and she said in the detached tones that had become her trademark, "I'm tracking my menstrual cycle."

Well, that was one way to explain it away. Apollo flinched. "I'm sorry I asked."

Satisfaction bloomed on Ema's face; Miles suspected that relief might be on his. Both were interrupted by Phoenix leaning in and asking quietly, redder than anyone, "Er... do you need... stuff? Trucy has... in the bathroom...."

"Daddy," Trucy hissed in mortification.

"I'm good, thanks," Ema said. She shot Miles an abashed look, folded her notebook closed, and promptly slid it under herself. Good. She could remember and record what she saw that night upon returning home, assuming she didn't have too many more beers. After this, he'd have to lecture her about not making her notebook so visible to those who were ignorant of the wager. "Er, I think you were reading the next question, Mr. Edgeworth?"

He nodded and raised the card. Trucy was glowering at her father and Phoenix mouthed apologies in return. Miles plowed through without waiting for them. "Which Renaissance artist created a famous freestanding bronze David in the Fifteenth Century?"

Apollo and Athena conferred, murmuring the name that Miles had expected: Michelangelo. It was a clever question; with such an iconic work out there and little knowledge that there were lesser-known but influential statues with the name, he guessed that nearly anyone would give the mistaken answer they were about to say. The clue about the bronze composition simply wouldn't register with most listeners. As Phoenix was still dealing with his upset daughter's glares, it was between the two of them to speak up, and Apollo soon began, "Michel—"

Phoenix jerked at his teammate's voice. "Donatello!" he said, nearly loud enough for the courtroom.

Miles raised his eyebrows, blinked, and slipped the card into the back of the box. "That's correct."

Grinning sheepishly, Phoenix apologized to his now thoroughly demoralized younger partner. (Miles was truly feeling bad for Justice by now, and he wasn't known for his excess of sympathy.) "Sorry, I should have been paying attention sooner."

"How did you even know that answer?" Athena asked in amazement.

"How did I know that?" Phoenix asked Miles.

After a second of confusion, Miles deduced that Phoenix expected him to somehow understand the reason for that knowledge. He rolled through potential reasons and, when the obvious one presented itself, said, "I presume that art majors need to take history along with studio classes." The broad smile he got in return said that he was right, and that Phoenix appreciated him remembering a fact like that. He found himself smiling back.

"You were an art major?" Athena and Ema asked with equal incredulity. "How did you end up as a lawyer, then?" Ema added.

Apparently art is an even less respectable field than a social science, Miles thought with a silent chuckle.

"It's a long story," Phoenix said, inclining his head toward Miles. The tantalizing answer clearly left Ema unsatisfied and she was torn between studying the two men or pulling out her book again to make further notes. Fortunately for all involved parties, the doorbell rang like it had been cued.

"Pizza!" Trucy said, bounding up.

Moving on instinct, Miles reached for his wallet and retrieved several twenty-dollar bills. "Here," he said and handed them to the girl. She snagged them and proceeded to greet the delivery man. He wasn't sure from Phoenix's expression whether offering the money was appreciated or had been overstepping his bounds, but the memory of the girl being excited over free food had been primary in his thoughts. Between his work and an inheritance he wanted little to do with, Miles had more money than he could reasonably spend on his narrow interests and needs. He seldom had the opportunity to spend it on others.

Minutes later, when the food had been passed out, Miles studied a slice with narrowed eyes. He seldom touched pizza, but despite Phoenix's joke, he had eaten the stuff before. From those experiences he remembered that it tended toward greasiness and that the fine silk of his cravat was nearly impossible to have cleaned after that one stray drop. "Could I please get a knife and fork?"

Phoenix shot him a disbelieving look and swallowed down what he was chewing. "Just take it off, Edgeworth."

"Knife and fork, please."

With a long-suffering groan Phoenix pushed himself off his chair and soon returned with the requested silverware, along with the cake Miles had purchased. He handed Miles his utensils, placed the cake on the coffee table and set some plastic plates and forks on top of its cover, and whispered "biggest dork in the world" before retaking his seat. Ignoring him, Miles primly ate his dinner. Subsequent eyerolls from Phoenix were also ignored. He still said nothing when Phoenix disregarded the divisions between the cake's tiny slices and helped himself to three pieces, and then forked in a huge chunk that would be adventurous even for a bland cake from a boxed mix.

"It feels like chocolate just punched me in the face," Phoenix said after he managed to swallow.

"Did you overlook or simply ignore the recommended serving size?" Miles asked mildly.

"I'm not complaining."

"I want to try some, too," Trucy said with sparkling eyes.

There weren't as many leftovers as he'd expected to be leaving the Wrights.

When they resumed the game, he was disappointed to note that it was almost over. This had been fun, and not in any relation to his bet with Gavin.

By mutual agreement the teams decided that they could choose one person from the other group to ask the final question to, hoping to add back in a spike of the difficulty they'd stripped away with their collective approach. It came as little surprise that, when Miles' team ended up in the center first, all three defense attorneys pointed their fingers right at Trucy. The girl swallowed, nodded, and said bravely, "Bring it on."

They scanned the card for a question to select and began murmuring between themselves. Miles idly wondered whether Phoenix would push his daughter or go easy on her, and tilted his head in curiosity when he heard Apollo say something about how yes, Mr. Wright, this one would be tricky, you're right, it was from way before she was born. (He assumed the boy had meant to whisper the comment; his voice did tend toward the loud side.) That settled it, and with a smirk, Phoenix raised the card to read their selected question. His hand covered the back. "Which city hosted the first Olympic Games of the twenty-first century?"

Trucy leapt off the couch, arms a triumphant arc in the air. "Salt Lake City! I win! We win!"

"What?" Phoenix blinked.

"I watch videos of old opening ceremonies for the effects! Salt! Lake! City! 2002!"

"No, it's—"

"Don't say Sydney, Mr. Wright," Ema said. When she wasn't popping in more snacks (how did she fit all of that food?), she was grinning like some smug, glasses-bedecked cat perched there on the end of the sofa. "2000 would be the last games of the twentieth."

"Not Sydney, Athens! 2004! Olympics means the real Olympics!" Phoenix protested. "The Winter Games came in later! If you don't specify winter, then you have to assume that the question is asking about the first year with summer games!"

"Do they use the same logo, Wright?" Miles asked, not allowing himself a satisfied grin to match Ema's. He kept on his most serious courtroom face. "Have the same organizing body? Apply the same copyright laws to merchants selling unauthorized merchandise?" Phoenix glowered at the card. It was increasingly clear that he'd outsmarted himself. "Check the evidence," Miles added and Phoenix looked up, brow furrowed. "You did read the answer before you asked the question, right?"

Phoenix turned a sheepish smile to his associates, both of whom looked highly annoyed. He flipped the card over, stared at it in silence, and returned it to the box without further word. "The night's still young!" he said, clapping his hands together. "Let's do something else!"

"Daddy," Trucy said warningly. "Daddy."

"Congratulations, Trucy," Phoenix mumbled. "Congratulations, Ema. Congratulations, Edgeworth."

Trucy shot her arms into the air again and crowed her victory to the ceiling, before flinging her arms around Miles and squeezing him tightly. "We won!" she said. "I knew we would!"

He oofed, eyes wide, and instinctively leaned away from the unexpected touch. Only for a few breaths, though; after that surprise, Miles relaxed and reached around with his free arm to pat her on the shoulder. "Well done." Trucy's grip on him tightened before she released, and she gladly accepted Ema's high five before flopping back on the couch in a sloppy, proud heap.

For the rest of the night, Miles learned about the Wright family house rules for Monopoly, Godzilla and all. (A key part of the strategy was distracting the other team so that random objects could be lobbed at the board to dislodge any buildings. Asteroid attacks, Trucy called them.) Just as Phoenix was about to declare a victory, Miles raised his hand high. "Objection! You can't expect us to pay rent for these properties!"

"And why not?" Phoenix asked with a raised eyebrow. "The National Guard took out Godzilla three turns back. We're back into normal play."

Miles lifted his chin proudly. "With the latest addition, you've passed construction limits on a single piece of property. California tenant laws forbid taking on new lessees at this time." His eyebrow raised to match Phoenix's. "I've been reviewing those laws, as you well know."

"Objection!" Phoenix said right back. Beside Miles, Trucy pumped her fist. Apparently, she'd been hoping for this exchange. "Monopoly doesn't take place in California. It's based on Atlantic City, and unless you also have knowledge of New Jersey tenant law, we have no choice but to go with the limits set in the game's instruction manual!"

...Damn.

"Admit it," Phoenix said at the end of the evening, when they'd finished their games and both teams were contenting themselves with their single victory. He and Miles were at their front door, Miles' shirtsleeves still at his elbows and his jacket slung over one shoulder, and both men were smiling. "You had fun."

"Do I look like someone trying to conceal that fact?" Miles asked. "I did. I had fun."

"Oh." Phoenix studied him. "I guess so. I'm still getting used to you admitting that kind of thing without a fight. Or a murder trial beforehand." He hesitated before reaching up and clapping Miles on the shoulder, squeezing firmly before dropping his hand. "Thanks for giving it a shot in the first place. You couldn't really see Trucy's face with how she was sitting right next to you, but she was so happy tonight."

"Good. I'm glad." Awkwardness began to swell. "Well, I do have work tomorrow, and...."

"Yeah, but no one's going to get anything done, right?" Phoenix asked. It took Miles a second to remember what he meant by that, and Phoenix had already moved on by the time he did. "Uh, speaking of. You're probably busy on Thursday, right? I mean, I'm sure that's why Franziska's flying in tomorrow."

"Franziska is German, Wright. She doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving." Miles smirked. "But she did happen to book the worst possible day in the year to make this flight into the States." The additional travel headaches would make her hell to deal with, but her lack of foresight and research would also be something to tease her about. A timezone and layover hangover lasted for a day, but sibling rivalry was forever.

"Oh. Right. Well, if you don't have plans, you could always swing by." Phoenix folded his arms—damn, those forearms, again—and shrugged. "You know. If you wanted to. Unless you're planning on some fancy dinner at the fancy hotel restaurant."

"Wright," Miles said gravely. "It will be my first day hosting my sister. She will have just dealt with transatlantic and cross-continental flights. She has a two hour layover scheduled in Newark, but there is a snowstorm threatening the Northeast and so it may be worse. Even in first class, she sometimes cannot sleep on planes. She is likely to be in a terrible mood, even for her."

"So you can't abandon her in the hotel," Phoenix concluded. "Not after she came here to see you. That's totally fair. I get it. No harm, no foul."

"Exactly." Amusement pulled at his carefully controlled expression. "So, I'll have to see whether she'd actually be up for stopping by here or not."

"You're... inviting Franziska to Thanksgiving," Phoenix said slowly. "Jetlagged, irritated Franziska."

"I believe you invited her. After all, you did say that I couldn't abandon her in the hotel."

"If you two show up," Phoenix said after a long pause, "I'll just get her drunk before she starts whipping the turkey."

Miles laughed, a sincere sound he'd almost forgotten how to make for much of his life, and adjusted the grip on his jacket. "Thank you for the invitation tonight, Wright. I'm glad I changed my mind."

"So am I," Phoenix said. "Night."

"Good night," Miles said, and walked to his car. As he drove off into the night, all he could think was, This was so much better than a new computer.

Chapter Text

"You are screwed, Fop," Ema said. She dropped a stack of reports onto Klavier's desk from on high and smirked when they slid out of their neat stack. "S-C-R-E-W-E-D."

"Is that an invitation, fräulein?" Klavier asked and got the glare he'd aimed for.

"Mr. Edgeworth was perfect last night," Ema said as Klavier tapped the papers back into order. She propped her hands on his desk and leaned in close, the better to gloat. Such a pretty face, if you ignored her permanent sour mood. "Mr. Wright couldn't believe it." She tilted her head. "I couldn't believe it, actually. Not that I lack any confidence in him, but still, seeing Trucy wrapping him in a bear hug was way beyond my expectations."

The pit of Klavier's stomach began a steady descent. "A bear hug?" he repeated unhappily. "Wright's daughter?" If their challenge were about legal issues, he wouldn't terribly mind a loss to Miles Edgeworth. For being personable and likable, though, it was actually quite a blow to his ego. Charisma and friendliness were Klavier's niche. "How much money did he spend?" he asked in a last gasp effort. If he could explain away that girl's hug through, oh, buying her a pony....

Ema considered the question. "Well, he brought a cake and some drinks, and paid for enough pizza for six people. I can only estimate, since I didn't ask for receipts. I should do that."

"Cake and pizza?" Klavier echoed. He'd expected Edgeworth to buy Wright a three thousand dollar set of law texts, and instead the man gave an apparently perfect social performance with no other props than cake and pizza? Since when did Edgeworth enjoy himself at any social gathering that centered on cake and pizza? This was the same boss who'd refused a department Christmas party and had caused the holiday-minded prosecutors to plan their own at a nearby bar.

It wasn't that Klavier thought he might lose. If he and Ema had a technological wager, he might surprise her once, but she would easily come out on top by the end. Just as surely, he would triumph over Edgeworth in a bet about socialization. Still, he was going to have to come out of the gate faster than he'd expected, and he didn't enjoy being proven wrong. "Well," he continued when he determined that Ema was content to simply look down on him, silent and smug, "I'll be making my first move this evening, before I collect Prosecutor von Karma from LAX."

Ema's eyebrow quirked. "Oh? What's the plan?" Klavier reached into his desk drawer and retrieved three neon plastic bracelets. He set them before her for an answer and she picked up one curiously. "And what am I looking at, exactly?" Silently, he reached into the drawer again and pulled out the accompanying tickets. Realization hit when they were paired and Ema could identify VIP entrance packages. "I heard about this," she said as she studied the tickets. "Didn't this concert sell out in twenty minutes? Months ago?"

"Ja," Klavier said with a grin. Infinity Eight, those well-established and well-decorated songsters, had paired themselves with the latest pop princess dominating the world scene, Irena Bell. Either could have launched a successful tour, and so there was initial confusion when they appeared to be cutting into each other's profits by pairing up. When they announced tours exclusively centered upon the world's largest arenas, those arenas invariably sold out in less than an hour, and their fame surged even higher as a result of the frenzy, a lot of entertainment journalists had to reassess their criticisms.

"Dare I ask how much a scalper charged for these?" she asked, wiggling the tickets under his nose. "And why you got three?"

"I paid nothing," Klavier said with a smile. If Herr Edgeworth doesn't need to spend money like water, I certainly don't.

Her eyebrows dipped. "Then how...? I mean, there were no seats left. Zero. Even the radio stations have given all of theirs away by now." She'd paid attention to those contests, had she? Perhaps she was a little more excited about the concert than she'd let on.

He tapped the VIP bracelets. "They're not for seats, fräulein. We'll be in a luxury box overlooking the arena, feasting on cuisine from the finest chefs in Los Angeles. They were happy to welcome me and my guests. And I requested three, of course, because I wanted to invite both Herr Forehead and our lovely judge." Ah, there was a reaction he'd always hoped to earn from Ema. Klavier had only seen that look on women's faces before when they were so ready for him that they were dripping. Ema is a secret Irena fangirl, apparently. I would wager money on her trying to buy some of those tickets when they first went on sale.

"So... I wouldn't have to sit next to you or anything," Ema said after that long beat of staring hungrily at the VIP bracelet.

"Nein. You could sit back and observe me working my magic on Herr Forehead while feasting on all the food that's offered to you."

"That's...." Ema closed her eyes. When she next spoke, it sounded like she was tearing a scab loose. "I can't."

What? That was as big a surprise as Miles Edgeworth, Social Butterfly. "And why's that?"

"I just stopped by to drop off these reports to the prosecutors waiting for them," Ema said, staring at the bracelets again. "And answer any questions they had about the cases."

"And?" Klavier prompted.

"And... and then I'm taking a cab to the airport. Lana's flight gets in soon. She's here for Thanksgiving, I haven't seen her in months, and I can't just leave her in my apartment to go to a concert." Ema took a deep breath and steeled herself. "I can't just leave her in my apartment. Look, Fop, I'll just give you one of my cameras to take and you can record everything that you do. That way I can analyze it after she leaves, and—"

"I could just request that they courier over another ticket and bracelet for your sister, you know," Klavier said, amused.

A thin noise came from deep in Ema's throat. Klavier idly wondered if she was even aware she'd made it; Ema wasn't very practiced with being excited about things. After a few long seconds, her typical disinterest slid on like a mask. "Scientifically speaking, firsthand observation would be the best way to record your performance. Lana has a direct flight, so she shouldn't be too tired to attend. It starts at 7?"

"I'll pick you both up at 6:30," Klavier said smoothly. "We'll be in that box with stars as big as me, fräulein. Dress to impress."

She folded her arms across her chest and smirked. "Stars as big as you, or stars as big as you think you are?"

He smiled back, ungoaded. Klavier Gavin might not be as huge a name as he was at the height of the Gavinners' touring days, but they both knew he still had fame to spare. "Both. And give my warmest welcome to your sister, bitte; I look forward to meeting Prosecutor Skye."

"I. Well. Right. I'll see you and Justice at 6:30, then." Ema leaned forward and scribbled her address, then collected her remaining files with detachment that, for once, looked totally unbelievable. "This is a very interesting move, Gavin. I'll be curious to see its effects." She turned on her heel and left before he could reply. Her steps looked lighter than normal.

Gott, I'm good. Klavier tucked the bracelets and tickets neatly away, then texted his request for one more visitor to be added to his invitation. Someone replied near-instantly; that was one thing this city did better than almost anywhere else.

The whole thing might well be won for him by this single night. It would impress Apollo, of course, and having a fourth there might actually work to Klavier's benefit. Klavier had given a lot of attention to both Ema and Apollo, and he'd also given quite a lot of a certain kind of highly visible attention to young Detective Skye. Viewed the wrong way, this concert with only the three of them, in a dark room with an open bar, might be seen as some sort of collective seduction attempt. (Klavier would certainly be up for such an outcome, but this was about what Apollo wanted. Chances were, the young man would prefer a different end to his evening. A pity, really.) With Lana Skye there? Klavier would simply look like a friend innocently sharing the benefits of his station in life.

But, based on that reaction from Ema, his easy victory would come from winning over the judges themselves. Franziska was primed to be in his corner. She'd already gotten delayed by a snowstorm on the east coast, and the last Klavier had heard, she was being rerouted through Chicago... where another storm was threatening O'Hare. It was safe to say that von Karma would be in by midnight at the earliest, exhausted and angry at the world like only poor air travel experiences could cause. Klavier would be the knight in shining armor who saved her from the airport, and Edgeworth would be the poor soul who actually had to deal with her mood and her disgust over their wager once the hotel doors were closed.

I should start picking out the restaurant for my victory dinner, Klavier thought merrily. The fräuleins will be falling all over themselves to hand me the win.

"Gavin."

Klavier jerked at Edgeworth's stern voice from the doorway. "Er. Ah. Ja?" Damn his timing!

Edgeworth eyed him coolly, and for one ridiculous second Klavier wondered if the man had somehow developed telepathy and heard all of his silent gloating. In the next, Edgeworth turned his glare to the empty hallway; when he looked back at Klavier, it had nearly vanished. "I'm glad to see that at least one of my senior prosecutors is actually at work today. What's your certainty on closing the Dawson trial this afternoon? Otherwise, it'll be drawn out until Monday with the holiday closures."

Glancing at his wall clock, Klavier looked back at Edgeworth and smiled. "The trial resumes in forty-five minutes. I expect a verdict in ninety."

"Oh?"

Klavier lifted a manila envelope. Edgeworth took the hint, entered his office, and retrieved it. He studied the files inside with a seemingly impassive expression, though Klavier knew that he was analyzing every last letter of that report. "It's not Dawson's boy selling out the company; it's Herr Traitor, here. I have all the proof I need."

"And the likelihood that you're trying to convict the right person today?" Edgeworth asked with emphasis on the last word. This new target meant that Klavier's previous day in the courtroom had been directed at the wrong man. Although Edgeworth understood the impossibility of arresting the right people all the time, it never made him happy to see. Klavier didn't mind, though; they both knew the right verdict was the key goal, not departmental efficiency or win records. That often made them unlikely allies during office meetings.

"Ninety-five percent." Klavier grinned at the expected frown. "But after his testimony? One hundred."

"Right, then," Edgeworth said after a long pause, and shoved the report back into the envelope. As he returned it to Klavier, he continued, "As I said, you are the only senior prosecutor I've been able to find in his office. I would have preferred to give this to someone who's not facing a potential third trial day on Monday, but if you're certain you'll be done by then... the bank robbery case is yours."

Klavier's eyes widened. "The Lipps case?" Score!

"Er, yes." Edgeworth, frowning, adjusted his glasses. It was clear he found Ruby's stage name ridiculous. "I know you wanted it; you made no secret of that. Can I ask what, exactly, is drawing you to it?"

"Drag troupes and ice cream," Klavier said like it was self-evident. When Edgeworth continued to eye him like Klavier was some strange and fascinating insect, he added, "And puppies."

Finally, Edgeworth relaxed. "I suppose I can understand that appeal. Well, it's yours. You do have the holiday weekend if you would prefer to get a jump on the investigation before the courts resume," he added in a voice that said he certainly expected as much, especially after he'd granted Klavier the favor of this case.

"Thanks," Klavier said, inclining his head. "I'll be sure to take advantage. Sometimes you need a Deutschländer on the job, right?" he added with a wide, white grin. Thanksgiving was a charming enough holiday, but nothing he planned his life around. The Paynes, meanwhile, were both off at some enormous family reunion in Indiana.

"I suppose so," Edgeworth said dryly. "Speaking of Germany, when you pick up my sister, please text me when you're twenty minutes from the hotel. I'll get things ready for her."

"You've got it."

"You always become annoyingly informal by the end of our meetings, Gavin," Edgeworth informed him before he swept out in search of someone else to harangue. This was the man who'd been so friendly the night before? Pfft. Clearly, Ema's crush was speaking for her.

Thank you, Herr Librarian, Klavier thought merrily as he picked up his phone. You've just given me the perfect excuse to approach dear Justice. "I'm about to be your favorite person in the entire world, Forehead," he said when Apollo answered.

"Don't you think you're always everyone's favorite person?" Apollo asked, with more of an edge to his voice than Klavier expected. Hmm, they must be having a bad day at the Anything Agency.

"I got the Lipps case and have the whole holiday weekend to investigate, but authority to start contacting people right now. If you'd like me to put in a word for you as the defense...?"

"Oh. That case. Right. I don't know," Apollo said after a long pause.

"You don't know?" Klavier repeated, surprised. Apollo didn't tend to admit uncertainty, not to him. It was all sarcasm and "I'm fine" and whatnot, no matter how welcoming Klavier tried to be. He glanced at the clock again and said, "I need to be in court soon, but let's say we meet for coffee afterward, ja? I'll tell you more about the case. Ja? Jaaa?" he tried, drawing out the word until Apollo replied.

"Fine," Apollo grumbled, and muttered something like, "I want to get out of here, anyway."

There was definitely trouble in paradise. "I'll let you know when I'm out, Forehead," Klavier promised, "and I'll swing by that coffeeshop just around the corner from your work. The one with the brick inside?" Apollo grunted something that was probably an assent, and Klavier, unable to help himself, made a ridiculous kissing noise into the phone. Yes, it would earn an eyeroll from the other man, but wasn't that better than Apollo sounding so damned unhappy? "'Til then."

The Dawson trial was over even sooner than Klavier had expected. The executive thought he'd been so careful with covering his trail that he panicked when confronted with Klavier's stacks of analysis and evidence. All too quickly, Klavier was texting his victory to Apollo and straddling his motorcycle for the ride toward his office. Recognition came from passersby as as he parked his bike, removed his helmet, and tossed his hair to fluff it, but he only smiled at them and never stopped. Apollo was inside already, easy to find but with a stance that warded off anyone who dared approach. Klavier walked over, anyway. "Are you well, Forehead?"

Apollo jerked up. His hair, compressed as he held his head, leapt back to attention as he slammed his palms flat on the table. "I—I'm fine!" He didn't look it. His sometimes-fragile confidence was visibly shaken and he looked as young as his years. Worse, he viewed Klavier as someone with whom he needed to pretend. They were still like this?

Weighing the risks, Klavier went with his gut and took the last steps toward the table. He pulled out a chair, flipped and straddled it, and leaned closer to the young man. "It takes a little practice, but you don't need to fear Herr Edgeworth." Apollo's shock confirmed his suspicions.

"How... how did you...?"

It had been a guess, but an easy one. Edgeworth had been at the same party as Justice, and Klavier had witnessed just that morning that, even when Edgeworth was supposedly in a good mood, he was still abrasive. Add in a previous lack of interaction between the two men and it was simple enough to suspect that things hadn't gone well. Klavier settled on, "I heard you were both at the same party last night, and I thought he probably, well... acted like himself."

Apollo groaned. "Yeah. He started talking about a case of mine he'd watched, and then he asked me about it and...." His shoulders drooped. "I choked. I completely choked. I was in front of someone whose cases I've studied inside and out and I choked."

"I'm sure it wasn't that bad, ja?" Klavier listened patiently as Apollo detailed Edgeworth's chain of custody hypothetical about the murder weapon, then shook his head. "You did nothing wrong, Forehead."

"I made an idiot out of myself!"

"Herr Librarian picked something implausible to test you on a mere technicality." Klavier smiled and nudged Apollo's wrist where he was again propping up his bowed head. "You wouldn't see me doing something like that. Clearly, the fingerprints were the same. No point in proving otherwise."

As he looked up, Apollo didn't give the reassured smile Klavier wanted; in fact, he seemed oddly hurt. "Herr Librarian?"

"Was?" Klavier asked, blinking. "Oh." He chuckled. "I dubbed him our resident 'sexy librarian.' Just to get under his skin when he was being a little too Edgeworth. You should have seen his face."

"I didn't realize you had nicknames for him, too," Apollo said slowly.

"...I don't have to," Klavier said. "You're right. That doesn't have the ring of 'Forehead,' anyway." Though Apollo tried to hide it, a ghost of a smile crossed his lips. He likes that I have a nickname just for him, Klavier thought with satisfaction.

The good mood was fleeting. "Anyway, I choked. Mr. Wright had to rescue me like I was some kid." Apollo clenched his fists. "And it just kept getting worse! I'd screw up questions because I was so off my game, and Mr. Wright and Mr. Edgeworth were having some sort of... weird senior lawyer vibe where they kept rubbing it in everyone's faces that they knew things about each other, and then I accidentally asked Ema about her period! Which I freaked about, of course, in front of everyone. Again." Apollo's voice pitched louder. "And then I hear this morning that he's showing up for Thanksgiving!"

"Hmm?" Klavier asked, busy analyzing what Apollo might mean by 'weird senior lawyer vibe.' "Oh. Oh, it'll be fine." Apollo had asked Ema about her period? That was hilarious, actually. Apollo had probably leapt halfway across the room; he seemed the type to get flustered by that sort of thing.

"It was supposed to be just us," Apollo grumbled. "With having my own place now, I hardly see them."

Klavier eyed him. "Don't you have a studio down the hallway from the Wrights?"

"It's still my own place!" Apollo flung his arms across his chest as Klavier motioned to a passing employee for coffee and muffins. "I can't believe he invited Mr. Edgeworth tomorrow. I still feel stupid, but I'd look like a coward if I didn't go."

"You are not stupid," Klavier insisted. "You wouldn't be my favorite defense attorney if you were."

"Maybe you just think I'm an easy mark," Apollo snorted, although the complaint seemed more kneejerk than anything. He hesitated before asking, "You really called him a...?"

"Sexy librarian," Klavier confirmed cheerfully as they were handed their muffins. "He needed to loosen up!"

"How?" Apollo asked in disbelief. "He's won huge cases in six different countries, taught at the best law schools in three, and now he's the chief prosecutor for the biggest county in the U.S.!" Look at all that trivia; someone really had been studying up on the man. "And he's your boss!"

Klavier accepted his drink with a smile and a wink as he considered Apollo's question; Apollo, meanwhile, studied his mocha like it held the solution to every problem in his life. "I have a lot of practice," Klavier eventually said, his good mood fading, "with not being intimidated by someone with a few years on me and a poor sense of humor." There it was: the topic that united them but they seldom breached. For all that Apollo had been shaken by learning the truth about his mentor, he knew better than anyone that Klavier had taken the worst of the blows. "No matter how frightening others might find him."

After a few long sips, Apollo quietly said, "You know, that's probably not the best comparison to make if you don't want me to be freaked out about the guy."

Klavier smiled wanly. "Well, unlike mein bruder, my boss is a good man." Suddenly desperate to change the topic, he said, "But I can't blame you for how you feel, and who'd want him over for the holidays? What you need is a distraction."

"A distraction?" Apollo echoed. He really was unhappy; Apollo was seldom so open to whatever Klavier suggested.

"How would you like to attend a concert tonight?" Klavier asked, more brightly than he felt. Any mention of Kristoph always left him at least a little sick and hollow. "VIP package, luxury box, and free food while we listen to Infinity and Irena."

"Oh. Ah." Apollo rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. "Thanks, but I don't really like loud music."

"You... don't like loud music," Klavier repeated, dumbstruck. Visions of Edgeworth's ill-advised law texts filled his head, except that Klavier had been the one to make the wrong move. How had he not known that Justice didn't like concerts? And he should like them! Klavier did concerts! Or used to, at least.

"Sorry," Apollo said. "I think it's the perceiving, you know? Really loud music can kind of overwhelm me." This from him and his Chords of Steel?

Mouth gaping in disbelief, Klavier thought fast. "We... wouldn't be near the speakers, not in the luxury box. It's going to be full of celebrities. They network at things like this, you know? Can't do that if you can't hear each other." He nodded as Apollo started considering that. "Ema's coming, too, along with her sister. It'll be a fun night out for all of us!" He leaned in close and winked. "With no old man lawyers around to reminisce."

"Okay, she's not a man, but Prosecutor Skye is older than either of them," Apollo said, unable to let the mistake slip past. (Of course he knew of the woman, Klavier thought with amusement.) "I... okay, sure. If it's going to be all of us, then it sounds fun. Thanks. It'll be nice to spend some time out of the house before I have to deal with tomorrow." He started tearing apart the last of his blueberry muffin, paused, and jabbed a pastry chunk toward Klavier. "Wait, isn't this concert a big fancy deal?"

Klavier nodded proudly.

"Then why are you taking me? Or even Ema? I mean, I know you flirt with her, but wouldn't a date, uh." Apollo coughed. "Respond better to something like this? I don't get it."

"I flirt with both of you," Klavier corrected shamelessly, and chuckled at Apollo's frown. "But I invited you, Forehead, because you are my favorite. I wasn't kidding when I said that. Yes, I could bring a fan in a latex minidress easily enough. But we couldn't talk about the Lipps case." Looking down at the remaining crumbs, he added quietly, "And she wouldn't see me as a man who'd lost friends and family, simply as the image she already had of me in her mind. I do enjoy being a... person."

"You mean that you try but still don't impress me," Apollo said wryly.

"You might find it hard to believe, but that can be appealing." Klavier winked. "And I know that I impress you sometimes."

"Will you stop winking at everyone? It looks like you have sand in your eye."

Klavier laughed, long and loud, and leaned close to Apollo. When he rested his hand on the other man's, Apollo didn't pull away. "Just like that, Forehead. I love it. Be ready at six? I'll stop by and we'll pick up the lovely Skyes."

For one long second Apollo looked ready to renege on their agreement, but he nodded. "Sounds good. See you then, Prosecutor Gavin."

"Klavier?" he prompted gently.

The eyeroll Apollo gave him seemed rote at best. "Klavier," Apollo repeated. "See you then, Klavier."

"Man sieht sich," Klavier said, squeezed Apollo's wrist not covered by his bracelet, and stood. "Coffee's on me," he added as he threw some bills on the table. "But now I'd better check in back at work before the big bossman notices I didn't come straight back from the courthouse."

"I knew you were scared of him!" Apollo said with satisfaction.

"I'm not scared, but I'm also not an idiot," Klavier said. "So... you never answered. Should I put in a good word for you as the defense? I'll be talking with Ruby and her troupe this weekend." At Apollo's hesitation he added, "It'd just be you and me in the courtroom, Forehead. No unfair questions about fireplace pokers."

"You know... it was unfair, wasn't it?" Apollo replied with a frown. "Okay. Do it. I'll see you in court."

"After you go with me to the concert."

"Yeah, yeah."

Klavier grinned all the way back to his office, and only partly from the success of his invitation. Apollo had looked close to broken when they started talking, but by the end he was ready to agree that Edgeworth had done something unfair. Pulling him back from the emotional brink after his hero worship had gone poorly was a prize all on its own. The rest of the day passed in a blur of post-trial reports, holiday preparation, and wincing at each new delay in von Karma's flights. (She was going to be furious.) "I'll text you when I'm close to the hotel!" he confirmed with Edgeworth at a shout as he left the Prosecutor's Office, and sped home to perfect his look to even greater heights.

"Those are ridiculous," Apollo laughed as Klavier greeted him in leather pants two sizes smaller than his work attire.

"By which you mean 'stunning,'" Klavier said, turning and splaying his hands in the perfect position to frame his vacuum-sealed ass.

"By which I mean ridiculous!" Apollo joined him in the hallway but hesitated after locking the door. Forehead looked quite nice, himself; he'd swapped out the tomato-red suit for tight jeans and a band t-shirt under a crisp jacket. He looked young again, but not for any lack of confidence. "I don't have to, uh, sit behind you on your motorcycle, do I?"

"That's why I wore the tight pants," Klavier said silkily, and grinned when Apollo looked suspiciously at him, then his bracelet. "No. We have two others to pick up; of course I brought a car." He didn't reject the idea outright, Klavier hummed as they strapped themselves into his convertible. He'd tame this skittish colt yet.

Ema was a vision when she climbed into the back seat. He'd known the woman was pretty, but with deliberately applied makeup and her hair in loose waves, she was stunning. All of a sudden she had things like bare legs and cleavage and smiles, although those smiles were only directed at the older woman who joined her. "Prosecutor Gavin," said Lana Skye politely. She'd probably been every bit as gorgeous as Ema when she was younger, and was still beautiful, but prison had added a few years onto their already significant age gap. No one looking at the two women would see anything but a mother and daughter; a very attractive mother and daughter, mind. "Thank you for the invitation. This will certainly be a memorable trip to L.A. I hadn't realized Ema was friends with the famous Klavier Gavin; she never mentions you to me."

Apollo laughed into his hand.

Well, Klavier thought wryly as he set his Jag back into motion, I wanted people who wouldn't fawn all over me.

Rush hour coupled with the holiday made for absolutely hellish traffic, and so Klavier kept mostly silent during the drive downtown. Between lane changes and turns he heard little snippets, though, all of which left him quite satisfied. Apollo had a respectful introduction to Lana. Lana was happy about the concert and liked Infinity Eight. Ema was happy that Lana was happy. Lana was happy to hear about Apollo's boss, and even said to Ema that they should stop by to say hello. All light, frivolous, and completely beneficial for Klavier's goals.

"This way," Klavier directed their group as they approached the massive arena. He signed a few autographs—even in the dark, he was identifiable—but steadily herded their quartet away from the main crowds and toward a side entrance. Sky-searching spotlights and buzzing crowds were left behind as he presented the security guard their bracelets and tickets, and they stepped inside the private stairwell.

"I didn't even know this existed," Ema said as she adjusted the bracelet around her arm. The stairs twisting above them were plain concrete, but clean and free of spots and skidmarks. Even the metal handholds had been wiped clean of handprints. "I've investigated here, but...."

"Knowing the right people always opens up certain doors," Lana said. There was a weight to her words that Klavier didn't quite like, but nothing serious enough to follow up on. Besides, his focus for the night wasn't the Skye women. Let Ema reconnect with her sister all she liked, so long as she saw everything that Klavier was doing for Apollo. The young man had gone mute and startled as an Oscar winner brushed past them with a polite nod.

"There are actually celebrities in there," Apollo whispered after swallowing down his surprise. "Just like you said."

Klavier cleared his throat.

"We've already established that you don't count," Ema said, grinning.

"I watch all of his movies," Apollo hissed as he saw another actor walk past. He gripped Klavier's sleeve and held it as they stepped into the luxury box proper. "AndisthatCaptainHall?"

"Who?" Klavier asked, looking around the dark room. While it gave a much better experience than the crowded seats below, it was still full of concertgoers.

"Captain Hall! From Penumbra!" Apollo gawked at Klavier's cluelessness, and tried to point at a woman in snakeskin pants and a halter top without her noticing. "Only the biggest TV show to launch for this entire season!"

Klavier frowned and tried to recall the appropriate television commercials. "Oh, the science fiction one."

"Yes!" Apollo squeaked. "It's her! She... she looks so different when she's not blue!"

Laughing, Klavier pushed Apollo further into the room. The bank of windows at its edge showed a concert arena swarming with excited crowds and swirling lights, but for now, that was secondary to the huge names watching from the leather sofas in their luxury box. "Does this make up for your bad night with the old man lawyers, Forehead?"

"Miles Who?" Apollo replied, dazed.

Klavier shot a weighty look at Ema. She rolled her eyes, and her thumbs-up looked like she'd rather break that thumb than use it to praise him, but she still gave it. "Whatever," she mouthed before she pulled her sister over to a corner to revel in their good fortune.

I'm going to win, Klavier thought smugly as he slung his arm around Apollo's shoulders and steered him toward the windows nearest the stage. I'm going to win big. And, from the smiles that still replaced his earlier broken expression, Apollo was going to come out of this as just as much of a victor.

That was even better than winning any bet.

Chapter Text

Get alcohol into a person and they'd do all sorts of unexpected things. The Skye sisters, for example, sang.

Klavier shot amused looks at the rearview mirror as they waited to pull into the slow-moving artery of the arena's parking lot. Horns honked and headlights glared, but Ema and Lana both seemed entirely unconcerned by the crowd around them. "Love the way you love," Ema warbled. Klavier did his best not to cringe; he doubted she had much of a singing voice to begin with, and being drunk wasn't helping.

"Hate the way you leave," Lana finished, vaguely approaching the right key to harmonize. The woman might have a serious reputation, but her beloved little sister, a wild night on the town, and an open bar with excellent drinks was the perfect recipe to loosen her up.

Apollo leaned in close to Klavier, nearly buried his face in the other man's hair, and said at full volume, "I think they're drunk."

Klavier chuckled and gently pushed him back into his seat. "Did you mean to whisper that, Forehead?"

"I. Uh." Apollo rubbed at one eye with the heel of his hand. "Didn't I?" Klavier only grinned and Apollo placed a finger against his forehead in deep thought. "I think I'm drunk," he concluded.

"The prosecution has no arguments," Klavier smirked as he managed to snag an open spot moving toward the exit. "The prosecution would also like to point out that it passed up a lot of great liquor. Designated drivers rock," he added with a guitar-like flourish of his right hand. Unfortunately, Ema was still singing and didn't seem to have noticed Klavier enumerating his excellent behavior. He'd have to point it out to her later.

Much to his ears' regret, the sisters kept singing (or whatever it was they were doing) for their entire, molasses-like trip through the parking lot. Apollo joined in occasionally on a chorus and he was better but far, far louder. A few passengers in other vehicles turned to look at them, even through closed windows. Klavier waved and most of their mouths dropped when they saw whose car they were staring at.

"I swallowed my hair," Ema coughed when they were finally, blessedly on the main roads again, and passing winds sent the strands flying. No more singing. Lob Gott. She squirmed against her seatbelt and leaned forward, nearly as close against Klavier's ear as Apollo had been. "Gotta admit, Fop, this earned you some points."

"Oh?" Apollo asked with a loose smile. "Points, huh? Are you two actually...?" His hand wiggled in a meaningless gesture, but the intent was clear: he thought Klavier was trying to earn favor for a nonexistent relationship with Ema. Scientifically speaking? There was about a zero percent chance that Ema would let that go uncorrected.

Klavier swallowed. The alcohol on Ema's breath was all he could think about. She wasn't far enough gone to start blabbing about the wager, was she? "Nothing like that," he said loudly, trying to glare and meet Ema's eyes in the rearview mirror. "So, did you like the show?"

"It was fantastic," Lana said. Tension slowly unwound in Klavier as the car's conversation changed direction and stayed safely there. Bless the woman.

There was a distinct chill at that time of night, and Ema had her arms wrapped around her when Klavier pulled into a guest spot at her apartment building. "Es tut mir leid," Klavier said as they climbed out and he belatedly put the convertible's top back into place. With the slow pace they'd set on surface streets, it had never crossed his mind. "I should have done that before we started."

"No, no," Ema said, holding onto Lana. "The cold was fine. It helped clear my head."

"Well, good," Klavier said dubiously as he studied the sisters. No matter what Ema said about a clear head, they both looked ready to fall if either let the other woman go. Apollo was hardly better, but the Skyes had been spending their time drinking with each other while Apollo spent much of his night chatting with their one sober party member. That had slowed him up, just a bit. "Herr Forehead, let's escort these lovely ladies to their door, ja?"

"Ema," Apollo said grandly as he extended his elbow. Ema took it gladly. Between her bird's nest hair, rumpled clothes, and unsteady steps, she was hardly the vision she'd been earlier. So long as Klavier ignored how she'd nearly spilled the truth about their wager, though, that wasn't a bad end to the evening. Getting shitfaced drunk and making a fool of one's self was just a thing that happened sometimes, and even more often around Klavier Gavin than most of the world. Seeing a real person lurking behind Ema's typical mask was nice.

Lana was more visibly composed, but she still had the same too-careful strides that her little sister used. Her formerly tight knot of an updo had turned into a halo of flyaways and her sleek red dress was criss-crossed with wrinkles. "Prosecutor," Lana said very precisely as she let Klavier guide her toward the stairwell. "Thank you for a wonderful evening."

"My pleasure," he said, smiling.

"I haven't been able to spend much time with my sister for years. To make new memories like this is wonderful."

Well, at least one set of siblings would be able to head for a bright future. "My pleasure," Klavier repeated, patting Lana's hand where she clutched his arm. "I'm glad I could make this trip a little more memorable than your home in...?"

"Denver." Lana laughed at his instinctive frown and nearly missed a step. "It's not a rock star city! But the mountains are nice. I bike, now. Seasons are nice. I'll have Christmas lights with actual snow."

"I'll take the palm trees," Klavier said as they stopped with Ema and Apollo in front of her apartment. As the sisters propped themselves against the wall and threatened to break into renewed song, Klavier was struck by sudden certainty that Ema would be flying to Denver in December, and that they would be reunited in an unremarkable and positively wonderful family Christmas. He was glad for them—the story behind Lana Skye's prison sentence was appallingly unfair—but thinking about how he'd never again have a Christmas with family or his best friend was cause for a bit of melancholy. Ugh, this wasn't right. He was only supposed to feel down when he'd had a few drinks of his own.

"Night, Fop," Ema sing-songed as she got her door open with a jangle of keys, and she and Lana stumbled inside. "Good work!"

Klavier breathed a sigh of relief as her voice cut off without any further damage. He counted backwards from ten, tested the door, and leaned inside her apartment. "Perhaps you want to lock this?"

Ema blinked at him. She'd already kicked off one shoe. "Oh, right."

The door slammed in Klavier's face without further discussion. He just managed to pull out of harm's way in time, then shook his head wryly as he heard the locks and deadbolt click into place. "Time to get you home, Forehead."

"That was fun," Apollo said as they drove down the road, now blessedly empty compared to earlier in the evening. "The music was awesome, and the food, and...." Trailing off, he patted himself down.

"What are you doing?"

"I could have sworn I got Captain Hall's autograph," Apollo said, and actually pouted. Adorable. "I can't believe I lost it."

Klavier bit down on a short lecture about celebrities expecting to be left alone while in a luxury box and patted Apollo on his shoulder, instead. "Better the memories than a scrap of paper, ja? Anyone can buy an autograph on eBay."

"I guess that's true." Apollo's head rolled against the headrest toward Klavier and his smile broadened. "Seriously. Thanks. Last night doesn't feel like it matters at all, now. And you made Ema so happy, because her sister was happy. Prosecutor Lana is way less scarier than I thought she'd be, by the way."

"Way less scarier," Klavier repeated, smirking. "Prosecutor Lana." To think, normally he hated being the designated driver. How much entertaining drunken behavior had he missed out on? "You'll be very eloquent in the courtroom when you're defending Ruby, I'm sure."

As expected, the gentle jibe went right over Apollo's alcohol-fogged head. He stared at Klavier and his forehead furrowed slightly before he gave up on puzzling out the topic change. "You're gonna get me the case, right? I'm totally going to kick your butt in there."

"I'll certainly recommend you," Klavier said. He tapped the steering wheel in thought. "I don't expect her to tell me everything, of course—"

Apollo frowned. "I thought his name was Devon Villa."

Klavier held up a finger. "Only when out of his stage persona. If you want this client to cooperate, Forehead, see whether you're dealing with Devon or whether, as I suspect, he might keep on Ruby as a sort of shield. And if it's Ruby? Treat her like she wants to be treated: as a star." He drove a block in silent thought. "There's something suspicious about that bank robbery. Everything I hear about it sounds about as rough as microphone feedback."

Squinting, Apollo asked, "Meaning?" They probably shouldn't be having this serious conversation when Apollo's brain was functioning at half speed. Ah well, Klavier could always repeat himself later.

They'd reached the apartment complex, and Klavier focused on finding an empty visitor's parking spot before responding. "Meaning that it's my job to pin Villa for what his troupe did... but you might be able to find out the reason behind it. Why did a troupe rob a bank? Their ticket sales were doing well, they have no known enemies. Isn't that the first question we should be asking? What's the motive?"

"Well, it was a bank," Apollo pointed out as they entered the clean but modest building and climbed the already-scuffed stairs. "I assume they wanted money. Banks... have money."

Klavier eyed him. "Let's chat again when you've sobered up, Forehead. Right now, it sounds like I have more faith in your client than you do."

"You're such a wimp compared to Edgeworth," Apollo said with a grin.

Klavier scowled. "I am friendly compared to Herr Librarian." This drunken behavior wasn't fun, now.

Even drunk, the blow landed true. "You... you said you weren't gonna call him that any more."

"You insulted me," Klavier said with a determined flip of his hair. Apollo probably wouldn't remember anything that happened right before he fell into bed, and so it seemed safe enough to defend himself. Besides, Ema had only witnessed Apollo fawning over Klavier's generosity. She'd make her judgment accordingly.

"I did...." Apollo broke off, flashed a grin as wide as any he'd given that night, and hiked his shirt halfway up his chest. That was a nice set of abs on him, Klavier noticed through his confusion; biking everywhere might not give the all-over toning of a personal trainer's routine, but it certainly did wonders for his legs and core muscles. Only after that initial assessment did he identify the reason for Apollo flashing the hallway: black ink scribbled across his stomach. "I remembered where I got Captain Hall's autograph!"

That was, of course, when Phoenix Wright chose to open his door with his daughter at his shoulder. He looked levelly at Apollo, then at Klavier, and waited.

"Look, Mr. Wright!" Apollo said, and lifted his shirt even higher. "I got an autograph at the concert!"

Trucy's nose wrinkled. "You stink, Polly." Her fluttering crush on Klavier seemed to be suppressed by the need to comment on her drunk practically-brother.

"So, you were at a concert," Wright said coldly, but never looked away from Klavier. The steel in his gaze made Klavier swallow like Edgeworth's glares never did. For Edgeworth, scowling at everyone was mere habit. To get Phoenix Wright to look at you like that, you really had to earn it. Klavier was suddenly and painfully reminded of the part he'd played in nearly ruining Wright's life for good, and how they'd had little cause to interact since his reinstatement to the legal profession. This was the closest they'd been for a long time, and Klavier was returning with Apollo—who'd apparently given no word of to where he was vanishing—reeking of alcohol and showing off his celebrity-scribbled bare torso to the entire Wright Family. "I tried calling when you weren't at home, Apollo. No answer."

Apollo slowly lowered his shirt. Wright's chilly tone managed to penetrate his haze, and he blushed. "Sorry. I was at the concert. Uh. You heard that already." He rubbed the back of his head. "It was loud, I probably didn't hear the ring. Sorry. S'there something wrong?"

"I invited him out, Herr Wright," Klavier said. "I was the one taking everyone to the concert, I should have let you know so that you didn't worry. Everything was safe, I only drank water before I drove—"

"I don't need to check in with him!" Apollo said, far too loudly. Someone down the hallway pounded on their door. "I'm not a kid, and I don't need to check in before I go somewhere, and I don't need you to save me from Edgeworth's giant ass stick!" he added defiantly.

Wright's eyebrows rose.

"I... I presume he means a stick up Herr Edgeworth's...." Klavier's face dropped into his palm. "Entschuldigung. I was just hoping to show Forehead a good time tonight."

"You certainly did something tonight," Wright agreed. "Trucy, go to bed. Don't complain, go. Apollo, you're drunk. Go home and drink a glass of water, then get into the shower." He spoke over Apollo's protests. "Drink a glass of water or you are seriously going to regret it in the morning."

"Thanks," Apollo told Klavier. "This was great." He sounded sincere, which was a faint relief; Klavier was being judged on his relationship with Apollo Justice, after all, not Phoenix Wright. Still, as Apollo shot one last, defiantly drunken glare at Phoenix before marching toward his own door, Klavier couldn't help but cringe at whatever this night had done to his own unsteady relationship to Apollo's new mentor.

"You really didn't drink anything tonight?" Wright asked once Apollo's door had slammed closed behind him. Another pounding complaint came from a second tenant down the hallway.

"Water only," Klavier promised. "I was driving three people home, I would never risk that."

Cold blue eyes studied him, and for a second it seemed like the man should be sporting a week's worth of facial hair instead of just a typical evening shadow. One didn't go through seven years of reforging without remembering how to draw those new weapons, Klavier supposed. Just as quickly, that unknowable figure was replaced by the man who'd stepped back into his old life behind the badge. Wright looked tired and annoyed, but no longer threatening. "He's only twenty-three, he's worked too hard in his life already, and I want to know if he's somewhere where he's getting drunk off his ass and having people write on his stomach. Okay? Not everyone grew up like you did, Gavin. Hit the brakes a little."

"I will," Klavier promised.

Wright sighed and rubbed his eyes. Dad Mode seemed to be engaged less by the second. "If he has to deal with a hangover on Thanksgiving, I guess it'll just be a lesson learned. I just... he wasn't home after work, I couldn't get ahold of him, and the streets are always full of drunk drivers before any holiday...."

With a younger associate who biked everywhere, Klavier supposed that combination would indeed be cause to fret. "I am sorry." Klavier put on his best smile. "He truly did have a good time, alcohol aside. It was a good pick-me-up, and we just went about it the wrong way. Again, apologies."

"Yeah, it sounded like he had quite the problem after all with Edgeworth's 'ass stick,'" Wright said wryly. "Tomorrow should be fun." For one ridiculous second Klavier wondered if Wright might invite him to the party, but that fever dream passed quickly. "Night, Prosecutor. Drive safely."

"Danke," Klavier said with some relief. "I'm off to the airport, now, to pick up Prosecutor von Karma. I'll make sure she's to the hotel quickly so that she can prepare for your dinner tomorrow."

Wright stared at him for another long beat, and then a real smile bloomed. "Well, that should just about make up for tonight. Enjoy meeting Franziska, Gavin."

"I'm... I'm sure I will." Could Wright please scowl at him again? That smile was unsettling. "Her career has been a model for my own, and I... I should be off." Seriously, Wright needed to stop grinning and shoot for unhappy again. Certainly the woman couldn't be that terrifying. "Guten Abend."

"Night." Wright paused with his hand on the doorframe. "So, uh... who was it that wrote all over Apollo?"

"Some actor from a science fiction show. In a halter top."

Wright rolled his eyes, muttered something, and closed the door.

Relief swept Klavier as he hurried back to his car. Back on the streets, he did his best to focus on the majority of the evening and how confident he'd been at the concert's conclusion. He'd made Apollo happy. He'd let Apollo vent over Herr Librarian and his 'ass stick.' (That phrasing would be repeated at the agency after Apollo had sobered up, of that Klavier was certain.) He'd made Apollo feel valued, Ema had seen it, and certainly a shaky finish on the landing couldn't damage his chances that much. It had just been awkward as hell.

Of course, what right did Wright have to even question Apollo for going out on the town and having a good time? It was one thing to be worried, but another to act like a twenty-three year old man couldn't ever get drunk and make an idiot out of himself. That was what one's twenties were meant for, after all! Just because the streets were full of drunk drivers and Wright had probably been constructing increasingly gory images of a car accident every time Apollo didn't pick up his phone....

Okay, it had definitely been a shaky landing. Still, a concert was infinitely better than board games. Who tried to impress anyone with board games? (Ema's report over Edgeworth being "perfect" was resoundingly ignored; the girl was biased.) Confidence returned with each new song on the radio, and by the time Klavier pulled past the giant L-A-X letters he felt as buoyant as he had earlier in the evening. Even the crush of traffic around him couldn't dampen his spirits (again), and he somehow managed to stay in a good mood as he wound around the crowded horseshoe road and darted into the most convenient garage entrance. Paparazzi lurked, as always, and he shot them a smooth smile and a wave as they clamored for shots of the only celebrity in the vicinity at that hour.

Even after midnight, the airport thrummed. The effects of the East Coast blizzard were plain on many faces waiting on the luggage carousels. Everyone was exhausted at that time of night, made worse by the unflattering fluorescents, but more than a few seemed ready to fall over and stay there if they leaned too far forward while grabbing their suitcase. Klavier frowned in sympathy. He'd avoided winter tours for just this reason, or had scheduled dates from Rio to Sydney to Cape Town so that snow delays would never be a concern. And most of these poor souls had flown coach.

Twenty minutes ticked by. Between the occasional autograph signings and smartphone pictures with fans, Klavier kept an eye out for any airport officials. These unfortunate travelers looked downright depressed. Offering an impromptu performance only seemed like the kind thing to do, to lift their spirits and welcome them to the city. Besides, he was getting bored. He wasn't foolish enough to start causing a ruckus around airport security without permission, though, and so until he found someone to talk to about setting up some kind of stage area—

A ruckus, hmm? Whatever that new noise was, it sounded like a ruckus. He searched for the source of the argument at the edge of the room's steady hum, and followed it to its source with long, purposeful strides. He suspected, and, as he rounded a pillar, saw that his suspicions were correct.

Franziska von Karma was much the same as he'd imagined from his studies of the woman. Her hair was still neat and short, her petite frame belied by the sheer presence she had in a conversation. Her sharper cheeks looked less like the teenager's pictures he'd seen, and her style of dress had naturally evolved as she aged, but there was no doubting the fact that he had found the legendary Prosecutor von Karma, Junior... and that she was about to whip an airport security officer.

"Prosecutor!" Klavier said sharply. It had taken everything in him to not shout out "Achtung!"

Franziska spun, whip in hand, and glared at whoever had dared to interrupt. I guess the whip really wasn't a joke, then.

"Prosecutor," he repeated more smoothly, and switched into German to greet her. "Welcome to Los Angeles, Prosecutor von Karma. I'm Klavier."

"Gavin," Franziska finished. With a hmph, she wound her weapon and hung it from her belt. The officer behind her glowered at the two Germans, and Franziska in particular, but a flash of recognition passed through his eyes whenever he looked at Klavier. Perhaps that stardom would keep him from calling for backup and throwing the FTA's weight at them. "This fool refuses to accept responsibility for the foolish and unacceptable failure of his airline."

"Er?" Klavier asked, having discarded several more eloquent options. The obvious reply was that that the FTA hardly represented any single airline, yet even Franziska von Karma was showing the physical effects of all of that delayed travel: dark undereye smudges, pale cheeks, worn-off lipstick. It would never be good form to point out someone's tired, simple mistake. When he was introducing himself to her right before she started judging his performance, doing so would be suicide. (Foolish suicide.)

"I had three suitcases," Franziska said with a renewed glare. Her fingertips grazed the thick coil of her whip and the officer's suspicions sharpened at whatever she was saying. "These fools lost two of them somewhere, and they refuse to tell me how they will correct their foolish mistake!"

Klavier opened his mouth, closed it, and turned to the officer. In English, he asked, "Who should I talk to about luggage problems?"

"The airline's desk. Not me."

"Please wait here, Prosecutor," Klavier patiently said as he collected her tickets and the tracking stickers on their backs. "I'll handle this. You've had a long day; let me deal with the workers."

Franziska's eyes narrowed. "Are you wearing cologne, Klavier Gavin?"

Oops. "I came from an event," Klavier hurriedly lied as he backed away, "and someone there must have worn some!" After a short discussion with the exhausted Lufthansa representative, he confirmed that her two suitcases were on their way to Seattle on the wrong flight out of Chicago. He provided Franziska's hotel information, took dutiful notes on when they would be delivered to the front desk (noon by the latest), and returned to heft the sole suitcase that had arrived on the conveyor. "They will be driven to your hotel, Prosecutor," Klavier said as he carried her luggage toward the door. "By the time you wake, I imagine the bellboy might well have them in storage."

"Americans!" Franziska ranted as they walked out, again in German. "How was I to know that the entire country migrates today? There were people everywhere. Everywhere! I was surrounded by their foolish conversations even in the airline lounges!"

Klavier nodded sympathetically as her voice grew ever louder. By the time they'd reached the sidewalk and waited for the crosswalk to turn, Franziska was practically shouting about those foolish Americans and their foolish holidays with foolish recipes and foolish turkeys foolish foolish fools. He shook his head to clear it; it had been a long day and his eyes were starting to glaze over as she repeated herself.

She soon collapsed into his Jaguar's passenger seat and her temper fell away, replaced with fatigue. Suddenly, the tight coil of anger in the shape of a woman was gone and he wasn't sure whether she'd be awake by the time they reached the hotel. "I do appreciate you picking me up, Klavier Gavin," Franziska said and rubbed her red eyes. "After today's nightmare, I can at least trust a fellow prosecutor to end the day well."

At that time of night, it should only be twenty minutes or so into downtown. Klavier texted their incipient arrival to Edgeworth, then flashed Franziska a gentle smile as they backed out and headed for the exit. "My pleasure. And it is an honor to meet you, finally, Prosecutor von Karma. Your career is inspiring."

"Mmm." At a red light, he glanced over and saw Franziska studying him. Despite himself, Klavier felt a twinge of nervousness like he'd thought audiences had long since burned away. "You began prosecuting at an acceptably young age, but distracted yourself with music performance. However, you have recently left that dalliance behind to focus on your true career in law. You are known for pursuing the truth. And for being a pushover."

Klavier frowned. Two comments to that effect in one night? Just because he enjoyed smiling in court? And occasionally playing air guitar and humming songs that became stuck in his head? And praising the opposing counsel to Ruby Lipps? And dealing with said opposing counsel's crisis of confidence? And... fine. Still, he said, "I wouldn't call myself a pushover."

"I would."

For a good minute of silence, Klavier considered his response. Franziska's simple exhaustion didn't offer the safety net of Apollo's drunkenness; more than likely, whatever he said to her, she'd remember. Ultimately, he settled on the truth. "Franziska von Karma. I don't know of anyone who began their law career at an earlier age. You're known for your fierce determination to halt and punish criminal activities. Due to your balance between the court systems of Europe and Interpol, you are able to both recommend methods of arresting international criminals and ultimately put them away into prison. Encyclopedic knowledge of the law, a tireless work ethic, and a few... extra skills that'd make you popular in some clubs I've been to in San Francisco and Berlin." He grinned at her bleary-eyed confusion. "The whip."

"Well. Fools sometimes need to have their attention focused." For all her haughty reply and raised chin, she did seem pleased at what Klavier knew of her and had chosen to say. He'd only left off two major areas of discussion, and both of those were potential land mines. The first was her infamous temper. The second was all the cases she'd worked on with her adopted brother over the past years. No need to mention Edgeworth's name, and the bet by extension, until she was ready to discuss it.

She was quiet for another block. "You did not mention the von Karma legacy of perfection."

Talk about being foolish; Klavier had overlooked the single biggest land mine there was. What should he even say about Manfred von Karma's mastery of prosecution, murder, and psychological revenge? "I prefer to judge people on only their own merits," he settled on.

"Ah." She seemed all right with the non-answer, if not thrilled. That was for the best; Klavier had no idea whether he was supposed to rail against Manfred, praise him, or both. "That is why I did not mention your brother."

It felt as cold as if the convertible top were down again.

"Phoenix Wright traveled to Europe over the past few years, you know," Franziska said. "His flights were paid for by my foolish brother after he requested the fool's presence. Do you know the sort of messes that develop when you have a disgraced defense attorney digging into the work of two prosecutors? He muddled our work and our verdicts. He wouldn't stop questioning things." She sniffed. "And once he began, Miles Edgeworth inevitably did the same. They became quite impossible to deal with. If your brother hadn't framed Phoenix Wright, I never would have needed to deal with the two of them and their united front of foolishness."

Oh god, I have no idea what to say. Is she more annoyed with them or... or the only Gavin within reach? Franziska was supposed to be the one on his side, damn it all. He put on his best smile like armor. "Well, that's why I'm trying to take them both down a few pegs, Prosecutor. In a very friendly sort of way, you understand, but...."

"There is little room for friendship in competitions."

"I can't agree with you there."

Franziska turned more wholly toward him. Shock at being contradicted was clear on her face. "You disagree?" she asked out loud; the "with me?" was only implied.

"We all have our own approaches in the courtroom, and in life. I like this one. And it's done pretty well for me. You know that, since you've clearly checked up on my record."

The moment balanced on a knife's edge, but Franziska eventually smirked and nodded. Klavier seemed to have passed some test, though he had no idea what the questions had been. "All right, Klavier Gavin. Summarize this wager for me before we reach the hotel."

After rattling off the basic mechanics, Klavier began the descriptions of the relevant parties. "You know Edgeworth, of course. And Wright."

"Hmph."

That seemed to be a yes. "I'm the one who started this wager, and I have every intention of winning it. Your brother has his talents. Interpersonal relationships aren't one of them." Saying that was risky, but looking at Franziska's face... yes, she was amused. Good. The mood in the car had warmed considerably. "As for Apollo Justice, he's dedicated to law. He studies it, loves it, but has been poorly treated by people who should have been on his side. I want his happiness to feel more natural and less like overcompensation." As Franziska frowned thoughtfully, Klavier turned them into the Gatewater driveway. With a grin, he slipped back into English and parked the car. "If there's one thing I'm best at, Fräulein von Karma, it's making people happy."

Her gaze sharpened. With another hmph she slipped out of her seatbelt and grabbed her sole suitcase from the trunk before Klavier could lift it. "And my fool of a brother 'drafted' me for this."

"That's right," Klavier said as they set off for the doors. "First he chose a judge who's had a crush on him ever since she was a teenaged murder suspect, and then he promised you'd take the other judge's spot when I protested." The Gatewater's newest building was a little dreary for his tastes, as it was designed for long-term visitors who didn't need to be impressed by a cathedral foyer and cascading fountains every time they walked in. Still, there was money here: marble floors, polished mahogany panels, tasteful artwork.

"You are phrasing all of this in ways to make your competition look terrible," Franziska noted as they walked through the lobby and stepped into the dark-paneled elevator. "I approve."

He grinned.

"I will agree to be a judge, but in that role, you have to accept my power over you. I will only share information I feel is worthwhile. You are not owed any answers from me, nor any justification for my decision." Even with dark circles under her bleary eyes, her expression challenged him to disagree with anything she said. "For, after all, my judgment will be perfect." Then she wobbled, just a bit. Though it went against every gentlemanly bone in his body, Klavier didn't reach out a hand to steady her. From the grim, focused look that Franziska dredged up from whatever energy reserves she had left, it was the right move.

"I am attending holiday festivities tomorrow," Franziska said when they were nearly to the door. "And so I will judge my brother there. You are responsible for having any actions of yours judged by this detective, or they will not be counted." Like she felt somehow compelled to explain herself, she added, "My little brother has become foolishly sentimental as he ages. It would not do to deny him this."

"Of course," Klavier said smoothly, although his mind screamed to know how on earth Miles Edgeworth could ever be seen as foolishly sentimental. Fortunately, Franziska's knuckles rapping against the door cut off that train of thought before he, fuzzy with the late hour and busy day, tried to clarify.

Edgeworth soon opened it and greeted them with a warm smile. It was an expression he'd never seen on the man. "Franziska," he said, and held out his arms. Klavier didn't know whether it was more surprising to see Miles Edgeworth smiling, wearing (admittedly luxurious) pajamas under a plush robe, or for Franziska von Karma to sigh in relief and return a smile as big as her brother's as she collapsed into that embrace.

"I hate Americans," Franziska practically whimpered into his robe. "They lost my other suitcases and they changed the gate for a delayed flight six times. Six. I had to listen to every single announcement. And then those fools with the FTA tried to take away my whip! Fortunately, someone's dog broke out of its carrier. The entire terminal was in chaos. They all forgot about me."

"I'm sure that helped to speed things along," Edgeworth chuckled. "Come on. I had them bring up a bottle of Syrah and I've drawn you a bath. A glass is waiting next to it."

"You remembered," Franziska said with more affection than Klavier had ever expected to hear out of the woman. This had the feeling of a ritual developed over years of travel and returns. She let Edgeworth pick up her suitcase, and only then did the man nod at Klavier and offer any sort of thanks.

Klavier didn't hold it against him. If Franziska von Karma wanted to grab you and vent her frustrations, you let her. "My pleasure. Enjoy tomorrow, both of you. Gute Nacht."

Franziska turned as she entered the room, one as quietly opulent as the lobby below. "Again, the ride was appreciated. But I require one more answer from you tonight, Klavier Gavin."

"Hmmm?"

Franziska tilted her head and studied him. "Why are you named 'piano?'"

Klavier sighed as Edgeworth fought back a snort. "Inventive parents. Gute Nacht, Herr Edgeworth und Fräulein von Karma."

"Frau," Franziska corrected as Edgeworth led her inside and the door shut behind them. With a long, well-deserved groan of relief, Klavier set in motion for his car, and soon his bed. It had been a long day. Parties and concerts fired him up like a jolt of adrenaline, but when that excitement faded, so did he.

Overall he had to call the day a solid success, but it was difficult to deny the mistakes he hadn't expected to make: Wright mad, Apollo in trouble, Franziska happier to see Edgeworth than him. Ah, well. It was a good start, and he still had nearly the full two weeks left to add more points to the tally.

The Skyes must both be passed out by now, Klavier thought with a silent snicker as he walked through the lobby. A desk worker gave him a strange look; most of their customers must not gravitate to skintight leather. He didn't know if he'd be able to get Ema to judge anything or not, tomorrow; surely she'd be busy with Lana, as surely as Franziska would be busy with her brother.

Well, he could always get work done while everyone else was at Thanksgiving. That was what he'd promised, after all, to be free while no one else was. With a jaw-cracking yawn, Klavier shook his head to wake up, climbed into his car, and drove home alone.

Chapter Text

Normally, Phoenix Wright appreciated very late mornings in bed. On that day, though, he delighted in calling Apollo right at nine A.M. "Hey, it's when you promised you'd be over."

An unintelligible noise whimpered across the line.

"It's Turkey Day, remember."

The whimpering intensified.

"I'll need help to make everything in time. Cheesy potatoes, gravy, pie with tons of whipped cream on top—"

"Ngh. Stop. Stop saying food names."

He smirked at Apollo's hangover that was audible in every syllable. "Did you drink some water like I told you to?"

"Ugh. I think so." A pause. "I opened my mouth in the shower."

The doorbell rang and Phoenix looked over his shoulder as Trucy scrambled to answer it. "It sounds like Athena's here. On time, I might add. Do you think you'd be up for showing by ten?"

Relief cut through Apollo's pain. "Sure. Thanks. I can do that. Sorry, Mr. Wright. Sorry."

"I bought a can of cranberry sauce. I hope it's all wiggly after it slides out." A strained noise was his answer before the call cut off.

Phoenix snickered and shook his head. It had been a big step to move out of the office and find their own real homes, and he hadn't blamed Apollo for wanting to strike off on his own... if one counted "down the hallway" for that, anyway. The return of his badge had been a fresh start for more than one person. He'd been able to give his baby girl a proper home, she had a closet and dresser and her own walls for posters, and Athena had found the perfect launchpad for her first job. It even felt like his return to law had been some sort of signal for Edgeworth to come back from Europe, though Phoenix wasn't foolish enough to ever say that out loud. With all of the changes bubbling up around him, it was no wonder that Apollo had wanted to prove his independence while everyone else's lives were in similar flux.

Apollo was a good kid. No, a good young man, Phoenix corrected himself; he'd had his own first cases just a year later than the age Apollo was now. Those early days with Mia seemed like a lifetime ago, but he could at least remember the young man he'd been and the enormous irritation he would have felt if someone older had tried to dismiss him similarly.

Still, it was hard not to feel protective of everyone around him. He'd been nurtured by Mia Fey while three of the people in attendance that day had dealt with Kristoph Gavin or Manfred von Karma. (Not to mention all of those dead or absent parents. It was an epidemic.) By the time Apollo had finally come stumbling home last night, glassy-eyed and reeking, Phoenix had called no fewer than three local hospitals to see if they'd admitted anyone with Apollo's description. Yeah, fine; he'd overreacted. It had just been one of the worst possible nights of the year for Apollo to behave so uncharacteristically and his overprotective imagination had wandered.

It would probably be easier for all of them if they just blamed Klavier. The man'd probably had groupies snort coke off his abs in a Berlin nightclub, or whatever it was that rock stars did to waste their time and money; a few drinks at a pop concert would be nothing to him. Phoenix knew now that Klavier Gavin was a perfectly decent man with a lot of very friendly intentions, but it was hard to believe that the man had true passion for anything except styling his hair in the morning. Apollo loved the law like some other men loved NFL teams and Phoenix and Athena had both pursued it to save someone from a terrible fate. Could Klavier Gavin claim anything more substantial than boredom or ego that had driven him to practice? It didn't seem like it, and so Phoenix was more than willing to view him in the least favorable light possible.

(He was aware that their first meeting also played into that assessment. Strongly. So be it.)

Athena's cheerful voice snapped him out of his contemplation. "Hi, boss!" she chirped. "Tell me what to do and I'll get to work!"

Phoenix nodded with determination and looked between Athena and Trucy. "Okay, so we're making Thanksgiving dinner." Visions filled his head of a cozy Norman Rockwell table, piled high with all the best food he hadn't touched for years. It would be a perfect return to a (nearly) perfect life. All that remained was to translate that vision to reality.

"Right!" Trucy said. "Our first real Thanksgiving! Er, not that I didn't love that turkey ramen...."

Phoenix ignored Athena's look of disbelief. They had a Rockwell table to fill and a lot of work to make that happen. "So we need the turkey, potatoes, pie, gravy, stuffing, corn, whatever sort of other potatoes that are in that dish with the little marshmallows all over them... uh, is something wrong, Athena?"

She bit her lip. "Do either of you actually know how to cook any of this?"

"I. Uh." Phoenix glanced at his daughter and they shook their heads in unison. "To be fair, we haven't had a real oven for a long time."

After a short sigh, Athena tightened the bow holding her ponytail and held out her hand. "Apron, s'il vous plaît. I might not be that good, but I'd probably be less likely to burn down the kitchen when I try to follow a recipe. You... have recipes, right?" she asked with sudden dread.

"I was going to wing it," Phoenix admitted. Both of them pulled back in shock, and Phoenix blushed and said, "What? I always improvise! And I've eaten dinners like this, so I know how they should taste."

"I'll find some recipes on my phone," Trucy told Athena, who nodded and, with a look of even grimmer determination, wound her ponytail into a serviceable bun. Phoenix was left with the distinct feeling that he'd just been sidelined on his own Thanksgiving debut. That hardly seemed fair; he'd seen Food Network shows where the chef's recipe seemed to be nothing more than "a splash of this" and "add that to taste." ...Of course, given that Franziska would be sampling this dinner, perhaps it was safer to trade in a little creativity in exchange for a bit more perfection.

For a while they worked in silence, broken only by Athena's orders as she prioritized their recipes and checked them against the ingredients in refrigerator and cabinets. Trucy caught on quickly and was herded into the role of Athena's faithful lieutenant, while Phoenix was left suspecting they were attempting damage control with everything he did. Really, how many times did he need to be sent to check on the thawing turkey in the bathtub?

"I'm here," Apollo soon said in a weak voice full of forced cheer. Phoenix glanced at the oven clock in surprise; had it already been an hour?

"Good!" Athena said and handed Apollo a beach towel.

"I... think I'm missing something."

"It turns out there's only one apron in the house. If you don't want to get food all over your pants, tie that around your waist and let's get to work!" Athena said, wielding her whisk like a scepter.

"Are we positive that we can't just have cookies for dessert?" Trucy asked and whipped out those damnable bloomers from her magic show. "I know I can magic those up, no problem!"

"One: it's Thanksgiving and so pumpkin pie is a requirement," Phoenix lectured. "And two: we are not serving panty cookies to Edgeworth and Franziska."

Still looking ready to fall over, Apollo mumbled, "I can't believe they're really coming over here. We're practically going to be outnumbered."

"Um, about that," Athena slowly said. Though Phoenix tried to meet Athena's eyes to question her sudden strange mood, she wouldn't look away from the bowls before her. Her stirring took on a rigid, mechanical quality. "I meant to say this earlier, and I'm obviously going to help cook everything first... but... oncethefoodisreadyIneedtotakesomeandgo."

It took Phoenix a second to unravel that knot of words and his expression dropped when he did. "Wait, what? You're not staying for the actual dinner?"

"I'm sorry!" Athena bit her lip. "I can't just leave Simon all alone. I can't!"

Phoenix brushed away her concern. "Is that all? So invite him, too."

"Wait, another prosecutor?" Apollo asked, though everyone ignored him. "Is the Judge coming just to round things out?"

"I... already invited Simon this morning, sorry. Or I tried to, anyway." Athena reached up to tug on her ponytail and met only open air, thanks to her efficient cooking hairstyle. "But he said he doesn't want to come over because he doesn't want Taka to see the turkey."

Trucy frowned. "Why, does he think that seeing a big naked cooked bird would scare Taka? Or make him mad?"

Apollo offered, "Or we might end up with inappropriate bird action in the middle of the table."

"For all I know, it's all of the above." Athena smiled apologetically. "Sorry, boss."

"He could leave the bird at home, you know," Phoenix said, but Athena's slow headshake put the lie to that. "I... fine. It's not a problem, Athena. You can take whatever food you want over there to him. Maybe next year we'll pick up a ham, instead, to avoid traumatizing the bird." How was this his life?

"So it's just going to be the three of us," Apollo said after he'd chopped his onion, and gestured with his knife to himself, Phoenix, and Trucy. "And... them. Okay. Sure."

Phoenix glanced at Apollo. Memories came roaring back of his embarrassing hallway performance the night before, but Phoenix bit down on the specifics before he said anything. (There would be plenty of time to tease him later.) If this was to be a pleasant evening for everyone, everyone needed to be comfortable with each other. No resentment. No mention of giant ass sticks. "Just so all of you know," Phoenix said with emphasis on the collective, "both of them are my friends and if you give them a shot, you might be able to say the same one day. You've already seen what Edgeworth is like. He's scary on the surface, but that's because he expects you to come back at him just as hard. You have to make him respect you, but if he does, he's more loyal to you than any dog. I promise."

"Dog?" Apollo repeated uncertainly. "Uh, but dogs are...."

"Cute and fluffy and not scary," Athena finished.

"I meant more of a German shepherd than a cocker spaniel—" Heh, German shepherd. "—But fine. Anyway: stand up to him and he'll respect you for it." Phoenix chopped several stalks of celery before admitting, "But, uh, be careful about standing up to Franziska." Visions of her whipping his underlings filled his head, and then worse, the worker's compensation forms they'd file.

"She's the one with the whip, right?" Apollo asked warily.

"You invited someone with a whip?" Athena yelped.

Trucy tapped a finger against her chin. "What if I added a whip to my shows?"

Phoenix pointed at Apollo. "Yes." Next, Athena. "Yes, but she doesn't use it as much as she used to." Then, Trucy. "Not until you're at least eighteen. Or thirty. Thirty sounds good."

Disbelief was plain on Apollo and Athena's faces, and they exchanged a long, dubious look before turning back to Phoenix. "Like I was saying, we've heard horror stories about Prosecutor von Karma," Apollo said. "You're seriously going to tell us she's your friend? Is this just an excuse so we'll stop complaining?"

Well, Phoenix couldn't blame them for their reactions; he'd given a similar one to Edgeworth, after all, when he heard about Franziska's attendance. But, as their fearless leader, he needed to put on a show of confidence. How to put this.... "If a zombie apocalypse hit Los Angeles and the world was falling apart, Franziska von Karma is one of exactly three people in the entire world who I would trust with Trucy's life, okay?" They still looked at him disbelievingly, even Trucy, and so Phoenix added the second part of that truth. "...Granted, on a normal day she'd trip me on the sidewalk and laugh if I got a bloody nose, but still. She's good in a clutch."

"And you still call her a friend?" Athena asked.

"Yeah. Well. To be fair, I've had really weird friends over the years."

"Maybe it's something about Germany," Apollo said as he checked the amount of water needed for another dish. "It doesn't seem like anything good ever came out of there."

"Hey!" Athena said, and prodded him roughly in the shoulder. Trucy smirked at his yelp. "I studied there!" Then she rattled off a long string of German that was presumably meant to prove as much. Or, for all he knew, maybe it was the Sesame Street theme song. Phoenix really needed to brush up on his languages; he'd always been reliant on Edgeworth or Franziska's translations when he did case work over there, whether the people around them were speaking in German, French, or Italian. He'd thought a few phrases in Spanish, courtesy of a life in Los Angeles, were enough to consider himself close to bilingual. Wrong.

"Yeah, well. Prosecutor Gavin came from Germany," Apollo muttered. He started stirring the mixture hard enough to threaten splashes over the side, until Trucy put her hand on his to slow the strokes. Well, then: that topic had been raised. "I'm so sorry, Mr. Wright," Apollo said with a fierce blush. "I can barely remember anything from last night but I'm pretty sure I made an idiot out of myself."

"You... it's okay, Apollo. We'll just forget about most of it, except for the lesson you learned about hangovers." Determined to have the best day possible, Phoenix added, "And I'm sorry that I freaked out when you were gone. You're right: you don't have to check in with me, either of you." Trucy began to pipe up and he spoke over her. "They don't have to tell me where they're going, Truce, but you do." He returned his attention to Apollo and Athena. "But I would appreciate knowing where you are in case there's an emergency, all right?"

Apollo nodded, abashed, and Athena nodded along even though she was clearly clueless as to what she'd missed. "Don't worry, Mr. Wright," Apollo said. "Except for court, I won't even talk to Prosecutor Gavin for... a month. Two months!" As Phoenix began to say that wasn't necessary, Apollo shook his head and spoke over him. "We're not even friends, anyway! I'll just focus on my work and it'll all be fine."

Phoenix sighed. Cutting Gavin out of Apollo's life hadn't been his goal, not even remotely, but he supposed he wouldn't complain about it. "Whatever you want, Apollo." It apparently was exactly what Apollo wanted, as he attacked his cooking duties with renewed vigor.

For a long while all of them did their best to follow the recipes, and most of the food began to take shape in some form vaguely approaching what they'd intended. As a splash of something landed on Phoenix's cheek and he dabbed at it with a dishrag, the doorbell sounded. "I'll get it!"

Franziska was on the handle's side, and so he saw her first as the door swung open. She was in casual clothes (for her, if not society at large) and, shockingly, seemed to be without her whip. It was rather like seeing a plucked peacock; when he'd worked with the two prosecutors, she had always been dressed for the courtroom every time they interacted. "I'm pleased to see that you're no longer violating housing regulations with your residence, Phoenix Wright," Franziska said with that faint, smug smile of hers. Ahh: warm congratulations and well-wishes, von Karma style.

"Thanks," he said wryly. "If you're wondering about a housewarming gift to get us, my vacuum just broke again."

"I'll keep that in mind," Franziska said. Her attention latched onto his cheek, and she squinted as she leaned in to stare at whatever it was that had splashed on Phoenix's face. And on his shirt, he belatedly saw, and pants, and... he should probably change before dinner. A second after that realization, he noticed Edgeworth standing next to Franziska with a similarly bemused look.

Phoenix blushed and swiped at a mark on his pants, but only managed to spread the flour in a roostertail across his thigh. "We're cooking," he offered by way of explanation. "There's food."

"I can see that," Edgeworth said dryly. He held up his hands; each gripped a bottle. "We brought wine. I wasn't sure what all you would be making, so there's both red and white."

"Right, sure, thanks," Phoenix said, though his brain was only halfway engaged. Edgeworth was dressed just as casually as Franziska, with a sweater and slacks instead of his typical suits, and.... Why can't I stop looking at his neck? Swallowing hard, Phoenix tried and failed to turn away. It was like he'd discovered a hidden strain of vampirism inside himself, because Miles Edgeworth's bare neck was suddenly the most fascinating thing on the planet. He must never have worn an unaccompanied crewneck like this during Phoenix's trips, because Phoenix would have remembered how long and pale and— "Right. Right. Right! Cooking!" Weird. If Franziska looked strange without her typical getup, seeing Edgeworth's neck was like finding Gourdy in his bathtub.

After exchanging a long glance with his sister, Edgeworth asked, "Are you... well, Wright?"

"Great. Couldn't be better. Come on in, we're cooking and you can turn on the TV. The Lions'll be on." As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Phoenix realized how stupid they were; Miles Edgeworth and Franziska von Karma weren't about to watch football to kill a few hours. "Or you can channel surf until you find, uh, an opera or something."

Franziska muttered something to Edgeworth that sounded like "you owe me" and swept inside. "I require a meeting with Phoenix Wright's younger associate, Apollo Justice," she said loudly. Apollo eeped.

Phoenix bit down hard on the inside of his cheek. That pain and Apollo's fear cleared his head at least enough to ask, "She's not going to put him through everything that...."

"That I did?" Edgeworth asked with a smirk. "No. She just wants to understand what sort of man he is."

Blinking, Phoenix asked, "Why?"

Edgeworth hesitated and swallowed, and wow that was just terrible for keeping Phoenix's attention away from his neck. "Ah. Well. She heard that Justice was involved with clearing your name, and...."

As Edgeworth began an oddly rambling explanation, Phoenix was struck with the sudden confusing certainty that he'd be seeing psychelocks again if he had his magatama on hand. He had no real desire to grab it; he put it aside when he got home for a reason. It was one thing to use it in the middle of a murder investigation, but another entirely to force the people around him to tell the truth about everything, always, when they couldn't do the same in return. If he hadn't talked to Edgeworth right after coming back from work on Tuesday, he never would have seen those three locks on him. The magatama would have been safely tucked away in his dresser, where it now rested and where he'd stuck it before Game Night fully commenced. Even though curiosity burned, he hadn't once seriously thought about trying to break through to whatever Edgeworth was telling a presumably white lie about.

He still wouldn't, but this new probably-lie was making it ever so slightly more tempting. For a man who seemed to have The Truth as his closest partner in life, watching Edgeworth lie was beyond strange. Maybe Franziska has a crush on Apollo, Phoenix idly thought. It was ridiculous, but it would also explain her wanting to talk to him and Edgeworth covering it up. Right?

Of course, that assumed that the duo did get crushes on anything but law books and marble statues of blindfolded justice. Phoenix had watched Edgeworth for years, now, and the man kept even the people closest to him at a distance. There were some things that would never, ever happen, and one of those was Edgeworth with a crush. And if Edgeworth in love was hard to imagine, Franziska was downright impossible.

So, no, she probably didn't have a crush on Apollo. That made it all the more confusing when Edgeworth finished his supposed explanation without clearing up a single thing. "...And so she insisted on talking to him because of your input into State vs. DeWitt. Naturally."

Phoenix nodded blankly. "Makes complete sense," he lied.

"Good," Edgeworth said, relieved, and that piqued Phoenix's curiosity as well. No, Phoenix. You are not allowed to use the magatama on your friends just 'cause. No. No!

After clearing his throat—oh god, neck again—Edgeworth gestured at the doorway that Phoenix was blocking. "May I come inside?"

"Oh!" Phoenix said, and practically leapt out of the way.

Edgeworth shot him another bemused look as he strode into the apartment, fists tight around the necks of the wine. That strong grip flitted into Phoenix's mind for something totally inappropriate for Thanksgiving festivities, around something that definitely wasn't a wine bottle, and he groaned faintly and gave in for as long as Edgeworth was facing away from him. His eyes raked over the man he'd watched for years. Rich material stretched across broad shoulders, and even in a friend's living room Edgeworth (Miles) stood at perfect attention. Pale hair gleamed as he came near any light source, and—

"Where should I put these?" Edgeworth asked, turning.

Phoenix jerked back to reality. "Table. The kitchen's pretty busy right now."

Edgeworth nodded and walked that way. Phoenix groaned and rubbed his hand across his face, and then through his hair, before remembering that it was covered in flour. Ah, well. He'd long since gotten used to Edgeworth walking away without noticing Phoenix watching after him.

That wasn't something he was thankful for on that day, but the world was what it was and Miles Edgeworth was an accomplished, loyal, brilliant man whose mind never wandered where Phoenix's did. He was glad to have his friend back for good, for a warm home and loving group of friends and family, and for his life getting back on track. That was an awful lot, wasn't it? It was. And, as he went to wash up, Phoenix couldn't help but think that he was also pretty thankful for that sweater.

Chapter Text

As it was a holiday morning, Miles tipped more generously than usual when the bellboy brought up Franziska's errant suitcases. There was a look of faint regret in the man's eyes, but for Miles' sake, not his own. Clearly he pitied Miles for being stranded in a workman's hotel on a day that should be spent with family, when he himself could presumably drive home after a half workday for a dinner and reunion. Miles didn't bother correcting him. His metropolitan past was difficult to explain, and even more challenging was the idea that he'd returned to the city that did feel the most like home and yet had been living in a hotel for months. He'd almost forgotten how to put down roots. The idea of owning a key instead of simply borrowing it seemed more foreign than any country.

He wheeled the suitcases to Franziska's door and left them there after knocking gently, then walked across the mingled living room and kitchen into his own bedroom. The space was quite comfortable, even if it could do with some brighter spots of color, but it couldn't quite decide whether it was a hotel suite or a full apartment. It felt as transitory as he did.

Well, if he was trying to settle down, attending Thanksgiving at the home of his oldest friend was certainly the most domestic activity he'd experienced in years, if not decades. Miles answered a few emails to give Franziska a little longer to sleep, then got dressed and knocked on her door again, louder. After a few more emails, he tried again, finally got a response, and waited for her debut.

"You're wearing that?" he asked dubiously as Franziska walked into the suite's living room. She was in a typical dress suit that she might wear to court, all starched material and elegant embroidery. And she had on silk stockings, for god's sake. "We're going to a casual gathering, not a trial."

Her glove-clad hand twitched uselessly toward her belt; he'd gotten her to agree to leave her whip, thanks to the close quarters and at least one underaged attendant. He'd probably pay for that upon their return to the Gatewater. "This is not a casual gathering, little brother." She spat the nickname. "This is a gathering of defense attorneys, and yet you choose to represent the Prosecutor's Office in that ensemble?"

"Yes," Miles said. He would still be dressed more formally than anyone there but Franziska, but if he wasn't going there from work, there was no reason to wear a suit. Plum-colored cashmere made a thin enough sweater to wear during the day, yet would be perfect for the chill that even Los Angeles nights could have in late November. Paired with charcoal grey slacks and black leather shoes, he would look rather stuffy at a party that would surely be full of t-shirts and jeans... if not for Franziska. "It's all right, Franziska," Miles said tolerantly, struck by sudden inspiration. "You've never really lived in America. No one expects you to know the appropriate level of formality for events like this."

Franziska narrowed her eyes. She recognized what he was doing yet was helpless against it. "A von Karma is always perfect," she spat and stormed back into her bedroom. Miles hid a smile as the door slammed and he waited on her outfit change. After a minute, Franziska's head and one bare shoulder popped into view. "Miles Edgeworth. How do you expect me to behave perfectly at this meeting for your culture if you refuse to provide me any guidelines for performance?"

Good; she'd stopped pretending that his heart truly belonged in the German woods of the von Karma estate. "Wear a knit like I've chosen," Miles said mildly. "I know you prefer skirts, and that's fine, but don't wear hose with them. You'd probably just snag it, anyway."

"I most certainly would not," she said before considering his suggestion. "Thank you, I can work with that." Oh, how about that; it was only the day after a long flight and she'd already remembered the words 'thank you.' Perhaps this would be a better visit than he'd anticipated. After another couple of minutes and a few loud thumps, Franziska pushed the door grandly open and made her re-entrance. "Critique me." A short wool skirt nearly vanished under a plush ivory pullover. She'd paired them with black leather knee boots and a purse to match, and large diamond earrings dotted her earlobes. The gloves were gone.

"There's a lot of food there," Miles said after some thought. This would go over poorly, but he had to say it. "A white sweater might not be the best choice."

"Because you expect me to stain it?" Franziska asked, hackles rising.

"Because someone else might. For all I know," Miles added dryly, "Wright's invited Larry Butz to the party."

It took her a second to place the name and Franziska reared back when she did. "No one can frighten me into abandoning an engagement," Franziska eventually said, "but it is only common sense to dress for one's surroundings." She vanished one last time and returned wearing a dove grey twin to the abandoned ivory sweater. "Well?" she asked tightly. "Is this appropriate?"

He studied her just long enough to ease her concerns and then kissed her gently on the forehead. "You look lovely. And perfectly appropriate."

"Hmph. Of course." She tossed her head and the strands of hair that had been disrupted by her wardrobe change fell into place. He'd always envied her that ease. "You look nice as well," she said as they made their way into the hallway. "Is it true, what Klavier Gavin implied when he called me? Are you trying to seduce Phoenix Wright?"

Miles tripped over his feet. "What? No!" he gasped as he caught himself on the wall and kept from falling. We are going to have words, Gavin. "We are having an entirely platonic competition. Entirely. I have no idea what that man told you, Franziska, but any seduction attempts will be held to him and his attorney of choice."

She said nothing and her expression was impossible to read. It maintained that opacity as they passed the elevators, thankfully. During their youth Franziska had mocked him when he avoided elevators, ever since his phobias were discovered and Manfred began rounds of what he called "exposure therapy." In reality, that therapy had simply been yet another way to abuse him. The man eventually concluded that Miles was helpless against his fears, and he was allowed to avoid elevators in exchange for being reminded of his weakness by father and daughter alike every time he did.

Their lives had become very different after the Hammond case. Even during the worst of Franziska's surging rivalry, she began to recognize what Miles already had: the two of them had grown up thinking they were pitted against each other, yet they were the other's sole ally in a war they didn't even know was being waged. The years since had mellowed them further. It helped that he'd taken a position back in the States, and with heavy administrative responsibilities. Franziska spent half her time prosecuting cases around the European Union, half of her time working with Interpol, and pulled down full pay for both. Both were respected in their fields, but their output couldn't be easily compared, nor were they working with the same people.

She'd long ago become kind to him about earthquakes. Now, it even extended to elevators. "It's fortunate that they had such a well-appointed suite on just the third floor," she said after a long stretch of silence, when they were nearly to the parking garage.

"Mmm. Yes. It's one reason I chose the place."

"That constraint will make it harder to find a suitable home, though; penthouses are on top floors." She glanced at him. "Unless you plan to buy a house?"

"In the city? With the laws and insurance premiums they have about guard dogs?" Manfred had kept a whole pack of dobermans and rottweilers on the manor's grounds; he'd made enemies more easily than most men breathed. "I'd be begging for someone to break in by the end of the first week. Any home on the ground floor would be—"

"Foolish," Franziska said. From her grin, it was the answer she'd wanted to hear. "I'm glad that you're doing your job well enough to need that caution." She added airily, "I might need a bodyguard if I'm too much more successful. If so, I'll inform you so that you might congratulate me appropriately."

They did live strange lives.

"In any case," Miles concluded as they reached his car and he clicked open the locks, "I am still far too busy settling into my new job to even think about househunting."

"Truly?" Franziska asked with a humorless smile as she strapped on her seatbelt. "But you have time for this foolish wager about that foolish attorney?"

And we're back to this. "Franziska...." He trailed off with a sigh as they pulled out onto the street. "I don't have an excuse. It was an emotional, egotistical reaction to Gavin's prodding. I should have been above it. I wasn't."

"And why is that?"

"He...." Miles' hands flexed around the steering wheel. It was impossible to give an answer that didn't at least touch on the truth, and he couldn't mention that truth about his far too complicated feelings without sounding, well, foolish. "Gavin said that he and Justice have a better and more significant relationship than Wright and I do. Which is completely incorrect and I had to prove him wrong. Don't give me that look."

"You should be watching the road," she said flatly. "Do not look at my expression."

"I'm not. I just guessed." He managed another block before he had to say, "Have either of them ever saved the other from a death sentence? No. Affected the course of the other's life from childhood onward? No. Hearing Gavin argue as he did was completely absurd. I refused to take it." And he was getting emotional again. No wonder Klavier had goaded him so successfully.

"So you feel that this makes your relationship with Phoenix Wright superior?"

"Yes, of course."

"Someone can have a long and proud career," Franziska said, "and that history will always exist, but it does not mean that they are performing better right now than some younger challenger rising through the ranks."

Miles scowled. He knew Franziska wouldn't be on his side; it was the entire reason he'd proposed her name to Klavier to counterbalance Ema. Still, the woman had seen him pretend to be a defense attorney just for Wright's sake! That had to count in the evidence, and heavily. They'd set all the precedent she might ever want.

"For one," Franziska said as she studied the passing city, "I doubt that Apollo Justice would ever ask Klavier Gavin to degrade himself by using the badge of his inferior station to make a mockery of the court and everyone in it." Oh, right. She'd hated that entire bout of playacting. Oops. Franziska remained silent for a few long blocks. "Foolishly sentimental. I said as much to Klavier Gavin and I see that it is even more true than I thought."

"I am not sentimental."

"You are, and you are forever a fool. You could have earned twice as much as a consultant and author back home, Miles."

He grumbled. The use of only his first name hadn't passed him by. He suspected that, although she would never admit it, Franziska had found herself lonely wandering the judicial halls of Europe on her own. "I am home." His earlier estimate of her acceptance had apparently been overstated. "And I don't need any more money, while my home needs all the help it can get to clean up its legal system. I'm where I belong. For good."

"You did not mention that this is also the home of Phoenix Wright. Was that not your primary decision criterion?"

He groaned as they rounded a corner. "Really, Franziska? This is what you think of me? I can see that you're just trying to goad me and I've already taken quite enough of that from Gavin recently. No. It was not. The face of law has turned away from the light and it needs someone willing to champion the right path. I'm in a position to affect change to millions of people; with only one level of appellate courts, tens of millions. If you weren't so obsessed with the thrill of the hunt and getting your hands dirty, perhaps you could understand that."

"Hmph." She folded her arms. "I watched you fly him out to work with us on cases that needed no consultant, little brother."

"He's the best legal mind I know," Miles said with a deliberate smirk, and got the glower he wanted in return.

She twisted a tissue in her hands, shaping it into a pathetic mockery of her whip back at the hotel. It smacked against his forearm uselessly. "As your judge I demand to know the following: are you in love with him?"

"No," Miles said.

"The truth!"

"No," Miles insisted. "I may have complicated feelings toward the man, but love isn't done at a distance. It means... knowing a person's foibles, their dreams, what makes them smile...." All right, this was a poor argument track to go down; he knew all of those things about Phoenix Wright. "And... and it involves dating," he finished lamely.

"You're creating a definition to suit yourself." Franziska studied him and her expression dropped in childish dismay. "It is true. My foolish fool of a brother is in love. With a defense attorney. You gave up your career in Europe for a defense attorney. Papa would be horrified, Miles Edgeworth."

"No, I did not, and good," Miles practically snarled. "I hope he's spinning down there."

Awkward silence surged. It choked them both and kept them quiet for nearly a mile. "I apologize for my outburst," he eventually said, though he didn't mean it. The only way Franziska could continue to bear her name with pride was to remember the man she'd seen in her heart and head, rather than the monster that had emerged from Miles' tortured memories. Mostly, they tried not to talk about Manfred.

"I researched this holiday," Franziska said. "As I understand, a family argument is required for the day to be complete."

He smiled faintly and reached over without looking away from the windshield. Without its usual glove, her wrist felt delicate when he squeezed it. "Then we've done a very efficient job of checking things off. Well done, us."

"Perfectly efficient," Franziska agreed, and the tension continued to drain... at least, until she caught his wrist in return even as he shifted gears. "Label your feelings for Phoenix Wright, then. As your judge, I'm owed this knowledge."

"Not love," Miles insisted. He'd been similarly grilled by Ema Skye only three days prior; how was it that this felt even more intrusive? "Gratefulness for our friendship, and mingled curiosity and faint regret at most. But never love. Unrequited love is pathetic and I am not. I refuse to be." Her silence in return unsettled him. "Were anything to... develop, it would have done so in Europe over these past years. We were frequently alone and in neighborhoods with far more character than this," he said with a dismissive gesture toward the boxlike discount architecture around them. He knew that Phoenix liked women, but it had remained to be seen whether his taste also extended to men. Apparently not; or at least, not to Miles Edgeworth. Fair enough. "It was a one percent chance at best, and so I never truly expected anything to happen. I was proved right and I moved on."

That might be overstating things, from his overblown reactions to things like a simple touch at that board game night. But he didn't need to be totally honest with Franziska. She didn't have one of those thrice-damned stones, after all. Miles finished, "I am beyond fortunate to have him as a friend. I would never do anything to jeopardize that for a vague 'more' that will never happen."

"Well," she eventually said, "I suppose I am glad to see that you can still behave sensibly when necessary. Even if you did make a terrible mistake in leaving behind the excellent team we made in favor of... this city. It's nearly December and it's green."

"It's called life, Franziska. It's pleasant."

"You're going to miss the snow," she said warningly. "You're going to miss fireplaces and mulled wine and scarves."

"Perhaps," he admitted as they reached the apartment complex he remembered well from Tuesday night. "I'm still not moving back."

"Hmph." She strode into the building as he grabbed the wine he'd purchased the day before, then followed. "I can use today to familiarize myself with Apollo Justice," Franziska said as she sought the right door. "I believe I have a relatively complete picture of Klavier Gavin after our meeting yesterday, and so he is all that remains."

"And what does that picture of Gavin look like, Frau Richter?" Miles asked lightly.

She batted him with her tissue-paper miniwhip again; he didn't even flinch for show. "I owe you no explanations, Miles Edgeworth. And if you lose like I expect you to, I will delight in passing down a loss to both you and Phoenix Wright."

"If you pass down that judgment," Miles said as they reached the door and she lifted her hand to knock, "I will of course accept it. For you will have made a perfect judgment that is a testament to your skills developed since childhood. Certainly, you would never insult your own talent by ignoring the facts just to make me lose." He smiled innocently. She glared, then hit him again.

Phoenix soon answered, looking far more "Phoenix" than like anything resembling the senior lawyer of a renowned legal agency. He was an absolute mess, smudged with what looked like every ingredient in the pantry. Miles couldn't help but wonder what sort of shape their dinner might be in. Apparently, the kitchen was less forgiving than the courtroom; not only was Phoenix a mess, but he was incredibly flustered as he welcomed them inside.

Smells greeted them that mostly matched his expectations for the holiday, even if everything wasn't coming together with quite the same flair as what Manfred's cooks would produce during a dinner party with roasts and pastries. Miles set down his wine bottles as directed, returned a strange look to Phoenix when he saw that the man was staring at him a beat too long, and stopped by the bathroom to make sure there wasn't anything smudged on his sweater. No, it looked fine. Phoenix must just be that amused by the sight of him without either a cravat or scarf; he'd certainly tried to get it off him during Game Night.

He next checked the kitchen to see how their dinner was coming along, rubbing his neck absently as he went; Phoenix had made him self-conscious despite himself. Plates were everywhere, the sink overflowed with mixing bowls, and the dishwasher's red light begged to be unloaded. "I think we put the turkey in too late," grumbled Athena as she, engrossed, flipped through something on her phone. "There's other stuff that's already done, and it's still got at least an hour to—" She noticed Miles only feet away from her and straightened in a second.

"Time to go!" squealed that peculiar necklace of hers. It had occasionally blurted out an answer she was considering in Trivial Pursuit, but this was far more entertaining. Athena blushed and covered it, then hurriedly scooped bits of food into containers. Miles glanced around as she flailed and saw Apollo's unaccompanied workstation. It appeared that Franziska's interrogation session was indeed in full swing. What a festive way to begin the holiday for everyone.

"Mr. Edgeworth!" Trucy said brightly, and held up a plate of still-warm chocolate chip cookies. "Thanks for coming!"

As Miles reached for one, Phoenix popped his head into the kitchen. His hair was more of a mess than usual and he was still struggling into a fresh shirt over the tee below. "Um. Don't eat those, Edgeworth." Trucy frowned at him and he added, "You'll, uh, ruin your dinner."

"Your associate said it would still be at least an hour," Miles said as Trucy set the cookies reluctantly aside. Athena brushed past him in the narrow galley-style kitchen, her arms laden with tupperware-clad side dishes, and Miles blinked. "You're leaving, Ms. Cykes?" He might not know her on anything past a superficial level, but if Phoenix trusted her, he wished to.

"I. Ah. Simon!" Athena showed off the food she was carrying and took another step toward the exit. "I'm going to have dinner with Simon. Very nice seeing you, Prosecutor Edgeworth!"

"You look just as scary in a sweater!" chirped her necklace.

Smirking, Miles inclined his head. The girl's face was nearly as red as her hair. "Please pass on my greetings to Prosecutor Blackquill, then, and best wishes to you both." With a tumble of words that was probably intended to be a polite farewell, she excused herself and the door closed. In the confusion of Athena's rapid departure, Trucy snuck a cookie into his hand. Vindicated, he moved to take a bite.

Phoenix threw out a hand and pleaded, "Stop, stop! Seriously, you don't want to eat that. They're from Trucy's panties." He turned to his daughter and hissed, "I told you not to make those today."

Miles froze just before taking a bite, looked at the cookie in bewildered horror, and then stared between the Wrights for an explanation that was never offered. "I... I beg your pardon?"

With wide, innocent eyes, Trucy said, "What? My magic panties, from my show. The show you've been to. Remember?" Miles still stared and she reconsidered her words. "Oh, right. I've shelved them for a little while until I get the knife act down, so you've never seen what I can do with my panties when I really get going." Her hand twirled in a flourish. "Well, anyway, please enjoy the cookies that were baked just this afternoon in my magic panties! They're wonderfully—"

"Please stop saying that word," Miles managed, and set the cookie back on the plate. "Please."

"It is like this every day, sometimes," Phoenix said weakly as he moved the plate of cookies to the far end of the counter. Miles followed him out of the kitchen; even his inconvenient feelings were far easier to deal with than hearing Trucy Wright wax rhapsodic about her underwear. This had to be the least appropriate thing he'd been involved with over the past year by quite a considerable margin.

"Well." Miles cleared his throat. "I see I've yet to encounter some of her more inventive performances."

"Sorry." Phoenix laughed sheepishly and raked his hand through his hair. Against all logic, it fell into the ridiculous order of his typical hairstyle. "They're not panty panties, they're bloomer panties. Right. You want me to stop using that word, too." He folded his arms across his chest, searching for something to say next, and Miles found himself growing self-conscious again as Phoenix looked at him in silence. When was Phoenix Wright ever lost for words? His problem was talking too quickly, not this.

After he'd teased Franziska about her outfit, Miles wondered if he was the one who'd erred. He idly rubbed that spot on his neck again. Cashmere probably wasn't right for a 'casual gathering,' either, or perhaps plum wasn't his color. Say something, Wright.

Phoenix swallowed.

Not helping.

"Can we please eat now?" begged Apollo Justice as he walked into the living room. His loud plea broke the silence and both Miles and Phoenix took long breaths as awkwardness shattered. Behind him, Franziska returned from the hallway with a dark glare. "We'll get started on the other food and the turkey'll be ready for second helpings. Right?" His voice strained further. "Right?"

"What on earth did you ask him about, Franziska?" Miles asked before he remembered what a stupid idea that was.

Fortunately, Franziska appeared to have covered her true intentions well. She always had been good in investigations. Apollo met Miles' gaze directly, took a deep breath, and murmured, "German shepherd. German shepherd."

"I. Ah." Miles blinked. "What was that?"

No explanation came, for Apollo plowed onward with as much confidence as he'd ever shown during Game Night, or more. "Prosecutor von Karma was asking me how I see myself fitting into the Agency, Prosecutor Edgeworth. I know Mr. Wright has worked with both of you and I think she wanted to understand my style." His jaw set. His voice soared. "I told her how serious I am, and about the next case I plan to take versus Prosecutor Gavin." A determined nod. "Versus Prosecutor Gavin, who I am not even going to talk to for at least a month when we're not in the courtroom, because I'm just focusing on my work!" A beat. "And on Thanksgiving!"

After clenching his teeth until he was sure that he'd fought down a triumphant grin, Miles politely asked, "I'm sorry: you said that you don't even anticipate speaking with Prosecutor Gavin for a month?"

"Maybe two!" Apollo proclaimed. "I'm going to focus!"

Languidly, Miles turned to Franziska and repeated, "A month. Maybe two."

She tugged at her tissue paper whip. It tore in her hands.

"That sounds like an excellent idea, Mr. Justice," Miles said. "I find your focus on your work to be highly admirable. Avoiding casual contact with individuals like Prosecutor Gavin will certainly help you in that regard." Franziska's glower deepened and Miles couldn't help but smile at her. "What?"

"I'm getting food," Franziska muttered, and stormed past the small group. "I do not care if your timing on the turkey was incorrect, Phoenix Wright," she said as he tried to raise protest. "I'm eating now. Apollo Justice, join me. We will discuss your association with Klavier Gavin further." Apollo's short-lived relief died.

"Don't eat any cookies," Miles called after her.

"Thanks again for coming today," Phoenix said when it became apparent that everyone was indeed going to follow Apollo's suggestion of eating now and anticipating the turkey. "It's good to have you home again."

"It's good to be home," Miles said, surprised as always at how much he meant it. "Ah. Wright. I have to ask you something else."

Phoenix's eyes flicked to his collar again, and Miles gathered his resolve to ignore that reaction for the time being and to throw out this sweater when he got home. Clearly, something was wrong with it. "Yeah?"

"Trucy didn't... make any other food, did she?"

It took a second for the distracted fog in Phoenix's eyes to clear, and he laughed when it did. "Only some scalloped potatoes, but I watched those come out of a box. It's safe."

"Good."

"Good."

"Good," Miles repeated. The clock on the disc player below the television ticked to the next minute. "...It sounds like they're getting food. Perhaps we should...."

"Absolutely," Phoenix nodded. He turned away and walked into the kitchen, calling out directions, and sounded far more like Phoenix Wright again than he had for most of that afternoon. The food did smell good, if inventive, and the space that had looked so bare and new on first sight again felt far homier with the sounds of friends and family. Miles smiled, smaller but more sincerely than when he'd heard about Apollo's Gavin embargo, and walked to join them. This was the first Thanksgiving in years that he'd celebrated, and certainly one in which he felt the most genuinely thankful.

Phoenix gave him another strange, sidelong look as Miles craned his neck around Apollo to inspect the food offerings.

Sigh. Well, he was thankful for everything except that sweater.

Chapter Text

The potatoes were delicious, the stuffing was dry, and the pie was unsalvageable. After the failure of his contribution, Apollo became obsessive about basting the turkey as it ticked away its last minutes in the oven. "We should just have my cookies," Trucy argued for the half-dozenth time, and was again ignored. "We don't need to make another dessert; we have dessert!"

Looking as close to sprawling as he'd ever seen her, Franziska lounged across one end of the sofa and studied the mess on the dining table. She, of course, hadn't offered to help clear a thing. Raising a glass of wine, she said around a yawn, "I suppose I can appreciate a holiday centered upon food, after all. Although I am unsurprised to see the defense's failure at achieving some of their efforts."

"If you're already yawning," Miles said as he clicked on the television and handed her the remote, "you'll be passed out after we eat that turkey."

"I will not," Franziska said and sipped her wine. "Not that it would speak ill of me if I did, after yesterday's travel nightmare. I came here as a favor to you, little brother; remember that." She clicked the remote to the next channel, tilted her head at whatever NFL game was on, and said thoughtfully, "Those pants are extremely tight."

"Enjoy," Miles said and left her to it. He'd never discussed Franziska's romantic predilections with her and tried not to speculate, but whether or not she enjoyed the players, she'd enjoy the violence.

After pouring a glass of Chardonnay for himself and listening to Franziska's surprisingly rapid investment in the athletic event, he tidied what he could on the table without interrupting Apollo and Trucy's impromptu potato-eating competition. Justice was a fine young lawyer overall, but Trucy did sometimes seem to bring out a strain of immature competition in him, Miles noted with a smirk. Looking over his shoulder at his sister back in the living room, his smirk widened. Ah, well. He probably wasn't one to talk about immature competition.

"Hit him again!" Franziska hollered at the screen, lifting her glass of wine triumphantly. Right, then; the violence it was.

Phoenix emerged from the kitchen just as Apollo won his eating contest and hurried to baste the turkey again. After scooting out of the way, Phoenix chuckled, "I don't know how much good all this basting will do in just the last hour. But I suppose it can't hurt."

"Constantly opening the oven door has to be lowering the temperature," Miles pointed out. "It's just taking longer for the bird to finish." From the look he got, that wasn't the right answer. "...I'm sure Justice is working very hard," he settled on.

"Better," Phoenix said with an impish grin. "I'll turn you into a mentor, yet."

"I will have you know that my department respects me deeply, Wright."

"Yeah, but they're prosecutors. I'll turn you into a mentor that even normal people would like."

Miles raised an eyebrow as he sipped his wine. "Are you truly attempting to lecture me on normality?"

"Is this a conversation we really want to be having?" Phoenix asked good-naturedly. Yes, Miles supposed they both knew far too much about the other for this to be a short discussion, and Phoenix nodded in satisfaction when Miles waved off continuing the topic.

Both of them were in good moods. Whatever strangeness had plagued Phoenix when Miles first arrived had eased over the course of the evening. Perhaps he'd just been worried about hosting his first holiday. For Miles' part, his initial concern about Franziska's presence giving away the game had proved unfounded. Oh, he'd been a little shaky with his explanation for why Franziska had wanted to talk to Apollo, but Phoenix hadn't noticed a thing, and she'd gotten her question and answer session out of the way quickly. And, after she'd loaded herself up with wine, fatty foods, and carbohydrates, wanting to experience Thanksgiving perfectly, even her anger over Klavier's poor performance had eased. Truly, this was a blessed day.

As Phoenix said something about how he was going to try to make a new dessert, Miles couldn't help but raise his wine glass and smirk behind it. A month. Maybe two. What had Gavin done to fall so spectacularly on his face? He wasn't about to leave the party just because he'd apparently won their bet after a matter of days; it had been the wager that drove him to spend more time with Phoenix Wright, but after that initial push, it was actually rather... wonderful. Still, it was nice to have the pressure off.

"Let me know if you need any help," Miles said when Phoenix finished, though he had no idea what the man had actually said. "I'll stop Franziska from throwing things at your television in the meantime. It sounds as if she's already become a devoted fan of Detroit's team."

Phoenix looked toward her in bewilderment. "Franziska cares about football teams? Really?"

"Foolish Americans!" Franziska slurred as one team lined up opposite the other.

"She saw that the other team was named the 'Patriots' and decided she wasn't a fan," Miles said dryly.

Phoenix laughed, then cut off to say very seriously, "Please protect my television if the Pats score a touchdown." He moved toward the kitchen, but turned back after a step and said, "That's when they make it to the end of the field and score points."

"I know that perfectly well," Miles lied, and breathed a tiny sigh of relief when Phoenix left without calling him on it. Good; as he'd suspected, the magatama was tucked safely away. He poured a glass of mineral water before joining Franziska and pressed it into her hand as soon as her wine was gone.

Minutes ticked past. While Franziska enjoyed her violence, he pulled out his phone and started catching up on the world's news. Initially, given some of their failures, he hadn't known if he would be able to eat any of the turkey when it finished. By the time it was finally cooked, however, it might actually sound appealing. This was taking forever.

"Mr. Edgeworth?" he heard a young voice ask, and looked toward the kitchen.

"Yes, Trucy?" Franziska pushed him away, not wanting their conversation to interrupt her viewing, and he joined the girl near a wall.

"Dad was wondering if you could—"

Hmm. "Trucy. I need to ask you something."

She blinked at the interruption. "Huh?"

Miles adjusted his glasses in a way he knew made him look professorial. "Your words just now reminded me of something that's been bothering me. To everyone else, including him, you refer to your father as 'Daddy.' To me, you call him 'Dad.' Why?"

Trucy's hand muffled her tiny gasp. "You noticed that?" She looked away, uncomfortable, but then turned back and met his eyes with purpose. "Well, that's good! I... I wanted to see if it mattered, and I guess it does!"

Brow furrowed, Miles said, "I don't understand. Why are you testing that, and why am I your test subject?" She seemed so defiant over something so insignificant. Her gaze shadowed and dropped to the floor, and Trucy looked suddenly very young. When she bit her lip rather than reply, Miles scanned the room around them and pulled her toward the hallway, away from any listeners. "Trucy," he began more gently, with his professor mode disengaged. "What's wrong?"

Her eyes were glossy when she looked back up; not teary, yet, but like they were considering the notion. She smiled wanly at his small, startled reaction. "Sorry. I didn't mean to make you feel like a test subject."

"It's fine. Please tell me what's wrong."

"They...." Trucy glanced at the kitchen entrance and her voice softened further. "People make fun of me at school. And I think I'm great and my life is great and they're not worth my time if they can't see that, but sometimes I—" She hugged herself. "But sometimes I hear one too many times that I'm the poor girl with the embarrassing dad, who doesn't realize that Harry Potter isn't real." Her arms flew back to her sides and her fists clenched. "Which is stupid! Because my daddy is better than theirs can ever be, and now we have a dishwasher, and I earn more at a single magic show than stupid Karlie earns in a week at Burger King!"

"You are talented and intelligent, and never let anyone tell you otherwise," Miles quietly agreed. This didn't answer the Dad vs. Daddy matter, though.

"Stupid Karlie laughed when I talked about my 'daddy,'" Trucy explained like she'd heard his thoughts. "It turned into this whole joke about how I dress, and my magic, and calling him that... and I guess I wondered if they were right. I wanted to see how it felt to sound a little more grown up." She bit her lip. "Did I? Sound more grown up?"

"I... yes," Miles admitted. Perhaps he should be reinforcing the girl's individuality above all else, but she did sound more mature with 'Dad' over 'Daddy,' and she'd asked. "Do you really care what 'stupid Karlie' thinks, though?"

"Not really. No." Trucy blew upward, sending her flip of hair flying. "But I did start wondering if maybe I should stop calling him that just... 'cause. You have to stop acting like a kid some time, right?"

He didn't know what answer to give her. He'd missed most of his childhood, and any affectations of youth had been forced out of him at an early age. For a long while Miles stayed silent and sought any response, any at all. "I'm not wearing a suit today," he settled on.

Trucy squinted at the strange response. "Did you bring another couple of wine bottles and not share them with anyone?"

Glowering, he continued, "I'm not wearing a suit because this day is quite informal. When I need to show myself professionally, I never step outside the house until I'm perfectly presented. But on the days that I don't, there's no reason not to wear something more comfortable." She still seemed uncertain, and he explained, "If it makes you feel better to publicly refer to your father as 'Dad,' for any reason, I see no reason not to. But that doesn't mean you need to behave the same in public and in private. If you want to call him 'Daddy' at home, do so." He raised an eyebrow meaningfully. "Besides, I have the sneaking suspicion that your father would be unhappy if you called him something else just to appease your classmates, even though he'd never mention it to you."

"Oh," Trucy said, and bit her thumbnail. "I didn't think that he might not like it. O... okay! Even if I do call him Dad at school, just so I don't have to deal with them being stupid, you're right. There's no reason I should change how I act toward the people who matter to me, yeah?"

Miles smiled. Whether she stuck to her individuality at all costs or picked her battles, the important thing was that she seemed confident about her decision and herself. He'd certainly missed out on the chance to make his own mistakes. "Good. Now: why was I your test subject?"

"Well. I wanted to sound grown up and you're the most grown up person I know. So, if I could convince you...." She shrugged and bit her lip again, though her mood was far brighter. "Sorry! Was that okay?" Miles nodded solemnly and she grinned with relief. "Okay, great! Thanks. Um... since we're talking about names, do you actually want me calling you Mr. Edgeworth, or would you like something else?"

"Miles is fine."

Trucy giggled. "Really? Not even Daddy calls you that."

"It's just force of habit between the two of us, really. Now: when you came to talk to me, you said that he had something he wanted me to do. What was it?"

Soon Miles was driving to the nearest open store, steeling himself to fight for whatever milk and eggs were left on the shelves. Phoenix Wright: master of never planning ahead. He shook his head ruefully as he pulled into a parking spot and began that unpleasant hunt inside the crowded building. I should have just brought another cake with me, he grumbled as he got into line at the single cashier working on Thanksgiving Day. Ah well; let Phoenix handle the friends and family side of things, and play doting father back at the apartment. Miles had never been good at anything like that. He could contribute to the festivities with his car, he supposed.

His phone buzzed in the parking lot and he checked the text once the bag was stowed. You really told Trucy to call you Miles? asked Phoenix.

The girl hugged me and attempted—futilely—to pull me into a victory dance this Tuesday. Mr. Edgeworth seems strangely formal.

Maybe I can just get her to call you Edgeworth. This is weird.

Miles smiled and didn't answer as he pulled back onto the road.

Phoenix's new attempt at a dessert was tolerable enough that Trucy gave up on sharing her cookies, and while Apollo's basting probably hadn't done much good, the turkey was perfectly acceptable. ("Tolerable" and "acceptable" might not be high praise, but given the circumstances, they were more than Miles had hoped for.) "Okay," Phoenix said as he started boxing up the remaining food and arranging it in his refrigerator. "Lessons learned for next year, right? Of course, next year we're not going to even have a turkey, so... forget that particular lesson."

"You're not going to have a turkey?" Miles asked as Apollo and Trucy prepared to split the wishbone.

"Athena left to go visit your prosecutor whose bird would have needed therapy if he saw a dead turkey on the table, remember. So we're going with a ham." After shooting his daughter a thumbs-up for her wishbone victory, Phoenix considered his words and frowned. "I think I just committed myself to hosting an even bigger dinner next year, didn't I?"

"I suppose you did." Miles returned a smile to answer the unasked question: yes, I would love to come. Phoenix smiled back and then, damnably, looked at Miles' sweater with that same peculiar expression as before. Oh, hell. Not this again. "Ah, if you'll excuse me," Miles said, backing away from the leftovers and holding up his hands. "I'd like to tidy up."

Phoenix looked at those hands before answering, and Miles was left wondering just what in the world was wrong now. "Oh. Right, sure!" Back to his old self in an instant, he nodded. "I'll handle the rest of this. Thanks."

Miles sighed at himself in the bathroom mirror as he scrubbed. Most of the visit had been perfect. Not from any bet standpoint; with it mostly won, he'd barely thought about points and scoresheets after their arrival. He was a man with very few friends, and only two people in the world who knew him deeply. It wasn't like having Phoenix and Franziska in the same place was unusual; Wright had worked with both of them on cases, after all. But never before had the two people closest to him been in such a warm, domestic, peaceful setting. It was enough to make him relax, and that was something he seldom managed.

But then Phoenix had given him those strange looks and Miles still didn't know what was wrong. If it were a normal workday, he'd write off Phoenix's peculiar expressions. Perhaps Miles' words reminded him of some ridiculous client, or perhaps he was frazzled with settling another childish argument at the office. He didn't know how to take this, though, with Phoenix veering back and forth into distraction for no reason.

After drying his hands, he slipped past the kitchen door and found a quiet corner to check his emails. The solitude didn't last long. "Hey."

Miles glanced at Phoenix, who to his relief was no longer giving him those looks. There was, however, something uncomfortably weighty about that syllable. Uncertain, he echoed the man's greeting and followed it with a brusque nod. Phoenix folded his arms across his chest, shot a sidelong glance at the people in his living room, and inclined his head toward the balcony where they'd talked before the Tuesday games. The same concern built as it had then, but Miles followed him out and stayed silent until the door slid closed. "Is something wrong?"

"I was going to ask you that."

"I don't understand," Miles said. Phoenix's peculiar reply had done nothing to soothe his nerves.

"Well, it's just... today. Since it's almost over." Phoenix gestured expansively at the sliver of street they could see from the balcony, and presumably the city beyond. "You know."

"No," Miles said carefully. What was Phoenix going on about? Had he noticed something Miles had tried to hide? "I don't know."

"It's Thanksgiving."

Wright could be maddeningly obtuse, sometimes. "Yes, I'm aware of the date," Miles said, verging on snappish. "The food gave it away."

"And after today," Phoenix continued like Miles hadn't sounded ready to storm off, "everyone's going to be in full Christmas mode."

Oh. Though that awareness had coiled low in Miles' mind, scraping its claws across his memories every time he flipped past a radio station that had decided to jump into carols on an obscenely early date, it had been easy to push it back into the shadows whenever it reared. Phoenix was right, though; come tomorrow, that control would be much harder to maintain.

"I just... it's been a while since we've been in the same place for December." Miles felt the ghost of a smile at Phoenix's words, though it faded as quickly as it rose. Phoenix had visited Europe on Miles' dime, yes, but never during the winter. He was so endearingly pathetic with cold weather. He called this a winter; Brandenburg or Brussels would break him. "And it's not the sort of thing I just wanted to bring up over the phone," Phoenix continued. "So. Uh. Is December any better than it used to be?"

Miles leaned on the balcony railing and sighed. "I thought so." Nightmares were rare, now, but there was always that anniversary week where every night was blood and fear and darkness. Still, one week—with isolated lapses in other months—was far better than his old, nightly routine. Seeing December on the calendar no longer made him sick, and Christmas decorations meant something beyond memories of Manfred calling him into his office for annual discussions of what he needed to do to make up for what had happened.

"But...?" Phoenix prompted when he stayed silent.

"It is better," Miles answered after some thought. "It really is. You have no idea what this time of year used to be like for me. But I may have overestimated my recovery."

"Oh?"

"They asked me to put together a Christmas party for the department." Miles grimaced. "Gavin spearheaded it; the man never passes up a chance to socialize. He said I'd barely need to do anything, it would all be my assistant, and he could even offer suggestions for the venue to book. All I'd need to do would be to sign off on the proceedings and...." He heaved a sigh. "And give a boilerplate speech to everyone about how wonderful the holidays are and how they bring the office together and I honestly have no idea how he finished. My mind locked up and I said absolutely anything I could think of to turn him down. Limited resources or wasted time or something." Phoenix didn't reply immediately, and Miles looked over to him, resigned. "So: I'm better than I was, but not as strong as I hoped."

"That's not about being strong, Edgeworth. Don't worry about that. You're probably the strongest person I've ever met."

Miles drew back, genuinely startled.

At his surprise, Phoenix continued, "You were tortured for fifteen years and you're still alive. You're feeling bad about not wanting to throw one Christmas party while most people wouldn't even be standing here, you know?"

"I almost wasn't." Phoenix had nothing to say to that. Miles knew he preferred to view the year's disappearance as nothing more than a cruel ruse, presented in the most hurtful way possible to steer Phoenix clear of any attempts to find Miles and bring him home. The truth was unthinkable, and so Phoenix simply avoided thinking about how the letter had been written in literal terms and only moved into the metaphorical after one last, fortunate round of self-reflection.

Shaking his head, Miles leaned on the railing again and looked at the featureless side of a building rather than Phoenix's pained expression. "I suppose I can say that... I am no longer a walking wound. But when wounds heal, there's still a scar. I'm left waiting to see if it fades." Silence greeted that answer and he risked glancing over again. Phoenix looked serious, and his eyes were dark and thoughtful.

"I hadn't put it in those terms before," Phoenix slowly said, "but yeah. I guess some things leave scars." He joined Miles in leaning on the railing and staring at the building beyond. "Scars can be pretty ugly, sometime. It's nice to have people who know about yours and don't care."

Right: Miles wasn't the only one who'd gone through pain in his life, not by a long shot. Seven years might not equal fifteen on the calendar, but at some point the sheer length stopped mattering. And, for all that his father's death had broken him, at least Miles had never stumbled across the cooling corpse of a dear friend. Scars were all ugly in their own way. "You didn't invite Maya," Miles pointed out, his cheeks warm. If there was one other person Phoenix might mean with that description, and thus one suitable distraction from these entirely inconvenient emotions, it was Maya Fey.

Phoenix blinked in confusion and tried to swerve topics to keep up. "Maya? Oh, Maya!" He grinned. The weighty mood on the balcony changed as surely as if a storm front had passed. "Of course I invited her! She and Pearls were going to get a ride from someone else driving in to the city, but a snowstorm hit the mountains last weekend. They're still digging out and the roads aren't safe."

"And they couldn't take the train, instead?"

"Didn't get tickets in time," Phoenix said regretfully. "Everything's busy around Thanksgiving, even the train to Kurain. She promised to swing by the next time she gets a break in training. She wants to see you, you know. You'd better say yes; I get the feeling she won't even consider taking no for an answer."

What safe territory this was, and what a relief. "I would be glad to," Miles said, a little too sincerely.

Phoenix picked up on that emphasis and shot him an amused look. "You're actually missing your old friends, huh? I didn't think you still cared."

"Oh?" Miles asked mildly. "And why would you think that?"

With a smug grin, Phoenix said, "So, Edgeworth, tell me what Detective Gumshoe is up to these days."

"Didn't you invite him for dinner?" Miles replied, his tone still even. "Or have you lost his contact information over the years? He and Maggey are down in Orange County." At Phoenix's surprise, he continued, "They're working for a private security company owned by another couple. They seem to get along quite well. Their children are all friends. Even if you had invited them, I doubt they would have come, to be honest. They have their own family traditions, I'm sure." Phoenix gawked and Miles chuckled softly. "They send me a Christmas letter every year, Wright. One of the less objectionable parts of the holiday season."

"Gumshoe has kids?"

"Two boys." Miles' smile spread. "With college funds established on their first birthdays, so that they might grow up to be better informed than their father."

Eyes ready to pop out, Phoenix demanded, "Wait, wait. You'd cut Gumshoe's salary if the guy sneezed, but you're going to pay for his kids to go to college?"

"No, I simply established the funds with some seed money. They'll be responsible for putting in more over the years." That answer still left Phoenix gawking, and so Miles patiently explained, "I'm no longer his supervisor, simply a man who—with some distance between us—saw that he did in fact do a lot for me. Even if he was very, very bad at it."

"But this is your own money," Phoenix said, scratching his head. "You'd take away money the department was paying him, but you'll write him a personal check?"

"Exactly." At Phoenix's bewilderment, Miles asked, "Where does my money come from, Wright? Certainly not from my father, insurance payment aside; he was as idealistic and... charitable with his work as you are."

"So, from... von Karma?" Phoenix asked warily.

A nod. "He didn't leave a will; up until the day he was executed, he probably thought they wouldn't dare to actually kill him. As someone with a permanent European base, Franziska was granted the physical assets: home, cars, artwork, and such. They gave me the liquid assets: investments and most of his bank accounts, less those needed to pay the outstanding taxes." The thought of that much money clearly left Phoenix dizzy, but there was more. "And beyond that, did you know that once you reach a salary tier with this city, they cannot reduce your pay level during even non-continuous employment periods?"

"I. That's. You. Do I even want to know how much you make?" Phoenix's question sounded positively pained.

"No. Because I rocketed through those salary tiers as von Karma's protégé, giving Los Angeles the politically pleasing appearance of safety by disregarding all innocence. The city made me rich as a reward for acting like him, and his death made me even richer. I have more money than I know what to do with, all thanks to the man who ruined my life." Miles found himself smiling again. "And one of my favorite things to do is to spend it on things I know that he would absolutely hate."

Phoenix barked a laugh. "Like founding a scholarship fund for Dick Gumshoe?"

"Exactly." The words echoed and Miles repeated thoughtfully, "Founding a scholarship fund?" Two bank accounts for the Gumshoe boys hardly counted as such, but he liked the sound of what Phoenix had said. He'd taught at universities and he'd seen the young minds that needed to be cultivated. How many more potential Wrights or Feys were out there? "Now that you put it that way, how does this sound: the Manfred von Karma Scholarship... for Defense Attorneys."

"Oh my god," Phoenix wheezed. If the railing weren't there to support him, he'd likely double over even further. "You are going to get haunted, you know that?" He allowed himself another good, long laugh, during which even Miles chuckled. But by the end, his head was shaking. "You can't, Edgeworth, you can't."

"Oh, why not?" Miles asked. "Really, I don't have enough to spend it on. That's why I paid for the pizza; I hope you didn't mind."

A tiny bit of tension in Phoenix's shoulders eased. Before it left, Miles hadn't known it was there. "That makes sense. I didn't want you thinking that I couldn't even pay for that much, now; I do have my old job back. But if it was to stick it to ol' Manny, well...."

"I'll let you pay for next week's dinner."

It had been the right thing to say. Phoenix straightened, delighted, and asked, "You're coming next time, too?"

"You did imply that this would be a weekly event. It'd be a shame to split up a winning team."

"That's...." Beaming, Phoenix said, "I didn't want to ask because it was such a pain to get you for even one night, but if you're seriously offering? Yes. Yes, absolutely, Trucy is going to be so happy. But you still can't name the scholarship after von Karma, no matter how much he'd hate it."

"Hmph." Miles folded his arms. "Why not?"

"Because you don't want to have would-be lawyers applying for a scholarship that even remotely implies they should be honoring and imitating Manfred von Karma, Edgeworth." Ugh, he's right. That would be the last thing the world needs. Phoenix nodded at Miles' sour reaction, and continued meaningfully, "But if you want to spit on von Karma's memory with his own money, and give the next generation someone that they should really look up to...."

"The Gregory Edgeworth Legal Scholarship," Miles finished softly. "For students seeking education centered upon social justice and the ethical practice of law. It's perfect."

"You are going to get seriously haunted."

"Well," Miles said in airy tones, "I suppose it's a good thing that the Master of Kurain is looking forward to meeting with me, then."

Phoenix bumped his shoulder against Miles' arm. When had they gotten so close? "You're still not sounding like someone who wants to explain away the magatama, you know." When Miles was unable to say anything in his defense, Phoenix bumped their shoulders again. It was rapidly becoming time to return to the apartment and put some space between them. The night was chilly, and yet Miles' thin sweater felt positively stifling. "Your office is closed tomorrow, right? Let's figure out what we'll need to do to set up the legal trust for the scholarship fund. We can spend all day doing paperwork, because I know you like that, you big dork."

"I would like to move forward with it," Miles agreed, "but you don't need to put yourself out on my account, Wright. If you need to go Christmas shopping, or...."

Phoenix waved him off. "I'll give Trucy some money, but I'll just shop online. ...Or wait until Christmas Eve and buy everything in a panic, more likely. Tomorrow is officially Christmas season and I want you thinking about something that makes you happy. New memories. New associations. Scars fading. Okay?"

"Thank you," Miles said with faint wonder. "You're... very good to me. You always have been, far more than I deserve."

"Nah, don't mention it. We're partners, right?" Miles blushed at the memory of his unfortunate wording to Gavin, and Phoenix blinked. "That's so weird. I just halfway saw your locks again, even though I don't have it on me. And one... shook. One day you have got to tell me what you're hiding, because you sure have me curious."

"Oh... oh?" Miles asked nervously. This was unfair; since when could Wright see lies even when he wasn't carrying the damned thing? "I didn't think it worked that way. Remotely, I mean."

"It usually doesn't." Phoenix scratched his head. "It's only happened once, when the magatama wanted me to find it. This one time someone stole it and... never mind. So which is it?" he asked with a grin. "Did you actually steal it, or does the magatama just really want me to grab it from my dresser?"

"I most certainly did not steal any of your possessions and I'm quite certain that I don't know what a rock 'wants' you to do."

"You sure?" Phoenix asked teasingly. "It's only two locks left, right? Why not just tell me?"

"You told me that the secret was mine to keep and I expect you to hold to that promise, Wright," Miles snapped, harder than he meant to. As the connection between them splintered, he sighed and looked away. "I apologize."

Thankfully, Phoenix didn't just leave, though Miles wouldn't have blamed him if he had. "No. No, I'm sorry. You're right; I told you I'd leave well enough alone and I didn't."

Miles managed to smile. "You never did know when to quit. Looking at that behavior in total, I must say that I'm indebted to your thick-headedness."

"Stop," Phoenix drawled. "You'll make me blush."

Wanting to make sure that Phoenix had truly accepted his apology, Miles fought back his discomfort and very deliberately met Phoenix's eyes. They stood like that for a good five seconds, maybe ten, studying the other man in the evening darkness. Though he tried to do nothing more than impart his sincerity, Miles couldn't help but appraise Phoenix's face and marvel on how it had changed since their first meeting. He bit his lip, just for a second before he got himself back under control, and was startled to see Phoenix's face darken like he'd joked about. I've made things uncomfortable, Miles thought, and took a deliberate step back before he ruined everything. "Thank you for a lovely evening, Wright, but I should be getting Franziska back to the hotel. Between the food, drink, and her jetlag I don't know how much longer she'll last."

"Right," Phoenix said as he fiddled with a loose piece of hair. "Good plan. I'll see you tomorrow." Then he looked at Miles' sweater again, just to rub the awkwardness in one last time.

"Come on, Franziska," Miles said as he roused her. Her excitement over the television had crashed abruptly into a nap. "You can listen to the game on the way home." She let herself be guided, yawning, and the duo soon reached his car in the lot. I'm glad that I needed to keep a clear head, Miles thought as he slid into the driver's seat. Two glasses of wine over several hours was like drinking water; if he'd been free to indulge, he might have said something truly foolish, and he'd already come dangerously close a few times. If tomorrow was going to be anything like today, they needed to return to the hotel quickly so that he had the maximum possible time to relax, rejuvenate, and focus.

As Franziska began to quietly snore in the seat next to him, Miles pulled out onto the road, careful to take the driveway dip slowly. He gave the same care to stopping at lights. And, most of all, he resolved to wear a damned suit tomorrow.

Chapter Text

If there was a better feeling than waking up for the second weekday in a row and not having to go to work, Apollo Justice didn't know what that might be. He smiled blearily at the alarm clock that hadn't sounded, stretched his arms out from under the covers, and rolled out of bed and headed for the bathroom.

Of course, just because he didn't have to work didn't mean that he didn't want to work.

As he gelled his hair into perfection, Apollo reveled in the feeling of a long, luxurious rest. That was the biggest benefit of days off, since he hated early attorney hours but missed the office on the days that he wasn't working. But today had provided a glorious compromise: he got to sleep in and kick off a case, even though he wasn't officially on the clock. Could things get any better?

Nope, didn't look like it. Mr. Wright had forgiven him all of his stupid behavior, as near as Apollo could tell, and even the German duo the night before had been strangely bearable. Sure, von Karma had freaked Apollo out when she first arrived; it felt like she was conducting the world's strictest job interview as a way to introduce herself. Worse, she'd gotten angry when Apollo described how dedicated he was to the Anything Agency: the number of hours he worked, the distractions he was removing, the cases he'd won. But things had eased over the course of the night, and Apollo was able to remind himself of the complicated relationship that Prosecutor von Karma and Mr. Wright surely had. Beyond their history in the courtroom, Mr. Wright had been flying over to Europe to years to work with Prosecutor Edgeworth, and her by extension. (Not that he'd told Apollo about those trips.) The woman probably didn't know whether she was still mad at Mr. Wright or whether she secretly cared about him and wanted to make sure he had good associates.

It felt like he'd passed that second test, and so Apollo adjusted his tie with confidence. Even Edgeworth had seemed more approachable, and over dinner he'd discussed no fewer than three of his cases that Apollo knew about. He'd let Apollo chime in, too! Maybe his infamous bad moods were attached to that cravat like some sort of fantasy novel curse. One cravat to rule them all, one cravat to find them. One cravat to bring them all and in the darkness cut their salaries.

Prosecutor Skye seemed nicer than what Apollo had expected of her, too, from what he could remember of that unfortunate concert night. It wasn't that Apollo wanted to measure his worth based on prosecutors' opinions, but... two chief prosecutors and Europe's biggest legal name? Those weren't just prosecutors, they were prosecutors. And—with some iffy moments mixed in there—Apollo Justice had impressed them all. All on his own.

Time to go to work. "I'm Apollo Justice," Apollo told his reflection, "and I'm fine." He nodded with confidence, saw approvingly that his hair barely moved, and hefted his bicycle and locked his apartment door behind him.

He stopped just in time to avoid smacking into Miles Edgeworth.

"P-Prosecutor!" Apollo scrambled to regain his lost confidence, setting his bike hurriedly aside. Oh man, did the guy have to be cravatted out again right after Apollo had been so reassured by his casual outfit? "I'm sorry, I didn't see you."

"Quite all right, Justice. We both had poor timing." He noticed Apollo's curious survey of the thick stack of paperwork he held. "Wright is helping me with setting up a legal trust today."

That explained the suit, at least. Prosecutor Edgeworth must use clothing to get into a properly professional mindset, the same as Apollo did. "Is Prosecutor von Karma coming, too?"

Edgeworth shook his head. "Franziska is catching up with an old friend of hers. Ms. Andrews is vice president of marketing of Lordly Tailor, now, and today is quite the battlefield for any retailer. Franziska wished to see her in action." After appraising Apollo from hair to shoes, Edgeworth frowned slightly. "Is Wright making you work?"

Apollo shook his head. "No, Prosecutor! My defense services have been requested and I thought I would start my investigation over the long weekend."

"Good man," Edgeworth said with what sounded like faint surprise. "I had to remind my prosecutor to do the same. Well, best of luck with constructing your case." Just as Apollo was about to let loose a grin, he added dryly, "Remember not to rely too heavily on a single piece of evidence, just in case my office remembers proper procedure."

The mention of the chain of custody hypothetical made Apollo blush, but not much. Not after that easy back-and-forth with a legal legend. "Right, sir. Good luck with your trust."

"Thank you."

Apollo breathed a sigh of relief as he hurried down the stairs and straddled his bike as soon as he hit pavement. Had he really just held a pleasant solo conversation with Miles Edgeworth? Okay, it had been formal, but if he could work in Kristoph Gavin's law office, he could certainly manage a formal but good-natured exchange with anyone else on the planet. Athena was waiting at the detention center for him, and Apollo said with wonder as he joined her in the lobby, "Prosecutor Edgeworth wished me good luck on the case." It had all he'd been able to think about on his ride over.

"Seriously?" she demanded, then hesitated. "When? Why?"

"He was going to work with Mr. Wright on something and I, uh, ran into him." Athena's eyes flicked toward her necklace, and Apollo knew with annoyance that she'd heard the embarrassment in his voice. "For the record: I did not actually run into him."

"You were just close to it," Athena guessed, and ticked a victory point in the air when Apollo couldn't argue. "Wait. Wait. Do you think he was messing with you?"

Apollo jerked back. "What? Why would you say that?" Don't take this away from me, Cykes!

"Well... he has a scary rep, right?" Athena shrugged as the security guard searched their bags. "Maybe it's some tricky reverse psychology thing to make you slack off. It's not like he's a goodie two-shoes like Prosecutor Gavin." At Apollo's morose expression, she added sheepishly, "Or maybe the old stories are wrong and he really is who our boss says he is, and he wants you to find the truth and pursue the right decision and whooo justice!"

"Don't mock me," Apollo sniffed as they walked through the metal detector and collected their belongings. And don't mention Gavin. Athena put Widget back on as Apollo rounded on her and said, "Maybe I just impressed him when I knew about the cases he brought up during dinner. Remember? Mr. Wright said we just had to push back when Edgeworth tried to push us, and we'd get his respect."

"You talked cases on Thanksgiving?" Athena asked. "Really?"

The attendees at that dinner had included four members of the Bar and a lawyer's daughter; what did she expect? "Well, what did you two talk about?" In a dinner with just her and Simon, they'd have an even better percentage of legal participants.

"Uh." Athena tugged her ponytail. "Anything besides prison." Fair enough. As they approached the heavy door, Athena held out her arm and blocked Apollo from taking his final steps inside. "Mr. Villa's in his Ruby getup," she murmured. "At least, I'm pretty sure. He's singing old jazz standards under his breath while he waits," she explained with a gesture toward her ears. "So...."

They'd gone over all of this by phone: treat Devon Villa as Devon Villa and Ruby Lipps as Ruby Lipps. Don't be surprised at either appearance behind the glass. A stage persona to retreat into might be comforting. Let your client keep on any armor that gets them through this. It was hard not to recall how Klavier was the one who'd originally given that advice. "Thanks for the heads-up." He didn't want to look surprised at seeing Ruby and lose a client before the papers were signed. "Let's go talk to her," he said, just catching the pronoun just in time.

Sure enough, it was Ruby behind the glass. Apollo had seen the performer's pictures in the news reports, so the only surprising thing was how flawless she looked that morning. He'd been expecting dark circles, wrinkled clothes, and smeared cosmetics after nights spent in detention, but Ruby looked ready to launch a show. A tumble of red curls set off her makeup-sculpted features and her sequined dress was a complicated blue and purple one that had been pictured on the troupe's website. Honestly, she looked better put-together than Apollo. "Ms. Lipps?" Apollo began uncertainly, approaching the glass. Should he use the full stage name or not? "I'm Apollo Justice. You contacted me about representing you?"

"Aren't you a couple of cuties?" Ruby said tiredly and gestured for them to take seats. "Thanks for coming down right after Thanksgiving. I know I'd rather be spending today anywhere else."

"I'm Athena Cykes," Athena added when Apollo forgot to introduce her. "Apollo's co-worker at the Agency."

A small smile curled Ruby's lips. "Your names are Apollo and Athena? Seriously? Do you have your own stage show, too?"

"What?" Apollo asked, and directed a quick glare at Athena. "No! This is just my name, and I've been working there longer than her, anyway." She glared right back.

"Our boss' name is Phoenix," Athena added. "I don't know whether that makes us more or less weird." After the look Ruby gave her, Athena nodded. "Right. More weird."

"Phoenix," Ruby repeated slowly. "Phoenix Wright?" At Apollo's hesitant nod, tension drained out of her. "You're that lawyer who worked with him and cleared his name! That was quite the scandal. Nothing like seven years of payoff, right? Not that I'd actually heard about the guy before they started writing articles about him, but hey, can you blame me? There are a whole lot of stories in this city to keep track of." Ruby talked like a grand dame from the old days of Hollywood, and Apollo had to focus to keep up with her affected accent. "Okay, cutie. I'll sign with you, if you'll still agree to represent me after I fill you in."

"That's great," Apollo began, "and we'll talk about the case in a second, but why did you call me down here if you weren't actually ready to have me represent you? I'm just curious."

Perhaps unconsciously, Ruby ran a gloved finger over her sequined dress. "That hotshot prosecutor on my case seems like a real sweetheart, too. He got me and Helena our own cell when some of the other detainees became... unpleasant. I couldn't believe that Klavier Gavin was being so nice to us. Next thing I knew, he showed up with our stage gear and makeup kits." Her smile seemed more genuine than Apollo had seen so far, and Athena gave him a tiny nod; Ruby sounded totally sincere to her ears. "He said that he knew what a good boost of confidence could do for you 'onstage.'"

Although he wanted to avoid the topic of Klavier Gavin, Apollo's curiosity was too strongly piqued. "I see. He told me that he would mention my name to you, Ms. Lipps, but...." Somewhere, the connection from A to B wasn't quite solidifying in his mind. Why hadn't she wanted to sign with him? And why was she talking about Klavier so much to answer his question?

"Boy, he talked you up left and right." Ruby eyed him appraisingly and seemed to like what she saw. "You're apparently as stubborn as a mule when your client needs you to be, sharp as a tack, and cuter than Helena's puppies."

Without looking over to confirm her delighted grin, Apollo said flatly, "Shut up, Athena."

Ruby continued, "But then I started thinking... Klavier's job is to look cute and lock me up, right? Should I really trust the defense lawyer that the prosecutor recommends? What if he's just trying to get an easy kill? Maybe treating Helena and me nicely was just setting us up for a double-cross. When you're stuck in here...." Her satin-covered hand sketched out an elegant scrawl in the air. "Your mind wanders. Every option seems worse than the last."

"Prosecutor Gavin is...." Apollo sighed. Klavier had said all of that about him? Really? "He's really not sneaky like that. Honestly. He just cares about getting the right verdict, and he'll even help me out on figuring out a case if he realizes that my client is innocent. He's over the top, but... he is a good guy." The worst part of saying all of that to her was that it was absolutely true. Klavier could be annoying even when he wasn't in the room, somehow. Didn't he know that Apollo wanted to ignore him for a month? Or maybe two?

Ruby's expression settled into controlled neutrality. When she next spoke, Athena brushed the back of Apollo's hand with her fingertips; something in Ruby's voice had her confused. "That's good to hear. That case with Mr. Wright must mean that everything Mr. Gavin said about you was true. I would love to have you represent me." She turned toward Athena. "Did you know that they brought in Helena yesterday? Helena Fire?" When they both shook their heads, Ruby leaned close to the glass, intent on Athena's eyes. "Would you represent her, Miss Athena? I don't want Helena spending one second in jail longer than she needs to."

"Huh?" Athena asked. "Oh. Oh, sure! I'd be happy to!" Apollo could almost hear her mental gears clanking into motion as she tried to adjust to being not just the assistant on a case, but the attorney. "Should I go talk to her now?"

"Would you?" Ruby smiled. "You'll know her when you see her, trust me. Her get-up is a total Cruella ripoff. But she changed the name enough that Disney would never come after her." As Athena gathered her things and promised to exchange notes with Apollo later, Ruby's heavy-lidded gaze followed her all the way to the door, and lingered there for a few long seconds after it closed. But when she looked back to Apollo, her eyes were anything but dreamy. "Is she good?"

Apollo nodded mutely.

"Okay, little Mr. Justice. Here's what went down. I robbed that bank. I used Helena's trained puppies to cause total chaos inside, then made off with them and the money in an ice cream truck playing Cher and Dolly's greatest hits, because I was in a Cher and Dolly sort of mood. I am totally at fault. Helena and everyone else in my troupe are totally innocent and I don't want them to spend any time in jail that they don't have to." Ruby's green stare bored through him. "I will be found guilty and I'm just hoping you can keep my sentence as light as possible. I... I don't think I'll do very well in prison."

Apollo stared back. His bracelet was tight around his wrist. "Ms. Lipps... with all due respect, I don't think you're being entirely honest with me."

"No, I'm not. But I'm only hiring you, Mr. Justice, to keep my sentence as light as possible. That's all I'm hoping for." That, at least, was the truth. Her earlier lie must be about the distribution of guilt, or perhaps how she'd conducted the bank robbery. Apollo suspected the former, for she was too passionate about keeping everyone else out of jail and taking all the blame on herself. "I'm not hoping for an acquittal. It's not going to happen. Will you agree to represent me and keep my sentence as light as you can?"

After a long, silent pause, Apollo nodded. "I'll get you as light a sentence as possible." After all, 'no sentence' would be a very light sentence indeed. Just because she'd resigned herself to a guilty verdict didn't mean that he needed to. Something smelled with this case, and he intended to find out what that was. "But if I'm going to represent you, then I need you to be honest with me about what happened in that bank."

"That, sweetheart, I can do," Ruby said with a smile, and laid out every step she'd taken to rob that bank and all the money from the people inside. Every word exactly matched up with the news reports and his bracelet didn't ever react.

Okay. So his client really had committed aggravated robbery and assault with a deadly weapon. (Without any accompanying battery, thank god.) Fine. He could work with all of that. "I have one last question before I go, Ms. Lipps: where's the money now? The police weren't able to recover it."

She hesitated. "With a friend. I'm sorry, I can't say any more, and if you ask me to name that friend on the stand, I'll lie."

"I understand," Apollo said levelly, and gave no indication that his wrist felt like it was being strangled. Either she'd stashed the money somewhere else that no one knew about, or if she did actually give it to someone, that someone was no friend. "I'll start my investigation and ask the guard to bring in the representation paperwork."

"Thank you." They exchanged nods, Ruby managed a shaky smile, and it was all Apollo could do not to bolt for the door. Curiosity overwhelmed him.

His haste did little good; it was another ten minutes until Athena emerged from the second visitor's room. "That was... super weird," Athena said, frowning at the hallway from where she'd come. "Her emotions were all over the place, but whenever I tried to clear up any confusion, she shut down."

"Ruby was lying to me about something big," Apollo said thoughtfully. "And I know she wants to look out for your client, but I also get the feeling that she's protecting someone else. She's convinced that she's going to get found guilty and just wants me to keep the sentence light." After a few quiet seconds where each young lawyer rolled over their strange interviews and tried to find some hidden sense within them, Apollo shoved his hands deep into his pockets. "Did you bring your car?"

Even when Apollo was a child, the troupe's theatre would have been conveniently located along major roads in West Hollywood. But gentrification marched relentlessly onward, and what had been a welcoming neighborhood full of counterculture and affordable housing decades earlier was now full of two million dollar lofts and yoga studios. Even though Apollo had never considered moving to that part of town, growing up in the scrappier parts of Los Angeles led to a keen awareness of who had money, who didn't, and how disposable the original residents of a neighborhood could be. Grimier areas off the newly beaten paths had taken over as havens for people who, even after all these years, couldn't find a welcome in their own hometown.

Some of those havens were a very long haul from their current location. Los Angeles was more bike-friendly than some gave it credit for, but even Apollo had his limits. Athena's car was nearly as old as she was, and perpetually scattered with junk of various origins. It ran, though, and that was good enough for him.

"Yeah, I drove," she said, eying his bike as they walked outside and he rolled it away from the rack. "That won't fit in my car, th...oh. Never mind," she said as he neatly folded it into a tangle of metal and set the frame on top of the detachable wheels. Back at Kristoph's office, Apollo had learned that any bike needed to fit into a taxi's trunk. When he was sent to run errands or verify reports, Kristoph would reimburse his cab fare for the initial back-and-forth without complaint. Wasting time was the unacceptable behavior, not spending money. (Sort of the opposite of working at the Agency, now that he thought about it.)

By the time they made it to the crime scene, Athena's light teasing about him being a big ol' lazypants had subsided. It felt like they'd been driving forever; biking there would have qualified him for a spot on the next Olympic team. Both stretched luxuriously when they stepped out of the car and turned to take in the crime scene and its surroundings.

"Look," Apollo said with a sigh as he saw a billboard on the side of a nearby building. "Lofts." The sign was plastered with all sorts of appealing features: bamboo flooring, live/work floorplans, and studio pricetags of a mere one million dollars and up. Gentrification had apparently arrived here as well, seeking anywhere within driving distance of the city's tallest skyscrapers.

"Pretty," Athena said after a quick glance at the billboard, then checked the nearby addresses against her phone. "There," she said and led Apollo toward an unassuming storefront up the road. It looked generic and tired in the late morning light, like the building might have a discount movie screen or a clearance store inside, but he took note of the silent and still neon tubes running along its face. The troupe's home must strike a very different appearance at night. "I feel sorry for those kids," Athena whispered as they passed a youth shelter next to the theatre. "Imagine trying to fall asleep with someone singing right next to you."

"I'm sure they deal with it fine," Apollo said distractedly as he surveyed the area. He'd never set foot inside a shelter himself, but a couple of acquaintances had needed them when times got rough. Someone singing in another building, two floors down, would be the least of their concerns. "What are we looking for?"

Athena pulled out her phone again and brought up the troupe's webpage. Together they surveyed everyone associated with Devon Villa, or 'Ruby' when the sun went down and neon turned on. Apollo unsuccessfully tried to picture the faces under the heavy makeup. "Do you think they're lying about more than this?" he whispered, even though there was no one close to hear them. Ruby seemed nice enough, but that wasn't her real self any more than 'Helena Fire' was who Athena would be representing. "I mean... I'm not judging the costumes. Too much. But I just held a client interview with 'Ruby Lipps' and she doesn't exist! Maybe being Ruby instead of Devon is like his... secret villain identity."

Eyebrow arched, Athena asked, "Do you really believe that?" Whatever she'd heard in Helena's voice seemed to have her securely on her client's side.

He let the question ripen before he answered. "No," Apollo said. He liked his client. The oddity of representing someone with a different name than the legal paperwork was nothing compared to those lies he'd heard. "I'm just confused, and...." He sighed. "I can understand if Mr. Villa wants to be Ruby in court to be more confident, I guess. Ruby's pretty on top of everything. But it might look bad if he does, since the judge will be calling for Devon Villa."

"Don't worry, Herr Forehead," said a damnably familiar voice behind them. Apollo stiffened. "If our judge questions anything, I'll just say I love a good show."

"Prosecutor Gavin!" Athena gasped, though with none of the distaste Apollo would have liked to hear from her. Didn't she know that Klavier Gavin was currently off-limits, thanks to hangovers and humiliation? "We didn't know you'd be here yet."

Klavier took a spot in front of them and flicked his bangs to the side. "You've taken the case, ja? Good. Let's take a look inside."

"Wait, wait," Apollo protested as Klavier guided them toward the theatre doors. A police officer allowed them past and locked the entrance once they were through. "Wait!" he said again, louder, when Klavier's guiding hand on his shoulders moved a bit too far down his back.

"Was?" Klavier asked good-naturedly as they turned to him. "Surely you wanted to get to work. My side of things is already well on the case." He gestured elsewhere in the theatre, which further showed its age under the daytime lighting. The floor was stained and the walls were patched. Off in one corner, Ema was inspecting a rumpled flier while Lana looked on, intrigued. "Isn't that nice?" he asked, noticing Apollo looking at the Skye sisters. "The two fräuleins are spending more time together while she's in town."

Athena clasped her hands. "Aww, is that Ema's big sister? Look at her, Polly; she's actually smiling!" When Apollo said nothing, she jabbed her elbow into his side to prompt a matching reaction. "Look at them with me. Look."

He ignored her; Apollo only had eyes for Klavier and the rejection he needed to give before the man got any closer. "I am not talking to you," Apollo hissed, then forced his feet to go flat against the ground. He'd unconsciously risen to meet Klavier's eyes.

Klavier blinked, befuddled. "Whatever do you mean, Forehead?" Confusion vanished, replaced by that smooth grin of his. "We need to talk about this sweet gig I landed you."

"Danke!" Athena merrily chimed in, earning a firm glare from Apollo. That glare deepened as Klavier replied "Bitte," and Apollo wondered who he'd angered in another life to stick him smack dab in the middle of so many German-speaking lawyers. Between Athena's surging enthusiasm, Klavier's inappropriate behavior, and Franziska's von Karma-ness, Apollo would choose to spend time with Miles Edgeworth, and if that didn't demonstrate how dire the situation was, nothing would.

"I appreciate the recommendation to Mr. Villa," Apollo gritted out, "but now I really need to get to work on my investigation." That was an understatement; this was going to be a nightmare to work though. It didn't seem like there was any way to disprove the robbery, so he needed to mitigate its severity somehow. Maybe he could—

Klavier's hand landed on his shoulder and Apollo frowned. "Our investigation, Forehead!" He winked. "We make a good pair, ja?"

When Apollo plucked Klavier's hand off him and pushed it disdainfully away, Klavier's smile truly faltered for the first time that morning. "Thank you for the recommendation," Apollo repeated, more forcefully and even more formally, "but I really don't think we should work together."

"No, no, let him," Athena whispered, probably loud enough for Klavier to hear. "We can figure out what arguments he's gonna make!"

"You're having one of your grumpy days," Klavier concluded after a long pause of studying Apollo's cool, level expression. "Do you know what you need?" Arms folded, Apollo began to say that he didn't need anything, but Klavier was already speaking over him. "Achtung! Let's test this place's sound system, baby!" he shouted to whatever officer was in the back room. "Crank the volume and let's—"

"No cranking!" Apollo shouted. His voice echoed off the walls, and the few people who hadn't looked up at Klavier's words now stared at Apollo. Athena rubbed balefully at her ears. Worst of all, the staring crowd included Lana Skye. Apollo's earlier satisfaction at impressing the former Chief Prosecutor felt like it was slipping away with each second that she blinked at him, and he felt his cheeks redden. "No cranking," Apollo repeated, quieter but more intense. "We are not singing karaoke. We are not having fun. We are both investigating for a trial, and after this, the only time I see you will be in court."

"Was?" Klavier stared at him, brows together, then laughed and tossed his hair. "Is it food poisoning, fräulein?" he asked Athena lightly. At her confusion, he explained, "Something's put Forehead in a bad mood, and after the big holiday meal, food poisoning seems a possibility. Or is this just how he acts when he has to have dinner with Herr Edgeworth and his ever-charming sister?" Before Athena could reply, Klavier turned back to Apollo and added with a bright smile, "Herr Edgeworth. Not Librarian, did you notice? Whatever you ask from me, Herr Forehead, I'll deliver."

"What I am telling you," Apollo practically hissed, and felt his cheeks burn hotter when he saw Lana and Ema still watching him, "is that I do not want to see you. I do not want you making me act like an idiot in front of my boss and his daughter. I don't want you distracting me, I don't want you giving me a Thanksgiving hangover, and I don't want you to pretend like we're friends!"

When his voice rang off the walls, Apollo realized belatedly that he'd started yelling again. Lana's hand was in front of her mouth. Ema grinned so widely that he could count her teeth, then started scribbling furiously in that notebook of hers. Something pinged in Apollo's memory, but it soon faded under his other, surging emotions. "You can get away with doing whatever you want," Apollo continued, "but I can't. And I have a lot of people depending on me, and a lot of people who I still need to impress. So you can go off and score free tickets and come to court with your shirt halfway unbuttoned, whatever, but I'm going to act like a serious lawyer."

"Calm down," Athena whispered urgently.

"I am calm." She looked at him flatly and Apollo gritted his teeth. Fine, that calmness was only a veneer. "I am calm," he repeated after a deep breath, and meant it more. "Prosecutor Gavin, I can't afford to act toward my boss like I did after that concert. I managed to impress Prosecutors Edgeworth and von Karma and I'm not going to throw that away, either. Thanks for the recommendation, I really do appreciate it, but let's just say we'll see each other in court. Okay?"

"That's... wait." Klavier looked genuinely startled, and more than a little worried. "Forehead, you're serious? You can't just throw out what we have!"

Oh, god. They were having their own soap opera right here in the middle of the LAPD detectives and Athena, weren't they? This is what comes from hanging around Klavier! He's always gotta have the spotlight. "What we have?" Apollo repeated slowly. "Prosecutor Gavin, we've been a good team in court a few times, and that's about it. I have already friends practically close enough to be family, and not much time for more."

Something in Klavier's perfect facade looked ready to crack. It made Apollo more than a little uncomfortable. "But you and I—"

"There is no 'you and I,'" Apollo interrupted. "Athena? She left us for Thanksgiving to go spend it with Prosecutor Blackquill. Prosecutor Edgeworth is spending today with Mr. Wright. Even Prosecutor von Karma is catching up with an old friend of hers." Though Athena looked unhappy to be brought in as a point in Apollo's argument, he pushed on. He could make it up to her later. After all, the two of them were friends. "We don't have groupies, and VIP passes, and paparazzi photos. We just have... friends." The more he talked, the more broken Klavier looked. Despite himself, Apollo felt an increasing desire to apologize to the man he'd just been furious with. "The whole world loves you, but I...." He grimaced awkwardly, and shoved his hands deep into his pockets. "But I've got a hard case, and I need to focus. Sorry."

For a long, awful moment, Klavier stared at him. His mouth, normally tilted in a smile, hung barely open. If he'd looked panicked earlier, he now seemed only wounded. How was it that Apollo had ended up humiliated because of Klavier's bright idea, but now was the bad guy? With Klavier's smile gone and no anger to bolster him like he'd shown during some of their cases, the real man behind the tan and the designer clothing was easy to see.

Klavier flicked his bangs again and that man was gone, replaced by the figure in newspapers and gossip sites. "You know me too well, Forehead," he said in a smooth voice that matched his fresh smile. "I still get calls from my agent begging me to put on charity shows, you know. The whole world knows this face."

"Right, sure," Apollo agreed, happy to soothe whatever strange tension had sparked between them. "Everyone wants to know you. You don't need one guy who's busy on a case." Though Athena tried to get his attention, he waved her off; they could talk after this conversation ended. "So, uh... see you in court, Prosecutor Gavin. I really do appreciate the recommendation."

"Kein Problem." Klavier laughed and ran his hand through his hair again as Apollo's bracelet tightened. Apparently, it is a problem. "Maybe I should kick off this investigation with a song anyway, ja?"

"Sure," Apollo said, nodding. He still didn't know what had passed between them and was anxious to break away from whatever was happening. "Definitely. Test out the sound system." Without further conversation, Klavier nodded to excuse himself and walked toward the stage. Apollo turned to watch him go, somehow stalking like an elegant cat across the stained floor and under the spotty lights, and saw Ema smiling in satisfaction at the room's far corner. After a long second of watching her scribble notes, Apollo turned back to Athena and promptly got smacked on the shoulder. "Ow!"

"What did you do?" she demanded. "He is miserable and lonely and sad and awful!"

"What?" Apollo rubbed where she'd hit him; she was stronger than she looked. "That's not my fault!" His shoulders drooped at her glare. "Okay, it is my fault, but come on, it's not like I'm obligated to put up with him. He can get anything he wants in the world—"

"Except for you."

"—And he just needs to accept the fact that I need to focus on my case." Apollo adjusted his tie with a flourish. "We both need to focus on this case, so let's get down to business and win those 'not guilty' verdicts."

"Fine," Athena said dramatically and walked away.

After looking back at Ema, who'd finished writing and was now chatting with her sister again, brighter than he'd ever seen her, Apollo followed after his coworker with a sigh. It'd take work, a lot of creativity, and some fast thinking in the thick of the courtroom, but he was determined to hear that 'not guilty' for Ruby on the stand. Klavier's admittedly skillful voice started up on an old standard—They're writing songs of love—and Apollo blocked it out. He needed to focus on Ruby's verdict. That meant he couldn't think about how guilty he felt.

Chapter Text

"Didn't I already give you your allowance this week?" Phoenix asked Trucy suspiciously.

She shook her head, the very picture of innocence. "You mean that money I had out just now? I was counting that from a show."

"I thought I had more in my wallet, though," he said with a sigh as he studied the nearly empty interior.

Trucy's expression reminded him of the disbelief that Maya would sometimes pull out mid-trial. Some things never changed; it seemed like Phoenix would always have a variety of people around him to remain thoroughly unimpressed. "Daddy, you never have much money on you."

Fair enough. He dug out what was left and handed it over, earning a bright smile in return. Trucy's allowance had been a pitiful thing for years, and perhaps he'd been too enthusiastic about raising it after his career change. Paying for Thanksgiving food had been a bigger expense than anticipated, but the kickoff to the Christmas season was exactly when he couldn't skimp on those closest to him. Maybe he'd let Edgeworth foot the next Tuesday's delivery bill, after all.

"Thanks!" Trucy said, beaming, as she tucked the money away. "I probably missed the best deals early this morning, but I also didn't get trampled on my way into a Target at 3AM, so I'm gonna call that a win. See you later, Daddy! Don't look in my bags when I come home!"

"Huh? Oh, right, right. No bags." His distraction sounded pathetically obvious even to his ears. As soon as Phoenix had thought of Edgeworth, his attention had latched onto the man like iron filings to a magnet.

As strange as it sounded, Phoenix Wright considered Miles Edgeworth one of his closest friends and yet he'd gone ages without seeing the man not looking ready for work. During their awkward reunion years, they seldom had reason to talk when legal matters weren't at the forefront. Later, when Phoenix was at his lowest point, he got that first fateful call that refused to let him wither on the grape vine. His expenses were paid: passport, plane ticket, new outfits that Edgeworth insisted upon but Phoenix set aside as soon as he returned home. (He got better treatment when he traveled in slacks and button-up shirts, and of course he needed some level of formality going into those law libraries, but his clothes back at home were so much more comfortable. Besides, it was easier to pretend he was a different person walking into that office. It hurt less.)

Hotel bills had also been covered for him, courtesy of the M. Edgeworth expense account. Edgeworth's rentals were always comfortable but not wasteful; the local judiciary or university would find him somewhere with a small study niche but never a full guest room. He refused to hear of Phoenix taking the couch when there were always elegant hotel options just down the street. Every time Edgeworth called about a new case, Phoenix flew away from office futons and card games and into a temporary world of pillow mints and wet bars.

They would work late into the evening, taking a walk for a change of scenery or visiting a local cafe for lunch and dinner, and then Edgeworth would drop Phoenix off at his hotel. The next morning it would all start again, always with Edgeworth in a suit. During the course of the day his jacket might end up slung over some chair, and his sleeves rolled to his elbows, but only that much. And his version of weekend wear, encountered on some of the longer visits, was scarcely less reserved.

Formal dress and formal speech were armor for Edgeworth, and Phoenix couldn't begrudge him that protection after the life he'd led. Still, you didn't exactly give a bear hug to a guy wearing his own version of full plate mail.

Phoenix had changed the entire course of his life for the man, and he knew that effort was valued tremendously. Edgeworth's few real friends could ask him for help and he'd move mountains to clear their path. And then he'd be awkward when you tried to make it up to him, even after all these years.

Phoenix could still remember the first case he'd worked on in Europe, and how strange it felt when he sat in the courtroom as a mere observer. Strange, not painful; the format was different enough not to prod at those wounds. He had no idea what was being argued in German, anyway, so it wasn't like he could imagine the lines he would say in return. (Everything just sounded very intense and serious.) But despite those changes he was still on the prosecution's side, with Edgeworth in front of him as they both faced down the defense lawyer behind the opposing desk.

"You don't look happy," Edgeworth had pointed out at the celebratory dinner afterward. When Phoenix didn't immediately reply, he took the chance to add, "Not unhappy, mind you, but thoughtful. Perhaps even pensive."

Phoenix poked his soup idly and watched the curve of the spoon vanish into it. "I helped send someone to prison today."

"We both agreed," Edgeworth said cautiously. "The evidence was clear. What he did to that family...."

"No, no. He did it." Phoenix clinked his spoon against one side of the bowl, then again. "I guess it just hammered in that I'm not a defense attorney any more. I keep finding new things to remind me of it."

"Wright." Edgeworth stayed silent until Phoenix looked up and met his level gaze. "No, you are not a defense attorney any more." Rub it in, why don't you. Ever heard of not kicking someone when they're down? "But you still helped to deliver a fair verdict today. I've had to trust that many attorneys would find any holes in my assumptions, though none have matched you." He paused, gave a ghost of a smile, and added, "Save your mentor, although believe me, my younger self who faced her was not appreciative of her talent."

At the image of the old 'Demon Prosecutor' facing Mia, her in all her living glory and with him in that ridiculous jacket that had hung framed in his office, Phoenix couldn't help but smile to match.

"But justice comes from this side, as well. I've spend months pursuing convictions for a corruption network through multiple layers of government. They were taking money meant to repair infrastructure and lining their pockets, instead. Bridges could have collapsed in rush hour traffic." His slight smile turned more wry. "And a criminal syndicate from Belarus believed themselves too fearsome to touch. Agents and prosecutors alike had both gone missing, and Franziska still took them on and appeared with dozens of stitches under her suit." As Phoenix blanched—could any wound stop that woman from showing up in court?—Edgeworth leaned in and said more seriously, "In a functioning judicial system, all parts work together to find the truth. You have protected people again, Wright. But this time, the people you saved weren't wrongly behind a detention desk. They were the next family that murderer could have killed, who will instead stay alive.

"What was done to you was a crime," Edgeworth said in a low voice when Phoenix remained silent. "And neither of us is going to let it go unanswered. In the meantime, you can still see justice served to the people who need it, rather than let yourself waste away to nothing. I barely recognized that voice over the phone. I refuse to let you be less than you are."

For one long second, Phoenix thought he might cry. Instead, he laughed until he had to wipe away a tear that had nothing to do with sadness.

"I'm serious," Edgeworth protested.

"I know. I know." After a deep breath to center himself, Phoenix nodded. "I can't promise I can help on every case you ask for." Truth be told, he hadn't really been needed here. When he arrived and caught up on the case, thankfully not under the tight courtroom deadlines he was used to in California, it became clear that it could have been a one-man job. "It depends on whether my folks can watch Truce, or whether she can do another Kurain sleepover." Edgeworth nodded in return, looking a little dazed when he heard Trucy's name. The news of her adoption had knocked him for quite a loop. "But yeah. I'll help now and then. It'll be good practice. I'm going to find whoever set me up—"

"We."

"We," Phoenix agreed with a growing smile, though he was privately analyzing the benefits of keeping Miles Edgeworth as a secret benefactor, his exact involvement unknown to that hidden foe. "So, to keep my brain in shape... I'll look at cases as a prosecutor." Edgeworth nodded in satisfaction, but Phoenix wasn't done. "And I'll do it thanks to a friend who decided I needed to be looked out for when no one else believed in me."

Edgeworth took a long sip of wine before he replied. "You think you're quite clever with that reversal, don't you?"

"I know I'm clever," Phoenix said, more lightly than he'd felt in a long time. He could remember being a child, and the first time Edgeworth had looked out for him like this. Back in Los Angeles, in the place that had betrayed him, it was all too easy to let the cynical act he wore as his own kind of armor become too comfortable. He didn't always like the person he was there, even way deep down inside where no one else could see. Here, where no one knew the disgraced version of Phoenix Wright, it felt like a fresh start. A reboot. "You wouldn't have flown me out here if I wasn't."

"Touché. You're still out of practice, though."

"Oh, thanks for the support, Edgeworth," Phoenix snorted, and shoveled in a spoonful of soup. His appetite had returned.

The reminiscence faded, and Phoenix shook his head. That night had been easy enough to understand. Edgeworth, focused on his career as always, had helped Phoenix as best he knew how. He'd helped to remind him of his purpose, kept him in practice, and showed him the trust that very few people in the world would give during those years. And he'd done it all formally, even when he played tour guide. Always a suit. Always those boundaries. Always the same.

Then he came home. Perhaps Edgeworth didn't think of Los Angeles as 'home;' he'd lived enough places that no city might deserve the label. But to Phoenix's eyes he'd come back where he belonged, and everything had begun to change.

Edgeworth's former reticence about Trucy had slowly morphed into a pleasant relationship with the girl. He attended her shows. He managed smiles that almost looked real, and barely like smirks at all. He came to a ridiculous night of board games, a holiday dinner, and for the first time that Phoenix could remember, Edgeworth hadn't worn armor to meet him.

Uncertainty was bad. Uncertainty dug up old questions and challenged old answers that Phoenix had long ago accepted as the truth. It reminded him that there was a person inside that armor, with feelings and hobbies and ridiculous habits and hopes and dreams. In armor, a knight did his job for ruler and victim alike, then disappeared from the story until he was next needed. Out of armor, Lancelot fell in love with Guinevere.

"I'm being stupid," Phoenix told himself and rubbed his eyes. Just like I was an idiot last night. It was like some switch had been flipped in him when he saw Miles Edgeworth's bare neck, long and pale above a sweater that clung to muscles hidden under starched shirts and coats. Back when he was an idiotic college student—emphasis on the idiot—he'd seen pictures of his old friend, the prodigy prosecutor, and thought that Miles had grown up handsome. But when it became apparent that there was no attention given to certain emotions, he could lock all of that curiosity away and forget where he'd put the key.

Then Edgeworth showed up in one stupid, nice sweater and Phoenix tripped over that key and fell flat on his face.

He was still glad they'd be working on that trust today, despite the embarrassment. Getting Edgeworth to associate the holidays with something positive was important, and the scholarship itself would help many people. Still, this was going to be rough. Sitting next to Edgeworth in another casual sweater, his broad shoulders draped in cashmere and his neck showing each time he swallowed? Without any other activities in another room to draw Phoenix's attention?

I guess I'll just expect to fall flat on my face a few more times, Phoenix thought with a sigh as he checked himself in the mirror. He'd put on a white button-up without bothering to iron it again; that seemed to strike the right balance. He wasn't at work, but he wasn't in a sleeping tee. Slightly, perfectly rumpled. And his hair....

"You're an idiot," Phoenix told his reflection. "Stop thinking about your hair." Then he checked it again despite himself.

The sound of the doorbell made his gut lurch. After a deep breath, he ran hands down the front of his shirt, as much to dry the suddenly damp palms as to smooth the material. Phoenix walked to the door, steeled his nerves, and opened the door.

Miles Edgeworth smiled back at him, wearing his glasses and a full suit. Cravat and all.

Disappointment and relief hit Phoenix equally. "Right on time," he said as his nerves faded back into comfortable nothing. "I hope you brought everything, because I don't have a printer here."

"I tried to be thorough," Edgeworth said and held up the enormous stack of papers. "I must admit, I'm rather excited about this project."

"I should go put on a jacket. If you're treating this like a workday," he said as Edgeworth began to protest that it wasn't necessary, "then I'll do the same." Pulling on that suit jacket felt like putting on some armor of his own, a kind much better than the part he'd played for the better part of a decade.

"Thank you again for the help," Edgeworth said when Phoenix returned to the dining room, where he'd begun dividing the papers into neat stacks on the table.

"No problem," Phoenix said, and took a seat. He inhaled, adjusted the lapels of his jacket, and exhaled. "What are friends for?"

Chapter Text

Working in a new branch of law was time-consuming, even for men with their considerable skills. The paperwork for criminal charges was as familiar as their own hands, and Miles had thought himself passingly familiar with other areas. Not quite. Cross-referencing the documents and double-checking the order of filings had taken them the better part of the day. The rest of the hours had been taken up by phone calls to his financial consultant, who, for the money Miles paid him, was happy to be available on the long weekend.

But now it was done. The trust documents were completed, oversight was designated, and they'd avoided a few stumbling blocks along the way. Miles' consultant, for his part, had promised to set up the financial side of things at their bank once the paperwork was filed. As well, he assured them that he would have handled it all himself if asked.

With the holiday free to spend, there was no need for that. Miles enjoyed knowing that this important task was put together with his own hands. It had his father's name on it, so the son should do the work. As soon as the trust was in place, he could transfer millions into it, look at the amount of interest generated, and start awarding scholarships.

The scholarships. He frowned and tapped his pen against the table. Phoenix looked up from where he was rubbing his lower back, sore after hours spent sitting on dining chairs not designed for a full day's use. "What's wrong?"

"If this scholarship is at all successful, there will be dozens of applications coming in. Possibly hundreds." Miles frowned. "I'm not sure how I'll have the time to read through them all. I didn't consider all the elements of this proposal."

"What, you mean the plan that we came up with less than a day ago? Funny how that works."

Miles frowned, tapped his pen again, and looked imploringly at Phoenix.

"Yes, Edgeworth," Phoenix said wryly, "I'll help you read through the applications. If it gets too successful, I'll drag in Apollo and Athena, too."

"Thank you," Miles said. "And I'll get in touch with a marketing firm. I'm sure it shouldn't be too hard to convince students to apply for free money." As Phoenix chuckled, he added, "I'll put a word out in my department as well. Not as a job requirement, certainly, but as a public service opportunity. Plenty of workplaces run some sort of charity effort."

"I'm sure that a bunch of prosecutors will jump all over themselves for a scholarship named for a defense attorney," Phoenix said, and almost managed to sound serious.

He did have a point there. "We'll likely miss out on volunteer offers from the Payne brothers," Miles said, and didn't even attempt to sound regretful. "Considering the focus on ethical practices as part of the application essay, I can't say that they would be good matches for finding the right kind of student, anyway."

Hesitantly, Phoenix asked, "After the past years, are there many people in that office you trust?"

A painful question to consider, but a necessary one. "He's brusque," Miles said after some thought, "but I do trust Blackquill. I've been checking in on him regularly to see how he's doing and he welcomes the oversight and guidance. He's shockingly respectful to me considering his recent history, actually. Still, he's going through a severe period of re-adjustment. I wouldn't want to ask him to take on any additional tasks just yet."

"You had to think pretty hard to come up with one name," Phoenix pointed out, unhappy.

"I trust Lana, and I know we work well together," Miles countered, recalling that the woman was in town. For all that the Prosecutor's Office had rotted over the years, it was his, now. It felt rather like a slap to hear that only a defense firm's lawyers were suitable for this responsibility. "And of course I trust Franziska completely."

"...But you'd never be a big enough fool to ask her to read application letters for the 'Gregory Edgeworth Legal Scholarship,'" Phoenix finished, to which Miles was forced to nod. "And I guess we could ask Lana to pitch in over email, but come on, she's in Colorado. She doesn't count as another person in the office you trust."

Miles grimaced. "Another name did come immediately to mind for general trustworthiness, but I'd prefer not to make this request."

A brief frown turned into a knowing nod. "Klavier?" At Miles' nod in return, Phoenix shrugged. "He's good at the law. And at gyrating his hips in leather pants."

Blankly, Miles said, "I... hadn't noticed."

That smile he got in return looked faintly sad. Strange. "Well, I can't say that surprises me, Edgeworth, but believe me, a lot of the world notices things like that." Under his breath, Phoenix muttered, "I've certainly heard Trucy talk about it."

"Regardless of his... hips," Miles continued after a cough, "I must admit that he is intelligent and ethical. We just don't gel terribly well, I suppose. I trust him with casework, but when it came to an extracurricular activity like this, I'm sure he'd rather be out at some nightclub with a drink in his hand." That sounded more dismissive than he meant it to be. Really, Gavin was more productive than most of his employees. If the man needed to clock out so completely in order to get that performance, he'd accept that trade-off. It didn't mean that the two of them got along any better, though.

"Don't worry about it," Phoenix said and shrugged. "He and I don't 'gel' either, really. Between the two of us and the kids, and maybe Lana, we'll have it covered." He grinned. "She owes us, right?"

"I suppose so," Miles said, frowning. Could he really trust no one in his own office to help with something that mattered to him as much as this? "If it comes down to it, though, I'll... I'll decide then between Blackquill and Gavin."

"If you ask Blackquill to come over, get Klavier to babysit the bird."

Miles chuckled and stood. "I should be off. Trucy will be home soon, I'd imagine."

After a brief pause to check his texts, Phoenix shook his head. "No, stay for dinner. I have more leftovers to use up. She apparently started doing some tricks for the Black Friday crowds and is raking in the cash." He frowned thoughtfully. "I wonder if she'd give me her allowance back."

Thanksgiving leftovers weren't the most elegant of dinners, just as they'd made for a purely functional lunch. But they were tasty enough, still, and Miles couldn't complain. Besides, though he'd hardly admit it, he enjoyed spending time with Phoenix. As silly as Klavier's bet was in total, Miles supposed he wouldn't mind if Phoenix knew that much about him. It would certainly be a better impression to give than when he'd thrown the man out of his office.

Recalling that, Miles frowned thoughtfully at the television. (Phoenix had chosen some show he didn't recognize, guessing rightly that Miles would prefer to lose himself in considering the tasks ahead.) "Wright... this has crossed my mind before, but I found it inappropriate to mention."

Phoenix looked faintly startled when he turned to him, with more confusion than the words warranted. The strange edge to his expression faded so quickly, though, that Miles wasn't sure than he hadn't imagined it. "Inappropriate? Do tell."

"If you're going to be involving your entire office in a task for my benefit—"

"And for the entire legal profession."

"Fine, fine." Miles waved that off. "Still, I am certainly the most invested in this idea, and I wouldn't want your business to suffer because of time spent on it. I understand if you would find this too much, but... it seems to me as if you should really update the Agency with a new computer. And a legal database, so that you don't need to dig through books any more."

Phoenix gawked, then reined himself quickly in. "You don't need to bribe us to help you on this, you know." The hunger was there, though. Most of the things in that office looked as outdated as Phoenix's cell phone.

"I had thought about making the offer prior to tonight," Miles said, still feeling as if he were inching across rotten ice. "As I've already said, I enjoy spending Manfred's money on things of which he would enormously disapprove." Yes, good... he laughed. This was everything that a first-day gift of a computer wouldn't have been, though that bet seemed far less important than it had on Monday. "But it seemed like too much. I thought of it earlier this week, in fact, but I was concerned that you might have taken it the wrong way after our exchange regarding my legal library."

"You thought about it that much?" Phoenix asked quietly.

Miles swallowed. "Yes. Is that wrong?"

"No," Phoenix said, and looked faintly bewildered. "I mean... yeah, I would have been kinda put off if you shoved a computer at me after you threw me out. But I just would have chalked it up to you being Edgeworth, and gotten over it." His eyes trailed over Miles, as intimate as a physical touch, and Miles shivered under the gaze. "How you've been this week... I'm not complaining. At all. But I guess 'Edgeworth' is a little different than I thought he was. In a really good way," he added hurriedly.

A warm flush crested Miles' cheeks. "Perhaps I just needed a little motivation." That made Phoenix look a little too curious, and Miles quickly added, "I'm a supervisor, now. I work with people as much as paperwork. Could you turn down the heat, please?"

"It's barely on," Phoenix said with a frown, "but it's our first winter with this thermostat. Maybe it's touchy."

"I'll just get some fresh air, then," Miles said and stood. Cursing himself when he realized he'd gone to the dining room instead of the front exit, he slid open the door, determined not to make a scene by backtracking, and stepped out onto the balcony. It would have been better if he'd just left. If he'd left before dinner. Too many more shaky steps and he would plunge through that rotten ice, and god only knew if he'd ever resurface after the humiliation. This was moving far beyond the boundaries of any foolish bet with Klavier.

Thankfully, he had control of himself by the time the door slid open again. "We're starting to make a habit of this," Phoenix pointed out as he joined him. "Some fresh air sounded good after dinner. I don't want to fall asleep before Trucy gets home. She already jokes about me being old. I don't want to give her any ammo."

"Mmm. My primary experience with teenage girls comes from Franziska, and I have to imagine she's less fearsome than that."

Phoenix laughed. "Yeah, I'm not that worried about her. Trucy just goes the 'annoying question' route: when are we going to Disneyland, when are we getting noodles again, when am I getting a new mom. You know the drill."

At the mention of a 'new mom,' Miles found himself relaxing after an initial cringe. Right. Any distraction over Phoenix Wright was futile. That certain knowledge was easier to deal with than questions about something that might possibly happen, if only the stars aligned. "How did Trucy deal with anyone you were seeing before?" Miles asked. He didn't like the image of Phoenix paired with some stranger, but she wasn't around at this point and so it didn't particularly matter. "You never mentioned any names, but I have to think that... no?" he asked, surprised, as Phoenix snorted.

"Did I seem like much of a catch during those years?" Phoenix asked dryly. "Besides, I was trying to cut down on visible relationships, not make more. Anyone I was dating could have been a tool for... whoever it was to use against me."

Miles had known about Phoenix's caution back in Los Angeles; he'd helped him with it, in fact. A few key assets and, more importantly, evidence had been discreetly moved into his possession and kept in Europe. Suspicions bloomed even as they weren't sure exactly who had set Phoenix up, but neither doubted that they could set up an impenetrable enough wall to make that work invisible to any watching eyes. Those old assets, having grown under the oblivious care of Miles' financial advisor, had paid for the launchpad into Phoenix's new life: wardrobe, examination, apartment, everything. It was far less than Miles would have liked to have done for him, but it had helped nonetheless.

In the later years of his disbarment, months after their last encounter, Phoenix had even asked him to watch over his most important possession: his daughter, should anything more happen to him. It was the one request Miles couldn't fulfill. He could still remember their conversation, as much as it shamed him.

"Wright, I... I'm sorry, but...."

There was a long, pained pause over the phone. "No, it's okay, Edgeworth. This is a lot to ask. I know you're busy."

"It's not that. I promise it's not that." He breathed in and out and tried to quell the mounting panic attack. Never before had he experienced one from anything but elevators or the ground lurching under his feet. "For you to ask me to adopt a child, who you'd ship off to another country after her father was murdered... I...."

"Oh. Sorry. Yeah, sorry, I didn't even think of it that way. Guess it brought up some bad memories. Look, I know my mom's pretty scatter-brained at this point, and I wanted Trucy further away if anything was happening, but it's okay. She'll say yes. Don't worry about it."

"I don't know how to be a father. I'm sorry. It's hard to remember mine, sometimes." Admitting to that hurt deeply. "Instead, all I can think of is... what if you sent a child to me... and I began to act like him?" There was silence on the line and Miles felt sick with regret. "I want to help you. I'm sorry. I know you needed to hear a yes for this question, but I can't."

Phoenix stayed quiet for a long beat. When he spoke, his voice sounded like a different man's. "Goddamn, Edgeworth, you're fucked up." Miles flinched but didn't argue. If this was the voice and words coming out of Phoenix Wright after half a year back at the poker table, he wondered what his big, hopeful eyes looked like, now. "Don't worry about it. Seriously. The money and evidence will be a big help, and I'll talk to my mom."

"I'm sorry."

"For the last time, I told you not to worry about it."

"Earth to Edgeworth," Phoenix said, and Miles jerked. "You in there anywhere?"

"I'm sorry that I couldn't say yes when you asked me to be Trucy's guardian."

Phoenix stared. "Should I even ask where that came from? Last I heard, we were talking about how the hobo in the hoodie doesn't make for prime boyfriend material. Seriously, I haven't thought about that in years."

"I... never mind. Old memories." Miles plastered on what felt like a hugely fake smile to him, and would be a slight smirk to most people. "So, all those years without anyone. I suppose that explains why you never mentioned any names, then."

For a second Phoenix looked like he wanted to press him on the seemingly random aside about Trucy, but he let it pass. "There were a few names," Phoenix said. "I just didn't get them beforehand." He shrugged, grinned, and shoved his hands into his pockets, and even without the sloppy clothing he looked far more like the personality he'd cultivated during his disbarment. "What? I'm not saying it happened a lot; it didn't. But sometimes I'd meet someone at work, and, well, it was a lot easier to do something right there than deal with maneuvering around a kid at home."

"Oh... oh." Despite the reassurance that it hadn't happened often, Miles still felt unsettled at the idea of doing that with someone he didn't even know. It didn't only sound dangerous, but sex for its own sake was completely off-putting to him. There was sweat and saliva and semen, rumpled clothes and hair, and concerns about whether the condom was good and whether both parties were clean. Working as a prosecutor and hearing about the worst sexual assaults had only further colored his views. Sex as a way to bring pleasure to and connect with someone you cared about, fine, but sex divorced of that context couldn't be less appealing.

He knew intellectually that Phoenix hadn't done anything wrong. Still, he didn't appear to have done a good job of hiding his feelings, for Phoenix's expression darkened.

"I kept her out of it," Phoenix said tightly, his light mood gone at Miles' inadvertent judgment. "Sorry, but sometimes I just needed a break from everything, okay? I used protection. It wasn't much, anyway. Maybe once or twice a year. A year. Don't give me that look."

Honesty seemed like the best policy; the only one, apparently, so long as Phoenix had that damnable stone anywhere near him. "I didn't mean to judge. I've just never approached relations from that perspective and it took me aback. I don't think you did anything wrong, it's just...." He struggled for the right word. "Foreign."

"Foreign," Phoenix repeated. He drew back and studied Miles, and his tight expression morphed slowly into surprise. "Wait. Wait. Have you never... really?"

"Of course I have," Miles snapped.

Phoenix considered him, and for all Miles knew his magatama was whispering from a distance again. He hated that lie detector sometimes; whether he was telling the truth or lying about this topic deserved to be a secret a man could hold for himself. "Okay. Sorry. I mean, it would have been fine if you had. Or hadn't." Phoenix's eyes narrowed and his lips thinned in thought. "More than once?"

Miles glowered. "I don't know whether it's worse to discuss my sex life with you or leave you thinking that I've only ever had a single terrible encounter that put me off the idea forever." Oh, hell. He was revealing too much. Phoenix talking about sex with him just had him off-balance.

"Okay, it's obviously more than once," Phoenix said. He studied Miles, who felt a warm flush rise in his cheeks. "More than... one person, then?" When Miles' jaw clamped shut, Phoenix leaned back with a mildly satisfied smile. "Do I know her?" Miles grimaced and Phoenix tried, "Him? Sorry, I kinda suspected, but I didn't want to push."

"Assigning a feminine pronoun required a response of some sort, so yes, you did push. No, you don't know him. We met in France. A mutual acquaintance from Interpol introduced us. Julien was wonderful, but as serious about his work as I am about mine, and we agreed to part ways when our careers took us elsewhere. Are you happy?" Miles asked more bitterly than he intended.

Phoenix did look genuinely remorseful. "Look, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to overstep. We've been having such an easy time lately that I forgot how closed-off you are about some things. And I don't care if he's a he. Trust me, okay? There's nothing to worry about." There was something in those words that knocked Miles off-balance again, and his damnable curiosity (or was it hope?) surged enough to overcome his nerves. Just as he was about to speak up, Phoenix blithely continued. "Wait... France? It sounds like you were in France for the whole time with this guy? Wasn't that when you were...." He paused to count on his fingers, and stared at them like he couldn't believe what they were saying.

"Thirty-one."

"Oh," Phoenix said in a carefully neutral tone. "Not that there's anything wrong with that."

"Of course there isn't. I chose to move forward with that relationship at a time that was comfortable for me, and I do not require any external validation on your part. Can we please change the subject, now?"

Though his desperation was rooted in the awkwardness of speaking about sex with someone he was attracted to, Phoenix took it in a different way: offense. Phoenix being Phoenix, of course, he felt the need to make up for the hurt he'd inadvertently caused. "I think it's great that you waited until you really cared about someone!" he said, his face a mask of optimism and sunshine and meaningful life lessons. "Yeah, I bet it meant something! So you didn't care about anyone before him, fine, and so oh god look at your expression, you look like you want to die, I screwed up again, there was someone else."

What the hell am I going to do? Miles wondered desperately. He couldn't very well tell Phoenix that he'd cared about him, could he? Tell him that hearing that Phoenix was in the hospital and on the brink of death had him feeling like it was his own heart hooked up to a monitor, ready to fail at a second's notice? There was another truth he could get away with sharing, but it was hardly less painful. Still, it was very slightly easier to tell and so he took the coward's route. "I was young and in love. Mr. von Karma knew, but he found my target to be an acceptably talented match and so I was allowed to court him."

Phoenix listened with fascination at this part of Miles' life that he'd never before heard discussed.

"I was reluctant to move fast, and although he felt some peer pressure from those who knew him, he was very kind and willing to go at my pace. He was a...." God, was his throat choking up? After all these years? "A remarkable man."

"Then why didn't anything happen?" Phoenix asked softly. "This would have been when you were... what, nineteen, twenty? Twenty-one? If you were ready then, why did it take so long for anything to happen with someone else? Did it all go south or what?"

"You could say that," Miles sighed. "Mr. von Karma tried to turn me away from the man I was now thoroughly besotted with once he was actually regarded as Manfred's superior by our colleagues. I was too far gone to care what he thought. Against his wishes, we'd planned a celebratory dinner after the awards, and then we'd...."

From the look on Phoenix's face, it was clear that he hadn't quite put the pieces together but knew that a very unhappy ending lurked. "What was his name?"

"Neil Marshall."

"Neil Marsh... oh, god." Phoenix's face crumpled. "I remember, now. Didn't he die on the same day that he got that stupid trophy?"

"He didn't 'die,'" Miles said hollowly. "Gant murdered him. I, of course, believed that Darke had done so, and gave the most ruthless prosecution performance of my career. It was vengeance, not justice. Maybe that explains why I never thought twice about the evidence provided to me by the police. I would have done anything to see that man executed."

"And when you suspected it was Gant," Phoenix murmured, "you didn't give a shit if the man stripped you of your badge or threw you in jail on whatever charges he could string together. You were going to take him down. And afterwards you vanished for a year to get your head together."

Miles stared at his feet.

Phoenix said quietly, "Look, I'm sorry. I thought this was just... guys shooting the breeze. I didn't realize it'd get so painful so quickly. Man. It seems like everything I find out about you is more heartbreaking than the last thing I heard. I don't know how you deal with it all."

"It comes with practice, I suppose."

"I'm glad you were able to find your French guy," Phoenix said. Each word rang in Miles' ears like pounding timpani; couldn't Phoenix tell that he was barely able to hold his nerves together? "Even if it took ten years before you wanted to seriously look at anyone else." His voice was so damnably kind and soft and Phoenix. This was torture. "From what I heard of him, Neil sounded like a really great guy. I can't blame you for not wanting to consider anyone else, and I'm sorry. You obviously don't want to talk about this and I just can't shut up. I have to play Dad and senior partner all day, and you're pretty much the only person who's my equal instead of someone else I have to look out for. So I think I can talk to you but then I'll find out something else like this, and—"

Miles clenched his fists around Phoenix's lapels, drew him close, and kissed him.

That silence was one of the best moments of his life.

So long as his eyes were closed, the world could stay in place. He didn't need to regret his actions. The inevitable consequences wouldn't arrive. "There was always someone else," Miles whispered against Phoenix's skin when their kiss broke apart. He could feel the rough catch of stubble; it was later in the day than he'd thought. "But circumstances were never in our favor."

"I... Edgeworth...." Phoenix's voice shook.

Miles' eyes stayed closed and he prayed for the world to truly stop, to freeze before he lost this forever. Because of that, he didn't see when Phoenix leaned back in for another kiss. It was warm and soft and gentle, and it tasted like their after-dinner coffee. It felt like a kindness granted and he didn't dare fall into it, no matter how his heart lurched.

"Edgeworth," Phoenix repeated quietly. "Are you going to look at me?"

Reluctantly, Miles opened his eyes. His whole world was Phoenix: bright-eyed and youthful, even with sharper cheeks and a few thin lines starting to form. The greatest tragedy of his disbarment was how those eyes had dimmed. "I'm sorry." Did Phoenix's face hold more disbelief or shock? He was trying to be kind, Miles could tell, but this had nearly overwhelmed him.

"For what?" Phoenix's crooked finger caught Miles below the chin when he tried to look away. That finger trembled the same as his voice. "For what?"

"For putting that upon you. The emotions and the physicality." He blinked hard against tears that wanted to form. "I appreciate your consideration, but that was not the kiss of someone who was interested in me in return. As I have suspected ever since I first realized what I felt. I again apologize for not maintaining control." He tried to turn away and Phoenix's whole hand caught his chin, now, and kept him from turning.

"That is not... you just told me how your heart got ripped out with Neil," Phoenix said quietly. "How you didn't touch anyone else for ten years. And I know you like to pretend that you're unbreakable, but you're not. If this is something that can upset you, then I was going to take it slow."

"What?"

Phoenix clenched his fists around Miles' lapels, drew him close, and kissed him. It was powerful but not frantic, like the slow crash of waves against a shore. In hesitant steps, Miles let go of his rigid stance and fell into the other man as Phoenix's hands roamed him. First he was still with shock, then pressing against him as the world didn't fall apart, and then he was slack and languid with the release of a quarter-century. His hand is in my hair.

When Phoenix pulled back, Miles opened his eyes. This time, he wanted to live in the moment.

"When?" Phoenix asked, still disbelieving. Miles could feel his breath.

"I'm not sure. Maybe when you saved my life. Maybe always."

"Wow." He wasn't exactly sure what Phoenix's expression meant: surprise, happiness, confusion? But it didn't seem unwelcoming, and so even Miles' well-trained fears didn't surge. "I guess I'm not a master of behavioral awareness."

Miles blinked at Phoenix, then collapsed into nervous laughter. It was a long, loud sound that he couldn't rein in, driven by the relief of the impossible happening. He simply wasn't prepared for this. "Neither... neither of us seems to be."

Phoenix's chest began to rumble. Soon his light chuckles were laughs to match Miles', and when they kissed again both men were teary. "I don't know what to say." Ah, there was that spike of fear, but Phoenix shook his head as soon as Miles' eyes widened. "This isn't bad. This is so good, but it feels like I left my brain somewhere a few blocks back. I'm waiting to catch up."

"I suppose I have had a little longer to get used to the idea," Miles said breathily. He hesitated. "You never considered...?"

"Never?" Phoenix repeated, and laughed once, choked. "The very first time I saw pictures of you again, I thought how good you looked. And for the past week I've been thinking... and yesterday, with that stupid sweater...."

"Sweater?" Miles repeated, dizzy and befuddled.

"It was a good, good outfit," Phoenix said.

"Then why...." Miles looked down at where his hands were still holding on to Phoenix's jacket. They were shaking, even now. He looked back up and tried again, "Then why not... I mean, you always just lunge ahead and..."

"I... I don't know. You were always Edgeworth, you know? You make it hard to get close to you, and I know you do that on purpose." He caught Miles before he could pull away, as he'd instinctively moved to do at what sounded like criticism. "But at the same time, you were always...." He half-laughed. "My Edgeworth. I don't know if I've ever been so surprised by something that makes such total sense."

My Edgeworth. Miles felt ready to pass out. "So what happens now?"

"I'm not sure," Phoenix admitted. "I don't have any more experience here than you do."

Miles straightened, startled. "But you said—"

"I have only ever been in one real relationship," Phoenix said, "and honestly, your French guy sounds healthier than what I had. I might have had more sex, but... I mean...." He blushed. It was adorable. "Is that what we're talking about? A relationship?"

His heart thudded. "I would certainly hope for that," Miles said softly. Some part of him boggled at how this had only been going on for a week, but a louder part replied that it had been going on for decades.

"Okay. Then. I'm going to be Miles Edgeworth's boyfriend." Phoenix held his gaze a second longer before his expression collapsed into mirthful giggles. Gasping through his laughter, he said, "This was so not what I expected tonight. But it's good! It's good. I still feel like I'm going to pass out. Or like I want to kick my own ass for not figuring this out sooner. It's good." He grabbed Miles' cravat, pulled him close, and kissed him harder than before. "I just kissed Edgeworth," Phoenix said before giggling again.

Miles smiled when they pulled apart, breathless. Could this really have happened? Would they really walk through that door together and this would all still exist? Others could see them? He froze at the thought, and Phoenix mirrored his sudden concern.

"What?"

"What's Trucy going to say?" If Phoenix had to choose between him or his daughter, well, of course he would choose Trucy's wishes. That was only right and just. Still, the thought that all of this could fall apart so easily terrified him.

Phoenix smiled and leaned his forehead lightly against Miles'. "Mr. Not a Master of Behavioral Awareness... she's probably going to try to make you move in."

Chapter Text

Miles had spent most of his life backing away from emotion, retreating into rationalism whenever the world became overwhelming. But then, for much of his life, emotions were dark things: pain, fear, anger. It had taken him a long time to remember simple, uncomplicated joy. And nothing in that learning process compared to this.

"We should go slow," Phoenix said, sounding like he very much disagreed with his own words. After a few more kisses and the occasional trembling touch, they'd returned to the living room to await Trucy's return. A full couch cushion's width separated them now, though their bodies were angled toward each other.

Miles inhaled, then exhaled. His breath was as shaky as his legs had been out there on the balcony. "I agree." In return, Phoenix gave him a strange expression that was all crinkled eyebrows and lopsided smiles, and Miles slowly ventured, "Did you expect me to raise an objection?"

After a little too long, Phoenix shook his head. "No. We do not want to screw this up. I don't think either of us would ever get over losing each other as a friend because things went wrong on a date."

Miles mutely shook his head. With only one past partner from whom he'd amicably departed, that concern hadn't crossed his mind. No wonder Phoenix had thought of the risk, though. His first relationship had ended in a murder trial. "You're absolutely right. I also prefer to move slowly for my own comfort level." Considering that, his brow furrowed more. "Although before, I was with someone new to my life. The two of us already know each other intim... very well," he corrected at the last second, and not very smoothly.

A nervous laugh escaped Phoenix. "Yeah, we can't say 'intimate' yet." He froze a second later, but just as quickly melted into a sheepish grin. Whether those pink cheeks were from embarrassment or his imagination, Miles couldn't say. "I'm getting really, really ahead of myself," Phoenix said after a long, flushed beat between them. "And here we are, saying that we need to take things slowly."

With Julien, four months had passed before Miles wished to take that mutual step forward. He felt certain that the timeframe would be abbreviated here. Still, it would take longer than those ships who had passed Phoenix by in the night. Very deliberately, he asked, "If I may ask, Wright, what passed through your mind when I... ah... grabbed hold...."

Phoenix grinned at the obvious detour. "I think I finally realized what was happening right before we stopped. It was...." Countless conclusions ran through Miles' mind, everything from his old, habitual self-loathing to the joy he'd felt that evening. Phoenix had clearly been stunned, but 'stunned' could have so very many different flavors to it. "If I was ever holding a winning lottery ticket," Phoenix slowly finished, "I think it would take me about that long to process that my ticket matched the tv."

The comparison made Miles duck his head, hiding an expression that felt positively bashful. I can't disagree. How long had he been waiting for this, even though he was sure that it would never happen? So illogical. But then, he's always shaken up my logical foundations.

"Are you going to look at me?" Phoenix asked. The question sounded far more amused than when it had followed their first kiss.

"I'm trying to maintain—"

"Oh, Edgeworth," Phoenix laughed, and pulled him in by his cravat again. Somehow, the fact that Phoenix had just been laughing at him didn't seem to matter. Laughter had felt cruel and cutting for so long, but as Miles vacantly wondered when they'd wound up sitting hip-to-hip again, he felt like he was in on the joke for the first time in his life. As he turned toward Phoenix, the better to meet his mouth, Miles' hand found the strong, broad planes of Phoenix's back and rested there. After a low, appreciative noise at the contact, Phoenix lightly cupped Miles' jawline and cheek. Despite the delicacy of the touch, Miles felt as if he were being guarded like some precious treasure.

Winning the lottery, indeed.

"Maintain control?" Phoenix finished when they broke apart.

Aware that his gaze was a bit unfocused, his cheeks were more flushed than ever, and his clothing was an unsalvageable mess of wrinkles, Miles breathed, "It almost feels as if I don't have to."

Clearly, that had been the right thing to say. Phoenix's eyes widened and he swallowed. His smile was like sunlight breaking through clouds. "You really don't," he said after those long beats and leaned back in. Had they really kissed so much already? Every time seemed like a fresh revelation.

Perhaps, if they hadn't been so enthralled with each other, they would have heard Trucy's keys turning in the front door. Instead, Miles and Phoenix ended their kiss abruptly when a high-pitched squeak cut through the room like a fire alarm.

"Oh," Trucy said. Her eyes were as wide as theirs.

Neither man dared move. Phoenix's hand still cupped Miles' face, and Miles' hand rested on his back.

"Oh," Trucy said again. "Ohhhhhhkay. Okay. Okay. Okay!" Her hand pulled away and left the key in the lock. It gestured through the air like a conductor seeking a baton. "I. I. I'm gonna go. Be somewhere. Else. Somewhere else. I," she bellowed with more confidence, "am going to go be somewhere else!" With another deep breath she finished, "Apollo, you home yet?"

That broke through their shock and Phoenix lunged off the couch. He banged his shin on the coffee table and probably bruised his hip on the table near the door, but he reached his daughter before she ran for Apollo's. "Trucy," Phoenix said, his face red. "I can explain." Miles certainly hoped so; he felt mute with shock.

"No, no, you really don't need to explain," Trucy said even as he tried to pull her inside. She gestured behind her, toward the hallway. "I'm just gonna go, so—"

"I can explain," Phoenix said more seriously. "Please."

"I don't...." Her cheeks blazed as red as theirs, but Trucy nodded and mutely stepped inside.

Miles found his voice. "The key, Wright. Grab it from the lock."

With a grateful look for the reminder, Phoenix did just that and closed the door behind Trucy.

"I'm sorry," Trucy said, staring at the ground as Phoenix guided her toward a chair. It was one of the chairs that Phoenix's team had used during their game night, Miles thought, his head swimming. Had all of this really changed so much in just a week's time? "I didn't mean to. Um. Interrupt."

After a pleading glance at Miles, Phoenix sat on the furthest possible point of the couch and looked very seriously at his daughter. "We're sorry that we startled you," Phoenix said after a beat, and Miles relaxed a tiny bit. They weren't retreating from what had happened. After that look, he'd wondered if Phoenix was about to cover everything up. "Normally I would have let you know first, but this sort of... just happened."

"Uh huh, sure, absolutely." She still wouldn't meet their eyes.

As Phoenix struggled, Miles took a deep breath and found his courage. "Trucy, are you upset that you saw your father romantically linked with another man?"

Her head jerked up and her wide blue eyes locked onto his, fierce behind their surprise. "What? No! You think I'm...." Her lips pulled down into a scowl, mirrored by the sharp, angry slant of her eyebrows. "Excuse you very much!"

"Well then," Miles said mildly, "my apologies." If he could live for years with Franziska, a flash of temper was nothing. He'd rather see Trucy righteously outraged than incoherent.

Phoenix thought differently. Trucy's anger had paled his cheeks, and he sent another desperate look at Miles as he knelt beside his daughter. "I should have told you before now. Please don't be mad, but I guess I deserve it. I know you keep talking about wanting a 'Mommy,' but—"

"I don't care," Trucy said, cleanly biting off each word. "I don't! I don't care if you like boys or girls or both, Daddy! But you couldn't have warned me?" she asked. When her hand raised to point at Miles, his heart dropped. How could so much dismissal be contained within a single gesture? He could hear the conclusion to her statement: warn her about him.

"Like I said," Phoenix said carefully, "this just happened. Like... ten minutes ago. Your timing is kind of unreal."

"Seriously?" Trucy replied. "You seriously expect me to...."

It was time to retreat into rationalism. Though it hurt to do so, Miles forced away the joy of that evening. Hope, amazement, something that might be love: they were all firmly shoved behind lock and key. The comforting embrace of pure logic surrounded him. "Perhaps, instead of us making assumptions," he said in a voice that sounded cold even to his own ears, "you should inform us yourself of what has you so upset."

Trucy looked between them, sighing, and threw up her hands. "There is no way that this 'just happened.' Not with how happy Daddy's been around you, Miles, and not with how you two were totally going at it. I can't believe you'd lie to me. That is why I'm upset. Because you lied."

"But it really just happened," Miles said, "exactly as your father said."

"Going at it?" Phoenix repeated.

Trucy chose the latter for a response. "Oh my god you were going at it like it was the end of some romantic comedy. If I'd come in five minutes later, what would I have walked in on? Huh? Huh? I'll tell you what: naked time!"

"Excuse me!" Phoenix protested, his face crimson. It matched the blazing heat in Miles' cheeks. "No you would have not." He raked his hands through his hair. "Can we just... start over, Truce? Pretend you walked in and we were sitting on the couch, with a cushion between us, and then we say we've got something to tell you?"

"Maybe," Trucy said warily.

With a glance toward Miles, Phoenix took his distant perch on the couch again and began in tones as formal as any court appearance, "Trucy, Edgeworth and I have something to tell you." She gestured him onward, past this first part of the charade, and he nodded. His hands flexed where they held his legs. "We've both been very important people in each other's life for a very long time, and... is that the right way to describe it?" he broke off, looking toward Miles.

Miles, with a smile, nodded and gestured him onward.

"We had a discussion tonight—tonight—and found out that we both viewed the other as... more than just that, though. We'd each thought that we were the only one who felt anything more, and so we never made a move." Phoenix held out his hand to one side, and Miles found with pleasure that they were still close enough to interlace their fingers. They let those hands rest on the sofa between them. "When it happened, neither of us could believe that it hadn't happened sooner. We're both kind of in a state of shock, and then, well, you showed up and screamed at us."

Though her anger had been softening with each word, Phoenix's ending sparked another frown from Trucy. "I didn't scream."

"If you can label us as 'going at it,'" Miles said dryly, "we can certainly apply that label to the noise you made."

"Oh." Trucy bit her thumbnail, but smiled as she did. "It was that loud, huh?"

"It was pretty loud," Phoenix agreed, grinning with relief. "So... is this okay, now?"

"Is it okay?" Trucy repeated and gawked. For a long second Miles was left uncertain, but then she bounded up and between them, landing on their clasped hands in the process. "This is perfect!" she squealed and flung her arms around their shoulders. "Oh my god I can't believe I kept bugging you about a new mom, Daddy! And I can't believe I didn't figure it out! You're stupid in love with him!"

"I'm not stupid in... can we have our hands back?" Phoenix wondered as they looked at where Trucy sat.

"Oh!" She leapt to her feet and turned to study them. Under that gaze, Miles wondered what, exactly, he was supposed to be doing. For an answer, Trucy wormed her way in on his other side, shoving him toward Phoenix in the process, and draped herself over Miles' shoulder. He froze.

"Um." Phoenix offered a sheepish grin as Miles' face wound up close to his, and their arms pressed together. "I think it's going well."

"So?" Trucy demanded.

She's staying on top of me, Miles thought with concern. He was starting to feel a little trapped in the middle of the two warm bodies of the Wright family; he was still wearing a full suit, rumpled as it was. "...So?"

"So are you moving in?" Trucy asked.

"Told you," Phoenix laughed.

"Tru... Trucy," Miles said in his most serious voice. "Please, take a seat where I can easily see you." She reluctantly left his side for a seat opposite the two men, and Miles breathed a sigh of relief. He didn't move away from Phoenix, though; when he felt another rush of warmth, it was welcomed. "As we told you, this just happened."

"Right."

He frowned slightly. "And one doesn't move in with someone they kissed for the first time not thirty minutes earlier. At least, I certainly don't." Torn, the girl nodded reluctantly. While that all made sense, she'd been hoping to see her father as part of a matched set for nearly a decade, now. Miles couldn't fault her enthusiasm, even if he had no plans to coddle it. "Besides, I will be looking for a place of my own soon, and that will take some significant time and—"

"If you moved in here," Trucy said impishly, "you wouldn't need to."

Sighing, Miles looked around the beige, boxy living room. He could hear the distant thud of a neighbor's stereo. He hadn't checked the closets, but was certain that there was not enough room to properly store an expensive wardrobe with all its accoutrements. There was absolutely no good way to put this. "I... schedule myself very tightly, Trucy, and I need...." The idea of an unbroken stretch of sleep had once been impossible. Now, with his long-ago nightmares all but gone, he'd become used to planning days that depended on exactly six hours of deep, silent sleep.

And he was moderately sure that the insulation in these walls was made of cardboard.

But there was something more important, something he didn't want to say to her. Something that might actually make it irresponsible to continue this, at least until Trucy graduated and left the house. Pained, Miles turned to look at the front door. It opened onto a hallway with no doorman and no keycard checks at an elevator.

It wasn't just that he wanted his primping niceties. As the city's face of criminal prosecution, he needed somewhere far more secure.

"I could... I could vacuum," Trucy offered when she saw his gaze wander around the living room, full of what must have looked like dismissal. "We've been busy. I know it's messy." He met her eyes, ready to say no. Trucy flinched, looking every bit as hurt as she had when she told him the story about Stupid Karlie making fun of the funny poor girl.

Though Phoenix tried to soothe her with reminders of how they wanted to take things slowly, Miles spoke over him. The girl was nearly an adult. She deserved the whole truth. "Trucy, before you put any seal of approval on this potential relationship, there's something you should know. In my line of work, there are security concerns fairly regularly. That's one reason why finding a suitable condominium will take so much effort. Do you understand?"

Phoenix's hand tightened around his. Being reminded of the risks of Miles' position couldn't be pleasant, but he remained silent. Unlike Trucy, this wasn't anything that Phoenix didn't already know.

"If you would prefer not to be adjacent to those risks," Miles slowly continued, "then I would understand. Your father and I could delay any romantic entanglements until after you were no longer living with him."

"Any romantic... wait, you wouldn't even date until I'd graduated?" Trucy asked, frowning.

"If that's what you want," Phoenix echoed, though he sounded as unhappy about it as Miles did.

"No, that's not what I want!" Her fist thudded against the chair's padded armrest, and she gnawed her lower lip with concern. "Are you safe where you are now, Miles?"

He nodded solemnly. The Gatewater's long-term hotel hosted plenty of corporate officials. They tended to keep industry secrets in their rooms. When Gavin had texted his imminent arrival with Franziska, Miles had provided both of their pictures to the front desk so that they would be allowed through. If Franziska hadn't been registered for his room, even that wouldn't have been enough. "Completely."

"And you can find a safe condo?"

"With some time and effort," he allowed. "I may have to wait for the right place to come on the market." He did have expensive tastes and specific needs, but Franziska was right: high-end condos and a hatred of elevators seldom went together. He would need an agent with a good database and a healthy helping of patience.

"Okay then," Trucy said with determination. "You and Daddy are gonna start dating now, but you're not moving out of the hotel until you find somewhere safe. Promise me that you won't!"

Grinning, Phoenix nudged him. Miles smiled back; sharing that uneasy truth had gone better than expected. This was a night for pleasant surprises. "You have my word that I will only move into a properly secured home," Miles said.

"Good!" Trucy nodded sharply and her smiled turned up further. "Then Daddy and I can come live with you!"

Laughing, Phoenix rested his head on Miles' shoulder. "I think we just got outsmarted by a teenage girl."

"According to Franziska," Miles said dryly, "that's something to which I should long be accustomed." Phoenix's chuckles warmed something deep inside Miles. His heart swelled at the idea of feeling it again, and then again after that. Turning toward Phoenix, he kissed him on the forehead, feather-light.

Trucy's cooing was hardly less intrusive than her squeal.

"You know," Phoenix pointed out, rubbing his thumb against Miles' hand, "you could have known that we weren't lying to you about how long this has been going on. Didn't we look like we were telling the truth?"

Trucy laughed sheepishly. "Well, it was kind of hard to concentrate, Daddy!" She hesitated. "So, even though this just started... it's serious, right? I can...." The intense vulnerability of youth crashed over her. "I can hope?"

"You can do more than hope," Phoenix promised her, and stroked Miles' arm, "because this hasn't just started."

After catching that hand to kiss it, Miles stood before he could convince himself otherwise. Phoenix's disappointed noise went ignored. "Indeed. We already have a well-established relationship. We'll be careful about transitioning it into a romance, and neither of us sees any need to worry. I apologize again for startling you, Trucy."

"To make it up to me," she said slyly, "you can get a place downtown. I want to live downtown."

They could protest all they liked about taking things slowly, but Miles had the distinct suspicion that he should just give in now and look for a two-bedroom place. "I should be going," he said firmly, and retrieved an armful of paperwork. "I need to review all of this so that it's ready to file on Monday." The thought of the Gregory Edgeworth Legal Scholarship warmed him nearly as much as Phoenix's helpless laughter.

"I'll talk to you soon?" Phoenix asked hopefully.

"Soon," Miles promised. Memories of trivia card Donatello returned, and he asked impulsively, "Did you see that there's an Italian sculpture exhibit at the Getty?"

"Can't say that I did," Phoenix said, but his broad smile begged for the next question.

"If you'd like, we could go see it—"

"Tomorrow?" Phoenix supplied.

Despite Phoenix's studies, he'd never truly seemed that interested in art. That was fine; Miles doubted they would have much attention left over for the sculptures. "Tomorrow," he agreed, hands tight around his papers. "I'll pick you up tomorrow."

"This is the best Christmas present ever," Trucy told the ceiling.

After a kiss that he refused to let linger, Miles left the Wright apartment and tried not to trip over his own feet going down the stairs. That was tricky; they were light as air and his head buzzed. He nearly fell into his car. Putting on his seatbelt felt like it was using someone else's hands.

He'd never been this happy. His life had presented him with relief, satisfaction, and pride, but he'd never before felt joy that could consume him like wildfire. All the way home, he felt like a stranger in his own skin.

"Good evening, little brother," Franziska said, distracted, as she flipped through a stack of files. She didn't look up at the sound of the door. "Adrian Andrews is doing well. She managed her employees today not unlike a commander on the battlefield. I admit to some pride at the sight." Her finger tapped a particular file, hard. "In the meantime, I discovered records of customer shoplifting that the store has chosen not to pursue into court. Clearly, a foolish decision. I informed her that I would be reviewing them."

When he remained silent, Franziska looked up, frowning. "Miles? What's wrong with you?"

He shrugged helplessly, paperwork still in hand, and smiled.

Her face dropped. "Oh no."

"I'm... happy," he said in glorious wonder.

"Oh no." Glowering, Franziska stormed over and seized his cravat in a small, fierce fist. "You listen to me, Miles Edgeworth." She shook him once, hard. "He is a defense attorney and is only now clawing out of his disgrace, and...." Her hand dropped. "And you don't care, do you?"

"I'm glad you're here," he said and offered another smile.

Hands in the air, she stalked into her room and slammed the door.

Laughing quietly to himself, Miles claimed the table she'd abandoned and began reviewing his paperwork. An hour ticked by, then another. His all-consuming joy quieted as the city did. Only a small, private smile remained.

A soft chime made him look up at the small clock next to the television. Midnight. For a moment, that was meaningless; he often worked late hours. The date soon clawed up through his memories, though, and for one sharp second he felt the unease of moving a step closer to Christmas.

But only for that second. His hands felt the stacks of paperwork for the Gregory Edgeworth Legal Scholarship and his eyes saw the distant shadows of the Hollywood Hills. Somewhere there, the Getty sat. He rested there for a bit longer, dreaming of tomorrow and feeling the future of law under his hands, and then rose for bed. Even in the darkness, he was happy.

Chapter Text

If there was one thing Klavier Gavin refused to be, it was desperate. Because of that, it took him nearly five minutes in the parking lot before he relented, unbuckled his seatbelt, and closed his car door behind him.

He had no idea where it had all gone so wrong.

When he'd left Apollo at his apartment, a wobbly departure had just been one blemish on a beautiful night. The Friday afterward, when Apollo made his expected appearance at the Lipps crime scene, had been a chance to make up that minor hiccup to him. Klavier was smooth. He was helpful. He was even going to put on a show for his dear Herr Forehead.

Instead, Apollo had made it very clear that he barely considered Klavier an acquaintance, let alone a friend. Prosecutor Gavin was at the very bottom of his list of priorities. He instead planned to spend time with every other person in his life.

His back straight as a drumstick, Klavier pulled open the heavy door and walked up the apartment stairwell.

The worst of it had been that reminder that everyone else wasn't so damned alone. Blackquill was brusque and off-putting? No matter; he still had Cykes introducing him to a proper American Thanksgiving. Cold, sharp Ema melted into smiles around her sister. Even the taciturn man who'd inspired this whole mess of a bet had spent Thursday surrounded by friends and family.

Many of them had once lost someone to an executioner, legally or otherwise. Prison had separated more. How was it that Klavier had gone through the same thing as everyone else, but had absolutely no one but fans waiting for him on the other side?

Focus, Gavin. You're not desperate and you're not pathetic. Imagine the paparazzi are in the hall. There, there, that's the expression you need. Don't let it drop.

Arriving in front of Apollo's door, he checked his phone. Every movement was loose and easy, the gestures of a superstar. Apollo probably didn't plan to work on a Saturday, Klavier decided as he looked at the time; if he did, he wouldn't have left yet. After knocking twice he frowned, then leaned against the door to listen. Was Apollo inside? He wasn't moving around or playing his television, if so.

"What?" Apollo's voice rang out, and Klavier jumped.

It took Klavier a second to realize the voice hadn't come from inside Apollo's studio. He hurried toward the Wrights' apartment and, without thinking about it, knocked again on that door. Whatever was happening didn't sound good. "Forehead?" Klavier said, probably too loudly for a Saturday morning. "Herr Forehead, is everything all right?"

The knob fumbled open. Apollo Justice stood at the entrance, so dumbfounded that it took him a second to really look at who stood before him. "Prosecutor Gavin?" he asked blankly. "What are you doing here?"

"Guess what!" Trucy exclaimed from her seat on the couch. Klavier looked over Apollo's shoulder toward the girl. Next to her sat Phoenix Wright, still in his sleeping clothes but with a freshly shaved face and combed hair. The man grinned like a child on Christmas morning. That expression didn't falter even when he saw Klavier; of course, whether he'd actually seen anyone with those sparkling eyes was debatable.

"Was?" Klavier asked. What on earth had he walked into?

"They...." Apollo shook his head. He looked the most confused that Klavier had ever seen him.

"Daddy and Miles are together!" Trucy crowed and hugged her father fiercely. Phoenix laughed and hugged her back.

"Together?" Klavier repeated and looked blankly around the room. Edgeworth wasn't anywhere to be seen.

In a daze, Apollo confirmed, "Mr. Wright... is dating... Prosecutor Edgeworth."

Klavier's confused smile froze into an even more rigid mask.

That son of a bitch.

The entire legal world knew of Miles Edgeworth's ruthless desire for victories, but even so, Klavier hadn't expected the man to go this far. Wright clearly had no idea what was going on. There he sat, smiling innocently, while he was being manipulated like one of the pieces of Edgeworth's chess board. Miles Edgeworth was so damned proper that Klavier had never considered he'd go all the way to seduction just to win their bet.

Not that he needed to, a voice whispered deep in his mind. You've done a fine job of losing all on your own.

"Is that so?" Klavier finally asked in a strangled voice.

"I need to get dressed," Wright said, running a hand over his shaved face and standing. "He'll be here soon. Truce, there're still leftovers, or you can order something."

"They're going on a date," Apollo explained.

Klavier gaped helplessly. For most of the years he'd lived on the periphery of Phoenix Wright's world, the man had been rumpled and shielded, cynical and shadowed. He had never seen him acting like some lovestruck teenager. This was so much worse than he'd ever imagined. He opened his mouth to offer the requisite congratulations, but the words lodged in his throat. If Trucy or Apollo were paying any attention, they could probably pick up on that whopper of a lie even in another language. "Viel Glück," Klavier settled on instead. Good luck.

"Forehead," Klavier slowly continued after Wright had disappeared down the apartment hallway. All three had watched him go; Trucy with delight, Klavier and Apollo with shock. "I... I'm sorry to interrupt."

"No, interrupt this."

"I saw something interesting with the Lipps—"

"Let's go," Apollo instantly said, even though he was in a t-shirt and jeans. "Trucy? I'm going."

He'd never known Apollo to show up this casually to work. "Do you need to change, first?" Klavier wondered as he inspected Apollo from mussed hair to sneakers. He kept as much concern out of his voice as possible; Apollo certainly didn't need any more stress that morning. How was any normal person supposed to deal with Miles Edgeworth stopping three doors down from their apartment to make a booty call?

Footsteps approached behind him and Klavier's stomach sank. "Prosecutor Gavin?" asked a low, rich voice in its indeterminate mix of accents. Edgeworth: punctual as always. "What are you doing here?"

Plastering on another bright expression, Klavier turned. "I came to talk to Forehead about the case we're both on, Herr Edgeworth." The man wore a casual pair of slacks, a rich green pullover sweater, and a smile. Between that and the relationship news, Klavier felt like he'd stepped into some alternate dimension. This, after Edgeworth had already made Klavier deal with the sight of him hugging his sister while dressed in a robe and pajamas? Didn't the man know he was supposed to exist full-time in three piece suits?

"Commendable," Edgeworth said. Though his voice was as steady as ever, Klavier noticed him adjusting the sleeves of his sweater and plucking at a piece of non-existent lint.

"Congratulations on this... new development," Klavier said after a beat, hoping that he'd tamped down his sarcasm enough that Apollo wouldn't notice it.

"Thank you," Edgeworth said with what sounded like barely concealed pleasure. And not a hint of satisfaction. No gloating. I'll admit; Herr Librarian can act. "And good morning, Mr. Justice. Trucy."

Wright re-appeared, dressed and ready. At the sight of Edgeworth, his broad smile somehow grew. "Nice sweater."

For a short second, Edgeworth looked more like the smug bastard Klavier knew from his workplace. That was a relief, at least. "I've heard the defense favors them."

"The prosecution makes a good point."

"Nope," Apollo insisted, snapping back to attention, and pushed past Klavier into the hallway. "I don't need to change clothes. Let's go investigate."

Klavier let himself be dragged down the hall, still looking over his shoulder at the now-shut door. This was unbelievable. The scene he'd just witnessed was like the worst of Edgeworth's manipulative reputation, those days of greased palms and shoddy evidence. Worse, it was coupled with more social awareness than he would have expected the man to muster in a hundred years. I underestimated him, Klavier admitted numbly as he directed Apollo through the parking lot. Never bring a knife to a gun fight, and never get into a bet with a man who's probably silenced a hundred vital witnesses for his career.

Thankfully, Apollo didn't want to talk on the drive there. By the end he looked like he'd remembered their argument, but Klavier couldn't bring himself to care. He'd stumbled worse than he'd ever imagined and there was no way to win enough points back by the deadline. Not in a way he was comfortable with, at least; unlike some men, he had boundaries.

"I don't really care, you know," Apollo said at the end of the drive, when Klavier had claimed the last spot in front of a parking meter. He said it without looking over.

Carefully, Klavier asked, "Care about what?"

"If Mr. Wright dates him. Of course it's okay. I don't want you thinking I have a problem with that." Apollo frowned and rubbed his bracelet idly with his other hand. "I just... thought I knew people better than I did. This week has been weird." He frowned again, glared at his bracelet like it had betrayed him personally in some way, and left the car.

Well, even if Apollo hadn't tried to retract his brush-off from the day before, at least he was freely talking to Klavier. It was just to avoid any accusations of bigotry, granted, but it was something. Shrugging, Klavier hopped out of his convertible and extended the top. The neighborhood might be improving, but he didn't plan to leave a Jaguar open to any passers-by.

The inside of the nightclub was as he'd left it the evening before: mostly empty and rather depressing. Ema worked diligently in a corner while her sister watched from behind. Though it was hardly a typical vacation, from the proud look on Lana's face as her little sister identified some potential piece of evidence and bagged it, the prosecutor wouldn't have chosen anything else to do with her Thanksgiving weekend. At Apollo and Klavier's entrance, Ema glanced up, frowned, and jotted something in her notebook.

Klavier's gaze lingered on Lana Skye while Apollo frowned back at Ema. Yes, Wright and the people around him had built their careers on understanding people and finding their true motivations. There were few better examples of that than former Chief Prosecutor Skye. If Apollo had been spending so much time around Edgeworth this week, and the man had been putting on a show to seduce Wright... no wonder Apollo's nerves were on edge. Dancing along the boundaries of a lie had to gnaw at Apollo. He must be subconsciously aware that something was wrong but have no clue where the tension came from.

"So?" Apollo asked, his arms a tight knot across his chest.

Ah well, Klavier thought. Might as well get to the bottom of the case. "Come look over here," he said and led Apollo toward a far wall of the nightclub. Even with the lights set up around the room, this area remained in shadows. In the club's darkened working hours, the area would be entirely invisible even to people who knew what they should see.

"That's a wall," Apollo said after a beat of studying it.

Klavier gestured expansively, trailing his long finger down one line, then another, then a third. By the time he finished, Apollo had clued in to the faint chalk markings that seemed to form the outline of a door.

"I don't get it," Apollo admitted after studying that doorway for a long time, his head tilted. "What is this?"

A soft duo of footsteps came up behind them. "I looked it up," Ema said.

"She was very thorough," Lana chimed in. What a supportive big sister she was; that must be nice.

"See these?" Ema continued, pointing at one of the lines. Halfway down, her finger skipped out an inch. "And see this?"

Apollo leaned in, squinted at the scuffed numbers, and leaned back. "Yeah, so?"

"They look like architectural markings you'd make when you're planning to remodel a room," Ema said, scribbling away in her little notebook. Without a farewell, she spun on her heel and returned to her work; Lana, at least, shot them an apologetic look before following her.

"So they were going to put in a doorway," Apollo concluded. He scratched his head and shrugged. "Okay. I guess I don't understand why this matters. If they were doing good business, maybe they needed another bathroom." He hesitated, then frowned in thought at Klavier. "They were doing good business, right?"

"Yes," Klavier confirmed. "Sold-out room every Friday and Saturday." So far he'd only verified that the troupe's bank account contained no huge recent deposits, but doubted it would hold any other surprises with those reliable weekly sales. "But Forehead... don't you see what's strange?"

"Well, I guess the drawing is sort of wiped away," Apollo said. He shifted his weight uncomfortably. "Or maybe the strangest thing is me working with you after I said I wasn't going to. Maybe I should call Athena...."

Rolling his eyes, Klavier clasped Apollo's shoulders and turned him toward the front of the nightclub. "What do you see?" Apollo tried to shrug off his hands, so Klavier tightened them and repeated, "What do you see?"

"The front door," Apollo grumbled. "The bar. Some seats. Why?"

"The front door," Klavier repeated significantly. The holiday weekend had made for a quieter investigation than was typical. Any noise came through the walls, instead, and that had clued him in. He'd spent his Friday evening going through county records to verify his suspicions.

"So it's the front door," Apollo said. "With a sidewalk outside. And a street. What does that have to do with them remodeling their club?"

Klavier waited in silence. Apollo was a clever man; he'd figure it out.

It took nearly a full minute before the crease between Apollo's eyebrows smoothed and the brows lifted. His hand splayed on the wall and he trailed his gaze slowly along it, roaming from the markings to the far entrance. The answer had come, and more quickly than it had for Klavier: this wall was perpendicular to the street, not parallel to it. "They're not using up part of any back room," Apollo said. "This new doorway would open up into the building next to them."

"Ja." Klavier nodded. "I looked at the plans yesterday, just to be sure. It's not an unused gap; right on the other side of that wall is a different building."

Pulling back, Apollo folded his arms across his chest again. This time that wall looked like the enemy, rather than Klavier himself. "But why?" he wondered as he tilted his head and studied the markings. "And... does this even matter for this case?"

Now that, Klavier couldn't answer for sure. He suspected, though. "From what I hear, you have an uncooperative client, Forehead."

"No, Ruby talked with me," Apollo said instantly. Protectiveness surged, whether for his client or Apollo's own chances in court.

Meaningfully, Klavier said, "Doesn't it count as uncooperative when a client insists to their attorney that they're guilty?"

Apollo frowned. "Oh. That."

"It's going to be very hard to argue that Mr. Devon Villa, aka Ruby Lipps, did not steal money from that bank," Klavier said. "I will get a guilty verdict there, trust me on that."

Apollo's frown deepened.

"But as for what comes next... if you want to sway the judge, you need to listen to the whole song, not just the chorus. What's the motive for taking all that money?" Meaningfully, Klavier gestured to the markings. "A big remodeling job isn't cheap." He looked around the room with the same weighty look, at the cigarette-burned carpet and outdated styling. It looked fine at night, but those billboards for new lofts and fancy smoothie bars said that 'fine' might not be enough for what the neighborhood was becoming.

"You're going to argue that they stole the money to improve the club," Apollo realized.

"I don't give away all my secrets, Herr Forehead." It seemed likely, though. It could be worse; some people would use that chunk of change to hire a hitman or buy up a trunkful of drugs. Compared to some of the accused who came through a big city's court system, a bit of simple greed and vanity seemed relatively harmless. Oh, he'd get that guilty verdict, but he wasn't going to be vindictive about it.

Unhappy agreement settled onto Apollo's face. That had been a lot of money, and if they were planning to buy out the next building for an expansion as part of their remodel, much would be explained. "LA real estate is expensive," Apollo protested as they walked back into daylight and blinked until their eyes adjusted. A few seconds later, Ema trailed behind them and pretended to jot something down about the front door. Klavier tried to ignore her. "Even with what was taken, I don't think they could buy out a whole building. Let alone remodel it."

"Nein?" Klavier asked as he turned to the building he'd researched on Friday: the youth shelter standing directly next to the nightclub. Despite its comparative height, it was the most run-down building on a tired block.

And the only one that looked remotely affordable with the amount of money that had been stolen.

"You think they were going to buy that?" Apollo asked in quiet horror. Klavier could nearly hear his thoughts: I'm supposed to make my client look sympathetic when they were trying to kick a bunch of kids out of a homeless shelter to make their nightclub bigger?

"I know that new doorway would open up directly into that shelter," Klavier said, deciding to stick to the facts. "And they do not currently have the building's title."

"What song is that?" Apollo asked after a good minute had passed, each man lost in his thoughts as he stared up at the shelter.

Klavier laughed and tossed his head. Ah, good; Forehead had noticed his humming. For someone who'd declared that he wanted nothing to do with Prosecutor Gavin, that was a good sign. "Rolling Stones. Sympathy For the Devil. That's what you need to spark in our judge if you want a light sentence for your bank robber."

Apollo scowled again, balled his fists, and looked back to the shelter with determination. "I'm gonna go talk to them. They'd know if anything like that was going on."

Before he set off, Ema's crisp voice interrupted him. "Wait! Before you head in there, I want to... assess something about the case."

Klavier tensed.

Apollo turned to Ema. "What?"

"Considering yesterday's blowup at the fop, how closely are you planning to work on this mystery of that architectural mark?" Ema's pen hovered over her notebook. Her smile was damnably bland as she ignored Klavier's glare. At Apollo's uncertainty, she added, "Just trying to figure out what my working environment is going to be like. It's—"

"Scientific, I know," Apollo finished. Glancing at Klavier, he hesitated. "I... I'm sorry I yelled at you yesterday, Prosecutor Gavin." Before Klavier's hopes could rise, he continued, "But I really do think it's best if we maintain a strictly professional relationship, at least for a while. Things keep changing at work and it sounds like the whole Prosecutor's Office is going to be more on the ball than they have in a... erm." His apologetic expression twisted and greened. "I really shouldn't have phrased it like that."

Klavier blinked. Phrased it like what? Oh. He coughed. "More on the ba... ah. Clever. And a little horrifying."

Confused, Ema stilled her pen on the page. "I'm missing something. Is this about Mr. Edgeworth's overhauls at the Prosecutor's Office? I thought they were mostly about ethics and transparency."

"Oh, it's about him, all right." Before Klavier could stop Apollo, he explained, "Chief Prosecutor Miles Edgeworth, legal god and all-around intimidating guy... is dating Mr. Wright."

Ema's face went very pink, except for her lips. They paled nearly to white as she clamped her mouth shut. Her eyes widened and she rose slightly to her toes, and hung there for a good five seconds as she struggled. When she spoke, she sounded only barely in control. "They're dating?"

"They're going to an art museum today," Apollo said. "Trucy's thrilled. I don't think she's figured out that having Mr. Edgeworth for a stepdad would be like having a warden down the hall."

Klavier glared at Ema as a strangled noise came from deep inside her throat, then plastered on a smile. "Don't worry, fräulein. One crush is off the market, but your favorite rock god is still open for drinks tonight." Play along, woman!

"I'm sure Mr. Edgeworth will make Mr. Wright very happy," Ema managed in a strangled voice. Suppressed laughter had her teary-eyed. "They probably both feel like... winners today."

Klavier looked at her flatly, and she grinned like he'd never seen from her before.

"They did both look pretty happy," Apollo admitted, though he had the same tight, conflicted expression that Klavier had seen from him so much that week.

Without turning away from Klavier, Ema continued, "You know who I should call? Mr. Edgeworth's sister. To compare notes about how happy everyone says they are."

"You could certainly do that," Klavier said tightly. "And leave Forehead and I out of the conversation, hmm?"

"You know Prosecutor von Karma?" Apollo asked, too surprised to hold that edge of suspicion. "Is that from when you stayed with your sister's friend in Europe? I swear, it's like I'm the only person I know without a passport."

Ema's mood barely faltered. "O—oh, yeah, we're close. I can't wait to catch up with her." The lie was obvious, but she clearly didn't think it mattered by that point. "Talk to you later, Fop," she smirked, then scribbled something down in her notebook with a flourish. "Good luck with the case. Don't share classified intel with the enemy. Ethics and transparency, remember."

He smiled back with even less sincerity. "Danke."

"I'm not 'the enemy,'" Apollo grumbled after her.

Well, that was a disaster. Klavier rubbed his eyes, then glanced at his car to verify that it remained unmolested. Seeing the Jaguar made him hesitate. He doubted he'd be able to shadow Apollo through the entire day, but if he left early, how would Justice get home?

"Would you like a car, Forehead?" Klavier asked, only halfway joking. What was that last-ditch attempt called in American football? Ah, right: a Hail Mary.

Apollo blinked at him. "What?" He held Klavier's gaze long enough to see that kernel of truth, then laughed weakly and rubbed the back of his head. "Ah... ah, no thanks. I'm fine. I like my bike."

"Worth a shot," Klavier muttered.

Ema's laughter followed her into the nightclub.

"That's it," Apollo said after a long, thoughtful beat of watching where Ema had vanished. "That's the problem." Any tension had left his voice; curiosity edged it now, instead.

"Hmmm?" Klavier asked.

The idle curiosity sharpened as Apollo looked up at the building with resolve. "It's not important, don't worry about it. I'm going to solve this case first." Eyes narrowed, he whispered "Here comes Justice" and vanished through the front doors of the shelter.

Might as well, Klavier thought and moved to follow him. He hadn't intended to question any of the other residents of the area; the victims in the bank were all the prosecution needed for its case. But with such a long, luxurious investigation before the trial commenced, he might as well be thorough. If these children had heard anything about long-term expansion plans, he might be able to construct more of a conspiracy among the troupe. Perhaps more of them had been involved than just Ruby and Helena.

"I'm sorry, sir," said a pleasant, matronly woman when Klavier stepped inside. "Access is limited to residents. Are you looking for someone in particular?"

Blinking, Klavier looked around the small, musty lobby, then peered up the peeling staircase next to the woman's desk. Apollo was gone. "Ah? No, no, I'm just following my friend." Friend; a little white lie wouldn't hurt anyone. "We're both working on the case with the bank robbery next door. I was hoping to talk to some of the kids about what they've seen."

Her face hardened. "We have nothing to do with that or them. Please leave."

...Seems like an overreaction. Interesting. Maybe they are trying to shut this place down, after all. Klavier flashed her his smoothest smile. "No need to worry, beautiful lady. I'm on your side. I'm the prosecutor on this case, and I just want to find out all the trouble that Mr. Villa's been causing this neighborhood."

"You need to leave, now," she said. "I don't want any man coming in here and flirting with the first person he sees. This is a youth shelter."

Misjudged that one. He kept a smile on, anyway. "Fair enough. Can I get the same access that the defense's side got, at least?"

"The defense?" she repeated and her frown deepened. "You're the only lawyer who's come in here."

Flummoxed, Klavier looked around the tiny lobby. They'd entered through the same door; there was no way this woman hadn't noticed Justice. Oh, he realized. Short, youthful-looking Apollo had shown up in rumpled casual clothing. This gatekeeper had probably thought another teenager was walking by. "I could show you who I'm talking about if you just let me—"

"If you want to come into this building," she said with a steely voice, and rose to her feet, "then you'd better show me a search warrant. Otherwise, I'm calling over whatever cop is in the club today and asking them to make an arrest."

And that would be Ema. Klavier's mouth thinned at the image of her being asked to arrest 'the fop.' She wouldn't just do as requested; she'd throw him into a cell and request a transfer to some federal prison upstate. "Apologies for taking up your time," Klavier said politely and took a long step backward toward the door. "Have a good day."

There were strips of blue sky between thick, rolling clouds, and the crisp breeze was pleasant. Despite everything, it was a beautiful day. I hope you're enjoying your art museum, Herr Librarian, Klavier thought wryly as he looked up at a random window and wondered what Apollo would find inside. Shaking his head, he pulled out his phone to send a text: Let me know when you need a ride back, Forehead. I'm checking files.

It was time to look at more than just the troupe's ticket sales. Any loans taken out by the shelter, suggesting they'd be an easy target; real estate valuations of the entire block; every deposit and withdrawal made by the troupe for several years back. Any good musician could notice a hiccup in a rhythm. It was how he'd pinned down the perpetrator in his last case, and it was how he was going to get his win here.

Klavier Gavin was going to win this case. After all, he admitted as he pulled away from the curb, he'd lost the bet.

Chapter Text

"Hello?" asked Apollo Justice as he peered into a second-floor rec room.

The youth shelter was even more run-down than it looked from the outside, and he wasn't one to judge. The few rooms he'd passed were closed and locked; he didn't know if the scuffed doors held homeless children or if they had to clear out every day and come back in the evening. Rounding another corner brought the sound of conversation and he hurried toward it. The furniture in the destination room sagged, and everything smelled a little stale, but it was safer than the streets. Ragged or not, the place felt filled with relief.

The children there ranged from barely-pubescent to practically legal adults, pale to dark, gaunt to round. Most sat alone, though one girl rested in another's arms as they both played video games. A few glanced at him when he spoke. "Hi," said a boy who looked close to eighteen. "You new?"

"Yes. I mean, I just got here. I mean...." Apollo frowned at his casual outfit, courtesy of his too-rapid exit from home that morning. Surely he couldn't look that young. He was a capable adult on a mission, dammit! "You know the theatre next door? I have some questions about the troupe."

The room seemed to chill ten degrees, and every last eye turned to Apollo. "Yeah, we know them," said the boy who'd first spoken. "What's the deal?"

"I just came from the theatre. The police pointed out something pretty weird and I'm trying to figure out what's going on." It was fortunate that Lana had visited that week. On a normal day, Ema probably wouldn't have taken the initiative to investigate that mark further. Instead, Klavier would have pulled it out in court, having only figured it right before the deadline. It was the perfectly opportune time for Ema to show off for her big sister.

"Are you trying to get them put in jail?" asked one of the children warily. "Are you going to try to arrest us, too?"

"No, no!" Apollo held up his hands. "I'm Mr. Villa's lawyer. Ruby's lawyer, I mean," he added, and familiarity bloomed in their eyes. These kids... they really like Ruby. "And we're also defending Helena."

Tension fled like a dam had burst. "You're on Ruby's side," the boy verified. A smile split his face.

"We love her," said one of the girls who were still wrapped together, though they'd paused their game.

"That's good," Apollo said as he tried to take in and analyze an entire roomful of reactions. Every last face looked sincerely relieved. "I talked with her at the detention center and she seemed nice."

"She's not really a she, you know," said one of the boys conspiratorially. "It's just makeup."

"I got that, thanks."

"Um...." A girl bit her lower lip. "Are you really here to help Helena?"

Apollo hesitated. "Sort of? I mean, I'm on Ruby's case. It's my coworker Athena who's defending Helena, but we'll work together on any overlap between the two. Do you need me to call her?" Since Klavier was prosecuting both related cases, Helena's trial was scheduled for immediately after the conclusion of Ruby's. Accordingly, Athena's work was less time-sensitive than Apollo's and her Saturday was spent elsewhere.

The children exchanged a strange look. "That depends," the girl said slowly. "Do either of you have a car?"

"Uh." Apollo scratched his head. "She does. Why?"

After another conspiratorial glance, they showed him. As a group, the children led him down the stairs, past the woman at the front desk, and into a basement stairwell. Just as Apollo began to grow nervous over descending into the dim, mildewed space, he heard the distinct noise of a dog barking.

"The trained puppies," he realized as they approached a corner of the basement. A rough pen had been set up with boxes and broken furniture, and a drain on the concrete floor was probably used to sluice away the waste nightly. Despite their unpleasant surroundings, the baker's dozen of puppies nearly vibrated with excitement as their group approached.

After surprise at the sight, Apollo's stomach sank. "Guys, you can't do this. They're evidence. Concealing evidence could get you into a ton of trouble."

"They're not evidence," protested the group.

"I'm sorry, but they are." Sighing, Apollo dropped to his knees and reached over a splintered bookcase that made up part of the fencing. The puppies lunged for his hand and bathed his fingers with their tongues. "Ruby told me about what she did, and she used these puppies to help distract the guards. They're evidence, one hundred percent. The police needs to take them."

"But if we don't look out for them," said the oldest boy, "they'll die."

Apollo looked up from ruffling the fur of a puppy that looked like a mix of some very serious police dog with a fluffy Samoyed. "What do you mean?"

"Helena gets all her puppies from shelters," explained the boy. "People can adopt them at shows, and they do. The shelters give them to her for free, because... they have too many dogs. They even put puppies to sleep."

Oh, like I didn't feel guilty enough already. Now he was pointing these puppies toward Doggie Death Row? For a long beat, Apollo scritched the ear of the fluffy half-Samoyed who'd claimed his hand from the rest of the pack. "You know," he eventually said, "it's pretty messed up that Helena dresses like Cruella de Vil when her whole schtick is saving dogs."

Another sigh escaped Apollo when the kids stayed silent. "I'm sorry," he said again, "but I have to tell the police about this. Concealing evidence could get this whole place shut down if they think you were trying to hinder an investigation. And besides... it could help Ruby and Helena."

"It could?" asked a girl uncertainly.

"Absolutely!" Apollo said with more confidence than he felt. "Helping out animals like this makes them look really sympathetic. That could bring the judge around to their side." He knew he'd been right to trust Ruby; anyone who organized animal adoption drives as part of their show had to be a good person at heart. Still, she had robbed that bank. Was he promising too much to these kids?

"That matters?"

Apollo nodded. "It can, depending on the judge. If they like a defendant, then... yeah, they do tend to go easier on them. At least sometimes."

The kids murmured among themselves. The oldest boy stepped forward and said bravely, "Then you should know that they help us, too. They give part of their ticket sales to the shelter. Because some of them ran away from home, and... and yeah. We wouldn't be open without Ruby. Tell the judge that too, okay? Convince him not to send Ruby to jail. We all need her."

Apollo swallowed as he struggled to keep on a smile. "I'll tell him," he lied.

He had asked Ruby where the money had gone, and it looked like that answer had come. It made Ruby look a lot less selfish if the stolen money had gone to a homeless shelter instead of a nightclub remodeling, like Klavier would try to prove... but if she had a history of donating to the shelter, it also gave her a motive impossible to disprove in the eyes of the court. Apollo hadn't given up on hearing "not guilty," but oh, it might have just gotten harder.

"Okay," the boy relented. "Then we'll let you take the puppies if you promise that they won't go back to the pound."

"I promise," Apollo said and hoped he could keep it. Surely the Prosecutor's Office wouldn't want to lock this evidence away in some archive room forever.

When the herd of children and puppies emerged from the basement, Apollo at their head, the woman at the front desk stood in surprise. She was probably pushing fifty years old and her dark face had the look of someone who usually played a strict but loving substitute mother to these children. Now, she could only focus on the sight of Apollo. "Hi," Apollo said tiredly. "I didn't introduce myself when I came in. I'm Apollo Justice, Ruby Lipps' lawyer."

Shock moved across her eyes, then a flash of anger. It faded just as quickly and was replaced by relief. "You're who that flashy man was looking... I see." She extended her hand. It was warm and strong when Apollo shook it. "Raquel Stone. You did say that you were on Ruby's side?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"And... you're a lawyer?" Raquel asked dubiously, looking over Apollo's outfit.

"I wear a suit to court." She gave him a pointed look that said I certainly hope so and Apollo tried uselessly to smooth the wrinkles in his t-shirt. Sometimes it really does feel like I only exist to be made fun of. With a more serious tone, Apollo continued, "I was talking with the kids to see if there was anything I could learn about Ruby that might help us in court."

"And so they showed you the puppies," Raquel guessed.

"They showed me the puppies," Apollo confirmed, and gestured to where the children had the dogs corralled between them. "Sorry, but they're evidence. I don't want you to get into trouble for concealing something for the case."

She nodded. A flash of something very tight and fearful moved through her eyes.

Slowly, Apollo ventured, "And then... the kids said that the troupe helps out your shelter with money."

"I don't know anything about that," Raquel instantly said.

He didn't even need to perceive the woman, nor pay mind to his bracelet's warning; Raquel had a blatant nervous tic of running her thumb over her index finger's knuckle. Clearing his throat, Apollo pretended like he hadn't noticed. "They said the troupe gave you part of each week's ticket sales?"

"Oh." She adjusted a ring on another finger. "Yes, they do that."

God, he was glad Klavier wasn't in the room to hear this. Summoned as a witness, this woman's testimony would surely get his client convicted in five minutes flat. She has the money somewhere, Apollo thought with a sinking feeling. Had he assumed incorrectly that it wasn't with one of Ruby's 'friends?' "Do you have any idea where the money from the robbery is now?"

After a wary glance at the children, Raquel said, "We don't have it, if that's what you were thinking."

Surprised, Apollo held her gaze and waited for any sign that she was lying. One never came. "Okay," he said slowly, and with disbelief he couldn't quite hide. "Well... I noticed some architectural markings inside Ruby's club. It looked like someone was planning a doorway between the two buildings. Do you know anything about that?"

Raquel hesitated. "They didn't want to expand into here. Really, the troupe just helped us with ticket sales. I hope they're able to get back to work and start performing again, and soon."

Apollo held back a sigh. Lies on top of lies, even if he couldn't figure exactly what the lie was. (This whole week had been like that. Everyone seemed to be speaking slightly off-kilter.) The shelter was clearly involved with the money... but with how much they loved the troupe, it also seemed impossible that the troupe was about to make a space grab with that doorway. "Thanks," he said and tried to mean it. "I'd better get these dogs to the police. I'll tell them that it was just kids hiding them and that you didn't know. They'll let it slide." He hoped.

After finding a leash—or a decent substitute—for all of the puppies, Apollo steeled himself for the canine rush of excitement and guided them to the sidewalk. He managed to make it down the short flight of steps without tripping over a leash or a furry body, but it was a near thing. The clouds above had thickened and brought rain, which was just perfect. His charges were a squirming, affectionate, adorable mass of trouble, and now they were wet. Groaning at the locked club door, Apollo managed to retrieve his phone one-handed and type HELP.

After just a few seconds Klavier burst out of the door, his jaw set. That heroic entrance faltered when he nearly tripped over a beagle mix puppy. "...Die Welpen."

"The puppies," Apollo confirmed. Had he just guessed Klavier's meaning, or was he spending enough time around all of these German lawyers to actually know? I need a vacation. "The kids next door wanted to keep them safe, but I didn't want them to get in trouble for accidentally concealing evidence. Can you hold the door for us? I couldn't get it open."

"So that's why you called for 'help,'" Klavier said wryly. "Ah, Forehead, they're a bit... damp."

"And they're getting damper while we're standing outside." And my hair is drooping. "Door?"

"Point taken," Klavier said and frowned at the grey sky as he held open the theatre entrance. "I'm glad I put my car's top up."

"Oh!" gasped a female voice as Apollo steered the furry mass inside. He didn't dare look up; he'd probably take a header as soon as he stopped focusing on his next safe step. "They're so cute!" It must be Lana.

"Those adorable dogs are dripping on my investigation." Yep, that would be Ema. (At least she admitted they were cute.)

"Can someone help me?" Apollo asked after the door was safely shut. Klavier obligingly took four of the puppies and Lana hurried over to grab another four. Left with only five animals, Apollo relaxed, sighed, and sunk to the ground. Five puppies was still too many for his tastes, but at least he could pet his charges instead of wrestle with them. "The kids at the shelter didn't want them to go to the pound, so they stuck the puppies in their basement. They didn't even think about them as evidence."

Klavier had knelt and was ruffling a terrier puppy's ears, cooing at it in some ridiculous German. "Can you blame them?"

Apollo relaxed further at the confirmation that no harm would come to the shelter over this. He was only technically responsible for Ruby, but Ruby felt responsible for those kids. That probably put Apollo in charge of the kids' safety, too. This case was getting complicated. "So... what do we do with them?"

"We?" Klavier echoed.

"They are evidence," Lana pointed out. She'd found a rag somewhere and was rubbing down her set of puppies. The last one, a fluffy brown mutt, flopped down on her lap when she'd finished drying him. As she scratched behind his ears, she continued, "That means they're under the oversight of the police and the Prosecutor's Office."

"Hrm," Klavier said, frowning. Although he kept petting the terrier he'd first favored, his frown deepened as he turned to Lana. "I've never dealt with live animals. This is getting a little... wild."

"I only remember one time when I was at the Office. There was a parrot. Long story." Lana frowned, too, as she rolled through their options. For his part, Apollo was glad to stay quiet and let the prosecutors handle all of this. "We didn't have a standard procedure then, and I assume you don't have a standard procedure now."

"I've heard of some cases with animals involved, but I've never personally prosecuted one." Klavier considered that. "I should call Edgeworth and ask."

"Oh, you can't do that," Apollo instantly said. "Remember? He's busy." The fact that Phoenix Wright was on a date with Miles Edgeworth was weirder than some of Trucy's ideas for new magic tricks. He still felt like he'd woken up in Wonderland that morning and had no idea when he'd come back through the looking glass. But, until that happened, it would be poor form to interrupt them.

Klavier went very still. "You're right," he said. "They're busy." For a few breaths he considered that, then nodded. "I... Herr Forehead, trust me on this. We want to interrupt them. It wouldn't be a bad idea, in the end."

"Okay," Apollo said slowly. Klavier seemed sincere, if even odder than usual.

"You're pathetic, fop," Ema said flatly.

Lana blinked. "I feel like I'm missing something."

Klavier's expression grew increasingly satisfied as he dialed, but tension still gnawed at its edges. If asked, Apollo honestly couldn't have said whether Klavier wanted to interrupt their date or not. Chalk up one more weird thing to this week. "Herr Edgeworth, we have a situation." He paused. "You could say that."

From the sounds of things as they listened in on half a conversation, there was no set procedure for taking guardianship of animals for oversight. Klavier tried to raise protest to something, but his shoulders drooped, then he sighed and nodded. "Tschau," he muttered as he hung up. "Well, we have the name of a trusted kennel, at least."

What was he still frowning about, then? They could get the puppies off their hands and into a location that was Edgeworth-approved and far better prepared to handle animals than they were. "So, that's good!" Apollo said, trying to brighten things. "We can go do that, and they can get back to their date."

"Date?" Lana repeated in surprise. "I obviously need to catch up with Miles. Well, that's nice."

Ema leaned in, grinning wickedly. "He's out with Mr. Wright."

Lana stared at the three of them in turn. "Wait. Miles is... on a date with... Mr. Wright?"

"It was news to us, too," Apollo said.

"Miles Edgeworth."

Apollo nodded.

"With Phoenix Wright."

Klavier nodded.

"Oh."

"I'm sure the fräulein detective is terribly upset about it, too," Klavier said, his voice pointed. "Since her sister must know how she feels about our new Chief Prosecutor."

With a snort, Ema said, "Are you kidding me? If you think a guy's hot, the next best thing to dating him yourself is knowing that he's dating another hot guy."

"I really don't want to hear that sort of thing from my little sister." Lana cleared her throat. "All right, Prosecutor Gavin. Let's find a towel or sheet for my rental car, and the two of us can drive these puppies to the kennel. Ema, you can watch the puppies in my car; Apollo, I'm sure you can handle Klavier's. I think we're just about done inspecting this location and we might as well get these animals into custody before they make a mess on the carpet." Hesitating, she blushed. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to take control like that. I'm the one person not officially involved in this investigation."

Apollo glanced at Klavier, who kept tapping his phone with one fingernail like he was trying to stab through its screen. The fact that Klavier hadn't been able to break up Edgeworth's date did bug him. Considering how flirtatious Klavier had been toward Apollo himself, he hardly thought the man could have any sort of problem with the genders involved. What, then?

Although he was trying to stay away from the man whenever possible, Apollo still wished that he could remember more of that morning's escape from the apartment. It became too easy to miss things when he got flustered. He wasn't sure whether Klavier had an issue with the Chief Prosecutor or whether there was still some resentment between Klavier and Phoenix after last week's ill-fated concert. Whichever it was, Klavier Gavin obviously did not want this date to be happening.

"You know," Apollo slowly said, turning to Lana, "I think it's okay if you take over. Let's get these puppies to their kennel."

"All right," said Lana and guided her pack toward the door. "I'm glad I'm taking a few extra days in LA. This is fun! And I am going to have to call Miles and catch up."

"Yes, it should be interesting to hear how he describes this relationship to people," Klavier said thinly.

Even as he focused again on his next safe steps, Apollo risked looking sidelong at Klavier. There it was again, that low-level lying he'd been feeling all around him. By this point he could identify the half-truths that had once been mere irritants at the base of his skull. He felt like there was a conversation that was going on over his head, and it had happened with all sorts of people: Klavier, Ema, Edgeworth, and even the interrogation by Franziska von Karma.

Fortunately, he knew how to find out the—

"Careful, Forehead," Klavier said as he helped him back to his feet.

"I bid by dongue," Apollo grumbled and glared at the puppy he'd tripped over. It panted up at him, tail wagging.

"Will you be all right for Monday?"

The pain was already fading, and his tongue cooperated again. "I'm fine." Apollo walked out the door. "I'm on the case."

Chapter Text

"It's an excellent example, don't you think?"

"Mmm."

Miles turned to Phoenix. A sign for the Getty Museum stood before them, promising some of the most remarkable Renaissance sculpture in the world at the end of a short tram ride. A photograph of a Donatello piece, less-known than the David but still masterful, held visitors' attention while they waited through the long Saturday lines. "Was that a yes or a no?"

"Sure," Phoenix agreed. "Good example."

From the look in the man's eyes, Miles felt that he was being studied as an 'example.' As the tram approached and they filed into a car, his cheeks warmed. When the compartment filled and other riders pressed the two of them together, the lengths of their bodies aligned at shoulder and hip, that warmth spread down to his toes.

"Hi," Phoenix murmured when the doors slid closed and the tram set into motion. It was whisper-soft, only meant for Miles' ears. Though it was easier to look through the window at the browning hillside, Miles forced himself to meet Phoenix's gaze. That second where blue met grey was shockingly intimate. He was close enough to count Phoenix's eyelashes, and see the tiny bit at the tips where black faded to a golden brown.

"Hi," he echoed, just as softly.

"You smile, now," said Phoenix after a beat.

"I'm happier, now," Miles said, even as his heart fluttered. His work, the city, and even silly things like Game Night; his life felt secure and rooted in wholly novel ways. He was going to take out a mortgage. Of course, everything with Phoenix played into that joy, as well. Even if the rest of his world was falling apart, that kiss the night before would probably still have him smiling.

"That's good," Phoenix said. His hand caught Miles' and stroked it gently with his thumb. No one could see it in the closely-packed tram car; perhaps he'd known that Miles would need some time yet to become used to public affection. "That's just... really good."

The tram ride was thankfully short. Not only was the contact more than he was prepared for, so very soon after starting this relationship, but the crowded car was becoming oppressive. Secure and rooted or not, some part of Miles Edgeworth would always recoil at being in a metal compartment under someone else's control. Not everything changed as the years went by. Precedent, he thought wryly, and with a little relief, as the tram disgorged them onto the central Getty plaza. Wasn't that what started all of this?

Clusters of pale, angular architecture surrounded them, with little signage indicating where they should go next in the massive complex. It looked nothing like the ornate museums of Europe but probably matched them for size. "Let me check that sign," Phoenix said after a beat of peering around them, frowning. "It seems promising."

Tourists and locals alike filed past Miles as he waited. Fat grey clouds hung overhead, threatening rain, and a few strong gusts brought sprinkles with them. Although the droplets stopped when the wind did, Miles had registered the significance of the weather by the time Phoenix returned. "You've found the wing with the exhibit?" he asked. At Phoenix's nod and gesture in that direction, he pushed him gently forward. "Then let's hurry. You're probably getting cold."

Though he obligingly set off walking next to Miles, Phoenix grumbled, "I am not."

"You didn't wear a jacket."

"Neither did you."

"I'm wearing a sweater, Wright," Miles said.

"A thin sweater." Phoenix grinned as they walked. "You were right, the defense does favor them."

Even as another gust whipped between the buildings, Miles felt warmth flood back into his cheeks. Clearing his throat, he continued, "And besides, I enjoy cold weather. Real cold weather, not what Angelenos go through. Snow, icicles...."

"Tuberculosis, probably." Yes, Wright did hate the cold.

Miles rolled his eyes. "I didn't grow up inside a Charles Dickens novel."

"With those suits?" Phoenix's grin widened. "Could've fooled me."

"If you're trying to prove that you're not really cold," Miles said as they approached the doors, "it would be more convincing if you didn't have your arms wrapped around yourself quite that tightly."

Phoenix grumbled but said nothing, and Miles relaxed at the lightly barbed exchange. Some part of him had worried that their entire dynamic would change. He wasn't ready to lose one of his very few real friends in the world, nor was he ready to dive headlong into romance like some other people might do, swooning and sighing. Both extreme possibilities had concerned him during the drive to the museum, but this... it was simply comfortable.

The exhibit itself relieved any last, lingering concerns plucking at his nerves. As child he'd never had much time for any aesthetics, but worldwide travels had opened his eyes. "Ever since a trip to Florence," Miles said as he studied a marble statue, "I've been impressed with the presence and dynamism of Giambologna's work."

"Definitely," Phoenix said, unconvincingly.

Miles eyed him. "What's your favorite piece of his?"

Phoenix hesitated before gesturing forward. "That one."

"I was remembering correctly that you were an art major, wasn't I?"

"Yes." A beat, then, "I mostly liked my drawing classes. Honestly, I just grabbed notes for some of the history lectures. Especially the modern one. That was not art."

Miles' uncertain look darkened. Phoenix had shirked his duties as a student! "Then how did you possibly remember the David artist for that trivia question?"

Phoenix looked back at the sculpture and studied it, his head tilted. "Oh, that? Well, Donatello was a turtle."

That was nonsensical even for Phoenix Wright. "I'm sorry, what?"

"A Ninja Turtle. Donatello, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo. They're giant mutant turtles who get taught by a talking rat to protect New York City. There's no way you've never heard of them before; Larry and I loved them as kids." Phoenix turned and smirked at Miles' blank expression. "What, would it be a better show if they were protecting Neo Olde Tokyo?"

"I'm sure I don't know what you mean," Miles said archly.

Laughter earned a shushing from the guard, and Phoenix managed to corral himself into silence. After he'd collected himself, he asked, "Do you know how many times I've thought your grumpiness was kind of... adorable?"

"I—I'm sure I don't know that, either."

"Well, now I get to tell you." Phoenix stared ahead again at the Giambologna for a few breaths. He was handsome, Miles thought as he waited for whatever words would follow. Even though Phoenix had gone quiet, he could tell the man wasn't done. They'd learned to anticipate each other in trials; in Europe, they kept that connection but lost all the conflict of the courtroom. Eventually, he finished, "This is... nice. It still feels like us, you know?"

A hint of a smile bloomed. "I had the same thought earlier. I used 'comfortable,' myself."

"Yeah, that works." Phoenix gave the sculpture another few seconds of attention, then turned. "Is there anywhere to eat around this place? I skipped breakfast."

Miles had, too; debating between outfits had eaten up time that morning. Dealing with Franziska's increasingly agitated commentary had distracted him further. (She'd used variations on 'fool' twenty-six times in one minute. It was darkly impressive.) "I believe so. Are you sure you don't want to look around a little more, first?"

"Nah, let's go." Phoenix nudged him toward the nearest doors. "This is really just an excuse to spend time together, right?"

Though that was nice to hear, Miles still protested, "It's a world-class exhibit!"

"Fine, then we'll come back! Let's eat."

With the help of another map, they soon sat before sprawling views of the rolling grey clouds overhead. Fat droplets spattered the windows and palm trees ringing hilltop mansions bowed in the wind. "Romantic weather," Phoenix said dryly as he studied the menu.

"I rather like rain," Miles said, watching the droplets trail the length of the glass. "And thick clouds like this. It makes the world seem... quieter."

"Or maybe you just like arguing for whatever opinion I don't," Phoenix suggested, then frowned. "It's that much for an appetizer? We should have gone to the cafeteria."

Miles gestured loosely at the menu. He hadn't even considered the prices; he'd suggested the day's outing and had planned to take responsibility for everything. "Order whatever you like, it's on me."

That drew a short laugh from Phoenix. "You mean, it'll be using you-know-who's money. Sure. Do they have lobster? Or steak. That steak looks good. Could you make a sandwich using two steaks and a lobster between them?"

Blinking, Miles said, "I hadn't realized you were that hungry."

"Oh, I'm not. I just know that Manfred would hate to pay for my surf n' turf sandwich." Chuckling, Phoenix closed his menu. "Or maybe I'll just go with something normal like the halibut."

"Always a good choice," Miles said as he decided on the scallops and set aside his menu, too. As he did, he felt a strong, warm pressure against one calf. He swallowed as Phoenix pressed his leg against Miles', and then moved it so, so slowly.

"Is this okay?" Phoenix asked softly. For an answer, Miles moved his leg in return, just as deliberately. To his infinite pleasure, Phoenix blushed while his own cheeks barely warmed. "Right, Phoenix," the man muttered to himself, probably intending it to be too soft to hear. "You don't have much flirting experience."

For the sake of Phoenix's pride, Miles pretended not to have heard that. His heart had sped like they were two teenagers in a movie theatre, but he was able to pull his leg away smoothly. "While we eat, I was hoping you could help me with something."

Phoenix grabbed gladly for the topic change. "Sure, with what?"

Miles brought up the search he'd loaded onto his phone that morning, and turned it around to show to Phoenix. "I did a very preliminary survey of my housing options."

He grinned, delighted. "You really are going to buy something here. It's happening."

"Haven't I been saying that?" Phoenix gave him a look, which Miles ignored. He tapped the side of the phone pointedly to draw Phoenix's attention back to the hunt. "I looked at places downtown—"

"Like Trucy wanted."

Miles cleared his throat at the interruption. "Yes. Not that we're planning on accelerating anything between us, no matter what happens. We want to move safely through every step of this relationship." At Phoenix's only slightly hesitant nod, he continued, "Unfortunately, the condos there that spoke to me... well, they were what I expected to see." He opened one option and let Phoenix look at it, to make his own sense of what was wrong with 'Unit 2301.'

It only took a few seconds, and happened as soon as Phoenix's eyes flicked away from the gallery of beautiful photographs. "Oh," he said neutrally and thankfully without pity. No, nothing on the twenty-third floor would appeal to Miles Edgeworth, beautiful views be damned. "Yeah, everything downtown is either a skyscraper or probably not snooty enough for you."

"I am not snooty. I am refined." He slid the map westward. "Now, by moving over a bit...."

Phoenix studied a sample listing. It was one that Miles had tapped by chance to compare the two areas, but from what he'd seen while passing the phone back across the table, it was wholly to his tastes. The cream-colored building was ornate, with a nod toward continental ideals in its stately lines and mansard roof. Four floors surrounded a courtyard blocked off by a very intimidating fence. "Well... I'd say that twenty-eight hundred square feet is a little ridiculous for a condo, but I've seen the size of your office."

It was big, granted. "That listing was just a starting point. There are others."

"Twenty-eight hundred," Phoenix repeated to himself in disbelief. After a short break to give their orders to the waiter, he looked back at the phone and admitted, "It really is nice. It's not as, uh, fancy as I expected from the outside. Like a person could actually live there without always worrying about accidentally staining something."

Miles took the phone back and frowned at the pictures. The floors were dark hardwood and pale marble, the walls crisp white in some rooms and smoke grey in others. Beautiful woodwork ran along the ceiling and around the fireplace, but yes, the ornamentation didn't match the baroque curves of that courtyard gate. Still, he protested, "I don't stain things!"

"I didn't...." Phoenix ran a hand through his hair and grinned sheepishly. "I didn't mean you. I'm just kind of, you know. Thinking ahead."

"We have been dating for less than a day, Wright. This is rather forward of you."

"Says the man who surprised me with his tongue."

"You—" Miles' face warmed. "Well. Anyway. It's not downtown, like she wanted. Do you think that would be a problem?" Only an eventual problem, mind, but it was best to plan ahead.

"Oh, yeah, Truce'd have a huge problem moving to a giant bedroom in a giant luxury condo in...." Phoenix grabbed the phone back, stared blankly at it, and returned it to Miles. "You could not be more of a rich guy snooty stereotype. This couldn't be in Westwood or something, just for variety's sake?"

"It's not like I chose for the listing to be in Beverly Hills!"

"Brentwood," Phoenix said with an affected sigh. "Bel Air. Just a little less expected. D'you want to go look at it right now? I bet those agents are on call 24/7, for the size of the commissions they get."

"But we still need to go back to look at the sculpture exhibit," Miles protested. "We barely saw any of it after driving all the way out here."

"Fine. Dork."

"Philistine."

"Tomorrow?"

Miles grimaced. It was tempting, but.... "I do need to get some work done before trials resume. The long weekend will have caused quite a backlog." That made Phoenix look too disappointed, and he said, "Really, we started this relationship yesterday." Committing to a reckless mortgage could be nearly as dangerous as moving too quickly in a relationship, and could damage his credit score, besides. As Chief Prosecutor, he had a reputation to uphold.

"I know. I know!" Phoenix took a long drink of his ice water. "I just need to breathe. Even if I want to space out the big picture, I keep getting excited about new things as they come up. It feels like I've already been waiting for a long time."

"As do I. But still, this isn't a trial; we don't need to get everything done in three days." Having some momentum felt good, but there was always the danger of an avalanche when things began to speed. He'd delayed a move out of the Gatewater for no good reason. It would make a perfect next step, and he would take it in isolation.

Phoenix chuckled. "You know, putting it that way helps, weirdly. Uh. Speaking of court... this isn't going to be a problem for your position, is it? I mean, I make the rules for my own company, but is there any sort of conflict of interest for you?"

Reluctantly, Miles admitted, "We'll never be able to face off in another trial. Otherwise, no."

Distress filled Phoenix's eyes, then was hidden just as quickly. "Well, it's not like you argue many cases yourself now, anyway. So that's not too bad."

"Certainly a worthwhile trade-off in my eyes, yes." That got the smile he'd been aiming for, and Miles returned it, smaller but no less sincere. His gaze wandered again to the scattered rain outside. For a few pleasant minutes they sat in silence and watched the world, content simply to exist next to each other. Their lunches were delivered just as conversation tempted them again. Over their food, they chatted comfortably about nothing: the Gatewater and new furniture and employee evaluations.

"Come on," Miles said after paying. "The exhibit awaits."

Two steps out of the restaurant, his phone rang with the tone he'd set for the senior prosecutors in his office. "I'm sorry, I have to take this," he said and stepped under an overhang. Phoenix waited nearby, understanding if not thrilled. "Edgeworth here, what is it?"

"Herr Edgeworth, we have a situation."

Miles blinked. "Gavin? Has something happened with your case?"

"You could say that." Klavier sounded remarkably uncomfortable for a man who usually defined the word 'confidence.' "The defense discovered a cache of evidence in the youth shelter next to the theatre. Not wanting them to be blamed for any... youthful idealism, Herr Forehead handed it to us."

"Oh. Well, that's very proper of him. I'll have to praise Wright on his agency's adherence to the law." Miles waved off Phoenix's questioning noise. "What was it?"

"Thirteen puppies."

Miles blinked. "Pardon?"

"You know. The trained puppies. The ones used in the robbery. Technically they're evidence, so we need to maintain control of the little schatzis."

"And now you have all thirteen of them?"

From the obvious tension in Klavier's voice, he was dealing with all of those puppies nipping at his ankles as they spoke. "I take it I shouldn't put them in an evidence locker until Monday?"

"Absolutely not!" Miles collected himself and again waved off Phoenix's louder, even more insistent noises of curiosity. "Call this number," he said and rattled it off, recalling the kennel he'd favored in years past. "Verify that the Fowlers still own it, and if so, take out space for as long as is needed. I've used them before, they're eminently trustworthy. Charge it to the office."

There was a long pause, and Klavier's voice sounded even tighter when he replied. It was a bizarre fit for the man, like a giggly Blackquill or affectionate Franziska. "You obviously know more about dogs than I do. Should you take this over?"

Miles frowned. "Prosecutor, this is your case. And as I know you're aware of, I am... otherwise occupied. Speaking of which, I need to get back to that previous engagement. Again, you have my permission to charge it to our office account. Or to your own, and get reimbursed." Klavier tried to protest about something else and Miles spoke over him. "Monday, Gavin. I look forward to you beginning a successful trial on Monday. I will see you for the employee meeting at 7:30 on Monday. Goodbye."

"What was that all about?" Phoenix demanded as soon as Miles hung up. "Something went wrong with a case and it involves one of my guys? Gavin's prosecuting both of their cases, so was he talking about Apollo's or—"

"Puppies."

Phoenix's concern deflated. "What?"

"They found the puppies. Thirteen of them, all marked as evidence."

Phoenix tried to control an impish smile. "Apollo and Klavier are dealing with corralling thirteen puppies right now? That's hilarious. I hope one pees on those leather pants." He breathed out, relaxing. "Okay. Let's go back to our exhibit and look at more giant naked—"

Miles colored.

"...Rocks." Phoenix grinned sheepishly. Simply looking at art was one thing, but they were trying to avoid words like 'naked' around each other. "Right. Slow. We're taking things slow. Just because we've both been dreaming of this for years, apparently, is no reason not to go slow."

Still pink, Miles cleared his throat and thought back to the exquisite marble work in that exhibition hall. It was like flesh turned to stone, curved and rippled and arched in ecstasy. On their first walkthrough, it had been easy enough to focus on the artistry, but now that the point had been raised....

This rapid descent was like nothing he'd experienced before, and felt like it could easily turn into an uncontrollable avalanche. He needed to know and trust someone before his interest became more than idle. That had slowed things up considerably in years past, with Neil and Julien, but he and Phoenix were already open books to the other's heart and had been for a decade. "The permanent exhibits are also highly praised."

Phoenix nodded slowly. "And they're of...?"

"Landscapes, mostly."

"Sounds like a good idea," Phoenix said. With determination, both men walked away to cool their ardor. And with determination, they looked at trees.

Chapter Text

"Good morning, gentlemen," Miles said as he took his seat in a conference room of the Prosecutor's Office, early on Monday morning.

'Gentlemen' was an unfortunately accurate label for the city's senior prosecutors. Even parts of the Office that hadn't rotted over the years had still acted lazily toward the law, hiring practices included. Although they were now making new hires that reflected all resumes received, those new lawyers still needed to be seasoned before they could take on more responsibilities.

And that meant that half of his most senior prosecutors were Paynes.

"Good morning," Gaspen echoed, sickly sweet. Ever since his salary cut he'd behaved perfectly, at least according to the strictest interpretation of their workplace's rules. But his politeness was a mockery, a thin oily veneer for a weak and oily man. If Miles could have fired him outright, he would have, but the Inquiry Board determined the severe salary cut was punishment enough. They didn't even recommend reducing his rank.

"Indiana was lovely," Winston continued, answering the question no one had asked. "It was such a good time, connecting with family. The Paynes are a very tight-knit clan, you know. Our niece just got accepted to medical school, and a cousin is thinking of running for mayor." His smile wasn't as oily as his brother's, but it was even more pointed. Gaspen hated Miles for the salary cut and strict regulations, but Winston hated his boss for sitting in the seat he thought belonged to him. "I'm sorry, we shouldn't be talking about this! You were probably all alone over Thanksgiving."

Miles managed to return a placid smile, rather than a smirk. Even more transparent than usual, Payne. "Thank you for the concern, but my sister came for a visit last week. We were hosted by a large gathering of friends on Thursday."

"Oh." Winston struggled not to frown.

"Hmph." Simon Blackquill eyed the Paynes darkly, then shook his head and reached up to scratch that bird of his under its beak. "I'm sure you're happy for Edgeworth-dono." Although Miles had to deal with the Paynes, at least he also had Blackquill in these meetings. He and the man didn't always agree on issues, but Miles had taken a professional risk by letting Simon practice and everyone knew it. In return, Blackquill had proven both ethical and loyal.

(A couple of years earlier, as a practicing prosecutor, consultant, and university lecturer, Miles would have said that only ethics mattered. After dealing with the quicksand of office politics, however, he'd come to value loyalty immensely.)

And despite his constant personality clashes with the man, no one in their office could claim to be a more perfect model of ethics than Klavier Gavin. Klavier was content to let a lot of the debates in these meetings pass him by and interject only when he saw a good opening. The aggression was left to other parties while Klavier watched and thought. Sometimes he offered random asides about music and performing, but just as often he cut to the heart of a matter.

Normally, Klavier would start off the meeting with an icebreaking comment or Achtung! before the real work began. He was quiet that morning, though. Must be the trial, Miles thought and moved to begin so that Gavin would have plenty of time to get to the courthouse. "Thank you all for coming in early this morning. Especially you, Gavin," he added with a nod. "I know your robbery trial begins at nine, and so we'll keep this short."

Gaspen grinned. "So Gavin, are you on track to take down that—"

"I don't know what word you planned to finish that sentence with, Herr Payne," Klavier said, "but I suggest you reconsider."

With a hmph, Gaspen leaned back against his chair.

"I wanted to discuss the proposed review procedures before they're implemented," Miles continued like Gaspen hadn't spoke. He handed out a sheet to the other men. "I believe this to be a suitable final draft, given our previous discussions." It had been a slow, iterative procedure, but they'd successfully overhauled the ethics procedures for the Prosecutor's Office over the past few months. This was the total of their discussions: new hires for internal review and as ombudsmen, transparency guarantees, access requirements.

It wasn't as much as Miles wanted; he wasn't satisfied without full, similar cooperation from the LAPD. The Chief of Police had other pressing concerns, though, and this was at least a decent start. After giving them a second to scan the sheet, he continued, "Does anyone see any last issues before this goes into operation?"

"I do see one," Winston said.

Miles sighed and braced himself.

"It's just the tiny, niggling fact that... everything on this sheet is going to let criminals run rampant across this city."

"Only that," Gaspen echoed.

"This safeguards us against unfair convictions," Miles said flatly.

"By letting everyone wiggle off the hook, guilty and all!" Winston's voice pitched ever-higher as he argued. "If we always have to show our work, we will be providing an instruction manual for criminals! And if we do manage to get them into jail, who's to say they won't get to walk free again, anyway?" He didn't bother trying to mask his cold stare in Simon's direction.

"Silence!" Simon snarled and slammed his hand against the table. "This topic is not your place to speak."

"This is exactly his place to speak," Gaspen said, smoother than his flustered brother. "Because I think it's fair to point out who is implementing these rules that will make it a lot easier for criminals to escape justice."

Miles considered not taking that bait, but everyone had naturally turned to him for a response. "Do explain your logic to me, Prosecutor Payne."

"I just think it's fair to point out," Gaspen repeated with a smirk, "that our new Chief Prosecutor pulls rightfully convicted murderers out of prison to—NOT THE HAIR!"

Simon smirked as Taka flew back to his shoulder after buzzing Gaspen with his wings.

"That is assault!" Gaspen cried as he desperately tried to smooth his mussed hair. "That is assault and I will not stand for it. I demand that bird be expelled from our office!"

"I've warned Prosecutor Blackquill about his bird," Miles said formally, "and appropriate measures will be taken. However, as you well know, therapy animals are permitted in the workplace." That had been a good label to keep Blackquill's pet around, and Taka did calm the man. "Furthermore, your co-worker has been cleared of all charges and neither of us appreciates the repeated reference to those false accusations."

Simon gave him a short, thankful nod.

"Playing favorites, like always," Winston said. "It's ridiculous that you expect us to sit here and let you set the ethical direction for this office when you let him practice!" He pointed at Simon, who glowered again, then at Miles. "And you! You collude with a forging, disbarred lawyer, and probably hand over evidence to boot!"

Miles prayed that his cheeks stayed pale. Collude with Wright, indeed. This relationship would be beyond awkward when it became public knowledge in their office. "You may want to reconsider your tone, Prosecutor. I am your supervisor."

"I don't care!" Winston struck the table. All of the tension over losing the top position boiled out of him. "At least I'm not peacocking about my 'perfect ethics' after I got a man executed on forged evidence!"

In the sudden stillness of the room, Miles' heartbeat thudded painfully loud in his ears. For a few breaths he felt a decade younger. The revelations of only a few months hit him with fresh force: his mentor was a murderer, Manfred's teachings were abominable, Miles had done unspeakable things under his guidance. The shock coiled in his stomach as bitter nausea, but his face remained smooth. "We have all run cases in less than optimal ways," Miles said after that pause. "Implementing guidelines such as these will help avoid similar situations in the future."

"Do you agree with Edgeworth-dono, Gavin-dono?" Simon prompted while the Paynes both shook their heads and muttered.

A bit of Miles' nausea eased at the reminder of the fifth person in the room. Klavier had stayed so silent that it had felt like only Miles and Simon versus Gaspen and Winston, but this would tip the balance.

Klavier stared at the rings on his hands for a long second, then looked up. "Perhaps it would be better if ethics oversight went to a committee, rather than just you, Herr Edgeworth."

Miles felt as if he'd been struck.

"You do have a certain reputation, after all," Klavier continued. "And we're trying to give the public full confidence in what we do."

Miles looked down at the papers in front of him. He steeled himself. No matter what he did later that day, no matter what emotions he allowed, in that meeting he would not let them see. The Paynes' words could be written off as mere resentment, but Gavin's words, though unexpected... were the truth.

He did have that reputation. And he'd earned it.

Precedent.

"Perhaps you're right, Gavin," Miles said. His voice sounded cold, tin-plated. "Anything to restore full confidence in the office is, of course, advisable."

The rest of the meeting went by quickly, as the ethics overhauls could not be formally approved until the amendment had been made. In just twenty minutes, the men bid each other farewell and left the room with the feigned politeness common to co-workers. Winston forced his goodbye particularly hard and disappeared quickly, before his boss could call for his head. Miles let him go without complaint. "Thank you for your insight, Prosecutor Gavin," Miles said as they left.

Klavier looked at him, frowned, and tugged awkwardly at his jacket. "You know I'm no fan of those brothers, Herr Edgeworth, but...." He sighed and jammed his hands in his pockets, and met Miles' gaze full-on. His blue eyes looked more like ice than the summer sky. "There are a lot of people who still look at you and think that you'll do anything to win."

"And we can't have that," Miles agreed. Panic bubbled up from somewhere deep in his chest. It felt like it might push out tears when it reached his skull, or perhaps bring vomit with it. He's one of my closest allies. This is what they think of me. "Well, you have a trial to get to, I believe. Good luck."

"Danke. I...." Klavier trailed off, smiled tiredly, and abandoned whatever he'd been about to add. "Let's rock," he added like a bad habit, then headed for the elevator.

Shoulders rigid, Miles walked for the stairs.

He kept his composure through the stairwell and hall, and greeted his assistant with a polite nod. When he closed the office door behind him, he turned the lock. Long strides took him across the room, clicking loudly on glossy floors. He reached his desk and leaned against it rather than sit. Nerves had his whole body board-rigid.

He breathed in. Out. In. Out.

A man executed on forged evidence.

In. Out. In. Out.

Intimidated witnesses, bribes, hidden evidence, laws twisted to their breaking point: all of those had been tools of the trade for Manfred von Karma and the young prosecutors he trained.

In. Out.

The knife tip had been an undeniably false path to the executioner, but there was no real way to say exactly how many other innocent people he'd gotten convicted. One could always put just enough doubt on a person, especially if the police were convinced that any evidence that didn't fit the prosecutor's story was irrelevant.

He'd been very good at getting the police to shut up.

His fingertips curled against the desktop. Miles put more weight onto his palms, closed his eyes, and shuddered when he felt one tear slip free to spatter his glasses. All these years, and people think I'm still like... him.

Phoenix's voice startled him. He hadn't dialed intentionally; it was like one hand had moved on its own accord. "It's eight, Edgeworth," Phoenix said and yawned. "I'm barely up."

"Wright." His voice sounded thick, rough.

"...Edgeworth?" There was a rustling as Phoenix stopped whatever he was doing. When he returned, his voice was louder. "Are you okay?"

"I... I'm sorry, I didn't intend to call you. I won't bother you with this, I'm sure you're busy." He hung up and nearly ripped his glasses off, and wiped the tear away furiously.

It wasn't a surprise when the phone rang. "Mr. Edgeworth, I have a call for you on line one."

He breathed out and hoped his voice would hold. "Put it through." Damn that Wright; he knew perfectly well that Miles could ignore a cell call, but one that went to his assistant would have to be acknowledged. "You weren't supposed to call me back," he said when the line connected.

"You know there's no way I would ignore this." Phoenix hesitated. "So... what happened?"

"It's nothing, really."

"Please don't lie to me." At Miles' silence, Phoenix continued, "I don't know for sure that you are, but seems pretty obvious to me that this isn't 'nothing.' And... you don't have to take things on by yourself. Not any more."

"Give me a moment to collect myself."

After nearly a minute of silence, Phoenix said, "It's been a moment."

Though Miles had driven off any more tears, he didn't want to talk about this any more than he had when he was fleeing that conference room. The only thing that got him talking was the knowledge that Phoenix, and Phoenix alone, would understand. Not even Franziska fully knew what he felt, and she'd seen much of it in person. He breathed in. Out. In. "During a discussion of the senior prosecutors, we moved to a committee review system for ethical violations."

"All right," Phoenix said hesitantly.

"I... I was...." Miles paused and took another deep breath. "I was not trusted for individual oversight."

Another long pause dragged across the line. "You know the Paynes hate you, Edgeworth, and they'll use whatever weapon they can get their hands on."

"Gavin."

"What?"

"Gavin agreed that I was not trustworthy. He... I cannot fault that man's ethical performance, Wright. In the slightest. He was telling me the absolute truth when he said that I would not be trusted by the public." Miles Edgeworth had spent ten years in repentance for his real crimes, after fifteen spent on a false one. One department meeting had shown that it would never be enough. Not for a man who had millions of people watching him and remembering. "He was right: the stains on my record will never come out. I will always be the man who did those things. I—"

"Edgeworth. ...Miles. Stop."

Miles swallowed.

"There are always going to be people who make up their minds about you. I get calls from people looking for a defense attorney who'll use any dirty trick he needs to. It was eight years ago, and there were all those headlines in the Times when Kristoph went down, and I'm still that forger."

"You didn't, though." His chest tightened. "You didn't really do that. But they brought up Darke's execution." He'd been no angel back then; he'd earned the 'demon' name. Wives had cried over likely-innocent husbands getting dragged away. A man had dropped dead on the witness stand. SL-9 was the worst on his record, though, the very worst. The case whose ultimate truth had led him to leave a suicide note on a desk, intending to fulfill it.

Phoenix was quiet again for a while. "That was when you really kicked off your career. You wanted to prove that you could live up to what you'd been taught. It was hardly even you doing that. It was... it was years and years of Manfred von Karma, and everything you were feeling about Neil, and–"

"And I still did it." Phoenix sighed, but Miles didn't let him cut in. "I know I'm better now, Wright. I do. But... if they are looking for someone to bring the legal system of this city back into the light, then I have to wonder if they made the right decision. I know Payne was searching for anything to use against me. The problem is that the weapon was there. It's one of many. And that means if there's anyone else in the city who wants to question my policies, or any cases that come through the system, my history will still be there."

"So resign."

"I... excuse me?" he asked, startled.

"If you can't fulfill your role perfectly, exactly like you want, then resign. What would happen next?"

"The... the position would be offered to Winston Payne, almost certainly."

He could almost see Phoenix nod, like when he'd proven a point in the courtroom. "And would he be an improvement over you, ethically speaking?"

Miles felt a little anxiety drain away as he saw what Phoenix was doing, and soon his entire body began to loosen. "He would be an improvement over me in absolutely no way, Wright, and you know that. I would never resign and let him step in."

"Right. Okay. So you're not going to be perfect, like you pictured. But I thought that you hadn't cared about being perfect for a long, long time."

"So you're saying," Miles anticipated, "that I should just do what needs to be done in order to strengthen our legal system. Justice and truth is my ultimate goal, and it should be pursued however necessary. If I have to go with a committee, go with a committee."

"Go with a committee just to shut people up. But don't ever think that you're who you were ten years ago."

Emotion choked Miles, but Phoenix gave him time to collect himself. "I... thank you for calling me back." I love this man. It was no real revelation; some part of him had known it for years, even as he tried to argue otherwise to Franziska. And he wouldn't go blurting it out a few short days into a relationship. They were taking things step by step. Still, though, he loved him.

"Any time," Phoenix said softly.

"Ah. Well." Now that the worst had passed, he felt somewhat embarrassed. (Phoenix's advice didn't sound terribly dissimilar from what Miles himself had recently said to a teenaged girl. Awkward.) "If I have no intention of resigning, then I should stop dragging my feet and actually start living in the city I'm overseeing. Properly, I mean. Perhaps I'll set up some visits to real estate listings this evening, after all."

"Thank you," Phoenix said. It sounded like he was smiling.

"Thank you?" Miles repeated. He knew why he had offered thanks, but Phoenix? "For what?"

"Coming home."

Miles' hand tightened on the phone. "Would you like to come with—"

"Yes."

If this all turned into an avalanche, he might not even care. "I'll pick you up at five."

"Can't wait. Kick some butt today. Preferably Winston Payne's. And file those papers for the scholarship trust."

Miles smiled. How would I ever have made it through life without this man? The answer was simple: he wouldn't have. "Goodbye."

"Bye."

As the call ended, Miles exhaled a long, unsteady breath. The weight of years pressed down on him again, but now they were of far more pleasant memories. He owed Phoenix... everything. His work, his teachings, the things he valued most about himself: all stood upon the foundation that Phoenix Wright had provided him. The chance to change.

The chance to come home.

Seeking to control himself, Miles looked around his office at all the files and books he would be dealing with that day. Instead of leveling out, he zeroed in on the flower arrangement that always brightened one corner. On a normal day he might have resisted the urge, but with his walls down, a rare impulse had the chance to flare. Before he could convince himself otherwise, Miles sat in front of his computer and looked up the number for a florist the office favored.

"Roses," Miles settled on. "Red, white, and yellow." Love, remembrance, and friendship. Was two dozen the right number, he wondered as he heard the options. The Agency's office hardly lacked for color. Still, this was one of his first real romantic gestures. He didn't want to skimp.

Wait.

"Do I need to go in increments of twelve?" he asked, rolling a pen along the desk. "No? Good. Thirty-eight roses. Yes, thirty-eight. On the card, please put 'Thank you for bringing me home. I'll see you at five.' Yes, I know there will be a rush surcharge for this. Just deliver it to his office by noon and put it on my card on file. Thank you."

Next, he reached for his cell phone. Nimble fingers danced across the screen. I'm afraid I will be late tonight. However, you may be able to spend some of your visit in a dwelling more to your liking. I'm going househunting.

There was barely a pause; Franziska had leapt into researching Lordly's shoplifters with vigor. Of course she was up and working. You're going with that foolish attorney, aren't you?

Yes.

Aren't you at least going to feign regret for your foolish actions, Miles Edgeworth?

No.

My sole comfort is that every foolish decision you make further proves me to be the superior member of this family. I demand a full report on your foolhardy actions when you get home, for scoring purposes.

Scoring? Oh. Miles laughed sharply; he'd forgotten. Their bet. By this point, that was something that did deserve the term 'foolish.' Whatever you want, Franziska.

Fool. Bring dessert, that part of their room service menu disappoints me.

I'll bring dessert. With a determined motion, Miles moved his phone aside, pulled out papers, and got to work. He needed to overhaul this proposal one last time, and add a committee.

Chapter Text

An enormous bouquet of roses rested on the counter and the boxes for a new computer system took up space behind the desk. With a disbelieving smile, Phoenix Wright sat with his chin in his hand and studied the gifts. It had been a week ago—one week—that he was in the Chief Prosecutor's office, pleading with his friend to attend a casual game night. One week ago, he'd known beyond a shadow of any doubt that Miles Edgeworth simply did not do romance. He'd known that his most secret 'what-if' would stay as only that.

Today, he was looking at what had to be three dozen roses and preparing to find a home that he would one day live in.

If he let himself think on it too much, it was downright dizzying. The sexual tension might be obnoxiously sky-high with no immediate signs of easing, but everything else felt like they'd been together for years. Because you have been, you idiot, Phoenix heard. That wasn't exactly wrong. Looking back on his trips to Europe, they'd gone to cafes, walked over bridges, seen the stars come out. Sure, they hadn't called them dates back then, but if both of them had been attracted to each other, then it sort of counted. Right? If they'd been seventy percent together back then, then where they were right now made sense.

Still, this all was a lot. It was like sitting at a wonderful banquet; even though he needed to slow his pace, he didn't want to. It felt like he'd been starving for years.

At the very least, he would stop mooning over those flowers and make a call he'd owed for days. He would stop looking at those roses. Really, he would. Right... now. Phoenix tore his gaze away from the flowers and grabbed the office phone, thankful that Apollo was busy at the courthouse and Athena was assisting him before her own trial.

"Where have you been, Nick?"

He smirked at Maya's voice. "And hello to you, too."

Kurain was hardly a technological wonder, but Maya (with heavy assistance from Pearl) had set a much different tone than during Morgan's de facto rule. The outside world was no longer a cultural threat. Instead, it was a source of televised entertainment and propane grills. The population still wasn't big enough to support a cell tower within that narrow mountain valley, but at least the phone company had hardwired each individual house.

"I'm so sad that I couldn't come down for Thanksgiving! Snow, you know?" Maya huffed. Personally, Phoenix thought that no one who chose to live on a mountain of their own free will had any latitude to complain about the weather. "I thought you were going to call me during the weekend to make up for it!"

"I... got a little distracted."

"Hmph! Well, it must have been something pretty big to ignore me and Pearly up here on the mountain, all alone, shivering in the cold and the dark."

"It... wait." Phoenix frowned, losing his train of thought. "Oh geez, I'm sorry. I didn't know the power went out when the storm hit. Are you okay?"

"We're fine, I just made that up to make you feel guilty."

"I should hang up right now."

"No, no!" Maya's voice turned less teasing, more imploring. "I'm sorry, don't go. I miss you and everyone. I was really looking forward to Thanksgiving, before the storm hit. I'd just finished two weeks on my own. It was so awful, and I don't know why I still have to do training when I've already got the Master title. Talk to me."

"Okay," Phoenix said, remembering. "Well, you were right: I forgot to call you because of something pretty big."

Maya obligingly leapt for the game. "How big? Godzilla?"

"Equally earth-shaking, much happier."

"Hmm. You're leaving the Agency to Apollo and are going to play the lead in a new Steel Samurai series?"

"...Less stupid."

"The Steel Samurai is not stupid! He's on track for a nostalgic reboot any day, now!" Maya paused and considered the clues so far. "Huge, happy, something that could actually happen in real life... you're going to be a grandpa?"

"Maya!" Phoenix paled at the thought. "She is still in high school! No. No!" Maya laughed and he glowered at the phone. "That's not funny."

"Yes, it was." She paused, making soft sounds of thought. "I need more clues. Is it about Trucy at all?"

"Um. Only indirectly."

"Hrm. Apollo or... what's her name... Athena?"

"No, not at all."

"Me or Pearly?"

Phoenix frowned. "Why would I be telling you something about yourself?"

His retort went ignored. "Let's see, who else do you even know—"

Hey.

"Mr. Edgeworth? Detective Gumshoe?"

Now that she'd said the name, Phoenix found his voice suddenly uncooperative. For nearly everyone else who'd seen them together, the pasts of Phoenix Wright and Miles Edgeworth were some old stories in a book. Franziska knew, but Phoenix was still waiting for the other shoe to drop, there; surely he'd wake up one morning to see a whip in his face. You didn't chat and gossip and swoon over a new romance with Franziska von Karma.

(Oh god. One day, she might be his sister-in-law.)

But Maya had seen all of their early reunion days. She knew the distance this journey had covered. Even though Phoenix was happy about this, so happy that his body just ached with it, being able to have this conversation felt overwhelming. "He's... he's not a detective any more, you know," Phoenix found himself saying, even as he wanted to kick himself.

"Gumshoe quit the force for good? Well, with what they paid him, I guess I can't blame the guy."

Phoenix scrambled for the memories of what he'd heard about Dick Gumshoe. "He and Maggey got married. They're working in Orange County for a... a security company, right. A private security company. And they have kids."

"Gumshoe has kids?" Maya screeched.

"Yeah, that was my reaction. Two boys." Flinching, Phoenix held the phone away from his ear when Maya squealed again, even louder.

"This is huge news! What are their names? I have to buy baby presents! They need toys! They need lots and lots of toys, and baby wipes, and those things you stick dirty diapers into." She hmphed when he hesitated. "Names!"

"I... I don't know their names." Phoenix rubbed the back of his neck. "Or how old they are. I don't think they're babies."

"You suck at delivering big news. How can you call to tell me about Gumshoe and Maggey's kids and not know anything about them?"

He took a deep breath. "I didn't actually call to tell you about Gumshoe. Edgeworth just told me about him and I thought you'd want to know." She waited expectantly and Phoenix ventured, "It's actually about, um, Edgeworth himself."

"Oh." Maya mused on that. "Don't tell me he has a kid, too."

"That's sort of a tricky statement to respond to." She returned the expected querying noise and Phoenix stammered, "I mean, he, well. He doesn't right now, but he might. He sort of does. Potentially. Maybe. Probably?"

"You seriously do need to explain things better, because all I can think of right now is that Mr. Edgeworth stole a baby and is waiting to see if he can get away with it."

"Trucy."

Maya worked through that answer. "I... what? She's yours. Don't tell me you lost her in a bet or something, or I'll send Pearly down to teach you how to be a better dad! You know she slaps hard."

Now that he'd gotten over his nerves, a warm joy spread through Phoenix's chest. He could see a future unfolding before all of them. Miles Edgeworth wouldn't just tolerate Christmas; he'd wake up among family and forget all of his old pain. Trucy would catch their eyes in the audience when she graduated. They'd learn each other's hidden habits and find new ways to surprise each other, even after years together. "Of course she's mine. And I'm saying that she might also be his. Get it?"

"Uh. Huh? That doesn't make any—" Her voice died abruptly and Phoenix listened hard for her breathing. The line better not had cut off; he wanted to hear this reaction. After a long pause, Maya began slowly, "Nick, the only explanation coming to mind for all of this is, well. It's pretty hard to believe."

He laughed and grinned, and kicked the side of his desk to spin his chair around. "I said it was happy and earth-shaking, didn't I? Godzilla levels of earth-shaking?"

"No way!" Maya sputtered until she had herself back under control. "When? Where? How? Why?"

Taking the answers in turn, Phoenix replied, "Friday night. At my place, after we'd done some paperwork together. We were out on the little balcony and we were talking." With each word, his voice and smile softened. "The conversation got pretty personal, and the next thing I knew, he was kissing me. And then we found out that we'd both wanted it for... ever, basically."

"Mr. Edgeworth moved first? Seriously?"

"Seriously!" His whole body buzzed with the memory. "I had no clue he felt that way. At all."

"Well, I didn't know this about either of you, so imagine how I feel!"

Phoenix laughed, then sobered. "We're trying really hard not to move too quickly, but it's tough. I've felt this way for a long time, even if I never treated it very seriously, and he... hardly anyone realizes how intensely he feels when he does feel something." As Maya was one of the few people who'd seen Miles slip, he got the 'mmhmm' he expected. They both knew how deep those currents ran behind the mask. "We're looking at a condo for him tonight, but we both know it's eventually going to be for us."

"Wow. I just... wow. How does Trucy feel?"

"One hundred percent thrilled. You're going to have to break Pearls' heart, though," he added with a grin.

"What? Oh." Maya snorted. "She'll deal. So. Wow. Congratulations. I don't know what else to say. No wonder you didn't call me."

"I just... I'm really, really happy, Maya. I can't believe this actually happened."

He could remember that very first flight to Europe, and being picked up in an oppressively luxurious car by a man with whom he still shared uncertain boundaries. Miles had been in Milan, then; a city that had never been on Phoenix's radar for travel, or even attention. The heart of the city was breathtakingly beautiful, but more formal than Phoenix had ever pictured for Italy. Some ridiculous part of him expected family-style spaghetti and Mario Brothers. Instead, a luxury car drove him past white, cream, and gold stone where every building was its own museum.

On those narrow streets, Miles had stayed quiet to focus on driving. He found a parking spot with similar silence and carried Phoenix's sole bag for him without asking. On the flight of stairs up to the apartment, Phoenix had wondered if he'd made a mistake in coming there. Of course it was good to hear that his old friend had faith in him, but between the flight, drive, and neighborhood, this felt like some formal application. And the whole world seemed to know that Phoenix Wright was no longer up to the job.

"Hotel check-in isn't for a few hours," Miles had said when they reached his small dwelling, "so I thought you might want to freshen up here. I know that I always hate the long flights from Los Angeles."

"No, that's okay." Phoenix took in the surroundings: beautiful but generic. This was a place rented in the short-term, clearly, and designed to satisfy every new occupant equally. "We might as well get to work. I'm sure you've been waiting on me."

"Please, you'll need at least a day to unwind." Miles smirked. "You do remember that we're on a different trial system here, and there's not the need to rush?"

"...Actually, I hadn't." The light jab landed harder than Edgeworth had meant it to and Phoenix found himself aching. He was just a screw-up all around, wasn't he?

Miles hesitated. After a few seconds, he walked away and returned with a glass of wine. "A bit early for this, perhaps, but you're not on Milan time. Please, sit. Relax." Once Phoenix took the glass, he poured a tiny bit for himself and joined him on the sofa. "There's no need to rush," he reiterated after Phoenix had taken a few sips and tried not to feel like a fraud who'd stolen the value of a plane ticket. "The trial's not even in Milan; it's in Munich. We'll take a train in a couple of days. I was hoping to get your perspective on matters both here and there. See if you noticed some of the same differences that they reported to the two governments."

He could identify contradictions, still. Phoenix relaxed a little and nodded. He could look at... multinational tax dodgers, or whatever it was that Miles had brought him out for.

Miles hesitated, then said after another drink, "There's also a serial murder trial I will be prosecuting in Munich, at least a week before the corporate one. My supporting documentation could use a review, if you wouldn't mind looking at that, too. I would greatly appreciate a fresh pair of eyes on everything. I'd hate to miss a weakness in my argument. This is not someone who should be allowed back on the streets."

Phoenix grimaced. Sneaky bastard. So his first trial as an assistant would be the old go-to of murder, not the softball corporate one that Edgeworth had lured him out there with. "Sure." What else was he supposed to say? When someone paid for you to fly first class and stay in a hotel with a concierge, you said yes to the favors they asked in return.

Milan never got easier, but by Munich and the trial there, he relaxed. The city itself wasn't quite as intimidating—more splashes of color, earthier language, more beer—and Miles never pitied him. Above everything else, that was what Phoenix had feared. He'd spent fifteen years of his life looking up to the standards set by Miles Edgeworth, then trying to push him back up to those lofty heights when he was that demon. Now Miles was dedicated to truth and justice again, and doing so in perfectly pressed clothes. (Phoenix hadn't known there were credit card levels past platinum.) He couldn't have taken being pitied by this man who now seemed so very, very far above him.

He found more direction in his own life before the next call, and the next flight was to Lyon. Absolutely charming, and its beauty lacked a lot of the rigid ornamentation that had intimidated Phoenix in that Milan neighborhood. He liked Lyon. Even better, it was clear by that point that if Miles was standing above Phoenix, he viewed it only as a chance to lean down and pick him back up. Like Phoenix had tripped. No; like someone had tripped Phoenix, and Miles wouldn't stand for it. They were both on the hunt.

Amsterdam. It was a city designed for bike riders; this was like coming home. He'd loved Amsterdam. They walked along canals under starlight, relaxed over drinks, talked about the future with the assumption that Phoenix had one. He'd looked at his childhood friend in the cool, pale light from the streetlights and marveled at the lines of his jaw, the gleam of his hair. He'd wished that their dinners had different endings. And he'd still been happy, even though they were just friends, that someone trusted him with the law.

And now Miles had gotten him to be a real lawyer again, and he'd gotten Miles.

All of those dreams made in Amsterdam, Dresden, Vienna, Prague, Paris, Barcelona, London... they'd come true. Every last one.

"I can't believe this actually happened," Phoenix softly repeated, snapping back to the present. "It feels like I should be waking up."

"I'm so happy for you, Nick," Maya said, just as softly. "I mean... I'm stunned, but I'm happy."

"He sent me flowers."

"No way."

"Roses. Tons of roses. Like, three or four dozen, I don't even know. I got flowers!" He laughed shortly. He'd gone through one embarrassing stint as a hopeless romantic, and had never wanted to return to that... but right now, it was tempting. "And I'm about to set up a new computer he bought me."

"...Can I date Mr. Edgeworth, too?"

"Hands off! He's mine." He swallowed as the words echoed. "He's... mine. Wow. Wow. It keeps sinking in all over again."

"I am going to make it down there for Christmas if I have to shovel the entire highway myself, just watch. And I want a picture with both of you! This is just... wow. Yeah, wow. Have fun looking at houses. Pick out a nice one that has a guest room, so I can stay when I visit!"

Phoenix grinned. "I'll see what I can do. I'll talk to you soon, and yes, this time I mean it. I need to get this computer running and be ready in case Apollo or Athena calls me. They're in their trial right now."

"Okay. Hug Trucy for me! And I'd say to kiss Mr. Edgeworth for me, but that's weird."

"I'll kiss him, anyway," Phoenix said airily. "Bye."

As he hung up the phone, his heart thudded. That was it, then, wasn't it? Oh, he hadn't told his mother, but they barely spoke. Everyone else in his life was accounted for: Trucy, Apollo, Athena-via-Apollo, Maya, and Pearl-via-Maya. Franziska hadn't whipped him senseless yet, so that was a good sign. Everyone knew and the world hadn't fallen apart. Miles had a crisis this morning, and he'd actually let Phoenix in. Life was great.

Phoenix barely even minded how frustrating the new computer was to set up, nor how obnoxiously complicated the new legal database was to figure out. He'd learn all of it; after all, this was a present from his boyfriend. It would be perfect, obviously.

Watch it, Wright. You get annoying when you're in love. Play it at least a little cool. Stop staring at the flowers.

It was a relief when Athena called. "Boss! Did you look at my pictures?"

"Pictures?" Phoenix repeated, just as his phone started to vibrate against his cheek. "Uh, I think they're coming in right now."

"Good! The judge didn't let me take video in there, but I kept a record just like you wanted. Go check 'em out!"

Phoenix obligingly flipped to his messages, then frowned. Well, Athena had followed the letter of the law: those were all indeed photographs. Still, when she took that many photos of Klavier across the courtroom, Ruby on the defendant's stand, a middle-aged woman on the witness stand, and Apollo himself right next to the camera, Athena might as well just have taken videos. "Thanks," he said dryly as he clicked back to the conversation. His phone continued buzzing as new photos arrived. "How are things going?"

"Crazytown! Polly's talking with Ruby right now, so I thought I'd call you. Prosecutor Gavin tried to prove that the troupe was trying to buy out a shelter, but then the witness said differently. I don't think Prosecutor Gavin expected that; he was pretty upset. His whole argument got torpedoed."

"Good?" Phoenix ventured. It was usually a positive for them when the prosecutor was unhappy.

"Maybe bad," Athena said reluctantly. "Polly was über-nervous when he cross-examined her, and I figured out why pretty quick: she was lying. He caught her in one without even meaning to. Merde. The judge called a recess while Prosecutor Gavin talks to her and gets Ms. Stone to tell the truth." She sighed. "I probably should have expected this! The second Polly saw her being called, he got scared."

"So... any puppies, yet?" Phoenix wondered, recalling that bit of evidence.

"Nope! Not yet. This trials's turning out to be more of a rollercoaster than any of us expected. It'll definitely go into tomorrow."

"Do you want me to come down?"

"Maybe tomorrow, but we've got it handled today. Super-handled! Don't worry."

"Okay, good. I'm trying to get this computer up and running, anyway."

"So you can write sweet nothings on it?" She sounded like she was grinning. "Yeah, I heard. I should have known, after I met you in London! Of course you'd been flying out to see your sweetie!"

"He wasn't my... just get back to the trial, Athena," Phoenix said, face and neck warm. "Let me know if things explode, and otherwise I'll be here until five."

"Got it! Wish us luck!"

"Good luck," Phoenix said obligingly and hung up.

Yes indeed, things were looking sunny all over. Even if they were scrambling right now in court, it was always an encouraging sign for the defense when they could draw things out. Knowing that he could trust his associates to work on their own was just as encouraging, and he tackled the computer set-up with renewed vigor. The next thing you know, I'll have an office as nice as Grossberg had! With better paintings.

Maybe he'd ask Miles to help him pick out the artwork.

It felt like his grin stayed firmly on until five o'clock.

"Thank you again for calling me," Miles said at the end of the day, after his knock on the door had sent Phoenix leaping from his chair. His light kiss was given with perfect decorum for a law office. As formal as it was, the touch still made Phoenix's heart flop around in stupid circles. In whatever home they found, they'd kiss each other hello after every single day at work. They'd argue and make up and steal the covers.

"Thank you for the flowers," Phoenix breathed. He knew he'd had better control of his heart even two days ago, at the museum. This was a hard and fast descent, but he didn't want to get off.

"Oh, good, they got here." Miles looked over Phoenix's shoulder, smiled proudly at the sight, and nodded. "I'm glad you like them, that florist does wonderful work. Come on, I didn't put much in the meter." Once they were in the car and moving through traffic, he continued, "I found two other listings from the same agent, along with that one we both liked before. We're meeting her there and will follow her to the others."

"Do you really want to start with the one you already like?"

Miles glanced at him, then looked back to traffic. "What do you mean?"

"Well, what if it's perfect? I'd be fine with moving ahead right then, but I have to think you would want to research your options a little more. You'd compare layouts, see how noisy the neighborhoods are...."

"Only if I was trying to choose the best of barely satisfactory options, and all three of these listings look promising. You really think I'd waste time on something that didn't appeal to me?" Miles smirked at the road. "You should already know that answer, Wright; you know you're only the third man I've kissed in my life."

"Third time's the charm," Phoenix agreed, shaky. He hadn't seen that compliment coming any more than he'd expected the flowers. When Edgeworth does finally feel things... he definitely feels them.

They drove in silence for a good part of the trip. Although Phoenix had assumed it was due to rush hour and the need to focus, Miles sounded odd when he did speak again. His voice was weighty, meaningful. "I... I will be putting down the payment, of course, but I'm hoping you'll offer input on the condo options."

Because they were still pretending that an official offer to move in together needed to be made, right. Because they were forcing themselves to slow down. Because they were... acting like idiots, really, and adhering to some make-believe sense of propriety. "We both know I'm going to be living there, Edgeworth," Phoenix said. "Some day. Of course I'll 'offer input.'"

Miles fought back a smile at the blunt statement. "You're certainly as forward as ever."

"Again, you surprised me with your tongue." They soon reached the building—its elegant architecture was even more beautiful in person—and Phoenix grabbed Miles' jacket sleeve before he could climb out. "Are you okay with what we talked about this morning?"

"Completely." Miles took the opportunity to lean over and give Phoenix another quick kiss. "Thank you again."

The only thing more beautiful than hearing that was seeing the condo itself. It had all the beauty of the listing's gallery, but those photographs couldn't capture the airiness of the high ceilings, nor the dappled light that streamed in through the trees outside. Everything felt substantial and solid when Phoenix touched it; far more so than the drywall of his own apartment. If Miles moved in here, he would never leave again. If they moved in together, they'd wake up looking at those rustling leaves until both men were white-haired.

It was beautiful, it was spacious, and it felt like a lifelong commitment just standing in it.

Phoenix's pulse sped.

"Lovely," Miles said, snapping Phoenix out of it, and gathered his briefcase. "I'm ready to see the second listing, now. We're ready," he corrected, inclining his head at Phoenix.

At least one of us can keep our wits about us. All signs were indeed unfortunately pointed toward an inching return of Phoenix Wright: Romantic Idiot. At least he'd been able to balance out Miles' emotions that morning; he might need to call in that favor over and over and over in the weeks to come.

The second listing was smaller and darker, but in a luxurious and intimate way. Beautiful wood paneling covered the walls and rich, plush carpets swallowed the sounds of their footsteps. It looked like some cousin to a Viennese opera house, and although it felt far more 'Miles' than 'Phoenix,' he would never complain about calling it home. The third was brand-new, without a single smudge on the appliances, but was a sleek modern thing with stainless steel and bleached bamboo floors everywhere. Gorgeous, but not something for the two of them.

"I may be in touch with you about the first listing," Miles said after a long survey of the third condo, and then a smile shared with Phoenix.

Of course he saw which one I liked. As the realtor discussed pricing and market fluctuations, Phoenix tried to quell his enthusiasm about just how quickly the two of them could move in together. They'd known each other for a quarter-century. So, they should wait... at least a month after dating, probably? Or, well, Trucy would need to change schools. That shouldn't be a problem, as Phoenix had never gotten the feeling that she'd gelled particularly well with the students there. Maybe they could use the winter break as the perfect timing to switch districts?

A psyche-lock slammed into place over the realtor's heart, and Phoenix jolted. "What did she just say?" he whispered. His attention had barely been on the woman as Miles explained the multitude of security checks he would need to perform prior to any serious offer.

Miles looked at him sidelong. He whispered back, "There's been a lot of interest in the first condo. I should move quickly if I want it."

Phoenix grinned. "No, there hasn't."

Miles paused, then smirked in understanding and returned his attention to the realtor.

We make a good team, Phoenix thought in fresh amazement and ignored the soft buzzing of more pictures coming to his phone. He could talk to Apollo and Athena later.

Chapter Text

"I have no idea what else I can find," Apollo muttered as Athena drove them toward the actual scene of the crime: one unfortunate branch of the Fourth National Bank. The robbery had been annoyingly well-documented and so Apollo had no hope of disproving Ruby's actions. She'd flaunted herself, after all; between appearing in full drag and driving off in a noisy ice cream truck, no one could have mistaken who they saw. The fingerprints of one Mr. Devon Villa were on the gun. (And this time, the prosecution had no desire to dismiss prints on a weapon.) If it came down to writing off the robbery itself, Apollo and Athena were both screwed.

So he'd looked elsewhere, to try to find something that could mitigate those facts. He'd searched for some hidden cache of evidence in the theatre. He'd accidentally stumbled on a different cache in the shelter. But mostly, things had gotten worse. Remembering Raquel Stone's testimony from earlier still made him cringe.

Nervous, the woman had said, "I have enough to keep track of. Especially now. I certainly don't know anything about where any stolen money has gone."

Apollo had wanted to discredit her as anyone to listen to. He'd needed to get her off the stand before Klavier somehow lost his ignorance about the woman's ties to the troupe. She had to scamper before she mentioned those weekly donations. Instead, he'd asked exactly the wrong thing. "What do you mean, 'especially now?'"

He'd been expecting an answer about the distractions caused by the investigation. Raquel was supposed to remind them all that she had a bunch of homeless kids to look after, and if they didn't have anything more to ask her, she needed to leave. Instead, Raquel swallowed hard. Athena grabbed Apollo's arm, squeezing, as he felt his stomach plummet. On the witness stand, Raquel's thumb worked frantically over her knuckle. "I... our budget's always tight and... especially now...."

"Your budget? Now?" Klavier echoed. The next few minutes were dedicated to, step by painful step, enlightening the court about the ticket sale donations.

Apollo groaned at the memory. She'd collapsed on the stand like a building being demolished and Klavier hadn't even known how lucky he was to grab her in the first place. His sole consolation was that Klavier had gone for a three-point shot by trying to prove a motive beyond basic greed. If he'd played the nice safe shot, and simply shown that Ruby unquestionably robbed the bank, the verdict would have gone in today.

"Well, we have to find something!" Athena said. "Otherwise, Ruby and Helena are up a creek without a paddle! And we're the ones who're supposed to give them a paddling!" They drove a block in silence. "Shut up, I know I said that wrong."

Apollo held up his hands and said nothing. Another block passed. "Have you heard back from Mr. Wright?" Athena had texted him more pictures, and at the end of it, asked for any bright ideas.

"Nope. But, you know... house-hunting."

After a flare of disappointment, Apollo instead decided to be encouraged by Phoenix's silence. Just as Apollo wanted to set up professional boundaries between himself and Prosecutor Gavin, he also wanted to show how skilled he was as an independent lawyer. For a week now, it had felt like he was walking in a room full of marbles. It was time to stop tripping up.

By... proving that bank security footage, smartphone videos, and witness reports were somehow all untrue.

He could do this. He could. This was doable, and he was fine.

As they parked, Apollo frowned at the motorcycle already standing in front of the bank. Able to maneuver through lanes, Klavier had beaten them there. "He's here, too," Apollo said. "What could he hope to find? Banks must turn over everything they have to the police."

"Well, he's been digging through the theatre neighborhood for the whole holiday weekend. It probably won't hurt to double-check what the police reports say about the scene of the crime, even if he does have seventeenish different security videos."

Apollo narrowed his eyes thoughtfully at the motorcycle. In its sleek lines he could see every move that Gavin would pull out in court the next day. "His gambit with the shelter failed. He's probably going to stick to the hard facts tomorrow, and bring in a witness from the robbery."

"Well guessed, Forehead!" Great. As they turned, Klavier smiled. His own mistakes in court today hadn't ruffled him at all; the man was as slickly polished as ever.

"Do I get to know who your witness is?" Apollo asked, not really expecting a name. And if he did get one specific name, it might not matter. The bank had been filled with witnesses and any of them could be deadly to his hopes.

"The president of Fourth National," Klavier gamely answered. Something about him made Apollo's hackles rise as surely as the other oddities he'd encountered that week. It wasn't that he seemed to be hiding something; it was that he didn't. For a week, Klavier Gavin had been like some purring (and sexy, if you went for the Eurotrash look) mountain lion stalking Apollo everywhere he turned. But now, a switch had flipped. Klavier's good nature was behind a professional distance. "Mr. Byron Stander. He happened to be visiting with the management of this branch when the robbery went down. Naturally, he hopes to see a prosecution."

"He happened to be?" Apollo repeated. That was potentially suspicious. Anything suspicious might lead to his client getting off the hook.

"Ja." Klavier tossed his head, smoothing some strands of hair that were still ruffled from his ride over. "Unless you think he planned an inside job and waited six years to do it."

"What do you mean?" Apollo asked. It seemed too good to be true that Klavier had just offered up the name of this witness; there had to be some hidden trap.

"Three days a week, he visits branches around the city. For the past six years, this branch has seen a lunchtime visit on Monday. Bad timing for him, ja?"

Well, it wasn't impossible that Mr. Stander had provided information to Ruby, but that six-year timeframe did make it pretty unlikely that he'd waited so long to plan and launch a heist. Still, this could be some sort of inside job. Somehow. Maybe. "Look him up," Apollo murmured to Athena. "If he's short on cash, maybe—"

"He's not." Klavier gestured in a vaguely western direction. "Big house in Holmby Hills, and it's all paid off. Kids are out of college and working good jobs of their own. And he has a lot of money, both liquid and investments."

"You're being super helpful, Prosecutor Gavin," Athena said. She hesitated. "This is suspicious, are you messing with our heads?"

"Nein. I'm just on track for a conviction and I don't want either of you to frustrate yourselves."

"You didn't get one today," Apollo pointed out.

"I went a little overboard with improvising," Klavier admitted. "I'm sticking to the track list tomorrow. Besides, we've gotta kick off your trial after Forehead's, ja, fräulein? Don't want to let things drag on and waste your precious time."

What, is her time more precious than mine? "Well, thank you, Prosecutor Gavin," Apollo said formally. "We both appreciate the heads up."

Klavier smiled. It was a tired motion for no reason that Apollo understood. "Well, I do what I can to keep my favorite defense attorney happy."

"Oh. Oh!" Athena jolted, remembering something, and scrambled through her phone's gallery. "You have gotta see this. Speaking of favorite defense attorneys... look!" She flipped her phone around and shoved it toward Klavier.

He took an instinctive step back; her hand had moved like a cobra. "What am I...?" Klavier trailed off, blank, as he focused on something in that picture.

"Isn't it wunderbar?" Athena grinned. "Prosecutor Edgeworth bought us a whole new computer system and database subscription just because he likes our boss! It's pretty killer being the favorite of some rich guy. Our agency's got itself its very own sugar daddy."

"Roses."

"Huh?"

"Do...." Klavier swallowed and tried again, gesturing at the photo. "Do you normally keep roses in there?"

Apollo looked over Athena's shoulder. Sure enough, the flowers Phoenix had mentioned were also visible in that picture. He'd texted them about the arrangement, disbelieving and delighted, but had only bothered to give the full explanation and picture for the new computer system. It was their duty to familiarize themselves with it, after all, and like a good boss he'd wanted to remind them of that looming responsibility.

"No, we don't," Apollo answered. That really was a massive arrangement of flowers. Well, that's what you got from a guy in a triple cravat, he supposed. "They were a gift from Prosecutor Edgeworth, too."

Klavier paled, his jaw worked, his shoulders tensed. "I... Forehead...."

"What?" Gavin was acting weird and Apollo really did have an investigation to get to.

"Those flowers, they...." Klavier closed his eyes. "They shouldn't be there."

"Why?" Athena asked. "Those two are super-duper in love. And that's what roses are for!"

"They're not—" Klavier pinched the bridge of his nose. "Scheiße."

"What do you mean?" Apollo asked, blank. He hadn't known that Phoenix Wright could act that lovestruck. It was weird, but it was genuine. So why shouldn't flowers be there?

"I can't say right now," Klavier said after meeting Apollo's eyes again. "It's... let's just call it classified intel for another week or so."

Apollo waited for the punchline, didn't get one, and frowned. Well, Klavier wasn't lying; he truly was hiding something about Phoenix Wright, Miles Edgeworth, or both of them.

Oh, Apollo thought with sudden inspiration. Or maybe Franziska von Karma was moving back to the States? That could explain her lengthy visit and attendance at Thanksgiving. A prosecutor would know that sort of thing ahead of the general public. And for all his faults, Klavier did care about people. He'd be rightfully worried if he knew that Phoenix would have to deal with being love-dumb and facing Franziska von Karma at the same time. Plus, facing her as an imminent co-worker would tire out anyone.

"You're acting weird!" Widget announced.

Athena blushed as Klavier raised an eyebrow at her, then took a firmer stance and continued, "Well, Widget's not wrong! You're talking about two people deep in l'amour and you're a grumpy stick in the mud! I thought Polly was our resident killjoy."

"Thanks, Athena."

"They're not in love," Klavier said. He sounded flat-out exhausted. This was bizarre.

Athena scowled. "I've heard Mr. Wright talk about him and—" When Klavier raised his hand, trying to cut her off, her scowl deepened. Bad move, Gavin, Apollo thought, his confusion laced with amusement. One didn't outright challenge Athena Cykes unless they were looking for an argument in return. A loud argument. "They're already planning on moving in together, so ha! They're in love!"

"They're what?" Klavier asked in disbelief.

"Mr. Edgeworth is shopping for a house right this second and he's going to get one big enough for both Boss and Trucy! They are in L-O-V-E why are you giving me that weird face?"

"Don't...." Klavier took a deep breath. After a long, pained pause, he turned his attention wholly to Apollo. Even as Athena grumbled over being ignored, he said, "Don't let this happen right away. Bitte. Wait until next week and I can tell you why they should absolutely not move in together. I have to go." He grimaced, looked ready to add something else, and shook his head. "I have to go," Klavier repeated before stepping behind a line of police tape.

"Looks like we have another mystery on our hands," Athena said, tilting her head.

Apollo studied the spot where Klavier had disappeared. More and more, he had the nagging feeling that the incidents that had left him so ruffled all week were connected. Franziska's interrogation, Ema's supposed friendship with the woman, Gavin being even weirder than usual. The low-level uncertainty from all of them, and from Edgeworth, too. And they might be tied to another mystery he'd already solved.

"They're shopping for a condo? Together?" Ema asked her phone as she walked past, not bothering to greet the defense attorneys. Laughter pealed like Apollo had never before heard from her. "No, that's amazing!"

She's talking to Franziska, Apollo knew with sudden certainty.

"Well, in any case," Athena said, "we have an awesome new computer and pretty flowers, and I'm not going to be grumpy about that. C'mon. Let's find some evidence and save our clients!"

There was no evidence. The bank was clean and orderly, without even a puppy pawprint out of place. Near as Apollo could tell, everything exactly matched the security videos he'd seen on the news. Nothing contradicted those reports, nor witness statements, nor his own understanding of the events. There was nothing. They had nothing.

Defeated, he and Athena headed back to the office. "Let's look him up," Athena suggested as they sat in front of the new computer, courtesy of Miles Edgeworth's checking account. The monitor was brilliantly clear and rather enormous. "The witness that Prosecutor Gavin mentioned."

It was easy enough to find information on a bank's president, and soon the duo was reading up all they could on Mr. Byron Stander. He was in both Lions and Rotary, led at his local church, and had welcomed his first grandchild the previous year. His employees adored him. It was like someone had taken every stereotype of rich, heartless capitalists and turned them on their head. This man, as near as Apollo could tell, was Santa Claus.

We're so screwed, Apollo thought mournfully as he stared at a picture of Mr. Stander. On that high-res monitor, it was almost better than seeing the man in person. He could make out pores on his nose, a sliver of a tan line under his watch, the number of remaining black hairs among the grey of his mustache. But to what end? This was just a preview of the man who would put his client away tomorrow.

I really thought I'd find some evidence, Apollo thought that night as he stared at the ceiling, trying to fall asleep. He'd done everything he was supposed to and he'd even gotten extra days to fit in an investigation. All he'd managed to do was to find a pack of useless puppies and accidentally make his client look worse.

He knew that sometimes, clients really were guilty. Just because the Agency had a stellar record of landing wrongfully accused clients didn't mean that everyone in the defendant's chair was innocent. And while Phoenix Wright believed in his clients until the bitter end, Apollo Justice found it harder to operate on blind faith when the evidence just wasn't there. At first glance, Ruby had looked so blatantly, shamelessly guilty that Apollo found it difficult to accept. But if she really was... if there wasn't any evidence to the contrary... then a guilty verdict was only just.

He'd still fight. He'd still look for something he'd overlooked. But, as Apollo fell into sleep, part of him had already begun mourning his defeat.

Mr. Stander's first round of testimony nearly ended the trial.

It was impossible to challenge anything in his well-spoken, factual report. He hadn't speculated, he hadn't added in emotions. Although Apollo had watched him like a hawk, every word in the man's testimony seemed true. Next to Apollo, Athena shook her head sadly. She hadn't noticed anything to call him on.

"Mr. Stander," Apollo said, swallowing. Across the courtroom, Klavier strummed merrily on an air guitar. He knows he's got this all wrapped up. "I'd... I'd like to hear more about what you saw with the puppies."

Byron frowned thoughtfully. "Well, certainly, but what more do you want to hear?"

"I'm... uh...."

Klavier's strumming quickened. His head bobbed back and forth.

"Uh...." Apollo cast about for anything he might get more testimony on. His heart thudded in his ears. "I'd like to hear... whether you think they were well-trained or not."

"Is this really relevant to the case?" asked the Judge. "If the puppies were really there—"

"If they were not well-trained, then they might not be the puppies from the troupe's show!" Apollo said. I have no idea where I'm going with this. "Please, Your Honor. This might be relevant."

"Well, it's not like we're short on time," the Judge allowed. "All right, witness. Please tell us more about the puppies."

"All right," Byron said. "Despite it all, they were cute little things." He chuckled. "There was this little terrier mix that reminded me of my old Biltmore, rest his soul." He stroked his mustache thoughtfully as Apollo stared at him, searching for any weakness. (As of yet: none. Zilch. Nada.) "They ran in when Mr. Villa—excuse me, Ms. Lipps—pushed both of the doors open. They nipped at people's heels, but so far as I know, there were no actual injuries. When the robbery was done, they left with her and piled into that ice cream truck." He smiled. "Did that help?"

"Of course," Klavier said. "That terrier... the brown one with the ear that won't stay down?"

Byron chuckled again. "You saw him!"

Klavier echoed his laughter. "He picked me when we first found them. When I checked back in on the kennel, he already remembered who I was." Frowning in thought, he continued, "Maybe we need an adoption drive in the Prosecutor's Office, nein?"

"Can we please get to the cross-examination?" Athena asked. Apollo wished she hadn't; it wasn't like there was a particularly happy finish line they were racing toward. He was glad that Phoenix wasn't in the audience to see this. (Another client had called them about potential representation just as the trio was about to head to the courthouse. It was for a murder trial. Naturally. It was a surprise that this trial hadn't turned up a dead body halfway through.)

The Judge smiled genially. "I just like hearing people talk about puppies. But yes, please. Begin your cross-examination."

Apollo's mind whirred like a race car engine as he reviewed the testimony. He tried to picture Byron's body language on every line, comparing it with his words and seeking any hint of a lie. Frowning in thought, folding his arms, tilting his head, raising his hand to stroke his mustache... there had to be something. Something. Anything.

With a great rush of excitement, Apollo's mental engine clicked into a higher gear.

"Mr. Stander," Apollo said slowly as a grin slid into place. Bless that shiny new computer monitor. Bless its stupidly huge size. "Would you mind lifting your arm, please?"

Byron blinked and obligingly lifted his right arm.

"The other one, sorry."

He did as ordered. As his suit sleeve slid down a bit, the heavy gold watch Apollo had noticed before popped into view. And more importantly, so did the hint of a tan line under that band. "That's a very nice watch. What's the model?"

"This?" Byron looked at the watch, then looked back up with a proud smile on his face. "Well, thank you, young man! You have a good eye. It's a Ulysse Nardin."

Apollo had never heard of that brand before, but it looked at least as nice as a Rolex. "If you don't mind, how much does a watch like that cost?"

"Are you going somewhere with this?" Athena whispered. He ignored her.

"Objection!" Klavier rolled his eyes good-naturedly. "I'm all for a good set of accessories too, Forehead, but let's keep things relevant to the case, ja?"

"This is relevant, I promise," Apollo said, and let out a sigh when the judge allowed the line of questions. He'd have to prove relevance quickly, but this was about to blow apart Klavier's whole argument... at least long enough to give him one last evening to investigate. "I don't mean to be nosy," he reiterated, "but do you have any idea how much that might cost?"

Byron frowned at his wrist. "Ah, well, it was a gift."

"Just a ballpark estimate."

He screwed his face up in thought. "From other watches I've seen... fifteen or twenty?"

"Fif-fifteen or twenty thousand dollars?" Apollo yelped. Athena wobbled, the Judge straightened in shock, and even Klavier looked surprised. "For a watch?"

"It's a nice watch," Byron said defensively. "You can see the quality and weight of the gold just by looking at it. It's worth every penny! Myrtle picked this out herself, and said the blue band matched my eyes!"

"It's... a lovely watch," Apollo agreed, although he wanted to whimper. And this was a better piece of evidence than he'd expected. (Still: a twenty thousand dollar watch?) "Do you wear it all the time?"

"Of course! Except when, ah." He cleared his throat. "When I'm... bathing, or—"

Apollo held up his hand. "What I meant. Mr. Stander, was: do you always wear it outside of the house?"

"Every day."

Apollo smirked. Both Klavier and Athena looked at him sidelong; Athena with curiosity, Klavier with suspicion. "I thought so. It moved a little and I could see your tan line. So you would have had it on during the robbery?"

"Well, I...." Byron frowned in thought. His mustache scrunched up against his nose. "I suppose I would have been, yes. There was no reason for me not to wear it that day."

"Objection!" Klavier insisted. "The witness' recollection is unclear!"

"Objection!" Apollo shouted right back, with even more confidence. Yes indeed, Klavier saw where this was going. "If the witness wears it every day—and has the tan line to prove it—then only extraordinary circumstances would keep it off!"

"The court agrees with the defense," said the Judge, and nodded. "Continue your line of questioning."

"Go go go!" Athena slammed her fists against their bench. "You've got 'em!"

"So tell me this, Prosecutor Gavin," Apollo said, as loud and clear as he'd ever managed. "If my client really robbed the bank patrons like you're arguing, then why would Ruby ignore a twenty thousand dollar watch as part of the heist?"

"Nngh." Klavier leaned forward, grimacing. He slammed one hand down, straightened, and offered, "None of us knew the value! We can't expect the defendant to have recognized its worth!"

"Anyone who looks at it can see that it's made of gold, though!"

"Oh my, this is exciting!" Byron said as he looked between them, grinning. "You're just like lawyers on television!"

Klavier ignored that. Inspiration struck and, after a quick riff of his fingers on the open air, he offered, "To make money off a watch, you have to sell it. That's a rare watch and it would be easily traceable. Of course she'd leave it behind, ja? But you can spend cash money anywhere without suspicion."

Although the Judge was already nodding in agreement with the prosecution, Apollo shook his head. He let the smirk linger on his lips for a few beats before replying. "That might make sense, Prosecutor Gavin... if Mr. Villa had made even one single attempt to keep his identity unknown. But with the tapes you've shown us, do you think anyone who would mistake who was in that bank?"

Klavier opened his mouth, but said nothing. His eyebrows dipped, his fists clenched, and he closed his mouth again.

I finally shut him up, Apollo thought giddily.

"The defense raises an interesting question," the Judge allowed. "Indeed, Mr. Villa's behavior regarding the gold watch doesn't seem to make sense." Just as Apollo's hopes surged, he continued, "However, the defense also allows that Mr. Villa was clearly seen on camera and by the witnesses. If that is not in question, then a few odd behaviors don't seem to matter. It appears to me that the matter under discussion, that of the robbery of Fourth National Bank, has been settled."

"Oh no," Athena whimpered.

"At this time, as the defense has conceded Mr. Villa's actions, I am calling an end to the cross-examination."

Apollo's eyes closed. Dammit. I'm sorry, Ruby. He swallowed. Sorry, kids.

"In the case of State vs. Villa, I find the defendant—"

Tense and sick, Apollo waited.

"Objection!" Klavier's voice ripped through the room like lightning. Apollo and Athena both jolted from it as Widget eeped in surprise. Even the Judge looked like he'd sat on a live wire. "Achtung! We can't end this yet!"

"Prosecutor Gavin?" the Judge said, befuddled. "I'm confused. You were about to win. Why are you objecting?"

"The defense has raised a point that I can't answer."

"But it's irrelevant to the actual case," the Judge said.

"Meaning," Klavier continued like he hadn't spoken, "that I can't be sure this conviction would be fairly made. Yes, even with those security videos," he added when the Judge tried to argue. "Herr Judge, I start the case with Mr. Villa's accused accomplice right after this one, ja? I don't want to argue two cases on a shaky foundation, let alone one." After the pause that answered him, Klavier added, "As a personal favor to the Prosecutor's Office and... and the ethical overhauls the Chief Prosecutor is implementing, I ask again. One more day, bitte."

The Judge sighed deeply. Klavier's gaze remained tight; just as surely as he had some problem with the Chief Prosecutor, he had no real office backing for his extension request. Every line of his body was wire-tense. Looking even more tense than the defense attorneys, Klavier waited as the Judge spoke. "I can't say that this makes any sense to me, but if this is coming from the Chief Prosecutor, then I will allow this trial to move to the third day."

All three of them breathed out long, relieved sighs.

Shortly, as Ruby was escorted away by the bailiff and the audience had begun to file out, Apollo hurried across the courtroom. "Prosecutor Gavin," he began, unable to hide his confusion. "Thanks, but why did you do that?" Recalling their conversation at the bank, he hesitantly added, "It wasn't for me, was it?" Being a 'favorite defense attorney' was one thing, but getting a trial swung in his direction was a far larger gratitude check than he was prepared to write.

"Nein, Forehead." Klavier looked exhausted again, even as he gave one of his well-oiled smiles. "You were right. It makes no sense and we need to figure out the truth. I'll go look for my explanation and you go find yours. I just like to do everything on the up and up."

"All... all right." Apollo rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. He'd wanted to stay away from Gavin even as he kept running into the man. Now that Klavier was in some strange state of surrender, it was like all of that had fallen away and left only disquiet in its stead. Was something... wrong? "Well, uh. I'd better get to work. We're starting early, so maybe I can make tonight's Game Night in time." Of course, everyone would understand if he needed to stay on a crime scene rather than attack whatever Pictionary topics were thrown at him.

"Have fun."

Apollo hesitated before walking back to Athena. "Maybe you really should adopt that terrier. I mean, the puppies are supposed to be adopted by the audience, anyway. And you said he already likes you, right?"

"Ja, makes sense. Good luck, Forehead."

Dammit, Klavier, Apollo thought all the way back to the theatre and shelter. I liked it when I ignored you instead of being concerned.

Chapter Text

Phoenix had accepted the other case, from the sound of his texts. It was an obvious frame job by an angry ex-boyfriend, sloppily done, but that ex was the spoiled son of some producer. The LAPD had gone through with the formalities to please that power player, but everyone knew it'd be done in a day's time. Still, he had to prepare for that case, and that meant that it was Apollo and Athena alone on this one.

And that meant, as Apollo dug through a theatre that he had become far, far too familiar with, that he needed to think. He ignored Ema appearing again and the curiosities she brought with her. He ignored Athena, even, and everything but his own mind.

One: Ruby wanted everyone to see her and associate her with the crime. Two: she didn't particularly care about being caught, as she had chosen a slow, obnoxious getaway vehicle and had to collect a pack of puppies, to boot. Three: she accepted a guilty verdict and just wanted Apollo to protect other people. Four: even though she'd wanted money and made no attempt to hide her identity, she only collected cash in the form of unmarked, non-sequential bills. A twenty-thousand dollar watch was ignored. Five: that damned architectural drawing that threatened expansion from the theatre into the shelter.

...Threatened expansion?

Gotcha. Apollo stood up straighter. "Athena, I need your phone."

Though she obligingly dug it out, Athena asked "Why?" as she unlocked it and passed it over.

Shaking his head, Apollo flipped through her overstuffed photo gallery until he found what he wanted: snapshots of the area around the theatre. One by one, he slid the photos off the screen. There, in brilliant sunlight and high resolution, was the billboard about new lofts. Athena had just happened to catch it and so she hadn't zoomed in enough to let him read all the text, but Apollo could make out the street name when he expanded that section. Those new lofts were going to be on the same road as the theatre and shelter.

And I think I know where on that road. Though Athena protested when he walked off with her phone, Apollo made a beeline for Ema.

"Yes?" Ema eventually said, after swallowing her snack and jamming her small notebook into her bag.

He ignored that. "I need to talk to your sister. What's her number?"

That actually managed to rattle Ema's iron composure. Startled, she asked, "Why do you need to talk to Lana?"

Lana Skye's visit hadn't just been fortunate because of how Ema had dutifully researched the architectural drawing, hoping to impress her. No: the real key to this case was the concert that she and Apollo had drunkenly attended together. That meant that they'd breached social walls, and that meant that a defense attorney could call a prosecutor who'd already flown back to Denver and grill her on something that he had no right to ask about. "It's about the case."

Ema looked at him with clear suspicion.

"I want to get her perspective on something. It was something that only she would notice because... ah... it had to do with the puppy she really liked. That brown mutt. I noticed it doing something on a tape and wanted to see she noticed it, too."

Ema scowled. "What? How could she possibly notice something on a dog she spent, like, thirty minutes around?"

Apollo thought desperately fast. "Muscle twitch. You know I'm good with picking out twitches, right? Well, this dog had a twitchy leg that she might have felt when she was holding it. If she didn't, the one on the video might be another dog that was hidden somewhere."

"You suck at lying, but I don't care enough to argue. Here." Ema pulled out her phone and clicked through her contacts. "Use mine. She'll definitely pick up if she sees my number."

"Thanks," Apollo said, then heard the ringing stop. Before Lana could fully greet 'Ema,' he said, "Hello, Prosecutor Skye? It's actually Apollo Justice."

Lana hesitated a second; unsurprising, but at least she sounded friendly when she did reply. "Oh, hello, Apollo." First name! Good sign. "Is everything all right?" Though there was probably some initial concern over Ema, she must have realized just as quickly that Apollo probably wouldn't be the one to make an emergency call. The question didn't sound that worried.

"I was hoping I could ask you something about the Lipps case. Your perspective on something is very important, I think."

Ema tried to ask him something, but Apollo waved her off and stepped into the men's bathroom, turning the lock. If he could actually get Lana talking, an interruption was the last thing he wanted. "Certainly," Lana replied as he carved out that bit of privacy for himself. "I can't imagine that I'll have anything new to add, though."

Apollo returned his attention to the phone. With a wish for the best, he took a deep breath and said, "I think my client is being blackmailed."

Silence was his answer.

Hoping he hadn't crossed a line, Apollo continued, "Ruby made a big show of being seen committing a crime, even though she didn't steal anything easy to trace. The money is gone and I know that it's not with any sort of 'friend,' so it's not with the shelter itself. Ruby insists that she's guilty and won't let suspicion fall on anyone else. Someone wants to remodel both this theatre and the youth shelter next door. And...." Apollo gulped and hoped this new piece of evidence really did fit into the story he was telling. "And a developer was advertising some new, fancy, and expensive lofts right here on this street."

Lana breathed slowly, but loud enough for Apollo to hear.

"Pros... Prosecutor Skye?" Oh man. Lana Skye had been blackmailed for years, horrifically so, and had spent more years in prison because of it. And Apollo thought that he could grill her about that terrible time because of one night in a luxury box and a few mid-investigation meetings? Was this just another mistake this week?

"Ruby is being blackmailed," Lana said with iron certainty.

Apollo barely masked his relieved sigh, then pumped his fist a second later when he realized he'd gotten his confirmation.

"Can you find the blackmailer by tomorrow?"

"All I need to do is look up the name of whoever's developing these lofts and get them on the stand. If I tell Prosecutor Gavin to do it, he'll send out a subpoena."

"Good." Lana hesitated. "To convict him, you're going to need proof that he and Ruby have met before. You won't be able to find the cash by tomorrow, so you're going to need another piece of proof that he's been to this theatre and isn't just making any old land offer through an agent. That's not illegal and it's not coercive."

Ugh. How am I supposed to do that? This was a public theatre; it was covered in thousands of people's fingerprints. There was no possible way to ID any one person by tomorrow. And if the man had covered his tracks, he would have been smart and met with the troupe well before working hours. Not a single other person but Ruby—and probably Helena, since she was also involved—would have known he was there.

Genius struck like lightning. "I have proof."

"...Really?" Lana asked, not managing to hide her surprise.

"The puppies."

"The puppies?"

"Klavier said that the one he liked the most already recognizes him. These puppies are trained to latch onto people so they'll want to adopt them. If I bring those puppies to court tomorrow and they recognize the developer, that means he met with the troupe. Or at least, I'll try to convince the Judge of that."

She laughed once, then sobered. "That won't get you a 'Not Guilty,' you know." Lana sighed. "Ruby and Helena still will have worked on that bank robbery."

"I know," Apollo said reluctantly. "But if I think back to it, Ruby just wanted me to keep her prison sentence as short as possible. If she was coerced into robbing this bank in order to keep a youth shelter from being demolished, then... maybe we can get away with some community service."

"Talk to the shelter kids," Lana said after a long pause. "See if they've been intimidated by anyone. If Ruby and Helena went along with this, then I have a sneaking suspicion more than just a building might have been threatened."

"You really think a developer would want to kill kids?" Apollo asked in disbelief. Well, I did expect a murder trial....

Lana paused again. "Apollo, I served as Chief Prosecutor for two years, though only in name. I saw every case that went through the city's system, without any power to control what the state actually pursued. This still horrifies me, but not once did we seek a conviction for the murder of a runaway youth." He could hear her swallow. "And there were many cases."

"Oh." Apollo swallowed, too. "I will. Thank you, Prosecutor Skye. Thanks a lot."

"Sure. Apollo? If you find out someone really has been blackmailing people...." Her voice hardened. "Put the bastard away."

A slow smile spread. "I promise."

"Good luck," she said and hung up.

Exhaling, Apollo flicked his way to Ema's contacts and hunted for the man in question. Unsurprisingly, Klavier Gavin was simply entered as 'Fop.' He opened up the message chain and started typing. Gavin, it's Apollo. I'm on Ema's phone. You need to subpoena a developer who's planning to open up new lofts on the same street as the theatre and shelter. There are billboards outside, to help you figure out who it is. Trust me. He's involved.

Even as a reply bubble popped up, Apollo noticed the texts directly above the one he'd sent. Although Klavier had brushed her off, Ema had actually texted him that morning, on purpose, to gloat about Edgeworth's condo hunt. "What the hell?" Apollo murmured, his finger hesitating above the screen. Ema texted Klavier about non-work matters? Since when? And Klavier would ignore Ema talking to him? Since when?

Just as he was about to scroll up and see what else they'd chatted about, Klavier's answer popped up. Will do, Forehead. Finding the name now. Apollo smiled in satisfaction, and then returned his attention to the phone. Surely it wouldn't hurt to violate Ema's privacy a teeny, tiny little bit. He'd only read her texts with Klavier for a page or two. This wouldn't be a problem. Not with how she'd been messing with his head all week....

A fist pounded on the bathroom door. "I can hear that you're not talking any more, Justice! Give me my phone back."

Grumbling, Apollo scrolled firmly to the bottom of Klavier's texts, opened the door, and handed the phone to her. "Here."

Ema snatched it back. When she saw the screen, her face paled. It was an expression like he'd never seen on the woman. Interesting. And... I knew I was right about this. "You were reading my texts?"

"No," Apollo half-way lied. "I just needed to tell Prosecutor Gavin to subpoena someone. See?"

After studying the screen, Ema actually let out a relieved sigh and shoved her phone away. "All right. Fine. What did you talk to Lana about?"

"The case," Apollo reminded her with a bland smile and got a glare in return. "Thanks. I'll let you get back to work."

With a bounce in his step, he returned to his co-worker and handed her phone back, as well. It was a quick enough task to fill Athena in on everything he'd figured out, and she grinned by the end. "I'll tell Gavin to make sure the puppies are at the courthouse, too! All of them!" After sending a text of her own, Athena smacked her fist into her palm. "We are set. We're going to rock these cases! We're going to—"

"Still get guilty verdicts for the robbery," Apollo admitted.

Athena's enthusiasm crumpled.

"But I bet we can swing community service, and they just wanted to stay out of jail." Apollo let a hint of smugness creep into his expression and voice, even though he knew he was foolishly celebrating before the final call had come in. He'd gotten the lead he needed... and he'd solved the mystery of the past week, to boot. "So now, you're going to help me with something else."

"Uh, I am?"

"You're going to distract Ema long enough for me to get my bike out of your trunk and put it back together. I'll bike about four blocks east and meet you there."

"Ooh, this sounds like subterfuge. ...And I don't understand why. You gotta explain the spy act to me."

He'd realized the truth days ago, back when Klavier tried to pawn a car off on him in a bizarre fit of generosity. Although having Miles Edgeworth show up to a party was bad enough, that hadn't kicked off the low-level weirdness buzz that had itched Apollo's spine all week. Yeah, yeah: he'd made an idiot of himself when Edgeworth questioned him on the Glendora trial. But that had been an honest exchange, if an embarrassing one.

Days ago, mid-investigation, he'd figured out what the first lie was. With a trial to worry about, he'd shoved it to the back of his mind until Ruby's fate was secure. Now, though, he could work on this mystery. Its solution was even conveniently close.

"Ema," Apollo said in a low voice, so the woman wouldn't overhear, "lied about what she was writing in her notebook."

"Oh. Um, okay."

This has been bugging me all week, Cykes! Act more excited. "Remember when she said it was tracking her period?" As the memory dawned in Athena's eyes, Apollo nodded and continued, "She was lying. But I felt embarrassed about asking her, so I focused on that instead of that half-second of noticing her lie." When Athena remained uncertain, Apollo added, "Did she sound nervous? Do you remember?"

Thoughtfully, Athena replied, "She... yeah. She did. I didn't think anything of it, since some people get nervous talking about personal stuff. I mean, not me. Remember when I made you go pick me up a box of tampons?"

"Yes," Apollo said flatly.

Athena folded her arms and scrunched up her face in deeper thought. "But as soon as she told us that you'd accidentally asked about her bits, she stopped being nervous. Huh. That's... that is weird. All her fear just poofed away. D'ya think Trucy noticed anything?"

Apollo shook his head. "They were sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, Trucy wouldn't have seen any tells. But between you and me, I think we're both pretty sure that Ema was lying. So you're going to distract Ema... and I'm going to steal that notebook."

"Steal her notebook? Sehr gut plan, Polly! Let's try to get the eternal sourpuss pissed off at us even more." Her smile was irritatingly insincere.

"This has been bugging me for a week, Athena. A lot of people are lying and I want to know about what. Please? My blackmailing stroke of genius might have gotten your client off the prison hook, too."

"Ugh. Fine," she said with a sigh. "I'll distract her." After a deep breath, Athena's hand shot toward the ceiling and a smile plastered her face. "Ema! Hey! Hey! I need to ask you something about my trial!" Like a hyper fighter jet, Athena zeroed in on Ema Skye even as the detective tried to back away from the enthusiasm. Athena's questions poured from her like a waterfall, and soon she even had Ema's wrists in her hands and was trying to imagine the position of a mid-robbery handgun.

Gotta take this chance now. Apollo snuck up behind Ema and reached gently for her bag. His fingers were like a surgeon's, precise and amazingly steady, and Ema didn't even twitch as he retrieved the small notebook and eased it into his own pockets. Like a stalking cat, he slid away from them in silence and made it to the door. As soon as it shut behind him, he moved into full-on escape mode.

Go go go go go, he told himself in a rush as he fumbled for the trunk key Athena had given him for investigations storage. With practiced, speedy motions, he unfolded his bicycle and re-attached the wheels. One strike to check the front tire, a second for the back, and a few sharp raps to see that the frame was locked in, and then he heaved himself onto the seat and launched toward traffic.

Apollo focused only on biking until he was a block away and out of sight, fearful of hearing Ema's voice behind him. At that light, as his adrenaline eased, he reached into his pocket and retrieved the small notebook. "Let's see what you were actually writing, Ema," Apollo said with satisfaction and flipped it open. He was going to put the annoyance of this week to rest.

What would be in here? Sex fantasies about Klavier? Oh man, he'd be able to tease her about that for years. A self-insert romance novel with her as the swooning maiden and Prosecutor Edgeworth as the dashing prince? Certainly possible; she tried to hide it, but everyone down to the courthouse janitors knew about her crush. It could be really any... thing....

Apollo blinked at the page. "Edgeworth not planning to seduce Wright, but is attracted. Not ace, gay. Barely. Gavin would fuck Justice." Apollo's cheeks blazed hot. What in the world am I reading? "Gavin would also fuck a rabid goat, so need more specifics there."

"What the hell?" he mumbled and flipped through Ema's tiny, angular handwriting.

The 'deadline' was next Monday. The other 'judge' was Franziska von Karma. Dizziness swept Apollo as he saw a description of the night that had started this mess. He mumbled it to himself through numb lips. "Smart Edgeworth move: joined Trucy's team to attend 'Game Night.' Acted friendly. Brought food. Very nostalgic. Wright felt genuine connection."

Apollo's skull felt like it was pounding. Athena had joked about subterfuge, but it really did feel like he'd found some sort of spy document. Some sort of stalker-y, creepy, spy—

The car behind him blared its horn, and with a jolt Apollo realized the light had turned green. With parked cars taking up what should have been his bike lane, he was far enough over to block traffic. He pedaled furiously, but kept reading.

Whatever this was had involved that concert. It had involved Thanksgiving. Apollo's feet sped on the pedals as, temper flaring, he saw his own embarrassing behavior detailed on the page. Franziska had reported on him? He buried his attention further into the notes and tried to make sense of what all of this reporting was for. "Points?" he whispered after a few more pages. "There's a point total? But—"

A dark blur made him look up. Too late, he noticed the red light at the next intersection.

Chapter Text

"Hey, baby," Phoenix said and leaned in for a kiss.

Miles didn't move to greet him. "Baby?" he repeated blankly.

"...Honey?"

Behind his glasses, Miles' eyes stayed just as confused.

"Maybe we're not to the pet names stage, yet?" Phoenix finished sheepishly, and retrieved the bag Miles had brought for that week's Game Night.

As he stepped over the Wright threshold and removed his jacket to hang it neatly in the closet, Miles shot Phoenix a pointed look.

"Or maybe you're not ever a pet names sort of guy," Phoenix allowed. Damn it, I knew I'd start acting like an idiot again. It had been nearly a decade and a half since his last true romance, and back then, syrupy-sweet nicknames had vomited out of him on a regular basis. Scratching the very occasional physical itch in the interim years had done nothing to teach him how to be a more normal boyfriend.

Even though he loved the guy, and had for ages, it was a depressing realization to know that Miles Edgeworth was more socially adept than him with anything. From the sound of things, he and Neil—and eventually Julien—had positively courted each other. Like actual grown-up adults.

"You seemed to like the cake last week," Miles said after he'd hung up his coat. God, he looks good in that vest. After a light kiss to make up for the earlier, abandoned attempt, he finished, "So I made sure to pick up another one for tonight. Will Trucy be home soon?"

It felt so normal and domestic, the best kind of background noise to what had suddenly become his life. Phoenix's whole body tingled like his skin was too tight. This was a preview for countless days to come. He couldn't wait. "She should be here any minute. So should Apollo and Athena; it sounds like they had a big break with their cases."

"Ah, good," Miles said as he began sorting through the menu options, promptly setting most off to one side. (Whatever he decided on would probably be tidier than pizza.)

"Good?" Phoenix echoed, amused. "The Chief Prosecutor is happy that we might win the case?"

"If they've found some hidden truth, then of course I am. Gavin won't be one to complain, either."

Phoenix grinned and shook his head. To think, the man who'd once silenced witnesses was now happy that the prosecution would lose in a fair fight. "Things sure do change, huh?"

"That they do." Miles shuffled through more menus, considering them in turn. "The state office contacted me to let me know that the scholarship trust paperwork has been received. It should be processed shortly, and then we can begin our work."

"The Gregory Edgeworth Legal Scholarship," Phoenix said. Just saying the words felt like treading on hallowed ground. "How much of Manfred's money do you think you'll transfer over?" Every dollar that lingered from the estate of Manfred von Karma had to feel like a millstone around Miles' neck. Like Miles had said, he'd gotten his money from the man who ruined his life. Everything about him had been shattered, twisted, and shadowed. Even with all the years in-between then and now, there were still cracks where he was healing. Phoenix had seen some of those cracks when Miles called, sounding close to tears at the idea that he could never escape what von Karma had done to him.

Still... that was a nice condo in Beverly Hills. Phoenix hoped that Miles kept enough money back to afford it, if they heard in a week that the building's residents had passed the necessary security checks. Spending von Karma's money on a home for the two of them would be just as much of a punch in the nose as the Gregory scholarship.

"I'll have to talk with my advisor, but—"

Both men turned as Trucy burst through the door, pale and panicked. "Athena just called."

"What's wrong?" Miles asked, instantly going back to the closet and retrieving his jacket. Phoenix never had a chance to change out of his work clothes, so he just set down the cake before hurrying over to Trucy.

"Polly's in the hospital. He...." Trucy swallowed hard. Her eyes glistened with tears. "Daddy, a car hit him."

"What?" Phoenix yelped. Terror stabbed deep. Every minute he'd spent in growing fear during the concert night, picturing Apollo's broken body on the pavement, came back to him with nearly physical force. "Is... is he...."

Trucy swallowed again. Her voice was thick when she spoke. "She doesn't know, she just saw an... an ambulance. She followed him there. But they only talk to family. No one's telling her anything."

"Oh god," Phoenix whispered. His heart pounded. He'd know this would happen. He'd known. Why had he taken that new case? Why hadn't he been there at the theatre with Apollo and Athena? He could have done something. Anything.

"Wright," Miles said urgently. With a jolt, Phoenix realized he'd repeated the word several times. "Come on, I'll drive us. Trucy, do you know which hospital?" She nodded, and with precise directions, Miles steered both of them out of the apartment and into his car.

Phoenix was only too glad to let Miles take over. Fear swamped his thoughts, and whenever he struggled up for air, guilt clawed at him. Trucy wanted reassurance, but his voice wouldn't work. Miles handled that, too. He was a detached, precise circuit board in the midst of the Wright Family Breakdown, and Phoenix had seldom been so glad to hear the infamously cold Edgeworth Voice. Someone needed to keep it together.

As soon as they entered the unremarkable emergency room of one of the many hospitals scattered across the city, Athena, Ema, and Klavier all shot to their feet. Phoenix saw the place in flashes. Everything felt so... generic. It was a cookie-cutter hospital with no memorable posters or employees or patients, and that knocked him for a fresh loop. How could Apollo's life be at risk in a place that looked like a cheap stage set?

"Boss," Athena said shakily. At her throat, Widget sobbed. "He didn't... I don't know if...."

"I heard sirens," Ema said. Though her voice was steadier than Athena's, her face was even paler. "We went to look."

"I was nearly there," Klavier explained. His gaze was focused a thousand miles away. "And I saw... they were loading him into an ambulance. I wanted to give him a car. I should have given him a car."

Shock hit Phoenix anew and his knees went week. Sirens. Ambulances. This was all too goddamn real. Trucy clutched his sleeve and tried not to hyperventilate.

"We're here for information on a patient you brought in," said a firm, demanding voice. Blinking, Phoenix turned to see Miles at the reception desk. "No, I'm not a family member. But I am a member of the Prosecutor's Office, and if there's any chance there was criminal activity involved in this injury—"

"I'm. I am." Phoenix swallowed hard and tried his voice again. There was one way into that hospital room. "I'm family, I'm his stepdad." A tiny flash of disapproval went through Miles at the lie, but he covered it quickly. Even he could accept bending this truth in an ER, apparently. "Apollo Justice. Red suit, spiky hair. On a bike. He... they told me that he got hit by... a car and...."

By the time he finished, a nurse had come out from behind the desk to talk to him. "Mr. Justice?" she asked him. Phoenix let this next lie go and accepted whatever identity she placed on him. He needed this information however he had to get it. "Apollo is going to be fine."

When he let out a sigh of relief, it felt like his entire body was going to collapse as it left him. From the sound of things, most of them felt the same way.

"He ran a red light on his bicycle and ran into a car making a left-hand turn. Fortunately, the car was going slow because of that. There was minor damage to the automobile and minor damage to your stepson. He did fracture a couple of ribs, and his right wrist, so he's going to be sore for a while. But we'll put a cast on for his wrist and that should heal up just fine. For the ribs, well, just tell him to take it easy. We can prescribe some painkillers."

Everything she'd said was wonderful to hear, but Phoenix still felt ready to throw up. "Can I see him?"

"Let me check." She smiled and disappeared down a hallway.

"It's going to be all right," Miles murmured as Phoenix moved gratefully into his embrace. Trucy joined them and one arm moved to welcome her. "Just try to breathe." Miles' hand traced comforting circles on his back; that helped. Breathe. Relax. Breathe. As the adrenaline ebbed from his system, Phoenix felt his heart slow and his stomach steady. Still, though, he remembered thinking the worst: death and blood and gore. He'd probably be ready to jump at shadows for a week to come.

"Mr. Justice?"

It took Phoenix a second to remember that was him, for the sake of getting into Apollo's room. "Yes?"

"This way, please." The nurse hesitated to see if the two people clutching Phoenix would also join him. Phoenix stepped away from the duo of Miles and Trucy, pressing firmly on her shoulder to get her to stay right there. Apollo would be fine, thankfully, but that didn't mean he would look good right at that second. Phoenix didn't want to let Trucy walk into that room and see blood.

"Apollo," Phoenix soon sighed as he walked into the off-white room with beige counters and beige flooring. (Now that he knew things would be all right, he could deal with an overload of generic.) "How are you doing?"

"I hurt," Apollo admitted. He looked banged up, his clothes were ruined by dirt, and his pain was obvious even from across the room. Still, he was very much alive. "I screwed up. I'm gonna have to pay for that car's repairs."

"Don't worry about that," Phoenix instantly said. "Things could have been a lot worse. We're just going to focus on how you're here and able to heal up, all right?" After Apollo nodded, he felt more tension drain out of him. Last week, his misplaced concern over Apollo's safety had led him to be snappish and angry when the man finally appeared post-concert. Now, with Apollo needing a cast and with scabbed-over scratches on his cheek from the asphalt, he was just relieved to see him breathing.

For a while they sat there, Apollo staring at the ceiling and Phoenix staring at him. "I don't know if I can argue my case tomorrow," Apollo said. "I'm going to need painkillers. They'll have me out of it."

"Athena can take over, don't worry. She's been working with you on everything, so she can finish up. And Gavin won't push her too hard while she's getting her footing with your client, not after all of this."

"Gavin," Apollo repeated blankly.

Phoenix waited for him to continue. When he didn't, he hesitantly added, "Apollo... what were you thinking? Running a red light? That's bad enough if you're in a car, but a bike is never going to win that fight."

"I was... distracted." Apollo bit his lower lip.

"And not wearing a helmet," Phoenix chided. (Not that he did—bad Phoenix—but he didn't get distracted on the street, either.)

"Mr. Wright, um...." Apollo swallowed, then adjusted his position on the bed with clear pain from his rib fractures. After hissing softly, he nodded with his chin toward the belongings they'd piled on a chair in the corner. "I think... I don't...." He bit his lip again. "There's something you need to look at."

"All right," Phoenix said uncertainly. The EMTs had shoved everything of Apollo's into his bag and thrown it into the ambulance with him, but it was even more banged-up from the accident than he was. "What am I looking for?" Phoenix asked as he, grimacing, found Apollo's broken phone. With any luck, he's due for an upgrade.

"A small notebook. Ema's notebook. I hope they grabbed it."

"Ema's?" Phoenix repeated in confusion, just before he found the familiar book. He retrieved it and held it up, brow furrowed. "You mean this?"

"Yes. Read what she's been writing about us."

About them? Still, he hesitated. "I don't think I should, Apollo. This is hers."

"That's what made me miss seeing the red light," Apollo said in a louder voice, then winced. His good hand moved to his ribs. More quietly, he finished, "Mr. Wright, you really need to read that."

After another few seconds, Phoenix relented and opened the cover. In absolute silence he read, flipped a page, and read more. With each word, his fear fell away. Confusion flared for a moment but vanished just as quickly. Soon, he didn't feel anything. "Are you doing all right?" Phoenix asked. His voice sounded strange, all flat and cold. "I need to talk to...."

"Yeah. I'm good. They need to put a cast on me, anyway." Phoenix met Apollo's eyes for a second. Even above his scraped and bruised cheeks, Apollo seemed wracked with sympathy for him. "I'm sorry, but I thought you needed to see that."

"Thank you, Apollo," Phoenix said in his board-flat voice. He walked back to the waiting room with rigid strides and forced a smile when he saw everyone in view. "He's going to be fine. They need to put a cast on his wrist, but you can probably see him right after that. Edgeworth, can I talk to you about something?"

After a brief look of concern at Trucy, Miles nodded and moved to join him. "Is everything all right?"

"I... just need to ask you something. In private."

Miles' brow furrowed more deeply, but he nodded again. "All right, let's find an empty room." A quiet hallway revealed a room meant for the families of waiting patients. Miles closed the door gently behind him. His face was concerned when he turned toward Phoenix, warm and open and a lie. "What's wrong?"

"That's what you're going to tell me." Phoenix's hand reached into his pocket, then slammed the magatama against Miles' chest. Surprised at Phoenix's sudden movement, the mild impact still made Miles stumble back against the nearest wall. As he realized what he was looking at, his eyes widened. Chains ripped across Phoenix's vision, secured by the remaining two locks.

"Wright," Miles said in a shaky voice. He looked like he wanted to flee, but of course he couldn't. So long as the magatama was out, those psychic chains bound him there as surely as they showed his secrets. "What are you doing?"

"Did you buy me that computer to win your stupid bet with Gavin?" Grey eyes opened further. Phoenix smiled, sharp and without any humor. "Yeah. I know."

"It... it's not what you think, Wright. Phoenix."

Phoenix retrieved Ema's notebook and held it up for Miles to see. "Really? Because it looks to me like you have Ema and Franziska judging you for a competition that ends next Monday."

The sight made Miles shake, but the locks stayed in place. This must go deeper than I thought. "Forget the computer. Forget the flowers. Did you seduce me to win your goddamn bet?" As the expletive escaped him, Phoenix felt his anger grow. His flat voice began to twist, move, thrust forward like a sword. "Well?"

"No," Miles pleaded. "Please, just put that away and let me explain. Don't do it like this."

"Apparently we've been playing under your rules for a while, so now we're going to play by mine. Talk. Did you seduce me?" Phoenix swallowed hard at the possibility, so hard that it hurt. The only time he'd been in love before, it was for Dahlia's plot. He'd given his whole heart to a woman who hated him, and fallen in day-to-day love with a different woman entirely behind a fresh new set of lies. In the end, he'd been toyed with like a catnip mouse and his first love had ended with him thrown in the trash.

It had taken him this long to fall in love again.

And it was for someone else's game.

"No," Miles begged. Fear filled his voice. Normally, Phoenix would hear those hints of a potential panic attack and try to talk Miles down. This time, the man could twist on his hook. "God, please believe me. This, us, it had nothing to do with that. I... I love you. I wish I weren't telling you like this, Phoenix, but I love you with my whole heart. I've loved you for years, even as I tried to pretend otherwise."

A lock shattered, but only one. Phoenix smiled thinly. "Well, you're telling the truth on that, at least." He almost wished Miles hadn't been honest; knowing that Miles really loved him and had still done this was somehow even worse.

I barely even dared to dream that he'd love me. Now it's a nightmare.

Phoenix's fingers ached where they clutched the notebook. Their love had been planned as surely as Miles structured his courtroom arguments or a university lecture. He'd told Ema his actions ahead of time, or debriefed Franziska on them after the fact. Swallowing around a sudden lump in his throat, Phoenix forced out, "I didn't know that I could feel this betrayed. I have always believed in you, but I'm just a pawn on your stupid chessboard again, aren't I?"

"Please stop," Miles begged with tears in his eyes. "Put that away and just let me explain. We always understand each other, you just have to let me—"

"I don't have to let you do jack shit," Phoenix snapped. His voice didn't sound like him; it sounded like the man he'd spent seven years as, like some sort of jaded costume. "Because I could take you hurting me. You messed with my head before, and you didn't care that I'd spent a year thinking that you were dead." His blazing eyes narrowed. "Yeah, I get to bring that up forever."

Miles opened his mouth to plead again, but found no words.

"But I don't care what you have to say. And I don't care if you love me or not." Phoenix held up the notebook again, open to the page for the first night. "You joined Trucy's team to score points with me. Yes or no?"

"...Yes."

"You got me all excited about a house that conveniently can't be bought until after this bet ends—"

"Wright, no, it's—"

"—and made sure to get her hopes up, too. You got her to call you Miles. You got her to think...." Phoenix shook the notebook at Miles. "Tell me. Did you use my daughter to score points in your goddamn game?"

Miles opened his mouth to protest, shaking his head frantically. But when his eyes latched onto the description of their first Game Night, his shoulders sagged and he again closed his mouth. There was no argument to be made, was there? The evidence was clear.

"Did you?"

Broken, Miles whispered, "Yes."

As the last lock shattered and the strange fog around them cleared, Phoenix jammed the notebook back into his pocket. The Miles Edgeworth in front of him was defeated, fragile. After Phoenix stared at him for a few furious seconds, Miles risked raising his head. His eyes swam with tears. "Please, let me explain. Really explain."

"No wonder," Phoenix said.

"I... I don't know what...."

Phoenix's jaw set. All he could picture was Trucy's sobs when she learned the truth, that there was no new family member and no dream house and no big future for any of them. When she learned she'd been used and her own father had welcomed in the man who did it. "No wonder you said 'no,' back then."

Miles didn't dare to say anything, though confusion filled his reddened eyes.

This man, who Phoenix thought he knew, had used his daughter and thrown her aside. The next words came from a dark place, far deep down inside him. "No wonder you were worried that you'd start acting like Manfred."

The words struck like an open blow. Miles hit the wall again as the color drained from his face. Sweat beaded on his upper lip. His hands trembled. His breath hitched.

"Whenever you take a case again?" Phoenix said in a low voice. "I'll see you in court."

When he left, he slammed the door.

Chapter Text

At first the silence in the ER had been panicked. As everyone feared the worst from the accident and no updates came, it edged toward mournful. After Wright and Edgeworth left them with the good news about Apollo, the waiting room was instead quiet with relief. Klavier even found it in himself to file that subpoena and arrange for puppy delivery to the courthouse, while Athena started reviewing the case files. Trucy performed tricks with a quarter, silly little things that didn't need any mental energy, and Ema actually pretended to care.

A distant, wracking sob broke the quiet.

Klavier looked that direction as Athena squinted and frowned. All of the evening's panic surged back into Klavier with a sharp physical blow. Did she recognize the voice? Had something new happened with Apollo? He leapt to his feet and hurried toward the sound, leaving the others behind.

This is a hospital, he told himself as he rounded a corner. Plenty of people cry. Still, he felt guilty. If only he'd forced that car on Apollo a few days ago, this never would have happened. It was Los Angeles, for god's sake; Apollo needed a car! It wasn't even about the bet. In a city full of aggressive drivers, everyone needed either speed or strength on their side, and you didn't get that on a bicycle.

Forehead is fine, Klavier thought, and I will force a car on him. He's fine. He's fine.

Or maybe Apollo wasn't fine, Klavier thought with ice-cold surprise, when he saw Phoenix Wright sag against a wall and let out another deep, wrenching cry. As fear stabbed again, Klavier rushed forward and seized Phoenix by the shoulders. "Is he all right?"

Phoenix met Klavier’s eyes. His were full of loathing as more tears spilled over. "Get away from me."

Klavier blinked. "Was?"

"You," Phoenix snarled, throwing Klavier's hands off his shoulders, "need to get the hell away from me before I do something that we both really regret."

Bewildered, Klavier lifted his hands to frame his face like he was facing an officer. Wright stared at him for another few hateful seconds, then stormed back to the reception area. Klavier watched him go, somehow sure that it had nothing to do with Apollo's injuries but confused nonetheless. He wasn't close to the man and the last week hadn't helped bridge the gap between them, but that outburst had come out of nowhere.

He could hear conversations starting in the reception area and took a step that way. Another deep, aching cry behind him stilled Klavier's feet. Was that...?

"There's someone in here," gasped Edgeworth when Klavier eased open the door.

As a horrible feeling began to settle into Klavier's stomach, he stepped inside. "Herr Edgeworth... I just passed Herr Wright...." The strangled noise Wright's name earned was like nothing he'd heard out of Miles Edgeworth before. The broken man standing before him looked nothing like the Chief Prosecutor. "Herr... Herr Edgeworth?"

"Leave," he spat.

Klavier left.

Swallowing, he looked between the door and the hallway he'd come from. Though it might have been better to wait, Klavier took a deep breath and followed Wright's path.

Phoenix was already gone when he returned, as was Trucy. Ema was pale and Athena blinked in confusion at whatever had happened. "Do you know what's going on?" Athena ventured, looking between the two of them. "Mr. Wright... his voice... it was like a grab bag of every kind of pain I've ever heard before. And then he snagged Trucy and told me to drive Apollo home. He'd never... I mean, it seems so weird that he'd leave before Apollo's done...."

"He knows, doesn't he?" Ema whispered. Klavier clenched and unclenched his hands, having come to the same conclusion.

Athena looked between them, uncomprehending. "Know what?"

Klavier opened his mouth uselessly. The bet had seemed so innocent back when they started. They'd each fawn over their favorite defense attorney and make their heads spin with the attention, and drag an amusing, inconsequential win out of the two fräulein judges. Instead Edgeworth had raised the stakes over and over again, like some sort of nuclear standoff. Once he'd gotten Wright to fall in love with him and had started talking houses and big dreams and futures, peaceful disarmament might not even have been a possibility.

And now that bomb had dropped on all of them. How was Klavier supposed to make it clear that he'd only wanted to make Apollo feel good? To show how much he enjoyed spending time around him? Now their harmless game was something that had broken Phoenix Wright's heart and Apollo Justice's arm. (Not to mention gutting Klavier's previously noble assessment of his supervisor.)

"Know what?" Athena repeated when they didn't answer.

"It's hard to explain," Klavier managed as he sought the least awkward explanation.

"Mmm," Ema added.

In unison, they sat and stared fixedly at the opposite wall. Athena sat too, then scowled at them. "Tell me what's going on. You know, and I want to know. Tell me." A beat. "Tell me! Tell me tell me tell—"

"Miss, if you do not quiet down, I will have to ask you to leave," snapped the receptionist.

Athena glowered at her, then at the duo. "Tell me," she whispered. Widget echoed her. Neither Klavier nor Ema answered, so she sighed and flung herself against the back of her chair. Five minutes passed with Athena occasionally demanding an answer and them still ignoring her. Klavier felt ill as he waited, and from the look on her face, Ema felt worse.

Eventually it became too much to take. "You have to tell me what is going on with everyone," Athena insisted again at full volume, and Widget added, "You both suck!" The receptionist glared.

"Gavin and Edgeworth made a bet to mess with us."

The three of them jerked at the new voice, then turned toward Apollo. His broken arm was in a sling and scratches from the asphalt marred one side of his face. Considering how things could have gone, though.... Anxiety sluiced away like water and Klavier stood, smiling with relief. Little else seemed to matter when Klavier saw Apollo moving without difficulty, with injuries that would heal easily in a matter of weeks. "Forehead, you're all right."

It was like hadn't spoken at all. "To answer your question, Athena," Apollo continued, "they made a bet about me and Mr. Wright. That's why I got that fancy concert invitation that left me hungover for Thanksgiving. We were both just part of their game."

"It wasn't like that," Klavier protested, even as Ema smacked his arm and hissed for him to shut up. Sure, Edgeworth might play that way, but Klavier Gavin was nothing if not sincere. He'd been genuinely pleased at bringing Apollo a night's happiness. Couldn't Apollo see that?

"Polly," Athena said uncertainly, "calm down."

"I am calm," Apollo said in a flat voice, but whatever she heard beneath that icy surface made Athena flinch.

Ema took a hesitant step forward. "Look, things sort of... exploded today, but it really was harmless." After Apollo gave a pointed look to his sling, she sighed and added, "Mostly harmless. Sorry. You can get pissed off tomorrow if you want, but you did just come out of the ER. Maybe you should, I don't know, do some breathing exercises. Keep your blood pressure down."

"You're so helpful," Apollo said with no sincerity whatsoever.

"Th...anks?"

"So, next will you recommend that I file a prosecutor complaint using some regulation you'll dig up? Something all about Gavin? Make it all his fault?" At Ema's confusion, he said, "I stole your notebook. Yeah, I noticed you writing stuff about us. The 'menstrual' lie didn't really hold up, and you can't quietly observe for shit. Apparently, you care about being a judge about as much as being a detective."

Ema paled with shock. "I...."

Apollo smiled. The long scratches on his cheek stretched over his false cheer. "Well, we all knew that you hate your job. It must have been fun to mess with other people's lives to spread around the pain a little, right? My wrist is broken and they're probably breaking up tonight. Congrats."

"That's not—"

"Or maybe you're just incompetent, after all." Apollo's right shoulder shrugged hugely. He ignored Ema's glower at the jab about her failed forensics dreams and hefted his battered bag with his good hand. At least he'd acknowledged her, though; Klavier might as well not be in the room. "Athena, can I get a ride home?" With a worried look around the room, Athena grabbed her keys and tagged along after him.

"Was I really that sloppy?" Ema wondered as the pair left.

Raising an eyebrow, Klavier said, "You do make a habit of it, sometimes."

She didn't even snap at Klavier's light insult; she must truly feel awful about this fallout. "Mr. Wright and Mr. Edgeworth broke up?"

Klavier sighed. "It's not your fault, fräulein."

"It is my fault," Ema mourned. "I was so happy to see you losing that I was doing a victory lap a week ahead of time. As far as I was concerned, everything was over. Seeing you alone and miserable had me drunk on my own success."

He cleared his throat, got no apology, and tried to cheer her up anyway. "I know they're upset right now, but it's for the best, nein?"

"For the best?" Ema repeated in disbelief. "My sister and I owe those two men everything and I'm not supposed to feel bad about this? I don't think this is some sort of weird anti-sympathetic reverse psychology. So I'll conclude that you're just dumb."

Klavier ignored that, too. It was a day with enough misery, so people needed to be cheered up. He could pay her back with some particularly relentless flirting when she felt better. (Besides, Ema was the only one still willing to talk to Klavier. Insults or not, he needed someone who'd acknowledge him.) "Things had gotten too deep with the two of them. The truth hurt coming out like this, and I do feel terrible. But imagine how much worse it'd be for Wright after another week."

"What?" Ema asked blankly.

"If the truth hurt this much after just a handful of days," Klavier explained, "imagine how devastating it would be for Wright when he found out that Herr Librarian had been playing him for a fool." Still... Edgeworth had seemed shattered in that room. Perhaps it never would have gone gently, not after the gambits he'd pulled to win.

Ema studied him for a long beat, amazed. "Wow."

"Wow?"

"I managed to ruin the whole contest, and I'm still not responsible for the stupidest thing related to this bet." At his confusion, she smacked his arm again and followed it up with a bit of snack food to his forehead. "They were really in love, halfwit!"

"No," Klavier explained patiently, and wiped away any stray chocolate crumbs from her snack. "Herr Edgeworth and I even discussed seduction as a technique to win. He said he wouldn't, but we both saw that he changed his mind."

"Seduction, nothing! They... this is pointless." Ema groaned. "You don't know them at all and you're incapable of thinking with any organ above your waist. I need to see if I can fix this. Lana's going to kill me if she hears I ruined this for them." This was all very dramatic for a woman who, on a normal day, served as the dictionary illustration for 'disaffected.'

Klavier hadn't spent much effort digging into Ema's history; he had the feeling that only disappointment lurked. But he knew of Wright from years past, of course, and he'd heard much of Edgeworth's reputation. Phoenix Wright had been an exceedingly lucky defense lawyer in a solo practice... until Klavier inadvertently put an end to that in the cruelest way possible. Edgeworth had distanced himself from the shadier of the von Karma practices... or so he claimed. They'd been showboating young men who were a decade older now but were otherwise unchanged. Wright had defended Lana once ages ago. Ema was still fiercely loyal to them when she seemed to give a damn about very little else in the world. End of story, ja?

Still, this loyalty from Ema was peculiar, as was her stubbornly emotional assessment of this bet. Would Ema still trust them so completely from a case they'd tidied up ten years ago? And would her logical mind stop being so very logical just because their stuffy Chief Prosecutor made her special parts tingle?

The confusion rankled. "Now, I know why I think Herr Edgeworth was faking everything," Klavier settled on. "He has a fearsome reputation about winning, and our strategy talks match up with his actual performance. Why do you think otherwise?"

"You've never seen them together," Ema sighed.

"Ja, I did, at Wright's apart—"

"No, Fop, in court. They were...." Ema looked away. For a brief vulnerable second, she didn't seem angry or distant. She was the scared teenager that must have been hoping to see her sister come safely home. "They saved Lana and they saved me. Both of us were framed and both of us ended up on trial for murder. Lana had been blackmailed, terrified for my sake, for two whole years. It was all crashing down and she would have walked to the executioner to keep me safe. But as everything played out in that case, she couldn't even do that any more."

Klavier blinked. Maybe I should have looked into her past a bit. "I had no idea, fräulein."

"I watched them be two halves of a whole. If they hadn't completely trusted each other... I don't...." Ema shifted uncomfortably. "I don't think any of us would be where we are right now. And then with the conversation I had with Mr. Edgeworth last week, I... they... I need to fix this. I don't know how, but I need to fix this."

"The conversation?" Klavier prompted.

"It's private," she instantly said, then reconsidered her words. "But Mr. Edgeworth wasn't faking anything. Trust me."

Klavier flicked a ring with his thumbnail. This isn't how things are supposed to be going. Stoic Edgeworth was not supposed to look broken and abandoned, Wright wasn't supposed to let out noises like a dying animal after seven years of caring about nothing, and Ema wasn't supposed to care at all. "I suppose a man's reputation doesn't cover everything about him," he allowed, seeking to bridge the gap in their conversation. The next words surged even as he knew it wasn't time to joke; there was nothing worse than an awkward silence. "At least this keeps Herr Edgeworth on the market for you. Your dreams are still alive, ja?"

Ema's eyes went cold and hard again. "Ugh. Why am I even talking with you? I really am off-balance today. I should have known better than to think you could care about someone. No wonder you don't understand."

Klavier pulled back. I'm trying to cheer you up right now, even if I'm not doing it very well. He worked surrounded by Paynes who treated people's futures like points on a scoreboard, and he was being accused of not caring?

She shouldered her bag and snapped her coat sleeves toward her wrists. "Just try to stay out of my way while I fix this, Fop. This is a delicate situation and I don't want you recommending an orgy to solve everything." Though he rolled his eyes and tried to protest, she spoke over him. "They care about each other. They love each other. I know you're incapable of caring about people as more than a collection of body parts, but some of us are in it for the long haul with people we care about. So just stay away."

There were about a million things wrong with that statement, and all of them centered on the fact that Ema Skye apparently thought that she was possessed of more emotional depth than Klavier Gavin. Absurd as it was, that still hurt. "You know them better than I do," he said, as this was clearly not an argument he could ever win. The words tasted bitter as he forced them out. "I'll focus on mending my bridges with Herr Forehead."

Ema snorted. "Good luck with that." With one last eyeroll, she walked away. Her slender form disappeared down the hallway. He stared after her, trying to make sense of the past hour. Nothing seemed to fit with what he'd known as the truth.

"It... it is! It's him! No, he looks okay, I don't think he's hurt! We can ask!" By the time Klavier noticed that he was being approached, the cluster of fans had surrounded him. One boy with a bandage around his head led the charge while his friends waited patiently. "I've been to four Gavinners shows! This is so great! Here, sign my eye!"

"Dude, he can't write over your eyeball!"

"It's fine, it's got padding under it!"

"Don't write on his eye bandage," said one of the girls. "He got a rock in it when he didn't land a skateboard trick." She smiled coyly as her arms pressed together. Cleavage deepened in her shirt's deep neckline. "You can sign my bra if you want, though."

After forcing a smile, Klavier asked if any of them had a pen.

At the trial the next day, Apollo showed up despite Athena having taken the official lead. He looked beyond groggy when he appeared, still had his broken wrist immobilized in a sling, and had to quiet his impressive voice lest the effort of shouting hurt his ribcage. Even so, he knew what he was doing. They'd opened the case an hour ago and he'd managed to go all that time without looking at Klavier. It all felt painfully deliberate.

"What did you make of the chalk markings when you first saw them?" Apollo asked Ema. She'd taken the stand as Klavier waited to call the developer as a witness. That climax needed a bit to ripen, first, and they needed some context for their grand reveal.

"They were clearly architectural markings," Ema said, as professional as Klavier had ever seen her in court.

Apollo's body moved slightly to the side. Klavier had realized the move was him lightly hipchecking Athena, as the arrangement for the defense had his sling-bound arm between them. "Objection!" Athena obligingly said, raising her left arm high. (Klavier wasn't sure whether Athena, formally listed as the lead for the day, had to make any objections, or whether Apollo simply couldn't tolerate gesturing with the 'wrong' hand.)

Apollo cleared his throat when the Judge motioned to the defense. "I discussed those markings with you, Ema, and you seemed pretty blasé about them. Almost like you only researched them to impress your sister."

Ema struggled to maintain her level expression. "Is a question buried in there?"

Apollo held up the picture of the faded markings for the courtroom to examine. "My problem with your statement is that these were nearly impossible to see. They weren't clearly anything."

Uncomfortable, Ema shifted her weight on the stand. Residual guilt made her more compliant than usual, but it could only do so much for keeping a glower off her face. "I guess so. They weren't 'clear.' Sorry."

"So the detective admits that the markings weren't clear!" the Judge said, then paused. "I have no idea what that tells us. Isn't this case about a bank robbery?"

"Our point, Your Honor," Athena said, "is that the prosecution's argument that the defendant was going to remodel her own nightclub with the stolen money doesn't make any sense! If this was something that Ms. Lipps had planned on doing, then why were the remodeling markings wiped almost completely off? She'd need them there!"

"You're suggesting that someone else made the marks?" the Judge said. After a second, he brightened. "I see that the trained puppies are in the evidence list for the day. Do they know how to write?"

"Er. No, Your Honor." Apollo shot a disbelieving look at his co-counsel. Klavier tried to share it with him from across the courtroom, but Apollo still had yet to acknowledge the prosecution's side. "We're suggesting that the doorway wasn't drawn as a reference. It was a promise... or a threat."

"A threat?" The Judge frowned. "But from who?"

Klavier shot another imploring look at Apollo, but only Athena glanced over. Well, I guess that's my cue. "Your Honor, the prosecution came independently to the same conclusion: someone else was involved with this. I've secured them as a witness and would like to call them to the stand. I believe we've gotten everything we're going to out of the fräulein detective."

"Oh? Oh, well, all right. Call your witness, Prosecutor Gavin."

"Let's rock!" Klavier said, snapping his fingers. Apollo still didn't look. This was getting ridiculous.

When called, the developer practically slithered onto the stand. His suit was flawlessly tailored, but the material looked shiny and cheap. Oil slicked back his hair and he reeked of aftershave even from passing ten feet away. The slimiest of all was his smile; Klavier had led him to believe that he was being called to help lock away the entire troupe for collusion. "Yes, hello," he said when asked. "Garry Reed, and I own Corona Developments. We're a construction company."

Klavier smiled thinly as he heard the doors click; outside them, the bailiff would have retaken his spot. Like I said: let's rock. "Mr. Reed, would you tell us about your interactions with the defendant, bitte?"

Reed adjusted his tie—thin, green—and began, "We were working on a renovation project near the bank when the robbery went down. I didn't see it myself, since I was in a meeting. Here, I brought the minutes, just in case."

It was difficult not to roll his eyes. Ja, Herr, we get it; you established an alibi for the robbery.

"But all of the workers on site swear they saw the ice cream truck drive by, complete with those puppies. Then the police cars came." Finished, Garry gave Klavier a conspiratorial smile. When Klavier didn't return it, he hmphed and turned expectantly to the judge.

Athena didn't bother conferring with Apollo. "Hearsay isn't admissible in court, Mr. Reed! It doesn't matter what your employees said. You still can't testify with it."

Frowning, Reed turned to Klavier. It was a challenge not to smirk. They always think the prosecutor is on their side. "She's right, Herr Reed."

"Then I have to admit... I'm pretty confused as to why I'm here. If I can't report what I heard, and I never saw anything with the robbery, why did you call me in?"

Klavier leaned back; this time, he did let a smirk come out. "The defense has some other questions about the case. We think you can answer them."

"All right," said Mr. Reed. "Do you have questions about the troupe? They're, well, degenerates. It's hardly a surprise that they'd pull something like this."

"I do have questions about the troupe," Apollo agreed. "I'd like you to testify about the times you've met with Ms. Lipps at their theatre."

Shaking his head, Mr. Reed chuckled. "I did, did I? That's quite a story. Why did I go to a drag theatre, again?"

If he keeps up this level of overconfidence, we'll be done by lunchtime. Klavier smiled thinly back at the developer, like the two of them were in on some mutual joke they were playing on everyone else in court. Granted, it would have been a natural fit if they had been. Corona Developments was a wildly successful company across the greater metropolitan area, and Garry Reed lived in the penthouse of one of the many buildings he'd constructed. Klavier Gavin was a former international superstar who still enjoyed the perks of fame, both financial and personal. The law often didn't apply to men like them.

Unless, of course, the prosecution decided that it did.

"I'd think you would have to meet with the owners of the buildings you're trying to acquire," Klavier answered. When he held up several official documents, Reed's expression dropped. "Or do you argue that Corona Development LLC, who is advertising for new lofts built on that street, is not actually you?"

As Garry cleared his throat and adjusted his tie, Apollo repeated, "I'd like you to testify about the times you've met with Ms. Lipps at their theatre."

"Is this relevant?" Mr. Reed asked the Judge, sighing.

"Mr. Gavin?"

"It's relevant," Klavier promised. As expected, the Judge told the witness to comply.

It amazed him, sometimes, how much power lie in the hands of the prosecution. Whether the prosecutor was honest or corrupt, brave or cowardly, idealistic or cynical, they steered the course of countless lives. The Judge sided with them by default, the police shaped their evidence to what the prosecutors wanted, and the wrongfully accused had scant recourse from inside a cell.

Klavier didn't need money, power, or prestige from the position; he'd already tasted all of them from his first career. Every time he brought down someone who'd made others' lives worse, it felt like a Grammy on his shelf. (Now, if Apollo would just give him some damned credit for being such a stand-up individual. Especially considering the contrast with many of his prosecuting co-workers!)

Reed's initial testimony was shakier than a condemned building: he'd only contacted the troupe via an agent, he'd never been there himself, he'd never made a firm offer on the building. Shredding it was so easy that Klavier let Apollo take the reins entirely, and smiled with pride as his young partner demanded to know how they could be selling future lofts at that address without a firm offer. "Herr," Klavier suggested as Reed straightened his tie again, "perhaps you should tell the whole truth. And you should know that the prosecution has secured all of the legal documents you've put in for title transfer."

That earned the glare Klavier had been going for; good. No, you walking oil slick. I'm not on your side.

"The neighborhood is undervalued," Reed gritted out after glaring at Klavier. "Yes, I put in an offer on the theatre. They weren't interested in selling. I filed documents with the city in the hopes of working under eminent domain. That street could host a real community—"

"It has a real community!" Apollo protested.

After another dirty look in the defense's direction, Reed continued, "A real community with restaurants and bookstores, not drag queens and teenage prostitutes. The city was open to working with me to improve land values and relocate undesirable elements."

"'Undesirable elements.' By which you mean homeless children," Klavier supplied.

"That’s... does this have a point?"

"So if they didn't make it worth your while, you'd work with the city to evict the troupe and the kids?" Apollo asked. "Is that what you're saying?"

"Yes, of... wait, no. You're twisting my words around."

"You said you wanted that land and were going to work with the city to force them out, though." Apollo’s earlier grogginess from his painkillers faded with each word; he looked sharp as a hawk on high, searching for prey. "So were you lying about never having met with the troupe, or are you really trying to argue that you started some political maneuvering to evict them without ever having even one face-to-face conversation?"

"This case," Reed said calmly, "is about a bank robbery. I do not have to testify about this."

"So," Klavier said, "we don't need to talk about you trying to make a profit off that street. Ja?"

"Ja," Reed echoed. His smile was vulpine. "Are we done?"

"Nein." Klavier's smile was even sharper. "Because you just admitted to wanting to make a profit off these people, one way or another. Eminent domain doesn't often come into play for a project this small, Herr. But the words sound scary if you're the ones at risk of getting booted for the greater good, I'd think."

As the tension mounted around him, the Judge looked on with fascination. Reed seethed where he stood, a tight knot of disbelief and entitlement that reeked more than his aftershave. "Are you saying, Prosecutor Gavin," asked the Judge, "that Mr. Reed's filings are tied to this bank robbery?"

Now that they knew what had happened, everything fit together. Klavier laid it out in terms simple enough for even their fuzzy-minded judge to understand. Two adjacent buildings held groups of people with little money and less political power. When Corona Developments set their sights on that land, they put up a billboard for the lofts before any deal had been made. The first shot had been fired: we're coming for you, and we'll win.

Either Garry Reed would acquire the property out from under the feet of the profitable drag troupe and the barely-surviving youth shelter... or he'd make his profit another way. And every day, that billboard would remain on the street, reminding everyone there what awaited if he didn't get his money. The troupe was profitable, yes, but he wanted more money than they could provide. Soon. And if he got that money, those documents filed with City Hall could be retracted.

If he got the money, the youth shelter would stay open.

If he got the money, the vulnerable children inside wouldn't disappear onto the streets and probably never resurface.

"The prosecution," he finished, pointing dramatically, "is not arguing that Ms. Ruby Lipps, aka Devon Villa, did not rob that bank. But the state seeks a lighter sentence because the action took place under coercion from this man. He will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law for his extortion. And," Klavier threw in on a whim, "we should probably send some inspectors out to his buildings, too. Just in case they're not up to code."

It was a hell of a performance. The audience was as enraptured as they were when he had a guitar in his hand, and the Judge was practically humming along. And, wonder of wonder, there was even a hint of a smile on Apollo's face.

Sudden applause nearly made Klavier take a bow, before he realized it was coming from the witness stand. Garry Reed's clapping was slow, mocking, sarcastic. "Quite a story, Prosecutor. Quite a story. But you still haven't proven any of it. And if I'm not mistaken, this trial ends today." When he smiled again, his eyes were mere slits.

"We can prove that you were at the theatre," Apollo said loudly. Klavier flinched sympathetically, knowing that the volume had to hurt Apollo's bruised ribs. "When you told them what you would be doing, you made that architectural drawing as a promise... and a threat."

"And how are you going to prove that?" Reed asked.

"If you'd shut up, we'd tell you," Athena grumbled.

Knowing this next part sounded ridiculous, Klavier stepped in. The Judge needed the weight of the Prosecutor's Office behind this piece of evidence to take it seriously. "Achtung! It's finally puppy time, Herr Judge!" The man grinned, as expected. "These dogs are trained to latch onto people they've met before. Every show is an adoption drive. If the first encounter doesn't convince you, the second show with your own personally dedicated puppy will. If these puppies have met someone, they remember him."

At Reed's sudden concern, any worry about the validity of this absurd evidence vanished. Got you. "Herr Judge... could we let in the puppies, bitte?"

Half the puppies streamed to Apollo and Klavier, the men who’d retrieved them from the basement and driven them to a kennel. The others, squirming and barking and thrilled, circled the developer.

"Get off me, you mutts!" Garry snapped. At the sharp, sudden whine of a kicked puppy, the Judge’s face darkened.

"Bailiffs, collect the puppies before the witness hurts them again. And Mr. Reed...
I would like to talk with you further about the concept of extortion."

Klavier grinned; Athena and Apollo grinned more.

"I believe we have a good idea of what happened in this case," the Judge said. "And I also believe that we have two more trials ahead of us: the defendant’s co-worker, which will begin tomorrow... and then the trial for this man." Ignoring Reed’s glare, the Judge continued, "I feel ready to deliver my verdict. As the prosecution said, it cannot be disproven that Mr. Villa, aka Ruby Lipps, did not rob the bank. But given the circumstances, the court is predisposed to be lenient."

Klavier shot a glance at the defendant’s stand, where Ruby stood waiting. Her face was flushed, and even from far away he could practically hear her heart pound.

"In the case of the State vs. Villa, I find the defendant... guilty."

Apollo and Athena held their breaths.

"...And Mr. Villa is hereby sentenced to two hundred hours of community service."

I guess I was holding my breath, too. Klavier grinned sheepishly.

"I guess that was as much as we could hope for," Apollo said later, in the lobby. He rubbed the back of his head with his good hand. "Sorry, Ruby. I promised I’d get you totally off the hook, but...."

"Sweetie, you did more than I ever hoped for. I knew I wouldn’t make it in prison." Ruby’s heavily made-up face beamed below an unnaturally red wig. "I’d hug you, but you look like you lost a fight with a pickup truck."

"Just a sedan," Apollo said dryly.

"Oh. Sorry."

"Congratulations, Ruby!" Athena said, beaming. "I’ll hug you, since he can’t. And with what we just found out, Helena’s gonna fly through the courtroom tomorrow!"

"Oh," Ruby said, looking up. "Hello and thank you, Prosecutor! I could tell you helped a lot."

Swallowing at the sudden attention, Klavier dipped his head to acknowledge the gratitude. Athena had looked startled to see him, but Apollo was unreadable. "I came to make sure that there were no hard feelings."

"No, no," Ruby said. "I robbed that bank, you did what you had to do."

I didn’t just mean hard feelings from you, Klavier thought as he looked at Apollo. This was the best possible ending to a case that had once looked impossible, and they’d needed to work together to secure that happy ending. Apollo had to acknowledge that, right?

"Thank you, Prosecutor Gavin," Apollo added after a few seconds. "We can make a good team... in the courtroom. I appreciate it."

Klavier’s heart sank, even as his mind told him he’d been a fool to hope for everything to be fixed the day after it had exploded. In the courtroom. In the courtroom. The subtext was clear: Apollo didn’t want to see him anywhere else. He looked to Athena, hoping for help, but one firm shake of her head said he wouldn’t get it from her.

"Well." Klavier swallowed. "I’ll see you in court tomorrow for Ms. Fire, fräulein. We have to go through the motions, at least."

"Yup." Athena nodded once, looking sidelong at Apollo. His face was still a polite mask.

"This is awkward and I want to leave now," added Widget.

As Athena blushed, Klavier took a step backward. "I’ll handle the leaving part." A shock of black hair caught the corner of his eye and he took another step back. Wright’s case had finished quickly that morning, too. "Good work, Herr Forehead," Klavier said, but stepped away before Apollo replied.

Phoenix Wright probably saw him as he left, but said nothing. Thank goodness for small favors.

"So, did he forgive you?" asked Ema as Klavier rounded the corner into the prosecutor’s lobby.

"Did he sound like he’d forgiven you when you were on the stand?" Klavier shot back.

"Hmph." Ema crunched a snack thoughtfully. "This is going to take some time and work to fix. I’ll let you know when I think of something."

"Because your bright ideas have worked so well until now, ja?"

Her eyes narrowed. "Well, do you have any better ones?"

Klavier sighed and looked over his shoulder. No. No, I don’t.

Chapter Text

As Phoenix Wright fled the hospital, his chest felt like a sucking wound. He'd been sawed open and his heart had fallen out back in that room. "Daddy? Daddy!" Trucy tugged his wrist as he stormed toward the exit. "Stop!"

He walked on regardless. "We have to go." His voice came out choked, thick and pained and twenty years older.

"Is Polly okay? You can't just leave him! And how are we gonna get home? Miles drove us!"

Phoenix flinched at the name. Miles. Edgeworth's first name had sounded strange coming from his daughter. He should have trusted that instinct. He should have noticed that the man he thought he knew was treating Trucy like a piece in some grander strategy.

Everything was still hard to believe; an entire imagined lifetime had died in this hospital. At the end of the next ten minutes he might be entirely numb, or might cry, or might throw up. There was no shared home ahead, there was no love, there was no perfect conclusion to all the years they'd known each other. But Edgeworth using Trucy like that was the worst. It was the rotting heart that made all of these lies unforgivable.

You could hurt Phoenix Wright and he'd still listen to what came next, but never dare hurt those he cared about. It was one of the most fundamental aspects of his character. It was one thing that he thought all of his closest friends knew.

Maybe Edgeworth did know. Maybe he just didn't care.

And how stupid was Phoenix to think that they were even friends, if everything turned out like this? Oh, dammit. Phoenix swiped at his cheek. He was going the crying route, it would seem. He hadn't been a crier since college. This week was just bringing all of that history back, wasn't it?

"Daddy, what are we...." Trucy stopped tugging at Phoenix's arm and her voice quieted. "Are you okay?"

"No," Phoenix mumbled. He took a deep, shaky breath and continued, "We're not driving home with Edgeworth. We'll take a taxi. Apollo is okay, don't worry."

His words didn't calm her. "You look ready to break down, of course I'm worrying! What's wrong? Why are we taking a taxi? Why—"

"Please. Just. Let's go home and then I'll explain." Phoenix swallowed. "Please."

After a long, unhappy beat, Trucy nodded. "Home first," she relented and let herself be led to a different hospital entrance, far from the parking lot they'd arrived in. A taxi arrived in minutes and they rode home in silence. Trucy watched Phoenix with concern, then growing fear, as the drive went on. His own face felt like a mask as dread congealed in his gut. She was excited, too. How am I going to tell her that there's no new condo? No new family? Realization hit and it was hard to control a fresh surge of pain. This is supposed to be Game Night. No more Game Night.

"Okay, tell me," Trucy insisted once the door was locked behind them. "You have me super freaked out. By this point I'm pretty convinced that you accidentally walked into a cancer ray or something at the hospital."

You've said anything to stretch out hopeless cases. You can say this. "We didn't drive home with Edgeworth because... because we... he and I...." God, he always found something to say in court. Why wouldn't his voice work now?

It was enough. There was only one conclusion to that sentence. "You broke up," Trucy finished. Her worried expression crumbled into pain. "Why? Why would you do that?"

"It's all right," Phoenix lied. Trying to be stronger for her sake gave him a kernel of courage, and he clung to it. His voice didn't really sound like him, but at least it wasn't close to breaking. "This, the two of us, had barely started. It hadn't even been going on for a week. I'm really sorry that—"

"Don't lie to me."

Phoenix hesitated, then continued. "I’m sorry about the new condo, but it's really okay." It had to be okay. If this was all okay and it could be explained away, then he didn't have to tell Trucy the awful truth about what Edgeworth had done to her. If this was just the two of them having a stupid argument, he didn't need to tell her all of the sordid, manipulative details.

Her eyes narrowed. "I can see that you're lying, Daddy! Don't treat me like an idiot! What really happened?"

Sighing, Phoenix considered whether to show her the notebook. Right. When speaking to Trucy's face, only the truth would do. She was nearly as good as a Magatama at picking out when someone was hiding something. At least a person could walk away from Trucy or Apollo's keen eye, rather than having to stand there as their secrets were dragged out of them. It might be easier to just shut his mouth—and deal with her subsequent outrage—rather than share everything.

(Bizarrely, Phoenix felt a pinprick of guilt over having used the Magatama on Edgeworth. He’d promised not to, hadn’t he? The feeling was quickly squelched; he didn't owe Miles Edgeworth one millisecond of regret.)

"We had an... an argument. We decided it was a bad idea to move forward. Things had happened too quickly."

Trucy narrowed her eyes. Oh, come on; that was close enough to the truth! "I said not to treat me like an idiot. I'm almost a grown-up woman now, not some kid!"

"That's not really helping," Phoenix muttered. She was right. In all too short a time, she would be graduating and setting off to start her own life. Instead of the beautifully full house of his recent daydreams, Phoenix would be entirely alone. That response only confused her, so he amended, "It's personal, and I really don't want to talk about it. It's not because I think you're a kid."

"It's personal to me, too!" she protested. "This is my life, too! You can't promise me something and then just take it away with no explanation!"

That, too, was the truth. Phoenix wilted under it. She was right: she'd signed on to this future as surely as Phoenix had, and she'd been hurt nearly as much. No matter how hard this was, she deserved to know what had really been going on when Edgeworth teased the two of them with talk of luxury condos. "All right. The truth is...." God, this was agony. Some part of him had always spent twenty-five years chasing after this man and catching him had turned out to be a mirage. "I'm so sorry, Trucy, but I found out that Edgeworth was... he... he didn't mean any of it."

Trucy blinked. "Huh? I don't... what do you mean?"

Resigned, he dug out the notebook and handed it to her. "He was messing with me to win some stupid contest. I am so sorry. I should have known better. I can't believe I let him do this to you."

"What?" she asked blankly and flipped through it. Her expression remained hollow as she read each new page. "This is what Ema was writing last week." Another flip. "Klavier... he got Polly drunk like that to win this bet."

"I'm so sorry," Phoenix said again. "I never should have let this happen. I should have known better than to trust a couple of prosecutors, that Edgeworth was lying about everything—"

"But he wasn't."

Phoenix's heart ached anew at her tiny, confused voice. She was just a kid, still, and she'd been through so much. This was going to hurt like hell when it really sank in. "Truce, I used the Magatama to break the last two locks on Edgeworth. There really was a bet going on, and he manipulated both of us to try to win."

"But he loves you!"

"He doesn't, and don't say that. Please. I can't... it's hard, right now."

Fire lit in Trucy's eyes and she flung the notebook to her feet. It landed with a light smack; the noise when she kicked it into the coffee table was louder. "I can tell when people are lying, right? Remember when I walked in on you two making out?" Phoenix flinched at the reminder, but she plowed on. "He meant everything he said then. He cares about you and... he'd wait to move in together if it'd help keep me safe, and—"

"Stop, stop." Phoenix sank onto the couch, exhausted. "Trucy, yeah, he was telling the truth about being willing to wait. Because he knew the bet would end before that."

Trucy had only ever known Miles Edgeworth as a strangely formal man who inserted himself into her new father's life, then as the man who her dad kept flying off to visit in Europe, and finally as the respected prosecutor who started visiting her magic shows when he moved back to Los Angeles. She'd never seen the newspaper articles about the Demon Prosecutor, or experienced first-hand the fear when Edgeworth was trying to get Phoenix convicted of murder.

It hurt to acknowledge, but if that idiotic college crybaby still lurked within Phoenix... why couldn't the demon raise its head again, too?

He should call Maya again. She'd seen the old Edgeworth. She'd understand.

Trucy shook her head and planted her feet. Great. Phoenix couldn't take much more arguing; he felt ready to break out into old Ivy-style tears. But she spoke over his protests so loudly that Apollo would have been proud. "There was nothing about him that... you don't believe me. Fine. Fine! What were all the locks?"

"What?"

"You said 'the last two locks,' so there were at least three. What were they?"

"It was three," Phoenix agreed. "The last one was about the bet. He... he admitted that he'd been using you to win."

Trucy flinched, but carried gamely on. "And? What were the two before that?"

In the midst of so much pain, it was hard to think about the earlier locks. He had to really work at the retrieval and every memory felt like knives. As he recalled the separate Magatama sessions in full sensory detail, Phoenix's already-sick stomach began another descent. The last horrible lock had been the truth... but so had the first two.

Phoenix rubbed his wrist, grimacing. "The first one I broke was just that he'd... it sounds silly if you don't know him. That he'd treat this like such a secret that I'd actually have to break a lock for it. It was just that he'd been thinking about me when he picked out a present." He hesitated, then shook his head. "But I guess that just meant that he'd been trying to score the most points in the contest."

"Do you really believe that?" she asked quietly.

"...No." Phoenix swallowed. On that day it would be easy to believe the worst of Miles, and a good part of him still wanted to. In the midst of this quiet conversation, though, the lock in the middle loomed large. Earlier, he’d been caught up in the fury of learning about the notebook. He'd barely acknowledged the second lock as he sought to break the final one... and break Miles. "The other lock, the second one, it was that...."

"Daddy?" Trucy prompted.

"He loves me with his whole heart and he has for years," Phoenix murmured.

Shit.

Using Trucy was still awful and Phoenix couldn’t excuse it, but if Miles truly loved him... then maybe a lot of this wasn't what it sounded like. The bet was ridiculous and offensive, yes. Phoenix was right to be mad about his emotions being jerked around, absolutely. None of that had changed. But could it really be that Miles had simply admitted that he'd thought about how to do right by both of them? Miles Edgeworth wasn't a man taken by impulsive actions, nor did he often reveal his feelings. With that much mental energy spent on the effort, it could feel like quite a secret to him.

"When you talked with him one-on-one," Phoenix ventured, "did he really seem sincere to you?"

Trucy bit her lip. For a second Phoenix feared the worst, but what she actually said was far different. "He's the reason I'm still calling you 'Daddy,' Daddy."

"Uh. What?"

"Kids at school were making fun of me and I was going to change how I acted toward you so they'd stop. He noticed what I was doing and we started talking and...." Trucy looked away. Her voice sounded thick and strained when she continued. "We came up with a way for me to get through school without hurting you."

What in the world? How could she have been bullied without him hearing anything? "You never said anything about that," Phoenix said blankly.

"Of course I didn't. You were the one person I couldn't say it to. It was about you. And there's no one else who really feels like... like a grown-up who could fix things, or...." She sucked in a deep breath and ended up hiccuping. "Daddy, you have to talk to him. You have to. I can't... I really want... this was supposed to...."

For all your strength, Phoenix thought sadly as he pulled her into a hug, you're still just a kid. It hurt to know there was something he couldn't fix for her. While hearing about Miles' help should have been reassuring, on that day it was just another blow. Sure, he'd helped then, but it would be a one-time deal.

He let Trucy cry until his shoulder was wet with the heartbreak over Miles and all the fear she'd bottled up about Apollo. It had been a godawful day and his strong little girl had held it together until now; she deserved this. The more she cried, the less he needed to. It was like she was letting it out for both of them, and Phoenix had always been stronger for someone else.

"So you're going to fix this, right?" Trucy asked when she was all cried out, red-nosed and watery-eyed. "You're going to talk to him? I know you're mad, Daddy. I'm mad! But this is way too big to just give up on."

"I can't," Phoenix said just above a whisper. As she'd cried, he'd remembered more of their encounter in the hospital. He'd remembered the last thing he said.

"Of course you can! You can do anything!"

He managed to smile at that; she sounded like a little kid again. But that smile soon faded. "I can't talk to him, Truce. An actual conversation, anyway, and not just me using this." Phoenix pried out the Magatama and looked at it balefully. His first instinct had been right. He never should have used it to force the secrets out of Miles. They came out as answers to the questions Phoenix asked, and Phoenix had been operating mostly in the dark. No wonder he'd turned the shadows on the wall into monsters.

"So why...?"

"I said something bad to him." Phoenix swallowed. "Really bad."

No wonder you were worried that you'd start acting like Manfred.

That, after Miles' morality had been mocked at work. That, after he'd looked to Phoenix to be the one person in the world who would think differently of him. To trust that he'd changed.

No wonder you were worried that you'd start acting like Manfred.

Jesus, that was like slicing the guy open and stringing up the guts inside. Phoenix had described Manfred's behavior as torturing Miles for a decade and a half, and he still went there during an argument? I knew what would hurt the most. The absolute most.

"You said something bad?" Trucy echoed, disbelieving. "Daddy, it'll be fine. He loves you. He'll probably be relieved that you're even talking to him. Call Miles, get it all straightened out."

"Truce...."

"Call for me? Please?" Her brow crinkled slightly with worry. "At least check to make sure that he got home okay? He had to drive his own car and I bet he was really upset. I mean, you two don't have to make up right now, but at least make sure he got back to his hotel."

"You're too good at this," Phoenix muttered as he dug out his phone. It was rush hour, Miles drove a car with a ridiculous amount of power under the hood, and there were countless bigger vehicles between that hospital and the Gatewater Corporate. Apollo had gotten distracted and ended up with a broken wrist from biking on surface streets. Not driving a flashy sports car, potentially trying to weave between lanes to flee the scene just that much faster....

He tapped Miles' name in his contacts.

Phoenix stared at his phone as it rang, then grimaced when it went to voice mail. Hearing Miles' recorded voice hurt, but comparing that cool, collected man to the anguished one he'd left in the hospital room was even worse. Miles had seemed absolutely broken when he called after that terrible Monday department meeting, and that was just from his co-workers' assessments. If Phoenix told him that he'd never changed, if Phoenix said that he might as well be Manfred....

With a growing sick feeling in his gut, Phoenix re-dialed. And again. And again.

Again.

Again.

When his own phone rang before another attempt, he was so startled that he dropped it. Cursing, he scooped it up from the floor and smacked the screen. "Miles, thank god. I was—"

"Phoenix Wright."

"...Franziska?"

"Cease your calls. Miles Edgeworth is not picking up, as you well know."

"So he's there?" Phoenix asked with relief. "I'll come over."

"He is not and you will do no such thing." Franziska paused. "He did leave his phone here, though. I got the feeling that he did not wish to be bothered tonight. But I didn't pry."

Miles had cut off all contact and vanished? Phoenix's fear surged higher as he clutched his phone hard. "Franziska, you have to tell me where he is. This is important."

"Only a fool would make such foolish demands. I am ending this call, Phoenix Wright. Do not try again."

"Shit!" Phoenix barked as Franziska hung up, then sighed when he saw that Trucy had been listening in. "That was Franziska. Edgeworth's not at the hotel with her, but he left his phone there."

"So he got there okay? Where is he now?" Trucy asked. The more Phoenix let his worry show, the more fearful she grew.

And she didn't know why he was getting so worried, did she? To her eyes, Edgeworth was calm and perpetually reasonable. He never took risks, always acted properly. But now Phoenix was acting like a zombie apocalypse was cresting the horizon. Everything had to sound much worse than what one would expect as fallout from even a terrible argument.

He had to see if his suspicions were correct. Breathing heavily, Phoenix punched in another number. Thankfully, it picked right up. "Maya, I need to ask you something," Phoenix demanded as soon as she answered. "How bad is it if I got into an argument with Edgeworth and basically told him that he was exactly like von Karma and had never changed and never would?"

She sucked in a deep, raw breath and he whimpered. Shit! Phoenix thought as he hung up.

"Find a number for this person," Phoenix said, jotting down a name, "and call me when you get it. I'm going over to the Gatewater and I'll drag an answer out of Franziska. Maybe he's in the room and she's just lying. That... that's gotta be it."

"I'll find a number," Trucy said blankly, looking up from the paper, "but Daddy, please calm down. You're freaking me out. I really need you to calm down. I need to check on Polly, and find this person, and for you to calm down."

Phoenix closed his eyes. The fact that he'd actually forgotten the injured man he’d run to the hospital for was a serious dose of cold water. This isn't like... then, Phoenix. He’s not vanishing like... that. You're being an idiot. "I'm okay. And I'll take a cab over to the hotel, okay? No bike. Check on Apollo and text me on how he's doing, and then text me this number when you find it. I'll be back later and everything will be okay."

"I love you," she whispered as they hugged, "and it will be okay. Got it?"

By the time the requested cab appeared, so had a text confirming Apollo's (relative) good health. Soon after Phoenix settled in the back seat, the second text came. After a second of hesitation, Phoenix tapped the phone number in the message and held the phone to his ear. This wouldn't be the best reunion he'd ever had in his life.

"What can I do for you, pal?"

The familiar voice earned a shaky smile. "Gumshoe? It's me. Phoenix Wright. Um, the attorney, remember?"

"Wait. Wait!" There was a fumbling sound, presumably as Gumshoe checked the caller ID. They hadn't talked in years. He'd probably answered thinking that Phoenix was a potential client; it wasn't like 'Wright' was a notable name. "Hey! How're you doing, pal?"

"Well, I'm a lawyer again. So... that's good."

"Yeah? Good! Anyone could see those charges against you were phony, but no one listened when I complained."

"You complained?"

"Yeah, all official-like! But apparently I was 'biased.' I'd shown you too much evidence in the past. They didn't think they should listen to me about you. Sorry."

"Oh." Phoenix blinked. "I didn't know that. Um. Thanks."

"We all tried to file complaints, y'know! Me and a bailiff who'd watched you work, and of course Mr. Edgeworth—"

Phoenix flinched.

"Hey, did you know he's back? You two should catch up!"

"We have," Phoenix said carefully. With tongue. "I actually called you about Edgeworth. I know you two have kept in touch, so I was going to ask you something about him."

Gumshoe's voice changed in an instant. "Something wrong, pal?" It was the voice Phoenix had feared: the one that belonged not to a good-natured giant, but the man who viewed himself as Miles Edgeworth's most loyal lieutenant. He'd hoped that all the years in-between would calm those guard dog tendencies, but apparently not.

"We had an argument. He's not picking up his phone and I'm worried about him. Do you have any idea where he might go if he doesn't want to be found?"

It was the most neutral way possible to describe the evening, but for Gumshoe it was still too much. "If Prosecutor Edgeworth doesn't want to be found, then he's not going to be found! What'd you do to get him so upset, huh? Did you know how much he went to bat for you?"

This was a mistake. "I'm sorry to have disturbed you, Detec... Mr. Gumshoe." Phoenix paused. "Uh. Gumshoe. If I haven't made you too mad, can I ask you something else? And I'm sure he's fine. The argument wasn't that bad. I'm just concerned about him driving to clear his head in the middle of rush hour." It was a good cover-up; traffic would be at its worst for at least another ninety minutes. Rush 'hour' in Los Angeles was a joke.

Mollified, Gumshoe grunted, "Yeah, okay. What's the question?"

"You work for a private security company now, right?" After the assent, Phoenix asked, "Say that you were Edgeworth and you were looking for a safe place to live. With all the security concerns he'd have, how long do you think it'd take him to find a place and sign papers?"

Silence filled the line for a good twenty seconds, broken by occasional thoughtful mumbles. "I'd guess ten days, maybe more? That's about how long it'd take to run a good security check on everyone near a listing. We do checks sometimes, but it's something they handle more on the Westside. So that's just a rough guess. Why?"

Phoenix sighed at the confirmation that no, Miles hadn't been deliberately stretching things out past the bet deadline. "Thanks. That helps. I guess."

"Sure." Gumshoe paused. "You know... whenever things get too complicated, Mr. Edgeworth likes to throw himself into his work. Not promising anything, but it might be worth checking out."

The office. Right. It'll be worth looking at, anyway. "Driver?" Phoenix asked, leaning forward. "Before you go to the hotel, make a detour by the L.A. County Prosecutor's Office. Thanks." He returned his attention to the phone. "And thanks, Gumshoe. I should have thought of that. I thought you weren't going to help me, though."

"Yeah, well, you were right. He shouldn't drive to clear his head. Don't tell anyone, pal," Gumshoe added in a low voice, "but he speeds, sometimes. It's the only time he breaks the law. I think he forgets he's not on that German freeway."

The image of long-ago Gumshoe filled Phoenix's head and he couldn't help but smile. He could see the man first awed by the chance of riding in his idol's car, and then terrified as he gripped the nearest solid object and held on. "Can I ask you something else? Why'd you quit the force, anyway?"

The response took so long that it sounded like the call had dropped. "It was you."

"What?"

"I told you that a bunch of us tried to file complaints. No one cared. You were a problem because you kept making the city look bad. They were happy to be able to get away with stuff, I could tell."

"Oh."

"Even with Mr. Edgeworth gone, I still wanted to work there and keep it up to his standards. But a while after your whole mess, I realized I didn't recognize the place any more. At least where I work now, we can pick clients that we like and keep them safe without anyone trying to screw it up to prove some point."

Phoenix's heart ached. Dick Gumshoe might not be a smart man, but he was good and loyal. To have inspired him this much, even by his downfall, was quite a thing. "You could go back to the LAPD, if you wanted. I'm sure it'd be better with Edgeworth as Chief Prosecutor."

"I thought about it, but we're all settled down here and my kids have friends in the neighborhood. Hey, did you hear? Two boys!"

A smile returned. "I did hear. Congratulations."

"Bobby's five, and he's in kindergarten. Chip just turned four."

Phoenix couldn't help himself, hoping that Gumshoe hadn't heard this piece of information while filing his complaints. "My daughter turned seventeen not too long ago."

"I. Uh. What? Wait, what?"

Mood significantly brighter, Phoenix said, "Well, thank you for the suggestion and the update, Gumshoe. I'm sure everything will be fine."

"Whadduya mean, a seventeen year old kid?"

"We're at the office, I've gotta go!" Chuckling, Phoenix hung up and stowed his phone. He looked at the prominent corner of the building that held conference rooms and the Chief's office, then frowned. Dark windows from street to roof. A call to the office went to voice mail, as did calls to the assistant's desk. "Drive on to the new Gatewater, I suppose," Phoenix said as his frown deepened. When Gumshoe mentioned the office, I was sure that would be it.

Still, the phone call had lifted his mood. Even faded, that optimism buoyed his spirits all the way to the hotel. Trucy was right: of course this would work out, and of course they could make their apologies and fix everything. He wouldn't just let the bet slide, but it was absurd to think that their long history together was as fragile as his heart had felt back in that hospital room. This wasn't an ending, it was only an argument.

"It’ll be okay," he murmured as he found his credit card. "It’ll all be fine."

"Excuse me, sir," said the clerk at the front desk when Phoenix walked toward the elevators. The space around him was calm and elegant, but he barely noticed its grandeur in his hunt. "Sir!"

"Huh? Yes?" Phoenix said, breaking out of his daze, and angled himself toward the woman.

"Are you checking in?"

He gave her an uncertain look; what sort of guest would go straight to the elevator when they didn’t yet have a room key? "No, I’m here to see someone."

Her smile was like a very professional brick wall. "I was just checking, sir, since no one with your appearance has been authorized for entry. Only approved guests are allowed above the ground floor. Is there someone I can call to get you approved?"

Great. "Franziska von Karma," Phoenix sighed. "She recently arrived in the room for Miles Edgeworth. She would have shown up in the middle of the night with Klavier Gavin. Yes, that Klavier Gavin."

"Thank you, sir," the woman said, looking at her screen and whatever security notes lie within. "I’ll call Ms. von Karma now."

And I’ll soon be thrown out. Phoenix grumbled. He’d planned to pound on Franziska’s door and ring her phone until she gave up and let him in. Sure, she’d whip him senseless as part of the bargain, but that was the sort of thing a person got used to from her. Forced to approach her this way, it’d be too easy for her to ignore his attempt.

"She’s on her way down."

Phoenix’s head jerked up. "Really?"

Confusion painted the woman’s face. "You did say you knew her?"

"Yeah, but I didn’t think she’d actually come down. Never mind. I’ll go wait by the elevators, thank you." This might actually work, Phoenix thought as he hurried to the hallway. They’d resolve their argument. They’d clear the air. Miles would apologize for his stupid bet, and Phoenix would apologize as much as he could for that terrible comment about Manfred. It would all be fine, just like Apollo was going to be.

Everything was going to be fine.

Fine.

Fine.

Instead, at Franziska’s arrival his stupid mouth erupted with, "He didn’t leave another note, did he?"

Franziska glared at him and fingered her whip. "What are you going on about, Phoenix Wright? And why did you disturb my dinner? And why did Miles Edgeworth leave his phone with me?"

"We had a fight. It was this big, stupid... actually, sorry. I don’t want to get into it with you."

"You should," she said airily. "I am sure that you could use my input on any aspect of your life."

Ignoring her, Phoenix continued, "I freaked out, I’ll admit it. Sorry. He always answers his phone. The only time he dropped off the radar was...."

"When you foolishly thought he was dead for a year," Franziska supplied. She might as well have been yawning. Of course, she hadn’t been left in the dark about whether Miles was still breathing.

Hearing that time referred to so casually sent a stab of irritation through Phoenix. "Yes, that. If that’s all I had to go on, you can see why I freaked out."

"Fool," Franziska sneered and snapped her whip against his hand. He yelped and pulled it back. "Then, Miles Edgeworth crumbled under the weight of his own foolish insecurities. He cared what other people thought far more than he does now. Trust me, Phoenix Wright. If you are worried about him in that way, you don’t know him at all."

"But—" Phoenix flinched again. "Stop hitting me!"

"No. It amuses me and you already ruined my dinner."

He dutifully bore the next strike. "I have a reason to be concerned, if you would just listen to me."

Sighing, Franziska rolled up her whip again. "What is it, then?"

"I know that you and Detective Skye were judging him in a bet to mess with me." Good. That really shut her up. "We had an argument about that, and yes, Franziska, I am going to pay you back."

She grumbled, but the worst of her overconfidence fell away.

"I said something that... well, I’m concerned that he really, actually cares about what I said. I just need to talk to him, but he’s not letting me."

Franziska folded her arms. "You over-estimate your importance, Phoenix Wright. He can apologize to you tomorrow for this ridiculous game."

"That’s not what I meant. I mean. No, I do want him to apologize to me for that, this was—stop hitting me!"

"Then be more succinct."

"I can’t say this to you!" Phoenix protested, throwing his hands up in the air. He felt very much like Trucy, with the person in front of him being the only one that couldn’t hear the truth of something. How could he possibly talk to Manfred von Karma's daughter? "It’s private. Look, do you know where Miles went?"

"Yes."

"Then tell me!"

"No."

Phoenix jabbed a finger toward her. "I strongly dislike you." As expected, he soon jerked that finger back in pain. Rubbing it with his other hand, he centered himself before seeking another tactic. "I love him."

Franziska grimaced.

"And it scares the hell out of me even as I feel like I’m flying. I feel like everything in my life finally fits, but at the same time like I don’t know how to do anything. This is so perfect that losing it might kill both of us. With me, I know that’s not literal, but with him...."

"You do think very highly of yourself if you think you can have such an effect on him. As I said, Miles Edgeworth does not care what people think of him any more, Phoenix Wright. Logic and the truth guide him, not a weak heart or simple intuition."

"You’re wrong."

Her jaw set.

"He cares what people think about him. He cares so much, but he never knows how to show it. He has to think and plan and...." As he ran hands through his hair, Phoenix felt a few last constraints snap inside him. He respected Franziska von Karma in a lot of things, but right at that moment, he hated her. "And maybe the fact that he’s had to deal with your shitty family for most of his life explains that!"

It would have seemed less dangerous if she’d whipped him again. Instead, Franziska pulled back like a great cat ready to strike. The next movement would be for his jugular.

"I just want to talk to him without you making fun of us for not being perfect! God, Franziska, doesn’t it matter to you that he’s actually been happy recently?"

"Your kind of happiness," she said after a long, measured pause, "is unsustainable. This argument should show that."

This is never going to work. "Whatever," Phoenix relented. Sudden exhaustion washed over him. "I’ll wait outside."

"They don’t permit loitering."

"So I'll move to the sidewalk."

Franziska snorted, then looked thoughtfully at the front door. "It did seem like quite an argument. What are you so worried about, anyway?"

By that point, he didn’t even care. "I compared him to your dad."

The brutal whipping he expected never came. Hesitantly, Phoenix cracked open one eye, then the other. Franziska’s face was unreadable. "You should not have done that, Phoenix Wright."

Don’t I know it.

"And he should not have made this bet." Franziska looked down. "You should leave."

"I will... but I want you to think about how happy he’s been. And I want you to think very hard about the last time you saw that." Now it didn’t feel like ten years earlier, hearing that a note had been found and the man he’d spent years chasing was dead somewhere. It felt like seven years earlier during his disbarrment, when his world had collapsed for no good reason and everyone else was making the decisions for him.

"Did you fix things?" Trucy asked hopefully when Phoenix got home.

"No. I don’t know." He hung up his coat, wrinkled and worn from a day at work and a trip to the hospital and this failed hunt afterward, and sighed at it. "I have a case tomorrow. I need to sleep."

Maybe Ema can find him. Or Gumshoe. Maya’d come into town to help, I know she would. And he’s gotta go back to work. Stop worrying, Phoenix. Stop. He has to go back to work. You can find him there. This’ll get fixed.

He stared up at the dark ceiling. We’ll fix this.

Until he fell asleep, he wondered how there could be a bet that everyone lost.

Chapter Text

We could use your input in the courtroom today, Forehead. If you're free.

You'd help clean up Helena's trial.

I think Herr Judge was impressed by you yesterday.

Phoenix made a soft noise of acknowledgement as he returned Apollo's phone. The texts had been sent with an hour between each; Klavier had given his young associate plenty of time to respond. Apollo had still passed on every opportunity. "I don't know how someone so popular doesn't have any idea how to deal with real people," Apollo sighed, clicking off the screen.

"At least my guy has an excuse," Phoenix replied with a faint smile. It soon fell away. Was Miles 'his' guy any more? He hadn't answered any messages. Wounds were still fresh for everyone, but Phoenix had expected something on his phone when he woke up that morning. Anything.

"It's funny. I could probably like Klavier a lot if he wouldn't... crank it up to sixty before I'd fastened my seatbelt." With another deep sigh, Apollo sank onto the couch and arranged his sling-clad arm. "I never could have won that trial without him. And he helps like that a lot."

"You know," Phoenix felt compelled to point out, "you didn't win." Apollo had performed wonderfully, but this was officially a strike against the Agency's win record. At least Phoenix had tidied up that frame job as quickly as expected, and earned them another acquittal to balance the loss. (Of course, sitting through a trial about a relationship gone bad had been the worst timing ever.)

Apollo scratched the cast on his wrist. "We both kind of won, though. Gavin got Ruby for what she actually did, but I got her the light sentence she wanted." A long pause stretched before Apollo added, "Or I guess we both kind of lost. She robbed a bank but didn't go to jail, and I heard that my client was guilty."

"Yeah." Phoenix sketched a meaningless picture on his desk with a pen cap. His dark thoughts from the night before swirled in his mind anew. "Everyone kind of lost."

Even though Apollo looked better than he had under the hospital fluorescents, his scratches still scabbed and a bruise had darkened. As Phoenix looked away from those injuries, his gaze landed instead on the enormous bouquet of flowers that Miles had sent. Phoenix hadn't put in the feed packet that he was supposed to. One rose's petals had already started to curl. The sight put a queasy feeling into his stomach; how could something so beautiful be dying so soon? With determination, he went to exchange the water.

When he got back into the room, Apollo was on his phone. "Thanks. Bye."

"Calling Athena?" Phoenix guessed as he emptied the tiny packet into the fresh vase of water. The roses still smelled heavenly, even slightly wilted.

"No."

"Gavin?" Phoenix asked. Maybe Apollo had decided to reply, after all.

"No." Grimacing, Apollo looked away. "I tried Edgeworth's office for you. Sorry if you didn't want me to."

As his stupid, traitorous heart sped, Phoenix worked on keeping his voice steady. "And?"

"He hasn't come in this morning. His assistant didn't give me a timeframe." Phoenix's expression must have looked as sick as he felt, because Apollo quickly assured him, "You said Franziska knew where he was last night, right? I'm sure everything is fine."

So long as he had no idea where Miles was, Phoenix was helpless. He hated being helpless. He'd been helpless when the world came down on him for that diary page, when a creepy voice was telling him what to do to keep Maya alive. When Gumshoe called him to tell him about a note left in the High Prosecutor's Office. He needed to think about something else. "You already explained why Gavin keeps screwing up, Apollo."

The completely blank look he got in return was just what he'd wanted to see: a distraction. "What?"

If he thought about why Klavier was Klavier, he didn't have to think about how Miles had never acknowledged his calls. "You wondered why someone so popular can be so... inept. Well, think about it. He's popular because he's a performer. He always has to be giving a perfect show to whatever audience he's in front of. And every performer has their tricks they fall back on." Silk hat! Cloak! White roses! Oh god, why haven't I forgotten that freak yet? "A musician who doesn't get people to halfway fall in love with him is a musician who doesn't sell many albums."

Apollo snorted, but looked to consider that. "He said that he liked being treated like a real person, though. I think most people barely try to understand him at all."

"That's why they only halfway fall in love with him," Phoenix countered.

Itching his cast uselessly, Apollo frowned. "I guess. And his best friend was lying to him and his brother was...." The mention of Kristoph sent a cold wave of disgust and anger through Phoenix; the memory of his former mentor paled Apollo's cheeks. "Well. I guess that explains why he can be an idiot. In the end he couldn't trust the people close to him and everyone else doesn't think he's even a person."

This was moving in a surprising direction. Phoenix cared little for Klavier Gavin and didn't think any of these explanations were excuses. Klavier's stupid bet had nearly gotten Apollo killed, just like being his brother's pawn had nearly ruined Phoenix's life. Glancing at the roses again, Phoenix sighed. So long as Miles doesn't call me, I'm helpless. I can at least try to fix this, though.

Phoenix propped his elbows on the desk and leaned forward. "Think about it. He's only ever had a few people who treat him like a real person instead of some... poster like the one on Trucy's wall. And like you said, his own brother turned out to be some kind of sociopath. His best friend's in prison, too. Ema treats him like an actual person, but like a person she can't stand."

"You're one to talk," Apollo added, laughing faintly.

Echoing him, Phoenix shrugged. "What can I say? I had a lot of years to get into the habit of not really liking the guy from that trial. I still don't hate him, but...." He looked down at his useless pen cap and rolled it aside. "From the sound of things, he and Edgeworth were never exactly buddy-buddy. And now it seems like he's decided his boss can't be trusted, either." Comparing Miles to Kristoph in any context was offensive. (Though, not as bad as to Manfred.) Still, Phoenix knew that a brother's betrayal had to limit Klavier's trust toward everyone else.

"And then there's me," Apollo concluded. "Someone who doesn't fawn over him, but doesn't hate him. And actually has fun with the guy... sometimes." No wonder Klavier can seem sort of hopeful and clueless around Apollo, Phoenix thought as he watched the young man's expression shift through a dozen tiny different angles. With a deep, pained sigh, Apollo summarized his feelings: "Ugh."

"Ugh," Phoenix agreed. "What a mess."

"We're still allowed to be mad at them, right?" Apollo gestured with his right hand toward his sling. "Their stupid bet did break my wrist."

"No, you reading while you were biking through rush hour traffic broke your wrist. That'll affect our insurance premiums." Phoenix looked at the roses again and felt a twinge deep in his chest, down where few things ever reached. "That stupid bet from a couple of emotionally inept prosecutors." If I look back at Apollo, he'll want to talk more. And I won't like where it goes. Instead, Phoenix stared at the vase again and wondered how long the flowers would last with the new water, and why Miles had chosen those colors, and whether there were two or three or four dozen roses in there.

After one attempt at counting, Phoenix's brow furrowed and he walked over for a closer view. It took him three tries before he was sure and he stayed quiet for a long time afterward.

"Mr. Wright?" Apollo eventually asked.

"He's not emotionally inept," Phoenix said around the thick, heavy lump in his throat. "There are thirty-eight roses. He had them send thirty-eight. God."

"Wow," Apollo agreed cluelessly. "How... how old you both are."

Phoenix rounded on him and said with a glare, "We are thirty-four. 'Thirty-eight' is how we met. There was this lunch money and he... we are thirty-four. Just go make up with Klavier or something." As Apollo protested, he spoke over him. "Oh, sure, you're never going to see him again, ever. You're going to focus on your work. You're going to limit distractions. And how many times have you said that about him this week?"

"Not that many," Apollo mumbled. "And if you don't really like the guy, then why are you trying to fix... us?"

All week, he'd indulged the pettier of his emotions toward Klavier Gavin and the seven years spent watching him succeed in an industry that had rejected Phoenix Wright. But those emotions were petty, and Klavier was a good guy, and Apollo doth protest too much. "It's something I know how to do." After another ten seconds spent considering, he grabbed his suit jacket. "Come on. We'll catch the end of Athena's trial, or maybe they'll be done by the time we get there. Either way, you're going to go talk to Klavier."

"Do I have to?" Apollo groaned, but stood.

Maybe Edgeworth will talk to Klavier about their stupid bet. If he hears that Apollo and Klavier made up, then maybe... stop, Wright. He shook his head and shoved away his hopes. This wasn't about Miles. This was about fixing what could be fixed, right now, with the tools in front of them. This would keep Phoenix from feeling totally helpless. "You don't have to forgive him, and you can still be mad at him, but it's not doing any of us any good to just sit here like this."

"Let's go talk about their stupid bet," Apollo relented and followed Phoenix to the door. "And reinforce how stupid it was." He hesitated halfway down the stairs. "I probably shouldn't accept that car to let him make it up to me, right?"

"It'd be a bad idea," Phoenix said. "Besides, if it's a stick shift you'd need two hands, anyway."

Apollo grunted in affirmation and they began the walk to the bus stop.

Halfway through the ride, Athena's triumphant text let them know her part of the trial was already over. Miss Helena Fire had heard a clean "not guilty," unlike poor Ruby. Her puppies were only an accessory to the crime, and the Judge had decided she couldn't be held accountable for their actions. There had been a condition that went along with his decision—that he be allowed first pick of the adoptable animals—but Athena called it an unqualified success nonetheless.

With that win in hand and the promise of a victory dinner, they transferred buses at the next stop. This one took them not toward the courthouse, but the Prosecutor's Office.

Gavin's room was as gaudy as ever, but Klavier looked drained despite his typically flamboyant apparel. It was well into the week and he'd just lost a case, but the man never seemed to care about losing a fair fight. Odd.

It took him a few seconds to notice their arrival. "Forehead." Klavier looked surprised, but his voice was flat and tired. "What are...?"

"Uh. Right. We talked it over and I think I want to say that I might forgive you for indirectly breaking my wrist."

Phoenix quirked an eyebrow. Well, it's a start, I guess.

Apollo scuffed the floor. "I thought about the case more. You really did help save Ruby from a bad fate in prison. I just wanted to thank you for that, and... um...."

Phoenix picked up on the unanswered question. "What's wrong, Prosecutor?" One of those blind albino cave fish could see that Klavier looked nearly as unsettled as he had during his brother's ethical collapse.

Before Klavier could answer, a short, angry bald head thrust its way into their conversation. "You!" screeched Winston Payne. For once his ire was directed not at defense attorneys who had triumphed over him, but at a fellow prosecutor. "You!"

"Me," Klavier acknowledged.

"The blood and tears I have given to this office! The years I'll never get back! The... I... you... I hope you choke on your stupid leather pants!" Winston squealed before elbowing Phoenix aside and storming out. In bewilderment, both attorneys watched Payne leave, then turned back to Klavier and waited for an answer.

"The email just went out to the department," Klavier unhappily continued. "I have been named the acting Chief Prosecutor."

Ice filled Phoenix's veins. "Until when?" he croaked as Apollo looked at him with concern.

"I don't know." Klavier stared at his computer like it had betrayed him. "It could just be a holiday vacation, Herr Wright. He still has stockpiled vacation from his years with the city before, nein? Months of it, probably. Someone still has to sign forms over Christmas...." It sounded like he was trying to convince himself, and failing. Apollo looked much the same.

Phoenix knew the truth, though, and it was agonizing. "No," he mumbled through a clumsy mouth. "He doesn't take time off for Christmas. He hates Christmas."

He'd done it again.

Miles had left.

Like always. Without a word.

All though his body, down to his fingertips, Phoenix felt himself go numb. A wave of fear tore through him and then left nothing in its wake. I knew it. He'd asked Miles if this was a permanent position or if he'd leave again. He'd known. He'd always known. If he doesn't leave a note, then he just leaves.

With a jolt, he realized both men were staring at him. Phoenix struggled for an answer and went with whatever vomited out first. "I was wrong. We didn't all lose. You two are still on the same continent. You win." Panic filled him and he backed out of the room. "You win. You... I have to go."

He sent thirty-eight roses.

The elevator didn't come fast enough, so Phoenix took the stairs. Halfway down he realized that these were the stairs that Miles took every day and froze, unsure whether to continue or duck through the nearest door. After another second, he went for the elevator.

Thirty-eight roses... but he left. He left. He said he was here forever and he still left. A tight knot of hurt and fear and anger grew inside his numb shell, and Phoenix had to struggle to tell the first cab to head to the Gatewater instead of his apartment. He refused to be helpless, and that meant trying Franziska again. But he knew what the response would be. Just like he should have known Miles would leave, like he should have known neither of them were allowed happiness for too long.

Precedent. Their own personal precedent. They were lawyers, and they had to work with what came before.

Chapter Text

Left panicked and heartbroken in a hospital room, Miles was barely able to hold onto himself. The darkest corners of his psyche whipped like a winter storm. A winter storm. He could remember joking about the mild Los Angeles 'winters' at the Getty; had everything truly collapsed in just a matter of hours?

Some detached, pedantic part of him tried to balance all the foolishness he'd pulled against the last thing that Phoenix had said. No wonder you were worried that you'd start acting like Manfred. It was too far. Leagues too far. That detached part of him knew it for a calculated attack, a surgical strike from a man who knew exactly where to hit.

Every other cell in his body felt wracked with pain from what might be the truth, after all.

He'd spent most of his career making up for the horrors he'd inflicted on innocents. It hardly mattered that he'd spent far longer as a true defender of justice; it only took one distracted second behind the wheel for someone to be charged with manslaughter. And he hadn't ruined lives only for a second. Miles Edgeworth had spent years honing that craft.

The worst part was that he'd thought he'd succeeded. He thought he'd done his time and earned back all respect. He was a respected lecturer, an expert trial prosecutor, and even the chosen man to help rebuild a broken legal system. The past was behind him, totally and forever.

And then his own employees thought he couldn't be trusted. The only man to side with him in that meeting was a man who'd been pulled from prison on Miles' recommendation. Left alone in his misery, hollow explanations for that loyalty surfaced. Simon probably thinks they'd send him back somehow without me. They'd find a way. Of course he sided with me.

But even on that terrible morning, Phoenix had been there for him. Phoenix Wright, the man who had believed in Miles when every last person in the world saw him as some dangerous demon. The man who'd changed his entire life thanks to that unshakable trust, and his generous heart, and his incredible optimism that there was always a way.

That same man had told Miles that he was no better than Manfred von Karma.

Get it together. Get it together. He breathed in, out. In, out. In.

With mechanical motions, he reached for a tissue box on the counter and wiped his face clean. All of this was a foolish notion to begin with, he told himself as he struggled for control. What was he thinking, imagining some pat Hollywood ending? Anyone who'd spent time in Los Angeles knew that those happy endings were dreams in front of stage sets.

I never should have come back.

The words struck hard and cold. They were the truth, though, weren't they? Trying to come back to Los Angeles had been a childish dream, and literally so. This had been home when he was a youth in grade school. His grand re-entrance had been as Manfred's heartless protégé, and he'd promptly fled the country when it all became too much. When he devoted himself to the truth and the law as a prosecutor, where did he carry that out? In Europe. Not here.

It had felt strange to think of taking out a mortgage, of living in a room for more than six months at a stretch. His life had become measured in cases, in semesters, in special contracts. In things with a beginning, and then with an end.

I never should have come back, he thought again, heartsick. In the end, Los Angeles was looking like as much of a temporary home as any hotel room. He might not be an asset at work, but a liability. He'd needed Klavier's ridiculous push to do anything with his personal life and that promptly exploded in his face and took decades of memories with it.

He returned to the parking lot with rigid strides, taking the long way there. He wanted to avoid anyone who knew Phoenix.

"Good evening, Franziska," he said with a thick voice as the hotel door shut behind him. Although he'd held it together in traffic, that control had grown difficult by the end of his trip.

"Good evening." Frowning, after a beat she looked up from her paperwork. "What is it?"

Well, the truth would come out one way or another. "I'm sure that you will be pleased to hear," he said while removing his jacket, and then the cravat that felt too-tight around his choked throat, "that I am no longer distract—" His voice died and he swallowed hard. "No longer distracted with a relation—" Words failed him again and the room grew blurry. "Please excuse me."

Franziska stood and caught his arm before he could vanish into his room. "Miles Edgeworth, what's going on?" She came around to meet his eyes. After a second of consideration, her face softened into what passed for compassion from Franziska von Karma. "Miles, what happened?"

"It ended. He found out. It's over. You were right about everything. Absolutely everything. I never should have done... any of this." The next word sounded even more broken. "Congratulations."

She took a long time to respond, and her smug smile never appeared. "We'll talk in the morning. I need to know the specifics of what happened to begin to sort out your mess, and—" She spoke over him as Miles shook his head, muttering that no, there would be no sorting. "Unless you wish to be a greater fool than usual, you will let your big sister sort through your mess. But I can't possibly do that if you can't hold a conversation. So I will call room service and you will eat, and then sleep, and we will talk in the morning."

It took a lot of energy to challenge Franziska on anything, and Miles felt weak. "The morning," he echoed and walked into his room. Although he'd try to eat whatever she ordered, it might come right back up.

He sat on the edge of his bed, rested his hands on his knees, and breathed. In. Out. In. Out. In.

After a minute or two, his heart lurched at the sound of a few familiar notes trilling from his pocket. He'd chosen a piece of The Firebird Suite as a private ringtone joke to himself; however apropos the title, Phoenix would never recognize Stravinsky's work. With a trembling hand, he retrieved his phone and stared at the name he knew would be there.

It hadn't been long since Phoenix stormed out in a fury. This was just enough time for him to organize his thoughts and share the full extent to which his opinions on Miles had changed. Years ago, leaving Phoenix in the dark about his pseudo-suicide had earned him an accusation that he should have stayed dead. He'd brushed off that, but right now? Hearing whatever anger Phoenix had over his daughter?

He couldn't do it. Miles clicked his phone to silent and set it on the nightstand like a bomb ready to explode.

The screen lighting up again with another call filled him with fresh panic. I really can't do this. Rigidly, he stood, picked up his phone—careful not to answer—and walked back into the suite's common room. "I can't have this near me," he said as he set his phone next to Franziska. "I can't—"

Her touch on his hand was surprisingly light. "I will deal with Phoenix Wright."

"Say whatever you need to," Miles said. "You know everything that happened, or I left without a word, or—"

"You left?" she echoed.

That expression on Phoenix's face had already tainted decades between them. How much worse could it get? He couldn't find out, not now. "Yes. I left," he decided. "I'm not here. And you have my phone, so you have no idea where I am now."

She sighed deeply, but nodded and slid his phone aside. "Go change into your sleeping clothes, Miles Edgeworth, and I will handle this. And then I'll order you dinner, which you will eat."

"Thank you."

Despite everything, they did make a good pair. Whenever they teamed up, they sent terror into the heart of the worst criminals on the Continent. I never should have left, Miles thought again tiredly as he removed his shoes. He'd had a perfectly fulfilling life in Europe. He knew his path, he'd committed to it, and he was surrounded by colleagues who viewed him as he hoped to be seen.

He'd just wanted... more. More than a series of temporary contracts and temporary homes. Tackling bigger dreams than a project here and a case there. Perhaps even a relationship that didn't dissolve out of convenience when new jobs came up in new countries.

Maybe this would all make more sense in the morning. He ate the dinner Franziska had ordered, tried not to think about why she disappeared from their room for a good ten minutes, and fell into a troubled sleep.

Morning brought a headache with it. He propped himself up on an elbow and squinted at the dawning sun. Normally he'd pull his curtains before bed, but in his haze he'd forgotten. A blue sky was waking from a dim plum night. At the bottom edge of the window, palm fronds waved in a gentle wind. It looked obscenely bright and cheerful. Franziska's complaints about Los Angeles' terrible green winters made much more sense, now. In a proper winter the world would seem quiet and still, like it had paused for breath. Maybe he could catch his breath then, too.

Instead, he had to get up. He had to drive out of this hotel, deal with crowded streets, and walk into a building full of people who shared Phoenix's assessment of him. The sun would shine merrily overhead and his assistant would call it a beautiful day.

With a groan, he flung his arm over his eyes.

He didn't remove it when the door creaked open. "Tell my work I'm not coming in today. I don't feel well."

"I'm not your secretary, Miles Edgeworth," Franziska sniffed, but she closed the door. After a few seconds he heard her muffled voice on the phone.

He stayed in bed another two hours, hoping vainly that all of this would reveal itself as some terrible dream. No such luck; he was still alone and angry with himself, his dreams had crumbled, and the sun completely failed to take a few polite steps behind a convenient bank of clouds. And by that time, he was as disgusted with his sloth as anything else.

"You slept in," Franziska noted when he joined her in the common room.

"I had a headache."

"Mmm." She took a sip of her coffee and then looked at him levelly. "You can't say I didn't warn you. Pursuing a defense attorney was a foolish—"

"Stop." He swallowed. "Please stop."

Blessedly, she stopped. "I dealt with Phoenix Wright last night," Franziska added. "He told me more about your argument. I can see that it was very... dramatic." As Miles began to protest, she held up her hand. "Fine. You don't wish to discuss it. Just rest assured that I handled it, and Phoenix Wright has no idea where you are or what you're doing. I am, as with everything, a perfectly perfect actress."

Lying to Phoenix felt wrong, even now. Even after everything. Phoenix had always been the one to assume that things would magically work out, though, and Miles didn't have the slightest bit of optimism to rally him. "You were right," he concluded as he waited for his tea to steep. "I should have thought more about throwing aside everything I'd built in Europe."

"Naturally. I'm always right."

Naturally. "You spoke with my assistant?"

"Yes," Franziska grudgingly replied. "Do not expect me to do it again, but I told her that you were unwell and were taking the day off."

Even now, his mind wanted to solve problems. His personal life had ended in one horrific explosion, yes, but that just meant those neurons sought other distractions to focus upon. "And did she have anything to say about that, or were there no cases coming in that needed my attention?"

"She didn't say anything," Franziska said with a shrug. "She actually sounded happy that you were taking time off, now, and asked if I knew anything about a Christmas party." She snorted. "Foolish woman. As if the engine of justice ceases turning at the end of the year."

That was big talk from a woman on an extended vacation. "You are spending a month in California, you realize."

Franziska smiled more broadly than the tiny jab deserved, almost as if she were proud of him for swinging back. "And I am going to be prosecuting every last shoplifter in these Lordly Tailor files, remember? Justice." After he'd sipped his tea in silence, she continued, "Whenever you return to your work, I am sure you will do our family proud. Despite... everything."

"Whenever I return," Miles darkly echoed. The Prosecutor's Office felt like it was waiting for him like some stalking predator. He'd be trapped in that office if Klavier came to announce his win, or if Ema shared her sympathy, or if Phoenix... did anything. Maybe this will be easier tomorrow. Of course, I thought that last night.

A spark of inspiration flickered and he furrowed his brow. He let it grow until his drink was gone and Franziska left him to his thoughts. By now they were used to spending time in companionable, productive silence when cases loomed; it was exactly the opposite of Miles' encounters with anyone else in his life. "Taking time off," he repeated.

"Mmm?" Franziska looked up.

"What you said before, about me fitting more naturally into Europe... I thought about it last night. I had such grand aspirations for what I hoped to accomplish here, but...." Miles shook his head and looked aside. "Things do slow down around the holidays, despite your arguments. Perhaps I should go clear my head. Weigh the positives and negatives of this decision."

That seemed to genuinely surprise her. "You're leaving?" Franziska asked as her eyebrows raised.

"I have known exactly who I am for years, now, and... I want to feel that again. I need to feel that again." With each second that he considered it, panic drained from him like water. A life that existed in contracts and semesters was choppy, yes, but there was always progress being made. And mistakes didn't linger, not when the next contract was two countries away and no one spoke the same language.

"You're leaving," she repeated in astonishment, like she hadn't believed him the first time.

"I'll take time off from work," he decided, feeling the momentum grow. "I can leave Gavin in charge so the workload doesn't suffer." Naturally, he didn't feel like rewarding the man, but at the same time he only trusted Klavier or Simon. Leaving Blackquill in charge would foster more distrust among the city than from the Demon Prosecutor himself, so: Klavier Gavin it was. Besides, he thought darkly, by this point, he must have won. And this is a better prize than dinner. "I'll go clear my head, like I've needed to do before. I understand that you need to keep working on the Lordly case. Just leave the room on my card in the meantime."

Franziska wasn't complaining, exactly; after all, she was getting her way with his mad rush back to Europe. Still, she looked as off-balance as he'd seen her in a long while. "And when are you returning?"

After a day. A week. Never. Who knew? The Miles Edgeworth who'd been respected and certain in Europe would know better than this man who'd been trying to remember when Los Angeles felt like home.

He would treasure that look on Franziska's face. She was getting her way, totally and completely, and yet was left unhappy.

"I'll call my assistant," he decided, "and buy a ticket. I'll send my itinerary as soon as I know it."

"What if you choose to stay there, Miles Edgeworth?" Franziska asked. Her frown deepened.

"Then I'll be waiting for you when you take your return flight." Miles gestured dismissively at the space around them. "We've always been in a hotel room. Just close the account and settle on my card."

As he sat down and began hunting for tickets, Miles waited for the rush of relief that he was truly going home to a place that understood him, a place where he fit. The rush never came. After a few seconds of waiting, he clicked over to the first-class seats.

Chapter Text

Only a very great fool would make demands of Franziska von Karma for two days in a row. Phoenix Wright was willing to be that foolish. "You could have just let me come upstairs," he said the instant she stepped out of the Gatewater elevator. After six calls to her cell phone, she'd come down to shut him up.

She thwapped his hand with her whip's handle. "Do not press your luck like the fool you are, Phoenix Wright. You're fortunate I deigned to meet you at all."

He didn't flinch. "You know, Franziska, you could help me out a little more. You owe me."

"I owe you?" she echoed.

"You agreed to be a judge in this stupid game. You were deliberately messing with innocent people. If you hadn't made everything possible, none of this would have happened." He'd been grasping for any words as a weapon, but real inspiration struck halfway through. Proudly, Phoenix finished, "You're an accessory to a crime, and so you owe me."

"An accessory to a crime," Franziska repeated.

"Yep. We just finished two trials all about that. It's serious business."

She folded her arms. "And what statute was violated?"

Oh, come on, woman! Give me an inch! "Fine," Phoenix relented. "It wasn't a real crime, it just felt like one. This, what we had... it should have been forever. I want to talk and I want to make it right again. But you are making that impossible! You're deliberately making Miles miserable by not letting me see him."

"Oh, I'm the one making him miserable after the argument you two had, not to mention his foolish contest." She studied her fingernails; it was perfectly calculated to annoy him. "Besides, why do you think he's here?"

He steeled himself. Saying the words made them feel horribly real again. "Because the news just came in: he's named Klavier Gavin as acting Chief Prosecutor. I know he's going to leave. He's probably packing right now. So I need to go up there, kiss your brother until both of us are ready to pass out, and fix this before he leaves. Again."

Franziska's gaze was cool as she studied him. She said nothing for a long time, and when she did speak it came out in a tumble. "You're too late. He's already flown back to Paris. Julien Masson was in the city again and is looking for a case partner. Or more."

As chains and locks popped up around Franziska, defeat filled Phoenix. Though the specific mechanics likely escaped her, she knew that he could identify when the truth was covered. She'd lied to hide something, but how much of what she'd just said was accurate? It might all be a coverup. Maybe Miles really had flown out the night before, but to somewhere other than Paris. Who knew?

At least the mention of Miles' old partner was a clear lie designed to make him flinch; Miles Edgeworth never ran toward a relationship for comfort. But anything else could be twisted around to confuse him and she'd said it too fast to pick out any details. If only he hadn't taken his Magatama out of his pocket the night before, while talking to Trucy. It would help to know if Franziska had been lying then.

"Please, Franziska," Phoenix said after a long pause. "We make each other happy and I know you've seen that. Please don't kill what we have. Help me find him. It took us this long already."

She paused just as long before replying. "I'm only doing what Miles Edgeworth requested of me, Phoenix Wright." That, unfortunately, was the truth. "And perhaps you should consider your own words and let this all go. If it did take you this long and it still fell apart right away, how big a fool must you be not to see your incompatibility? I told him that it would never work. Naturally, I was right."

This is pointless. "Just let me go up there." If there was any chance that Miles hadn't already left....

"If you try, I'll call for security." Her eyes were soft, at least so far as a von Karma went. The grey was slush instead of ice. "Let this be and go talk to your daughter."

"Fine," Phoenix said after a second of thought. "I'll go." But not to the apartment. "When you get back upstairs, tell your fool of a brother that I love him."

She didn't take the bait; he couldn't tell from her reaction whether Miles would be there to meet her. "I do regret participating in this foolish contest. I knew it was a mistake." That was apparently all the emotion he was going to get from her, and she stepped into an elevator as soon as one arrived. Phoenix didn't try following; with the Gatewater's security, it'd probably go into lockdown mode until an officer came.

"LAX," he told the taxi when he slid inside. "International terminal."

When Phoenix had flown to Europe on Miles' dime, they'd been first class seats and as direct as possible. Phoenix hated airplane bathrooms and turbulence and flying in general, but Miles never gave him quick hops with long layovers like Phoenix not-so-secretly wanted. It was always a brutal flight straight from LAX to Heathrow or Frankfurt. If he'd booked those flights when Phoenix didn't want them, he'd obviously pick a direct flight for himself. That meant an international flight leaving from Los Angeles, and that meant Phoenix knew exactly which terminal to go to.

"I'm looking for a man who might have arrived earlier," Phoenix told a TSA officer after he'd made a survey of all the check-in lines. In the lull between Thanksgiving and Christmas, traffic was relatively light. He was confident he'd checked every face; plus, Miles did tend to stand out in a crowd. "There's a... a family emergency and he's not answering his cell."

"Name?" the woman asked.

"Miles Edgeworth. Can you see if he's checked in, please?"

"I can page him for you, sir."

That wouldn't hurt and so Phoenix let her call in the request. But after the loudspeakers asked for Miles Edgeworth to pick up the nearest courtesy telephone, he leaned in and continued, "It's really important that I know if he's here or not already, or if he's already left. And he might ignore the page. Has he checked in?"

Her patience was clearly wearing thin. "Sir, I cannot share secure information about a passenger's status."

His patience had worn thin, too, and if Miles was there he wasn't answering. "Well, you're probably not going to let me through security, so I have to find out this way!"

From the look on her face and the attention they were getting from people nearby, his voice had gotten way, way too loud. "If he's not picking up the telephone, then he is either not in the airport or doesn't wish to speak to you, sir. What exactly is the nature of this family emergency? And what is your relation to Mr. Edgeworth?"

"I'm his...." Easy romantic lies died on Phoenix's tongue. "I don't know."

Her eyes narrowed.

"Please," he begged. "Let me go through security and look. I'll go through the X-ray. I'll let an officer escort me. Please."

"Only ticketed passengers are allowed through the security checkpoint. If you continue to ignore TSA regulations—"

"I'll stop," Phoenix said, defeated. Whatever her threat was going to be, it was more than he could risk. He glanced at the nearest ticket counter and tried to guess how much it might cost for an immediate departure that would get him legally inside security. In all likelihood, it was way more than he could afford. And if Miles was already inside the massive terminal, he might be on a plane before Phoenix found the right gate. It wasn't like he had any idea of where to look.

"I'll stop," Phoenix repeated. His heart felt low and heavy. "Sorry. I'm sorry to have caused any trouble."

He could feel her suspicious gaze until he stepped through the front door. The sound of traffic, conversations, and jet engines hit like a wall. Coupled with exhaust fumes and strong winds off the ocean, it overwhelmed him. His feet stilled under the sensory assault.

Until an officer told him to stop loitering, Phoenix hadn't realized that he'd been watching everyone walking into the terminal. He moved on as ordered, but only into the nearest parking garage. Plenty of red sports cars rested inside, but they were the wrong model and wrong shade and wrong people. "That's it," he realized as he stood at the top level, watching a plane take off over the Pacific.

He'd done everything he could think of and it wasn't enough. Miles was gone.

Getting home was a blur. It felt like he was turning the key with someone else's hand. Until Trucy returned from school, he sat with a heavy heart and a body that barely wanted to move.

I shouldn't have yelled.

He shouldn't have made this stupid bet.

Even if I yelled, I shouldn't have said what I said.

He promised he wouldn't leave again. He said he was here for good.

I can't believe I never told him I love him.

The last thought stung the most. He'd heard that Miles loved him, but it was dragged out with the Magatama's claws. When Phoenix spoke the words, they were desperate pleas to Franziska, not a heartfelt confession to the man in question. This just didn't make any sense. After the past decade, they understood each other at a level that few people could ever imagine. How could they have messed this up?

Of course, Miles had been in love for years and known as much. Phoenix had felt the same but been clueless about his own emotions. If they'd walked along Amsterdam canals in the moonlight and not been able to put the pieces of their hearts together, if they'd needed Klavier Gavin and that stupid bet, then maybe Franziska was right. Maybe they were incompatible. Destined to oppose each other, never to unite except in bursts like a rock skipping across water.

It felt like he might cry, if only he could spare the energy. His body was a useless lump around him.

"Daddy?" Trucy asked hopefully when she got home. "Did you hear anything?"

"Sorry," Phoenix mumbled. Her face had already fallen; she'd seen his expression as she walked further inside. "I don't know where he is."

"This is going to get fixed," she proclaimed after an unsteady second. "Just watch and see. We'll figure out a way! You always do!"

He smiled, or tried to. "Right, I always do. I'll keep looking. Don't worry, Trucy. I'll fix things." Somehow. Someday.

Her smile looked as hollow as his and twice as big. "Okay, well, I have homework!" said his brave girl from behind her shields. "So I'll worry about me, and you worry about you and Miles!" Before walking to her bedroom, she hugged him like a vise.

On Thursday, she hugged him just as hard.

Friday's hug didn't have as much certainty behind it.

Over the weekend her hugs lingered too long; it was all Phoenix could do not to hug back with the same desperation. Every day since their aborted Game Night had felt like he was falling, sometimes in slow motion and sometimes at light speed. Or he'd veer between the two, leaving him queasy and unsteady. Athena had taken the reins of the office, for which everyone was grateful. Apollo was still clumsy in his cast and Phoenix was useless. But over the weekend, without the routine of going to work, he felt even worse.

If Phoenix had hoped for a fresh start to the new week, it quickly withered. Apollo and Athena had steered clear of his desk, whispering over a case that he vaguely remembered accepting. As they left to go request paperwork at City Hall, he clicked a dull cycle between his email, a news feed, and the free games on his computer. Every time he passed the news, he set up a new email alert on some topic he had yet to try. His email kept filling with notifications for worthless stories about Germany (bike theft spree in Bernsdorf), miles (encouraging results for longer travel ranges on electric cars), and prosecutors (the murder trials at Northwestern were coming to a close). He kept checking regardless, certain that he would see the one new piece of mail that meant something about his own life.

When he saw it, the words left him sick.

Hello, Phoenix Wright. As this is officially the deadline, I am obligated to inform the participants that Klavier Gavin has won the bet regarding you and Apollo Justice. Detective Ema Skye recused herself from voting, but there was only one plausible outcome, regardless. I'm sure you don't believe me, but I am regretful for how things turned out. I didn't want Miles Edgeworth to become involved with you, but you were right: he was happy.

You probably do not wish to speak with me again and I understand completely. As soon as I finish my current caseload, I'll be returning to Germany.

You probably don't believe this, either, but I was impressed by the work you did with Miles during your disbarment. I am sure you will maintain those standards in your own office.

Goodbye, Franziska von Karma

"She's apologizing," he realized after working past the nausea of seeing their (total, utter) loss made official. Franziska had actually apologized, in her own way and without assuming blame or saying the word "sorry." A long, deep sigh escaped him and he ran his hands through his hair. Things must be exactly as terrible as he'd imagined if even she admitted it. And if she'd complimented him.

"Ema recused herself," Phoenix repeated dryly as he, against his best intentions, re-read the email. He'd known the woman had hardened over the years and was nothing like the optimistic naif he'd first met. Still, he'd thought better of her. At least Franziska had owned up to what she'd done, unlike anyone else in this stupid bet. Ema dodged responsibility, Klavier tried to act like everything was fine with Apollo and then focused on his new office, and Miles... he simply ran.

Like goddamn always.

"We were supposed to be closing on a house this week," Phoenix muttered. Even though it was a terrible idea, he couldn't help but pick at that scab. Apollo and Athena wouldn't be back from City Hall for an hour, at least, and he was left alone with his stupid brain. He wanted to see all those pictures again on the realtor's site and remember what it had felt like to be that happy.

The listing was no longer under the featured section. Frowning, Phoenix typed the street address directly into the search field. When that failed, he dug the URL out of his increasingly overloaded email. That worked, but not in the way he wanted. "This listing is no longer active," he recited dully as he read the page. Dazed, he slumped back in his chair and studied the webpage from a distance. We lost the condo. The perfect condo with the trees outside the windows. He'd started imagining a whole life in that place the second he stepped into it; how could someone steal it away?

Because Miles flew off without bothering to put down a down payment and of course they'd take an offer from someone who was actually here?

Shut up, brain.

Phoenix leaned forward, put his arms on the desk, and rested his head like he might take a nap. A manila envelope filled his vision as he did: filing paperwork duplicates for the Gregory Edgeworth Legal scholarship. "I don't know where he is," Phoenix mumbled, as if the man himself were staring at him and wondering why he wasn't making more of an effort to track down his son. "He left."

After Franziska's blatant lie about Julien, Phoenix could at least be moderately sure that Miles wasn't in France. Still, that was like giving a person two lottery tickets instead of one; in theory it helped the odds, but in reality it was still hopeless. He could be nearly anywhere, doing anything, and 'anything' was far too broad a word. He didn't think that Miles would hurt himself deliberately, not now, but being over there alone wouldn't help.

I can't believe this was all his fault in the first place, but now I'm the one worried.

The memory of Gumshoe's concern over Miles speeding on 'that German freeway' floated up and Phoenix's unhappiness deepened. He'd looked at the weather all over Europe during his aimless web browsing. A cold snap had settled in over much of the continent, bringing storms with it, and Miles had never been one for the still-warm options left. He very well might try to drive away his pain in some strange, rented car in the middle of an Alpine blizzard. Well, wait a minute, Wright. Phoenix sat up. He actually likes clouds and snow. I can probably write off anything near a Mediterranean coastline. Plus, he doesn't speak all the languages they have over there, so....

With determination, he sat up and started scribbling names on a list. He could fix this. This was doable. "All right," he soon announced. "Miles is definitely in either Ireland, the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Russia, or maybe northern Italy. Possibly France, but I don't think so." After a pause, he slammed his head back down against his arms. Listing all his options like that had just made things sound more hopeless.

And what would he do even if he did have a lead? He wasn't exactly prepared for most places outside his hometown. Working with all those European cases had shown him how very non-cosmopolitan he was. He'd felt like a perpetual tourist, always gawking at streetscapes and taking too long to mentally convert foreign currency. But while Phoenix was often clueless overseas, Miles had returned to a place where he could easily stay invisible. Unless someone did post a news article about a familiar guest professor or high-profile trial steered by Prosecutor Edgeworth, Phoenix was stumped. He just had to sit here, fretting and aching, until he saw some sign that Miles Edgeworth still existed.

He was helpless, and sad, and now he was mad.

"Daddy, you look ready to punch a wall," Trucy said with a grimace as she walked in and unshouldered her backpack.

"I might," he muttered. "I can't believe he did this. Except for how I can totally believe that he did it, which is unbelievable all on its own!" That self-absorbed, thoughtless, perfect jerk that I am so worried about. Am I hitting that anger stage of grief? I think I am.

His phone rang with Apollo's number. Although it made him a bad boss and a worse friend, Phoenix ignored it. The phone rang again and again, and he relented and answered. "What?"

"Mr. Wright? I think you need to come back to the office."

"Unless Miles Edgeworth is standing right in front of you, I'm home for the day."

Apollo hesitated, piquing Phoenix's interest despite himself. "It's not Edgeworth. It's... uh, can you just come down? He says he knows you. Which is true, so far as I can see, but this is all pretty intense."

His young associate didn't sound worried, exactly, but was definitely overwhelmed. Maybe he needs help picking out a restaurant for his victory dinner with Klavier, Phoenix thought snidely as he pulled his coat back on. Yep, I'm definitely moving into anger. "I'm leaving now."

Chapter Text

Hearing an argument as he approached the office was no surprise; he often had to sort out good-natured disputes between his employees. The woman's voice opposing Apollo's wasn't Athena, though. Phoenix had worked himself into a fine snit during the ride there, so it would have been better if it was Athena. This was not the most opportune time for the grand re-entrance of Ema Skye.

"Look, I said I was sorry!"

"What even made you think this stupid bet was a good idea in the first place?"

"I'd be able to make Gavin lose! Don't tell me you wouldn't have done the same thing!"

"Oh, and that turned out great, didn't it?"

Phoenix turned the handle, ready to order them to be quiet, but a booming voice beat him to it. "You both need to calm down, pals!"

He blinked and felt some of his irritation fall alway at Gumshoe's voice. A surge of nervousness followed. Had they heard bad news? Something terrible enough for Gumshoe to come see him in person for the first time in eight long years? "Detective," he said in surprise as he pushed the door open, before he remembered that Gumshoe hadn't been on the force for ages. A close-cropped beard covered the man's face. It was dusted with silver, the same as the hair on his temples, and his eyes were edged with laugh lines. Despite that he was as broad and solid as ever, perhaps a little more, and the smile that erupted on Dick Gumshoe's face was as bright as he'd ever seen.

"Heya, pal!" Gumshoe laughed as he swept Phoenix into a crushing hug.

"Heya," Phoenix echoed. Over Gumshoe's shoulder, he could just make out Apollo mouthing "you know him?"

"I'm really sorry, Mr. Wright," Ema said with downcast eyes as soon as Gumshoe released his hold. "I didn't expect it to get so... real. When Mr. Edgeworth asked me to be a judge, he said it was all going to be platonic, and I'm just... I'm sorry."

"Well, you should be," Phoenix said, but it came out far less angry than it would have an hour prior. Gumshoe's bewildering appearance still had him confused, and not a little concerned. "So, what's going on? Gumshoe, not that I'm not happy to see you, but... but why are you here?" He swallowed. "Have you heard something?"

"Yeah."

Phoenix's heart fell at light speed again. Speaking was a challenge. "And?" There's no way. Miles wouldn't. And Gumshoe isn't acting anything like he did back... then.

"Well, they called me after—" Gumshoe saw Phoenix's confusion and laughed shortly. He scratched his head. "Sorry. I'm getting ahead of myself. I wasn't the one who heard this, pal."

It definitely didn't seem bad, whatever it was, but Phoenix was more bewildered than ever. He looked between Apollo and Ema, but both shook their heads. "Guys, you need to tell me what's going on. Now."

The door opened again behind him and Phoenix instinctively ducked out of the way of whoever entered. His body was in motion before he saw a face he'd neither expected nor wanted. "Gavin," Phoenix said blankly as Klavier stepped into the office, followed by Athena. A surge of resentment bubbled back up. "Congratulations, I guess."

To his credit, Klavier ignored the bait. "A piece of mail came to the office this morning, addressed to the Chief Prosecutor. I opened it without thinking." Silently, he handed over a thick envelope and Phoenix peered inside. It meant nothing at first glance: lengthy reports and dense data. "Ja, I'm sure I looked much the same," Klavier continued at Phoenix's confusion. "Until I realized what it was."

"And?" Phoenix prompted. Everyone's tension about whatever was going on had him too curious to hold onto his anger, or most of his fear.

"The security reports for a condominium unit in Beverly Hills."

"Oh." Phoenix felt himself deflate. "Yeah, it's already off the market."

"I know," Klavier said levelly. "I made the down payment."

The world seemed to stop for a very long second. "Excuse me?"

"I told them I was handling the payment for Edgeworth and he would be signing the rest of the documents soon."

"That's...." Phoenix shook his head, confused all over again. "That's quite a gesture, but he's not here. So I guess you just bought yourself a condo. Congratulations."

It took Klavier a while to find the right words. The room waited for him to speak, even Ema. "I made a mistake, Herr Wright. I thought well of my boss until I had the slightest reason to believe the worst, then pulled back from trusting him. I didn't trust my own eyes because they've lied to me before. I didn't dare wait for something more. And I thought I knew the truth of what went on inside people's lives while I was only glancing through a window."

Phoenix glanced at Apollo. The young man watched Klavier intently, without the irritation he so often displayed.

"Last week I ran a trial where I went in knowing the truth. Nein. I was wrong, and even if Ruby lost, I can hardly blame her for what she did." Klavier shook his head. His styled hair barely moved under all the product shaping it, and his outfit was sleek and pressed. Despite all that, he looked more natural and open than ever. "I admit when I am wrong, Herr Wright. But I have not often been this wrong."

"Is this an apology?" Phoenix wondered after a few seconds of silence. Despite the fact that Klavier was assuming far more guilt than Franziska had admitted to, it didn't feel like one.

"I called Ema," Klavier continued, turning to the woman. The rest of them followed. She didn't look happy about the attention, especially from Klavier, but nodded. "And we decided to fix this as best we could."

"Hence the down payment," Phoenix said. It was good, so far as apologies went, but could only do so much. "I... actually do appreciate this, Gavin, but he's not here. I hope you can get your money back."

"Nein, he's not here," Klavier agreed. "He's in Heidelberg."

The city name, the absolute certainty with which it was said, left Phoenix reeling. Heidelberg? I know that name. There was a university there. A good one. Miles had taught there because it was so close to the von Karma estate and the family had connections with the faculty. Despite his tortured past with the place, Miles had run back to the von Karma home when his life had crumbled before. As a guess Heidelberg was as good as any, but this didn't have the feeling of a guess. Confused, Phoenix waited for an explanation.

"Ema recommended bringing in Herr Gumshoe. She remembered him working with Herr Edgeworth many years ago and said he would do all that he could to help."

Gumshoe's chest puffed proudly up. "You bet I will!"

"And then," Klavier continued, "she suggested pulling in another prosecutor for some information requests in... a grey legal area."

Ema smiled sheepishly as eyebrows rose. "It turns out that when you have requests coming in from important prosecutors in both LA and Denver, it seems like a pretty big deal that the airlines definitely want to reply to. What? Lana wants you guys to be happy and she works in a huge airline hub. It only made sense."

"You guys are going to be in a lot of trouble if they find out," Athena said, biting her thumbnail.

"No, we won't," Ema said with confidence. "All Lana and the fop did was to request information on where Miles Edgeworth had traveled to out of LAX. They didn't have to share it, but with two requests coming in at once, they did. He flew to Frankfurt—" Of course. "And we didn't have any information after that. So Gumshoe and I took over. After all, I've studied in Europe and Detective Gumshoe knows Mr. Edgeworth's habits."

"You're serious," Phoenix said as his heart sped. "You actually found out where he is."

Gumshoe grinned hugely. "He rented a Mercedes coupe in Frankfurt and drove south. Probably couldn't get a red one on short notice, so it's silver. He's talked to people at the school there but they can't have him teach until next semester starts. Not sure if he went for the von Karma place or the city from Frankfurt, but it's a start."

"A start?" Phoenix repeated in disbelief. "This isn't a start, it's amazing! Oh my god. My passport. I have to get my passport, and a suitcase, and buy a ticket. Who knows how long he'll stay there? Uh, Apollo and Athena, you can handle the office. Keep working on your case. Apollo, would you mind staying in my place with Trucy? I'll tell her when I go grab my things. Call a cab, someone, or... or Gumshoe, could I get a ride?"

A soft coughing drew his attention and Phoenix realized that Klavier had been clearing his throat. "Herr Wright, this might be rude, but do you have the money for the ticket?"

"No," Phoenix admitted, "but I can use a few cards." Probably.

"I thought so. That's why I have the old band plane fueled up and ready." Klavier looked totally, perfectly sincere, and his smile grew at Phoenix's mounting disbelief. "It's not like it gets much use now, ja? Might as well let the girl spread her wings again."

"You're serious," Phoenix said again after waiting for the punchline.

"I haven't seen much in my life that's really real. All of you, in this office and with the lovely Skye sisters and yes, you and Herr Edgeworth, is real. So yes, I'm serious."

This was just too much. "After you made the condo payment?"

Klavier blinked for a second, then laughed. It was honest and open and the entire mood in the office lifted as it rang out. "Well, he's going to pay me back for that!"

Phoenix laughed too, breathless. "Okay. Okay, I'm going! Seriously, who has a car? Who... wait, you're coming?" he asked as he saw Klavier retrieve a passport from his pocket.

"It's my plane, ja? And do you speak German? At all?"

"Um." Phoenix rubbed the back of his neck. "Not especially. But you don't have to do this... I mean, Athena could...."

"Free vacation!" Widget squealed.

"Or Ema could," Athena added as she covered her necklace, blushing.

"Herr Wright," Klavier said very seriously. "I am trying to make things right again."

"I know that, but—" But this is weird.

Klavier rested his hands on Phoenix's shoulders; for perhaps the first time since he'd met the man, Phoenix thought nothing of close contact. Even more gravely, Klavier said, "And Winston Payne has been making my life an absolute living hell since I've been named acting Chief Prosecutor and I have to get out of that office."

"Well," Phoenix said, still dizzy, "I suppose I can't argue with that."

"Prosecutor Gavin... Klavier." Apollo hesitated. "This is amazing of you to do. All of it."

Klavier smiled. "Well, I try to do the right thing, ja? It just takes me a few practice sessions to work out the kinks sometimes." Before Apollo could find a reply, Klavier grabbed Phoenix's arm and steered him toward the door. "Let's rock."

They left in a flurry of well-wishes. Riding in an open convertible did nothing to calm Phoenix, but he never once thought of asking Klavier to stop to put the top down. This was the one lead he had and he didn't intend to lose it. I only ever need one lead. One thread to pull at. I just can't let it go. "Trucy, I know this is sudden, but I'm going to go try to get Miles to come home," he said as he burst back into the apartment and started hunting for his suitcase.

"You are?" she squealed. The news delighted her so much that she barely noticed Klavier shadowing the doorway.

"He's in Germany and I'm flying there now. I'm really sorry that it's so sudden, but Apollo's going to stay here while I'm gone—"

"Less talking, more packing!" she ordered. "Where's your suitcase?"

"I don't know!" Phoenix said in frustration as he ripped things off shelves. His hand landed on a carry-on bag and he pulled it to the floor. Good enough. Together they piled in toiletries and socks and whatever else seemed appropriate. "Passport!" he remembered as the bag zipped and Trucy scrambled to find it. "I love you," he said in what felt like a minute after he'd walked in, and kissed the top of Trucy's head. "And I'm going to bring him home, and everything's going to be okay."

"I love you too, Daddy," Trucy said. She held on tight, squeezing hard, then shoved him toward the door so hard that he nearly tripped. "Now go fast! Call me! Apollo's staying here, I know! Now go go go!"

Everything moved in blurs again, but from excitement rather than exhaustion. The roar of engines blended with the pounding of his heart, an indistinguishable knot of adrenaline and movement. The private plane lacked the familiar touchstones of flight attendant speeches and runway delays, and so before Phoenix realized it they were somewhere over Nevada. By Wyoming his excitement had ebbed into a tense anticipation that left him with trembling hands and a sour stomach.

What if this doesn't work?

He'd used to believe that something would always happen to make things work out. Maya would hold onto a bullet. Franziska would burst in with evidence. Something. Always. But then things hadn't worked out, once, and it had been with the very same man who was now riding in the plane with him. This had been such a rush of joy that it had left room for nothing else, but they'd hit bad turbulence over the Rockies and earlier excitement had faded as the night settled in. He was flying, and he hated flying.

And what if Ema and Gumshoe were wrong?

Even in the dim cabin, Klavier seemed to notice Phoenix's tension. He made a soft, questioning noise.

"What if I can't find him?"

Klavier looked away from the window. "Haven't you always?"

Though Phoenix had no answer for that, he felt his hands relax around the armrests.

It took a long time, but yes, he did. Twenty-five years of history, with countless twists and turns, and it had all brought him there to that night. It's going to be okay, he told himself as they hit another patch of turbulence. His stomach still lurched, but not as much.

When the land smoothed out below them and the turbulence eased, Phoenix drifted off into sleep. In his dreams he saw the home they'd chosen and the dappled shadows of leaves on the wall.

Chapter Text

"He could be here," Phoenix said as he stared out the rental car window at the strange town, "or he could be at the von Karma manor. I think it's only about an hour away."

Klavier waited patiently for Phoenix's decision. Both of them showed the effects of their overnight trip, and the time zone difference didn't help. The day in Germany was nearly over and winter sunlight was fading fast. Klavier was rumpled, but Phoenix was positively chaotic. He hadn't slept well. This close to the finish line there was no chance he'd drift off again, not even with the heater pointed right at him, but it felt like all his stress was lodging itself directly in the bags under his eyes.

He'd tried calling Miles again, but there was no response. "I should have bought a temporary phone," Phoenix sighed. Maybe Miles would have picked up an unknown number from a German line. The fact that he'd ignored Phoenix's renewed attempts could him being stubborn, or heartsick, or worse. It was hard to say and worse to think about.

"Herr Wright," Klavier said gently after another minute spent idling, "sitting here does no good. We could check the manor first and try the town in the morning?"

If he's on von Karma grounds, he can't hide. He's either there or not. "No," Phoenix decided and unbuckled his seatbelt. "You check out von Karma's. You're the big famous prosecutor, they'll let you in with no problem. I'll start looking around town. We have each other's number."

"Sounds like a plan," Klavier agreed. "Take your bag, find a hotel, and start looking. I'll call to see where we're staying."

With a nod, Phoenix retrieved his small bag from the back seat and pushed open the door.

He instantly regretted it. The heater hadn't been pleasant, it had been necessary. "Go," he told Klavier, gesturing him onward, before he could change his mind. Their car disappeared into the falling snow and was soon just a pair of tail lights, and then nothing. Wind whipped and Phoenix shivered as he felt gusts curl up under his suit jacket.

He and Trucy had packed in sixty-five degree weather. In their rush and with his tiny bag, they'd never even considered a coat.

Phoenix made it two blocks before he gave up and ducked into the first store that appeared to sell clothing. The clerks eyed him curiously as he made his trembling way inside, messy-haired and only in a thin blue suit, but the first questions they asked did him no good. "I... spreche no Deutsch," he vaguely remembered.

"What do you need?" asked one clerk in thankfully clear English. He could have kissed her for doing the language prep work he'd avoided, but he had a prosecutor to find and his feet were already hurting.

"A jacket? A coat?" Phoenix asked hopefully, rubbing his arms to demonstrate just how very cold he was. Snow dusted his fingers as he did. Why didn't I remember that they were having blizzards here?

"We can see if we have something in your size," she said uncertainly. Her co-workers looked at each other in confusion. At that hesitation, Phoenix paid real attention to the store he'd entered: dresses on the racks, blouses on the shelves, pumps in the window display.

Not a problem. He pointed with certainty at one cluster of jackets. "Do you have that in extra... extra large?"

"I believe we do," she said, still hesitant. He couldn't blame her; from the number of coats still on the rack, it didn't seem to be a very popular shade in this idyllic, snow-capped town. "I could check for another color?"

"This is what I want," Phoenix said firmly and dug out his credit card. The coat was snug as he pulled it on, but it fit well enough to let him close the zipper. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," she said, and then turned to—he was sure—ask her co-workers what was wrong with this strange American man who'd walked out of a blizzard while dressed for summer, chosen a women's boutique, and paid full price for an eye-searing magenta jacket.

With his armor on, Phoenix walked bravely back outside.

There was no chance he'd accidentally pass his target, now; the entire city would see him coming even if this hunt stretched on well into the night. And besides, Miles liked magenta and wine and all the other terms that he threw around to avoid saying pink. This jacket was a sign, an omen. This would work.

This was still... incredibly cold.

His shoes were slick-bottomed, meant for sidewalks that only occasionally saw rain. Every step was a potential hazard; while other people minced around patches of ice, he kept sliding on simple snow. He hadn't thought to buy gloves at the shop, and so a wild lunge to keep his balance ended up losing a thin patch of skin to the piece of metal he'd grabbed. It hurt, and his feet hurt more as they throbbed, but he pulled the sleeves down to cover his hands and carried on.

Phoenix hated the cold, hated the snow. This was a hellscape. Yes, it was covered in lights for the holidays, but it was still a merrily twinkling holly jolly hellscape. Trudging to the university was hell, shuffling across campus was hell, walking back was hell.

Miles had known better than to ask Phoenix to fly to Europe during the winter. One year Phoenix had found that insulting; Miles genuinely needed help on that case in Geneva, and how did he know that Phoenix didn't want to come to Switzerland? In January? (Wait, it was how cold?) Now he wondered what he'd been thinking, making that offer. He really couldn't handle snow, couldn't handle cold. He'd always hated it. He learned his lesson at the Temple; Feys came to visit him during the winter, not the other way around.

His entire body seemed to shiver, down to his kidneys and eyeballs. The effort of staying upright on the snow and ice had his thighs aching like he'd biked ten miles in a headwind. And his feet, his poor sad feet in their poor sad workplace shoes, were numb.

Still, Phoenix kept walking. When the wind rose again, he blocked the snow from his face. When he tripped and slid, he stood. When the last natural light ebbed from the clouds overhead and the temperature plummeted further, he trudged on.

And when his phone rang, it took his unsteady fingers three tries to answer. He stabbed blindly at the screen as he blocked his face from another icy gust. "Klavier! Is he there?"

"Fool."

Phoenix blinked. His eyes had long since started watering and it felt like his lashes had frozen into blocky chunks. "Franziska?"

"You foolhardy fool, letting yourself be foolishly led on this foolish quest by an even greater fool than you could foolishly hope to be!"

"Franziska?" he repeated dumbly, although those words couldn't belong to anyone else in the world.

"It is twelve degrees below zero and everyone knows you are pathetic in cold weather!"

"It's how cold?" Phoenix sputtered and instantly shivered even more.

"I use proper temperatures, unlike your foolish country!" At his silence, she snapped, "Ten degrees!"

Damn, that's still really cold.

"A massive arctic front has moved across the entire continent, how could you be so foolish as to—"

"Franziska," Phoenix cut in, getting a sneaking suspicion, "are you... worried about me?"

"Of course I am, you staggering fool! You nearly died once from hypothermia and I know that you will foolishly let it happen again! I demand that you cease this foolish quest at once."

"You know I can't do that."

"I demand that—"

Having found the street signs he needed, Phoenix interrupted her. "I'm at Thibaustraße and Bergheimer. Where's the best place to look for him? This is pretty close to your house and I know you've been here. He's taught at the university, he must have favorite restaurants and hotels."

Franziska said nothing.

"I'm going to keep looking, Franziska. I'm going to keep looking until I drop, if I have to, and then I'll end up in a strange hospital shivering under blankets again. Someone will have to tell Trucy why I'm not flying back yet. Maybe you, since they can check my phone records and see that I talked to you last." She snorted into the pause he left.

When he continued, his voice was gentler. "Or you can tell me where to look, and your brother and I can be happier than we've ever been. We can both fly home and raise a daughter together. He can have a real home. He can have someone there to celebrate the big cases, but also to be there when he has nightmares again. I know he still has them. They'll probably never go away for good."

Phoenix swallowed and continued very quietly, "Please." Had the call dropped? "I don't want him left alone like this. Even if this doesn't work, I have people to go back to. I don't want him to only have files. Especially not now, in December. You can be the sister who helped to make his family bigger, or the sister who made sure that he is alone with no one caring about anything but his brain. Ever. If you actually care about him being happy—"

"Go a block to the east and follow the curve to the bridge on Bismarckstraße."

"To the... bridge?" Phoenix repeated. He remembered walking across a bridge on the way back from the university. The wind was even colder on the river.

"Go to the bridge and I will tell you where to look, it gives a better view. Call me back when you are at the center of the river, I do not wish to wait on the line. And stay alive in the meantime."

"All right," Phoenix said uncertainly and hung up, then began to make his slow, agonized way for the bridge. It took even longer than he had expected, as he had to relent and duck into stores along the way to take the worst bite off the weather. He wouldn't really die of hypothermia, not in the middle of all these warm stores, but the pain was becoming unbearable as he reminded his skin of what warmth felt like and then braved the cold again. Then the river was before him, and there was no choice but to stand in the open and let the wind tear into his thin, snow-dusted pants.

Franziska didn't answer when he called her back.

"You have got to be kidding me," he said in disbelief as he stared at his phone. Its screen glared harshly back at him. The night here was so much darker than he was used to without Los Angeles' light pollution, and even with passing headlights he felt as if there was no one else in the world between river and sky. "You are kidding me! She seriously blows me off, gets me to walk out here to shut me up, and...."

One of the passing pairs of headlights pulled to the side of the road and stopped. By the time Phoenix noticed and turned to tell the driver that he didn't need a ride, the door had opened.

Just before the driver stepped out, Phoenix looked at the car: a silver Mercedes.

"Wright?" Miles said in absolute shock.

"You...." Phoenix's heart surged up and lodged in his throat. All the words he wanted to say were blocked by it: Don't drive away! I love you! I'm furious with you! Why did you leave? Come home! Miles still looked like a startled deer in the headlights as Phoenix struggled for his voice. Suddenly frantic to stop him from leaving, Phoenix lunged forward to block any exit. He made it all of two steps before hitting a patch of ice and landing hard.

"Phoenix!" Miles yelped, slamming the car door and rushing to help. "Are you all right?"

He let himself be painfully lifted. His suit had torn at the knees and the wind felt colder than ever as it found the holes and slithered inside. One hip would be terribly bruised and he could only hope that this ridiculous padded coat had protected his elbow. All of that only mattered for a second, though. After that, he was standing straight again and looking Miles Edgeworth in his bewildered eyes.

Gripping Miles' coat in his chapped hands, Phoenix pulled him forward and kissed the infuriating, wonderful, haughty, perfect love of his life with every ounce of energy he hadn't left somewhere over the Atlantic.

Miles said nothing when Phoenix pulled back; he was mute with emotion, but Phoenix couldn't say which ones. He didn't know everything that he was feeling, either. "You left," Phoenix said. They were the words that bubbled up first, and although he had a flash of regret for coming out on the attack, there was no stopping it. "You said you were there for good and you left. You left me. You left us."

Heartsick, Miles still said nothing.

"How dare you? How dare...." Phoenix took a deep breath. The cold air burned going down. "I love you." Miles' eyes widened, but he didn't try to stop the avalanche pouring from Phoenix. "I built my entire life around you. You were it, you were where I was always headed. You were the north to my compass and everything in my life had purpose, and then you left." He slammed his hands against Miles' chest; muffled by the thick coat, the impact barely made the man waver.

Phoenix wasn't remotely close to done. "And you didn't just leave. You lied in the worst way that you could possibly lie to me and then you didn't even seem sorry when you came back. But then I forgave you and then we were us again. Then you trusted me when the entire world stopped trusting me and I loved you even though I didn't know it was happening. After all those years we finally get it right, and you think you get to just leave again?"

Tears stood in Miles' eyes. The sight cooled Phoenix's anger. Regret consumed him, instead. "I'm so sorry, Miles," he said, softer. "I never should have said what I said. There's no excuse and I'll never say it again. I won't even think it. You're the best person I know. You... you really are my true north. You have been ever since we met. Ever since we were kids. And I felt like I'd found everything that I'd been hunting for all my life and I don't want to lose it again. I want the house, I want you there for Trucy's graduation, I want the stupid arguments over retirement plans and charity dinners. I want... I want to adopt one of those puppies from the stupid bank case, maybe! I don't even know, but you have to be there and you can't leave."

His only answer was another gust of wind. Trembling, Phoenix shivered and clung to hope for as long as he could.

"I want to go home," Miles said and took off his coat. As he swung it over Phoenix's shoulders and pulled it tight around him, his hands trembled, too. "And you're my home."

When they kissed again, it really did feel like they were all that existed between the river below and the clouds far overhead. It was desperate relief and forgiveness and love all at once, and tears that somehow felt like joy as they burned icy tracks down their cheeks. "I'm sorry," Phoenix whispered as they broke apart. "I was so mad, but I didn't really—"

"It wasn't what it sounded like, I promise. Truly. I would never want to hurt either of you, I would never deliberately—"

"I know," Phoenix assured him. His smile shook. "We're not letting each other finish our—"

"Sentences," Miles cut in, managing to laugh. He quickly sobered. "I won't leave. I promise. I didn't think that I was wanted. Or needed. But then Franziska told me I have to go meet a witness in the middle of the bridge, and I find out instead that you came here to find me, and I'm...." He swallowed. "I'm overwhelmed."

"You are so wanted and needed," Phoenix said and leaned in for another kiss. "Can we get inside your car and turn on the heater?"

Miles jolted, even though he was now the one without any winter coat. "Get in, get in. My hotel is close, I can draw you a hot bath. Good lord, Wright, you're freezing."

I'll work on getting him to call me Phoenix, more, Phoenix thought with an exhausted, relieved smile as he threw in his bag and sank gratefully onto the seat. The heater coming back on felt at least a tenth as good as their reunion.

"You actually came all the way out here," Miles said quietly as he pulled back into traffic. "I really am overwhelmed."

Memories clawed up through Phoenix's delighted, tired haze, and he struggled to sit up straight when realization hit. "We need to get another room at your hotel."

"Oh? Oh, of course." Miles cleared his throat. "I mean, we both love each other, but I certainly wasn't assuming... that is to say...."

Phoenix grinned faintly. That was something else waiting in their future, but no, not on that night. "It's for Klavier."

"Klavier?" Miles repeated blankly.

"He wanted to make up for how the bet turned out. He flew me out here and he's checking the von Karma house now." Remembering more, Phoenix gripped Miles' wrist as he shifted gears. "He made the down payment on the condo. I mean, you have to pay him back, but it passed the security checks. We got it."

"We got the condo?" Miles repeated. Joy bloomed in his eyes, the kind that Phoenix had only seen with the two of them.

"Yeah. And I don't know about you, but I don't think I want to do the smart thing and wait."

"I want to go home," Miles said decisively. Taking advantage of the red light, he leaned over and kissed Phoenix. His hand burned hot where it rested near Phoenix's knee. "With you. And you should wear that color more often."

Remembering his ridiculous new jacket, Phoenix laughed. "Oh! Oh. The deadline officially passed. Klavier won your stupid bet. Sorry."

Miles kept smiling as the light turned green. "Then I suppose I owe that man a dinner."

Chapter Text

The gentle sounds of splashing water were barely audible over the hum of the busy hotel. Still, they were all Miles could hear. He tried to instead focus on his drink, but his mind did whatever it pleased. Pain had fueled him for days. Although he was glad to see it go, he was left drowsy and slow with all the sleep he'd missed.

He wouldn't be drifting off, though. Not with Phoenix taking a sorely needed hot bath on the other side of that bathroom door.

The thought warmed his cheeks and he struggled to control his expression. The past weeks had been an overload of emotion in every direction, and he was never any good at handling feelings. Leveling back out to something approaching normal would take time.

They had time now, though. They were outside the constraints of a silly contest, the truth was known, and they'd come through to the other side. This, finally, was the conclusion to a quarter-century. Except there's so much more to do, now. That was a very long prologue.

His phone buzzed at him. Glad for the distraction, he grabbed it.

You may thank me later, Franziska texted. Yes, I overrode your decision about going into hiding. After consideration, I decided you were being foolish. As usual.

Well, on that day she deserved to be smug. I am very grateful that my big sister was looking out for me, Miles texted back, knowing it would be just what she wanted to hear.

After a short pause, she replied. Perhaps I was wrong about your romantic suitability for each other. His eyebrows raised; Franziska, admitting she might be wrong? That was always remarkable. I trust, however, that you will not let his ways of thinking infect you.

That happened ten years ago.

You're impossible. Send me your itinerary, I presume you're returning soon.

Miles smirked. He could hear her voice, see her rolling eyes. Emotions would overwhelm him, but they usually just annoyed her. I will. Thank you.

You're welcome, Miles Edgeworth.

"Hi," Phoenix said softly. Miles' head jerked up at the sound. A fluffy white robe enveloped the man, with bare calves below and bare chest where the material overlapped. Phoenix's hair was still damp and mussed. He needed to shave.

Miles swallowed.

"I'm going to need more clothes," Phoenix explained with a gesture to the hotel robe. "Non-pink jacket clothes, anyway. We were in a rush, so Trucy and I packed six pairs of socks and not much else."

"Well, ah. We're nearly the same size, so I can go out and buy something for you in the morning. Unless you'd prefer to just use pieces of mine." That was a very gentle rejection that Phoenix's expression gave him, but it was a 'no' all the same. "Right. I'll pick something up."

Nodding, Phoenix ran a towel over his damp hair. Against all logic, ruffling made it fall into something approaching its natural order. "The bath helped a lot. I'm not cold at all, now." After spending a few unnecessary seconds arranging the towel around his neck, he worked up the courage to ask the question they both needed to hear. "Since they had more space when we called the desk for Klavier... do you want me to get another room?"

If Phoenix weren't so Phoenix, Miles might say yes. The rooms were luxurious, comfortable, and generously sized for two people, but their short relationship had just come back from life support. He wasn't about to imply anything that he wasn't prepared to deliver that night. But this was indeed Phoenix Wright, and he knew Miles Edgeworth, and he wanted to make this work for good as much as Miles did. Besides, they had years stretching out before them, now. There was no need to rush.

Miles shook his head. "No."

That was the right answer. Phoenix grinned, relieved. "I'm glad."

Miles smiled back and they reveled in their impossible happiness. At the silence's end, he stood to hunt for a grey pair of pajamas he knew were somewhere in the dresser. He assumed Phoenix would prefer them to the other color options he'd packed, and it would be a wise idea to replace that robe he was wearing with something more substantial. Soon. "Here. These should fit."

"Thanks," Phoenix said and disappeared again into the bathroom. That will change, Miles realized as the door clicked. Soon they'd get dressed in front of each other, dote on the other man when he was ill, argue over when to set the alarm. The idea was overwhelming and not a little scary, but thrilling all the same.

Before he could change his mind and do something he'd regret, Miles slipped under the thick covers of the king-sized bed. With determination, he focused on the gentle dance of snowflakes moving past his window rather than muffled sounds from the bathroom. It was the same sight he'd let lull him to shallow sleep for days, now. He really did need to give his emotions a chance to settle.

Phoenix only looked mildly surprised at the sight when he re-emerged, dressed in pajamas that were just a tiny bit too big. "Right. You're on Europe time."

"And you just exhausted yourself." His voice barely shook; astonishing. "Come to bed."

"Warm," Phoenix said with relief as he joined Miles under the covers. It had to be mostly psychological; Miles hadn't yet heated things up and they had a good span of the bed between them. Still, Phoenix looked blissful as he sank into the mattress. The last bits of stress melted from his face and left only happiness in its wake, but stretching a little too widely soon reminded the man of where he was. Bliss became blushing.

Everything about this was a dangerous sight. No one had ever understood Miles Edgeworth like the other man in that room, but that didn't stop the situation from being awkward. Twenty-four short hours ago, they'd both thought they'd lost the other forever. Now both men were as shy as some clueless schoolboy and desperate not to ruin what they'd recovered. Miles stared at where his hands lay on top of the covers while Phoenix looked upward at nothing.

They needed something to talk about. "We really got the condo?" Miles asked. He'd forgotten about it during his mad flight from the States. Two days ago he'd remembered, but just as another responsibility he'd dodged: the condo, his job contract, the scholarship, the exploded wreck of his personal life. The only way to keep his head above water was to ignore everything in California.

Excited, Phoenix propped himself up on one elbow, turned toward Miles, and nodded. "It's ours. Klavier pretended he was doing everything with your permission, so they have the down payment and are waiting for all the other signatures they need from you."

More lying. Even if it was for a good cause, all of this had come because he was willing to lie, even if just by omission. Frowning, Miles also propped himself up and rose to face Phoenix. "I owe you the truth about everything. Freely offered."

Phoenix tensed at his serious tone, but nodded.

"Everything began on the day you came to use the books in my office. Gavin heard us arguing when he came to ask me about a case, and he...." A deep sigh erupted. "This sounds so foolish. He implied that he and Justice had a closer relationship than the two of us. I took offense, he essentially dared me to prove it, and I let myself be goaded into a ridiculous contest to show... I'm sorry."

The look he got in return wasn't what he'd expected. By all rights, Phoenix should be working through the remnants of his anger. Miles had been an idiot, after all. He was supposed to be dependably rational and sober. Instead, he'd been pulled into a dare like some adolescent at recess. That idiocy had landed on both of them like a bomb dropping, taken Trucy as collateral damage, and ended with Phoenix nearly getting hypothermia on a bridge. Again.

Instead, Phoenix sounded like he was trying not to laugh. "So you're telling me," he said slowly, "that Chief Prosecutor Miles Edgeworth couldn't turn down this stupid bet... because he felt compelled to defend my honor?"

Miles blinked. "Pardon me?"

Phoenix's grin broadened, showing teeth. "You really got that mad when Klavier said you didn't care about me?"

"I... well, yes. Basically." Miles cleared his throat. "This isn't the reaction I expected."

Phoenix leaned over and kissed him. "You're terrible with anything but the entire truth, Edgeworth."

"I know. This was as much of a lesson in honesty as any courtroom case."

The mirth in the other man's eyes faded. "And I can't believe I said what I said to you after you sent me those thirty-eight roses. Yeah. I counted."

Miles looked away. Even now, every instinct told him to pull back, use his arms as a shield, put up his walls. If not for the feeling of Phoenix's hand on his wrist, he might have. "It was probably deserved, all things considered."

"No. It wasn't, it never would be, and I'll never say it again. I'm sorry."

Nodding slowly, Miles met his eyes again. "Thank you." He hesitated before continuing. "Wright, I have to apologize in advance. I'll probably wake you. Maybe it would be better if you got another room, after all." Even that oblique reference to Manfred had reminded him of how hellish the past week had been. His fresh guilt on top of the old tradition of December nightmares had prompted one torturous night after another, the worst it had been in a decade.

The confusion in Phoenix's eyes fell away. Even after all these years, Miles had never told him specifically about any nightmares. He'd never told anyone. Phoenix knew Decembers could be bad, though, and he must have guessed long ago what that entailed. "And after you've said that, you seriously think I'd leave you alone just so I could sleep a little better?"

Miles reclined against his pillow. "Of course not. Whatever was I thinking?" This is Phoenix Wright, after all.

Following his cue, Phoenix sank onto his own pillow. "Go to sleep. Who knows, now that we fixed things maybe you won't wake up."

"Maybe." A sudden end to his nightmares would be a bit of a fairy tale ending, all neat and pat and happily ever after, but happily ever after did have its occasional silly appeal. "Thank you for coming."

Phoenix hesitated. "Just promise me. Promise me that you won't leave again."

Miles murmured faint agreement. "Never."

He woke just after three, gasping in a dark room. The walls were closing like a tomb. Every groan might signal the collapse that crushed them. What air was left was hot and thick. He couldn't see the others since the earthquake had knocked out all the lights, but they were there. He was dying, but his father was dying first. He had to stop this. Trying to help always ended with blood and pain, but his hand still moved to grab—

"Mmph." Fingers clutched his wrist. Instinctively Miles tried to fight back, but his other hand was seized when he did. "Edgeworth."

He blinked hard, his arms tense against the bonds on his wrists. His eyes adjusted enough to see the dim shapes of a luxurious hotel room, and then the silhouette of the man next to him. As memories flooded back, the heat around his body stopped being a claustrophobic makeshift coffin and became 800 thread-count sheets under a goose down duvet. There was no earthquake, no blood. When he looked over his shoulder, hints of moonlight filtered in through a window.

"Wright," he realized, still in that post-nightmare muddle. "Wright. Phoenix. Sorry. I woke you." As soon as his heart slowed, a fresh wave of sick anxiety washed over him and sped it again. The nightmares never let him go easily. This was like pulling on an old, well-molded shoe. Restarting an old habit.

Sympathy laced Phoenix's tired rasp of a voice. "Don't be sorry. Go back to sleep."

Nodding, he laid back down and stared with determination at the ceiling. He wouldn't be falling asleep any time soon, but at least he could remain still enough to let Phoenix get more rest. This damned brain. Fairy tale endings were indeed ridiculous and this had been the most stressful December in years. Of course he'd have to ride out the entire month with sleep deprivation.

Running on a few hours of rest was easier in my twenties. At least he didn't have anywhere particular to go the next day; he could afford to be groggy. And the year would end happily, even if he was tired. That was more than December ever offered him. He'd live through the night, as he always did, and this time his days would be better than ever before. When one beautiful day ended, he'd just have to make it through one more night to begin another—

The feeling of warm fingers returning to his wrist drew a confused noise from him. Rolling his head to the side, Miles repeated the sound at the sleepy, smiling Phoenix. "Go back to sleep," Phoenix repeated. His thumb began to trace soft circles on the back of Miles' hand.

It was deliciously easy to fall into the rhythm. Warmth, smooth skin, steady circles. Happiness. Even though adrenaline still lingered in his system, Miles felt his world flatten out until it was nothing but that single motion trailing across his hand. His speeding heart slowed, circle by slow circle, until its rhythm echoed the gentle sweeping of Phoenix's thumb. Tension drained away, and then awareness.

When he woke again, dim winter sunlight fought through clouds and he could hear the faint sounds of traffic. The soft breaths next to him were confusing in his first sleepy moments. When realization sank in—who he was with, what had happened, everything—Miles Edgeworth greeted the day with a smile. And with that smile, he watched Phoenix Wright sleep.

It took a while. He was a morning person and Phoenix had never been one to rise dramatically like his namesake. "Hey," Phoenix eventually said, blinking and yawning. Even dim sunlight caught his eyes; breathtaking. "Good morning."

"Good morning," Miles echoed, and meant it.

Chapter Text

Neither of them wanted to spend time apart so soon, but Phoenix needed clothes and Angelenos needed updates. Each man took on a task, the faster to be done with Germany and ready for a return flight. And that meant, as pajama-clad Phoenix gave updates to the people in California, Miles went shopping. Since Phoenix had purchased a suitable jacket, all that remained were the other elements of a proper man's winter wardrobe.

"I truly am sorry," Miles said into his phone as he considered a pair of pants. Despite talking to the head of the Heidelberg University law program, he spoke in English. It felt like the right way to make this break from his old life on the Continent. "My availability for next term isn't what I anticipated. I must withdraw my name from consideration."

"I'd already talked to a couple of our best students and they were looking forward to your lectures," Weber wheedled. They'd only had informal discussions, but one could generally take Miles Edgeworth's word as his bond. As soon as any interest was expressed, he'd probably started adjusting the schedule of classes. "Is there any way to change your mind?"

"I'm afraid not." Still, he felt bad for leaving Weber in a bind. Miles had taught at the school before, consulted with the man on occasional cases, and they got along well. "I'm needed back in the States."

"What's so important that it can't wait until after next term?"

Nodding at another pair of pants, Miles draped them over his arm and searched for shirts to match. As he shopped for Phoenix, something entirely uncharacteristic bubbled up out of him. "I've fallen in love and we've bought a house together. It went through this week and I couldn't possibly wait to move in." Saying it out loud felt wonderful. It was foolish to use this as a professional explanation, but oh, it did feel wonderful.

Weber hesitated.

"I'm actually serious." Hmm. Even if we're just driving to the airport, Phoenix will need a sweater. I don't want him to be cold again. He rifled among the color options. "I apologize for letting personal matters—"

The man laughed. All tension had fled. "Nein, nein. I'm happy to hear about you having personal matters, Miles. You were only teaching electives, anyway. I'll find someone else. Don't worry."

"Danke," Miles said drily and wondered just how alone he'd looked. No wonder Kay nearly shoved me at Julien. (On his recommendation, the girl had been hired by Interpol as a security expert whose job it was to test any system or building that they'd deemed protected. That job had very few operational limits, and so she'd never learned any for her personal behavior, either.)

As he opened his mouth to end the call, other memories surfaced. "Herr Weber. I'm setting up a law scholarship for students interested in ethical practices. I have no national preference as to where they study, so we should talk on this in the future."

"Oh, lovely. We'll talk more, yes. Enjoy your trip home and send me your new address. Adie and I will mail you a housewarming gift."

"Danke," Miles said, more sincerely than before, and considered the phone as he hung up. Gilbert Weber in Germany. Sara Donati in Italy. Zlata Kolářová in the Czech Republic. Ludmila Sharova in Russia. Bradley Mulford in England. Even a few guest lectures in New York, squeezed in during other travel. He'd taught at more schools than he'd realized and impressed every chair he'd worked with.

Those were, he thought with satisfaction, more than enough connections to seed ethical lawyers across the world. "The Gregory Edgeworth Legal Scholarship," Miles murmured as he made his final clothing selections and walked toward the register. Had he really left behind the scholarship's paperwork in his flight from the States? He'd failed on countless things these past weeks, but that was one of the unforgivables.

Cold hit hard when he stepped outside. As his pale skin reddened along nose and cheekbones, he tugged his scarf tighter. This really was a brutal front for the area; it had seldom gotten this low when he was growing up at the von Karma estate. And Phoenix, wonderful foolish Phoenix, had been stumbling around in it on the off-chance that he could find Miles somewhere in the middle of the deep freeze. With a rueful headshake, Miles set off for the hotel again and felt the chill prickle at his cheeks.

He was actually looking forward to palm trees and flowers, again.

I'm looking forward to going home. I have a home. Phoenix and a mortgage. He couldn't keep from smiling as he pictured that perfect condominium, though his cold cheeks hurt as they stretched. Even the thought of being responsible for Trucy barely sobered him. Some tiny sliver was still certain that he'd make a complete parental mess of things, but the rest of him wanted to try, anyway. The whole city is scared of me, he thought as his rare smile settled into a more familiar smirk. There won't be any more bullies like that 'stupid Karlie' at her new school.

(That was probably an irresponsible use of power.)

Stepping back inside the warm hotel was a relief, more than he'd ever admit to Phoenix. As Miles kicked the snow from his shoes and dusted off his sleeves, the last member of their party caught his eye. Perfect timing; the two of them had things to discuss. Before the man could walk away, Miles called out, "Gavin."

Turning from the reception desk, Klavier brightened when he realized who'd spoken. "Herr Edgeworth. Congratulations."

Satisfied with his snow-cleaning efforts, Miles walked to join him. "I think you're the one who deserves to hear 'congratulations.' You did win, after all."

Ruefully, Klavier shook his head. "I think we both know who won."

Miles hesitated, then adjusted his bags and gestured toward the hotel café. "Let me buy you breakfast."

With a grin, Klavier nodded and walked that way. "You're trying to get out of our meal prize quickly, ja?"

"We have a condominium to settle," Miles reminded him as they were guided to a small table near a window. "I'm sure there's paperwork I need to know about. And besides, the prize was for dinner, so this wouldn't qualify regardless."

"Fair enough," Klavier said, barely glanced at the menu, and ordered a cappuccino and Belgian waffles. Miles chose tea, toast, and a hardboiled egg, and ignored the nosewrinkle that Klavier gave him in return.

"Thank you for handling the mortgage arrangements." Miles fiddled with his place setting. It was easier than looking at Klavier while admitting that he'd needed help to fix all that he'd broken. "I'm really quite grateful."

Klavier waved him off. "Kein Problem. I didn't want there to be any nasty realtor surprises after we'd tracked you down, so I gave them a million even." That was quite an oversized down payment for the place they'd chosen, and Miles' surprise must have shown on his face. "With that much, they were willing to hold it for you without any signatures. I'm a good friend to have, but I'm not committing forgery."

A faint smile re-appeared. "A friend to me, or a friend to Wright?"

Their drinks arrived by the time Klavier found an answer. "I believe the safest answer between the two of you, Herr Librarian, is... Trucy."

Miles chuckled softly, but also shot Klavier a chiding look as he tested his tea. "I told you not to call me that."

Klavier shrugged. "I just saved your dream house and gave you a happy ending, so I'm assuming you'll let it slide."

"Well argued." Miles considered Klavier as he stirred in a bit of honey. "What do you want for a prize, then?"

Perplexed, Klavier said, "We know what the prize is: a dinner of my choice." Everything about his expression screamed confusion: Miles Edgeworth? Forgetting the terms and conditions? Or wanting to change the rules?

That was indeed the prize they'd agreed upon. Still... this was a very special circumstance, and more than a simple dinner seemed warranted. "All right. That is the prize for the contest, as decided. I'm asking what bonus you would like with my gratitude. For handling the condo, and for...." Trailing off, Miles looked toward the ceiling. Somewhere in the floors above, Phoenix was still in their hotel room. "For everything."

"I'm assuming I don't need to ask for my down payment back?" Klavier said wryly. As Miles snapped his fingers and reached for his checkbook, Klavier considered the question. "Ja... there is something I would like, Herr Edgeworth. Something we hadn't discussed. I want to know how you won."

"Pardon?"

"Not our silly contest, I know I 'won' that. But you won what counts. It's just...." Klavier's mouth twisted in frustration. "I don't know how to say this without being rude."

"Rude?" Miles echoed.

"Wirklich unhöflich," Klavier said emphatically, in that way he had of occasionally sprinkling German into a conversation like throwing croutons onto a salad. The habit seemed more tolerable, now.

Miles sipped his tea, then folded his hands together and studied Klavier across the table. "You should hear some of the things I've heard from City Hall when they realized I was actually going to build a corruption case over those contractor bids. At least three political careers are ending, and they're people who are very good at stringing creative insults together. I can take rudeness. Ask your question."

"All right," Klavier said delicately. "It's just that... everything I've done ever since the contest started only landed me in deeper trouble. You, meanwhile, were going to parties, making friends... falling in love...." He gestured as he sought the right words. "And all of that happened even though I knew that no one... well...."

"Yes?" Miles prompted in the silence.

"No one really likes you," Klavier finished. "Es tut mir leid! You said I could be rude."

"And everyone likes you," Miles countered after waiting a few long seconds. It was entertaining to watch Klavier squirm, wondering just how far he'd misstepped with his boss. Klavier didn't need to worry; Miles was fine knowing that all but a selected group of people weren't very fond of him. He and Gavin were very different in that regard. "Everyone in the whole world, it seems like, except for the man you were targeting for our bet. Or Detective Skye. Or Wright. Or—"

"I get it, thanks," Klavier said drily.

As he looked at Klavier, Miles was suddenly and inexplicably reminded of seeing his own younger face in the mirror. It was a ridiculous comparison. Though Klavier Gavin was sometimes as cocky as Manfred von Karma's protégé had been, he was a good man. Good, generous, forgiving... all the things that Manfred had burned out of Miles in a decade of harsh instruction.

But even if their younger days were spent on opposite ends of the ethical spectrum, there was another similarity besides confidence: their coping mechanisms. One man had isolated himself through icy disdain, the other by always acting like there was a better party waiting for him somewhere else. One man glared as he walked away, the other flirted. One approach made you a demon, the other made you a rock god, but both kept the world at arm's length.

Miles Edgeworth was hardly a social butterfly, even after relaxing over the past ten years. Still, he owed this—and far more—to Klavier Gavin. It was time to let him step a little closer. Even if he wasn't good with this sort of thing, he could at least try. "What memories do you have with Justice?"

The sudden topic change seemed to confuse Klavier, and he took a second to respond. "Well, ah... our cases, of course. We've both dealt with learning the truth about my... about everything. We've run into each other in the law libraries, sometimes." Even as he spoke, he clearly knew that those weren't the right answers. After another second of consideration, Klavier's frown eased, though his tone remained serious. "There was a lot of press after the truth came out. Forehead was interviewed about working with Wright, and when he'd worked with Kristoph before. And between mein Bruder and Daryan, I was having a real field day with reporters, myself."

"Did the two of you team up to handle the media?"

"Nein." Klavier shook his head. "He was working with Herr Wright, after all. But we saw each other dealing with reporters, sometimes."

Miles nodded slowly at Klavier's answers, then offered his own in exchange. "Phoenix Wright is my closest friend. We've known each other since we were children. We've taken serious risks for the other. We've inspired each other in our darkest hours. We've been furious with the other but always refused to walk away for good. I would not be sitting here without him, and I don't mean that simply in terms of personality or career path. I would have been executed by the state or by my own hand."

His raw honesty paled Klavier, and the man's normally chattering mouth remained closed. Miles took a few bites of toast to collect himself before continuing. He hadn't expected to share that much, but he did owe Klavier a great deal. And he'd dedicated himself to working with the entire truth, again. "We have history. We know each other. The ridiculous habits, the travel rituals, all of those tiny little things that are everything about a person."

And it wasn't just him and Phoenix, though he didn't know if two people could have a deeper connection. Maya and Pearl were Phoenix's family as surely as Trucy, and for all that everyone liked to poke fun at him, Apollo practically counted, too. Athena had clicked well and spent five days a week in the Wright office; her history with Blackquill was its own deep thing. Franziska would never admit it, but she loved Miles as much as he loved her. And Miles would never admit to this out loud, but he had real affection for Dick Gumshoe. The years had given many of them even more real friendships, forged in danger and heartbreak and trust; the Skye sisters were only two names on a long list.

Klavier had apparently come to the same conclusion about their social circles, and how he was not in the innermost ring. "So I just have to invent time travel and meet everyone as kids," he drawled. "Einfach."

Most people would have given Klavier a rueful smile or patted his hand. Miles offered a slight, short exhalation that was his sympathetic equivalent. "Don't be ridiculous, Prosecutor. You know that's not what I was proposing."

"It might as well be." Klavier poured syrup over his waffles and attacked one with a fork. "I'm looking in from the outside, ja? Everyone else is a childhood friend, a co-worker, a former client. Family. Forehead told me that he doesn't need more friends, did you know that? Apparently there's a quota."

Are we really having this discussion? Miles wondered as he pried away the egg's shell and sprinkled salt over the white inside. To his surprise, it actually wasn't terrible to talk about personal matters. (At least, not when someone else's were under discussion.) And Klavier wasn't even annoying him. On that morning he actually rather liked the man. This was all quite a change from the arrogant preener who'd swept into his office three weeks ago and taunted him into a ridiculous bet. "So, Gavin, let me summarize: you think you don't have any sort of meaningful connection to break into what you see as an unassailable clique."

Klavier swirled a bit of waffle through a syrup puddle. "I wouldn't use the sixty-dollar words, but...."

Miles peeled the remaining bits of eggshell with small, precise movements. "That's remarkably unobservant. You're having breakfast with your co-worker, after all." He moved to take a bite, but hesitated. "Well. Your superior."

"I prefer 'boss,'" Klavier immediately said, then narrowed his eyes. "And you're kidding."

"Am I known for my sense of humor?"

That earned a little smile. "Point taken. But. Well. Ah."

But if this is about making friends, I'm not easy to get to know. Truth be told, Miles wasn't sure exactly how he and Klavier could connect. They could have pleasant conversations, apparently, but insubstantial ones. Their interests outside of work were wildly different. He supposed they could wait for another of those huge, meaningful cases that brought everyone together like family, but that was hardly a dependable approach. And if it would be tricky to find a way to befriend each other, it did even less for giving Klavier shared experiences with the entire group.

As it usually did when Phoenix Wright was involved, inspiration struck. "You're going to help me with a project, Prosecutor."

"I am?"

"Wright and I are starting a scholarship fund. We can't possibly read through all of the applications we're sure to get, so we're drafting people to help. I insist that you join us."

"So I'll do you this favor, and that helps me... how?" Klavier asked dubiously. Miles preferred to let him work through it. Gavin was a smart man, after all. "Ah!" Klavier said, straightening. "I'd be working with everyone. Picking applications, fighting for them to get chosen instead of your favorites... ja?"

"Ja. I know Wright is going to have Justice help." Miles sipped his tea and nibbled more toast. "Along with Cykes, and possibly Trucy. I might rope in Blackquill once he's adjusted more. Of course, if you waste these sessions by launching a sexual harassment suit, then—"

Laughing, Klavier waved him off. "Nein, nein. I'll be good."

"Right, it's settled, then. You'll help me with this and earn some entirely platonic memories." Satisfied, Miles drank the rest of his tea and ate another few bites of breakfast, then pulled out bills to pay for everything. He'd owed Klavier this conversation and would be glad for his help with the scholarship, but now he was anxious to get back to Phoenix.

Klavier nodded and accepted the money with thanks, then hesitated. "The dinner I won...."

As he collected his shopping bags, Miles raised an eyebrow. "Yes?"

"Does it have to be with you?" Klavier held up his hands to stave off Miles' instinctive glower. "I'm just saying, I owe Justice an apology. It'd be nice to give him one that's a little more private."

The glower faded. "That's an excellent idea. You're welcome to use my gift of a dinner on him, instead. Assuming you can avoid a sexual harassment suit, of course."

"You wound me," Klavier said dramatically enough to draw attention from other diners. Even so, Miles was able to restrain himself to a simple eyeroll. "This is no way to start our friendship, Herr Librarian."

The next eyeroll was more dramatic. "It should be perfectly apparent by now that this is how I conduct my friendships."

"Lucky me," Klavier drawled. "And ja, ja, I know it'll be strictly business at the Prosecutor's Office. No friendly behavior at work."

That was the default assumption, yes. But there was a better way to approach this. "Assuming you don't expect any preferential behavior, I think we should be friendly. Publicly and visibly so."

Klavier raised an eyebrow. "Wirklich?"

"Mmmhmm. It'll infuriate the Paynes."

That earned a laugh loud enough that several more tables looked over. Klavier winked and waved at the lot of them, then stood and gestured toward the door. "After you, Herr Librarian. And yes, I will stop calling you that."

"Good. Why?"

"Forehead doesn't like it."

Miles nodded and walked toward the lobby, and wasn't displeased to see Klavier following close behind. We're both learning.

Chapter Text

In all of the relief and joy, Phoenix almost forgot to fear flying. Almost, he thought grimly as their small jet slid into thick clouds. Everyone had assured him there was no problem taking off in snow. He was happy to accept that, and focus instead on the differences between his two trips: now everything had worked out, his future shone like the sun, and the love of his life was beside him.

He'd hardly noticed when they took off, with only rare frissons of fear during wobbles. Miles was an excellent distraction. A tiny aisle was between them in the private jet and it was easy for Miles to reach across it. "You don't like flying?" he murmured. Klavier was at the other end of the cabin and had his nose buried in case files, but Phoenix still appreciated the discretion.

"Not a huge fan," Phoenix confirmed as they turned in a low arc toward the west. His hand tightened around his armrest, but the feeling of Miles' hand on his loosened his grip.

"You never said anything. All those times I asked you to come help with cases...."

Phoenix shrugged. "I'll live."

Until they hit cloud cover, he believed that. Then, it was all he could do to remind himself that planes had radar and control towers and flight paths. Just because he couldn't see two inches out the window didn't mean that they would be blindsided by a Boeing. They weren't about to plummet after a hit he never saw coming. They—

"Thanks," he said weakly as his hand was pried off the armrest and Miles' fingers interlaced with his. With great determination, Phoenix looked away from the window and focused on Miles' mildly concerned expression. He loved that face. The long, elegant planes; the searching eyes; the glasses that suited him well. Now, after years of uncertain pursuit on both their parts, he could stare openly. He could—

Turbulence twisted his gut and Phoenix's hand tightened again. It hurt, this time, and after a second he realized Miles was gripping back. His formerly calm expression was a tight mask and his lips had thinned and paled. Until they crested the clouds and the turbulence eased, both men held on with mute determination. With white hills below and a blue sky overhead, it was as if the brutal winter had never existed. Phoenix still hated heights, but at least this was smooth flying.

"Sorry," Phoenix said as he retrieved his aching hand. "I'm fine now."

Miles looked faintly embarrassed. "Yes, well."

Why is he... oh. I bet it feels like an earthquake. Leaning over, Phoenix said, "You know one of the best parts of getting everything worked out? We'll never have to fly again."

"I have no problem with flying," Miles quickly said.

Phoenix hadn't thought to grab the magatama for this trip, but that was so sloppy it barely counted as hiding anything. It would show up less like a padlocked chain and more like two strings held together with a twist-tie. "You said you were telling the truth," he said lightly, then kissed Miles. It was a quick nothing of a peck and it meant everything in the world that he could do it.

Overcome by his ridiculous sense of propriety, Miles flicked a glance to Klavier, cleared his throat when he looked back at Phoenix, and corrected, "I have no problems with flying. I dislike turbulence."

"Right. Well, we won't have to deal with that, either."

Miles' huffiness eased and he offered one of his tiny smiles. "Good."

Phoenix smiled back, much more broadly. The nightmares he'd witnessed were heartbreaking, but he had the feeling they were rare and left mostly in the past. The fear of earthquakes was a constant, current thing, though: one of those scars too big to ever fade. A year earlier, he hadn't dared to ask if Miles was all right with living over a fault line again. Stupidly, it felt like a risk somehow forgotten and the man would cancel all his plans once reminded.

Obviously, Miles knew the risks. He'd decided they were worth it.

They're so, so worth it, Phoenix thought as his smile grew into a sloppy grin. It looked ridiculous. He didn't care. They would get into stupid arguments again. They'd have new drama, new misunderstandings, new fears and doubts. They'd have big, rafter-raising arguments and sulk afterward in their offices. It was going to be unbelievably frustrating and it would absolutely be worth it.

Phoenix didn't even mind how Miles hadn't picked up a replacement for the ridiculous pink emergency jacket while buying reasonable slacks and sweaters. "Thank you for getting me more clothes." He'd shucked the coat after climbing into the cabin. It was wedged between the seat and wall like some lurking fluorescent beast, getting horribly wrinkled. It wasn't like he'd need to wear the heavy thing in Southern California.

"Of course. I'm glad you weren't cold."

Maybe he'd keep it to reminisce.

Flying was blessedly steady after that, and the seats were comfortable for a plane. Remind me to thank Gavin, Phoenix thought as he tugged the hideous jacket out again to keep him warm while he napped. Even though they'd left early in the morning, both men drifted into sleep halfway to California.

Once there, it didn't take long to remember. "Klavier," Phoenix said as the three men disembarked and squinted at the sunlight. Thin white clouds lined a deep blue sky, and seagulls flew high above them. Warmth reflected off the tarmac below their feet. "Thanks. I really mean that."

"Danke schön," Miles added. (Phoenix knew that one.)

"Of course," Klavier said, punctuating it with a glossy hair-toss. "Always count on me for a rockin' solo to bring things home, ja?"

"Apparently," Phoenix said.

For a while now, he'd known that Klavier Gavin was actually a good and decent man. Knowing something in his head was different from actually feeling it, though. His heart had clung to the memory of his disbarment with bitter, bloody claws, the name 'Gavin' was a weighty one, and Klavier looked far too much like his brother. Now, a very different set of feelings bubbled up when he looked at this ridiculous tanned man with his ridiculous purple clothes.

"We're going to have a New Year's Eve party," Phoenix abruptly decided, "and you should come."

"We are?" Miles asked, frowning. "We'll be in the middle of moving in, if that. We haven't even signed any papers yet."

All of which was true, but boring practicalities didn't matter. This wasn't a day to be practical. "We're having a party," Phoenix repeated with confidence. "To say goodbye to this year, goodbye to December, and hello to everything else. And you are going to come."

Relenting, Miles nodded at Klavier. "Assuming you're not previously engaged."

"I think I might be... but not with anyone who'd really miss me." Klavier laughed. It was a nice sound: light, musical, and far more honest than the slick laughter he offered up as part of his glam image. "You've got it. Let's rock!"

Everyone else put up even less of a fight, and no one was more excited over all of the news than Trucy. "Ow," Phoenix laughed as they walked into his apartment and she let out an air-siren squeal at the sight of them. "And hi to you, too."

"Daddy!" Trucy announced, bounding toward him. "Miles!" Her arms encircled them both, iron-tight. His little girl had surprising strength for a teenager who seemed to weigh about as much as trip's worth of groceries. "It really worked out, right? Right? Daddy told me it did on the phone, but I want to hear it from you."

"Yes, it did," Miles said, and wrapped an arm around her in return. Phoenix beamed at the sight. "I'm very sorry I left."

Her jaw set. "You should be. Promise that you'll never, ever do it again."

"Never, ever," he repeated solemnly.

"I'm going to hold you to that," Phoenix informed him before he realized just how warm it seemed inside Trucy's hug. Oh. I forgot to take off the stupid pink puffball jacket again. While... walking through my entire apartment building.

Good thing he was moving.

They signed the final paperwork before Christmas. Everything was far more complicated than renting an apartment: a dozen different loan documents, mortgages and points and commissions, seventeen new layers of credit checks. No movers were taking reservations so soon, and so the grand trek was pushed to the week between Christmas and New Year's.

For everyone else, it was a quiet week, like the world was dozing until the new year dawned. For Phoenix Wright, he knew that he needed to juggle plenty of distractions on those particular dates. Christmas stayed busy with nothing that actually felt like the holiday. (Trucy understood. Next year, Christmas could come back.) They got the keys on the 26th, but there was little point in moving into a condo with nothing inside but stacks of boxes. Major furniture deliveries were the 27th.

Their lives were a rush of everything. Both men were being completely ridiculous, the move was far too fast, and neither cared. Joy, even foolish joy, was a better emotion to associate with late December. And there was so much to be happy about: new towels, specialized kitchen appliances that Phoenix had never heard of before, a whole new set of school supplies that Trucy insisted were necessary for a whole new school.

It all almost worked.

Miles still clawed his way awake on the 28th, panicked inside the memories of a horrible day long gone. The sight made Phoenix's chest ache, and every rough, desperate breath Miles took pained Phoenix more. But at least this wasn't happening alone. Not like all the years before. "It's all right," Phoenix told him, resting a hand on Miles' gasping chest.

Eyes came back into focus, just like they had in that German hotel room. This time, though, the room around them wasn't luxurious. It would be, once they'd unpacked. But Miles had woken into a bare room with a brand new bed and mattress, covered by a loose sheet and surrounded by staggered cardboard towers. With the bed delivered, they'd agreed on spending their first official night in their new condo. The mattress was still wrapped from the store and the floors had no rugs yet, but it was home.

He's probably never woken up to this, Phoenix thought as Miles looked around in confusion at the boxes, then at the windows with no curtains. He's never moved somewhere for good. By choice. On purpose. It was a future neither had truly imagined until they were in the middle of it.

"We're here," Miles realized as the fog of his nightmares dissipated. This had to be the worst night on most years, but he'd recovered faster than he had in Heidelberg.

"We're here," Phoenix confirmed, and laid there until it was time to tackle breakfast and boxes, instead.

Three nights later, the front door slammed open as soon as Phoenix turned the knob. "We're here!" squealed Maya and blew a noisemaker into Phoenix's face. It tickled his nose.

She was as clever as always; brushing away the noisemaker had just been a distraction to let Maya and Pearl latch onto him. "Happy New Year," Phoenix said as he looked down at the mass of hugging channelers. "Uh. Can we go inside?"

They let him shuffle their group into the foyer, at least.

"Okay," Maya said when she stepped back and surveyed him. "As your very best friend and the person who you should always listen to, you know this is totally nuts. Right?" She looked around the entrance, settling on the living room beyond. The large windows showed a New Year's Eve speckled with the lights of Los Angeles. It must be the opposite of what she saw up in the mountains, in the quiet of Kurain Village with a kaleidoscope of stars overhead. Here, the stars had all fallen to earth and arranged themselves on a boulevard grid.

This certainly wasn't Pearl's everyday life. "Did you really... I mean...." The girl's sweet face twisted with unease. "Mr. Edgeworth?" Though she tried to control it, her eyes flicked toward Maya.

Oh, Pearl. All these years, and part of her never grew up. Phoenix smiled. "I know it's crazy. And spur of the moment. But think about who you're talking about!"

Maya nodded and said wryly, "We're talking about you. Someone who tells me he kissed Mr. Edgeworth and managed to knock me off my chair. You could have warned a girl at Romance Step Three instead of Step... One Zillion."

Knocked her off her chair? That might actually be the truth. She looked the respectable part of the Master of Kurain, but this was still Maya Fey. She connected grieving families with lost souls, shepherded her village, and memorized the secret menus of every burger chain between here and the mountains.

"Exactly," Phoenix deflected. "I'm me. I always figure out what to do at the last second, right? And it always works out."

Another new figure at the door made him hesitate. Klavier smiled uncertainly, standing outside the threshold like a vampire, and held up a bottle of wine. For a beat, he looked like he expected to still be seen as Kristoph Gavin's brother and the man who'd gotten Phoenix tossed out of the legal system. When Phoenix instead nodded him toward the kitchen, Klavier gave a more confident smile to the two channelers and walked past.

Deservedly, Klavier was greeted by the people inside like a returning hero, rather than as an entertaining acquaintance with boundary issues. Even Apollo, who was holding a glass with the arm still in a splint, had brightened. For the foreseeable future, Klavier would be the man who'd flown in with a private jet to play the part of Superman. This party was being held in the condo he'd saved. Trucy was good PR, too; she'd praised his generous move to the heavens, to anyone who would listen.

Reminded by Klavier of that years-ago case when Phoenix's bright ideas had very much not gone his way, Phoenix amended, "In the end... eventually... it always works out."

"Ladies," said a familiar voice, and Phoenix turned with a smile to greet Miles. After a glance at the new arrivals, Miles committed himself to a light, semi-public display of affection. For most people, that quick kiss would barely count as a romantic gesture; for Miles Edgeworth, right in front of their friends, that was truly something. "Thank you both for coming. I'm surprised at how full the place seems already, though I can't complain."

"They actually kissed," Pearl whispered to Maya, not very softly.

"I know, it's crazy," Maya whispered back, just as not-soft. As their eyebrows raised, she amended, "But good. But good! Is there a word for really weird but great? Oh, don't give me that look! I've known you both for ten years. If there is anyone here who's allowed to go 'whoa, but yay, but whoa,' it's me."

"Gumshoe's here, too," Phoenix said, and pointed inside. Both women brightened and peered around the corner.

Phoenix joined them in looking. Dick Gumshoe had greeted him with a bear hug equal to any he'd given a decade earlier. Every time he saw the man, he was reminded of the years' differences. Gumshoe was a bit heavier and silver streaked his head, but the biggest change was how he seemed more sure of himself than he ever had on the force. Working security instead of murder clean-up had to help his mood, but from the wallet photos Gumshoe had shown off, Phoenix suspected that being a dad helped even more.

"Hi Maggey!" Maya said, waving. Maggey waved back, then reached for her wine glass. When she put it back down, Gumshoe pointed insistently at a coaster.

Phoenix smirked as the drink went obediently into its new spot. "He's scared to touch anything, since it's Edgeworth's house. But get another few drinks in him and he'll probably fall asleep on the couch." As Miles frowned and grumbled that Gumshoe had better not put his shoes up on the new material, Phoenix resolved to have gentle lessons on how to deal with their senses of humor. ("Quirky" and "on life support," respectively.) "Come on, we need to mingle."

"Trucy!" Pearl said, sighting the girl, and pushed past them. "How's your new school?"

Trucy brightened and pulled her friend into a deep hug. "I haven't even started but it's already so much better than my old one! Miles put the fear of Hot Pink God into the principal, but he doesn't think that I know."

"Fear of Hot Pink God?" Miles repeated blankly as Phoenix laughed. "And I didn't. Much."

"Hey, Franziska!" Maya said, and made a beeline of her own. "I thought you wouldn't be here!"

"Yes, well." Franziska sipped her glass of champagne and tried to look relaxed. It didn't work. She was again surrounded by defense attorneys, and wasn't yet drunk enough to forget that fact. "My fool of a brother has made this decision of foolishly spectacular foolishness, and he needs his big sister to approve his housing decisions. Also, I informed him that he would pay the fee for changing my flight date."

"You haven't changed at all," Maya pronounced and continued mingling.

"No," Miles said, smirking faintly. "She's changed enormously."

"I have not, Miles Edgeworth." She walked over to join them, tugged with annoyance at her casual outfit, and drank more champagne. "When you've reached perfection, any change would be foolish. And I am no fool. Therefore I have not changed."

"Yet here you are," Miles countered, "putting your stamp of approval on my relationship with a defense attorney. You're even attending what serves as our housewarming party."

"Hmph." With one quick motion, she downed the rest of her glass. "Phoenix Wright?"

Oh no, she was looking at him.

"If you make my brother regret this, I'll make you regret your foolish behavior." Of that, Phoenix had no doubt. "As for my fool of a little brother, I'm already dreaming up appropriate punishments for what he's put me through this year."

"I'll miss you, too, Franziska."

"You should have taken that job with the university," she said mournfully and pulled Miles into a hug. "Fool."

He hugged back, tightly. "You helped make sure that I didn't. It's a debt that I can never repay."

"Perhaps I'm a fool, too," she said into his sweater. (It wasn't the plum or greens he'd favored before. Although Miles hated the label, it was indeed hot pink.) "But always less of a fool than you."

"Always," Miles agreed.

Franziska hit Phoenix on the arm when she walked away, and he let her. For old time's sake.

"This is nice," Phoenix said, watching the party in the living room. Ema commented caustically on the musical acts for Ryan Seacrest's Rockin' New Year's Eve, while Klavier stuck up for friends that he'd worked with onstage. Apollo tried to mediate the argument, and when Ema's critiques got a little too pointed, sided with Klavier. Behind him, Athena hunted for anything Blackquill's damned pet might like to eat. (Dinner had been a broad selection of appetizers, courtesy of a local caterer, but no turkey and no chicken. They didn't want to upset the bird.) Pearl, Trucy, and Maya cooed over Gumshoe and Maggey's family pictures.

There were still scattered boxes, despite their efforts. He and Miles were exhausted in that soul-draining, irritating, endless way that only came from a move. Trucy would soon start new classes, he had to learn new commutes to work, and the gas company still thought the previous owners were on the account. When their guests departed after midnight struck, they'd leave a mess of party detritus after them.

But everything was perfect.

They were doing all of these annoying, unavoidable facets of life together.

An hour later, pop princess Irena Bell helped Ryan Seacrest count down the last seconds. The ball had long since dropped in Times Square, but it was still a time-delayed tradition on the West Coast. "Three... two... one...," Phoenix recited, and was swept into a kiss by Miles, who hadn't bothered.

Klavier had gallantly kissed his daughter's hand at midnight, Gumshoe and Maggey were far too affectionate when they got drunk, and Blackquill's bird was making eyes at Apollo. Still, this was a perfect ending. "Don't make him regret this," Franziska reminded Phoenix as she breezed into the kitchen for more to drink.

Miles smiled at Phoenix, in that soft, rare way he had. "I won't."

"Me neither," Phoenix said and kissed him again, hard, to start the new year.

Chapter Text

No matter the day, it was a safe bet to find Apollo either at work or at the courthouse, and he wasn't scheduled on any trials that afternoon. Good: parking was easier at the office. Klavier pulled in front of the Wright Anything Agency and turned off his ignition. "Herr Justice."

Apollo turned with a smirk, and let his bike lock fall loose from his hand. "I'm not 'Forehead' today?"

Klavier inclined his head as he stepped from the convertible. "I have something to ask you. It'd help if you were in a good mood."

It was one week past the new year, and even those peripheral to Phoenix Wright and Miles Edgeworth's lives had been waiting for them to settle back down into orderly habit. The Prosecutor's Office was still off-balance from their Chief being in such a good mood and the Agency had apparently become more of a jumble than ever. But everything was steadying, and that meant it was time for Klavier Gavin to finish his own to-do list.

From the look on Apollo's face as he waited, Klavier didn't know what the answer would be. He still felt like an outsider, but at least he'd become the supplier of jets and savior of romances. It had to be a far better role to fill than Klavier Gavin, Charming Rogue. But even with that new title, he was about to ask Apollo Justice to their victory dinner and there was a chance he'd get a "no" in return.

He and Apollo had gotten along wonderfully at the New Year's party, but a dinner alone would be quite a different thing to ask. "Streng genommen—" No, that blank look wasn't what he wanted to start with. Klavier tried again. "Technically, I'd be doing you a favor. But it might feel like the other way around."

"I'm listening," Apollo said hesitantly.

Maybe he was overplaying this. Overthinking it. Best to just ask, ja? "According to the terms of the bet that you and Herr Wright hated so much, I owe you a dinner. A nice one."

"Oh." Apollo didn't seem upset at the idea, exactly, which had been the worst case scenario. But he wasn't ecstatic, either.

Still... Apollo's demeanor seemed like it had been back at the start of all of this, when Klavier had successfully asked him to coffee and then to a concert. Things had gone south after that, of course, but giving their superiors' tale a happy ending had seemed to balance out Klavier Gavin's ledger. Perhaps this time, Klavier could head up in Apollo's estimation instead of down.

Whatever the outcome, it was time to try. "It can be anywhere you want in the city. After all, it's on Herr Edgeworth's account." He leaned in and added conspiratorially, "If you find somewhere expensive enough, maybe he won't be able to replace some of his frills."

Apollo laughed, though he tried to hide it.

Every instinct Klavier had said to press his efforts. Let his smile slide into something more suggestive. Lean in. Narrow his eyes in that way that said he had a secret, and it was a juicy one. Use all the tricks that had charmed audiences in concert halls and courtrooms alike.

Instead, he waited.

"I can have dinner wherever I want?" Apollo repeated. Seeing him consider the offer so seriously was a pleasant surprise. Klavier's recent social failures were at the very top of his memories, and so he stayed obediently silent until Apollo arrived at his next question. "And Prosecutor Edgeworth pays for us?"

"Ja." Unable to help himself, Klavier added, "You seem excited about spending Edgeworth's money, Forehead. Er. Apollo. That's funny. I thought you might be more mad at me."

Apollo smiled with wicked humor. "Prosecutor Edgeworth got Mr. Wright and Trucy to move away, so now I'm alone in that apartment building when I'd rather not be. But that was for a good cause... and both of you were trying to manipulate us." He tapped the wrist splint, which would come off soon but was still an unfortunate reminder of how stupid the prosecutors' bet had become. "I'm going to make both of you spend some money."

Frowning, Klavier asked, "You've got it, Forehead, but what's the deal?" Inspiration struck and he couldn't help but brighten. "Are you saying you want two dinners with my charming company?" Apollo's look flattened, and Klavier flashed back to a breakfast in Heidelberg with a man who—against all odds—was willing to be his friend. It still felt strange to take any sort of social advice from Miles Edgeworth, but perhaps he should dial it back toward 'platonic.' Just a little. With a deep breath, he changed to, "What were you thinking?"

"One dinner, more people. He pays for the two of us, like you said in your bet, but you pay for everyone else."

Klavier hesitated. "How many are we talking about?" He had a lot of money to burn, but every year the papers had stories of some ex-millionaire celebrity declaring bankruptcy. He wasn't bringing in the big concert touring dollars any more, and if Apollo decided to get revenge by asking Klavier to buy dinner for every resident of Los Angeles County....

"I'll have to check, but I'm guessing about forty."

"Forty?" Klavier repeated. So much for making any friendly connections with the two of us. I wanted dinner, but he wants a red carpet crowd.

"That's about how many kids the shelter seemed to have."

"Kids at the... oh!" The youth shelter next to Ruby Lipps' troupe, right. Klavier hadn't wandered through it on his own, not like Apollo had, but he'd researched the place well enough during the case. It seemed to dance along the edge of closure every week, and the kids had to be aware of that constant danger. If anyone could do with a memorable evening, they surely could. This wasn't what I planned, but... I can't complain too much. "You've got it. Let's give those kids a night on the town."

Apollo held up a finger. "Not quite 'the town.' You said I got to pick everything, and that includes the location."

Oh, hell. Klavier hoped that Apollo wasn't about to ask for forty VIP bracelets for the next huge pop concert. Celebrity had its limits, and forty bracelets was past what they'd grant to anyone. They probably wouldn't offer twenty bracelets in exchange for a shiny new Oscar. "Yes?" he asked warily.

"There is a nice restaurant," Apollo said, "inside Disneyland."

"Disneyland?" Klavier blinked, then caught up. "You want to take those kids to Disneyland?"

"That is what I want for my dinner, yes." Apollo folded his arms, displaying his splint as he did, and looked at Klavier with good-natured challenge. "Well?"

Forty tickets to the happiest and most overpriced place on earth wouldn't be cheap, but these kids had just dodged a developer's bullet. And they'd landed in that shelter after rough times, too. This wouldn't be the worst thing to spend his money on. "You've got it," Klavier said, and strummed a quick chord succession against the air. "Let's rock! Or... whatever Disney does."

"Good. And hey, it'll still cost less than that car you were going to bribe me with." The reminder of Klavier's last-ditch efforts made him blush, and Apollo laughed. "You really did act like an idiot, you know. And I'm going to remind you of it. A lot." Thoughtfully, he finished, "It'll be a nice change from me being the one everyone makes fun of."

"I'll take the mockery," Klavier said, holding up his hands. "Ja, ja, I earned it. Besides, it means you'll be talking to me. After the hospital, I wasn't sure."

Apollo shrugged. "The big dramatic plane stunt gives you another chance."

"I'll try not to screw it up."

The Disney trip screwed up other things, but not his relationship with Apollo Justice. Klavier sent a mournful, pleading look to the Japanese tourists laughing at his screaming photograph taken at the top of Splash Mountain. They walked away with their phones, anyway, and the kids who'd ridden with Klavier giggled at his obvious pain. Sadists. All of them.

Apollo cackled louder at Klavier's misery, and the volume drew more of the crowd's attention toward Klavier's shame. His face in the photograph was even worse, but tourists didn't care about a junior attorney at a small firm. Klavier Gavin screaming like that would be a hit on social media, though.

As more spectators left, Apollo turned to follow their passage. "So... from everyone we've seen pointing at it, that picture is headed to Japan, Mexico, and France."

"And Ohio," piped up one of the kids.

"Ohio?"

"That girl's shorts said 'Ohio' over her butt."

"Plus Ohio," Apollo said, nodding. "And you are observant. Ever think about being a lawyer?"

Klavier shot Apollo a flat look. "Das Wasser made your hair collapse, Herr Forehead." That earned the yelp he'd intended, and with a smile, Klavier followed Apollo back into the park proper to find a bathroom and mirror.

It wasn't until hours later, when he was waiting for a painfully large bill from their waiter, that Klavier remembered what he should have said earlier. "Forehead."

"Stop calling me that," Apollo said as he looked over, anyway.

"When you said that kid should go to law school... did Herr Wright ask you to help with a scholarship fund of his?"

"Huh?" Apollo scratched his head at the sudden topic change, then checked his hair's elevation again like a nervous habit. (Ever since Splash Mountain, he'd worried.) "You mean the one he's starting with Prosecutor Edgeworth? Yeah, he asked me and Athena to help. Well. 'Asked,' 'told.' It's a fine line."

Silently, Klavier waited for him to ride that train of thought to its final station.

"Oh. Oh! You think I should recruit that kid?" Apollo frowned in thought. "Mr. Wright just told me to look through the applications. I don't think we have to hunt more people down. It's not like it's hard to get people to take free money."

"Fair enough." Klavier sipped his Diet Coke. All around them, the children from the shelter were making their determined way through dessert, or picking their next ride on a map, or adjusting their mouse ear hats. Back when he'd proposed this dinner, his vision of the winning meal had been much more private. Quiet. It had involved steak and a fine red wine instead of chicken alfredo and a soft drink.

Now, he wouldn't change a thing. "Herr Edgeworth asked me to help, too. I'm just saying, Forehead... Wright and Edgeworth are the old fogies of the group. Very limited thinking. We should push the envelope. I think Wright's hoping to find another him: some young idealist with college funds to burn, who finds his true path." He sing-songed the words. "Or another Edgeworth. The modern, ethical version, that is. Someone who studied law since elementary school."

Apollo frowned in thought and didn't argue.

"They're going to find some applications that look just like what they think a lawyer should be, and give them a lot of money." Klavier popped his eyebrows meaningfully. "Do either of those descriptions sound like you?"

"No," Apollo admitted, and turned to look at their young charges with consideration.

"So, let's fight for the underdog," Klavier said with a grin, and held up his Diet Coke for a toast. "You and me against the Herr Grandpas. We'll make our cases for the best... was? Why are you laughing?"

Apollo hadn't quite started laughing, but just barely. "You, an underdog?" he asked. "You're trying to set this up as some Team Underdog that you are on?"

"I... no." Fair point. Someone who could write a check for a condo's down payment was definitely not an underdog. Inspired, Klavier changed it to, "Team Unconventional Approach."

"Yeah, Mr. Wright is famous for being a stick in the mud."

Fine. "Team Not-A-Grandpa."

"If you call Edgeworth a grandpa to his face," Apollo said with a smirk, "I want to watch."

"You know, Forehead," Klavier said as he leaned in and dropped his voice conspiratorially, "you make fun of my names, but you haven't said no to working with me."

"Yeah, well." Apollo folded his arms in front of him and shrugged. It was a quick, jerky motion that he hardly seemed to mean. "Maybe I've been wrong about you."

"You're not often wrong about people."

"Then maybe you've stopped being wrong." With his good hand, Apollo lightly smacked the back of Klavier's. "You were acting like an idiot, but you really came through. I couldn't have won that case without you, and these kids wouldn't be here if we hadn't gotten Ruby a 'Not Guilty.'"

And for his part, Apollo had stopped being so bristly. He decided not to bring that up. "I didn't do that to win you over, you know. When the new information came to light, I wouldn't have tried to send Ruby to jail no matter who I was facing." Klavier shook his head. "It wouldn't be right. I don't need those kind of victories."

"I know. You can be a little... much, sometimes," Apollo said. "But I can trust you in the courtroom. Completely."

Klavier shrugged to show that he hadn't taken offense. When a man played air guitar in the middle of a case, he could hardly complain when that behavior was pointed out. Besides, the world needed 'a little much,' on occasion. Edgeworth might have recommended how to tone things down with Apollo, but it was Klavier who'd gotten him to make a move on Wright in the first place.

Apollo could see people's tells, but he wasn't a mind-reader. As he smiled wryly, it felt like a close thing. "Plus, you saved what was apparently an epic romance that none of us had any clue existed."

"Including the men in question for about ten years," Klavier added, just as wry.

"They're totally clueless," Apollo agreed. "It'll be easy to get our picks for the scholarship over theirs. And yes, I think that means I'll work with you. I sort of like the Klavier who doesn't seem ready to start humping my leg."

"Memorable imagery," Klavier drawled. "Would you believe that I took socialization advice from Miles Edgeworth?"

Apollo snorted. "No."

Klavier shrugged and waited.

It took Apollo a second to react when Klavier stayed silent; with the splint still on his left arm, that bracelet had found a temporary home on his right. Having things reversed like this had already knocked him off balance a few times that day. Apollo glanced down at the bracelet, frowned like it was lying, and shrugged again as he let it rotate loosely around that wrist. "Prosecutor Miles Edgeworth, Socialite it is, then."

More like Prosecutor Miles Edgeworth, Boring Foundation-Layer. But whatever works.

For at least a minute, Apollo turned and studied the children around them. While he did, Klavier accepted the check, managed not to wince at its size, and calculated the tip. "All right," Apollo eventually said, and turned back. "Yeah. I like the idea of helping those shelter kids, but it's not like all of them want to be lawyers. We can't just hijack all of the money in Edgeworth's scholarship for them."

"Then how?" Klavier mused. His long fingers found a knife as they considered their options, and he began to tap out a beat on the side of his plate. It was an obnoxious habit that he'd failed to break as a teenager. He always compensated for the sound of the silverware, though; he hummed along. That had to help. He had a great voice.

A slow grin spread on Apollo's face.

"Is that an idea I see?" Klavier asked as his knife-drumming stopped.

"A stroke of genius."

As it turned out, 'Stroke of Genius' wasn't a bad title for a new song.

Granted, the lyrics were all about what a genius lover he was, and the 'stroke' involved some suggestive choreography near his groin. It had been too long since Klavier Gavin performed live. A good rock star owed it to his audience to make them feel at least a little sexually frustrated, and he was a star for the ages.

With a long, purring growl near the end, he held for applause and then took his bow. The lights in Ruby Lipps' club dialed up enough for him to make his way safely backstage, and he hustled back there buzzing with adrenaline.

"That was your new single?" Apollo asked as soon Klavier stepped out of view of the audience. While Klavier had gotten fully kitted out in rocker gear, Apollo had attended in his normal work clothing. For him, this wasn't entertainment. This was an exclusive benefit show, with short notice but a high turnout for Klavier Gavin's new solo single, and with all proceeds going to the children's shelter next door. "You say you'll write something to benefit a bunch of runaways and you do... that?" Awkwardly, Apollo half-imitated the gesture Klavier had made on stage. The hand sliding down his chest didn't even reach his navel, though.

"You gave me four days to write a song, Forehead. Besides, they seemed to like it, and it's going to radio stations tomorrow, not television. And this is a drag hall. Not a church."

"Yeah, yeah." Apollo scribbled something down on his clipboard and peeked around the curtain as Ruby introduced the next act. "I'm surprised Mr. Wright let her come on a school night."

Klavier peeked, too. At the end of the short catwalk, Trucy burst into view in an explosion of smoke and confetti. A swirling cascade of sparks followed; from Apollo's grumbling, that hadn't been pre-approved and the insurance wouldn't cover it. Still, the spiraling light was dramatic against the dim twilight smoke. As she'd intended with that arrival, the audience no longer cared that they'd traded in an international superstar for a teenager in a top hat. "He'll probably take her home right after this. He already dropped off the check, ja?"

"Ja. I mean, yes."

Klavier grinned.

"Shut up," Apollo said good-naturedly, flush with the success of his benefit idea. It was lovely to see, both for him and for the children. Anxious to see better, Apollo repositioned himself. The new angle jammed his hip against Klavier's leg and his shoulder into Klavier's chest. Even after he had time to realize all of that, Apollo didn't move.

This is going to be one of those memories, Klavier thought. The ones Edgeworth had talked about, that he shared with Phoenix Wright and everyone in that social circle. The ones he'd stumbled into and only later realized he treasured. This was just the two of them, here and now, working together. No press. No secret vendettas steering their lives. No prodigies, no superstardom.

It felt nice.

"The troupe's whole schedule got messed up by Ruby and Helena's trials," Apollo said, blind to Klavier's wonder over how accepted he felt. "This is supposed to be the weekly disco night, but I'm pretty sure they'll be fine with getting a big fat check from us, instead."

And they had all those dogs to adopt. Maybe Klavier would take one home: the squirmy terrier mutt he'd held when Apollo found the pack in the basement, perhaps. He liked the idea of getting a dog. He'd even liked Disneyland (with the exception of Splash Mountain).

As Trucy wrapped up her set, Apollo turned to him again. "Thank you for the help, Prosecutor. Really."

"Danke for the second chance."

"Hey, that's what the Agency specializes in. But... you're welcome." They shared a smile, equal in its sincerity. For once, Klavier felt like young Justice had welcomed him inside whatever walls he had. It felt wonderful, hopeful. Like the start of something important and real.

Just as quickly, the moment burst and Apollo narrowed his eyes in thought. "I just had a great idea. When they start up Game Night again, Trucy wouldn't be able to focus with you around. You practically drove her nuts on New Year's. She won't shut up about how you kissed her hand."

Well, that was... sort of being welcomed into the larger social circle. Strategically. Viciously. "So I have a fan in Ema now, too?"

Apollo hesitated. "You and I will work on the scholarship now, and we'll ease you into Game Night."

He'd take it.

Chapter Text

"Is that a dog?" asked Miles.

Backtracking, Klavier reappeared before the door of the Chief Prosecutor's office. Sure enough, a terrier mix was in Gavin's arms. It had the adoring eyes of puppyhood and gangly legs of adolescence. Miles estimated its age at four and a half months. "Ja," Klavier said after it was clear that he had no way to explain away the animal he was carrying.

"And why do you have a dog at work?" Miles prompted.

"It's evidence."

"For which case? And why are you holding onto that evidence in your own office?"

Though the puppy nipped and licked at Klavier's fingers, the man still tried to look like the picture of professionalism. "I should say, it was evidence. It's. Ah. Being properly filed, now."

Months earlier, Miles would have snapped at Gavin to stop whatever nonsense he was pulling and get back to work. His nerves were less tightly wound, now, and he only raised an eyebrow at the man who was becoming his friend. "I thought we were committed to the truth, Prosecutor Gavin."

Klavier hesitated. The puppy panted, looking like it was smiling. "It's one of the adoptable dogs from the Lipps case. I drove over to meet Helena on my lunch hour. Justice helped me choose, but I'm still deciding on a name."

"I see. Technically, only service animals are supposed to be in this building." Miles interlaced his fingers and studied Klavier. With the long, formal span of his office between them, Gavin had to feel like a schoolchild being lectured by a particularly picky headmaster. "Although, as you pointed out... prosecutors can also bring in evidence. I suppose that applies to previous evidence, as well. Make sure he doesn't relieve himself inside, and don't make a habit of this."

Though he relaxed, Klavier couldn't hide his confusion as he walked further inside. "You're actually letting this slide? I like this new you."

"And I always liked dogs." Though that could have been the end of their conversation, Miles' gaze stayed firm and thoughtful and Klavier didn't dare move out from under it. "The Paynes are furious that I've brought you in on the scholarship project. They think it's shameless favoritism."

"Und?"

Miles smiled thinly. "You're the talkative one. If you'd be so kind, spread it around the entire building that I would look well on anyone who helps find permanent homes for those animals."

Klavier laughed. "Because you like dogs?"

"Because I like dogs," Miles confirmed. We do have space in that condo.... "And please get me your feedback on the scholarship application by the end of the week."

"Believe it or not, we had the same thoughts about finding homes for these puppies. In other words: will do." Klavier scritched under his puppy's chin. "And I've already come up with some notes. I'll doublecheck for anything else I want to add by Friday."

With perfect timing, another face appeared at the door. "I already got my final feedback in," smirked Ema and walked to join them. The envelopes in her arms were perfectly aligned, like she'd known Klavier would have a squirming armful of puppy for sloppy contrast. "With proper usage of ethical judgment scales from peer-reviewed articles. Very scientific. Lana liked my edits, too."

Miles accepted the files she handed over, then asked mildly, "Would those peer-reviewed articles be from... psychological journals?"

It was a perfect hit. Even a tiny bit of teasing from him made the girl blush. "Uh. Well. Yes." Ema cleared her throat and tugged her jacket. "I talked more with Athena at the New Year's party. Psychology might have more scientific rigor than I gave it credit for."

Klavier was obviously confused at whatever he was missing, as he'd missed the grand Cykes Versus Skye showdown over fields of scientific inquiry. That was fine. Miles had actually enjoyed their one successful Game Night, and agreed with Phoenix that others should be held. They'd induct Klavier soon enough and then he could participate in all the pointless friendly arguments to come.

Still, it was time for Ema to deflect, and she naturally chose her favorite target. With the return of her trademark smirk, she whipped out her phone and held the screen in front of Klavier. "Nice Splash Mountain pic."

Miles tried not to smirk, as well. That picture had already made the rounds at the office.

The hit landed solidly and Klavier grumbled. After adjusting his hold on the puppy, Klavier turned back to Ema. "Fräulein."

"Yes, Fop?"

"Herr Edgeworth has announced that he'll like anyone who gives one of the shelter puppies a home." Lifting his furry charge for emphasis, Klavier finished, "So I'm sure you'll want to run out and adopt a dozen."

In one smooth succession, Ema reddened again, pelted Klavier with her snack, and stormed toward the door.

"It's probably for the best that I didn't try to get her to like me," Klavier said as Ema left.

"Quite." Miles didn't look up from the files Ema had brought. That scene had been faintly entertaining, but he was still a busy man with a long week ahead of him. Paperwork about tenant agreements had been nothing compared to buying a house himself, and there were more fresh cases to manage. "Considering he helped you choose a dog, I assume your victory dinner with Justice went well. And the benefit at the club."

"Smooth sailing on both, and thanks for the check." Officially, the charity check was under Phoenix's name, but Miles actually funding the donation wasn't much of a secret in their group. Klavier wasn't even bothering to pretend. "You could have come, you know. Trucy would have wanted you there. And one of the ladies in the troupe shares your taste in neckwear. Peggy Legg. She's a pirate."

Miles chose to ignore that, just as Klavier continued to ignore that ridiculous hair spiral hanging next to his head. "The Chief Prosecutor attending a show run by a former defendant, who was aided by the prosecution?" He shook his head and settled his reading glasses on his nose. "That would be terrible optics. Puppy adoptions are one thing, but outright cash donations are quite another. Trucy understands."

"She does understand," confirmed a new voice.

Warmth rushed through Miles and he looked up from his files. Phoenix stood there, his formal blue suit looking as mismatched as ever with his spiky hair and lopsided smile. It was the best sight he'd seen all day. Franziska would call his schoolboy-like reaction foolish, and she was probably right. It did feel lovely to be near each other, though, as comforting as when he'd stepped inside from the Heidelberg blizzards. Foolish, foolish, foolish. He didn't fight it.

"But," Phoenix continued as he walked inside, "we're still going to make you come to another one next week to make up for it. She'll need lots of applause at her school talent show."

Miles brightened. "She got in!" With Trucy transferring schools halfway through the semester, that hadn't been a sure thing. Already, this fresh start seemed like a good thing for all of them.

"She got in, and...." Phoenix frowned at Klavier. "That's a dog."

Klavier held up his puppy for a better view, confirming that yes, it was a dog. An adorable—if scruffy—dog, with brindled brown fur and one ear stubbornly aloft. "I'm still picking a name. And he probably needs a walk before I start discovery on the Lombard case. Tschau," he said airily and left them alone. His puppy squirmed as they left, and licked his chin.

"That's a dog," Phoenix repeated to Miles, bemused. "He got a dog? Are we getting a dog?"

"It was from that nightclub case that he and Justice worked on. There's going to be an adoption drive among my prosecutors and detectives." Miles' brow furrowed as he ran through his mental checklist again. "I'll have to doublecheck that presents no ethical problems, since they were evidence. Obviously there are no formal issues, but as I said to Gavin, I want to avoid even the hint of impropriety. The city needs to be absolutely sure—"

Phoenix's kiss cut him off. "I think your office can have a tiny little bit of impropriety. And seriously, are we going to pick out a puppy, too?"

Miles grumbled. Yes, he missed having a dog, but right now he was a very serious official in his very serious office, talking about very serious things. "Think of all the dark history this city is operating under. All those years of damaging precedent. They're used to the law being twisted into... they're in the habit of...." He squirmed away from the investigation Phoenix's mouth was making of a spot behind his ear. "Stop that."

Phoenix stopped, but didn't look sorry about trying.

"May I help you?" Miles asked tightly. Control would be regained; he just needed another minute. And then he would be a very serious Chief Prosecutor again.

"I was hoping I could use your books."

This again. That brought a quick smile, which Miles tried to fight down. He was a very serious official in his very serious office. This would not work. "You know, you have that rather expensive database subscription."

"I do know." Phoenix plucked a book from the shelves without bothering to look at its spine. "But Athena is using it right now, and I wanted to spend time with you."

Maybe he could give up a little control. "Oh. Well, then." Miles gestured at one of the settees, then stood. "Help yourself. I'll put on some tea."

With that, Phoenix set aside the book he'd used as a cover story and pulled papers from his messenger bag. They quickly took over the low table in front of him. Miles' orderly office became a mess of edit marks and highlighter stripes. "Apollo's already bugging me about some quick changes to the scholarship application. He said he and Klavier had been going through it. I won't complain about them getting along, now, but they want to 'fix' everything the two of us already did."

"I made the mistake of sending it to Franziska," Miles said as he fiddled with the electric kettle. "Not on a formal basis, but just to show how far along we were. She's convinced you've destroyed my productivity. She essentially sent it back with a giant 'prosecutor' stamp on every page that mentioned future career paths. I knew I should have kept this to Lana."

"All we need is for Ema, Athena, and Blackquill to swoop in as a third faction, and we'll have quite a civil war on our hands." Phoenix grinned as Miles handed him a cup, with milk and sugar already added like he preferred. "The Gregory Edgeworth Legal Scholarship is going to be a lot of work."

"It will," Miles agreed. Phoenix looked momentarily surprised as Miles took the seat across from him rather than returning to his desk. The expression faded, replaced by joy.

There were a lot of papers, even for men used to the thick files of government casework. Busy days were ahead, skipped lunches, and late nights in a home that still had boxes to unpack. Fine. The two of them had always been able to tackle the biggest challenges together, and anything meaningful took effort.

It was worth it in the end.