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the moth and the flame

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It doesn’t take long before whispers begin to reach his ears. Plastering across the front pages are accusations of a Forging Attorney. The articles condemn without mercy, sensationalizing every drop of ink and testimony. Making bold claims about how he’d stop at nothing to have his verdict.

It’s familiar, of course. He’s heard it in all its variations spat out by friend and foe alike. For a moment, he thinks they’re talking about him. It prompts that morbid curiosity to investigate deeper. To hear what rackets they’re making now that he’s up-up-and-away, safely padded by distance and international borders.

Then he catches on the name. 

He reads it again, just to make sure. Then again. Then once more, as if maybe, just maybe it would change things. Desperate hope bubbles up through the ash in his veins, pushing up into his mouth. He spells out that man’s name over and over until there’s no shadow left for the light to burn away. 

It’s his name. His ridiculous and unmistakable name written out painfully on the front of a German newspaper of all things.

He’s in Los Angeles before he knows it. 

His mind spins with everything he could do this time. How he can help—how he can reverse this terrible mess and shift their world back to the peace they had won. He devours every bit of information he can access online and waits for the less publicly accessible details from his compatriots. 

Gumshoe adds a warning. Be careful, he says. Just be gentle, pal.

Lead fills up his boots. What could that possibly mean?

(Let me defend you. On Wright’s lips, it seemed to glow. A soft flame amidst the dark; a saviour shaped like a gold pin.)

Edgeworth looks up, eyes rimmed with dark circles and watches as the sky burns, orange starting to see into the blue. The sun makes its way into the final leg of its arc.

Soon, he thinks. Soon, I’ll fix this mess.

 

· · ·

 

He ends up outside Wright’s office door, staring blankly and wonder if he had gotten to wrong address. Maybe another person by the same name lives here, innocent of any crime while his friend is on another street, oblivious to his presence.

The person at the front desk is insistent that yes, the office is still listed under Phoenix Wright.

The knot that’s been building in the base of his gut tightens. He swallows and makes his way up the stairs again, pushing open the door and resolving to at least knock. He’d had plenty of assumptions knocked clean off their balance because of Wright. Why would this be any different?

That’s, of course, when he sees him.

His back is turned, bright blue jacket still hanging awkwardly off his shoulders. It's too big and loose for his frame, never tailored after it was taken from the rack. The distinct outline of his spikes are a little blunted and frayed, but it's still so distinctly him.

Phoenix Wright the defense attorney, carrying a bag of groceries in one arm. Edgeworth nearly makes a strangled noise at the sight of it because this is his office

To say nothing of the child.

“Wright—” They both turn. His throat runs dry of words.

Oh shi...” Wright says, softly. Almost as if it wasn’t meant to be heard. He coughs. “Hey there, Edgeworth.”

Wright doesn’t seem surprised to see him. Neither of them do. The little girl at his side simply looks him up and down once before giving him a winning smile. She chirps an enthusiastic Hello! before skipping through the door in a swirl of pink cloth, taking the groceries with her.

“My daughter,” Wright says by way of explanation, leading him inside. They leave their shoes by the entrance and Edgeworth walks away in the only pair of slippers left while Wright carries on in his socks. 

Edgeworth puts his coat on the rack, considering the small blue raincoat hanging next to it. His mind digs deep, giving him glimpses of a similar windbreaker and the sound of a plastic charm hitting metal. Tries to fit around the word daughter and how that relates to Wright.

There’s a pause. Then, “You adopted her.”

“I think she adopted me, actually,” Wright says with a funny little expression. Edgeworth opens his mouth, not sure what’s going to come out of it—

The girl pokes her head around the corner, looking at them both.

“…May I help you?” Edgeworth tries, turning his head towards Wright. The hope for any assistance dashes quick against stone. Wright is too busy smiling at her to pay him any attention.

“You’re Mr. Edgeworth,” she states confidently. It’s not a question. 

Feeling as if he’s about to fail some sort of test, Edgeworth laces together his composure and bows deeply in greeting. His hair falls across his features, hiding the bead of sweat that runs down his face.

“You like really fancy tea.” She adjusts her hat, straightening the brim. Her eyes glitter like stars against a deep blue sky, infinite and vast and more than a little worrying. “And the Steel Samurai.”

“I…I do, yes,” he answers. 

She smiles at him once more before darting away behind the wall.

For a windstruck moment, all he can do is stare. Then he forces himself to break away and wander around the office, taking it in as Wright shuffles around and tries his best to clean up.

“Sorry,” he says, rubbing the back of his neck. Stuffs a few papers into a book about evidence law and tosses that under the couch. “We’re still figuring it out how we want to lay it all out.”

There’s an astonishing assortment of props and colourful accoutrements that fill the space to bursting. Stacks of boxes both cardboard and prop bunch up together on the floor in varying stages of unpacking. He nearly bumps against a houseplant resting in the shadow of some cabinets. 

“Her name is Trucy,” Wright says, breaking the silence.

“The ficus?”

That earns him an odd look. “No, that would be Charley and he’s not a ficus. He’s…uh. Not a ficus. Anyway, I was actually talking about my daughter. You know, the professional magician.”

“She’s from Troupe Gramarye, correct?” Edgeworth looks at the string of handkerchiefs tied together across a shuttered window and the picture frame of a missing man. “That would explain a few things.”

“Looks like you’re well informed already,” Wright says lightly.

“Well…” Edgeworth trails off, listening to the bustling sounds of someone opening cupboards somewhere deeper in the bowels of the office. A little song, just on the side of too quiet to really parse. “She seems much the same.”

“I didn’t want her to go into this unprepared.”

Edgeworth’s frowns. “You’ve been expecting me.”

“Kind of. You’re just the latest in a long conga line of people that have blown through these doors recently.”

Good. He hasn’t been alone. Somehow, that sentiment doesn’t quite stick the landing. It festers underneath the skin. Out of sight, but never truly out of mind. 

Instead, he asks, “Your daughter, then. How is she?”

It must have been the right thing to say. Wright smiles, almost automatically at the thought of that girl. He looks more honest in this light. Still quiet and subdued, but infinitely closer to his old self.

“She’s—adjusting,” Wright settles on eventually. “A lot has happened to her.”

“I know,” Edgeworth says, softly. Wright holds his gaze a second too long and Edgeworth has to glance away.

(Somehow, it feels like it’s been fifteen years since Hazakurain. It’s not true—logically, he knows that. Still, everything feels too similar right down to the red wash of light and lack of air.)

In the distance, a kettle whistles. Edgeworth blinks and takes a deep breath, pressing on. “And you—how are you adjusting?”

Wright shrugs. “I’m getting by.”

“You’re living in your office.”

“It’s an agency, actually,” Wright corrects. “Didn’t you see the sign outside?”

“I did.” Edgeworth states with a deadpan. “It’s a laminated menu from a noodle stand with Wright Talent Agency scrawled on it in white marker.”

“It really suits us, don’t you think?” 

“I would think a law practice suits you more.” 

Wright freezes. Edgeworth's fingers tighten around his elbow, unable to keep his gaze from drifting towards the space on Wright’s chest. Hovering where that badge used to float serenely on a sea of octane blue.

Edgeworth is still expecting a disaster to bubble up suddenly. Assassins, age-old legacies dipped in blood and jealousy—they’ve been through plenty and they’ll go through plenty more before their life is up.

Wright has to be hiding something. An investigation, perhaps. A secret inquiry into how such a thing happened and whoever gave him that damned diary page. There must be some terrible truth yet to be unearthed, buried under the wick-thin expression Wright seems to think passes as a smile. 

“Enough about me,” Wright tries, stepping around the topic. “What about you? What have you been up to lately all the way in Europe? I’m sure Trucy would love to hear some stories—”

Edgeworth bristles. “I didn’t come all the way over here to talk about Europe.”

“I know.” A tired, long exhale. Wright deflates into couch and guilt spreads like a bitter taste in Edgeworth’s mouth at the sight of him so defeated. “Really, I do. I know what you’re trying to get at, but we can’t talk about that right now.”

“Why not—”

That’s when Trucy pushes open the door. Edgeworth jolts in surprise and his head snaps towards her. Their eyes meet before hers crinkle, gesturing to the tray being held secure in her hands. A heavy pot and three mugs, steam curling beautiful trails into the air.

“I made tea!” she announces brightly.

While Edgeworth stares, Wright smiles. Moving with a lively animation that’s been absent ever since Trucy had left the room. Like peas in a pod, they gravitate towards the same couch. He settles on the empty one across from them to be polite, hands folded on his lap and back straight.

Trucy distributes the drinks. She gives him the Steel Samurai mug, of course. A collector’s edition as well. The signature at the bottom impresses Edgeworth for a second before he remembers himself. 

“Ah. Thank-you.”

“You’re welcome!”

He dumps half the bowl of sugar into his tea and stirs.

“You do have a sweet tooth,” Trucy says, impressed. “Daddy, why can’t I do that?”

“Because it’s already six in the evening,” Wright informs her dryly. “If you had a sugar rush now, I’d die trying to catch you when you launch yourself off the balcony.”

“Daddy, you know you’ll only walk away with a splinter at most if you fell from here.”

Wright raises a brow. “And you’ll fly your way to safety because you’re made of magic?”

“No, silly.” Trucy grins, thumping her hand against her chest. “It’ll be because I’m Trucy Wright.”

Wright’s eyes widen. For the briefest of seconds, Edgeworth sees those eyes start to shimmer with something deeply hidden behind the palisade of strength. His countenance softens and he bumps Trucy’s shoulder with his own.

Out of respect, Edgeworth looks away. The sugar sticks to his tongue and it’s heavy to swallow. He allows the moment to pass without resistance before bringing their attention back by clearing his throat.

Ahem,” he starts. He turns towards Trucy and says, “So what Wright tells me is true, then. You are a professional magician.”

“I am!” She hops off the couch and onto her feet, falling into a stance. “I do shows at the Wonder Bar every Tuesday and Thursday night. I could be doing them every night, but Daddy—” and there’s a heated look being tossed over her shoulder, “—says I have school.”

Wright chuckles. “It’s a good show, Edgeworth. If you’re in town for a few more days, you’re more than welcome to attend.”

“At a reduced price,” Trucy adds. “Since you’re a friend of Daddy’s and all.”

“That’s…very kind of you, Miss Wright.”

“So is that a yes?” There’s that flicker in her eyes again. “Because if you’re still on the fence, I can give you a show right here. Think of it as a sample of the real thing.”

“Free of charge?” Wright asks.

“Free of charge.” Trucy nods. Then she taps her chin with a finger. “That said, I do accept tips in the form of cookies.”

Trucy.”

She ignores him, bouncing up and down on her toes. “What do you say, Mr. Edgeworth?”

Edgeworth blinks. That was very sudden and fast and he has no idea how he’s ended up here with both Wrights looking at him expectantly, waiting to see what he would do.

The same look on different faces. Coordinated and sharp.

“I…” He clears his throat again. “I would love to see you perform.”

And that’s how Edgeworth gets roped into playing the part of an audience member that’s been brought onto the stage.

Wright dims the light and flicks on a standing lamp. Trucy introduces him with a flourish, presenting a chair for him to sit on. She twirls around him and he follows it up with a stiff bow that makes Wright smile.

He picks a card, any card. Inspects her hands for anything suspect and questions the laws of physics when Mr. Hat spins into existence. He’s always been good with puzzles. Figured out more than his fair share of magic tricks and illusions with the power of logic and a keen eye.

It’s different with her. 

Guilt surges through him when he lingers too long on the elbow poking through her cape, moving in time with Mr. Hat’s mouth. Feels a genuine sense of wonder when she makes playing cards fly or links individual rings together as if they had always been like that. 

She loves magic. He can tell by the way her eyes light up and how hard she works to pull everything off. It urges him to place his trust in her as she tips her hat over her face and smiles her largest smile. Points his gaze back towards the audience as she transitions into her next act.

Wright is watching them intently, arm laid over the back of the couch. The blatant pride he wears warms up his features. Brings back a bit of that youthful glow that’s fallen to the wayside with the bags underneath his eyes and the smattering of stubble coating his jaw.

He’s with them and he’s also not. Existing in parallel to their act, safely in a world where he can loosen up and relax. Trucy leads them into a dazzling finale, leaping to centre stage with and falling into a final pose that flips the switches and floods the room with light.

She bows and Wright wastes no time in sweeping Trucy up into his arms, lifting her up into the air and gushing praise after praise. 

What a precocious child, fizzles against his mind, bright pink and blue.

It’s at this moment that he has two realizations:

One—this is what it truly feels like to walk into court without any evidence or prior knowledge of the case’s details. He had based his entire understanding of the situation on newspaper reports and Edgeworth now knows he leaped off without looking and the cliff underfoot obscured the bottom with clouds.

And two—Wright has absolutely no intention of getting his badge back.

 

· · ·

 

Trucy leaves them when Wright tells her to finish her homework.

Whatever energy sparked at Trucy’s heels and filled out her cape leaves with her. It’s quiet, again. The evening light gives way to humming purples and cool blues. Settles like a low lying fog, slowing Wright’s movements to a lethargic pace as he washes the dishes one by one.

Edgeworth hovers by his side, drying anything Wright hands him and placing them back in the dishwasher rack.

“Thanks for doing that,” Wright starts. “That was probably a lot to throw at you at once.”

Entirely on purpose, no doubt. It doesn’t seem like a night to pick fights and Edgeworth is tired so he leaves it be for now. He wipes one of the mugs clean and looks down at the others. No two matched. All of them were entirely distinct, bursting with personalities he can map to different faces.

“She has quite the routine set up,” he remarks instead.

Wright shrugs, scrubbing at a persistent stain. “It must be the performer in her. She likes to know who she’s dealing with. Especially since a lot of people have been coming in and out of her life recently.”

A long conga line of people. It makes sense now that he’s had the time to process everything that’s been said and everything that hadn’t. The guilt settles back in his stomach, jagged and weighted with stone. He could have done more to prepare. He can’t imagine the stress he must have put on that girl, coming into her life without so much as a warning.

It took two months for him to wrap up his affairs and make his way over. The newspapers were slow. He was even slower.

“That’s why you refused to talk, then.”

Wright bumps his hands with a plate. “Don’t think too hard about it. You didn’t know.”

“I’m beginning to think that is exactly the problem.”

“To be fair, I didn’t make much of an effort to reach out.” Wright’s expression shifts. Thoughts simmering just underneath the surface. Quietly enough to slide away from anyone’s immediate notice. With Trucy gone, it’s easier to see the shadows pooling in his face. 

“You look tired,” Edgeworth says, soft and tender. He looks at Wright and Wright refuses to look his way. “It hasn’t been very long, has it? Since your…disbarment.”

Time, Edgeworth thinks. He can picture Wright’s lips (and it's always him, isn't it?) wrapping around those words, possessing the same maturity that was only beginning to come into bloom last they saw each other. It will take time.

Not that it matters. Not now. Time can't soothe fresh wounds.

“I am tired,” Wright admits. Something must have shown on his face because Wright almost laughs. Almost, because that chord of churned fence-wire cannot possibly be a laugh. “Don't look at me like that. I know all about foolish pride.”

It sounds like something is there. It's not a secret. Not in the way Edgeworth has been hoping, no. There's nothing earth-shattering about that little aside—nothing Edgeworth can use to justify his long flight.

It's simply a story. One that he has no right to pry into for all that he thinks he's owed.

Silence stretches between them, thick and heavy. It’s the most open Wright’s been all evening and now that he is, Edgeworth is floundering to deal with it.

He’s seen Wright waver. Seen him fracture under the pressure, but he has never been like this. Never this weird stretch of melancholy that seemed so wrong on a character that was as vibrant as Phoenix Wright.

(Or perhaps he never allowed himself to notice.)

Wright washes his hands clean and dries them with a towel. “I’m not getting my badge back,” he declares suddenly. There's a smile affixed upon his lips. Crooked and bent with pity. “I know that’s what you want,” he says, neither kind nor gentle. Just true. “It’s what a lot of people want.”

“Well…” Edgeworth trails off, looking away. “There is the matter of the injustice you suffered.”

“...injustice. Right.” Something curdles in his gut.

“You didn’t forge that evidence,” Edgeworth says slowly. Everything he’s wished someone would have said to his younger self, he says now. It’s only chance to speak to that outline of grief rendered against a burgundy couch and sallow walls. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“Some of it isn’t.” Wright agrees. “But some of it is.”

“That's not—”

True?” Wright cuts in. He continues, “The difference between you and I is that you trusted the evidence they gave you.”

Edgeworth startles. “And you didn’t?”

“No, I didn’t.” Wright leans in close, putting up a hand to guard his lips and block the light. He whispers, “I knew something was off about the diary page, but I still presented it anyway.”

“...what?”

"It was too perfect, you know? Like a trump card out of the blue,” Wright continues, molasses sticking his teeth together. His entire body is steel and brackets, annotations bleeding off his tongue as if he's forgotten how to simply say things. “I thought it was a sign. A sign that it'd go just like it usually does. Like it always does.”

Realization crystallizes in his eye. “A turnabout at the last possible moment.”

“Bingo.”

"Then—why?" Edgeworth wants to trespass that line. He wants to reach out and grab Wright by the fabric of his shirt and shake him until the mask falls loose. I used to be an art major, Wright's facsimile murmurs in his mind. "If you know that something is wrong, why aren't you..."

“Because the Gramarye trial isn't called State vs Wright for a reason," comes the even reply. Wright pauses, and then for the first time lifts his head up to hold the weight of his stare. “This is a lot bigger than me, Edgeworth.”

It sounds like a promise. Strong-willed and bolstered by the giant heart that once pressed his badge against the glass.

“This doesn’t have to be a burden you carry on your own,” Edgeworth manages. He gnaws on his bottom lip. Clutches his elbow in a vice as if it will have the answer. “You have people who want to help, Wright. Friends.”

You have me, he does not say. It doesn’t seem right to.

“I know,” says Wright. "They've all done their best."

Edgeworth prefers the tangibility of contracts and paperwork. Appreciates the finality of printed text and the game of chess rooted onto a table, months in the making. Wright, however, signs his soul away with a mere thought. Turns away from everyone without even a word to swallow poisoned glass and run across burning bridges until it all falls out from underneath his feet.

The moth and the flame exist in the same person.

It must hurt, Edgeworth thinks, body growing cold. It must hurt.

“I’m sorry,” he says. It's all he can do. There is nothing else that he can think of to say other than the most honest expression of his sympathy.

“I know,” Wright whispers. Smiles a little bit all soft and sad. As if he's the one who's approaching Edgeworth all gentle and well-meaning. “I’m sorry too. I know you were expecting something different.”

And that’s the truth, isn’t it?

Edgeworth’s shoulders slump. He feels like he’s being buried in everything that he’s uncovered. Wright didn’t have to say much for Edgeworth to catch on. Apparently, Edgeworth didn’t have to say anything at all.

It’s hard to swallow.

“What are you going to do next?”

“For one—I’m going to raise my daughter.” Wright smiles again. As if the very thought of her brings back the colour in his eyes. A little more subdued and hidden, but still the same eyes that faced him across court one day and challenged his entire world view.

It seemed with no one left across the bench, only himself remained to deconstruct.

Somehow, Edgeworth smiles back.

Here is the truth: Phoenix Wright isn’t a lawyer.

Not in the way Edgeworth is. Edgeworth has been steeped in the profession since the day he was born. The law is quite literally his life. A vital part of his identity that has shaped who he is and how he interacts with the world at large. While he’s changed hands into being an agent for truth, the law is still the hilt upon which his blade rests. When Prosecutor Edgeworth chose death, he had to break every part of him and light the forge again to melt the steel down and remake himself anew.

Wright, by comparison, is an ivy plant sprawling on buildings and trees to reach the sun. Law had only ever been a tool—a means to an end. It’s undeniable that he is—was—a very good lawyer. He is no Gregory Edgeworth or Mia Fey, but he is something and someone entirely distinct. His own silhouette against the light of truth, making ripples and changing the game all in the name of saving people.

That’s it. That’s the key. Wright wants to save people. To help them, no matter how impossible and no matter how high the cost. There may be other motivations laying in the thick of all that altruism, but the fact remains that his heart is very large and Wright can fill it with whatever he wants.

 

· · ·

 

Night falls between them as they move onto lighter topics. Edgeworth tells Wright all about Europe and the benches he’s prosecuted behind and in return, Wright fills in the gaps of Edgeworth’s knowledge. Tells him of the people who have stomped up those stairs and offered their hearts and service. How the Wrights honestly wanted for nothing because of them.

“Is it so surprising?” Edgeworth asks. “You’ve done worse for far less.”

“Like you can talk. You chartered a private jet for me.” Wright looks thoughtful. “I think Trucy is a little disappointed you didn’t do it again. She’s never been on a plane before.”

“Maybe I can help with that,” he says and Wright looks seriously at him before the Edgeworth smirks to lighten the mood again. “I’m more offended you think so low of me. If I reused concepts for my dramatic entrances I would fall in danger of becoming predictable and uninspired.”

“So you’re a performer too, Mr. Edgeworth,” Trucy pipes in, entering the room with that impeccable timing of hers. She takes a look at them both, far too calculating and knowing than Edgeworth is truly comfortable with, but then she smiles. Whatever she sees, she’s clearly happy about it. “Maybe you should join our agency!”

Wright raises a brow. “I thought you had to have talent first.”

“Then you ought to explain yourself, Phoenix Wright.”

“I play the piano,” Wright says matter-of-factly. He wiggles his fingers. “I play so well, people tip me to stop because it’s too beautiful.”

Trucy giggles, throwing her head back and shining like the sun. Wright stifles a guffaw and looks entirely too pleased with himself. Edgeworth rolls his eyes, lips quirking against his will.

“Will you be joining us for dinner, Mr. Edgeworth?” Trucy asks after she wipes her eyes. 

“…Dinner?”

“It’s late,” she says, pointing to the clock. And oh, it really is. Edgeworth hadn’t intended to stay that long at all.

“Is that an invitation?”

“It is.” Trucy takes his hand after a look of permission and tugs him towards the table. She’s as kind as she is perceptive—no wonder Wright works so hard. 

He instead kneels down, moving until they’re eye level and takes the hand grasping his sleeve and grips it gently. “If you would have me,” he says, looking her in the eye and allowing himself to be seen. “I would be honoured…Trucy.”

There’s a gasp—

And then she smiles. Warmly and youthfully, curtains drawing apart. She squeezes his hand back and it feels like a promise and acceptance all at once.