Phoenix had always been one to get too attached. It wasn't as if he meant to. Perhaps it was a lonely childhood, or simply a heart too big for his own good, or a culmination of things. Inversely, Phoenix had never been stellar at befriending others. Maybe this was yet another reason it was so important when he did. It was difficult for him to loosen his grip on anyone.
However, earth shattering as each departure seemed to feel, Miles Edgeworth’s ever-vagrant position in his life wrenched him around the most.
It was early winter in the fourth grade. The school year had only really gotten underway by the time Miles Edgeworth disappeared over Christmas break and didn't come back. The first instance of loss, of sorts, for Phoenix Wright. He was too young to process any of the complicated feelings that come with that.
“C’mon, Phoenix,” an equally young Larry would plead, fiddling with an assortment of little metal cars at recess. By then, it was early spring. The snow had just finished melting. The class had earlier been informed, in a passing manner, that Miles wouldn't be returning that year.
Phoenix had his head rested in one hand, the other engaged in unenthusiastically swaying one of the toy cars back and forth over the table.
“Maybe he'll be back next year,” Larry persisted. “Besides, there's plenty of new people in this class. We'll put someone new in our club.”
Phoenix nodded dully, recognizing it was futile, maybe even silly, to argue with his friend. That would probably be the normal thing to do. Make new friends and move on. But he didn't feel that way now. And he wouldn't ever, really. There was some inscrutable fear lodged in his heart, something akin to grief, that his friend was gone, and he wasn't coming back.
Through the rest of his grade years, he struggled to make new friends. Oftentimes, he hung out with who Larry would hang out with, which often changed week to week. And sometimes he did manage to make friends of his own, to his credit. But not all friendships did a lifelong bond make, and oftentimes people came and went. And oftentimes he took it much harder than he needed to.
This struggle continued into university. The boy was old enough now to recognize some part of it came from anxiety. Being around others in social situations filled him with this sort of franticness that manifested into sputtering overzealousness in the face of strangers. Typically he feared it ran people off. But some people found it endearing, at least.
Dahlia Hawthorne found it endearing; at least she said she did.
Again, Phoenix got too attached too fast. Larry Butz was far away since college started, Miles Edgeworth was still nowhere to be seen, and his other friends since had been fleeting. So, by default, Dahlia became his whole life for a time.
She fed into his seemingly endless need to love and be loved (or, more accurately, the woman he believed to be her did). And though, in retrospect, much of her had been a mystery to him, she indulged his neediness, oftentimes she matched it. They truly were gag-worthy levels of attached. Yet, though he hardly realized it at the time, she wasn't everything he needed. When they were together barely a moment passed without hands held, or arms locked, or fingers in hair, or otherwise. And yet though they were firmly attached at the hip, he didn't know anything about her. She'd listen to him talk for ages, but often it would seem she was distracted. And she'd never return it, not even a little. Sometimes, she'd start as if she had something she wanted to say about herself, and then trail off. Go back to playing with his hair.
Still, she was what he had. And ninety percent of what he needed. And so she was his everything. Everything hinged on Dahlia Hawthorne.
And then she was gone.
After the court case, he felt as though he might die. He briefly mused how things might have been a bit better if chewing up a poison bottle had killed him properly. He mused, poetically, how he felt somewhat akin to a glass bottle being crunched to bits.
Mia Fey recognized he needed someone, and with the same oversized heart as the boy himself, took him under her wing, following the trial. She let him help out around her office. Which, at first, often consisted of the young man breaking down into another case of hysterics in the middle of incorrectly filing her papers for her, and collapsing on the sofa to break down. But Mia showed him patience, which had been a rare gift in his time thus far. She let him carry on, coaxed him through it at times. She let him stay late on the days it was clear he wasn't ready to go home alone. She fixed his mistakes around the office, until slowly, there were less.
Under Mia's mentorship he gained a new outlook, or at least, a new drive to carry on. He went back to school with a fresh start, switching abruptly from art school to pre-law. Though an outsider might have considered it a reckless move, having been fueled by his recent traumas, Phoenix was serious about it. He didn't particularly bother himself with dissenters who thought he was too easy going, too emotional, too whatever for the field.
Except when it did bother him.
It was maybe a day in early spring, he didn't remember the exact details, his focus was elsewhere. It was the first time in... what? Nine, ten years that had seen him. Despite the amount of time that had passed, Phoenix recognized the man at once. Miles Edgeworth walked across the campus of Ivy University like he was on some sort of mission. Of what, Phoenix was uncertain. He walked with such surity and speed that by the time Phoenix had fully processed it was him, and decided to pursue him, he was nearly a hundred feet or more ahead.
Phoenix chased after him, walking as briskly as he could without full-on sprinting. Once he was a shorter distance behind, he called out to him.
The other young man turned around. Posture pin straight, expression serious. Overdressed for whatever occasion he might be going to. And looking older, almost too much older, than the last time the boys had been face to face. Phoenix recognized something deeply unfamiliar about the man, but quickly realized it wasn't anything physical. It was as if some new aura surrounded Miles, something darker, something untouchable.
The flat greeting, and a cursory once over by Miles solidified this feeling. There was coldness. Maybe to be expected when it'd been so long. But Phoenix certainly hadn't prepared for it in the five seconds in which he decided to chase the man down.
“What are you doing here?” Phoenix said, finally, when he realized Miles wasn't going to continue on his own.
“Mn,” was the other man's only reply. He looked off briefly, then back at Phoenix. “What about you?”
“Oh!” Phoenix found himself frazzled. “I g-go to school here! Yeah! I’m a sophomore now. I ah....” He straightened up as tall as he could make himself, clearing his throat. “I’m in pre-law now!”
There was a pause that fizzled in the air. At least, the tension was palpable to Phoenix, but Miles seemed calm enough. He again swept his eyes up and down Phoenix, passing some sort of silent judgement. And another moment of silence, before a slight nod, that indicated some degree of uncertainty about that.
“Yeah, uh. You know. So I can do... law.” Good one, Phoenix.
“Ah.” Miles expression changed in the most minute of ways, the smallest muscles in his face shifting. Though his deadpan remained, Phoenix sensed something flicker across his face. Disappointment, judgement. Resentment? Whatever it was exactly, it knocked the wind out of him.
“Well,” Miles said finally, catching that he'd knocked Phoenix back. “I'd better be on my way. I’m sure you've got places to be as well.”
Phoenix felt like he was deflating, about to shrivel up entirely and blow away in the wind. It'd be preferable. If Miles had the mercy to even offer a “Good luck with school” or “Good to see you again,” he might have been alright. But the boy was going to offer no such courtesy.
So naturally, Phoenix dug his grave a bit deeper.
Miles’ eyes remained fixed on him as he fumbled to pull out his backpack, scrawl down his number and thrust it towards him. Phoenix recognized the hesitance on Miles’ face as he glanced down at the scrap of paper.
“I just thought, uh. Since it's been so long since we talked that ah...”
Miles spared him from completely self destructing by taking the paper, folding it neatly, and tucking it into his breast pocket.
“Yeah!” Phoenix continues, weakly. “So call me if you need anything, or whatever! Y-yeah!”
Phoenix cleared his throat once more, stuffing his hands into his pockets. He sputtered his goodbyes, and hurried off, nowhere in particular, just away.
Instantly after, his heart began to well with a familiar ache, that was also something new and entirely of its own. He knew he wouldn't see Miles Edgeworth at Ivy University again. And he certainly knew Miles Edgeworth wouldn't call him if he needed anything. Both things tormented him for months after, anyways, with just enough false hope to make it disappointing when neither happened. And it made him feel even worse, to keep thinking about it, in a vicious cycle, his heart eating away at itself in this feedback loop. Why couldn't he let go? It'd been so long. It'd been a childhood friendship. Larry had adjusted out of it. Clearly Miles had too.
And why did he care so much about the look Miles gave him when he'd announced his major? The subtleties of Miles’ disdainful expression were burned into his memory. Plenty of people, objectively more major players in his life at this point, had doubted him, and he hadn't cared.
But Miles Edgeworth didn't believe in him, and it hurt.
And Miles Edgeworth was gone again, and it hurt.
Maybe the boy would have changed his mind again, if he weren't so stubborn, or if Mia hadn't been equally as stubborn in her support. Mia, after her initial shock, believed in him almost as strongly as he did himself, if only a bit quieter. Over the years, she watched over him until he was less and less dependent upon her- emotionally, educationally, and otherwise. She gave him more and more autonomy at the firm, and more to help her with, until he was ready to begin functioning as a lawyer of his own. Under her wing he remained for those years, but slowly, he was ready to move out from under it.
Even still, he leaned on her a bit. She was the family he'd so desperately needed all this time. Even with an attorney’s badge of his own, and his name added onto the plaque of the law office, he still felt small beside Mia.
And then she was gone.
Again, his world was tearing at the seams. It was too soon, it was too much. It wasn't supposed to happen. The same feelings rose in his chest, the ones where he thought he was going to shatter. Where he wanted to. He would rather break into a million pieces than try to work through this. He should have been there, to save her. Or die in her place. Or something. It'd be preferable.
The court case was a whirlwind, and at times, it was so much, that Phoenix’s mind would shut it all off and lock it away, even months after, where he couldn't reach it to unpack it and ache over it. He shouldn't take the motions of the courtroom too personally, but arguing the semantics of his mentors death with none else but Miles Edgeworth was a lot to deal with. Maybe that's why he performed so well. He shoved those feelings to the very depths of his self and let them burn into drive to be able to protect Mia, to live up to her legacy.
And though he did, he still wasn't sure how to feel about it. He was certainly glad that Mia’s sister had... well, not been incarcerated for her murder, some small amount of justice in this whole thing. And he was glad he had managed to play at competence without Mia holding his hand through the case.
But he couldn't help but think about Miles. Worry about Miles? Maybe. That felt foolish, though. Court was court, it was simply his job to find the truth, and he'd done it. Miles’ record was certainly not the end of the world, and freeing Maya at the expense of it was a trade he'd make again without hesitation. But he almost felt some guilt. He knew that however Miles might feel about having his record shattered by the man who, years before, he'd scoffed at, it mustn't be pleasant.
Foggy still from the overwhelming amount of emotion, he called Miles’ office. Left some voicemail about how he'd done well, how he hoped he'd been well, how he'd hoped to hear back soon.
Of course he didn't. But he had bigger things to worry about. He had a firm to run, now. And he had Maya to look after- if you could call it that. It was a bit ridiculous to say, really. A seventeen year old girl was certainly capable of caring for herself. He’d never had any siblings of his own, so it took some time for him to really fathom what to do about being tailed by a teenage girl. But Maya had a similar streak to her sister and she seemed quite able to handle herself, even following the death of her sister. Phoenix envied it, almost, he was still having difficulty functioning. If anything, the “looking after” was sort of mutual. Though Phoenix tried to emulate the way Mia had looked after him, Maya tended to do the same,in her own away. Made sure he went home at a decent time, made sure he ate. And so on.
So Maya became his new rock. At this point in his life, he was old enough, and astute enough to recognize this as a sort of cycle. He hoped against hope that this time, maybe, it was for good. No dramatic exits from his life. Certainly no death. The protection he felt for her was immense- if Mia had been like an older sister, Maya quickly became the younger.
At the very least, she made it a little more palatable over the next few years as Miles Edgeworth swung in and out of his life. Mainly, by appearing in court, trading cold conversation after the fact, and vanishing again. Even when he vanished to Europe to soul search, Phoenix was able to swallow it down without a week of wallowing to chase it. Maya seemed to have accepted that Miles was a part of their collective lives,and that he'd soon return, and it gave Phoenix some (perhaps foolish) hope that he would settle back into their odd little social circle.
Until then, Maya kept him company on late nights at the office. Her outspoken nature helped him process the seemingly absurd things they pushed through as his career took off. And she certainly kept him humble throughout that.
And then it happened.
When Maya was kidnapped, it was the worst Phoenix had ever felt- and he'd felt pretty damn awful in the past. He tried to do what he'd done when Mia had died, turn the fear, and the hurt, and the anger into the drive to do the right thing in court, to make it all okay. But he could feel himself crumbling as the case wore on. If he lost her, that was it, he was certain of it. He wouldn't be able to do this anymore.
During the recess, he was trying to piece himself back together as fast as he was falling apart. Deep breaths. Reviewing the evidence. Trying to come up with a plan. But it all ended in staring blankly across the lobby, trying to blank his mind before it self destructed.
It was then he locked eyes with Miles. None of the mental patchwork he'd done to dam his emotions held up. Everything came forth, and he was shaking, tearing up, struggling to speak past his constricting throat. Again, it was hazy, in retrospect. But he managed to explain it to Miles. To beg him for his help. He expected him to slip through his fingers again- he braved for the expression from their meeting at Ivy University, as it flashed into his mind again. But it didn't come. Miles defied his expectations, again.
And again, right before he threatened to shatter, Phoenix was spared from hitting the breaking point. He and Miles had danced enough times in the courtroom to do it once more. Maya was saved. Phoenix was saved.
However, Miles’ brief affair with opening himself up to Phoenix ended as quickly as it began. And again, he was pointedly sure to vanish from Phoenix’s life.
Things were alright, though. Phoenix told himself as much. His life had fallen into a rhythm. He had Maya, and other friends, now. Work to keep him busy. Even with Miles Edgeworth floating in and out of his life, he had enough of a life to worry about that maybe it didn't matter too much, for a time.
Things tended to sneak up on him, though.
Some part of him tried to reason he shouldn't be so affected by Iris being arrested. He didn't really know her particularly well. Or that's what he told himself. Though really, in theory, he knew her better than Dahlia. She'd known him more than anyone else for some time. He'd made Iris privy to the vulnerabilities he hid- from Mia, from Maya, certainly from Miles, where he could help it. It was as if the wound that Dahlia’s betrayal had reopened, and began to ache in a new way. Iris’ lies and Iris’ disappearance from his life began to hurt him. He reasoned with himself not to go see her in prison until he was ready. There was broken glass between them, and he wasn't sure how to close that space without stepping through it all. Not yet.
So for now, the girl he'd just realized he could maybe begin to trust was gone.
And often things come in twos. Miles again made it clear that he was not going to stick around this time, either, back abroad he went.
But more often, things come in threes. It had been years since Mia had asked Phoenix to take on Maya as his partner at the firm. And the most recent happenings at the mountains had been a push. And certainly she needed to catch back up to Pearl.
And basically, what she’s saying, Phoenix, is it's time for her to go home for a bit.
He tried not to be emotional about it. He has been pretty good, this far, about keeping a brave face for Maya. He didn't know when he'd decided that he would patch the waterworks of his youth for her, but it was something he'd stuck to since Mia’s death. Besides, he was proud of her. Besides, he could do it this time. He'd grown up a lot since Mia had died. Besides, he didn't want to make it harder on her by making it clear how fucking afraid he was of being alone.
He didn't need a little sister around constantly to run a law office. And he didn't need to rush repairing a friendship with an ex who had just as much shit to unravel as he did. And he certainly didn't need Miles Edgeworth. That's what he told himself as he saw her off.
But he was breaking from the first night he spent alone in the office. He'd spent nights by himself here, before. But not... alone. Still, he swallowed it down. Business as usual, he had a case to prepare for.
Everything felt numb. He was ignoring it. He didn't feel anything that he could spin into something useful, like he had in the past. He just felt empty.
He felt numb when he was offered dubious evidence in exchange for a swift end to this trial.
And he felt numb when it blew up in his fucking face.
The numbness was particularly helpful for when the explosion shattered him to pieces.
It was too much, too fast, at the worst time. Nobody could have swooped in and saved him this time. To her credit, having Trucy helped to pull him together after the fact. Without her, he was as good as dead. But this time, he really had been broken, reduced to countless, dust-like pieces. And though her being there pieced him back together, it wasn't a full recovery. He wasn't quite whole, and he wasn't quite the shape he'd been before it happened.
Maya offered to come back from training to help him out. But what was there to help with? There wasn't much to be done with a law firm when you’re not fit to practice law. And he certainly wasn't going to put a roadblock in the way of Maya’s future so that she could come care for his grown ass. He pretended to be himself, told her he'd figure it out. It took some convincing, and about all the false energy he had in him, but she relented.
To Iris, he gave half stories. There were still walls between them he wasn't sure how to pass. But he was certain that dumping all of his woes on the woman wasn't the way. She provided the comfort she could, given what she was told.
He didn't contact Miles. He couldn't bear to.
But he needed someone. Trucy was just a child, and he promised himself he would protect her from the rot that was infecting him, no matter what. For that matter, there was nobody he cared for that he was willing to confide in, knowing how poisonous he was becoming.
So he'd confide in someone he didn't care to protect. Lower and lower and lower he was sinking.
He knew what Kristoph Gavin had done to him. And he knew what Kristoph Gavin would do to him, provided Phoenix gave him the chance. Therefore, it didn't matter if Phoenix were to sink his claws in. Kristoph Gavin had no heart or soul for which to infect. It was perfect. It was punishment for consistently driving off everything he loved. It was self harm in the best way he knew how.
At first, it started off with what one might loosely refer to as friendship. Kristoph pretended to care for Phoenix’s health after the disbarment, and Phoenix pretended to appreciate it. But the both of them were too smart to stay entertained with fake pleasantries for long. Their grim dance changed steps, slowly. Backhanded flirtations. Accidental touches planned with precision. And finally, the finishing act.
One afternoon, (naturally, there was more than one. Once could be written off as a mistake. More than once and Phoenix could remind himself that this was a breakdown of his own design, yet another failure in which he owned wholly.) he mused how long it had been since he'd done anything of this sort. In fact, the only other time he'd slept with anyone had been with Iris. And the circumstances behind that had been hardly any better. When he spoke to Iris, she claimed that she had loved him all along, that only what had to be was an act. But Iris was a kind, meek woman, and he doubted she had it in him to tell him if she'd secretly had been disgusted by the entire thing. Either way, in all this time, he'd only slept with two people. And in neither instance could it be chalked up to someone doing it solely because they had decided they'd loved him.
This was who he was damned to be. All his life he’d wanted nothing but to be loved. Romantically, familially, anything. But of course nobody would love him, not for long. Of course he'd wind up in bed with someone who wanted him dead, if it meant for a moment, he'd feel something. This was all there was for him.
He held back a fit of laughter at that, while Kristoph pretended to doze beside him. He held back tears.
After a moment, once he felt composed enough to move without shaking, he straightened himself up, and left without a word. He went home, cleaned up enough that maybe he wouldn't feel like total shit picking Trucy up from school,. Went to pick Trucy up from school, feeling like total shit. He put on his brave face for her the whole way home, praying it was enough and that she wasn't affected by any of this. She didn't seem to be, but realistically, he knew something had to give if he was going to be able to put on the brave face much longer. He tried so hard to be enough for her, but it was growing more difficult each day to hold it together. But he needed to. He couldn't afford to lose her, and he could afford to allow her to be hurt by him even less. Again, he felt trapped. He mused about this dully as he lead her home, squeezing her hand.
But today was a different day.
As they neared home, Phoenix spotted a figure at the door. He slowed a bit, watching as they knocked, paused, and turned away. Trucy asked who it was, or at least he thought she did. His focus was being pulled away, the blood rushing to his ears drowning her out. He mumbled something that certainly didn't serve as a substantial answer. The figure, dressed in red, raised their head as they walked back towards the street, and locked eyes with him. With a start, they stopped. Phoenix stopped for a moment, too.
Gently, he urged Trucy to head inside. She hesitated for a moment, undoubtedly curious, before dropping Phoenix’s hand, and scooting around the other man on the walkway, disappearing indoors. The man in the walkway watched her, and as Phoenix grew close enough to make him out, he could see confusion flash in his eyes at the girl’s presence. Slowly, he raised his gaze back to Phoenix.
Phoenix and Miles made eye contact for a long moment. Slowly, Phoenix took a careful step forward, then another, faster, before he was practically jogging over to the walkway. He stopped a few feet away from him, eyes still wide, breath still caught in his throat.
“You’re supposed to be abroad,” he said, finally, when Miles didn't bother to explain himself.
“You've been disbarred.”
“Oh. Yeah, I guess I was, wasn't I?” Phoenix couldnt help but reflexively slip into the defense, to hide the shame, sarcasm tinging his words.
It didn't seem to phase Miles. “What happened, Wright?”
Phoenix only shrugged, rubbing the back of his neck, and looking upwards. The silence hung for a moment until Phoenix felt a bit guilty about it. “It's in the papers. I’m sure you've read ‘em all.”
“I wanted to hear what actually happened.”
“There isn't much else to tell.” Phoenix continued to look off, stuffing his hands in his pockets, and rocking on his heels. “I'm sure you're on big business if you're back in the country. What're you doing coming here?”
“...This is... why I’m back.” Involuntarily, Phoenix’s head snapped back upright and he looked over at Miles, who in turn had tilted his head to the side. “I came back to.. ensure you weren't doing anything foolish.”
Phoenix sputtered in response. This was immensely difficult for the both of them to process, and that was clear. Miles himself seemed to be actively struggling to fathom what had gotten him on a plane back to Phoenix, as was Phoenix, himself.
Perhaps a younger Phoenix would have jumped at this. Gushed about why it wasn't alright, how he had been “foolish”, how he needed Miles, if only for a moment, to prop him upright. He would have held onto him and made sure he didn't let go. But, now he was a different man, a shambling collection of broken glass. He was filled with too much fear now. Fear of hurting him. Fear of hurting himself even more.
“Me?” he retorted, finally, far too late for it to come off as sincere. “Foolish? No. Seriously, Miles, I've been handling just fine. This is just a... hurdle. I’m pulling along just fine. If that's what you were so worried about th-”
“Would you mind if I were to come inside?” Miles interjection blew Phoenix back once again. The fact that he was being insistent on this wasn't lost on Phoenix (and neither was the fact that he was here in the first place, for that matter). In fact, he was so acutely aware of it that his heart was hammering loud enough he feared Miles might hear it from across the walk.
“Yeah. That's uh... that's fine. Um. Yeah. Let's go in..”
There was a shared look between them, an understanding that there was more to be said, perhaps far more than what they could possibly unpack today. It only lasted a brief moment, before Phoenix quickly passed in front of Miles to get to the doorstep. He checked behind him as he walked up the steps, almost believing that Miles would walk off, over believing that he was here, and looking to talk. But he followed behind insistently. Miles was here, and he wasn't planning on disappearing just yet.
So Phoenix took a deep breath, held it in his throat as he twisted the doorknob. And he let Miles Edgeworth in.