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If All the Lamps in the House Were Turned Out

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Franziska has never felt more ridiculous in her life.

The room has a smell common to hotels from California to Germany to Zheng Fa and everywhere in between, and it’s almost acrid in its intensity as it creeps into her lungs through her nose. In through your nose, out through your mouth, control it, Franziska, control it. On the bed, across the still-crisply-made sheets, the plastic wrappers from around an IKEA pack of tea lights lay discarded. It’s only because of how unsettled Franziska is that she hasn’t put them in the trash where they belong.

It’s only 2:30 in the afternoon, and the Los Angeles sunshine is streaming through from under the blackout curtains she’s drawn as tightly as she can. Maya Fey said that didn’t matter. Maya Fey said that as long as they have mostly darkness, it should be fine. She then laughed her tinkling bell of a laugh and said half the time she channeled, it was in the courtroom, so —

And this brings Franziska to the main problem. Which is, of course, Maya Fey. Who is in her hotel room, in long white robes that Franziska’s never seen her wear before, her hair in the same style as always (not that Franziska notices it particularly, she just logs important details like people’s appearances), lighting the tealights with her tongue trapped between her teeth. Half a pack of matches is scattered on the floor beside her, and she keeps burning her fingers and swearing under her breath as she sets the candles down along the edges of the room — under the TV, their flames wavering in the dark screen, in a line on the desk far away from Franziska’s paperwork, even on the coffee table.

It is absolutely a fire hazard. And Franziska should complain. She should stand up — she’s kneeling on the small rush mat Maya Fey had brought with her — and demand that Maya Fey leave. This was a poor idea to begin with —

Maya Fey stops speaking, and the silence is what brings Franziska to realize she’d been talking at all. She looks curiously at Franziska. “Hey. Are you okay?”

“I am fine,” Franziska lies through gritted teeth. She wants this over with.

Whatever asinine ideas her brother had gotten that made him so different, so untouchable, had obviously come from Phoenix Wright, and by extension from Maya Fey, too. That is how she ended up here in the first place. Despite the fact that no matter what anyone says about that case, her goal was to assist the prosecution, not Maya Fey (scared, alone, in need of help that Franziska didn’t give until the last minute), the girl still insisted on doing something for Franziska. As thanks, she said. As if there was an imbalance between them because of something she owed to Franziska.

“What could you possibly do for me, Maya Fey?” Franziska had asked. That had been her first mistake.

She had never met anyone who could completely steamroll through her like this, ignoring her protests and her authority with a blithe but knowing smile. And that had been how this agreement was made. Franziska is in Los Angeles for less than 48 hours. Even Miles Edgeworth doesn’t know that she is here; that particular fiery argument is still too hot to touch, and some small part of her takes a vindictive joy in knowing that he will be upset when he finds out she came and left without him on her radar at all.

According to Maya Fey, and to Franziska’s own research on the Kurain Technique, this less-than-two-day period is still more than enough time for a channeling.

The foolish girl had come out all this way from her village — two hours by train, Franziska did not even know people took the train anymore in this country — to do this. And what’s worse is that Franziska had let her believe that this was the only way to assuage whatever undeserved guilt she might be feeling. In fairness, what else was there for them to share?

It had, at first, seemed as though it would be easy to escape this obligation she’d inadvertently created for herself by not being able to get a word in edgewise with Maya Fey. She would simply invent a meeting that was conveniently timed so that it prevented her from attending this channeling, and then there would be no more worrying about which way the scales were tipping between the two of them, beyond what Franziska already knows of the weight that will forever be on her side. But then Maya had continued to text her all the preparations, the tealights she’d purchased, the practicing she’d been doing, and before Franziska knew it she’d gone from the airport straight to her hotel room out of frustration, if nothing else, and forgotten about her avoidance plan completely.

It was quickly becoming a problem, though, because the mere idea of yet another act of service from Maya Fey had not been the only thing Franziska wanted to avoid.

Unlike her brother, as skeptical as she’d been at first, she had quickly grown to accept the reality of the Kurain channeling technique when she had prosecuted Maya Fey the previous year. Even though that instance, obviously, had been a fake, her extensive research proved that it was real. It was a phenomenon to those outside the Fey and branch families, thanks to their unwillingness to share their secrets, but it was a well-documented phenomenon, and it was pointless to deny it. No, Franziska’s hesitancy does not come from disbelief at all.

“Well then,” Maya Fey sits back with an air of finality, preparedness, and looks up at Franziska. Somehow, she doesn’t look nervous at all; her smile is present no matter when Franziska sees her, under what circumstances, although lately Franziska has begun to be able to tell certain smiles apart. (She never used to know that people could have different smiles.) “Who am I calling?”

This, this, and everything it brings with it, had been what Franziska was fearing this whole time, even though she knew it was coming. It is one of the rare questions to which she doesn’t have an answer. She’s sure that most people would say a parent, but she doesn’t remember her mother at all, and her father — it’s not an option, because — because —

And who else could she even consider otherwise? She has no one else in her history in a way that matters. Certainly there is a von Karma family line, nobles and men of prominence, but they, even her father’s parents, were always spoken about in the abstract, as examples rather than relatives.

Maybe another person her age would have an idol they wanted to contact, or a friend that had passed away, but outside of her family, Franziska has no one. She is her father turned inside out, more of a stain, more of a wound than a full person, and it’s never been more apparent than now, when she doesn’t even have the dead to turn to. When she’s running even from what lives inside her.

Now she’s waited far too long to answer Maya Fey’s very basic question, and she can see the expectant smile on her face faltering. The ties of her robe are dragging much, much too close to the open flames of the candles surrounding them (how is this allowed by the hotel, anyway? Franziska thinks in a slightly hysterical nonsequitur) as she leans forward, out of the kneeling position she’d assumed and closer to Franziska. “Hey, are you okay? You know we don’t have to do this.”

Of course Franziska knows that. “Of course I know that,” she says, and thank God, it comes out in her usual clipped, certain tone, not tinged even a little with the emotion crawling its unwelcome way into her throat.

The hasty response brings distance between herself and Maya Fey once more; she sits back on her heels and considers Franziska, her eyebrows drawn together. “Okay,” she says. “Then — then what is it? If this is just nerves, I mean, it’s okay to be nervous, pretty much everyone is. That doctor guy, the one from the first time we met, he was more scared than anyone I’ve seen do this, and he was, like, old. It’s normal.”

The wall of words coming at her is predictably too much, and Franziska breathes out hard and hears it turn into an almost animalistic growl at the end. Her hand flies to the handle of her whip and grips it, thumbs over it, more like a talisman than in the sense of its traditional use, as though if she rubs the end until it’s clean and shiny she’ll somehow find herself back in court where the rules are clear and people are guilty or innocent and she doesn’t need to make all these decisions that she’s been avoiding for so long. And especially where she doesn’t need to speak to Maya Fey, who is so uniquely positioned to strike Franziska in the heart of her, in the places that are supposed to be impenetrable, with one simple question.

(For God’s sake. She just referenced the first time they met, Franziska’s first case in this country, as though it had been over coffee, or at a conference, and not Franziska prosecuting her for murder.)

Inside her mouth, Franziska’s tongue has turned to stone — no, to lead, because it’s poisoned her for certain this time by agreeing to this harebrained idea. Only because Maya Fey had asked, because she must have somehow felt like she owed Franziska for the way she’d brought the evidence in the Engarde case. Franziska hadn’t been able to turn her down, since the truth was something that she wasn’t yet ready to admit, though every day it inched closer to the tip of her tongue. It’s what she wants to scream now, too late, too little, a question she’s been turning over in her mind since they planned this — how could Maya Fey possibly owe her anything, after everything Franziska had done to hurt her? She’d turned her village and her family upside down. She would have signed her death warrant, for a crime she hadn’t committed, like it was nothing at all.

Franziska.” It’s less irritation and more worry creeping into Maya Fey’s voice, which is worse, so much worse. “Will you please at least look at me? You’re kinda freaking me out.”

Carefully, still breathing hard, Franziska manages to lift her chin and make eye contact. The small concession seems to relax Maya Fey, her mouth still twisted to the side but her shoulders slumping from where they’d been hitched up around her ears. “Okay,” she says, and she’s using the tone one might exercise on a frightened animal, a dog with its leg caught in a trap. Everyone else tends to run when Franziska snaps like this. She isn’t used to concern, especially as sincere and genuine as it is coming from the woman across from her. “Okay, you’re okay. Come on.”

“I know,” Franziska says, and she’s panting, and even though her hand is on her whip, she’s the one to flinch when Maya Fey reaches out and brushes her hair back. She hasn’t been touched like this since she was a child, and the thought makes a fresh wave of nauseating panic break in her airway. She shrugs away; it’s either that or embarrassingly, transparently leaning into the contact.

“You know,” Maya Fey says, almost conversationally, sitting on her side next to Franziska and flipping her mass of hair over her shoulder, “if you don’t have anyone you want to channel… that’s okay. It’s like that for a lot of people.” Her voice goes a little quieter, though not anywhere near inaudibility, and she raises her wrist up to fiddle with the cords wrapped around it. “I mean, if someone offered to do a channeling for me... I have no idea who I’d ask for. Other than Sis, I mean, but — you saw in the courtroom — Pearly channels her all the time, it wouldn’t be the same. Oh, I’m sorry, I’m rambling,” and here Maya Fey lets out a laugh that sounds almost nervous herself, high and more unnatural than the one Franziska’s heard across the courtroom, is there any part of this Franziska is not fucking up, “but what I mean to say is…”

On the mat between them, the hand that props her up inches closer to Franziska’s, until their pinkies are brushing. “If you wanna talk about it, or maybe you want some advice, or, I don’t know… I can say something or not, Franziska, but I’m happy to just listen. I’m here for you.” The weight in her voice and her uncharacteristic hesitance make it clear that she means it in more than one way: that she is here at Franziska’s behest, ostensibly, but also that she is someone to be relied on. Someone to trust.

Maya Fey is so good, and every time Franziska remembers that, it’s like the bullet that pierced her shoulder, the same force that knocks her breathless. She’ll need to live with the knowledge that she could have killed this woman for the rest of her life.

Franziska doesn’t want anyone to listen, because for them to listen she would be required to speak, to give voice to this truth which shames her and makes her soft at the same time, like a child being scolded. But the very least that she owes Maya Fey, at this point, is honesty, so she swallows down the phlegm and bile from her throat and speaks the first truth she’s given away since she arrived. “It isn’t that I have… no one.” The first domino falls, and the rest are on their way down, she is sure of it.

What is it about this question — who do you want to raise from the dead — that makes her so unable to function? Is it the asker, so casual about a matter that by all means should be untouchable? Or is it the answer itself, something that Franziska can barely bring herself to think about despite its obviousness, despite the way it’s clawing at the cage of her mouth?

She expects Maya Fey to press this like Phoenix Wright does in the courtroom, hemming and hawing, finding every tiny crack, even in a truth as small as the one she had given, and hitting it until it spreads wide and shatters everything to pieces. In other words, Franziska expects to be broken. No one has managed before, but if anyone could do it, surely it is the woman who sits before her. Who has captured so many of Franziska’s thoughts. Who has changed her so irrevocably, brought parts of her squinting into the light that she had thought had long ago gone blind. Who has no idea, absolutely none, how far simple kindness had gone in the life of someone who so plainly did not deserve it and yet was given it anyway.

Instead, Maya Fey stays quiet. Even now she has found a way to blow through Franziska’s expectations. (Each time Franziska thinks she knows her, she changes in the most unpredictable way, like a kaleidoscope of swirling color that throws light into every deadened corner of every lonely room.)

And in that silence, Franziska finds space.

“I miss my papa,” she confesses in a rush. It sounds so childlike that she winces and curls in on herself like she’s been physically wounded. Ironic when that was never even an aspect of the tangled, sticky mess that is her childhood.

When she was little, everything had seemed so straightforward. She was a tightrope walker with an internal gyroscope, born for the path that she followed, never faltering, always perfect. To make things even easier, her father had been ahead of her the whole time — and Miles Edgeworth, of course, for a while — showing her where to step. A comforting hand on her shoulder when she fell asleep reading at the too-big desk in his study, a gift-wrapped whip when she’d passed the bar, a history of perfect victories for her to commit to memory and heart.

It always felt like she was keeping a straight line, but now when she looks back, there are trails behind her in looping circles, doubling back on themselves and leading to nowhere. Harsh words in German whispered for fear of anyone overhearing, long stretches of absence that were only extended when her grades dipped even the slightest bit, and always the pressure, the conniving words designed to make her hide every soft part of herself behind armored ambition. At some point, it became impossible to parse or translate the paths in her history, or to determine whose footsteps are whose. She steps in the shoes of her father, what she’d always wanted to hear, and it still manages to make her sick and proud at the same time.

Invariably, though, one set of footprints leads to the hangman’s noose.

Maya Fey still hasn’t spoken, leaving Franziska’s admittance hanging uncomfortably in the air, and Franziska is about to get up as the panic fades, to insist that they pretend this never happened — but just as she tenses her hand, Maya moves her own to completely cover Franziska’s knuckles, keeping her anchored to the floor, where they’re on equal ground for once, not across a courtroom, prosecution to defense or the defendant’s chamber. “Yeah?” she asks, and that one word — not a judgment, just quiet encouragement for Franziska to continue — is what brings the tears to brim at her eyes.

“You aren’t surprised,” she says flatly.

“Uh… no. Not really. I mean, he was your dad, Franziska.”

“But he was — he was —” The words are too unwieldy and unfamiliar, when used in reference to her father, to make them out of her mouth. A forger. A cheat. A liar. A murderer.

An abuser, Miles Edgeworth had said to her in the clinic, her hands sweaty on the starched white sheets, pain resounding in her body even under the haze of the drugs they’d given her. He hurt both of us, ‘Ziska. The bullet wound in her shoulder, an echo of her father’s, ached at the thought, like it was a map, or a crystal ball, whispering her own future.

She knows it’s the truth, knows that part of the reason she’s having so much panic here is because he made her think that any emotion was weakness — and then would prove his theory, exploiting them one by one by one until she grew this hard, hollow shell that smothers her now. Knowing it doesn’t make it any easier to bare this to anyone else. Because isn’t it a sign of weakness to know that she was treated poorly and have some part of her wish for it back, anyway? Wouldn’t Papa hate her for the very fact that she still holds the capacity for this kind of childish hope?

“No,” Maya Fey says, like she can hear what’s going on inside Franziska’s head, or at least read it written on her face, and her hand tightens around Franziska’s. Franziska should pull away but she can’t. (What is one more weakness now, anyway, in the grand scheme of the grand failure that is today?) “Well — yeah. He did some bad things, and he wasn’t very nice to you or Mr. Edgeworth, but that doesn’t erase the fact that you loved him.”

“Shouldn’t it?” she asks Maya, and turns her face towards her, finally. The breeze from the air conditioner cools the heated tracks that her tears left on the way down her cheeks. And Maya Fey — for once, she isn’t smiling. Instead, she’s biting her lip as she considers Franziska. It’s not pity in her eyes, thank God, or disgust. She gives Franziska the gift of looking at her not as the heir to the von Karma name, not as the kicked dog of the family, but as a human.

In fact, Maya Fey, above everyone else, is equipped for this, and her response proves it. “I don’t know everything,” she begins, and her gaze sweeps back down across Franziska to settle not at the bow at her throat that so resembles her father’s, not at the shoulder which still moves stiffly even months after the wound it had received, but at the place where their hands are joined. Where Franziska’s fingers tremble despite how hard she’s trying to press them against the floor to keep them still. “But I know a lot about messed-up families.” There’s the hint of a smile in her voice, different this time, more serious, one Franziska has never known before. “And I miss my relatives… every day.”

Maya shrugs and rubs her thumb across the back of Franziska’s hand. She had forgone her gloves today, at Maya's request, something about being in touch with the spirit world in every way possible, and she’s so shamefully glad for it now, not resolute enough to resist the touch. “My aunt tried to frame me for murder.” She states it so baldly, without a trace of secrecy. After all, they were both there. They have nothing to hide from each other, when it comes down to this. “My mom left me and my sister behind when we were just kids. And if you think I don’t miss them every day…”

She huffs out a sigh that makes her bangs puff up on her forehead and a few of the candles flicker around them. “Missing someone even though you had a complicated relationship is, like, one of the main reasons spirit channeling exists. Sure, it’s nice to see people you loved… but it’s not urgent. If everything was perfect, then it might be better to leave that person at peace.”

Maya Fey has thought this through far more than Franziska, and the thought is a bit… unsettling, but not surprising, when Franziska considers it. “So you knew? You knew that I would want you to channel my father?”

“Kind of,” Maya says. “Except, it’s not really that, because you don’t really want me to channel him, do you?”

Right again. She’s perceptive; there’s no wonder Phoenix Wright needs her in the courtroom. “No,” Franziska admits. “I do not.” As much as she misses him (and the more she thinks it here, in the soft darkness with Maya Fey holding her hand, the less guilt it brings down on her shoulders like a millstone), that is a door that needs to stay closed. She is not ready to reach through the veil and find what awaits her, wearing her father’s face; she might never be ready. It was enough, anyway, to say this aloud, her most bloody wound, in her shoulder, in her mind, in her heart.

“Okay, I figured that was it, but that’s kind of a relief to hear,” Maya says in a rush. “There are rules about that kind of thing, you know, bringing back murderers and all, it’s not really supposed to be done. Bad stuff can happen. Well, obviously, you were there for that case, I just — there’s no way I’m letting something like that happen again.”

“You could have always refused me,” Franziska points out dryly.

“Pft, like I could say no to you,” Maya answers, waves a hand like she’s clearing the air — then freezes, for some reason. “I mean. After you went out on a limb for me during the last case and all!”

Just like that, Franziska has gone from crying to rolling her eyes. She has mentioned this to Maya Fey many times before, the fact that Maya owes her nothing for the evidence in the Engarde case. Of course, she’s never tried to counter it with the fact that she only became so obsessed with finding that evidence because she was nearly responsible for convicting Maya all those months ago. She may be becoming a better person but she is still nowhere near being able to admit that out loud.

How long are they going to play this game with each other of strange, dangerous favors, like cats leaving poisoned birds on each other’s doorsteps? Today is a complete wash, at least, Franziska is certain; no service was performed, but she ended up crying, and Maya comforted her, so they each got something out of it, in an odd way. (Maybe the problem is that Franziska keeps tallies like this in her head in the first place. Old habits die hard, and worse when they’re practically a part of you.)

“That’s foolish, but let’s move on,” Franziska says, and steadfastly ignores the way it makes Maya Fey’s lips twitch even though she’s been so unusually serious until now. “Why would you offer to do — this —” She gestures around them at the candles, about half of which are still lit, and the reed mats — “if you knew nothing would truly come of it?”

Maya Fey shrugs, and picks up their joined hands to settle them more comfortably between their thighs, bent next to each other on the floor, far closer than Franziska had thought. The movement is an acknowledgement of the contact, and with her returning clarity, Franziska should pull away, but she doesn’t, and she can hardly pretend that curiosity is what stays her hand, either. “I’ve been doing this… my whole life, either channeling spirits or watching other people do it. It actually taught me a lot. Mostly, that everyone has someone that they need to talk to, or at least talk about, and if channeling can’t help with one, it can usually help with the other.”

She states it as though it’s a fact of life, and not a revelation in itself, at least for Franziska. “You only wanted to help me,” Franziska says. The idea is foreign. Her whole life has been spent making enemies because she thought, she was told, that it meant she was simply better than others. Every interaction was supposed to be a transaction. It wasn’t until Maya Fey that she learned she could be wrong, her calculations could be off, and it would have consequences the likes of which she had never considered.

At that point, she probably also should have learned that most people didn’t think like that at all. Maya is not doing this to try to correct some invisible score. She is doing it because she is that kind of person, the kind of person Franziska tried her very best to ignore until it simply was not possible anymore.

In summary: “Um. Yeah,” Maya says.

It’s easier than it should be to turn her shoulders, to reach her free arm up, and to wrap it around Maya Fey. Franziska has not been hugged since Miles Edgeworth in the airport after that case, and before that it might have been years, but her body remembers all the ways it wants to be held, and relaxes when Maya hugs her back and fulfills them, far less stiffly, far more practiced. “Franzi,” she says, and rubs Franziska’s back. Normally, Franziska hates nicknames, but she knows that she could hear Maya say that on repeat for hours and it would still threaten to bring tears back to her eyes, just as it does now.

They did not raise the dead today. They did not even try. But they raised the living, rolled away the stone, someone who thought she had sunk too low to be reached, and that was a miracle that only Maya Fey, with her gentle touch and her forgiveness that started everything, could have performed.

Inside Franziska’s chest, a new feeling blooms, woken as if by sunlight. After everything that she’s been through today, she’s not quite ready to give it a name, even though she thinks she may recognize it after all. With attention, with care, it may grow yet into something she is proud of, something worth sharing. She already knows to whom she wants to give it, and this time, it will not be in simple reciprocation; it will come from the same place as Maya’s offer today. Genuine, honest, the truth. It will not be perfect in the von Karma name. It will not be compliant.

It will be — she will be worthy, instead, of someone like Maya Fey.