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fate, choice, and everything in between

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The word on Phoenix’s arm was “OBJECTION!” All caps, big red letters, loud and violent and almost childish in its scrawl. Maya had laughed when she saw it, nose crinkling up—is that a lawyer tattoo, Nick? You’re such a dork—and Phoenix, relieved at her presumption, had decided not to correct her. Most people assumed it was a tattoo of some kind. Most people, after all, had their soulmate’s first words on more easily hidden places. A soulmate was such a personal thing; you didn’t want other people knowing all about it.

Phoenix, however, had always been the kind of person to wear his heart on his sleeve. He’d never attempted to hide it, but if no one asked, he didn’t tell them. His soulmate had noticed it once, and only once, on a hot summer day in fourth grade when Phoenix had finally decided to wear short sleeves. His soulmate had looked blankly at the mark and asked if Phoenix needed a big Band-Aid for that nasty cut of his.

His soulmate had been kind of dumb.

Technically, his soulmate was still kind of dumb. That was the whole reason Phoenix was a defense attorney instead of an art major.

“OBJECTION,” shouted Edgeworth. Phoenix felt that same miserable twist that he had ever since seeing Edgeworth in that newspaper article—what happened, Miles? I know you, I know you’re better than this—and he slipped his fingers under his sleeve, tracing the raised outline of Miles Edgeworth’s very first word in his direction.

Phoenix’s soulmate mark was stretching things, a little bit. Though “OBJECTION” was the first word out of Miles that had gotten Phoenix’s attention, Miles’s first words directed at him were really “Those amateurs, thinking they could convict an obviously innocent defendant without any evidence.” But soulmates weren’t an exact science: Phoenix had met a ton of people in high school, college, and the courtroom whose soulmates had been soulmates with someone else. Sometimes the words were words said to someone else. Sometimes the words were said to you three weeks after you’d met your soulmate. Always, the words were the words that made you see your soulmate for the very first time—see them, and understand that your heart belonged with them.

But that was kind of the catch: your soulmate wasn’t chosen by fate. Your soulmate was always chosen by some ridiculous, integral part of you. It was why Larry’s soulmate mark changed every two weeks, and Mia’s soulmate mark had stayed under a wrapped-up bandage, and Maya didn’t have a soulmate mark at all. It was why, despite Phoenix’s years of effort, that damning word remained on his arm: he couldn’t get himself to stop believing that maybe, just maybe, his soulmate mark meant something that the others didn’t. Most people, despite their marks, didn’t believe in soulmates, but Phoenix did.

He’d wrapped it up in a bandage while he was dating Dollie. She’d asked, over and over again, to see it, and he’d always made up some excuse.

Edgeworth had seen it a few times, Phoenix thought, back when they were nine and neither of them were paying attention to things like soulmates. He’d only noticed it once, because, well, Edgeworth was Edgeworth even back when Phoenix got to call him Miles, but he’d seen it a few times at least. Phoenix sometimes wondered if Edgeworth had ever made the connection. He was sometimes afraid that Edgeworth had. After all those letters sent, begging for a reply—well, you’d have to be a total idiot not to eventually put two and two together.

Maybe that was why Edgeworth was so cold to him in court. Maybe Edgeworth knew that Phoenix was dumb and sappy and romantic, and thought less of him for it. And god, even when thinking about Edgeworth hating him, that fucking OBJECTION wouldn’t fade off and away. All Phoenix could think about when he saw Edgeworth’s stony face was how that face used to light up at a new episode of Steel Samurai, and crumple into tears when clumsy nine-year-old hands couldn’t fold a paper crane, and laugh and tease and fucking emote. There was no remnant of Phoenix’s prim, ridiculous, messily caring best friend in the prosecutor that faced him in court.

But he had to be there. He had to be there, or Phoenix’s words would be gone. It wasn’t even about love, at this point—Phoenix believed in Edgeworth too much for that little boy to just be gone. Edgeworth was there, somewhere. He had to be.

“Edgeworth,” said Phoenix, two days after Maya’s trial had ended in a not guilty verdict. They’d run into each other in district court—Phoenix had been lurking around to try and catch a glimpse of Edgeworth prosecuting, while also refusing to admit to himself that that was what he was trying to do, and had accidentally collided with Edgeworth coming down a hallway that Phoenix had thought was empty. “So, hey, do you have a soulmate?”

Edgeworth stared blankly at Phoenix, then said, “Wright, your attempts at small talk are unwanted and unappreciated. You won. I lost. I don’t care to associate with you any more than I have to, especially not now that you have so thoroughly disgraced me.”

This wasn’t exactly the clear yes-or-no answer Phoenix was hoping for. The question hadn’t even taken Edgeworth aback. “You’re not gonna tell me off for asking something so personal?”

“Why should I?” said Edgeworth. “Soulmates are pointless nonsense. No self-respecting prosecutor lets his judgment be muddled by sentiment.”

“Oh,” said Phoenix. Something about that hurt to hear, and not in the way he’d been expecting. Sure, his soulmate mark had made his life a little more complicated when it had arrived, but it had still always felt like a good thing. It had made him happy on tough days, looking down at his arm and seeing the word there—a reminder of a shining, incredible moment that had turned his life about. He hated thinking about Edgeworth not getting to have a moment like that. “So that’s a no, then?”

Something in Edgeworth’s face flickered, just for a moment. “No,” he said. It sounded strangely hollow. “No, I have not—I have never had a soulmate.” He swallowed, hard. “Happy, Wright? Just another way you’re better than me.”

“What? N-no, I—”

Edgeworth turned on his heel and left.

Phoenix watched him go, feeling that ridiculous, miserable exhaustion he always felt around Edgeworth these days. How the hell was he supposed to get through to this guy? It had seemed like such an effortless plan when he’d thought it up. Show up unannounced, talk to Edgeworth, confess the secret you’ve kept since fourth grade, watch as the power of true love melts through the Demon Prosecutor’s icy veneer. Absolutely foolproof. But Edgeworth didn’t seem to want to talk to him—or anyone, for that matter. Did the guy even have any friends?

No self-respecting prosecutor lets his judgment be muddled by sentiment.

Phoenix guessed a guy who didn’t want a soulmate probably didn’t want any close friends either. And something about the sight of Edgeworth, walking briskly down that long hallway entirely on his own, made Phoenix’s heart ache.

As the months went by, the mark on Phoenix’s arm didn’t fade away at all. It sharpened, instead, the soft cherry-red of the words turning into a brighter, more violent neon, until it was clearer and more visible than ever before. The more Phoenix saw Edgeworth—in passing, in court, you name it—the sharper his mark got, pointed in its message: my heart belongs to him.

Phoenix didn’t know what Edgeworth’s feelings for him were. Phoenix didn’t care what Edgeworth’s feelings for him were. Phoenix could deal with Edgeworth’s feelings for him after Phoenix had gotten Edgeworth out of his self-imposed isolation and back into the sunlight. He hadn’t once seen Edgeworth really smile since they’d met again, and that alone was enough reason for Phoenix to keep on fighting Edgeworth.

The courtroom was about saving people, Phoenix thought. Saving his defendants, and saving his soulmate. Every time he met Edgeworth in court—and granted, they were only on their second trial against each other—he thought he saw that icy veneer crack, just a little.

He wasn’t at all expecting the third day of the Steel Samurai case.

Edgeworth was a wreck. Oldbag had been withholding important information from the prosecution as well as the defense, Cody Hackins was an uncooperative little kid who he didn’t have enough patience for, and Dee Vasquez was openly contemptuous of his methods. The second day of the case had revealed Powers’s involvement in the murder to be completely impossible. Everything was turning to sand in Edgeworth’s hands, and Phoenix, determined to prove his client’s innocence, hadn’t had time to really consider the impact that this might have on him. Even if he had, though, he’d never have guessed—

“OBJECTION,” shouted Edgeworth, and Phoenix’s mark flared so hard that it burned. Biting back a cry of pain, he rolled up his sleeve, and found that the mark was bleeding. Was that supposed to happen? Why was that happening?

“Nick!” gasped Maya. “Are you okay?”

And Edgeworth, hearing Maya’s exclamation, turned to look at Phoenix, eyes landing on the very same word that he’d said not a second ago. Drawing in a sharp breath, he went white, fingers gripping the bench to keep himself steady. “That is—” he stammered, unable to take his eyes off of Phoenix’s arm. “I—”

Oh, fuck. Phoenix hastily pulled his sleeve back over the mark, ignoring the sharp twinge of protest from his arm. “Edgeworth?” he prompted. Before that stupid soulmate mark had distracted Edgeworth, there had been a reason for his objection, Phoenix knew it! His mark wouldn’t have started bleeding if there wasn’t an important reason, an instrumental reason, a life-changing reason—

“I-I would like to hear Ms. Vasquez’s testimony again!” blurted out Edgeworth.

Well, that sure was life-changing, all right. What the hell was Edgeworth doing?

“You are the prosecutor, are you not?” demanded Dee Vasquez thinly. “I am your witness! Why on earth are you badgering me?”

Good question, lady, thought Phoenix.

And Edgeworth looked towards Phoenix, eyes wide and soft in a way Phoenix hadn’t seen since they were nine years old. He bit his lip, then looked away. “I…I just want you to testify again,” he said to Dee Vasquez, gaze determinedly locked on her and Not Phoenix, as though that would erase the way he’d stared at Phoenix’s soulmate mark.

Phoenix rolled up his sleeve again, staring down at the mark. It was no longer bleeding, but the skin was raw and red all around the words.

“Oh,” said Maya weakly. “Nick. It—it was never a tattoo, was it?”

“No, it wasn’t,” said Phoenix quietly.

“How long—”

“Almost fifteen years.”

“FIFTEEN YEARS!?!?!” shouted Maya. Almost the entire courtroom, including Edgeworth, turned to look at the defense.

“Mr. Wright,” said the judge, “if you would remember to control your assistant—”

“Haha yeah sorry our bad!” laughed Phoenix uncomfortably. “Nothing to see here hahaha we will talk about this later Maya,” he said through his teeth, placing a hand on her shoulder and turning her away from him. She had a right to know, but now was definitely not the time to tell her. Not while they still ran the risk of letting the real killer walk free.

Edgeworth caught up with him after the trial. Phoenix was expecting him to ask the obvious question—if not am I your soulmate, at the very least maybe who is your soulmate—but he shifted from foot to foot, staring almost sullenly at Phoenix, and said instead, “Say something, Wright. I’m not good at small talk.”

“So are we, uh, just not gonna talk about it?” said Phoenix.

“About what?” challenged Edgeworth.

Which was largely the end of the soulmate talk, apparently. “Thank you,” said Phoenix sincerely. “What you did, to make sure Vasquez didn’t get away—”

“What,” said Edgeworth, “my job?”

“Fun talk,” said Phoenix. “Really enjoying this.”

“Wright,” said Edgeworth, “I can’t say I was expecting to see you after all these years. And I can’t say that I’m glad to see you, either.”

“Gosh, this just gets better by the minute—”

“Thanks to you,” said Edgeworth, “I am saddled with unnecessary…feelings.”

“Unnecessary feelings?” echoed Phoenix a little warily.

And Edgeworth looked at him, again, almost searchingly, not saying a word. Like somehow Phoenix held the answers to everything, just by virtue of being himself. Finally, after an almost uncomfortably long silence, he said, “Soulmate marks—they aren’t supposed to bleed, are they?”

“Mine’s kind of old,” said Phoenix. “Like, almost fifteen years old.”

“Ah,” said Edgeworth.

“Isn’t now the part of the conversation where you tell me how trite and ridiculous any kind of emotional attachment is?” said Phoenix, trying to keep a light laugh in his voice. He’d never honestly thought that they’d be having any conversation even remotely close to this, and now that it was happening—

“I don’t have a soulmate, Wright,” said Edgeworth, and he sounded strangely apologetic. “I never have.”

“I kind of figured,” said Phoenix. This part was easy. Caring about someone didn’t mean expecting them to care about you back, especially if that someone was someone like Miles Edgeworth. “Look, I…I hope at some point you do find one, Edgeworth. They make your life better.”

Edgeworth scoffed. “Are you saying your soulmate made your life better in any way?”

“Yeah,” said Phoenix. “He did.”

The derisive twist to Edgeworth’s face dissipated into something almost frightened. His eyes softened like they had back in the courtroom, back when he’d finally put two and two together. “I—”

“NICK I WANT BURGERS AND AN EXPLANATION,” said Maya loudly from behind him, tugging at his arm. “What the heck is the deal between you two, anyway? And how come Edgeworth decided to be a good guy for once? And why—”

“Slow down, Maya, I’ll give you answers in a minute,” said Phoenix with an awkward laugh, gently prying her hand free of his sleeve. “Listen, Edgeworth, I gotta go. Take care of yourself, okay?”

Edgeworth just kind of kept staring at him. He was still staring when Phoenix turned away to walk Maya and Will Powers to the door, and Phoenix got the sense that Edgeworth’s eyes were on him until the group exited the lobby together. He didn’t turn around to look, though: after months of feeling like Edgeworth would remain distant and closed-off forever, finally making some kind of progress was…kind of terrifying. He wasn’t sure how to face it head-on.

Their next trial might make things clearer, Phoenix thought.

Their next trial was a mess.

“Your Honor!” Phoenix shouted, absolutely and completely at the end of his rope. Edgeworth still refused to believe he was innocent, von Karma had rigged and destroyed as much evidence as he could in order to implicate Edgeworth, and time was running out to save his actual soulmate from a prison sentence. “The defense would like to take Mr. von Karma up on his proposal!”

“Take Mr. von Karma up?” said the judge.

“On his…proposal?” said von Karma.

“Exactly, Your Honor!” Phoenix persisted, triumphant. “I would like to cross-examine the witness’s pet parrot!”

From behind him, in the cacophony of bemused and indignant voices filling the courtroom, Phoenix heard a soft gasp. He recognized it as Edgeworth, but he didn’t dare turn to look at the other man. He knew he was going out on a limb—he knew he wasn’t the defense attorney that Edgeworth would have chosen, if Edgeworth even had a choice—but Phoenix was running out of options. There was no point in dignity now. Whatever he could do to keep this trial going, he’d do it, and he’d do it well—

“Phoenix,” said Edgeworth, his voice barely a whisper. Phoenix didn’t know how he heard it, but he heard it.

“Nick,” said Maya, “I think Edgeworth wants to talk to you?”

“Tell him that now’s maybe not the best time,” said Phoenix, eyes on an infuriated von Karma. He was eighty percent sure that at some point, the man was gonna finally snap, and he was hoping that the trial would be over before that happened. Granted, if they won this trial, von Karma would probably lose it anyway, so there really wasn’t any super amazing outcome to look forward to—

“Nick, he says he needs you now,” said Maya.

“Tell him he can wait until I’ve gotten him off,” said Phoenix through gritted teeth.

“Nick, he says—”

Phoenix could not turn around to look at Edgeworth. He knew that if he did, he would meet Edgeworth’s eyes, and he would forget all about the importance of this murder trial, because whatever it was that had Edgeworth so rattled, Phoenix would want to fix it right then and there. And whatever it was that had Edgeworth so rattled, it would have to wait until Phoenix had fixed the first thing that was going wrong, which seemed like it would have much more serious ramifications for Edgeworth than some minor stress over Phoenix being stupid in court. “Tell him it has to wait,” said Phoenix. “And—” He swallowed, still not turning to look at Edgeworth. “Tell him I’m sorry.”

He felt Maya’s hand rest briefly on his elbow, and then heard the rustle of her robes as she moved to inform Edgeworth of his message. Phoenix focused back in on von Karma, filled with a newfound determination: knowing that Edgeworth needed him, needed to tell him something, just gave him another reason to finish this trial and bring von Karma to justice as quickly as humanly possible.

“Phoenix,” said Maya into his ear. Her voice was a little shaky. “Edgeworth says—”

“Maya,” said Phoenix, turning to face her, “if you tell me what Edgeworth wants me to know, I am going to lose this case. Okay?”

Maya looked just as shaken as Edgeworth had sounded. Glancing once over her shoulder, looking utterly miserable, she nodded. “You’d better win, Nick,” she said. “This isn’t news you’re going to want to hear through one of those glass partitions.”

“I’m not going to have to hear it like that,” said Phoenix.


Phoenix turned back towards the court, and the case, and cleared his mind of anything but the facts. “Like I was saying,” he said. “You were the one who suggested I cross-examine that parrot, weren’t you, von Karma?”

The trial continued to be a mess after that. But by some fucking miracle, Phoenix stumbled his way into the truth about DL-6, proving Edgeworth innocent and von Karma guilty in the final hour. Von Karma was led out in handcuffs, ranting and raving and screaming about perfection, and Edgeworth stayed in the witness stand, staring off into the distance with a strange, dazed look in his eyes.

As the court filed out, Edgeworth stood there still, seemingly unaware of the movement around him. Phoenix crossed the room to reach him, and saw that Edgeworth was gripping the witness stand to keep himself upright, knuckles white against the wood. “Hey,” he said carefully. “So, how’s that not-a-murderer life treating you?”

Edgeworth jumped a little. “Wright,” he said shakily. “I—”

“Are you okay?”

Slowly, Edgeworth let go of the witness stand, placing a clumsy hand on Phoenix’s shoulder instead. The hand moved up to Phoenix’s face, tracing his jaw, caressing his cheek, all as Edgeworth stared at him with a surprising amount of intensity. “I have failed, utterly, as an objective and impartial prosecutor,” he said, but the words had a note of wonder to them. “I will never be the man that von Karma expected me to be.”

“Well, yeah, but that’s kind of a good thing,” said Phoenix, a nervous laugh in his voice. “Y’know, seeing as von Karma was kinda a crazy murderer and all—”

Edgeworth kissed him.

Whoa wait what okay—Phoenix pulled back immediately, eyes wide. “Miles!” he said, voice high and shaking. “What the hell? Listen, that is not okay for you to do!”

Edgeworth dropped his hand, face shuttering off. “I beg your pardon,” he mumbled, and to Phoenix’s shock, he looked genuinely miserable. “I-I realize your feelings for me may have—changed—after the events of this trial. Unless I was mistaken in my assumption to begin with, in which case—”

“My feelings for you haven’t changed,” said Phoenix shortly. “That’s not the problem. The problem is that you’re only kissing me because you’re freaked out and lonely and you already know I’ve been in love with you for a really long time, and using me to—to de-stress? That is so not okay. Not when you don’t have any actual feelings for me.”

“Objection,” said Edgeworth, quirking a small, shaky smile, and rolled up his own sleeve.

It took Phoenix a moment to realize what he was looking at, and when he did, his breath caught in his chest. Written in neat, precise blue letters, a simple phrase: I would like to cross-examine the witness’s pet parrot!

“Wait,” said Phoenix, and before he could stop it, a laugh bubbled up. “Seriously? That? Not when I cleared you of murder, not when I told you I believed in you, not when I told you that you were innocent—but when I told von Karma that I wanted to cross-examine a parrot?”

“It doesn’t make sense,” said Edgeworth, “a-and I don’t entirely understand it, but—it’s there, isn’t it? It has to mean something.” He gave Phoenix another smile—tentative and hopeful and soft—and shook his sleeve back down. “I talk about decisive evidence often enough to recognize it,” he said. “And I’m the sort of man who doesn’t waste time when he knows what the real truth is.”

“This can’t be the real truth,” said Phoenix. His heart was pounding. “It just can’t be.”

“You don’t care about dignity,” said Edgeworth, “or social niceties, or a perfect trial record. You don’t care about the fact that everyone in this city will be cracking jokes about the defense attorney who cross-examined a parrot for the next few months at least.”

“Oh, god, really?” groaned Phoenix. “I didn’t actually think about that at all—

“No,” said Edgeworth. “You didn’t. You were only thinking about what it would take to protect the innocent and punish the guilty.” He bit his lip, and smiled. “I’ll admit that the mark did…force my hand, a bit, in terms of my admitting this to you, but that doesn’t make what I’m telling you any less true. You’re a good man, Phoenix. A kind man. A man who still believes in the goodness of others. It…” He reached out, tentatively, for Phoenix’s hand, and Phoenix let him take it. “It makes me want to be a better person,” he said.

“Oh,” said Phoenix softly.

“Soulmates—I’ve read about them,” said Edgeworth. “They’re not as simple as a soul that matches yours. They’re the person that you know makes you better, just by virtue of them being in your life.” He swallowed, hard. “I find it hard to believe that I am that for you, but—”

“You’re the reason I’m a defense attorney, Miles,” said Phoenix. “You’re the reason I care so much about protecting the people who deserve it. I turned my life upside down just to get a chance to see you again, and I ended up finding something that I love, that I’m good at—”

Miles scoffed. “Good is a strong word,” he said. “I’d say you’re adequate at your job.”

“You still love me,” said Phoenix, and grinned hugely.

Miles colored. “That’s,” he said. “Well—”

“I’m gonna bring this up all the time in court—”

“Please don’t, Phoenix, that’s a conflict of interest—”

—all the time, and it’s gonna throw you off so hard—”

“—oh, god, are we even allowed to work on the same cases anymore?”

“—I’m just going to really hammer home the fact that I’m your soulmate—”

“I am going to have this on my arm for the rest of my life,” said Miles, staring mournfully down at the arm in question. “An idiotic attempt to cross-examine a goddamn parrot.”

“C’mon,” scoffed Phoenix, “don’t be so melodramatic. Not all soulmates last forever, y’know? Maybe your mark starts fading away after a few weeks when you realize how bad an idea this was—”

Miles moved forward again, then, and kissed Phoenix soundly, cupping Phoenix’s face in his hands with a tenderness that Phoenix would never have expected from the Demon Prosecutor. The kiss became a series of longer, softer kisses, ones that really had been worth the wait, especially when Miles pulled back every so often just to rest his forehead against Phoenix’s—

“AAAH OH MY GOD,” shouted Maya, and immediately backed out of the courtroom.

Miles winced. Phoenix snorted. “It’s fine,” he said. “She’ll be discreet—”


“—well, discreet for Maya, anyway,” said Phoenix. “It’s okay. Everyone left already.”

Miles smiled, a small, sideways smile that made Phoenix’s heart flip over. “I like my soulmate mark, for the record,” he said. “I think I should clarify that. I say it’s utterly terrible because you are utterly terrible.”

“But you love me,” said Phoenix happily, draping his arms around Miles’s neck.

“I suppose,” said Miles long-sufferingly. “The evidence does seem to point in that direction.”

“You think I’m good and kind and noble—”

“Did I ever say noble?”

“I’m extrapolating. Kiss me again.”

“What a dreadful, incorrigible man Fate has attached me to,” said Miles, but kissed him just as happily and tenderly as he had before, tugging Phoenix fully into his arms. And the thing was, Phoenix thought, Fate could only take a guy so far. It was the choice—to trust their marks, to trust their hearts, to trust each other—that made all the difference.