The sound rang out across the courtroom, full-throated and confident. Phoenix Wright threw out his arm, pointing dramatically at the figure on the witness stand, and listened to the fading echo of his voice. Silence rushed in its wake, filling the gallery with hushed energy, an electric crackle of anticipation.
This was the moment, that glorious instant when all the pieces fell into place, when the defense attorney revealed what had really happened. This was when the courtroom was his stage, when he could turn his case around and revel in the shocked gasps of the audience. This was when his faith, his unyielding belief in his client, was finally rewarded.
Oh yes. This was the moment he lived for.
The woman on the witness stand, a scrawny forty-something bank teller who kept nervously cracking her knuckles, gave him a wary look. On the other side of the courtroom Prosecutor Payne mopped his brow, his sweat-slick forehead gleaming in the fluorescent lights. Looming over them all, gavel in hand, the elderly judge had his eyes comically wide as he waited for the defense to continue.
Phoenix lowered his arm, a triumphant gleam in his eyes.
"Miss Reynolds, what you've just said is a little problematic, don't you think?"
The bank teller narrowed her eyes, and a loud pop was heard as she flexed her fingers. "What do you mean?"
"Yeah, what do you mean, Nick?"
Maya Fey stood at his side, her face scrunched up in confusion. The expression made her look younger, reminding him of the seventeen-year-old she had been when they first met. Though she was still wide-eyed and round-faced, the past year as the Master of her village had given Maya a slightly harder, more adult look. Or perhaps, since they saw each other less and less these days, Phoenix was better able to notice the slight changes as Maya matured. He was still getting used to seeing her in her Master's robes. They were longer, reaching past her knees, and a deep, rich purple color with a lighter shade trim. Most noticeable was the red talisman hanging from her neck surrounded by her beads, symbolizing her new status.
When he first started his career Phoenix never imagined a spirit channeler would serve as his legal aid. But these days he was learning to treasure the few times she could pull herself away from Kurain to visit him.
He nodded at the papers in front of her. "Give me the testimony from yesterday."
She handed him a short bundled stack, which he leafed through as he spoke. "Miss Reynolds, yesterday you told the court you had worked at Three-Fifths Bank for over twenty years."
"Yes, that's right."
"And you stated that you are an observant employee, an excellent employee, with no bad marks on your record."
"I suppose I did, yes."
"But just now you said you were afraid of being fired from your position."
The witness said nothing; she glowered at him, her mouth set in a thin line.
Phoenix tapped his fingers against the papers, finally finding the quote he was searching for. "If you are such an 'outstanding worker,' as you claimed yesterday, then why did you state today that you were terrified of being let go? What reason would the bank have to fire you?"
"Objection!" Payne's voice sounded shrill and tinny as he interjected. "Mr. Wright, what does this line of questioning have to do with the robbery your client committed?"
Phoenix fixed him with a glare. "As I've already stated, my client had no reason to attempt petty robbery." He leaned forward and splayed his hands wide on the bench, making sure everyone would listen to his next words. "But Miss Reynolds does."
The court erupted into surprised murmurs. Payne looked positively floored. The bank teller clenched her hands so tightly together her knuckles turned white. Maya just shot him a mischievous grin, catching on to his plan.
The judge pounded his gavel furiously. "Silence! I will have order in this courtroom!"
As the whispers subsided, the judge turned his attention to Phoenix. "Mister Wright, you think the bank teller held up herself? Surely you can't be serious."
"I am serious," Phoenix replied, and couldn't help the smirk that appeared on his face. "And don't call me Shirley."
He heard Maya's hand smack against her forehead. "That joke is so old, Nick…"
The judge just frowned. "You can be called whatever you like, Mister Wright, but please explain how you think the person who reported the robbery actually committed it."
He squared his shoulders back and drew in a deep breath. "My client, Trent Coates, has been a customer at Three-Fifths for several years. He is in sound financial health. He has no motivation and no need to steal two thousand dollars by holding up a bank teller."
His client, seated next to the bailiff, nodded enthusiastically.
"But our esteemed Miss Reynolds has such a need. She is in debt to the Tender Lender loan company."
The witness winced and cracked her fingers loudly, the sound sickening, like all the bones had snapped at once. Phoenix half expected her to point a set of mangled digits back at him.
Payne, finding his nerve again, slammed his desk. "What proof do you have of that?"
Phoenix met him head on. "My assistant and I paid a visit to their offices after yesterday's trial. If you'll recall, the loan company has accounts at this bank. Through her work, there is ample opportunity for Miss Reynolds to become acquainted with such a, er, reputable business."
Reputable was not the word he would normally use to describe the lender. However, with Viola, the Cadaverini heir, still in charge of the organization, it would be unwise to refer to the mafia's front with anything less than respect.
The judge looked down at the attorney with a puzzled frown. "I'm afraid that's not concrete proof, Mister Wright."
"But this is." Phoenix held up a receipt from his case file. "A record of a loan obtained by Miss Reynolds, for which she is overdue."
He shuddered as he considered what would happen to him were he late with a loan repayment to Tender Lender. He had been terrified enough just accepting their tea. Viola had been cooperative, handing over the papers with an unnerving smile. "We're always interested in… working with you… Mister Wright," she'd said with that peculiar, chilling laugh.
"Th-That's none of your business! You had no right to look into my financial records!"
Miss Reynolds gripped the railing of the witness stand, eyes darting frantically around the room. Phoenix wondered which she was more afraid of: representatives coming to collect, or having it publicly known that she was in debt to such people.
Phoenix shook his head. "This was your motive. You needed the cash quickly, and every day it was right there in front of you, waiting to be taken. But if you just grabbed it out of the till and ran, you'd get fired, right?"
Payne tried to signal the judge's attention. "This is just conjecture, Your Honor."
But all eyes were on the defense attorney.
Phoenix lowered his voice. "That's why you said you were afraid of being fired, isn't it, Miss Reynolds?"
The bank teller cracked her knuckles again.
"You needed to rob your own bank, you thought of it every day, but you were afraid of the consequences. Being fired for stealing money was always on your mind."
The prosecutor let out a loud snort and waved his hand dismissively. "A fine story, Wright, but I don't believe Miss Reynolds is on trial here."
The judge nodded. "You've described a motive, but need to present evidence to support this claim, or I will strike this line of questioning from the record."
They were both right. Phoenix knew all he had managed so far was to cast suspicion on the bank teller. But he needed to let the idea sink in, to show that another person was compelled to commit the crime, to allow his client to have reasonable doubt. He still had to present the final piece of evidence.
"Miss Reynolds, can you describe what my client was wearing the day you claim he tried to rob you?"
The bank teller straightened, regaining a modicum of composure. "He was wearing a big, bulky coat. Something you could hide away a lot of money in. Or something you could hide a weapon in."
"It's true, Your Honor," Payne said, latching onto the incriminating statements. "We have security camera footage that confirms his attire."
"So you saw my client wearing something that seemed sufficiently suspicious to you."
The witness nodded. "Yes. That's why I wasn't surprised when he said he had a gun in his coat and to give him all the money I could." She cracked her knuckles as she spoke, one by one. "I was terrified. I did as he said."
Trent Coates was having trouble staying in his chair. He was shaking his head wildly, his hair a blond blur. The police had arrested him at home, on the accusation of the teller, though the stolen money could not be located.
Phoenix slammed his desk, furious; his client had endured suspicion and misery because of the lies of this woman. It was time to end this. "Miss Reynolds, you were the one who pocketed that cash, out of sight of the camera, and pinned the blame on my client!"
Again the courtroom was filled with angry mutterings.
All the color drained from the teller's face. "No!"
He had her on the ropes. "You just needed the perfect scapegoat. You waited until someone you thought looked suspicious enough came into the bank and you claimed he held you up."
"But he did!" Her eyes were wide, her hands clenching and unclenching spastically. "He threatened me, and I pushed the robbery button beneath the counter, just like I was trained to do, and I gave him the money!"
And here it was: the moment Phoenix snatched his victory.
"If the events happened as you claim, Miss Reynolds, then why did you push the robbery button before my client approached your counter?"
The only sound in the courtroom was a strangled gasp from the witness stand.
"What are you saying, Wright?" Payne had retreated, hunched over and mopping at his brow again.
Phoenix was a little taken aback; it seemed the prosecutor had lost his spark. Could he really admit defeat so quickly? He shook his head slightly as he answered.
"I'm saying you should pay more attention to time stamps. Compare the footage from the security camera, and the electronic report from the robbery button. Miss Reynolds pushed the button nearly a minute before Trent Coates even came up to her. Unless she's psychic, how could she have known he was going to rob her before he even talked to her?"
"I don't think she's psychic, Nick," Maya said as the gallery erupted once more.
Phoenix again pointed at the woman on the witness stand, who was shaking and wringing her hands. "You jumped the gun, Miss Reynolds. In your haste to frame someone else, you put your plan into action too early. Am I wrong?"
To their great surprise, the bank teller collapsed on the floor, sobbing, and confessed to the whole scheme. On a cue from the judge, the bailiff read out her rights and escorted her from the court. The proceedings wrapped up quickly, and Phoenix finally heard those words he'd been waiting for all day:
"The court finds the defendant, Trent Coates, 'Not Guilty.'"
The defendant's lobby was unusually still.
So often after Phoenix's trials, the lobby was a maelstrom of people laughing or crying or huddled together for support. Many of those times he had personal stakes in the trials – as a defendant himself, or defending his friends, or trying to stop someone else from being murdered. He was beginning to associate the lobby with intense feelings: adrenaline running wild, senses heightened, mind frantically trying to tie things together.
He wondered how many years of his life had been lost in this lobby due to emotional toil. Or, examined another way, how many years he had won, both in practical terms by not going to prison, and in a less physical sense by the enormity of relief that flooded through him when bad situations worked out for the best.
It might be better for his health if he stuck to simpler cases, like bank robbery.
Phoenix had just finished speaking with his client, who had to be escorted back to the holding facility for filing his release. The look of relief on his face had been palpable, filling the attorney with a sense of pride. Helping people, especially those who seemed like lost causes, never ceased to amaze him. It was thrilling; it was terrifying; it was the most incredible feeling in the world.
It felt even better if he got paid. He'd need to discuss compensation with his client soon.
He looked eagerly at the cushioned bench against the wall. He was exhausted, and he knew this peace would not last. Perhaps he could put up his feet and catch a quick nap while Maya went off to look for her cousin up in the gallery.
Then again, considering that the last time he fell asleep in the lobby he woke up with a lump on his head and temporary amnesia, he wasn't sure if he could actually let his guard down enough for a few winks.
He decided to take the risk and moved toward the seat when, as if on cue, the lobby doors burst open, spoiling the quiet.
Pearl Fey bounded across the tiled floor, caught him around the waist, and crushed him in an enormous hug, drawing an involuntary "Ooph!" out of him. Like her cousin, she too had grown in the last year, adding at least an inch to her height. The effect was mitigated somewhat since she left her hair down from the usual pretzel twist, allowing it to hang loose around her shoulders. She was still a skinny thing, but she was starting to grow out of her robes a bit; for a moment, Phoenix had a terrifying vision of a future Pearl spilling out of her child's dress like when she channeled her cousin Mia.
He hoped Maya – and himself – could handle Pearl going through the first years of womanhood.
"One day you're going to knock me out with that hug, Pearls," he said, ruffling the top of her head affectionately. "You know, I can't get used to you without your hair loops."
She finally let go in order to smooth her strands back down. "Mystic Maya and I are still ex-spear-ah-minting," she said, pronouncing the word carefully, "until we find a style I really like."
"We try something new every day," Maya added, a devious glint in her eye. "Most times it just becomes a tangle, so we end up brushing it out and letting it go free."
"Uh-huh." He ran a hand through his spikes, suddenly conscious of his own hairstyle.
Pearl tugged on his blue suit sleeve. "Mister Nick, I'm glad you and Mystic Maya won. You did a…" She chewed on her thumb, looking for the right word. "Oh! He said you did a 'commendable' job."
"Hmm? Who said what now?" As far as he knew, Pearl had been alone in the gallery, seated away from the other members. There were no other children in the courtroom. He felt a surge of protectiveness streak through him – What strange men were talking to Pearls?! – until he realized that Pearl was acting perfectly at ease. She was still uncomfortable around strangers; whoever had spoken to her must have been someone she knew.
She smiled at him, big and bright. "Mister Eh-ji-worth. He and Mister Detective kept me company during your trial."
"Is that so?"
Phoenix felt his pulse quicken; he hadn't seen the prosecutor in a long time. Though he had returned from Europe several months ago, he was busy, so much that Phoenix wouldn't see him for weeks at a time. He still wasn't certain what had cut Edgeworth's travels short – something to do with his sponsor being caught up in some crime ring – but the city had re-instated him immediately, and made him a High Prosecutor to boot, which likely added to his workload.
"You should come say hello." Pearl pulled him to the lobby entrance, where a large figure stood just outside the doors.
He recognized Detective Gumshoe's ratty coat, freshly anointed with a new brown stain. Was it gravy? Or maybe oil?
The detective smiled at all of them. "Hey, look who's back!"
The burly man reached down and scooped Pearl up into his arms, and she let out something between a shriek and a giggle. He plopped her on top of his shoulders, her head nearly reaching the ceiling. Once he had her steadied, he beamed at Phoenix and clapped him on the shoulder. "Good job today, pal!"
Gumshoe had been in high spirits for the last couple of months, ever since he and Maggey Byrde finally admitted their feelings for one another. He'd become more boisterous and, oddly enough, more competent at work. Phoenix had overheard several of the older officers whispering about how the 'little woman' was inspiring Gumshoe to do his best. They made a cute couple, though it was a bit jarring to see them together. Maggey was nearly a foot shorter than Gumshoe, not quite reaching his shoulders. Phoenix sometimes wondered, with the size difference and all, how things worked out between them during their intimate moments.
Gumshoe moved aside, revealing another figure waiting behind him, and Phoenix couldn't stop the smile that spread across his face.
His smile split into a full-fledged grin, and he saw the prosecutor's mouth twitch up in response. He hesitated, debating whether he should pull his old friend into a hug – a manly hug, of course – or refrain from any contact. Finally, he stuck out his right hand, hoping he didn't seem too awkward.
Edgeworth blinked, looking surprised, as though he was expecting something different. A moment later he returned the handshake, gripping firmly.
His hand was warm, comfortable, and Phoenix felt a familiar fluttering in his stomach. It was always like this with Edgeworth: jumbled feelings of admiration and concern, shared history fuelling each interaction, and a wish for something more than a tenuous friendship.
Even after all this time, he was still coping with his feelings for Edgeworth. He had looked up to the prosecutor ever since they were children, had kept him in his thoughts well beyond the limits of reminiscing about school-yard friends. Miles had ingrained himself so deeply into his life, had burrowed so thoroughly into his heart, that he had turned his whole life around just to see him again.
The more jaded side of him quipped that there was a romantic movie in the plot of his life – but one that left the audience unfulfilled and unsatisfied. Edgeworth had shown him no signs of feeling anything beyond friendship, and even that had been a struggle at first. The prosecutor had been so broken, so trapped in the chains of perfection and duty that to see him now, more open and more alive, was a peace Phoenix had no desire to disrupt.
The saying was tis better to have loved and lost. Phoenix had too much to risk the losing part. He would rather have Edgeworth in his life, as a friend, than to chance losing him again.
He pulled his hand back slowly, reluctant to lose contact. "So, what brings you around?"
Edgeworth sighed, his features pinching in annoyance. "Yearly peer reviews. Payne is up for evaluation, and I needed to observe one of his trials for the report." He looked aside, watching the detective chat with Maya. "Gumshoe mentioned he was facing you today, and I thought it would be a good opportunity."
Ah. That helped explain why Payne gave up his fight so quickly. He likely didn't want to risk looking even more foolish by protesting the obvious evidence; it would look bad on his record. Phoenix was relieved to be a private defense attorney, since he was only accountable to himself and his client. The politics of the Prosecutor's Office were a nebulous and mildly disturbing game.
"Well, I hope you don't go too hard on him. He's had a rough day." Phoenix felt a swell of pride that Edgeworth would choose to watch one of his trials.
"So it appears." Edgeworth's voice had a slight mocking tone, and he returned his attention to Phoenix, smirking. "Though you shouldn't congratulate yourself too much. Any prosecutor with half a brain would have caught the error you presented in trial today and refused the assignment."
Phoenix raised an eyebrow. "Then does that mean the Prosecutor's Office is filled with brainless idiots?"
Edgeworth gave him a flat look, clearly waiting for Phoenix to exclude him from that statement.
He laughed. "Come on, you know I don't mean you," he said, shrugging. "Someone would have figured it out sooner or later. I'm just here to make sure it was sooner."
The prosecutor hesitated, as though considering his next words carefully. "Just pointing out the error would have been enough to exonerate your client. Why did you go through the trouble of implicating the teller?"
Phoenix frowned slightly. "Well, even if it did free him, he would still be under suspicion. Until the true culprit is found, the initial suspect is never really cleared."
The initial trial system had rendered the notion of innocent until proven guilty almost obsolete. It was one of the reasons Phoenix had felt compelled to take up law: to help those with no one on their side.
"I had to find the whole truth, Edgeworth. Nothing else would have put this case to rest."
Edgeworth nodded, grey eyes shining with something like understanding, and Phoenix felt a jolt run down his spine. The prosecutor's look was piercing. "Not many would have had the integrity to follow through."
Phoenix smiled, warmth spreading through his chest.
"Hey Nick, are we going home or what?"
Maya's voice interrupted their conversation. Gumshoe had returned Pearl to the floor, and Maya clasped her hand tightly. When all eyes turned on her, she seemed taken aback, but rallied quickly. "We still gotta pack, you know."
She was smiling, but there was something melancholy in her tone, and Phoenix, in a rare moment of insight, understood what she was feeling.
They were going back to Kurain this evening, on the late train. Over the past week she and Pearl had strewn their belongings all over Phoenix's guest bedroom; he half-way suspected that between them they had more robes and sandals and hairbrushes than most of their village combined. There was certainly more of it now that Maya was the Master. He did not envy them the task of cramming it all back into two suitcases.
He was jealous that at least they had each other for company. Tomorrow he would start watching his calendar again carefully, waiting for their next visit. It could be weeks from now.
He sighed, rubbing his hand behind his neck. "Yeah, I guess we should get going." He glanced sideways at Edgeworth, an idea springing to mind. "I don't suppose we could trouble you for a ride?"
Edgeworth lifted his brows, some smart retort ready to spill across his lips; but he looked over at the Fey girls, and his expression softened. "It would be a tight fit," he said, slowly.
"Do you have your own bus, Mister Eh-ji-worth?" Pearl looked intrigued, her head tilted as she considered the prosecutor driving one of the city transports.
Maya let out a snort of laughter. "No, Pearls, buses are for lots of people going to the same place. Mister Edgeworth drives his own sportscar."
"Oh." She bit her thumb again, looking away in embarrassment.
"It would be my pleasure, Miss Fey." Edgeworth bowed towards Pearl, causing her to flush a deep red. He looked over at Maya. "I'm sure the Master of Kurain would prefer a private car as opposed to a city bus."
Maya stiffened. "Mister Edgeworth, you- you don't need to treat me any differently." She did her best to sound normal, but there was something low, almost lonely, in her voice.
Edgeworth looked at her for a moment longer, then abruptly nodded. "Of course."
Phoenix held out his hand toward Pearl. "Thanks, Edgeworth," he said, trying to diffuse the awkwardness.
They said their farewells to Gumshoe and headed toward the prosecutor's parking lot. Edgeworth walked ahead of them, pace brisk, and the three of them trailed behind, Pearl holding on to each of their hands. She immediately clambered into the tiny backseat when the doors were unlocked. Phoenix followed in after her, after Maya refused to budge from the front seat.
One day, Phoenix vowed, one day he would be able to afford a car such as this. Rich leather seats, a sleek high-tech dashboard, and an engine that almost purred with power. Of course, he would choose a more subtle color than race-car red; something nondescript, like black, or if he was feeling classy, a deep blue. He met Edgeworth's eyes in the rearview mirror, and felt his face heat up, caught so blatantly admiring the vehicle.
He shifted his attention to Maya, who had buckled herself in and immediately swiveled in her seat to talk to Pearl. "Hey, if you're just going to turn around, you should sit back here," he said, sounding more annoyed than he meant as he tried to cover his embarrassment.
Maya waved her hand, dismissing him. "A gentleman always lets the lady sit in front, Nick." She turned toward Edgeworth. "Isn't that right?"
Once more he caught Edgeworth's gaze in the mirror, and saw the quick smirk. "I'm not certain a cretin such as Wright could ever learn how to be a gentleman."
Maya laughed, and as Phoenix was about to retaliate, Pearl tugged on his sleeve again.
"Mister Nick, you- you are a gentleman with Mystic Maya, right? You have to treat your Special Someone with love and respect!"
She had a long look on her face, one that made Phoenix feel as if he had disappointed her. She was still clinging to the idea of him and her cousin being a couple, as if seeing them together, like in a fairy tale, would dispel all the woes she had in her life.
He sighed. "Pearls, I–"
Maya interrupted him. "Pearly, remember what we talked about." Her words were stern, her face unusually serious. Pearl gave her a small, morose nod. The car fell quiet, the air heavy with an unspoken tension. Only the soft stirrings of violin strings, coming from the radio, broke the silence.
As Edgeworth shifted into first gear and pulled out of the lot, Phoenix leaned forward and tapped him on the shoulder. "Can you take us to my office, Edgeworth? I want to drop off this paperwork before we head home."
The prosecutor scowled, briefly looking back at Phoenix before quickly shifting his glance away. Phoenix blinked in confusion, wondering what he had done to sour Edgeworth's mood.
"Don't get in the habit of making me your chauffeur, Wright." But he turned left anyway towards the attorney's office. "As it happens, this is more convenient for me."
"You gotta be somewhere on my side of town?"
Phoenix waited for a response, but Edgeworth kept his attention on the road. The atmosphere in the car was still subdued. He put on his best cheeky grin, trying to lighten the mood. "You got a date or something?"
There was a part of him that didn't really want to hear the answer to that question; it was selfish, he knew. Then again, if Edgeworth surprised him and answered yes then maybe he could put his clinging wish to rest. If hope was left in Pandora's Box for too long, unfulfilled, it would spoil and turn to poison. Better to let it escape along with the monsters.
Edgeworth's eyes flashed at him in the mirror, something wary flitting across his expression before he settled into a glare. "Not that it's any of your business, but no." His mouth pressed into a thin line, and Phoenix thought he'd pried all he could out of him, but after a moment he continued. "The Prosecutor's Office is holding a ceremony at the Gatewater Hotel."
"Ooh, that sounds important," Maya piped in, trying to sound more cheerful. "Are you getting another award?"
"No. Regardless, I expect it will be nothing but a waste of time."
"Oh." She faltered, unsure of whether to prod the prosecutor any further, and then turned around again, facing the backseat. "That reminds me, Pearly, we gotta plan for the novice sessions. Which training halls do you think we should use?"
She and Pearl started talking about buildings and waterfalls, the little girl perking up. Phoenix stayed quiet, watching the city roll past the window, letting his eyes wander over to Edgeworth's reflection. In the low light, the grey hair that framed his face looked shiny and almost white, blending in with his pale skin. He reminded Phoenix of a ghost, that perhaps he really had chosen death and that the last couple of years were all in Phoenix's head.
Sometimes the prosecutor seemed so far away.
Someday, Phoenix feared, he may not have the chance to see Edgeworth anymore, due to work, or travels, or maybe he would get on the prosecutor's nerves so much that Edgeworth finally refused his company.
He swallowed hard and closed his eyes, and tried to ignore the lead weight in his stomach. He listened to the sound of the Fey girls' chatter, not really paying attention, and to the classical music, the sound soothing. The ever-so-slight vibration of the vehicle against the road, a testament to its restrained power, was almost hypnotic.
He only became aware of his surroundings again when the car was quiet and the gentle vibration had finally stopped.
"Wright. You're here." Edgeworth's voice was low, sounding amused.
He abruptly lifted his head from the window and found the prosecutor staring at him in the rearview mirror. The car was parked in front of his office, and Maya and Pearl were already heading into the building. He rubbed his eyes. "Was I asleep?"
Edgeworth scoffed. "If you kept regular hours, you wouldn't need naps."
"Says the work-a-holic who sleeps in his office." Phoenix scooted forward, resting his elbows against the two front seats and moving his head into the space between them. "Thanks for giving us a ride, Edgeworth."
Edgeworth shifted in his seat, angling slightly to look at Phoenix, and his shoulder brushed across Phoenix's arm. "You're welcome."
There was a pause, a weird moment where neither of them moved. Phoenix looked at the prosecutor, saw the slight lines of stress near his eyes. He wanted to reach over and run his finger across them, to feel his skin, to give him some measure of contact-comfort; but he kept his hands still. He was the first to look away.
"You should take a break sometime. Have a little fun." The thought of Edgeworth relaxing, laughing, or just bantering together with him was cruelly enticing.
Edgeworth tapped his fingers against the steering wheel. "Unlike you, I have obligations to keep. I can't skip work for some meaningless amusement."
Phoenix sighed. At some point Edgeworth would need to remember that he, too, was human, and that constant work would derail his spirit. "Well, think about it at least. I don't want my friends to die of heart attacks before they're sixty."
He slid back before Edgeworth could respond. The door opened with a smooth motion and he stepped out, but stuck his head back in one last time. "Thanks again."
Edgeworth leaned his head back against the headrest. "Goodbye, Wright."
He shut the door and walked toward the office, wondering when he would see the prosecutor again. His footsteps were heavy. Later this evening he'd escort the girls to the train station, and his life would be calm and quiet and dull.
Only when he heard the engine start did he turn around, and he watched the red car roll away from him.
Edgeworth pulled into the hotel parking garage, moving slowly up to the third floor, and found an empty spot near the elevators. He shifted into park and turned the engine off; then, after a moment's consideration, he turned the key just enough to leave the radio on. A mournful oboe drifted through the empty space of the vehicle, and he let his head fall back against the leather headrest again.
The prosecutor considered himself a calm, disciplined man, and he took great care to view the world through the lens of truth and logic. But, contrary to the façade he presented to the world at times, he was not made of stone, and he cursed himself for his weakness as he realized he would need a moment to compose himself.
He ran a hand through his long bangs, letting the strands sift through his fingers and fall back into place automatically, and dragged his palm over his face, feeling tired in body and spirit. His stomach was still churning, a result of the rollercoaster his emotions had been riding all afternoon, all due to one man.
Wright, Wright, Wright.
Drawing in deep breaths, he sorted through the day's events in his head, trying to discover where things had gone awry.
The morning had been busy, if largely uneventful. His latest trial had wrapped up one day short of the three-day allotment, affording him an opportunity to file the paperwork early and begin preparations for the next case. If he worked quickly, he might even finish in time for that idiotic ceremony the Prosecutor's Office planned this evening at the Gatewater Hotel in a misguided attempt to boost morale. Everyone was expected to put in an appearance, though he had not yet decided whether to attend.
He was buried deep in ledgers and evidence lists, folders splayed across his shiny oak desk, when a booming knock on his office door startled him, causing him to nearly spill his tea over the papers.
Irritated, he righted his cup and wrenched the door open, preparing scathing remarks for whoever stood on the other side.
"Cavemen have more manners than the people in this–"
"Mister Edgeworth, Sir!"
Gumshoe stood on the threshold, breathing hard, his chest puffing in and out as though he had literally run over to the prosecutor's office. He held up a file and grinned triumphantly. "We got the results back on the Katzenberg case. You won't believe what the lab found!"
His complaint halted, a look of intrigue crossed the prosecutor's face. "Indeed?" He opened the door wider and stepped aside, allowing the detective to trundle in and take a seat on the sofa. Edgeworth held out a hand for the file as he passed.
Gumshoe started to stretch his legs across the plush cushions, but at a stern glance from the prosecutor he straightened back up. "Yup, the victim's wound was consistent with bludgeoning, just as the lady confessed."
"So I see. Wait a moment… the report says the victim was hit with enough force to completely cave in the back of his skull. A wound like that would require a tremendous amount of strength in the attacker." He frowned, his finger tapping against one arm as he thought over the results.
"That's the big deal, Sir. We're all trying to figure out how that little old lady could have done it. We're even opening a betting pool." The detective had a mad gleam in his eye. "The most popular guess is that she's just freakishly strong, but I think that she had some sort of deadweight rigged."
"…It was her son."
The answer was simple. The woman did not have the strength to render such a brutal blow, but her son was a professional weight-lifter. He suppressed a shudder as he imagined being on the receiving end of the man's wrath.
"Yeah, and then she– What? Him?" Gumshoe spluttered as his entire conception of the case was turned on its head. "Then why did his mother give a false confession?"
"Isn't it obvious, Detective?" He handed the folder back with a rueful smile. "She's protecting her son."
"Oh." Gumshoe's bushy brows knit together, and he rubbed a hand along his stubbly chin, considering.
Edgeworth folded his arms. "Tell the officers to pursue evidence against the son. I will not bring this case to court if they continue with the accusation against his mother." He looked at the detective's thoughtful expression and smirked. "I hope you didn't wager too much in that pool."
Gumshoe snapped to attention. "No, Sir. Just a batch of weenies. Maggey wanted to try her hand at cooking them anyway. Isn't she the best?" His mouth quirked up, as if he was trying to suppress a big grin.
Edgeworth resisted the urge to roll his eyes, as juvenile as that action would be. Really, the detective was insufferable lately. Nearly every day he had to endure some new story of how Miss Byrde was so thoughtful, or encouraging, or good with her hands, which was frankly more than he ever wanted to know about the woman. If the detective devoted half as much time to his career as he did to her… But he knew he was being unfair. Gumshoe was doing well, almost enough to warrant a salary increase for once; and deep down Edgeworth was pleased for the man and his burgeoning relationship.
The real root of his annoyance was two-fold. Unlike the detective, Edgeworth did not have time to pursue a romantic partner. The Prosecutor's Office was still reeling from scandal and corruption, and until additional personnel could be hired the prosecutors that remained had to endure extended caseloads. He was left with precious little free time, hardly enough to make a serious attempt at a relationship of his own.
And if Edgeworth were to admit the whole truth, he also held a bit of resentment toward the detective. After chasing Miss Byrde for nearly two years Gumshoe had finally caught her, his persistence rewarded, and his world had apparently turned into a saccharine land of sunshine and rainbows. It was a sentiment Edgeworth doubted he would have the privilege of experiencing himself.
Even if he had room in his schedule for dating, the person he was most drawn to was uninterested.
Gumshoe, his mouth still twitching with happiness, interrupted his musings. "Oh yeah, your secretary asked me to give you a message."
"Something about a painful review being due soon, Sir."
The reviews were another attempt by the Office to curtail any further misdeeds. As a High Prosecutor, it was his duty to observe the trials of his peers. While he was certain the evaluations would result in several censures, there was nothing particularly painful about the assignment…
"Nearly correct, Detective. I'm to observe Prosecutor Payne for his evaluation."
"Oh! Well, I know he has a trial this afternoon." At a quizzical raise of the prosecutor's eyebrow, he hurried on. "I had to testify for him yesterday. That spikey-haired lawyer kept objecting and dragging things out–"
"Wright was on the defense?"
"Yeah, he and that top-knot girl were…"
Edgeworth let the detective ramble on, no longer listening. He was trying to quell the rush of blood that coursed through him at the mention of the defense attorney. Wright would be there, with his triumphant grin and his heart on his sleeve and his idealism riding high, reckless and quick-thinking and more than a match for someone like Payne.
…Why could he not bury these accursed feelings?!
He only realized Gumshoe was looking at him expectantly, waiting for a reply, when the office was suddenly silent. He could feel a flush threaten to appear on his cheeks, caught in his less than professional thoughts.
"My apologies, Detective, but I must ask you to leave now. I have a lot of work that needs to be finished." He headed for the door in an attempt to escort him out.
"Oh, sure, Sir. But are you going to go to the trial later?"
He scowled. "Perhaps."
Gumshoe grinned as he headed into the hallway. "Well, I'll see you there, then, if you do decide to come. I wanna know why that guy robbed the bank!"
He made a non-committal noise as he shut the door with a quiet click. Already he was planning how best to finish up the paperwork and get to the trial, just like how not so long ago he wrapped up his affairs and flew half-way around the world to see Wright as quickly as possible.
He was such a fool.
The gallery was fairly full by the time he and Gumshoe made their way into the stands. He had intended to seclude himself in a quiet corner, one with a good view of Prosecutor Payne – and Wright. However, after standing at the top of the stairs, looking for an appropriate spot, a familiar little girl in a pink and purple robe stood and waved her arm frantically. Gumshoe headed toward her and he reluctantly followed.
"Hey, Little Miss Fey! Are you up here by yourself?" Gumshoe looked around, as if expecting to see someone else hovering near the girl.
He recognized Pearl, Miss Fey's younger cousin. He had only met her a scant few times, usually under stressful and emotional circumstances. Something looked different about her, though he couldn't identify precisely what it was.
"Hi Mister Detective, and, um, Mister Eh-ji-worth." While she smiled at the detective, she turned shy toward the prosecutor, ducking her head and looking at the floor.
Edgeworth realized he still had a hard expression on his face, the glare that usually made his opponents quail and others reconsider approaching him. He chastised himself, wondering if he would ever be comfortable with children, and offered her a small smile. "Good afternoon, Miss Fey," he said, nodding toward her slightly.
It seemed to work; she gave him a hesitant smile and motioned them both to sit down. Gumshoe sat between them, and he was grateful that he kept her occupied. As he opened his briefcase, pulling out and arranging the papers he needed, he caught snippets of their conversation. Gumshoe was telling more stories about him and Miss Byrde, and Pearl seemed absolutely delighted to hear them, her cheeks turning rosy and eyes wide and adoring.
He looked up as people began filing onto the courtroom floor. The defendant, looking pale and slightly panicked, was escorted by the bailiff. The elder Miss Fey followed him, wearing a new longer robe and eye-catching charm around her neck. Behind her was the attorney himself.
Edgeworth felt a lurch in his chest, like his heart was being drawn out of him. The first time he saw his childhood friend in court, all grown up and oddly striking in his blue suit, it stirred feelings he'd not considered since adolescence. Even now, that same mixture of apprehension and fascination simmered inside him when confronted with Wright.
He'd known from a young age that he had no interest in the opposite sex, that he was drawn to same-gendered partners. Once he had overcome his past and made peace with his current path in life, he had allowed himself a friendship with Wright, with the question of what might be always lurking in the background. But he'd seen the way Wright had looked at his old college sweetheart, the young sister from Hazakura, and he realized the attorney did not share his romantic preferences. After a long night of reflection and rumination, sifting through the letters from a younger Phoenix that he never answered, he decided to let that desire in him fade away.
It had never been quenched completely.
"Oh! There she is now!" Pearl squirmed in her seat as she pointed at her cousin. "Doesn't she look beautiful in her new sere-ah-money-all robes?"
"She sure does, pal."
"Now that she's the new Master, she can't spend as much time with Mister Nick. But that doesn't mean their love is any less!" She nodded sagely at the detective. "'Absence makes the heart grow fonder.'"
Edgeworth felt something icy run through his veins. He turned toward the girl, carefully keeping a neutral look on his face. "What's that, Miss Fey?"
She beamed at him. "They're 'Special Someones.' One day they're going to get married and have lots and lots of babies!"
He blinked, taken aback. Surely she must be mistaken. Maya Fey – and Wright? They had both known Miss Fey since she was a teenager, for goodness' sake! He glanced over at the pair behind the defense's bench. Maya was organizing papers and bundles of evidence, and Wright was picking through them all, his lips moving silently as if reminding himself of each one's importance.
They were seven years apart in age. But as he considered Maya, glancing between her and Wright, he realized in not so very long that would become only seven years. She was growing into a beautiful woman, one with a respectable position and a significant history with Wright.
The idea of Wright becoming attracted to her suddenly did not seem so far-fetched.
Before he could make a reply, Prosecutor Payne finally entered his side of the courtroom, his witness trailing behind him. Edgeworth schooled his expression into a glare and turned his attention to the prosecutor. There would be time later to ponder Wright's affairs – right now there was work to do.
If Payne received a particularly vicious review… at least Franziska would approve.
Edgeworth finally turned off the radio; the oboe had faded away and an obnoxious horn section had taken up its melody, turning the somber tune into something too bombastic for him to tolerate.
He kept drifting back to that moment in front of the attorney's office. Wright had been so close to him, and it would have been easy to just lower his head and claim the kiss he craved, and for an instant he'd almost believed Wright wanted him to do so.
He should have refused to give them a lift.
He snatched his keys and left the car, moving resolutely toward the stairwell next to the elevators. He needed to stop this foolish nonsense.
The Gatewater had certainly come a long way from its roots as just another business lodge, transforming into a respectable high-class hotel. The marble floors gleamed and the lush décor gave the place a certain opulence. Near the entrance was a recent addition to the hotel: a lounge named Verona. It was the kind of place that had a cozy, intimate, and noticeably expensive atmosphere. As he crossed the reception area Edgeworth heard a soft tune float across the lobby. He paused, listening. A small band was arranged on a raised stage inside the lounge, and the warbling trumpeter was playing a tasteful, jazzy arrangement of the Steel Samurai theme.
Despite himself his lips quirked up.
The prosecutor's ceremony was a pointless formality; attendance was expected but, Edgeworth reasoned, not strictly mandatory. He would gain a few precious hours to himself if he skipped it. And even though he had paperwork to finish and more prep work to do, he suddenly wanted nothing more than to have a glass of wine and relax.
You should take a break sometime.
Like one of the youths following the piper, Edgeworth found himself drawn to the strains of the music, leading him into the lounge.
Inside it was dark, with deep blue curtains drawn across the windows and round mahogany tables dotted around the floor. A bar lined the far wall of the room, one which displayed only premium spirits. Edgeworth removed his jacket and took a seat at the counter, pleased it was shining and free of sticky spots. The bartender handed him a glossed menu, and Edgeworth was surprised to find a number of unconventional wines offered. He ordered a barbaresco, a rich red wine he'd not had since his time in Europe.
The song wound down, melting into another jazzy arrangement. As Edgeworth sipped his wine he looked around the lounge, keeping an eye open for any other prosecutors. Aside from the band and the bartender, a handful of people were scattered across the room: a small group of well-dressed individuals to one side, talking amongst themselves; a young couple at a table close to the stage, whispering to one another; a few persons seated alone, watching the show or staring into their cups.
Last of all, his gaze fell on the only other person at the bar a few seats away from him: a young man, sharply dressed in a sleek black Armani suit. He was very pale, as light-skinned as the prosecutor himself, with long black hair that fell gracefully to the tops of his shoulders. He glanced at Edgeworth, quickly looking him over, and something about that action made Edgeworth feel a light flush spread across his face. Their eyes met, and the man pulled his lips back in a slight half-smirk, teeth flashing briefly. Edgeworth, unwilling to back down from a stare, kept his expression carefully blank. The man finally looked away, taking a pull on a short glass filled with scotch or whiskey or some other sort of golden liquid.
When he looked into his own glass, Edgeworth realized his breathing had sped up.
He turned his attention back to the musicians. A woman in a slinky emerald-colored dress moved to a standing microphone and began singing in a low, smoky voice, and for a moment Edgeworth felt as though he were transported to an old forties night-club.
As he took another sip of wine, he noticed the young man stand, drink in hand, and walk toward him. "You mind some company?"
Edgeworth took a moment to consider his answer. He had wanted to be alone to soothe his frayed nerves, but there was something quite… alluring about the man. Edgeworth gave him a curt nod, and he seated himself in the chair next to him.
They both turned to watch the singer, who lightly swayed her hips in time with the rhythm. A swell of relief flowed through the prosecutor. He'd feared the man would insist on holding a conversation right away; at least now he would have a moment to collect his thoughts. The angle allowed him to take surreptitious glances at the man next to him. He had a sharp profile with prominent cheekbones, though his hair fell around his eyes a bit, softening the severe look.
What kind of person was he? In that kind of suit, he either came from wealth or had earned himself quite the career. Did he spend his days locked up in a boardroom, or somewhere more exciting? Was he an honest man? Someone with integrity? Someone loyal? Someone who would go to the ends of the earth just to chase after a phantom from their past?
Edgeworth closed his eyes momentarily, taking long, slow breaths.
As the song reached an interlude, the young man angled himself toward Edgeworth. Now that he could see both of his eyes, Edgeworth discovered they were an unusual shade of brown, almost maroon. He realized, with some chagrin, that he had been expecting blue.
The young man had an inquisitive look on his face, and something else lurking behind it that the prosecutor couldn't classify.
"Business or pleasure?"
Edgeworth wondered if that phrasing was intentional. "I'm afraid you'll need to clarify."
"Are you here for business, or for pleasure?" Once again, those dark eyes roamed over the prosecutor, lingering here and there, and Edgeworth was uncertain if he was being sized up or, as others might put it, checked out.
He sat just a bit straighter. "I was here for business."
"And now," Edgeworth said, swirling his wine and meeting the man's penetrating look, "I'm not."
A ghost of a smile flitted across the young man's features, and he held out a hand. His grip was smooth and strong. "I'm Christopher Banks."
The hold on his hand tightened slightly. "Only Edgeworth?"
His hand was finally released. "A pleasure to meet you, Mister Edgeworth."
"And you, Mister Banks."
Not Chris, he noted, but Christopher.
They lapsed into silence, neither comfortable nor completely awkward, a low current of something arcing between them. Edgeworth was keenly aware of his impromptu companion, who crossed his leg and took another sip of… actually, now that he was near enough, he could identify it as brandy. He was impressed; most young professionals preferred either obscure beers or gaudy designer drinks.
Edgeworth took a final sip of his wine and placed the empty glass on the counter. He signaled the bartender. "Another, please."
Christopher also waved his hand. "One more of these too," he said, sliding across his glass and pulling out his wallet. "Put them both on my tab."
Edgeworth felt a twist in his stomach and he looked over sharply. "That's not necessary."
Christopher lifted his eyebrows, eyes widened slightly. "My apologies. I had thought, perhaps…" He began to rise from his seat.
Edgeworth grimaced, flustered. "No, that's– What I meant was–" He let out a quick sigh, defeated. "I'll get them both."
Drinks refreshed, Christopher gave Edgeworth a shrewd look. "The view is better over there," he said, heading toward a secluded table in the corner.
Edgeworth hesitated. The view was decidedly not better there. As he realized the implication of the invitation, he felt his face heat up.
Think about it.
He picked up his glass and his jacket and seated himself next to the young man at the table.
A quick, victorious grin appeared on Christopher's face before it settled into a subdued smile. On stage the singer returned to the microphone, her sultry voice crooning the first few lines of an old Peggy Lee song.
"So," Christopher said, relaxing into his seat, "for someone who's not here for business, you don't seem to be enjoying yourself much."
"Mm." Edgeworth stared at his drink, wondering just what the hell he was doing.
"Something on your mind?" Christopher's tone was deliberately light.
Edgeworth shook his head. "Not precisely."
He looked sideways at Christopher, reticent and wary, and the man just smiled again, sympathetic. "I see."
In the quiet that followed, Edgeworth picked up a couple of lines from the song.
"Why don't you do right,
Like some other men do?"
He felt something cold and rueful roil through him.
Why don't you do Wright?
He barked out a short, bitter laugh. Christopher glanced at him, appearing puzzled and slightly worried.
Edgeworth leaned back, his shoulder brushing against the other man's. "It's just…" He lifted his hands helplessly, shaking his head. "I don't believe they're interested," he said, a degree of misery in his voice.
Christopher picked up his glass. "Well," he said, slowly, "he's missing out, isn't he?" He took a long drink, and Edgeworth didn't bother to protest the gendered assumption.
He took a long, steadying breath. "So, Mister Banks," he began.
"Christopher. What is it that you do?" It had been a long time since Edgeworth found himself in this sort of conversation, in this delicate dance of words and subtle meanings.
"I'm VP of Business Development and Executive Strategy for Three-Fifths Banking." Christopher had a self-deprecating grin. "Want me to translate that into a more common language, like English?"
"Not especially," Edgeworth said. Boardrooms it was, then.
He let a sly smile tug at the corner of his mouth. "I think you'll be needing a new teller, though. One was recently indicted for theft and frame-up, and probably a host of other charges."
Christopher seemed taken aback. "How on earth do you know something like that?"
"There was a trial today." At the confused look, he continued. "I'm a prosecutor."
"Oh. I– I see."
Edgeworth smirked, feeling as though he had the upper hand. "A man named 'Banks' going into banking," he mused, gently mocking. "How perfectly predictable."
To his amusement, Christopher rose to the bait. "With a name like 'Miles,' you should be a long distance trucker," he said. There was a mischievous glint in his eye as he lowered his voice. "Though that could be tedious. Maybe something dangerous, like a stunt driver. Something more… stimulating."
There was that electric spark between them again. Edgeworth crossed his leg, mirroring the other man's posture, and drank deeply from his glass. The music slowed down, transitioning into something with a strong bass, the musician plucking out the sounds like heartbeats.
They listened for a while, making idle chatter. Edgeworth was somewhat surprised by himself; he was usually no good with small talk. But the wine was running warmly through him, the music was intoxicating, and Christopher was smiling at him and brushing against him, and that undercurrent of something darkly exciting and sensual kept flowing between them.
Eventually Christopher tilted his brandy back one more time, finishing his drink. Edgeworth held up his own wine, about to consume the last of it, when Christopher reached over and clasped his hand around the lip of the glass.
"May I try it?"
Edgeworth lifted an eyebrow, but nodded. Christopher slid his hand down the stem, skimming his fingers against the prosecutor's as he relinquished the glass. He watched Christopher drain the wine, his throat bobbing quickly, tongue snaking out to catch the last drops. He didn't realize he was holding his breath until Christopher caught his eye again.
A long moment passed, thick with tension. Christopher moved his hand again, grasping one of Edgeworth's own. "If you want, I would be interested in your company."
There was a pause, that breathless instant at the top of the rollercoaster before the plummet.
Christopher's voice was low again. "We could go somewhere."
The world seemed to slow down. Edgeworth could hear the music, rhythmic and pulsing; the murmurs from the other patrons, a susurrus chorus; the clink of glasses, like locks sliding in their doors. His vision narrowed to the man next to him, the warmth of his fingers. Most of all, he felt his blood rush through him, feeling alive in a way he'd almost forgotten.
Have a little fun.
Edgeworth turned his palm and grasped Christopher's hand, voice equally low. "Or we could stay in the hotel."
Christopher looked up abruptly.
Edgeworth's gaze was piercing. "Just once."
Christopher nodded slowly, like he was negotiating terms. Edgeworth squeezed his hand tighter.
"Just for tonight."
They stood simultaneously.
"There is a store in the hotel," Christopher said. "I can get supplies." The prosecutor was pleased to finally see a red flush bloom over his features.
"I'll get the room," Edgeworth said, and silenced any protest with a glare.
They parted in the lobby, Christopher toward the courtesy store and Edgeworth toward the reception area. A room on such short notice might be difficult to obtain. Fortunately, one was available on the fourth floor due to a cancellation.
Christopher approached the counter, a small black bag in hand. "Well?"
Edgeworth handed him one of the card keys. "Room 403. I'll meet you there."
Once the room was paid Edgeworth made his way up the stairwell, heart pounding. He paused outside the door, reminding himself that he was free to do as he wished, that he was a healthy male with needs to satisfy, that he had no one but himself to answer to.
That he needed to let go of a dream.
He knocked softly, a warning, and stepped inside.
He didn't notice and didn't care what the room looked like. Christopher straightened from where he had been leaning over a bedside table, jacket already removed, and their eyes locked. Edgeworth closed the door behind him with a deafening click.
They met at the edge of the entryway. Edgeworth could feel the heat radiating from his body.
Christopher grasped Edgeworth's upper arm, encouraging. "Are you sure?"
Not at all.
In answer, Edgeworth slid his hand over Christopher's cheek and brought their lips together.
Edgeworth had denied himself such contact for too long. Every little movement felt like a great surge of electricity through over-sensitized nerves: lips brushing, soft and wet. Tongues sliding, tasting like sweet wine and brandy. Bodies pressing together, all heat and taut limbs and hard strength.
Their fingers fumbled with buttons and knots, revealing more and more skin to explore, to touch, to kiss. Christopher was stripped to his waist, lithe and pale, and he had Edgeworth against the wall, undoing the end of his dress shirt. He dragged his warm palm against the line of skin between the shirt halves, pausing at Edgeworth's waist, teasing, tantalizing, then finally plunging down and pressing against his arousal.
Edgeworth hadn't moaned like that for far too long, either.
Christopher drew his fingers along Edgeworth's length, slowly tracing the hard outline, and then he slipped away all together. With ruthless efficiency he undid Edgeworth's belt and fell to his knees.
Edgeworth braced his palms against the wall, feeling lightheaded. This was going so fast; this was what he wanted; this was too much; this–
He let out a shaky gasp as Christopher blew a line of warm air along his exposed length. Stunned, he watched Christopher pull a foil out of his pocket, tear it open, and roll the condom down. He tunneled his fingers along Edgeworth, pulling once, twice, and then all Edgeworth felt was close, wet heat.
It was good – all lips and agile tongue and gentle suction, moving in a slow, languid rhythm. Edgeworth was panting, eyes closed tight, willing himself to keep his hips still, to keep from thrusting into that wonderful mouth. One hand was wrapped around him while the other traced meaningless patterns over his thigh, the touch light and just distracting enough, and Edgeworth wanted to remember this trick, to keep someone right on the edge just like this, torturous and perfect. He let his hands drift away from the wall, tangling into the other man's hair.
And felt a sharp pang when he realized there were no spikes, just long, smooth strands. He wrenched his eyes open, and the ones looking up at him were not a deep, guileless blue, but were dark and almost red.
Carefully, he shifted back and pulled Christopher to his feet. He leaned his forehead against the other man's shoulder, obscuring his face.
To his surprise, Christopher chuckled lightly. "Too much?"
When Edgeworth made no reply, he gave a good-hearted sigh. "I understand," he said, completely misunderstanding.
Edgeworth tilted his head, breathing hard, and met those dark eyes again. They really were quite handsome. Christopher was quite handsome. Most importantly, he was here, in this moment, with him. He was being incredibly unfair, to Christopher and to himself. Could he not enjoy himself without thinking of what couldn't be?
Edgeworth moved his lips and slowly, thoroughly kissed them both senseless.
He could. He would.
They made their way to the bed, shedding the rest of their clothes, and sank onto the soft pillows. There was nothing but warm skin and low sounds of pleasure, gentle strokes and swallowed groans, and the inexorable pull toward completion. And when Edgeworth carded his fingers through long threads of hair and looked into dark eyes, he felt a thrill of desire; and when he heard the words I want you to fuck me murmured in his ear, he found it easy to press a lingering kiss and nod. He knelt behind Christopher, and he could admire the smooth stretches of pale skin, listen to his moans; he could feel his muscles relax and welcome him, hear each hitch of his breath; he could hold on to slender hips and surrender to each encouragement to go faster, harder, deeper.
When they finally climaxed, one after the other, for once Edgeworth felt nothing but pleasure.
After they could finally sit up, moving slowly, gingerly, they cleaned up as best they could with warm towels. Few words were spoken, a strange awkwardness overtaking each of them. Now that the tension between them had finally been resolved, Edgeworth found they did not have much to talk about. All of their banter had been a prelude to this act.
Edgeworth had never done something this impulsive before. Relationships were difficult enough; he had no idea how to act in a situation like this.
Christopher rolled down the bedsheets. "Are you going to stay?" His voice was light, carefully neutral.
Edgeworth paused, expecting the question but uncertain how to answer. He glanced between his clothes, the bed, and the man he'd just taken to bed.
"I'm taking a shower first," he said, hoping his attempt to stall went unnoticed.
Christopher settled into the sheets, dark hair splaying across the pillows. "If I'm asleep when you get out, I'll see you in the morning." He turned off the lamp, throwing the room into darkness.
For the second time that evening, under the warm water spray, Edgeworth mulled over recent events, tracking how things had gone so quickly and so far.
This… tryst had been a welcome release. Christopher had given him something he had not realized he so badly needed, and for that he was grateful. But aside from a great physical attraction, his feelings for the man did not run deeper. He had no intentions of taking this any further.
What was the term for a situation like this?
Right. A one-night stand.
The next morning would be even more uncomfortable. What if Christopher wanted something more? Edgeworth frowned. He was not ready for a relationship, not until he finally let go of Wright.
He felt a low throb in his chest, not quite regret, but more like longing.
No, the feelings were not the same. Perhaps one day things would change, and he could pursue something greater with a man like Christopher.
But not now.
Outside the shower, Edgeworth lingered in the entryway. The light from the restroom was just enough to see into the room. He looked over at Christopher, whose breathing had settled into a slow, deep rhythm, eyes closed, peaceful.
He would save them both a horribly awkward and confusing time if he just left now. Part of him felt like a coward, but the rest of him reasoned that it would be the most painless way to extricate himself.
He had said just once. Just tonight. There was nothing more Christopher should expect from him.
Edgeworth began dressing quietly. On the desk he found the hotel stationery and wrote a quick message for Christopher. He tried to ignore the mocking voice in his head reminding him that he was good at writing notes and disappearing.
Thank you for a memorable evening.
He considered adding something more, but in the end left it at that, and placed the note on the nightstand. With one last look at the man sleeping soundly in the bed, he closed the hotel door.
Phoenix awoke to the sounds of sirens and gunshots.
He turned over on the office couch and stared blearily at the television. An old crime movie was playing, the terrible, low-budget kind that should have rested quietly in its grave but kept being resurrected for day-time programming. Two police officers appeared onscreen, trying to coax a man into surrendering with cringe-inducing dialogue.
At least the noise made it feel like the office wasn't so empty. He listened for a minute, feeling masochistic, and questioned whether he would rather be lonely or be forced to endure more lines such as "You criminal scum!" or "Drop dead, copper!" When the commercial break finally arrived, Phoenix reached beneath his stomach for the remote and switched the screen off. The silence that followed was almost deafening.
It had been a week since Maya and Pearl returned to Kurain.
"When will you be able to come back?" he'd asked as their train pulled into the station. The platform lights were painfully bright against the night sky, shielding them all from the darkness just down the tracks.
"I don't know yet, Nick," Maya said, her arm around Pearl's shoulder. She leaned down toward her cousin. "Pearly, why don't you go ahead and pick out some good seats for us? I'll meet you in a few minutes."
Pearl nodded, stifling a huge yawn. "You should be alone to say goodbye," she said groggily, though she couldn't muster her usual blushing enthusiasm through her drowsiness. She gave Phoenix a hug and dragged her pink suitcase behind her onto the train.
Phoenix turned back to Maya. This was always the most difficult part of their visits, those awkward last moments before departure. He never quite knew what to say. It wasn't like a romantic movie, where the hero gives his love a sweeping kiss and a tearful farewell; nor was it as simple as a quick friendly wave and a 'see you soon.'
"I'll try to–"
They stopped at the same time. Phoenix shifted his weight, rubbing his hand behind his neck, and Maya slumped her shoulders, laughing quietly to herself. An instant later, Phoenix found himself crushed against her, her hands holding tightly to his back.
"We'll be back as soon as we can, I promise," she said, muffled against his jacket.
Phoenix circled his arms around her in return, his hold just as firm. "I know."
It could be weeks before he saw them again. Months, even.
She leaned back just enough to look him in the eye. "Don't get mopey while I'm away. You gotta smile for all those people you have to save, remember?"
She sounded just like her sister.
"And don't let those elders boss you around too much," he said, voice tight.
Maya smiled brightly. "Are you kidding? I'm the one who gets to boss them around," she said, just emphatically enough that Phoenix wondered how much of that was really true.
"Well, just remember you can call me anytime you need to. Or want to." He pulled his arms back and rolled her suitcase to her. Their hands met on top of the handle. "I'll miss you."
Maya looked at him, her expression unnaturally serious. She seemed older in that moment, more like the adult she really was than the teenager she perpetually acted like. There was wisdom in her eyes, bolstered by generations of Fey leaders. She was at once the Kurain Master, intuitive and insightful, and just Maya, his silly, dear friend.
Before he could say anything more, Maya shifted up on her toes and pressed a swift kiss to Phoenix's cheek.
"I'll miss you too, Nick."
She moved to the edge of the platform and stepped into the train's open doorway, then turned and waved. Phoenix lifted his hand, waving until the train was just a small dot against the black horizon.
As he finally sat up on the couch, stretching muscles that had gone sore, he fervently hoped Pearl hadn't seen the last part of their goodbye.
Slowly, Phoenix was reclaiming his life. When the Feys visited, they tended to dictate his routine: go here, watch this show, buy that food, no more food, take us there, do this thing and that other thing… It was hard to imagine what his life used to be like before them. Now, without them, he suddenly had more time than he knew what to do with. Sometimes the freedom was daunting.
It was also difficult to accept cases. Without Maya relentlessly driving him to represent a client, he tended to just wait around in the office, listless. The only offers he'd received in the past few days were from obviously guilty clients who tried to persuade him to set aside his ethics for promises of lucrative payment. As long as he stayed cooped up, cleaning the bathroom and staring at the television, he would find no worthwhile causes. If he wanted to keep Maya from worrying, he needed to pick up a case on his own.
To meet someone truly in need, he'd need to make a trip to the detention center downtown.
Just like the lobby in the courthouse, the detention center always evoked strong emotions in Phoenix. He keenly remembered when he was held on suspicion of murder, feeling abandoned and alone. Mia had been his champion, a ferocious angel in a mini-skirt determined to rescue him. And even when he was on the other side of the glass in the visitor's room, he'd seen so many important people in his life trapped there: Maya, scared and mourning her sister; Larry, babbling incoherently and begging him for help; even Edgeworth, stoic and reticent, forced to finally confront his worst nightmares.
Edgeworth. Phoenix hadn't seen the prosecutor since the night the girls went home. He hoped the awards party or whatever it was at the Gatewater went well; as pretentious as Edgeworth could sometimes be, he hated pointless ceremonies. Phoenix smiled faintly, picturing the prosecutor scowling and grumbling about hauling home another trophy.
The prosecutor's building wasn't too far from the detention center; he could probably get there just as quickly on his bike as he could in a taxi, and it would be good exercise. He could stop by Edgeworth's office and say hello.
He felt a rush of anticipation. Now that his schedule was freer, maybe he could convince Edgeworth to quit working until midnight and spend a little time catching up. Maybe dinner, if he was lucky. Even prosecutors had to eat sometime, right? Though Edgeworth might expect more than just an all-you-can-eat hamburger buffet.
Feeling far less lethargic and more perked up, he grabbed his jacket, locked the door, and hopped on his bicycle, pedaling downtown with a slight smile on his face.
The detention center was a mess of suspects and officers, and none of the stories Phoenix heard piqued his interest. Perhaps it was insensitive of him, but after the Engarde debacle he was hesitant to represent any person he was not reasonably certain was innocent.
As he unfastened his bike, he was consoled by the fact that, with the rate of crime in the city and the fast pace of trials, there would most likely be a new crop of potential clients in a couple of days. He could try again soon.
At least now he could visit Edgeworth with a clear conscience.
It was hard not to feel a little out of place in the Prosecutor's Building. Few people were dressed in simple suits like him; he was awash in a sea of expensive, gaudy fashion. Phoenix wondered, not for the first time, if a prosecutor's prestige was dependent on their abuse of style.
The elevator ride up to the twelfth floor was a halting journey. People entered and left the lift at every level, often with loaded carts or bulging bags and briefcases. Phoenix was reminded of the story of the tortoise and the hare: there was a whirl of activity and people blustering about here, like they were in the midst of a race. He smirked; he might go more slowly sometimes, but at least he won his races.
Finally, the doors opened on Edgeworth's floor. A receptionist was seated at the end of the hallway nearest the elevator, acting as both secretary to the prosecutors and as traffic director. She looked up from her computer screen as he approached her desk, tucking an errant strand of dark hair behind her ear.
"Can I help you?" She pursed her lips and gave him a cursory glance, not recognizing him.
He gave her his best smile. "Is Edgeworth in?"
She arched one of her eyebrows, looking him over more carefully. "Are you the one sending him those messages?"
She stared at him a moment longer, as though she weren't sure if she could trust his apparent confusion. "…Nevermind. High Prosecutor Edgeworth is in his office, room 1202."
She held out a small envelope. "If you're going that way, will you give this to him?"
He turned the envelope over in his hands as he walked down the hallway, feeling a twinge of nostalgia. He remembered writing letters just like this, old-fashioned hand-written messages to the young 'Demon Prosecutor,' asking him to write him back, to tell him the newspaper articles about him weren't true, that he was still a good person. Edgeworth had never responded.
These days almost everything except junk mail was delivered electronically. To send something by hand indicated some sort of relationship with the recipient, a personal connection: a card from a family member, or a letter from an old friend. Or a love letter.
He checked the envelope. It was addressed to Edgeworth but had no return listing. An irrational sense of jealousy trickled through him. He stood in front of the prosecutor's office, trying not to crumple the envelope, and told himself it was only a letter, that it could mean anything.
As he raised his knuckles to knock at Edgeworth's door, it was unexpectedly pulled open. For a second, he and Edgeworth stood on either side of the doorway, frozen in place – him with his hand in the air, surely looking like an idiot, and Edgeworth with his own fingers stopped on the knob and a frown on his face.
He had forgotten how good the prosecutor looked in just his waistcoat. His sleeves were rolled back, revealing strong forearms, and the black vest clung to his torso in a way that should have been criminal.
Phoenix swallowed hard and quickly moved his eyes up to the prosecutor's. "Hey Edgeworth," he said, lowering his hand and grinning.
The prosecutor blinked, his expression softening.
"Wright – what are you doing here?"
"Standing in your hallway, apparently." He rubbed the back of his neck, grin faltering. "If you're going somewhere, I can come back later."
"No, that's all right. It can wait." Edgeworth shifted, allowing Phoenix to step inside, and closed the door behind him.
Phoenix couldn't stop himself from turning a full circle inside the office, taking everything in. "I forgot how much pink you had in here."
Edgeworth brusquely moved past him, leaning against his desk with his arms folded. "Is there a purpose to this visit, Wright, or are you here just to ogle my décor?"
"You think I'd come all the way here for decorating tips?"
There was no return jab. Phoenix twisted around, expecting the prosecutor to launch into another sort of insult, but Edgeworth wasn't looking at him: he was staring at the envelope in Phoenix's hand, his expression filled with something like dread.
Phoenix's previous pang of jealousy turned into immediate, powerful curiosity. Whatever was inside, it was obviously something Edgeworth didn't like. He offered the envelope to the prosecutor. "Here. Your secretary asked me to give this to you."
Edgeworth set the envelope behind him quickly, as if it would burn him if he held onto it for too long.
Phoenix frowned. "Aren't you going to open it?"
"There's no need. I already know what it is." Edgeworth's voice was strained.
"Well?" Phoenix prompted, waiting pointedly for an explanation.
"What is it?"
"It's none of your concern, Wright." The words were said with finality, a warning that the topic was off-limits.
Now Phoenix was puzzled. What sort of letter could cause Edgeworth to be so wary? He had the impulse to reach over and rip into it himself.
"Please, just let it be." Edgeworth glared at him then, eyes clouded with unease, a light flush on his face. "It's not important."
Phoenix raised his eyebrows, skeptical – Was it something that embarrassing? – but let the subject drop. "Okay, okay."
Edgeworth sighed, ducking his head and pinching the bridge of his nose with one hand. "Is there a reason why you're here? Unlike you, I have things to do besides linger around in other people's offices."
"Oh, well, uh…"
Phoenix sensed a flush creep over his own face. He felt like a teenager again, stumbling through his words with a pretty girl, or the occasional boy. He was asking a friend to dinner; nothing difficult about that, right? Except that perhaps, down in that hopeful chamber of his heart, he was really asking for something more.
"Are you hungry? Do you want to get something to eat?"
Edgeworth looked up, his grey bangs still obscuring his face somewhat. "With you?"
"No, with the Pope." Phoenix rolled his eyes; what kind of question was that?
He walked behind Edgeworth's desk, glancing out the window at the horizon. The sky was clear, just beginning to tint orange, the day's clouds fading away. "Since I don't have to burn money on burgers for a while, I thought it'd be nice to do something different."
He looked back at the prosecutor, who was staring at him with an unfathomable expression. Something about it made Phoenix's pulse speed up, just a bit. "And, you know, I haven't seen you for a while. We should catch up."
Edgeworth frowned slightly, eyes skimming over the stacks of papers and folders on his desk. "I can't do that right now. I have too much to do." He met Phoenix's gaze, and he actually looked regretful.
"Oh." Phoenix stifled a frustrated sigh. It had been a long shot.
"Was there anything else?" There was something low in Edgeworth's tone that Phoenix couldn't identify.
"Nah, it's all right. I'll just let you get back to work." He headed back toward the door, hoping he kept the disappointment out of his voice.
Edgeworth was behind him, closer than he usually stood. "Perhaps… another time?"
That was unexpected. Phoenix turned, feeling a surge of something hopeful course through him, unwilling to let the opportunity pass him by. "Yeah. Definitely."
He grinned again, and felt a pleasant churn in his stomach when Edgeworth offered him a small smile in return. He wasn't being blown off, or turned down. Maybe Edgeworth really did want to see him, too.
"I'll stop by again sometime."
And before he could stop himself, before he really thought about what he was doing, he reached his arm out and squeezed Edgeworth's shoulder, right where the waistcoat ended. The cloth was smooth, and beneath it, Edgeworth was warm.
"I'll see you later."
Edgeworth's eyes were widened slightly, but he didn't move away.
Phoenix quickly withdrew his hand and opened the door.
As he replayed the conversation in his head while he rode home, Phoenix felt his heart pounding a little faster than usual.
But slowly, like the tide washing away a castle on the shore, Phoenix's optimism eroded.
His calls to the prosecutor had gone straight to voicemail, unreturned, and in the police station or the courthouse the only acknowledgement he received from the prosecutor was a stiff nod. There was something more evasive about the prosecutor now, as though he were trying to limit his exposure to the world. Or to him.
Phoenix tried to ignore that ball of anxiety that settled into his stomach. Edgeworth had no reason to avoid him – in fact, he had seemed open to spending a little time with him. What was going on in the prosecutor's life that made him hide away? Despite his own self-assurances, Phoenix was getting worried.
He returned to Edgeworth's office two weeks later. Like with his last visit, Phoenix flashed a smile at the receptionist, who was trying to pour hot water into a mug and manage a stack of print-outs at the same time. Just as he reached her desk the papers tipped over, and he quickly bent down and caught most of them before they scattered all over the floor.
"Here you go," he said, straightening the stack and glancing down at her name plate, "Miss Fright."
"Thank you." She breathed a sigh of relief. "Those would have been a pain to reorganize."
"Is Edgeworth in right now?"
She gave him a sharp-eyed look. "You're Mister Wright, aren't you?" she said, speaking carefully. "The one who defended him some years back?" Phoenix had the impression she was evaluating him, deciding whether to refuse him access to the prosecutor.
"Yup, that's me." That knot of anxiety tightened. Had Edgeworth told her to keep him away?
The receptionist gave him a small, thin smile. "Then I'm afraid to say the High Prosecutor is not in his office. But…" She leaned forward, prompting Phoenix to do the same. "I can tell you that he is working from home today."
"He is?" It was unlike Edgeworth to work at home in the middle of the day. Was he sick? Or had something else happened?
Miss Fright gave no reply; instead she opened a desk drawer and pulled out a thermos mug, and poured the hot water into it along with a couple of tea bags. "If you don't mind me saying, Mister Wright, he could use a friend right now." She spoke lowly, worry seeping into her words.
She handed him the thermos. "And I think he could use this right about now, too."
Feeling more anxious and bewildered, Phoenix found himself pedaling toward the prosecutor's home.
Phoenix had visited Edgeworth's apartment once before, a year or so ago, before the prosecutor returned to Europe. Apartment, though, didn't feel like the right word – it was more like a luxury condo. The whole complex looked like it belonged in a travel brochure for some get-away retreat: all palm trees and immaculate grounds, gleaming white fixtures, private garages, and bright blue pools. He parked his bicycle outside, chained to the entrance gate, and felt more than a little self-conscious as he climbed the stairs to Edgeworth's door.
He knocked lightly. After a minute with no response, he knocked again, a little more forceful. "Edgeworth? It's Phoenix. Are you there?"
He waited another minute, glancing guiltily at the doors further down. He didn't want to disturb anyone with more shouting. Just as he was starting to wonder if the side window was unlocked, the door eased open a bit.
"Wright? What are you doing here?" Only a sliver of Edgeworth's face appeared.
Phoenix straightened, feeling his pulse pick up a bit. "I came to see you." He held up the thermos. "Can I come in?"
Edgeworth frowned. "That thermos belongs to my secretary, Hannah Fright." He sounded wary.
Phoenix shrugged, sheepish. "Well, I'm not your secretary, but she sent me with your tea."
The door closed, and for a second Phoenix thought Edgeworth had just shut him out again, that coming to his home had violated some unspoken rule. But then the door swung open and Edgeworth gestured him inside.
"Have a seat." Edgeworth took the thermos and pointed him toward the sitting room, and disappeared into the kitchen.
There was something intensely personal about being in Edgeworth's apartment. So often the prosecutor seemed like a machine, a ruthless dispenser of justice who never tired, never slept. But here he was surrounded by evidence that even Edgeworth was human: tall bookshelves meticulously organized, ranging from legal texts at eye-level to less dignified, more popular literature further down; a fluffy blanket draped over a wing-backed armchair; carefully framed pictures on the walls, some of famous paintings, others photographs of European landmarks.
He wondered if Edgeworth had taken any of those photos himself. He felt his mouth twitch up, picturing Edgeworth with a fancy camera, lining up for the perfect shot. The thought of the prosecutor having a secret hobby was endearing.
Phoenix plopped himself down on a plush sofa, admiring the gleaming electronics across from him. His own shabby couch and out-of-date television could hardly compare. He was captivated by the widescreen set; perhaps those terrible day-time movies could seem better on such an expensive screen.
As he was fiddling with the television remote, Edgeworth returned and handed him a plain white mug filled with the tea from the thermos. He seated himself on the sofa, leaving about a foot of space between him and Phoenix, and set his own mug on a tiled coaster on a glass coffee table that probably cost more than Phoenix's rent.
Phoenix sipped carefully at his tea, trying not to burn his tongue or make a face at the bitter taste. After a few tries he gave up. Edgeworth had leaned back against the cushion and tilted his head back, staring up at the ceiling. His fingers rose to his temples, rubbing in small circles.
This was the first good look at the prosecutor Phoenix had gotten in weeks, and it didn't make him feel as relieved as he'd hoped. Edgeworth wore only a dress shirt and trousers, more casual than Phoenix thought him capable of appearing – he was even missing his cravat. However, Edgeworth's face was long and drawn, looking haggard and weary, and he was paler than usual.
Phoenix nudged the mug on the table closer to the prosecutor. "You look like you could use this."
Edgeworth glanced at Phoenix, just a flash of troubled grey eyes, and that brief look was enough to tell that the prosecutor hadn't been getting enough sleep; the lines near his eyes were deeper. He finally leaned forward and wrapped his hands around the cup, letting the steam float into his face and breathing deeply.
"What do you want, Wright?" he asked harshly, drinking the tea in a few long gulps with his eyes closed.
Phoenix frowned, staring hard at the prosecutor. This wasn't Edgeworth taking a day off or simply working from home. This wasn't Edgeworth in work-mode, pulling all-nighters to perfect an argument for a case. He lacked his usual sharp-edged determination, the lively spark that drove him to seek the truth. No – this was Edgeworth beaten down.
Phoenix turned on the couch to face the prosecutor. "Edgeworth, what's going on?"
"What are you talking–"
He was interrupted by the shrill sound of a cell phone, which Phoenix only just noticed was resting on the far corner of the coffee table. It was one of the fancier phones that Phoenix openly scoffed at but deep down intensely wanted. Either Edgeworth had purchased it for himself or, more likely, it had been issued by the Prosecutor's Office.
Edgeworth pulled it over, scanned the caller identification, and promptly slid the phone back on the table, unanswered. Phoenix couldn't read the screen, but he could tell from the way Edgeworth scowled that the call was not welcome.
While Edgeworth was distracted, Phoenix surged ahead. "Is something wrong? You're ignoring all your calls, you barely say hi to me, and, well, you look like hell."
He tilted forward, trying to get a better read on the prosecutor. There was a tension between them; Phoenix felt like he was trying to pry open a door that Edgeworth wanted to keep shut, even if he locked himself into a fire, or a crypt.
The phone suddenly made a chirruping noise, signaling a text message. Before Edgeworth could pull it over to check, Phoenix grabbed the cell and hopped off the sofa, staying out of the prosecutor's reach. Amidst Edgeworth's vehement and slightly panicked protests he opened the text.
"Wright, that is private property!"
"You know you should really lock this thing–"
Phoenix cut himself off, mouth hanging slightly agape as he read the message.
Pick up sometime you damn prick. Am I not good enough for you now? I'll be so good you'll beg for it. Just like a whore.
A second message immediately appeared.
If you won't see me again, I'll tell everyone what a fucking whore you are.
Phoenix stared at the words, eyes wide with disbelief.
Edgeworth yanked the phone out of his hands and skimmed the texts, his face flushing a light pink, and stuffed the phone into his trouser pocket. He strode over to his door with hardly a backward glance, and as he turned the handle to open it Phoenix finally snapped out of his confused stupor. He slid in between Edgeworth and the door, using his body to block the way out and slamming the door shut.
"What was that about? Who sent that?"
"Wright, get out of the way." Edgeworth's voice was dangerously low, but Phoenix stood his ground, undeterred.
"Edgeworth, who sent you that message?"
The prosecutor was infamous for his glare, and Phoenix nearly quailed under the full brunt of it. There was so much pain and fury and embarrassment hiding behind that stare that Phoenix marveled at how Edgeworth could contain it all.
He was struck by how much the situation reminded him of when he first tried to convince Edgeworth to let him be his attorney in court. At that time, Edgeworth had been adamant about keeping Phoenix out of his business due to some sense of personal pride, or a fear that the attorney would think less of him.
Could this be the same?
The prosecutor's hand was still on the doorknob. Some distant part of Phoenix noticed that, if he stepped forward, he'd be nearly eye-to-eye with Edgeworth, close enough for the prosecutor's hand to wrap around his back and pull him in. Close enough for Phoenix to hold just as tight.
Phoenix moved a half-step forward, just enough to grasp Edgeworth's forearm. "Edgeworth, if there's something wrong, I want to help you." He tightened his hold, looking at the prosecutor intently. "I always want to help you."
Edgeworth's eyes roamed back and forth between Phoenix's, and something in his expression wavered, like a droplet falling and causing ripples in a pond. Edgeworth turned and sat back down on his sofa, moving with less than his normal grace, with his elbows on his knees and his shoulders slumped forward.
Phoenix seated himself next to him, close enough to brush against the prosecutor, trying to convey with that little motion that he could open up.
"What do you want to know, Wright?" Edgeworth asked, sounding defeated.
Phoenix tried to smile. "I've already asked a couple of times."
When Edgeworth turned his head toward him, weary, Phoenix elaborated. "Well, let's start with that phone message. Is someone threatening you, or blackmailing you? Is that why you're hiding away in here?" Either possibility would explain why the prosecutor looked so ragged.
Edgeworth let out a long sigh. "None of this is to leave this room, Wright. Do you understand?"
He nodded, watching the prosecutor carefully.
Edgeworth leaned back, his arm reaching across his body to grasp at his elbow in discomfort. He stared down, not quite looking at the floor, but deliberately not looking at the attorney. After an uncomfortable minute he spoke, voice strained.
"Some weeks ago I made the acquaintance of a man at the Gatewater Hotel. We… spent an evening together."
He paused, and in that short moment Phoenix felt his mouth turn dry, felt the hard weight of those words, and understood what Edgeworth had really said.
He slept with someone.
A cold blade of ice settled into his chest, into that spot where hope remained. Edgeworth had slept with someone. Someone… not him. In that split second the truth set in. Phoenix had wanted an answer, and he had told himself that he would be satisfied with whatever Edgeworth could give. His stomach churned, and as the hope froze in his heart Phoenix realized he was a liar.
He blinked, pushed himself to keep listening. "Oh." The word was emotionless, forced.
Edgeworth shifted, not quite flinching. "It was a moment of weakness." He looked briefly at Phoenix, as if waiting for a rebuke. "A mistake."
Phoenix tilted his head, struggling to pay attention through the fog clouding his thinking.
Edgeworth suddenly stood, rounding on Phoenix. "Go ahead and laugh, Wright." His face was contorted with a mixture of anger and shame, and wounded pride. "Laugh."
For a long time they just looked at each other, Edgeworth standing stiffly, and Phoenix sitting carefully on the sofa and taking a deep breath, clearing his head.
Edgeworth was his friend, his dear friend, and even if he would never be anything but a friend, Phoenix cared for him. There was no one he trusted more, and if Edgeworth could admit something like this to him, it meant the prosecutor placed just as much faith in him.
Phoenix rose to his feet.
"Edgeworth, I'm not going to laugh. You can spend your time doing whatever-" or whoever "-you want. It's okay."
It wasn't okay, really. But he kept his gaze steady.
Edgeworth looked back at him, anger dissipating, replaced with something sad and broken in his eyes. Or perhaps Phoenix was just seeing what he wanted. He straightened his shoulders, trying to stand tall and confident. Whoever Edgeworth had met must be doing something to upset the prosecutor now. His friend needed help, and he would stand by his word.
When Edgeworth spoke again, there was a note of resignation in his voice. "I made it clear that it was a one-time affair. But he hasn't left me alone since."
Phoenix crossed his arms. "What do you mean?"
Edgeworth asked him to wait and moved to another room, leaving Phoenix standing alone. He closed his eyes and took deep breaths, trying to quell the roiling in his chest.
The prosecutor returned with an envelope like the one Phoenix had delivered to him not too long ago, a lifetime ago. "He found my address. I started receiving these at home and at my office."
He opened the envelope and handed Phoenix a pair of tickets to an exclusive art gallery. "Every day he sent at least two letters, along with some sort of gift."
As Phoenix examined the tickets, eyes bulging a bit at the prices listed, Edgeworth unfolded one of the letters and gave it to him. He skimmed it quickly, noting phrases like see you again, meant to be together, and never felt this way before. It was so clichéd he wanted to laugh, bitterly.
Edgeworth pulled out his phone. "The letters gave way to calls and texts – I don't know how he got this number. It's unlisted."
Another pause, as Edgeworth collected his thoughts. "When I told him to never contact me again, his messages became more desperate. Relentless."
"What do you mean?"
Edgeworth leaned back against a wall. "He's contacted me day and night, at all hours. Eventually I stopped answering my phone."
"Why didn't you change your number?"
"This is a state-issued phone. It's not a simple issue to change a prosecutor's number. And besides, I thought he would give up after a few days."
Phoenix frowned. "Obviously he hasn't. And he doesn't sound so nice anymore."
Edgeworth nodded. "It's escalated. Emotional abuse, name-calling, that sort of thing. I'm used to threats, but this was… more personal."
The prosecutor sighed again, running his fingers through his hair. "He's done his research, learned about my background. Learned my habits."
Phoenix looked up abruptly. "Is he stalking you?"
Edgeworth looked pained. "He's mentioned things that are a bit unnerving, as though he's followed me. I didn't want to believe he would do something like that. He seemed…" He trailed off.
So Edgeworth had felt some connection to the man after all. Ignoring that pain in his chest, Phoenix handed back the letter. "Why haven't you gotten a restraining order?"
"This is a personal affair, Wright. I have a reputation to uphold. I work with the very officers who would handle the report." Edgeworth held his arm again, looking away.
"What about Detective Gumshoe?"
Edgeworth scoffed. "Do you really think Gumshoe could be discreet with something like this?"
"He was discreet about when you- when you first went back to Europe, wasn't he?"
Edgeworth, eyes startled wide, made a low sound, mouth pulled back in a painful grimace.
That was a low blow, and Phoenix silently cursed himself for lashing out, no matter how betrayed or disappointed he felt. There was a wound there, an old pain that was scarred over. They never talked about why Edgeworth disappeared after the Skye trial; it was a topic they avoided by tacit agreement.
They both said nothing, an uncomfortable silence descending between them.
Was this how things would end? The attorney, embittered by a loss he'd chased after his whole life, throwing away their friendship? As painful as rejection might be, Phoenix felt like a splash of ice water had been poured over him as he realized how easy it would be to push Edgeworth away, to let Edgeworth slip away completely, and how deeply he never wanted that to happen.
He cleared his throat, moving to stand in front of Edgeworth. "I'm sorry."
Edgeworth just closed his eyes, silent.
Phoenix sighed. "Talk to Gumshoe. He looks up to you. If you ask him to stay quiet, he will."
After a moment, Edgeworth nodded.
The prosecutor looked utterly miserable, and Phoenix knew he was now responsible for some of that pain. He started forward, and after a second of hesitation he lifted his arms up and wrapped them around Edgeworth's shoulders in a tight embrace.
He felt Edgeworth tense up, muscles turning rigid at the close contact, but after a moment he relaxed and rested his forehead on Phoenix's shoulder, arms hanging limply by his sides.
"It'll be all right."
He wanted to pull Edgeworth closer, to feel his warmth and slide his hands up and hold his face, to reassure him with all the trust and admiration and care he had.
But now he knew Edgeworth didn't feel the same way.
He leaned away, moving his hands back to Edgeworth's shoulders and squeezing, and put on a bright grin. "I won't tell anyone. But please, let me know what's going on. I won't forgive you if this guy turns into a psycho and murders you."
Edgeworth swallowed hard, and to the attorney's surprise he lifted one of his own hands and placed it over Phoenix's. There was muted emotion in his eyes.
"Thank you, Wright." A slight pause, then: "Phoenix."
The ice around his heart melted a little at hearing his name. When was the last time Edgeworth called him that?
That false grin slid away into a small, genuine smile.
After all the uncomfortable silences between them, this one felt different, something warmer between them pulling them together. His breath hitched in his throat, and that little spring of hope tried to replant itself, whispering that perhaps he still had a chance.
"Okay. I'm here if you need me, Miles."
Phoenix fought with himself the whole ride home, uncertain whether he should still keep that hope alive.
Or whether he needed to let go of a dream.
Edgeworth had traded a dream for a nightmare.
He sat behind his desk, surrounded by envelopes and letters and print-outs of text messages. He leafed through the stack of small photos, ones of himself as the subject, taken from a distance, taken without his knowledge, and he resisted the urge to cradle his head in his arms and slump over.
Gumshoe was late. Usually Edgeworth would be annoyed at the detective's tardiness, but at the moment he was grateful for a chance to collect his demeanor. He could scarcely afford to lose any more dignity in front of his subordinate with more embarrassed, red-faced requests, like during their meeting earlier in the week.
How had things come to this?
The answer was obvious: through foolishness and weakness. Foolishness, because he wanted something he could not have; and weakness, because he gave in to a poor, poisoned substitute.
Edgeworth remembered coming home that night a month ago, after he wrote the note and drove away, certain in the knowledge that he would never see Christopher again. Splayed out in his own bed, staring at the ceiling, he questioned himself again and again for his decision. After a night of fitful sleep he'd scheduled an appointment with his physician – one could never be too careful – and spent the rest of the weekend preparing for his next trial, trying to find solace in routine.
The first letter was in his apartment mailbox on Monday morning, plain and unassuming.
He'd hardly given it a second thought as he picked up his mail and carried it with him to his office. When his secretary brought him his tea and the morning's messages, he noticed another ordinary envelope tucked in amongst the official mail. Curious, he held the two envelopes side-by-side: they were the same, both addressed to him in the same handwriting with no return listing.
A sinking feeling settled into his stomach, as though some part of him already knew what the envelopes contained. He opened the one from his apartment first.
Or shall I call you Miles? You never mentioned a preference. I too had an enjoyable evening with you, and I was greatly disappointed to find you gone in the morning.
I believe there is a connection between us, and I would like us to meet again.
Edgeworth's face turned ashen, all the blood draining from it, and he felt his heart pound with irritated fury. He had explicitly told the man it was to be one night, just once! There had been no promises, no arrangements or commitments. Christopher had seemed intelligent enough to understand such a simple constraint.
More importantly, how had the man found his home address? Information like that was kept unlisted, in case of a retaliatory strike from a suspect or criminal. He tapped his fingers on the polished wood of his desk, considering. He would need to speak with his apartment's manager to find out if the letter was delivered personally or if it arrived with the rest of the post.
…And what did he mean, connection?! He recalled, with his face suddenly turning a deep red, one session of intimacy followed by awkwardness. Whatever chemistry existed between them had dissipated once they resolved the tension. They hardly knew each other, had nothing substantial to talk about. He felt no compunction to 'get to know' the man any better, had no desire to pursue a relationship with him, or with anyone at all. Not until…
Edgeworth sighed, set the first letter aside and carefully opened the next, the one delivered to the prosecutor's building. He expected another short note, which there was, but it was also accompanied by a pair of tickets to an up-scale wine tasting. Frowning, he unfolded the letter.
Please accompany me tonight. I promise it will be an enjoyable evening.
Apparently the man did not understand the meaning of the word once. Edgeworth pushed the tickets back into the envelope along with the letter, and stashed both envelopes into his desk drawer. He had no intentions of meeting with the man again, and his absence should send the message clearly.
During his lunch hour, he questioned Hannah about the letter. It had been just a part of the general mail; no one had handed it to her in person. Down on the first floor, the mail sorter only shrugged when he asked how the letter arrived; it had been in the big cart of post, like any other letter or package. On the phone, his apartment manager referred him to the postal worker who handled the complex's deliveries, who in turn had no particular memory of any of the mail she delivered. He was frustrated – it was as though a ghost had dropped the letters off to him, unseen and unnoticed.
That evening Edgeworth marked the time with his paperwork, silently noting the minutes until the time he was invited to meet with Christopher. The hour came, and went. He let out a small sigh of relief, feeling the tension in his shoulders lessen. His refusal to meet for a second time should be enough to dissuade any future correspondence. In a small display of self-comfort he closed his laptop, put away his work folders, and spent the rest of the night watching his premium collection of Steel Samurai episodes, where the bad guys were obvious and the universe obeyed simple rules.
There was another letter for him the next morning.
You left me waiting and wanting last night. Are you feeling shy? Or are you just playing hard to get?
Perhaps my next offer will be more enticing.
He fumed the entire drive to work, intensely annoyed that the man could not take a hint. Even worse, he had no direct way to contact Christopher. He needed to be more explicit in his rejection, and the only manner in which to do so would be to meet him in person, to take him up on one of his offers. His stomach churned at the prospect.
In some strange way, what Edgeworth hated most of all was the informal manner of address in the letters. Miles. Few people ever called him just by his first name anymore. It was a name he left behind when he moved to Germany as a child, a reminder of all the pleasant things in his life that had been so violently torn from him. Now he was just Edgeworth, or Mister Edgeworth, or Prosecutor Edgeworth, or even Sir.
If he were called by his first name now, it was typically from condescending suspects or witnesses trying to patronize or talk down to him, like that despicable Redd White. Usually he only heard his first name paired with his last, such as when Franziska addressed him; she had called him by his full name ever since he was first introduced to her three-year-old self. With few exceptions, he preferred last names. They provided a wall of emotional distance.
To have Christopher refer to him by his first name felt like some kind of breach, like he was prodding a part of his past, a part of his heart that no one had the right to touch. There was no one with whom he could be simply 'Miles' anymore. It was a lonely thought.
But not an accurate one. His hands gripped the steering wheel reflexively. Wright still occasionally called him by his first name. And when he did, it did not feel like an unwelcome intrusion – quite the opposite.
The drive left him with a sense of melancholy, and a deep irritation.
On his office's floor, he confronted his secretary. "Is there another letter for me, Miss Fright?" His words came out more harshly than he intended, and he tried to give his secretary an apologetic look as she handed him his office mail, tapping the plain envelope on top.
The envelope tore with a satisfying rip as he opened it in his office. But any expectation of what new 'enticement' awaited him inside was shattered as two small movie tickets tumbled out.
They were for the premiere of the new Fullmetal Samurai film.
Edgeworth felt a cold wave of nausea overtake him. It must be a coincidence. Surely. But he did not believe in coincidences. With slightly trembling hands, he unfolded the letter.
I look forward to seeing this with you. Perhaps you can introduce me to the whole franchise.
I am very eager to see you again.
His eyes narrowed. Nothing in the message directly indicated that Christopher had been spying on Edgeworth. However, the wording was ambiguous enough to leave room for doubt.
Edgeworth considered what steps he should take. He believed his privacy had been violated, but he had no proof. He could file a harassment charge, but nothing in the messages presented a sufficient danger. Additionally, this was a private, personal manner. Edgeworth still remembered the rumors that circulated about him; he was a popular subject for legal gossip, even after his name was cleared. If word spread that he had a stalker, a male stalker, one with whom he'd had relations, his reputation would plummet.
No. He would need to handle this personally.
At home, he composed his own letter to Christopher, which he left in his mailbox overnight.
Your offers are flattering but unnecessary. I desire no further interactions with you. I will not meet with you. I have no wish to remain in correspondence with you.
Do not contact me again.
His letter was still there in the morning, but opened. Did that mean Christopher had read it? Was this proof the man delivered his letters himself? As he picked up his mail, he vowed to speak with the manager about installing a security camera in the mail room.
At his office Hannah gave him a trio of new envelopes, along with a large pot of tea. He shredded his own letter as he tore into the first one.
What can I do to win you back? I want to see you again. I've never felt this way before. It was fate we met. We're meant to be together, can't you see?
The second envelope was thicker, and as he opened it several different papers tumbled out: invitations to the theatre, art galleries, restaurant reservations, even open airline vouchers. There was no letter.
The handwriting on the third letter was a bit messier, as though it were written hastily.
Pick something, anything – I'll take you anywhere, do anything for you. Just meet me again, please. We're so good together, we're perfect.
A shudder crept up Edgeworth's spine. Christopher sounded borderline disturbing. The man had seemed so put-together, somewhat aloof and charming at the hotel. Edgeworth was beginning to sense that it had been an act, a façade to hide an overeager, clinging personality. Or one that was more desperate and dangerous than he'd anticipated.
More worrisome was the scope of the gifts. How could one person procure admission to so many different venues on such short notice? Did Christopher have connections in high places? Even Edgeworth, as a High Prosecutor, as the once most celebrated prosecutor in the nation, would be hard-pressed to acquire such a variety of invitations in a limited time. Maybe Christopher received such gifts in copious amounts, enough to stockpile and distribute on a whim? Or perhaps it was something less legitimate: the tickets could be counterfeits.
Edgeworth shook his head; probable stalking, harassment, and possible counterfeiting or some other nefarious means to goods. Christopher was accruing a list of charges, and yet he was unreachable. Or at least, Edgeworth knew of no way to contact him first, and he refused to meet under the pretense of accepting one of Christopher's offers.
He tried to recall the details of that night, specifically what little information he'd learned about Christopher himself. Edgeworth closed his eyes in thought, tapping his finger against his arm as he went through the facts one by one.
His full name was Christopher Banks. An elegant name, but also a depressingly common one.
He was an executive at Three-Fifths Bank – a vice president of business strategy, or some sort of unwieldy title. The bank might have a listing for him.
He had been drinking in the Verona lounge at the Gatewater Hotel. The lounge might have a record for a credit card.
Edgeworth made a note on his laptop so that he could search for information at home. He would not let the man interfere with his work. After the day's trial, in which Edgeworth had to admit he had been more ruthless than usual, he began his pursuit in earnest.
There were several listings for Christopher Banks in the Los Angeles area, and more if he extended the scope to the surrounding cities. The number expanded to several dozens if he included variations of the name, such as Chris or just the initial C. It was impossible for Edgeworth to pinpoint which address he needed.
He could not obtain an official employee roster from the bank without a warrant. Of the likely sketchy employee listings offered by third-rate websites, which he ran the risk of contracting a virus just by browsing, none of them contained a listing for a Christopher Banks.
The staff at the Gatewater were much more forthcoming with information. Unfortunately, Christopher had paid for his drinks and other purchases in cash, and there was no record of him having stayed at the hotel.
By the time Edgeworth finally crawled into his sheets, he was exhausted and even more frustrated.
More letters followed, delivered only to his office once Edgeworth had sternly persuaded his apartment manager to install a security camera or face charges of negligence. He ignored most of them, setting them directly in his desk drawer without bothering to open them. Of the ones he did skim, they contained the same tone: desperate and pleading.
And then Wright brought one of the envelopes to him.
Over the past week his world had narrowed to trials, paperwork, and harassment. It was the first time he had seen Wright since the night of that incident, the one that led to this current predicament. Edgeworth felt that pang of longing, as he stood there staring at Wright in the doorway; here was a person he could trust, with whom he shared interests and a history, someone attractive and honest and loyal beyond measure. The very person he'd tried to put out of his mind, only to have him plague it even more.
He had tried to contain his surprise at Wright's visit, tried to deflect his friend's curiosity about the letters, tried to keep his heart beating normally. Wright had the uncanny ability to show up when Edgeworth's limits were stretched thin, or more precisely, when he most needed a friend. Despite the sudden intrusion, he had been grateful to see that goofy grin, to see those blue eyes filled with warmth.
That visit still intrigued him. Wright's behavior had been confusing – even now he was not sure if the attorney had asked him for a friendly dinner, or a date, or something in between, or if it was just his own desires coloring his memory. He remembered that look on Wright's face as he grasped the prosecutor's arm, remembered the warmth of his hand, remembered thinking about the attorney later that night, in the privacy of his own bed, and wondering if he would ever put his friend out of his heart.
After that day, the calls began.
The first time the caller identification had displayed 'unknown caller,' Edgeworth had frowned slightly. His number was state-issued; besides other government administrators, only those to whom he gave his contact information should be able to reach him. He answered, wary.
"Miles Edgeworth speaking."
"Finally, a chance to talk with you."
He knew that voice. Had heard that voice over a week ago, had heard it speak in friendly tones and heard it groan with pleasure, and to hear it now made his blood run cold. Edgeworth quickly swiveled around in his office chair, peering down through the window as though he could see the man staring up at him from the street so far below.
"…Got you speechless, I see."
Christopher's voice was mocking, no longer holding quite the pleasant quality he remembered. It sounded icier, tinted with anger.
"I told you to never contact me again."
Edgeworth could be colder, could let the fury be transparent in his reply.
There was a laugh at the other end of the line: not an open, good-natured kind of laugh, like the ones Wright or Maya Fey would often give; or an anxious laugh, like how Wright would nervously chuckle in court; this laugh was dry and sardonic, sounding not-at-all amused.
"I don't think you mean that. Don't you remember how good we were? How we talked, how we connected, how we made each other writhe and moan?"
Edgeworth felt his face heat up with embarrassment, fueling his outrage. "I don't know how you got this number, but I want you to listen to me now, closely: never call me again. Never contact me again. Stay away from me, or I will be forced to take legal action."
There was an ominous silence.
"I don't think you understand what you're giving up so quickly." The voice slipped into a lower, darker register. "But don't worry – you'll change your mind."
Christopher abruptly hung up, leaving Edgeworth staring at his phone, numb. His attempts at redialing were met with long, unanswered rings.
He received another call that evening.
"Come meet me at the Gatewater again. We'll do it just how you like it. I'll prove to you that we're meant to be together."
And another, as he was going to sleep.
"I'm waiting for you. Why aren't you here? Are you alone? Are you with someone else?"
Edgeworth hung up each time without reply.
He awoke the next morning to his phone ringing.
"Don't want you to wake up alone. I'll be sure to meet you when you're done with your trial."
Edgeworth kept his composure as he stood in the courtroom, making his objections and his arguments with meticulous calm, with icy precision. He very carefully ignored the gallery, kept his eyes and his focus on the judge and the defense and the uncooperative witnesses the attorney called to the stand. No one paid him any heed as he lingered after the guilty verdict, slowly packing his briefcase. And when Gumshoe descended from the gallery, where he'd been watching after his dismissal from the witness stand, the detective didn't think it at all strange that the prosecutor followed him to the police station.
Another call, more incensed than the previous ones.
"Do you think I'm not good enough for you? Are you so stuck-up and arrogant? Give me a chance."
"Don't be a selfish prick. I've got everything you need."
When Edgeworth finally stopped answering calls from the unknown number, he started receiving calls from different numbers, each one unidentified. The smooth, careful speech Christopher used when they first met had degraded to rough, petty taunts. The calls started coming in the middle of the night.
"I know all about you, Miles Edgeworth. I know the rumors, I know your past. I have secrets, too, things I'll only tell you."
"What was it like in Germany? Sprichst du Deutsch? "
"I'm thinking about you right now."
Eventually Edgeworth stopped answering his phone at all, letting his calls forward to voicemail. But he still checked his messages regularly, and still heard Christopher's voice, twisted and poisonous.
"Answer your phone. What if I was dying on the other end? What if you were dying?"
"That tea you drink is supposed to improve virility. We should test it out."
"It's that other guy, isn't it? The one you can't get out of your head. You're with him now, aren't you?"
"I'll make you forget him."
The language was coarser in the texts.
No one can have you. No one else can fuck you.
Is it the detective? You've known each other a long time. He'd be a big, clumsy fuck.
Or maybe it's that lawyer. Got a savior complex? I'll save you, and fuck you, and make you mine.
Maybe that Interpol agent. He looks rough – you like it rough? Like to beg like a dog?
Why don't you answer me, you whore?!
The strain of the constant harassment was starting to take its toll on Edgeworth's health. He was losing sleep, losing focus, losing any semblance of possessing a sympathetic personality. He was snapping at coworkers, at the witnesses, his patience whittled to a mere nub. Even Gumshoe gave him more hangdog looks which, once he considered it, he hadn't seen much on the detective since he began dating Miss Byrde. He started avoiding unnecessary contact, preferring to be alone until this whole ordeal ceased.
Finally he called in to his secretary, stating that he was taking a day to work from home. He would use that day and the weekend to prepare for his next trial in peace, locked in his study with his phone out of sight and hopefully out of mind.
Of course, that would be the day Wright knocked on his door.
Like a foolish, foolish idiot, he had let Wright in. And Wright saw the text and asked for answers. How could he ignore his friend when Wright stood so close and promised his help, promised to always help him? When he looked at him with such naked concern? When all he wanted to do was pull Wright close and confess everything, all the fury and longing and hopelessness he felt?
How could he face Wright again?
He would never forget that look on Wright's face, when he finally divulged what happened that night – when Wright finally learned what a weak, wretched fool Edgeworth had been. He could practically see the attorney consider him in a new light, could watch the shock etch across his features. He had expected Wright to think less of him, but he had not anticipated just how disappointed in him the attorney would be.
Wright had once said he admired the prosecutor; how could he look up to a man who got himself into such a mess? Any esteem he might have had with Wright was surely eradicated. He deserved the man's scorn.
The hope he still harbored was almost thoroughly crushed, until Wright finally gave him a measure of comfort. He was ashamed at his weakness, beaten down by the harassment and Wright's disappointment. Then suddenly Wright was so close, enough to feel the warmth from his body, to smell his cotton shirt and the scent of his skin, to feel like he could breathe freely for the first time in weeks, and then Wright was grinning and reassuring him once more. Edgeworth had felt so relieved, so grateful, that he could not help but touch Wright in return, feel the warmth and strength of his hand; and his barriers were so battered he did not censor himself and he called him Phoenix.
And just like that Wright had smiled, soft and sincere, and his eyebrows turned up and a hopeful, nostalgic expression appeared on his face, and he called him Miles, and for a second Edgeworth believed everything might work out.
Two days later Edgeworth received the first photograph.
His phone had sounded its inane message alert and he picked it up, preparing for another tirade in a text. Instead he found himself looking at a picture of… himself, walking to his private garage that morning for work. Edgeworth stared unblinkingly at his phone, his mouth slightly agape, as he realized the harassment had escalated yet again.
A moment later a text message arrived.
Up bright and early. Such a diligent worker.
The words seemed innocuous, and somehow that made them more unsettling.
More pictures arrived throughout the day, photos taken during the previous weeks. Edgeworth was the subject in each of them, doing some mundane act: walking to the courthouse, entering the prosecutor's building. Photos of him speaking with Gumshoe outside the police station; unlocking his apartment door; a particularly unnerving shot of him from his kitchen window at his sink.
Some of them were accompanied by messages:
You speak with him for every case, don't you?
You look amazing. Want to fuck you in that car.
Do you know how easy it is to pick a lock?
Other pictures were sent alone, leaving him to ponder any deeper meaning behind them.
The next day he remembered Wright's words, quashed his pride as much as he was able, and arranged for a private meeting with Gumshoe in his office. With deep breaths and a glare that would have broken a mirror, he informed the detective of the harassment he had endured and his wish to file a restraining order.
Gumshoe had been surprisingly understanding. Though Edgeworth was certain he was blushing and that his words were harsh, Gumshoe stood straight and confident – perhaps even angry himself, since the detective had been mentioned in a few messages.
"I won't tell a soul, pal – I mean, Sir. This is private, and we'll catch them quick as we can."
The detective merely raised his bushy eyebrows when Edgeworth mentioned that the harasser, or stalker, was a man, but made no comment. Either Gumshoe did not realize the implication or he chose not to say anything, or perhaps he didn't view it as an important detail, only caring that some dirtbag was making his boss miserable in an illegal way.
"If someone was doing this to Maggey, I don't know if I could act as calm as you, Sir."
Gumshoe actually saluted him, with a determined gleam in his eye. Edgeworth would need to adjust his salary for his discretion, and his enthusiasm – and he would need to inform Wright that he had been, well, right. Gumshoe was the logical choice for assistance. He felt mildly shocked that he had been unable to reach the same conclusion; but, considering the subject and his emotional state, perhaps it could be excused.
Over the next few days Gumshoe had devoted himself to uncovering Christopher Banks' whereabouts. Edgeworth collected all the evidence sent to him – the letters, the texts, the photos – and arranged for recordings of the calls to be sent to his office.
And now, once Gumshoe arrived for their next meeting, Edgeworth could start putting all this torment behind him.
The late afternoon Los Angeles sun shone through the windows and tinted Edgeworth's office orange, and he was reminded of sunsets in Germany, where the evening light peeking between church towers in Heidelberg cast the city in a warm glow. He could be there now, nine hours into the future and six thousand miles away from the two things – the two people – who had turned his life into a tumultuous mess.
He laughed, a low, bitter noise. He sounded just like Franziska during her turbulent adolescent years. Perhaps he too should pick up a riding crop or a whip and exorcise his emotions in a flurry of violent catharsis. He glanced at his phone, calculating the time difference instinctively.
She would be asleep now, or at least she should be. With the German courts lapping at her feet like a well-heeled dog, she had no need to keep awake at all hours preparing for trial. More likely, she had already arranged the perfect argument to crush her next opponent underfoot.
Even if he did phone, her sympathy would be less than kind. She'd call him a fool, of course, and chastise his vulnerability, and berate him for besmirching the von Karma name with something as base as a one-night stand. She would swear at him for even thinking about Wright; she still hadn't forgiven him for defeating the attorney before she could claim victory, even if she had been hospitalized at the time.
She would mock him for his choice, for letting his heart stray toward such a ridiculous fool. And he would only have to mention a certain blonde protégé at Lordly Tailor that she still visited from time to time, remind her that she too had a weakness for soft smiles and loyalty, and her admonishments would be cut short.
Sometimes she was more like her 'little brother' than she cared to admit.
Her tone would soften then, just a bit, and she would urge him to lift his head and squash any foolish stalkers under his fist. And quietly, with a note of subtle warmth heard by very few people, she would assure him that even blind, idiot, ridiculous fools could eventually find perfection.
Despite the lead block of misery weighing him down, Edgeworth felt the corners of his mouth twitch up. He would need to send Franziska a bag of those citrus sweets they both had a fondness for, in gratitude for a conversation they never had.
A loud, booming knock at his door signaled the detective's arrival. Edgeworth swung it open, eager to exchange information.
"Tell me you have good news, Detective."
But his words were met with a foreboding silence, and as he turned to the detective, he saw Gumshoe's expression fall.
"I'm afraid there's no good news here, Sir. You- You might want to sit down for this."
Edgeworth stood defiantly, staring Gumshoe resolutely in the eye, until the detective sighed and handed him a folder. As Edgeworth perused the papers inside, Gumshoe began speaking in a straightforward voice.
"The phone number you originally gave me belonged to a burn phone – cells that you can pick up for cheap with no carrier. I tracked the sale of the phone, but it was paid for in cash months ago, across the country. The other numbers you gave me were untraceable. He's probably using a call randomizer or disposable numbers for the calls and texts, which means that he's probably using just one phone now but that there's no way to track it."
Gumshoe paused, shifting his weight as he moved on to the next point.
"The photos were uploaded to his phone before he sent them to you with all the identifying information and codes stripped out. It's kind of a sophisticated thing to do."
Edgeworth glanced up from the folder, eyebrows raised high. He was impressed at the detail the detective could provide; and he remembered that Gumshoe was actually quite skilled with electronics, having built several devices on his own. If the detective were willing to transfer out of Homicide to a division more suited for him, perhaps he would suffer fewer losses to his paycheck.
He moved to his desk, spreading the folder's contents in front of him. He gestured for Gumshoe to have a seat on the sofa as he kept speaking.
"There were no fingerprints on any of the envelopes or other materials. Like you found out, there's no point-of-sale data recoverable from the Gatewater; he paid for everything with cash. We could find no credit or financial information about him. Anyplace he might have been – the hotel, the courthouse, your apartment – he doesn't appear on security footage. He's either lucky, or very smart."
"Were you able to find his address?"
Gumshoe cringed. "That's been a big problem, Sir. Without a way to get into direct contact with him, we can't serve the restraining order. The name 'Christopher Banks' leads us nowhere. There are dozens of people in the city and surrounding 'burbs that have the name, but none of them match the physical description you gave."
"What about work registration? Were you able to obtain an employee roster from Three-Fifths Bank?"
The detective suddenly looked down, idly running his hands around the sofa fabric, avoiding looking at the prosecutor. "Yes Sir. But there's no record of any employee there named 'Christopher Banks.' There's also no such title as vice president of business strategy, or any other positions sounding like that."
He paused as Edgeworth looked up, face turned grey.
Gumshoe took in a deep breath and finally looked the prosecutor in the eye.
"There's no record of the man you know as Christopher Banks. He doesn't exist."
Edgeworth could only stare at Gumshoe, the words slowly sinking in.
How could that be true? For a moment he entertained the thought that the whole situation was an elaborate gaslighting plot, that Christopher had arranged events so as to discredit Edgeworth and make him question his own sanity. It was a situation only Wright would dream up, flailing about behind the defense's bench and forming some outlandish theory to save his client. And yet, how many times had Wright's insane ideas proven true?
Gumshoe spoke up as Edgeworth was about to voice his concern.
"That- That didn't quite come out right, Sir. I'm sure he exists – someone has to be doing this to you. It's just that he's left no trace of himself. He probably isn't even named Christopher Banks."
Edgeworth just numbly nodded, considering the possibilities. He opened his laptop to refer to his own notes on the man he knew as 'Christopher Banks.'
He blinked. Normally the files on his laptop were carefully arranged, with the background a plain black or, if he were feeling unusually stressed, a calming neutral color. Now the folders were scattered haphazardly, and the background was a somewhat blurry picture.
It was the first photograph of himself that he'd received from Christopher.
Edgeworth felt his breath freeze in his throat, his hands gripping the edge of his desk so tightly his fingers turned white.
As Gumshoe hurried behind him, Edgeworth's word processing program opened without any input from the prosecutor. Edgeworth sensed the detective leaning down next to him and heard him growl with disapproval as words started appearing, letter by letter, on the blank white page.
You can't stay away from me forever.
I'll be waiting for you tonight.
Edgeworth remained still, waiting for more words to appear on the screen; and when nothing else happened, he slammed his laptop closed with a frightening force and pushed it toward the detective.
"Find out how he's doing that, Gumshoe."
He leaned his elbows on his desk and rested his forehead in his hands, rubbing his thumbs at his temples. A migraine was building, had been forming ever since Gumshoe first said he had no good news. He took slow, deep breaths, trying to stifle the intense fury that threatened to overwhelm him.
"Mister Edgeworth, Sir."
Gumshoe cleared his throat behind him, lingering. When Edgeworth made no reply, he drew in a big breath of his own and started speaking.
"Sir, I'll have the boys go over your laptop immediately. But if he could break into your computer…"
He trailed off as the prosecutor tilted his head, glaring at him through the corner of his eyes. Suddenly Edgeworth realized what the detective was trying to say, and his eyes widened as he let out an undignified groan.
"…He could break into my other accounts."
Email. Financial information, bank accounts, credit cards, bill payments. Case files, court proceedings, State records. Personal information, photos, memberships, notes...
The list was staggering.
The room began to fade slightly as Edgeworth's vision blurred, his head aching. The consequences of this violation of his privacy could be incalculable. All the anger he felt morphed into something cold and dreadful, and for the first time since the harassment began Edgeworth felt a tremor of genuine fear.
"You can use the computers at the station, Sir, to check anything you need to. It's a secure network."
Edgeworth nodded, hands balled into fists. He followed the detective out of his office and accepted a ride to the police department. While Gumshoe dropped off his laptop to the cyber division, Edgeworth looked into his online accounts.
His first priority was his email, since a breach there could potentially affect hundreds more people. Indeed, his account had been broken into; Christopher had changed his password and locked him out. The Prosecutor's Office would need to be informed and his professional contacts would be notified to change their passwords. Edgeworth would have to notify his personal contacts himself, once the police department could pull the email addresses from his laptop.
Next were his accounts with the State judicial system. Fortunately they appeared to be untampered with, his court records and case notes unmolested. At least his work was safe.
Edgeworth feared his bank accounts would be empty. Instead they had been frozen; no assets could be removed or changed. He would need to visit his bank and financier in person to sort out the mess. The same applied to his credit cards.
He rose from the computer terminal as he heard Gumshoe approach. The detective gave him a grave look as Edgeworth informed him of the damage he'd sustained.
"Sir, I hate to tell you this, but I don't think it's safe for you to go home this evening. Between the stalking photos, the hacking, and that message we both saw, I think the guy might be there tonight."
Edgeworth fought off a weary sigh. "You might have a point, Detective."
"Can you find a safe place to stay this evening? At least until we can arrange for a relocation and protection for you."
He scowled. "I have no intention of moving somewhere else."
Gumshoe's eyes widened. "But Sir–"
"I will not allow this man to interfere with my work any more than he already has." He stared hard at Gumshoe, unwilling to budge.
The detective looked down, shoulders slumping. "I can't force you to do anything, but I also can't let you go to your apartment. Me and a few others are gonna watch it tonight. If we're lucky we'll catch him there. We can spare a couple officers for security detail tonight, wherever you go."
Edgeworth frowned. He couldn't stay at a hotel; Christopher would be able to track him if he tried to use his credit cards, and he didn't have any cash on hand. The police department would need time to arrange a safe-house for him, and there was no guarantee such a place would be within the city. If he wanted to continue with his trials, Edgeworth would need to remain nearby. The most prudent option would be to stay with a friend or relative.
He tapped his finger against his arm as he considered his options. Franziska was in Germany; there was no way he could fly to another country at the moment. He had no other relatives, a painful fact he'd been reminded of every day before von Karma adopted him. Gumshoe would most likely be willing to take him in for the night, but the detective was already helping him a great deal, and he had no desire to impose on Miss Byrde.
Edgeworth mentally sifted through his remaining contacts and acquaintances, discarding each of them for one reason or another: he did not know them well enough to ask for such a favor, or they lived too far out of town, or they would be too inconvenienced.
There was only one option. Part of him knew he would reach this conclusion before he even began sorting through the people in his life; and though his affairs were an immeasurable wreck at the moment, that part of him made his heart beat faster as he made his decision.
"Detective Gumshoe," Edgeworth said, swallowing hard, "I need to make a phone call. And then I will require one more lift for this evening."
Edgeworth stood outside the door with nothing but his work briefcase in hand. Gumshoe had dropped him off, promising to keep a close eye on his apartment. Edgeworth had given him his key and a list of items to retrieve from his home in the morning, should Christopher escape their watch this evening. The security officers were parked discreetly nearby, and he'd heard Gumshoe's vehicle speed out of the parking lot a few minutes ago.
He sighed; the detective should have made sure he was safe inside before he drove away. Gumshoe was just a bit too eager to get to the stakeout.
Or perhaps the prosecutor was stalling too long.
Edgeworth closed his eyes and silently counted; on three he would knock.
All of them had agreed this was the best arrangement for the night.
He had no logical reason to hesitate.
And there was a part of him that really wanted this, the part of him that still clung to the question of What if.
His pulse pounding, he rapped quickly on the door and waited. A long moment later it opened.
Wright looked at him, and smiled.
Phoenix rubbed his hand behind his neck, trying to persuade his heart to stop beating quite so loudly. Edgeworth lingered in his entryway, surveying the contents of Phoenix's apartment with a cool, detached air.
The prosecutor had only visited his apartment once, shortly after the Hazakura incident. Phoenix had been so drunk with relief after that trial, a potent cocktail of adrenaline and endorphins coursing through him, that his memory of the celebrations was mostly a blur of hugs and tears. He had a vague image of Edgeworth sitting stiffly on the couch and talking with Maya and Gumshoe.
He stepped up next to the prosecutor. "I don't know if you remember what the place looked like but, uh, I cleaned up a bit."
Edgeworth was silent, his gaze still drifting across the well-worn sofa with the mismatched pillows, the hastily cleared off coffee table, the out-of-date television. Finally, he let a single word slip out: "Ah."
Phoenix frowned, trying to decipher just what that word meant, hearing the prosecutor's biting voice in his head. Ah, I see you don't match up to my standards.
But when Edgeworth turned, despite the long, weary look on his face, there was no indication of disappointment – just relief. Perhaps what he really meant was Ah, I'm actually glad to be here.
He let out a long breath, feeling a little more assured. "Well, I should show you the guest room."
He led Edgeworth to the spare bedroom down the hallway, sparsely furnished with a full-sized bed, a dresser, and threadbare purple curtains. "Maya and Pearl stay in here when they visit. It's usually so cluttered with their clothes and spirit medium stuff that you can hardly see the floor."
The prosecutor tilted his head, his bangs partially obscuring his eyes. "Are you sure you're comfortable allowing me to use their space?"
He shrugged. "It's just the guest room. It's for whoever needs it."
"Wright." There was an uncomfortable pause as Edgeworth gripped his arm reflexively, staring off to the side. "I apologize for any inconvenience to you. Thank you."
Phoenix gave him a serious look. "Miles. You're not an inconvenience." When neither of them moved he added softly, "I don't mind. And I'm happy you trust me."
Edgeworth finally glanced back at him. His eyes were dark, the usual light grey clouded with uncertainty. There was something more than simple gratitude in his expression.
Phoenix felt his pulse speed up, could feel his face starting to turn red.
"I'll let you get settled here," he said, the words coming out in quick, clipped succession as he backed into the hallway. "The bed's already made. Bathroom's to the left. Let me know if you need anything."
He automatically moved to his kitchen, trying to stifle the sudden swell of emotion. He knew he shouldn't read anything into this visit, no matter how much he wanted to. Edgeworth himself might not be an inconvenience; no, what really bothered him was that he still hadn't sorted out his jumbled feelings before the prosecutor arrived.
On the one hand, he felt awful about Edgeworth going through the harassment and still wanted to help however he could. But on the other hand, he felt a tiny, traitorous bit of gratitude toward the stalker; he'd given Phoenix the perfect excuse to spend a few hours with Edgeworth. And on the hypothetical, mutant third hand, Phoenix wondered if allowing Edgeworth to stay was such a good idea. The sting of rejection was still fresh and he wasn't certain he could keep himself from blurting out something hurtful. Or worse, he might let something of his feelings slip, something that would ruin their friendship and drive Edgeworth away for good.
Maya would probably tease him for overthinking things. The most important thing now was to help someone who had no one else to turn to. That's what he did best, right?
He started warming some Chinese leftovers in the microwave. The least he could do was give Edgeworth a peaceful place to stay for one night, unbothered by harassment from his stalker or by unrequited feelings from anyone else.
The food had just been arranged on the coffee table and he had flopped onto the couch, spreading his arms out across the back, when Edgeworth re-entered the living area. He looked a little better, his face freshly washed and looking marginally less stressed. He had left his jacket off, though he still wore the rest of his work attire. Even the cravat remained immaculately in place.
The prosecutor was looking at him, eyes tracing down his open arms and over his plain white tee-shirt and jeans, probably judging him for looking so… plebian. That was a good Edgeworth word. Did the man even own jeans?
Phoenix smirked. "You know, only you can make me feel underdressed in my own home," he said, gesturing to the empty couch cushion beside him and inviting Edgeworth to sit. He was startled to see a quick flicker of something pass over the other man's face, so fast that he almost didn't notice: not disdain, as he was expecting, but something more appreciative. It made the hairs on the back of his neck momentarily stand up as though there were some electric surge in the air.
"I'm afraid my more casual attire is at my apartment," Edgeworth said as he seated himself, careful to leave a few feet of space between them. His tone was deliberately light.
That in itself was unusual. From what Edgeworth had told him over the phone, things had gotten even more serious with the stalker, and Phoenix expected the prosecutor to be in a terrible mood. And maybe he was – there was a strain in his voice, despite his effort to sound unconcerned. Perhaps this was Edgeworth's way of telling him he didn't want to talk about the situation.
He gave his friend an apologetic look. "Right. Sorry. Just smack me if I'm insensitive again – that's what Pearl does."
There was a thick pause; then Edgeworth reached behind his neck and deftly untied his cravat. He folded the cloth and set it aside on the arm of the couch.
Without that signature item Edgeworth looked strangely unguarded. He seemed less stuffy and more approachable, more like the Edgeworth that Phoenix had pictured during idle law school daydreams. His neck was long and pale, and Phoenix felt his fingers twitch, wanting to run them along that length of skin. One hand was close to the top of Edgeworth's back, near enough that if he just reached over…
Quickly he brought his arms back to his lap, and was struck by a realization: though he was doing his best to make his guest feel comfortable, Edgeworth had turned the tables with a gesture to make him feel more at ease. The insight warmed him more than he cared to admit. Instead of answering he let a slow smile spread over his face, enjoying the prosecutor's baffled look.
After a moment he leaned forward, speared a piece of beef on a fork, and handed it to Edgeworth.
"No chopsticks?" the prosecutor deadpanned.
"You think I would trust sharp, pointy pieces of wood around Maya?" he scoffed. "She'd spend her time staking her meat just to make sure it wouldn't rise up as a vampire before she could eat it."
"She would stake her steak?"
He shot Edgeworth an incredulous look. Had he just made a joke?
Edgeworth stared back impassively for a long moment, until the corners of his mouth finally quirked up, breaking the façade.
Phoenix found himself laughing, quite unexpectedly, and he was soon joined by the sound of Edgeworth's own low chuckle.
"That was terrible, wasn't it?" the prosecutor asked as they dug into the food in earnest.
"I never knew you would lower yourself to bad puns."
Edgeworth shrugged, that condescending gesture so often seen in court, and smirked. "I assure you I am quite witty, Wright. But puns seem the type of low-brow humor you would enjoy."
Phoenix gave him a mock hurtful glare. "Ouch. Well, if you're going to make fun of my sense of humor, there's a clown I'm going to introduce you to. He's so punny he'll have you cringing after two minutes."
The atmosphere lightened, and the lawyers started to relax as they discussed the weird and unusual things that often happened during their cases. Both of them avoided any mention of the stalker or the damage he'd inflicted.
Edgeworth's face grew less weary as they talked, as though having a normal conversation with a friend was a salve, something that allowed him to momentarily put aside his usual worries and the newfound stress over the stalker.
Phoenix wanted to keep talking to Edgeworth like this for a long, long time.
But the hour grew late, and both of them agreed to turn in. Phoenix's bedroom was at the end of the hallway, down from the guest room, and he lingered near the prosecutor's door.
"So, you know you can use whatever you need in the bathroom, right?"
"Yes, Wright. You mentioned that earlier."
"Just making sure you know."
There was an awkward pause. This was worse than saying goodbye to Maya at the train station.
Drawing in a short breath, Phoenix stepped forward and wrapped an arm around Edgeworth's shoulders. Just be quick. A manly hug. Something to show that you care.
He felt so warm.
To the attorney's surprise he felt Edgeworth's hands grasp his shoulders, almost-but-not-quite returning the embrace.
Edgeworth stumbled on his name a bit, likely caught off-guard, and the words ghosted across Phoenix's ear. It was enough to set his heart racing, and he quickly slid away before Edgeworth could get the wrong – or was that right? – idea.
As he lay in bed, staring up at the ceiling, Phoenix sighed. He'd managed to get that dinner with the prosecutor after all. Part of him was pleased, a warm glow surrounding the little spring of hope that still persisted.
It almost hurt to listen to the other part of him, reminding him that Edgeworth viewed him as a friend, nothing more.
He woke to the shrill sound of his cell phone ringing. Blearily, Phoenix opened his eyes and checked the time – and groaned when the display read seven-eighteen in the morning. The sun had risen barely an hour ago, the wan yellow light filtering through his blinds.
"Hello?" His voice was still thick with sleep.
He wasn't sure he could handle Gumshoe's exuberance at this hour. "Detective, why are you calling so early?"
"Just wanted to warn you that we're coming to meet you in about thirty minutes. Wanted to make sure you're awake."
Phoenix blinked. "We?"
"Yeah, me and the expert. We'll explain everything when we get there."
Something didn't seem right. "…Weren't you at the stake-out? Did you find the guy?"
"Nah, he never showed. The stake-out's over, now that the FBI is here."
The sudden drop in his stomach immediately jolted Phoenix to consciousness. He threw back his covers. "FBI?"
"Yeah. We'll see you soon." The line cut off.
Phoenix stared at his phone for a minute, processing what Gumshoe had just said. Something big must be happening if the FBI was getting involved.
His fingers pushed through his spikes, holding his head as he cursed to himself. What the hell could have happened to bring in the FBI? His stomach clenched tightly.
What… What kind of person was that stalker anyway? What if he really was some kind of murderer? Phoenix had spent a lot of effort not thinking about him. He existed as a kind of faceless figure in his head, a mysterious rival that had destroyed whatever chance he might have had with Edgeworth. And now all he could picture was that figure tormenting Edgeworth, destroying him, driving him mad, driving him… away. Out of the country.
Out of his life.
Once the floodgate was open, it was easy to imagine that shadowy figure smiling, talking, touching smooth pale skin, whispering words that made Edgeworth's eyes darken, made him pull the figure close and tilt his head and press their lips together–
His hand clenched in his pillow, and his mouth set into a firm line as he forced himself to stop, to concentrate on the time. He'd wasted several minutes already.
He pushed his feet to the floor and stumbled to the hallway, then doubled-back to throw on a pair of black sweatpants over his boxers.
He had to wake Edgeworth. Now.
As he passed the bathroom he could hear water spraying. The prosecutor was already up. He thumped his knuckles on the door.
No reply. He knocked harder. "Hey, Edgeworth! Open up!"
Still no answer. He started pounding on the door, his heart pounding equally as a surge of irrational fear washed down his spine. His voice rose in pitch as he frantically tried to be heard over the shower spray.
"Edgeworth I need to talk to you! Please open the door, it's urgent, come out so I can–"
The door suddenly swung inward. The sound of the still-running shower grew louder and steam billowed out of the room, uncomfortably warm. Half-hidden behind the door stood Edgeworth. Water clung to his skin, running in little rivulets down his shoulders and his broad chest. His arm clenched tightly at one of Maya's purple towels wrapped around his waist, holding it in place just below his navel. There was so much pale bare skin and lightly toned muscles, built from years of climbing twelve flights to his office and hauling around evidence at crime scenes.
Phoenix's eyes widened. Why did Edgeworth keep all of this hidden?!
The image seared itself into his memory. He was instantly aware of his blood rushing south, and he was grateful his sweatpants hung loosely on him. He swallowed thickly, mouth suddenly dry, and his voice was reduced to a surprised "Uh."
Edgeworth blinked rapidly, a flush creeping across his cheeks, and he shot Phoenix a glare that clearly said What were you expecting, idiot?
For a moment neither of them moved, until Edgeworth narrowed his eyes.
"What could possibly be so urgent that you nearly knock down your own door, Wright?" The words were hissed at him, loud and irritated.
Phoenix felt his hand start to rub at the back of his neck, and he keenly wished he'd thought to put on a shirt. He took a deep breath, ignoring their mutual states of undress because he needed to focus.
"Um, Gumshoe just called. He's coming over. In about twenty minutes."
Edgeworth shifted forward, rested his head against the side of the door. His hair was slicked back, darker, almost black with the water. The annoyed glare remained.
"Is that all?"
Phoenix shook his head as he stepped closer, his hand grabbing the doorframe. He was unsure if the heat he felt was from the steam, still flowing from the bathroom, or from being so close to Edgeworth's naked skin.
His voice was low. "He's bringing the FBI."
He was close enough to see the subtle shift in Edgeworth's demeanor: back straightening, knuckles turning white, jaw clenching. He stared at Phoenix for a moment longer, his eyes racing back and forth between Phoenix's own, and finally pulled back.
"I will be out in five minutes."
The door abruptly shut in his face. He was lucky his hand moved out of the way in time.
In his room once more Phoenix leaned against the closed door, his eyes shut as well. There would be time later to think about… that. Right now he and Edgeworth needed to be on top of their game, needed to be ready for whatever the FBI could throw at them. Most of all, he needed to keep his head straight to help Miles however he could.
After precisely five minutes had passed, Phoenix heard the bathroom door open, followed by the guest room door slamming shut. He padded to the bathroom himself, and was oddly grateful that the hot water had run out. Despite his usual protests to Maya and Pearl about freezing waterfalls, he really wanted a cold shower right now.
He had just finished combing his hair into place when Gumshoe's unmistakable booming knock sounded at his front door. He rushed out into the living area; Edgeworth was waiting primly on the couch, dressed in yesterday's suit. It didn't even have any wrinkles. Phoenix had thrown on a suit as well, figuring he should look professional if the FBI was invading his apartment.
Edgeworth looked back, watching Phoenix, and their eyes met. The look on his face was one he wore in the courtroom, cold and impassive, letting none of his emotions show; but then he wavered slightly. Phoenix was reminded of the Engarde trial, when he looked across his bench and silently begged Edgeworth to try something, anything, to help him.
He lifted his chin, trying to look confident. "Ready?" he asked quietly, not wanting to be heard on the other side of the entrance.
The prosecutor nodded, face stoic once more.
Phoenix smiled slightly, tried to show him that he wouldn't be alone.
We can handle this together.
He threw the door open. Gumshoe stood on the threshold, looking slightly more ragged than usual, with extra wrinkles in his coat and a few lines on his face from lack of sleep. But when he saw the attorney his eyes lit up and his face split into a huge grin.
For one terrifying instant Phoenix feared that Gumshoe would crush him in a hug.
The detective pushed past him, towing a large leather suitcase that was decidedly out of his price range. Remaining in the doorway, no longer completely shielded by Gumshoe's massive frame, stood the so-called 'expert.'
She was completely different from what Phoenix had expected.
Her dark hair was pulled into dozens of tiny braids, from her scalp to the tips, and the whole mass was gathered into a large ponytail at the back of her head. She was dressed in a tailored indigo pantsuit, the lines sharp and crisp, which contrasted with her dark skin, bringing out the rich brown color. The low-cut jacket had the top button undone, the opening plunging down in a way that was not quite scandalous but enough to be enticing. She was tall, almost enough to reach Phoenix's height, and a small metal briefcase hung at her side. She had bright brown eyes, and even though there were tired lines at the corners, she astutely eyed him up-and-down.
Phoenix felt his pulse pick up.
She reached into her jacket; there was a dark shadow inside with a glint of metal – a gun. "Mr. Wright?"
"Y-Yeah? Yes?" He winced as he heard his voice crack embarrassingly, though he wasn't sure if it because of the weapon or from a different sort of thrill.
She pulled out a badge and flipped it open, and the letters 'F. B. I.' stood out prominently. "I'm Agent Chase. I understand you have a particular guest staying with you?"
It took a second for his mouth to work properly. "Oh, um, yeah, he's inside." He brought his hand to the back of his neck, feeling flustered. "Is it just you? Are you the only agent?"
"For now." She raised an eyebrow at him, amused.
"Oh." He had been expecting – well, maybe a SWAT team or something. "That's, ah, I guess you're just that good, huh?" He clamped his mouth shut, feeling a flush rise to his cheeks.
That amused expression on the agent's face morphed into something more sly. "I'm good at many things, Mr. Wright." Clearly she was enjoying herself. "May I come in?"
He moved aside and held the door open, trying to keep his blush from deepening. She glanced back as she passed him, an appraising look in her eye.
Gumshoe and Edgeworth were talking in low, hushed voices. The leather suitcase had been deposited on the floor near one end of the coffee table. The agent interrupted their conversation and introduced herself to Edgeworth.
"Agent Justine Chase. I'm happy that we can meet in person."
Edgeworth's eyes slid over to Gumshoe, as if confirming with him that she was a legitimate federal agent, before politely returning her handshake.
She pulled Phoenix's armchair to the opposite side of his coffee table, facing the entry, and took a seat; that left Edgeworth and Gumshoe to sit on the couch in front of her. Feeling a bit like a third – or really, fourth – wheel, Phoenix remained on his feet and hovered somewhere to the side of the room.
Phoenix glanced between the agent and the prosecutor, and as his eyes fell on Edgeworth he felt a sharp pang radiate through him. Memories of the previous night mixed with those from earlier this morning – low laughter, easy banter, warmth, heat, red flush and grey eyes, pale skin – and he breathed in sharply.
"Before I begin," Agent Chase said, drawing their attention, "please understand that what I'm about to say is confidential. Only certain law enforcement personnel and parties pertaining to the incident can be privy to this information." Her tone struck a careful balance between friendly and professional as she glanced between the two men on the couch.
She finally looked over at Phoenix. "I'm afraid, Mr. Wright, that does not include you. If I may ask you to please leave the apartment for the next hour, it would be appreciated."
It was not a request.
For a second, no one moved. Phoenix felt as if he had just been sucker-punched in the stomach. How could he help if he couldn't know what was going on? If he was forced to abandon Edgeworth? He opened his mouth and closed it again, unsure of what to say.
Agent Chase kept staring at him, clearly waiting for him to remove himself from the discussion. He swallowed, his tongue pressed tight against the roof of his mouth.
This isn't right – isn't fair – I want to help.
He took a slow step toward his front door, trying to think of where he could go and wondering what would happen to Edgeworth while he was gone.
"Wright will stay."
Edgeworth looked over at Phoenix, his grey eyes piercing, rooting him to the spot. "As my personal attorney, he will be included in all discussions of this matter." There was a hard finality to his words, as if daring Phoenix or the federal agent to contradict him.
They hadn't discussed this. Edgeworth had never mentioned anything about Phoenix acting as an attorney for him again; even getting him to agree to his representation the first time had been like pulling teeth. And the agent had given Edgeworth a perfect excuse to dismiss him, to prevent Phoenix from learning any potentially humiliating details. But Edgeworth wanted him there. The sudden warmth that spread from Phoenix's chest throughout his whole body was like a furnace.
He squared back his shoulders and schooled his expression out of the startled look he'd given Edgeworth into something more self-assured, and looked back at the agent, eyes shining brightly, willing her to accept Edgeworth's decision.
Agent Chase frowned, looking between the two men. Her eyes lingered on Phoenix, darting between the badge on his lapel and his face, and then on Edgeworth. Suddenly she blinked, and her features softened for a brief moment. Then she gave a curt nod and opened her briefcase. "I understand. Very well."
Phoenix moved behind the couch, nearer to Edgeworth's side, so the agent could address him too. He could only see part of Edgeworth's face, and was surprised to see a faint red tint near the top of his cheeks.
The agent arranged her documents on the table, a task made more difficult by Gumshoe constantly leafing through the papers. Edgeworth, though, stared down, unmoving. Acting on impulse, Phoenix moved one of his hands to the prosecutor's shoulders, squeezing gently, in what he hoped was a reassuring signal. His thumb skirted along the side of the cravat, where it was wrapped tightly around Edgeworth's neck, and once more he wished he could feel the skin beneath it. He slid his hand back to the top of the couch; the whole gesture had taken less than a moment, unnoticed by the others, but he could see Edgeworth's chin lift up slightly, saw him take a deep breath. As the prosecutor straightened he leaned back, just enough to brush the top of his shoulder against Phoenix's fingers.
"You have not yet explained why a simple stalking and harassment case has attracted the attention of the bureau," Edgeworth said to the agent, his words quick and to the point.
"Your electronic accounts were broken into," she responded just as quickly. "As you are a state employee, that constitutes a federal crime."
Edgeworth shook his head. "But that does not explain your presence. Gumshoe tells me you arrived just this morning. Therefore, you are not from the local office and were dispatched from elsewhere. I presume you flew overnight?"
She gave him a shrewd look.
"In that case," Edgeworth continued, jabbing a finger at her, "some other major incident must have occurred if one minor report has prompted such a rapid response, enough to merit the intervention of an expert agent. Moreover, said rapid response indicates the recognition of a pattern, which means either something else has already happened or it is going to happen."
Agent Chase's eyebrows had steadily climbed higher, until she gave him a wry smile. "Very good, Mr. Edgeworth. I see your reputation is well earned."
Phoenix was also impressed, and a little cowed. How had he ever been able to go toe-to-toe with Edgeworth?
"However, there wasn't just one incident," Agent Chase said, pointing to the documents on the table. "There were three."
Phoenix listened closely as she explained.
"For the past five years the bureau has been following a particular crime ring across the country. They started in New York and have moved steadily west: Chicago, Dallas, and now, I suspect, here in Los Angeles.
"They are high-tech counterfeiters, but they don't print money. They don't do fake paintings or phony jewels or any other 'real' product. Instead, they specialize in events: they make fake tickets and invitations to prestigious events, the kinds of upscale celebrity and political galas that cost thousands of dollars to attend and have two-year reservations. Art shows. Movie premieres. Million-dollar charity auctions and estate sales."
"Do people really buy fake tickets to get into those kinds of things?" Phoenix asked, dubious.
Agent Chase tilted her head toward him, her lips forming a quick smirk. "It might sound ridiculous, but it's lucrative. These events can open a lot of doors, and some people are willing to pay a small fortune for the opportunity. Most invitations have some electronic component that needs altering as well, such as a guest database, so it's not enough to just arrive with a forged piece of paper. It's a high-end black market service that thrives in major cities."
"Hmph." Edgeworth crossed his arms, his disdain clear.
She reached into a folder and pulled out three photographs. Each contained a headshot of a smiling professional, two women and one man. "These were three prominent officials in the cities the counterfeiting ring operated in. Two prosecutors and a chief of police. All of them disappeared shortly before the ring ceased operation in their city."
"You think they were working with the ring?" Gumshoe sounded thoughtful, until he suddenly frowned and drew his shoulders back, his voice rising. "If- If you're thinkin' Mr. Edgeworth would work with criminals, you're dead wrong–"
"No, no, that's not it," Agent Chase interrupted, holding out a hand to halt Gumshoe's outrage. "We believe the ring targeted these officials."
"Targeted?" Phoenix felt a stab of anxiety; 'targeted' made him think of the gun in the agent's jacket, of victims, and of the sick image of something happening to Edgeworth.
In answer, Agent Chase opened another file, pointing at the contents as she spoke. "Each of their departments had opened investigations into the counterfeiting ring. A few months after the investigations began…"
She looked up at the men, brows drawing together; it wasn't an expression of anger or worry – more like she was trying to say something unpleasant in as straight a manner as possible.
"They went missing."
That stab of anxiety grew more severe.
"Prosecutor Francis was found dead in an abandoned apartment building. Chief McMartin's body was discovered in a derelict boat near the shore of Lake Michigan. And Prosecutor Murray was found in a junkyard, also dead."
Phoenix swallowed hard. "I don't understand. Did the ring kill them? Why?!"
"I believe so, and in short, as a distraction. When law enforcement was getting close to busting the ring, the disappearances happened. A public spectacle occurred, priority was put on finding the officials, and attention was taken away from the ring."
"And the counterfeiters got away." Gumshoe followed along, his hands balling into angry fists.
Edgeworth finally spoke up. "What proof do you have that these disappearances are related to the ring?"
Phoenix joined in. "And what does all this have to do with Mil- my client, and his stalker?"
Agent Chase gave Phoenix a brilliant smile, as though she were pleased he had picked up on a crucial point. Surprised, his stomach churned pleasantly in response. "Think about it: an operation like this would want to keep tabs on law enforcement, to know when to run. They need someone close to the police, or to someone who works with them, like a prosecutor."
"You're talking about an insider or a mole," Edgeworth offered.
"Not quite. Our ring chooses a… different tactic."
Agent Chase slipped a new laminated photograph on top of the headshots, a small black-and-white shot obviously cut from a tabloid. It showed one of the victims, the female prosecutor, in a fancy ballroom gown; she was dancing with a handsome man who had long dark hair and cut a fine figure in a tuxedo.
The agent tapped the photo. "Do you recognize this man, Prosecutor Edgeworth?" Her voice was low and careful, and she gave the prosecutor an intense look.
Edgeworth drew in a deep breath. "I do," he said quietly, as though the words would be so much worse if he spoke any louder. "Christopher Banks. He is the one I wish to file charges against."
Agent Chase's lips curled up in a quick, predatory grin. "Those were the words I wanted to hear."
Phoenix took a closer look at the photo. He wanted to know who was hurting his friend; but there was also a small, dark part of him that was intensely curious about what kind of person had caught the prosecutor's attention, for however short a time. So this was the type of man Edgeworth preferred: someone classy and elegant, with a knowing smile and a sharp look in his eyes. Someone wealthy, distinguished and a little mysterious – a thousand times more appealing than himself.
No wonder he never had a chance.
Agent Chase settled back, crossing her legs in a satisfied pose. "I believe that man is a part of the ring. He is a honeypot."
Her statement was met with utter silence. Gumshoe was wearing the same puzzled look Phoenix was sure he had on his own face. But even from his awkward vantage point, Phoenix saw the prosecutor's face rapidly turn a bright crimson.
"What's a honeypot?" Gumshoe asked.
Edgeworth spoke before the agent could answer, his voice oddly strained. "It's a term typically associated with espionage. A person who seduces a target in order to extract information or resources." His right arm was held taut across his front, gripping his left elbow with bone-white knuckles.
As Phoenix mulled over the explanation – and the implication – he realized, with growing horror, just how humiliated Edgeworth probably felt.
Agent Chase, either not recognizing or ignoring the prosecutor's severe discomfort, picked up the discussion. "Prosecutor Murray was planning to run for mayor and was hounded by paparazzi, which is the only reason we have a record of what that man looks like. We know nothing else about him, not even his real name. Shortly before her disappearance the prosecutor filed a stalking and harassment charge, and her description matched that man."
When no one responded – Edgeworth too mortified, eyes glued to the photograph, and Phoenix and Gumshoe silenced by a sense of awkwardness on behalf of the prosecutor – she kept going.
"My theory, which your identification supports, Prosecutor Edgeworth, is this: the honeypot seduces the high-profile target and begins a relationship. He is then able to learn about law enforcement activities and tactics, passes that information on to the counterfeiters, and possibly delays investigation into the ring. Beyond that, I do not know what other actions, if any, the honeypot may perform with the ring. He may be involved in the counterfeiting, and I suspect he may also take part in the disappearances."
Edgeworth remained silent. His whole body was tense, locked-up, and he stared off to the side, his expression a cross between a grimace and wide-eyed panic.
As Phoenix looked between his friend, the photograph of the honeypot, and the agent, he pushed aside his own feelings of rejection and embarrassment for his friend. If he was going to be Edgeworth's attorney again he had to be strong, like Mia always encouraged. And that meant pointing out the obvious contradiction.
"Agent Chase," he said, willing himself to sound unaffected and confident, "there was no relationship in this case. My client attempted to end his association with- with that man immediately," he continued, narrowly avoiding the term honeypot. "So why is he still stalking Edgeworth?"
The agent raised an eyebrow at him. "I don't have an answer for you. The ring may have moved on to another target, which is something I'll discuss with you later, Detective," she said, briefly glancing at Gumshoe. "But the stalking charge filed by a state prosecutor was what attracted my attention. With this positive identification of the honeypot, I feel we should proceed with caution."
Edgeworth finally drew in a shaky breath and looked at the agent. "So you are only operating on a theory. Not definitive proof."
"I plan to obtain proof during my investigation here," she answered testily. She pulled out a cellphone from her briefcase and handed it to the prosecutor. "This is a clone of your phone. We'll keep yours for now. I want – Christopher, you said? – to remain in contact with you. Right now he is our best link to the operation, so I want to keep tabs on what messages he's sending you." She began packing up her documents.
"Wait, so that's it?" Phoenix was tempted to grab her arm, to keep her there until all their questions and worries were addressed.
Agent Chase sighed. "Detective Gumshoe and I will arrange a safe-house for Prosecutor Edgeworth, where he will remain in custody until the ring is apprehended."
"I will not be deterred in my work," Edgeworth grumbled.
"It's for your own protection," she said sternly, heading off the prosecutor's protests. "Prosecutor Edgeworth, I understand you might be embarrassed, but I am not here to make you feel better. I'm here to find and arrest a criminal. With any luck, many criminals. And to make sure you don't join the other deceased officials."
She abruptly stood, briefcase in hand, and nodded toward Gumshoe, causing him to jump to his feet. "I will make an excuse for you to take a leave of absence from work. You'll stay in a hotel for the next few days until the safe-house is ready. No going back to your apartment."
"Can't he stay here?"
All eyes turned to Phoenix. "I mean, you've already got people watching my place, and the stalker doesn't know Edgeworth's here. And it would save time locating a hotel, and money." His hand came up to rub at the back of his neck as he finished, lamely.
Agent Chase turned to Gumshoe, eyebrows raised in question.
"W-Well," he started, looking uncomfortable, "I think it's pretty safe here. We can put a few more officers on watch. If it's just a couple of days. If you want, Sir."
Edgeworth stood and looked at all three of them – Gumshoe, Agent Chase, and lastly, Phoenix. Finally he nodded, once. "I suppose I could tolerate another night or two here."
Thanks for the ringing endorsement. Despite his sarcastic thoughts, Phoenix felt relieved.
Gumshoe and Edgeworth began speaking once more, negotiating his stay, while Agent Chase headed for the entrance. She moved quickly, and Phoenix hurried to follow her to the door.
"You're aware of the risk you're taking," she stated once they were both outside. She gave him an intense look, almost intimidating.
"I just want to help," Phoenix said with a slight shrug.
Her expression softened again. "I understand wanting to help your partner."
Phoenix could swear his heart skipped a beat. "Partner?"
Agent Chase merely raised her brows.
"No, that's– you've got it wrong." Phoenix remembered the man in the photograph, remembered Edgeworth's confession and his own sharp disappointment. "We're not– I mean, he's just a friend."
Her eyes widened in surprise. "Oh? I suppose I got the wrong impression."
She studied him, head tilted to the side. Phoenix wasn't quite sure how to respond – but there was a part of him that enjoyed her scrutiny.
"It's not often a nice guy helps out a friend like this. It's very brave." She brushed her hand along his forearm, sliding down to shake his hand. Her grip was strong. "I don't meet many civilians like you." Their handshake lingered.
"If you need a safe spot, I know a place a couple of hours from here," Phoenix said, filled with a sudden urge to keep impressing the agent. "It's pretty secluded, and I've got a connection there."
Agent Chase withdrew her hand and gave him a business card from her jacket pocket. "This is my contact information. Look into it, and give me a call." She gave him a quick wink. "Or call for any other reason."
Phoenix felt his pulse pick up again. He wasn't the best at reading signals, but he was getting the impression the agent might be flirting with him.
He smiled back at her, noticing how the look in her eyes grew warmer.
The moment was interrupted by Gumshoe, who stepped out from the door. "Okay pal, I'm leaving Mr. Edgeworth in your hands. Just keep him here at all times. We'll check in with you when the safe-house is ready, probably in a couple of days."
Phoenix said his goodbyes, with a last covert glance at Agent Chase, and closed the door behind him. Edgeworth was waiting at the end of the entryway, and when Phoenix met his eyes he felt a jolt of emotion course through him.
It felt uncomfortably like guilt.
Only once he was alone, underneath his covers that night, did Phoenix try to sort through his feelings again. In the darkness his thoughts were free to leap from one thing to the next, pooling together and shifting like a liquid mirror. His mind was too busy to rest, and his heart too confused to provide him any answers.
So much of his life had been spent chasing after Edgeworth – after Miles. But Phoenix was nothing like Christopher. He would never be elegant and seductive, never have the chance to have something more with Edgeworth. Would never be able to break down those barriers completely, to find Edgeworth raw and wanting, to take their friendship and move it into a territory he so badly wished for.
But it was hard to let the fantasy go.
He wanted to move on, to be content with just a friendship, which was more than most people ever experienced with Edgeworth. He had carried on other romantic relationships, as a teenager and in college, and though the latter had proved disastrous, the important part was that he had been a lovesick fool with someone else, right?
He had to let go.
Feeling overly warm, Phoenix kicked off his blanket and paced his bedroom. The Los Angeles night was never truly silent; the thrum of late traffic or drunks loudly stumbling home provided an ever-present background noise. But his apartment was still quiet, and as much as he wanted to scream in frustration it would wake Edgeworth, and he was in no mood to manage a sleep-deprived prosecutor.
There was the pop of a gunshot in the distance. Phoenix briefly wondered if the police officers watching his apartment would run off to investigate. At least with the never-ending stream of crime, he would always have work to distract him.
The thought of guns brought Agent Chase – Justine – to the front of his mind.
There was a lurch in his chest. He remembered her eyes, her lingering handshake, that wink. She was pretty. And Edgeworth was handsome. And for a long, maddening moment he wanted them both.
Restless, and torn and confused, and full of pent-up frustration, Phoenix did the only thing that made sense at the moment: he fell back onto his mattress and plunged his hand into his boxers, brushing his fingers against his length.
With his eyes shut tight he thought of Justine, of the low-cut jacket and her slipping it off and undoing her shirt. He palmed himself with long, slow strokes and pretended it was her hand on him. He imagined the heat of her mouth, the slide of her tongue against him, and his arousal kicked up a notch but it wasn't enough. Despite the enticing scenarios his mind supplied he wasn't quite there. He grunted with effort as he thought of her completely nude and moaning his name.
Phoenix's hand abruptly stilled, his mouth falling open and his breath coming to him in a ragged gasp as he remembered how his name, not just 'Wright' but 'Phoenix,' sounded in a much deeper voice. With a stinging certainty he realized it was not Agent Chase he wanted to hear.
He imagined his name falling from Edgeworth's lips again, the low baritone of his voice desperate and needy, and Phoenix suppressed a moan as all those feelings, all the longing and fierce want rushed through him in a wave of white-hot desire. His knees bent and his head fell to the side, and his hand moved faster, pulling harder and rougher, and he was panting and wetting his lips at the thought of the prosecutor. He remembered Edgeworth in the bath towel that morning and he pictured himself snatching it away, crashing into the wall as Edgeworth careened against him and pulled off his sweatpants, and he ached for the feel of their bare skin rubbing together, hot and frantic. The sensation of Edgeworth's hand on him, long fingers curling around, seemed almost real as he tightened his own hold.
And that look in Edgeworth's eyes: knowing and piercing and darkened, full of lust, full of something more, all for him–
Back arching off the bed, Phoenix bit the inside of his lip to stifle the long moan that accompanied his release. Afterward he could only lay still, breath coming back to him in numbing, shallow gasps.
Well. So much for letting go of the fantasy.
As Phoenix shucked off his boxers to clean himself up, he finally understood that, whatever he thought about his chances with Edgeworth, his feelings couldn't just be willed away. He slipped under his covers, content to sleep nude, and as he felt the gentle pull of sleep he wondered again if he would be able to keep his emotions under control for the rest of Edgeworth's stay.
Or if he would end up doing something stupid, something he would regret.
…He was such a fool.
Edgeworth couldn’t decide if remaining with Wright was a good idea or an utterly foolish one.
Gumshoe approached him to review the arrangements as the meeting with Agent Chase wrapped up. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the agent pick up her briefcase and exit the apartment, with Wright trailing behind her.
His jaw clenched as he noted how quickly Wright rushed after her.
The detective promised to contact him as soon as was possible. As Edgeworth escorted him to Wright’s door Gumshoe puffed up his chest and tried to assure his boss that everything would be fine. Edgeworth just nodded, distracted and only superficially listening to his words.
But Gumshoe caught his complete attention when he brought his hands up to the top of the prosecutor’s shoulders and squeezed, attempting to be reassuring.
“Cheer up, Mister Edgeworth, Sir,” he said, that hurt-puppy expression on his face. “Maybe it’s good that you take a break.”
While he understood the intent of the gesture, Edgeworth noticed how Gumshoe’s hands were larger, broader than Wright’s. How different they felt from Wright’s touch. How just noticing made his mood sink a little more.
He leveled a glare and let his words take on a frosty tone. “You think I should be grateful for having to hide away while a criminal plays havoc with my affairs?”
Gumshoe sighed. “You know I didn’t mean it that way, Sir,” he said, palms falling away. “I know it’s not what you’re used to, but I think staying with Mister Wright could be nice for you, ya know? He worries about you.”
As Edgeworth sharpened his glare, Gumshoe cleared his throat. Sensing he had stepped over a line, he added, “We all do, Sir.”
Edgeworth watched him shift uncomfortably for a moment; perhaps he was letting his aggravation be taken out on an ill-deserving target. “Gumshoe,” he said, waiting until the detective looked back at him, and then leaned his head forward in a slight bow. “Your concern is… appreciated.”
Gumshoe beamed at him, and he felt his own mouth twitch a little, as though he wanted to return the smile. Perhaps one day he would.
Wright soon re-entered, and as Edgeworth caught his eye he felt something sharp twist in his stomach. Thoughts jumbled and shook inside his head like a puzzle box being shaken. Before the questions could come spilling out, Edgeworth picked up his suitcase and secluded himself in the guest bedroom.
He busied himself with unpacking as he sorted out his thoughts.
Christopher Banks had manipulated him so precisely. Edgeworth had no inkling of a counterfeiting ring operating in the Los Angeles area; he had been thoroughly distracted by the harassment. And the humiliation of falling prey to a honeypot… Banks had wrapped himself in deceit from their first meeting, intending to seduce the prosecutor all along. And what an eager mark he had been!
Unbidden, the memory of his conversation with Banks surfaced. A man named ‘Banks’ going into banking. How perfectly predictable. Indeed, what were the odds? Of course it had been a fake name. He had been worse than foolish – he had been gullible.
Thinking about Banks reminded him of the cloned phone the agent had given him. It was similar to his own, and he wondered if Gumshoe had lent a hand in making the copy. He realized he was holding his breath, anxious, as he thumbed through the empty call record and text history.
How long until he received another message?
He tossed the phone onto the nightstand, too perturbed to hold onto it.
There was also the issue of Wright.
He hung up the last of his clothing, wincing at the wrinkles in his normally carefully pressed attire, and with a weary sigh he let himself uncharacteristically slump down onto the bed until he lay flat. He remembered Wright’s hand on his shoulder, at his neck, and the warmth of his touch. With a mental shake he rubbed at his temples and closed his eyes, finding the darkness soothing, and tried to focus on the counterfeiting ring, to predict what their next move would be. To focus on a problem that was more removed from himself and his personal feelings, and his failures.
He didn’t know how long he remained there, eyes closed, thinking out the ring’s possible moves in a mental game of chess.
And like a bubble suddenly bursting in the air, his concentration was lost.
He hadn’t even heard Wright enter.
Eyes open once more, he watched him move around the room. The side of Wright’s mouth quirked up as he paused by the closet and saw the mismatched clothing inside.
“I bet Gumshoe just grabbed the first things he saw and crammed them into your suitcase.”
He waited a moment, presumably for Edgeworth to chime in, and when he heard no response he plowed ahead. “Guess he doesn’t have your eye for fashion, huh?” He turned and offered a tight smile.
Edgeworth finally relented with an irritated sigh.
“Considering your own wardrobe, Wright, I believe that’s the pot calling the kettle black.”
In response, Wright rolled his eyes and moved to the other side of the guest bed. He sat on the edge, his back facing the prone prosecutor, and began speaking, his tone unusually serious.
“I think I know why you asked me to stay during the meeting.”
A moment of sheer terror closed over Edgeworth. His mind raced, trying to find excuses and rationales he could offer, because if Wright had finally–
Perhaps it is better to rip the bandage off.
He drew in a shaky breath, only for Wright to keep talking.
“I know it’s hard for you to ask for help. But just so you know, I don’t mind being your attorney. Or helping you. Ever.”
The terror twisted in on itself; Wright was clearly thinking along a different line.
“I can’t pretend to understand everything you’re probably thinking about right now. I guess… I would feel angry. And embarrassed.”
Wright looked over his shoulder, making sure the prosecutor was listening. Edgeworth could feel his skin flush, and he scowled.
“Are you going to laugh at me?”
Wright twisted around in a flash of anger.
“No! Don’t you get it yet? I’m never going to laugh at you, not when it’s something important.”
He sounded exasperated, his eyes bright, pleading.
“Don’t- Don’t shut me out again, Miles.”
The words were quiet, intense, and underneath them Edgeworth could hear something desperate and determined. He found himself drawn into those blue eyes. When he finally spoke, his voice was equally low.
“I’m starting to think it’s impossible to stay away from you.”
The words hung in the air for a long moment, electric, like the first hint of a storm.
Edgeworth couldn’t fully read the look on Wright’s face. The anger had melted, only to be replaced with something more searching and thoughtful.
He felt his pulse quicken, and had to resist the urge to glance away – or else he might reveal something he shouldn’t. He swallowed, fighting to keep an impassive look on his own face, and when Wright’s expression flickered into something more hopeful, for a moment he wondered if he had failed and let something slip through.
Eventually Wright smiled at him, that soft smile Edgeworth thought about so often. Apparently Wright had found whatever it was he was looking for from him. The bed gave a little as Wright lifted his legs up, leaning back beside him with his arms folded behind his head.
They lay still, in a companionable sort of silence. Edgeworth was acutely aware of the attorney next to him; only a foot of space separated them. They lined up nearly perfectly.
“Remember the sleepovers we had when we were kids?”
He turned his head and found Wright grinning at him. He remembered quite well; those were some of the last happy memories he had of childhood before moving to Germany.
“I do,” he answered.
Wright turned back toward the ceiling, a satisfied look on his face.
“We’d sneak in all the candy we could find – well, Larry and I did, and we goaded you into eating it with us. And we’d play board games and you’d always win, and video games, and watch kid movies. And we made fun of each other and laughed a lot.
“Larry always fell asleep first on the couch. Never could stay up. Too much sugar, I guess. But you and I, we’d hunker down in our sleeping bags and talk. About your dad and his work. About comics and the treehouse. Cartoons, movies, whatever stupid things happened at school. Talk until one of us finally dozed off.”
Despite himself, Edgeworth felt a small smile tugging at his lips. He looked over again and found Wright grinning, a gleam in his eyes.
“So while you’re stuck here, just… think of this as a sleepover. With me. Like when we were kids. Not as hiding out.”
Edgeworth raised an eyebrow. “A sleepover,” he said, voice flat and amused.
Wright lifted a finger in a halting gesture. “Hear me out. In a couple of days you’re gonna be taken to a safe-house, and who knows when you’ll be able to come back. It’s been a long time since we’ve stayed at the same place for a while, and…” He hesitated.
“And so, before you’re gone, I want you to leave with at least one happy memory to take with you.”
He saw a streak of red creeping across Wright’s cheeks.
…The man really was a sentimental fool.
“You’re aware we’re both grown men. Aren’t we a bit past sleepovers?”
Wright grinned, his teeth peeking out, and his words were dripping with sarcasm. “Well, Mister Prosecutor, there’s things we can do as adults now that make sleepovers more fun.”
Does he mean–
He caught Wright’s eye again, his thoughts shifting to a shaky staccato: how much Wright knew; the inevitable I don’t feel the same way; how he could deny or deflect the idea that he thought of Phoenix as something more than–
In the span of a heartbeat he felt that yearning, the desire to pull Phoenix flush against him on the bed, to capture his lips, to press in close and slide his hand between them and–
“A-Alcohol. I meant– I was talking about drinking.”
Wright bit his lip, that red streak on his cheeks blooming across his face. Edgeworth blinked, realizing he had let his thoughts wander too far, and let out an annoyed huff of air.
“Fine.” As an afterthought, he added, “I wonder what your taste is.”
He saw Wright swallow, his Adam’s apple bobbing quickly on his throat, and belatedly he recognized the innuendo in his words.
“In alcohol,” he amended, mortified, and before the awkwardness could drag out any further, he sat up on the bed and turned, staring at the wall.
Another lingering moment, and then he rose and began thumbing through the case folders he’d stacked on top of the dresser.
“I still have work I need to complete while I’m here,” he stated, pointedly changing the subject. Work was a topic safely devoid of any double meanings.
“Yeah, I figured,” Wright said, sighing and rising off the bed himself. “I’ll clear off the coffee table for you.”
Once Wright had left the room, Edgeworth drew in a deep breath, chastised his foolishness and steeled his resolve, and opened the first file.
Edgeworth was deep into evidence ledgers when he heard the cloned phone chime. A new text had arrived.
That familiar tendril of dread wrapped around him as he pulled the phone from his pocket.
Decided to cut and run? You know there’s nowhere you can hide.
In short order Banks had robbed him of his home, his finances, his privacy, and even his personal safety. His agency been stripped from him, but he refused to yield. He still had his friends, his work, and his hard-won ideals. No matter what other things Banks could take from him, he could never steal the strength of his beliefs.
The phone sounded again in his palm, displaying another anonymous message.
I’ll find you.
“Hey Edgeworth, I brought you some– Oh.”
Wright halted behind him, a steaming mug in each hand, eyes on the text.
Edgeworth switched the screen off and slid the phone across the table.
After a moment Wright rounded the couch. “Scoot,” he ordered, forcing Edgeworth to shuffle away from the center. He sat close to the prosecutor and held out one of the white cups.
Edgeworth took a tentative sip and was surprised to discover a bitter blend of green tea, and raised a questioning eyebrow.
“I’m surprised you drink something like this.”
A chuckle. “I don’t, really. It’s from Maya’s stash, the only tea I have.” Wright shifted back, settling into the couch. “Should you let Agent Chase know about that message? I’ve got her number, if you need to call her.”
“This is a cloned phone, remember? She’ll have received a copy on my original phone.” An instant later: “You have her number?”
“Yeah, she gave it to me after the meeting.”
He could hear the smile in Wright’s voice, the embarrassed excitement.
He pushed away the icy thoughts, ignored the cold coil of envy that settled into his stomach.
Wright examined one of the crime scene photos, sipping noisily at his own drink. “What are you working on?”
He glanced sideways. “Shouldn’t you go into your own office? Or however you while away your working hours?”
Wright shrugged. “I could. But my working hours are whenever I choose. That’s one of the perks of being my own boss.” He nudged him pointedly with his shoulder. “Unlike some workaholics I know.”
“Besides, you shouldn’t have to sit around here alone. A day or two off won’t kill me. This is more important.”
That damnable smile. He felt something flare in his chest, a warmth that seeped into every inch of him, dispelling the cold.
He cleared his throat and pulled over a few summary sheets, leaning closer to go over them together. “A murder investigation. These are the pertinent details.”
As Wright took the pages Edgeworth reached into his jacket’s inner pocket and pulled out his reading glasses. He slipped them on in a quick, practiced motion and began explaining the case.
A full minute passed, and he realized the attorney had not responded to a single thing he’d said.
“Are you even listening?”
He found Wright staring at him with a far-away expression. It provoked some defensive instinct in him and he leaned away slightly, taking the sheets with him.
Wright immediately grabbed his forearm. “No! Sorry, it’s– I just never knew you wore glasses.”
Still wary, he allowed himself to be tugged closer. “It’s a more recent necessity, I admit. If you completed even half the amount of paperwork I do on a regular basis, perhaps you would require them as well.”
…Wright was still holding on to him. Somewhere in the back of his mind he cursed himself for wearing his jacket.
“They look good on you,” Wright stated, with a surprised sort of appreciation. “Reminds me a little of your dad.”
That was unexpected.
“…And that sounded a lot less creepy in my head. I just meant – they suit you.”
Wright released him, his hand moving to rub at his neck in embarrassment.
Edgeworth adjusted his lenses and smiled faintly, filing away the clumsy compliment to ruminate on later.
They spent the remainder of the day together, reviewing Edgeworth’s cases between bouts of more leftovers and banter. He was no longer quite so startled at the leaps of logic Wright could make. It was helpful to entertain the opposite view of each case with Wright, to momentarily assume the accused was innocent and determine what sort of defense their lawyer could mount.
Not that any of them could hold a candle to Phoenix.
The man had a talent for unconventional thinking, and was bright enough to hold a decent argument. He found his pulse racing every time they disagreed – not because he was angered, but because Wright challenged him. Because he knew that Phoenix would throw everything at him because he could. Because they trusted each other.
Late in the evening, Edgeworth set the last file back on the coffee table. He glanced at Wright, who returned his look with a lopsided smile. His jacket and tie had long ago been discarded, his shirtsleeves rolled up and the top buttons undone. Something about him looked casually busy, and Edgeworth found it unusually appealing.
His own coat had been returned to the guest closet, along with the cravat – he remembered the effect its removal had had the previous night. The thought of that slow, rakish grin sent electric currents thrumming in his blood.
When had they moved so close together on the couch?
For an instant he was tempted to throw caution to the wind and simply pin the man beneath him, hold him there, helpless, until that grin appeared again – just so he could make it disappear in the most… pleasant way possible.
Wright’s voice startled him out of his thoughts, but he quickly recovered.
“You and I accomplished a great deal of work together. You make an excellent partner.”
The familiar tones of the Steel Samurai theme song interrupted the moment, and Wright pulled his cell phone from his pocket.
“It’s Maya,” he announced, sounding surprised. “I was going to call her… Mind if I take this?”
He waved his hand dismissively. “I was planning to turn in anyway,” he said, withdrawing to the guest room to allow Phoenix his privacy.
Wright remained on the phone with the young Master for a long time, the faint, unintelligible sounds of their conversation lulling him to sleep.
The apartment was empty the next morning.
Edgeworth found a note taped to the door from Wright, stating he had to stop by his office but promising to return as soon as he could. Perhaps their success together had inspired Wright to bring back his own caseloads. The note ended with an order not to set foot outside the apartment.
At least this morning he could shower without interruption.
He’d found it difficult to fully wake without the invigorating citrus aromas of his own soaps. Wright’s products had a different scent, clean and fresh. They reminded him so strongly of the attorney – and the memory of Phoenix fresh out of bed, hair tousled and with light stubble strewn across his jawline, shirtless, clad only in a loose pair of sweatpants…
Perhaps it was best not to dwell on that image.
Deciding he should preserve his court attire for as long as he could, he changed into a black button-down and khakis Gumshoe had brought him. As he finished dressing, his phone rang – but that conditioned knot of apprehension unraveled as he recognized a familiar number.
Partly out of relief, and partly knowing it was best she heard the news from him, he answered.
“Guten abend, Franziska.”
“Miles Edgeworth.” He had long ago learned to take no offense at her tendency to forgo greetings. “I recently learned you have returned to Europe to resume your studies of judicial systems.”
When he did not respond immediately she continued, a note of suspicion in her voice. “The foolish fools in your country were incapable of providing more details, despite my insistence.”
He winced slightly, imagining his poor secretary enduring her abuse.
“Either your country is more incompetent than I previously believed, or you have neglected to inform me of your affairs.” There was a trace of indignation.
“It is a long story.”
She must have heard something in his tone, and she drew in a sharp breath. He caught the sound of papers shuffling in the background and he could picture her in the von Karma study, leaning back in the stiff leather chair and narrowing her eyes.
“You will tell me everything.”
Her words brooked no argument. Under the logic that his closest kin should be informed should Banks follow through with his alleged modus operandi – kidnapping and murder – he decided to inform Franziska of what had happened.
Strangely, sharing the story this time did not induce the same intense sense of shame. He was growing numb, desensitized. Even his admittance of a sexual affair with Banks did not elicit the same caliber of humiliation. Perhaps it helped that he knew Franziska shared his own same-gendered preferences; he could only imagine how she and Miss Andrews put that whip of hers to use – No. No, he would not imagine that.
“Little brother,” she said after he had finished, “you have gotten yourself into a great deal of trouble.”
And with that statement, delivered without icy judgment, he realized he had been wrong in his previous imaginings of this conversation. There was no chastisement, no scorn from her. Her protégé had influenced his sister more than he had appreciated.
“Where will you be taken?”
“That I don’t know yet. I will inform you when I do. For the moment I’m staying with…” He hesitated.
“…I see. I suspected.”
Without any words at all, she understood.
“You are both foolish fools,” she continued, after a thoughtful pause. “If he allows you to come to harm, be assured that I will whip him until his backside is raw and bleeding.”
There was the bravado. As he exchanged Agent Chase’s phone number with her and they said their goodbyes, he wondered what would constitute her definition of “harm.” But the meaning behind her vow was clear.
Despite their rivalry, despite her disdain for his decision to remain in Los Angeles, she had remained a source of support. He was truly grateful to her.
The moment was marred after he discovered a new text message once he finished the call.
Come out, come out, wherever you are.
Wright returned in the afternoon. “’M back,” he announced, muffled by cloth handles clenched between his teeth. He’d brought back several sacks of goods, juggling them precariously as he entered.
Edgeworth hurried to grab some of the bags before they spilled onto the floor, and followed Wright into the kitchen.
“Sorry to leave you alone for so long. I had to make a few stops.”
“I enjoyed the quiet.” Edgeworth pictured the attorney struggling with all the extra baggage on his bicycle, amused.
“Hey, come on, I bet you missed me.” Wright caught his eye, his own shining with a devious glint. Though Edgeworth realized it was true, he nonetheless made a show of scoffing in response.
Honestly, how could the man bring out the child in him so easily?
“I managed to make do with your… eclectic book selection.” He would never admit to the nostalgia he felt as he’d perused Phoenix’s grade-school copy of a Sherlock Holmes novel, found wedged between heavy law tomes and outdated magazines.
“I figured you were tired of leftover take-out, so I got some proper groceries. And some entertainment.”
Wright nodded toward a couple of darker bags; Edgeworth could distinguish the glass bottles of alcohol in one, but could only guess at the contents of the other.
Knowing he would only get in the way should he attempt to help, he simply watched as Wright put the groceries away, discreetly appreciating the subtle shift in muscles as Wright reached into cabinets and bent low into the refrigerator. A few foodstuffs were left on the counter.
“So Miles, look through that bag and decide which you want to see first. I’m going to get dinner started.” From the kitchen entryway he could see Wright’s enthusiastic smile, and something in his stomach churned pleasantly in response.
Edgeworth cautiously poked inside the mystery bag. Several DVDs were stuffed inside, sporting colorful, glossy covers; they all belonged to the Samurai franchise’s body of works. He slid his gaze over to Phoenix, who pointed a wooden spoon at him with a mischievous expression.
“Don’t try to deny it. Maya’s told me how much you’re a fan. And she assured me those are the best ones she has in our office collection.”
Ignoring the question of why Wright and his assistant kept a collection of children’s videos in their office, he asked, suspiciously, “Why would Miss Fey believe I enjoy this series so much?”
Wright shrugged. “I dunno, something about the figurine in your office? I figured it was some sort of mutual fan radar going off or something. Fandar.” He leveled a look at Edgeworth as he opened a container of sauce. “Don’t tell me she’s wrong.”
Foregoing a reply, Edgeworth rifled through the assortment; he knew most of them already. But instead of disappointment he felt an odd sense of contentment. Wright had tried to find something he thought Edgeworth would appreciate. He hadn’t been able to enjoy the series since tickets to the new film had tumbled out of a blank envelope. While Banks had used the series to lure him out, to manipulate him, Wright had simply tried to make him feel more comfortable.
What a difference motive could make.
He was struck by another realization: Miss Fey apparently knew him better than he gave her credit for. Perhaps he should count her among his friends as well.
He shifted his attention to the extra-sturdy bag of alcohol; it looked like Wright had sampled an entire liquor store. He lifted his eyebrows, bemused.
Phoenix grinned. “Yeah, I wasn’t sure what your taste was.” An awkward pause, as the memory of the conversation on the bed resurfaced. But Wright rallied quickly. “A lawyer should have some good drinks anyway, so I got a few things. Chief always liked cocktails, Larry swears by beer, and wine is always good.”
Both a white and a red wine were included. “A good wine pairing can enhance many meals,” Edgeworth began, trailing off. His phone had chimed again with another text.
Where are you hiding? Who are you hiding with, you whore?
At least the messaging had slowed since the stakeout. He shoved the phone back into his pocket with a frustrated sigh and watched Wright struggle with his ingredients.
A few minutes later he spoke up: “Wright, what on earth are you trying to make?”
Those kinked eyebrows turned up helplessly. “Um, a pasta thing? It looked easy in the recipe…” Phoenix laughed nervously.
He nudged Wright to the side, surveyed the food and, once he understood how the meal was intended to go together, began to work. “Pass me a large bowl.”
After a short protest, Phoenix was persuaded to give him the run of the kitchen. He began adding to what Wright had already prepared – a few sliced tomatoes, some seasoning.
“I never knew you could cook,” Wright said, surprised and faintly admiring.
“I’m more amazed you cannot,” he countered, stirring the wooden spoon into the marinara sauce simmering on the stove. He brought the spoon to his mouth, tasting, testing. Yes – this should be fine. “It’s a worthwhile investment.”
But instead of agreement, he heard a snicker. “Got some on your face.”
Before he could move Wright stepped forward, hand outstretched. Moving quickly, Phoenix swiped his thumb at the corner of Edgeworth’s mouth, dragging it over his lip. His nerves sprung to life, skin and lip tingling where Wright had touched him, a surge of electric sensation in the movement’s wake.
Wright brought his thumb, stained red, up to his own mouth, tongue darting out. “That’s really good,” he said, oblivious to the images searing through Edgeworth’s mind. He was completely ignorant of how suggestive his action was, unknowing of just how much he had affected Edgeworth.
Edgeworth’s breath, frozen in his lungs from Phoenix’s sudden touch, came out in a shaky exhale. For the first time in a long while, a sliver of hope entered his heart.
He cleared his throat, feeling his face heat up, and turned his attention back to the stove. “The red will go well with this,” he said, trying to steady his skittering pulse. Wright looked at him – Edgeworth could feel those eyes boring into him – and then he withdrew two glasses from a cupboard and began unscrewing the wine top.
Edgeworth was grateful there was no cork to pop. He may not have survived.
Wright began chattering again as he poured, voice fading in and out as he took the glasses and silverware and videos to the living area. Edgeworth concentrated on the food, heart still pounding in a faltering rhythm.
He was letting his foolish hopes ascribe unintended meaning to Wright’s actions.
Eventually the food was finished, and Wright scooped out the pasta into bowls and led the way back to the living area.
Edgeworth chose one of the older Samurai films, one that was familiar and that he could safely ignore while he retreated into his thoughts.
“Just so you know, none of those shows make much sense to me.” Wright sat beside him – close again – and pulled his legs up, sitting cross-legged. His knee lightly brushed Edgeworth’s thigh as he shifted, getting comfortable.
The time spent in Wright’s apartment had been pleasant and just as nerve-wracking as he’d feared. Phoenix had been quite accommodating and had willingly risked allowing him to stay longer; but this was a man known to run across a burning bridge to save those he cared for.
Then again, that had been Miss Fey’s life – Maya’s life – in danger. He recalled Wright’s long phone call with her the night before, and young Pearl’s belief in their everlasting love, and his own thoughts of how their relationship might grow deeper.
And there was Miss Hawthorne – or was it Fey? – Wright’s college girlfriend. The looks they had given one another indicated a lingering romantic interest. Her sentence was not that long, after all.
Even more recently, Wright had acted giddy regarding Agent Chase.
No, Wright’s preferences were clear.
But his thoughts lingered on how Wright smiled at him, moved close to him, casually touched him. He remembered Wright’s reassuring hug, the hand on his shoulder brushing against his cravat, the thumb on his lip.
“Miles? Did you hear me?”
He glanced up from where his gaze had drifted into the empty pasta bowl in his lap and found Phoenix giving him an anxious look.
“Movie’s over,” Wright repeated, worry seeping through his voice.
He closed his eyes, unable to bear the weight of Wright’s concern.
“I apologize,” he said, and reached for the first excuse that came to mind. “I was thinking about the counterfeiting ring.”
Wright gave him a doubtful look but didn’t press. “You know what I think we need?” That devious glint returned to his eye. “More alcohol.” He promptly bolted to the kitchen to retrieve the second wine bottle.
“Wright, you– I don’t think we should–”
Too late. Wright poured the remainder of the red wine into their glasses and popped in another movie. “You can explain why the Steel Samurai and the Evil Magistrate don’t just kiss and make up, and we’ll get drunk and spill all our secrets and we’ll have a good night.”
The words were slightly manic.
Wright smiled, but something in his eyes was more pleading. “One happy memory, Miles.”
Dumbfounded, Edgeworth just swirled the wine around in his glass. “Wright, I have no interest in becoming inebriated nor in divulging any 'secrets' with you.”
“Come on, that’s the best part of getting drunk with your best friend.”
The movie utterly forgotten, Edgeworth faced Wright on the couch.
Wright flushed, a sheepish grin on his face. “Aren’t we?”
Something bright and warm coursed through him, rather like the wine, tinged with history and trust and deep emotion.
“I had presumed Larry or perhaps Miss Fey filled that role for you.”
Wright looked thoughtful. “Well, I guess you all are, in different ways.” He took a long drink as he considered. “Larry’s that friend you can never get rid of, and always in trouble. But he’s there for you in a pinch.”
Edgeworth made an annoyed noise, privately disagreeing with the usefulness of ‘Laurice.’
“And Maya’s a lot of fun. She’s quirky and weird, and I wouldn’t get into half as much trouble without her. And she’s juggling being the Kurain Master and having a life of her own, and I worry about her.”
He could hear the wistfulness in Wright’s voice.
“She is a remarkable young woman.”
“Yeah, she is.” Wright smiled, fidgeting with his glass. “And then there’s you.” He didn’t elaborate, and Edgeworth didn’t push.
He was horrified to find he was blushing.
Ignoring guest manners he opened the second bottle of wine. Perhaps the drink was too much, and using it as a crutch was a definite sign of weakness. But at the moment he found it hard to care.
Instead, that hopeful sliver asserted itself, letting the words slip past his lips.
“I believe Pearl Fey is under the impression that you and Maya are more than just good friends.”
Phoenix let out a weary groan. “I know. Nothing we say can convince her otherwise.” He shifted uncomfortably, one leg curling beneath him as the other dangled off the edge of the couch.
“Is she right?” Too bold. This was why he relied on clear logic; emotions were too messy, too fraught.
“What? No, she’s not.” Wright ran a hand over his face. “Maya’s more like a sister to me.”
A long pause. On the screen beside them the Steel Samurai and the Pink Princess were embraced in a tearful reunion.
“What about you, Miles? Anyone special?”
Wright avoided his startled glare.
Still looking away, Phoenix bit his lip, deliberating. “I’m sorry it didn’t work out with him. That he turned out to be so… terrible.”
Edgeworth swallowed hard.
“A mistake. Nothing more.”
Another lull. The air between them grew thicker, sparking with unspoken thoughts.
“You’ll find someone better.”
I already have. And I can’t move on.
Wright drew in a long breath. “So what’s your type?” There was a playful tone in his voice, light and teasing, but Edgeworth felt his stomach clench painfully, a visceral indication that this was a terrible path to tread.
“We are not discussing this.”
“Come on. Rich, charming?”
“Tall, dark, and handsome?”
“Give me a hint, so I’ll know which clients to send your way.”
Edgeworth remained silent, his throat dry, his knuckles digging into the cushions beneath him. His skin felt too hot, his heart pounding in his chest.
Dark hair. Blue eyes. Stubbornly loyal. Idealistic.
He leveled a full-on, von Karma-style glower at Phoenix. “What of yourself, Wright? What type of woman attracts your attention?”
Taken aback, Wright blinked dumbly at him, until he blushed and rubbed his hand behind his neck. “Um.”
And something in that word, in that one little word, sent an electric jolt down his spine: the hesitation, the first thunderclap before the storm arrived.
It took all his effort to raise his eyebrow, questioning.
“Well, um, it’s not always a woman.”
And the lightning hit, the storm fell, and Edgeworth was lost in the downpour.
Wright snapped his gaze up, waiting, wondering.
Edgeworth, numbed and trying to adjust his thoughts – not always a woman – answered slowly. “I didn’t know.”
Wright bit his lip again, withdrawn. “I guess I’m not so obvious about it.”
Or Edgeworth had been too caught up in his presumptions to consider otherwise.
“Are you okay with it?”
Edgeworth jerked his head, finally met Phoenix’s eyes. He had remained silent too long, his world shifting so suddenly, and realized Wright might have misinterpreted.
“Of course, Wright.”
Perhaps that was too harsh. He tried to soften his expression. “It’s perfectly fine.”
They finished the second bottle and watched more of the series, and Miles slowly reconstructed his picture of Phoenix Wright.
Sometime later Edgeworth woke slightly. Night still cloaked the city, the morning hours away, and his eyes remained closed.
There was a pleasant sensation at the back of his head, something slow and gentle carding through his hair. It was hypnotizing, comforting. He shifted slightly, seeking more, and the movement suddenly stopped. He would have been irritated, but sleep tugged at him, and he was still tired.
A few hours later he woke more fully. The light was wan, the new day only just born. He was laying on Wright’s couch, a blanket draped over him, and to his dismay he realized he had fallen asleep during the last movie.
As he sat upright he saw Phoenix shuffle out of the kitchen.
“Morning.” Wright sat down on top of the discarded blanket and yawned.
“Good morning.” His voice was a bit hoarse and low.
“I’m glad you’re up. There’s something I meant to tell you last night.”
Last night. Pasta and wine and best friends and not always a woman.
Without waiting for a reply, Wright forged ahead.
“So Maya and I have been talking. Kurain is a couple hours away, and isolated. It’s a good place to stay for a while.” He looked sidelong at Edgeworth. “No one would suspect you’d go stay with a bunch of spirit mediums.”
A cold knot formed in the pit of his stomach. “What are you saying, Wright?”
Beside him, Wright stiffened. “I’m saying that Maya has agreed to let you stay in Kurain. That Fey Manor can be your safe-house.”
Once again Edgeworth found himself stunned. “Wright, I–”
“Nothing’s settled, but she’s already on her way. I have to go pick her up at the train station in an hour.” He stood, his back to the prosecutor. “Just think about it, while I’m getting dressed.”
And Edgeworth was alone again.
He fixed himself a cup of green tea, the aroma bringing him fully awake. He smoothed out the wrinkles in his clothing and considered what Phoenix had told him.
With a startled jolt, he wondered when he had started thinking of the man as Phoenix.
When Wright emerged from his shower, he was ready.
“I won’t go to Kurain.”
Wright had draped his blue jacket on the back of the couch, and was starting to do up the buttons of his dress shirt over his undershirt. He stopped. “What?”
“I will not endanger Miss Fey or any of the other inhabitants of the village.”
Wright narrowed his eyes, a flicker of irritation crossing his face. “Miles, you wouldn’t be endangering anyone. With your background, Kurain would be the last place anyone would suspect.”
He crossed his arms, defiant. “I appreciate the offer, but there is a risk regardless. I will wait for the police force and the federal agent to find an appropriate place for me.”
“Agent Chase is coming here to talk it over. I’ll pick up Maya and we can finalize it then.”
A sharp spike of anger seared through him, burning. “And when was this arranged?”
Wright crossed his arms, mirroring the defensive stance. “Yesterday. I talked with them both yesterday.”
That burning flared, fanning his fury. “You made arrangements for my safekeeping without even consulting me?”
Wright’s voice rose. “Nothing is final yet. And as your attorney, I thought it’d be best we all have a say.” He stepped closer, arms unfolding. “And I thought – you’d be okay with it.”
Edgeworth was floored. “What do you think will happen should Banks or that ring find me in Kurain? Do you really believe Maya and Pearl and whoever else lives there could hold off a band of kidnappers and murderers? Do you want them to even try?”
“But they won’t find you there!” Wright was inches away, red-faced and furious.
“And how are you so certain of that?” He realized this was how Phoenix could be dangerous: he’d run headlong to save his friends using anything at his disposal, and damn the consequences.
“I’m not!” Phoenix drew in a deep breath, attempting to regain his composure. “But I trust Maya, and I don’t believe anyone would make a connection between you and Kurain. I’ll know where you are, and that you’re safe.”
Edgeworth’s arms fell to the side, his pulse frantic. He glared at Wright, fighting against that tremble in his heart and resorting to more distant tactics. “Why are you so concerned?”
And Wright, exasperated and irritated, grabbed onto his shoulders, fingers digging in. “Because I care about you, Miles!” There was something raw and bleeding in his words, torn, hurt.
How many times, in how many ways, had Phoenix been saying that to him?
He could see the desperation in Phoenix’s eyes, the emotions writ large across his face. Care, and concern, and something else, something that made everything inside him unsteady and unsure.
The world waited, breathless, silent.
And Phoenix rushed forward, eyes closed, and pressed their lips together.
It only lasted a moment – just a sense of pressure, of softness – just enough to stop his heart – and Wright pulled back.
“Shit.” His voice was shaky. “I’m- I’m sorry.”
“This is the last thing you should deal with right now-”
Phoenix kissed him.
“-and you probably don’t feel the same way-”
And he was apologizing.
Edgeworth’s hand shot out, fingers clenching tight against Phoenix’s open shirt collar, and Wright winced, expecting a punch. He pulled hard, brought Wright back against him, and pressed their lips together again.
Phoenix let out a noise of surprise, a muffled sound, and almost pulled back again; but Edgeworth kept him close, kept moving his lips, his pounding heart betraying his terror and his fragile hope.
Realization dawned, and Phoenix began returning the kiss, heated, feverish.
All the anger Edgeworth felt burned away, burned into the pure sensation of Phoenix, the warmth of his mouth, his breath, his eager groans. He might never have this again, and if this was his one chance he had to say everything, pour every feeling into Phoenix’s lips. Every nerve was alight and singing, exulting in the pleasure of Phoenix’s kiss.
He had wanted for so long, and to suddenly have was glorious and overwhelming.
Gasping for breath, they parted just enough, foreheads resting together. He could see Phoenix’s eyes grown wide, a look of wonder and joy and something more carnal, and he felt his pulse quicken again. He slid his arm around Phoenix’s waist and Phoenix surged against him, moving him backwards until he hit the wall, pinned between it and Phoenix’s body pressed tightly against him, strong and warm and intoxicating.
Another kiss, more frantic, clutching. A tongue swiping against his lips, and he moaned as he met it, twisting together, tasting for the first time. Hands on his chest, in his hair, against his cheeks. His own grasping at back muscles, tracing hard lines and pulling closer.
Everything he’d wanted – more, better than he dared wish. He was going to burn away with Phoenix.
And Phoenix slid his mouth, his lips, down across his jaw, brushing against the stubble, until he reached his ear.
“Miles,” he breathed, low and full of want, and god, to hear that desire in Phoenix’s voice – and know it was for him–
Phoenix nudged his collar aside and pressed slow, lingering kisses along his neck, down to where it met his shoulder. Edgeworth gasped, and Phoenix turned all his attention on that spot, lips and tongue and teeth, determined to make him moan. The buttons on Phoenix’s dress shirt had come undone – only one or two had held it together – and Edgeworth trailed his fingers beneath the edge of the undershirt, pressing against bare, heated skin.
They were rocking together, hips seeking friction. He tugged back on those spikes, kissed Phoenix again in long, jaw-aching movements, every taste and moan and stuttered gasp like the sun, fiery bright and burning through rainclouds.
And somewhere behind them, on the coffee table, Phoenix’s phone chimed.
They slowed, still pressed against one another.
“That’s Maya,” Phoenix said, swallowing hard. “She’s at the train station, or close to it.”
“You should get her,” he replied, low and soft, distracted, eyes tracing the sheen on Phoenix’s lips.
Another kiss, slow, deep, and a few minutes later, another chime, another message.
“Sorry,” Phoenix panted, pulling away again. “I- I have to meet her.”
He let Wright go, let him button up his shirt and run a hand through his spikes. He looked unsteady and dazed, and Edgeworth was certain he looked just the same.
Wright folded his coat over his arm and hesitated at the entry.
“I guess we should talk about this later,” he said, looking at Edgeworth with a hint of nervousness.
“I suppose we’ll have to,” he answered. They could talk about tax returns for all he cared, as long as they were together.
One more kiss, quick but full of promise.
“You’re smiling again.” Wright sounded pleased.
“So I am.”
Phoenix grinned, and the brilliance of it was heart-stopping. “I’ll see you soon.”
Once the door closed he collapsed onto the couch, untrusting of his feet to keep him steady.
Perhaps we are both fools together.
He laughed, feeling inordinately light, the sound echoing in the apartment. His thoughts turned toward Phoenix, interrupted only when he heard Wright’s phone chime again.
Phoenix had forgotten it. He smirked – understandable why.
He pulled it closer, wondering how many messages Maya had left.
And his blood froze, his breath stolen from him in a choked noise.
Every ecstatic feeling instantly fled.
Reckless, terrified, full of dread, he bolted out the door and down the stairs outside.
And found Phoenix’s blue coat crumpled in a heap at the foot of the stairway.
Author's Notes: Thank you all for your kudos and wonderful comments, and your patience at that cliffhanger! New chapters are coming along nicely thanks to The Ace Attorney Big Bang. Much love to my beta and my cheerleader.
Trigger Warning: This chapter contains scenes of drugging and restraint.
Phoenix ran down the short walkway to the stairs outside his apartment, nearly tripping over his own legs in his haste to return as soon as possible. He didn't care how silly or foolish he appeared. The whole world could laugh at him and he'd probably just join in with them.
He had kissed Edgeworth. Had closed his eyes and let his emotions push him over that dangerous, blurry line and do something he couldn't take back, something stupid.
And instead of rejection, he'd received the most unexpected, most wonderful response in return.
He ran his tongue over his lips, trying to savor one last taste, remembering the warmth and the sensation of broad, soft lips meeting his own in a desperate flurry. The scent of Miles's skin, his halting gasps and quiet moans, his fingertips leaving trails of electric fire against the bare skin of his back.
A little hum of pleasure escaped his throat. He had wanted an answer – and he'd received a resounding, earth-shattering yes.
He took the stairs down two at a time, his imagination running wild.
The voice came from behind the stairway. Phoenix swung around and only caught a glimpse of dark hair before a thick cloth was shoved in front of his face.
He tried to pull it off but was pushed against the railing, his arms pinned. The cloth pressed tightly over his nose and mouth, filled with some kind of sickly sweet vapor. Every gasp was filtered through the cloth, the air too cloying. In only a few seconds he felt nauseous, the world spinning, dizzy and terrifying.
He couldn't breathe.
Violently shaking his head to get free of the cloth only caused him to get dizzier, to take more tainted gasps of air. In a startlingly short amount of time he felt his limbs get heavy and numb, useless to hold him up.
Phoenix felt himself slump toward whoever had attacked him. He was losing his balance and more importantly his consciousness, and he tried desperately to hold on, because he–
He had to protect Miles…
Keep him safe-
Yes, that's it.
He caught the unconscious man under his arms, letting Phoenix Wright's full weight rest against his chest. With practiced movements he slid his hand down to the man's waist and maneuvered one of the lifeless arms around his own shoulder, bracing him against his flank. It was much easier to hold him up like this, to drag him alongside and pretend to the world that he was merely supporting a sick friend. He brought a hand up to the man's neck to feel for a pulse: still steady. Good.
Speed was imperative; the attorney could wake soon, and the longer they were exposed the greater the risk. As he turned them both he noticed the man's blue jacket fallen on the ground; it was difficult to balance the unconscious man and pick it up at the same time. He nudged it with his foot, checking for a phone, and found nothing. A quick pat at the man's pockets; no phone there either.
He could leave the jacket behind, a calculated risk. Or even better – a taunt. The thought was… appealing.
It was just a few steps to the side of the apartment complex, to the dark sedan left waiting by the dumpster. A blind spot, unwatched by the police.
Fuck. A vagrant had stumbled onto the block, picking through the dumpster bin – a potential problem. But it was too late to change course.
He hoisted the attorney up a bit, held him more carefully and let the man's head droop down. In a careful waltz he stepped around the bin and the vagabond, who was halfway into the trash.
Moving quickly, he opened the passenger side door and placed the unconscious man inside, buckling him in.
"Hey, 's he alright?"
So the vagrant had taken an interest. He slumped his shoulders as he rose, let his mouth twist into an embarrassed grin. "Oh, uh, yeah. Yeah. Just had a little too much to drink last night, you know?"
The homeless man tried to peer around him into the car. "Drunk?"
He let out a nervous, calculated laugh. "Yeah, his girlfriend's gonna be pissed." He reached into his wallet and grabbed a few tens. "Here, get some Jack for yourself. I think we're done for a while."
Money: the great facilitator. "Hey, thanks man!"
It worked; the vagrant turned to leave.
He slipped behind the wheel. The thought of taunts lingered, and he pulled out his own cell. With quick, precise movements he sent a message – not to his usual target, but to his new victim.
A moment later he drove away from the complex. In the sideview mirror he caught a glimpse of Miles Edgeworth racing down the apartment stairway, and though he bristled with indignation, he let out a bitter laugh. The thought of that pale, handsome face, crestfallen and enraged, was something to revel at.
You're too late.
He followed the roads to a derelict gas station he had scouted a few days prior, pulled into the empty lot, and shifted into park. A glance around confirmed he was alone. The man in the passenger seat started to stir.
"Not yet, Mister Wright."
He reached behind him toward the floorboard, unzipped a large black duffel bag, and retrieved a small vial of clear fluid with a soft rubber top. He preferred to rely on his charm to manipulate his targets, but occasionally pharmaceuticals were required. With a disposable syringe he withdrew a small amount of the liquid, just enough for a few hours. Luckily the attorney wore a thin dress shirt; fewer barriers to contend with. The needle went right through it.
Next was a pair of handcuffs, police-issue, snapped snugly against the man's wrists. Strips of deep black cloth followed suit, two tied around the eyes and a third between his teeth. A longer set of ankle cuffs finished the bindings.
He pulled down the back seat and, with some difficulty, managed to roll the attorney between the front seats and into the empty trunk. The seats snapped back into position with a quiet click, leaving him alone in the cab.
Now then: he could drive with peace of mind.
He took a meandering route through the city, past corroded streetlights and roads littered with debris and into more upscale areas with gleaming storefronts and pedestrians loaded down with shopping bags and briefcases. No one looked twice at the dark car rolling by. This was why he enjoyed cities: choose the correct accessories, the correct persona, and one could slip into any area, any circle, like a chameleon.
The car finally rolled to a stop, crunching along the gravel outside the shipping container. Bright sunlight gleamed off the water nearby. The location was unsupervised, left to rot as the city was locked in dispute over the area assets. Perfect for his purposes.
For a long moment he remained in the leather seat, staring at the long lines of the rectangular metal walls while the radio trilled soft classical music. How many miles had the containers traveled before their desertion here? There was something beautiful in the abandoned, in the derelict and the forgotten. Like bones in an elephant graveyard, the carcasses of the containers lay empty, waiting to collapse under the sun and fall into dust, the specter of beauty and purpose eroded and decayed.
The pretensions of life were meaningless in a place like this. There was no one to perform for, no rules to adhere to. No one and nothing but himself and his target, alone. Undisturbed.
He switched off the radio and strode over to the end of the metal box. He'd chosen one of the sturdier containers, one not yet fallen to ruin. This was the only entrance that hadn't been welded shut. It was a small risk, leaving it unlocked, but this area drew so little traffic he was confident no one would bother checking inside. And if someone did come to investigate, nothing screamed 'something suspicious here' louder than a shiny new padlock.
He heaved open the metal door and blinked at the darkness inside. Warm air hit his face, heated up inside the container by the mid-day sun. Uncomfortable. And after hours of exposure, certainly exhausting. He allowed himself a smile.
The container was mostly empty, plain and dusty, except for a few items. He switched on a portable lantern left just inside the doorway, filling the metal box with soft light and the hiss of propane being spent. A gleaming steel chain hung from a pulley affixed to the ceiling about two-thirds of the way down the length of the container. On one end dangled a large metal hook, waiting to hoist something – someone – up. Several heavyweight dumbbells sat near the entrance, their combined weight totaling over six hundred pounds. The other end of the chain wound around the dumbbell bars, looping around and threading in an intricate metal knot: an anchor no reasonable man could lift.
The set-up was simple, really, just a bit of chain metal to hold a man in place and to safely haul him to his feet from the entrance. Locked away. Hidden.
Of course, when he had first rigged up the pulley he had pictured the silver-haired prosecutor dangling from the chain, but…
He ran his hand along the metal, fingers softly gliding across each link, and tugged it a few times.
This could prove more satisfying.
Back outside he unlocked the car trunk. Phoenix Wright lay on his side, knees pulled in slightly toward his chest, still unconscious. With only a bit of struggle he lifted the attorney out of the trunk and balanced him over his shoulder. Just a few careful, steady steps, and he deposited him at the back of the shipping container. The man let out a low groan as he was rolled onto the floor, a sign that the drugs were just beginning to wear off.
He roughly pushed the attorney against the metal wall, sitting him up. He pulled the chain over, the metal links clinking along the wheel at the ceiling, and maneuvered the metal hook between the handcuffs, locking it in place around them. The man made no other sounds, still enough under the haze of the drugs to not wake up and realize what was happening to him.
With the hook fastened, he returned to the entrance and pulled at the other side of the chain, lifting the attorney to his knees and ultimately to his feet. It took some effort to bear down on the chain and drag the attorney upward, though the sound of the man's shoes scraping against the floor as he was pulled was worth the sweat. He wrapped the extra length of the chain over and around the weights on the floor, securing the attorney in place.
Only slightly short of breath from all of the lifting and hauling, he picked up the lantern and moved it halfway between the entrance and his target, letting the light more fully illuminate the container and the attorney hanging limply from the chain. For the first time he really looked at the man, intensely studying his target.
How vulnerable he seemed, with his arms lashed together above his head, dress-shirt untucked and blotted with dirt, legs unsteady and only just supporting his weight. Average size, average build. There was nothing outwardly remarkable about him, save perhaps for the unusually spikey hair. He lifted a hand to run his fingers through; curious – it was actually soft. His hand curved down the line of the attorney's face, past the blindfold across his eyes and the gag in his mouth. Genial, but not particularly handsome. Ordinary.
Filled with a sudden violence, he drew back his palm and hit the man across his face. The attorney flinched, muscles contracting in response to the hit, but still did not stir.
So this was the man. The man Miles Edgeworth had chosen.
The man that had cost him dearly.
He had always been good at the game. Charm, flirtation, seduction. It came as naturally as breathing. Men, women, didn't matter. It was easy. Computers were easy too, but nowadays any hack could break into a system. That wasn't what made him special.
No, what made him unique, made him valuable was the way he could wrap a person around his finger. Make them crave him. Adore him. Spill their secrets for him. It was like tinkering with a wind-up toy: align the right gears, find the key, give it a twist, and watch the little doll move, blindly chasing after him until it careened off the table's edge, helpless to stop.
He'd done his research. Learned about the Demon Prosecutor, his background and his habits. Had cultivated the ideal persona to attract his attention and ensnare him. They had warned him it would be difficult, that the man was too cold, but that made it more exciting. He was the perfect target, the one that would make the grand scheme work just like always – and he was the perfect challenge. Who would ever doubt him if he could make the world-famous prosecutor fall?
Imagine his surprise when the prosecutor walked right into his lap and let slip he favored someone. He thought he could use that to his advantage. Help you get over him, that kind of game. Unexpectedly simple, for a seemingly complicated man. And it worked, it was working, and then it… wasn't.
He should have moved on to the next target, but he didn't. Rejection wasn't supposed to be easy, but he had never been rejected. At least not until the end, when the target was caught and cursing and too, too late. He was intrigued; it was a challenge after all. But every overture was rebuffed. Again and again. Why?
It must be that man, whoever had entranced the prosecutor.
Either get him under your thumb or move on, they said. Stop wasting resources. And he gave his assurances, his promises, and then his requests, his pleas for more time. Move on, they ordered, there are other targets. But – this was the target, and he had never failed.
Move on. They ordered. He stayed. And they moved on.
Miles Edgeworth. He rolled the name on his tongue, savoring it like a fine wine. His unconquerable target.
He could recall every inch of that marble face. His body. His voice, low and moaning with pleasure. That one night tormented him. Just once. And as time passed and his failures mounted up that night was like a dream, just a drop of water given to a parched man in the desert. Why couldn't he have more?
The prosecutor was brilliant. Tragic and unwavering. Proud and strong and cold, the type to keep people at arm's length. The more the prosecutor pushed him away, the more he wanted him. To have him, own him, possess him in every way possible. More than a conquest or a trophy.
But there was one thing standing in the way.
He felt so clever, once he cracked the puzzle. The only person the prosecutor could fall for would be the one to beat him. And if that person were removed–
Yes. Phoenix Wright would suffer for all he had taken.
And the prosecutor would suffer too, for a while. There was a part of him that relished knowing he was responsible for the pain. He smirked and hit the attorney once more, a closed fist to the stomach. Again the man flinched, and wobbled a bit on the chain, but didn't respond.
He needed to restrain himself, rein in his baser impulses to prolong the punishment. The most potent type of torment, after all, was denial. Denial of what was craved, what was needed.
And the attorney would be given nothing. No food. No water. No relief. He was going to wither away from exposure, starvation, dehydration. A slow and undignified death.
He reached behind the attorney's head and tightened the strips of black cloth over his eyes. He removed he man's shoes and his belt and emptied his pockets, relieving him of any objects that could become weapons if used creatively.
Phoenix Wright would wake soon, with no memory of how he had been brought to this place, no knowledge of where he was, and no understanding of what was going to happen to him.
He picked up the lantern, carried it with him outside the entrance, and snuffed it out.
Agent Chase shifted in the passenger seat, the cracked leather creaking beneath her. Sitting in the same confined space for the past two hours was murder on her joints, and she rolled her neck and shoulders to relieve some of the stiffness.
Detective Gumshoe was sprawled in the driver's seat beside her, at home and comfortable in his shambling wreck of a car. How it had passed state inspection, much less how it qualified as a police vehicle, was a mystery. He drummed his hands on the steering wheel, fingers falling in a rhythm only he could hear.
"For a breakfast meeting he's sure taking his time. Hope he shows up before dinner! I promised Maggey I'd try her new hot dog stew tonight."
She prayed to whatever deities looked out for law enforcement officers that their target would get a move on. The blush of new love was a fine thing, but if she had to listen to one more story about the detective's girlfriend, she was going to rip a strip of duct tape off the seats and seal it across Gumshoe's mouth.
God, she hated stake-outs. Especially early morning ones.
"She won't tell me the trick to making the weenies lose their canned taste! I think she's secretly magical, Sir. Why just the other day she–"
They both sat upright as a burst of static came through their earpieces.
"Target is in sight."
She leaned forward and peered out the windshield. A slender man with a shock of red hair took a seat at the outdoor café, at the corner table by the railing. The hostess had kept the table open all morning, directing customers to other tables, but no one came to usher him away. This was it.
She reached for the car's radio equipment. "Make the approach."
A moment later another man came up to the table, taking the remaining empty chair. He wore a suit, one expensive enough to mark him as a moneyed individual. The Bureau had been quick to authorize the purchase, eager to make some headway into the case before it spiraled into another public relations disaster. No one wanted another dead prosecutor, particularly an internationally famous one.
Justine grinned as she listened, the proud director of the sting. Prosecutor Edgeworth's harassment charge was the opportunity she had been waiting for. For the first time she knew which city the counterfeiting ring was operating in, rather than putting the pieces together after the fact. She had the advantage. And the best way to learn about the ring's directives was straight from the source, someone within the ring who could be persuaded to divulge information in exchange for a lighter sentence. She thought the honeypot would be the best lead, but since he seemed to be lying low, the next best bet was one of the dealers. All she needed was someone to play the part of the interested buyer.
The two men made perfunctory small talk, the carefully measured comments signifying that each party was legitimate. The local Bureau branch had assured her the agent could handle the undercover sting, and so far he was performing admirably. A bit more conversation, and an exchange of money and papers.
"You sure this'll get me in?"
The words sounded tinny in her ear. Justine felt her muscles tense again, no longer out of stiffness, but in anticipation. Her fingers twitched against the door handle.
Say it, say it…
"Yes. You'll have no trouble getting into the premiere now."
The red-haired man leaned back, running a quick finger through the cash; Justine knew he'd find the money unmarked. Apparently satisfied, he tucked the bills into his jacket and spoke up again.
"And if you want into the after-party, that can also be arranged. Heard it's pretty crazy."
Damn it. The dealer was supposed to take the money and go, not bargain for more. Justine ran through the contingency protocols in her head and reached for the radio equipment again. "Stay interested. Say you have to go to the bank."
She caught Gumshoe's eye and pointed toward an empty spot down the narrow side street. "Get ready. They'll go down that way." He nodded, understanding.
At the table, the other agent made a careful show of interest. "How much?"
"Twenty-five. For the connections you'll make there, it's worth it."
A bit of hesitation, then: "I'll have to make another withdrawal from my bank. If you don't mind waiting, there's a branch down the street."
She could hear the red-head grin. "Then let's both head that way."
They rose from the table, rounded the railing, and moved down the sidewalk, backs to their observers. Justine watched, counting the seconds until they were far enough away from the throng of people at the café.
She threw open the door and took off, and heard the detective's hurried footsteps veer away from her. Her lungs filled with air as she flew forward, running as fast as she could in an effort to take the target by surprise. Something electric flowed through her veins, galvanizing, like she had been sleeping and just woken from a dream.
This was the part she loved.
"Federal agent! Don't move!"
The red-head spun around, eyes wide with shock. A handful of pedestrians on the sidewalk, reacting to her shout, turned to watch as she ran past them. The other agent pushed the target up against the building next to them, pinning him in place with a hand against his shoulder blades. The onlookers moved aside as Justine closed the distance to him.
"You are wanted on charges of counterfeiting, illegal electronic access, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, and conspiracy to commit murder. And that's just the start." Justine let an authoritarian growl slip into her voice as she recited the litany of transgressions; intimidation tended to make arrests go more smoothly. She withdrew her handcuffs and tugged one of the red-head's arms behind his back, fixing the metal snug around his wrist.
The man's breath hitched, his back rigid with tension.
She sensed what was coming.
The dealer panicked. He wrenched his shoulder away from the other agent's hold, his free arm flying out wildly, adrenaline clearly kicking in. Justine ducked back just in time to avoid his flailing fist, but the other agent took a solid blow to the diaphragm, winding him and causing him to double over gasping.
She threw out her foot, trying to trip up the dealer before he could take off. The man stumbled, but managed to catch himself before he fell face-first into the cement. The momentum from the almost-fall turned into a full-fledged, teetering run through the startled onlookers. As much as Justine wanted to draw her weapon to stop him, the risk to the pedestrians was too great.
Legs pumping once more, she chased him down the narrow street, catching up and plowing her elbow into his ribs. The dealer let out a pained groan and staggered sideways. One more shove–
–And he ran headlong into the solid wall of Detective Gumshoe, who had appeared from the opposite direction. The dealer abruptly fell on his back, bulldozed to the ground by the detective's bulk.
Justine caught her breath and smiled, feeling a drop of sweat slip down her neck; she could always spot a runner.
"Nice work, Detective."
Gumshoe returned her grin as he lifted the man to his feet, holding him in place while Justine finished cuffing his hands together behind his back. She let Gumshoe and the still-winded agent direct the dealer back to the vehicle, the detective's booming voice reciting his rights as they moved.
Her cell was ringing. Her lips quirked up in another smile as she saw the name on the caller i.d. – Phoenix Wright. They weren't due to meet for another few hours, closer to lunch.
Perhaps there was a problem with the potential safe house in Kurain. She wondered what it would be like to live in a village of mystics, full of psychic energy and stuff she didn't really believe in. Some of the older agents occasionally talked about using mediums on difficult cases, though until now she'd assumed they were joking.
Or perhaps the attorney was calling about something entirely different. She thought there was some interest from him, and lord help her but something about that fierce determination he showed was enticing. Her line of work made relationships difficult, but it didn't mean she couldn't try.
And after subduing and arresting one of the ring's dealers, she was eager to share some good news.
"Good morning, Mister Wright. Is every–"
Her breath came up short. The voice on the line didn't belong to the attorney. She recognized the lower register of Prosecutor Edgeworth, and he sounded like he was putting a lot of effort into speaking slowly and clearly.
She knew that tone – carefully controlled rage and panic.
"Wright is gone."
Justine studied the text message on Phoenix Wright's cell phone, presumably from Christopher Banks. She doubted they could trace the number that sent the message to anything but another burner phone; but if Banks was sending messages to this cell, it needed to be cloned as well. She bagged it into evidence along with the attorney's blue jacket and handed it off to an officer, with an order for a rush on the duplication.
Police were searching the apartment building and the grounds nearby, but aside from the jacket and the text there was nothing to be found. The officers who had been on duty during the kidnapping had been re-assigned to desk work for the remainder of the investigation. She had caught the end of Prosecutor Edgeworth's tirade against them as she arrived at Wright's apartment, their faces stricken as though he had cracked their very souls.
He stood in the living area's entry, arms folded and glowering. She thought the prosecutor had been rather cold and stand-offish in their previous meeting; now he seemed a picture of seething, icy fury. She was beginning to understand how he had come to earn the nickname of 'Demon Prosecutor.'
Steeling her nerves, she turned to face him. Though the less formal clothing should have made him seem more approachable, the intensity of his glare was almost enough to make her want to squirm.
"You received the text shortly after Mister Wright left for the train station?"
"How long after?"
"Approximately ten minutes."
"You're certain? Just ten minutes?"
The glare intensified; she wasn't sure how that was possible. "Wright intended to retrieve Miss Fey from the train station at eight fifteen. By taxi, the trip would take twenty to twenty-five minutes. Therefore, he needed to leave by seven forty-five. But Wright was – running late." His jaw clenched and he shifted, moving one arm across his body to grip white-knuckled at his elbow. "He didn't leave until around eight. And as you can see, the text arrived ten minutes later."
Justine blinked, not expecting such a thorough explanation. "I see." The prosecutor seemed more uncomfortable and reserved, which she supposed was better than shouting. "Why didn't Mister Wright have his phone with him?"
"Obviously he forgot it here."
The discomfort remained, and though his words were filled with anger, they oddly seemed more directed at himself than at her.
Not that that was particularly strange. Prosecutor Edgeworth had been expecting himself to be the target of attempted kidnapping, not the attorney. And as Wright was his friend, only a monster would be unmoved at his peril.
Justine was adept as swallowing her own personal feelings for the sake of her job. But even she hadn't seen this wrinkle, and she could feel her own anger simmering in the back of her mind. Wright had shouldered the risk and was punished for his empathy. On top of that, she liked him. So many horrible people came across her path in this line of work; it was rare to meet someone who truly cared.
Truth be told, this development was liable to wreck her investigation. She was already anticipating, and dreading, the reprimand from the Bureau; the Assistant Director was going to ream her for endangering another party. Her advantage over the counterfeiting ring had instantly evaporated. The focus would have to be split between the ring and the kidnapping, and the latter took priority.
Why had this happened now? Was the ring already aware of her investigation? If so, did that mean they had seduced another target to feed them information, and a mole hunt was required? And if they had acquired another source, why did the ring break from their established M.O. to kidnap an unrelated party?
As the questions piled up, her concentration was broken when the apartment's front door slammed open. Detective Gumshoe moved inside, and behind him followed a young woman in a strange purple robe, her long dark hair pulled up in a partial top-knot; Justine presumed her to be the Kurain Master. The detective had left to escort her from the train station as soon as he had learned what happened.
Justine had expected someone older to be the head of an entire village of mystics, someone who seemed more experienced. The woman here – Master Maya Fey – hardly looked old enough to drink.
Master Fey stepped around Gumshoe, her gaze flitting across the apartment interior. Their eyes met briefly, but before Justine could get a good read on her she directed her attention to Prosecutor Edgeworth. Her eyes widened and she flinched, as though she had touched something that burned, and she bit her lip. Her wooden sandals thumped across the thin carpet as she rushed forward and caught the prosecutor around the waist in a tight hug.
"They're gonna find Nick. We're all gonna find Nick." There was a tremble in her voice, fighting hard not to cry.
The prosecutor had reared back as she grabbed onto him, his hands waving in the air as though he didn't know what to do with them. Awkwardly, he set them on her shoulders, his head lowered so that his bangs obscured his eyes. He let his shoulders slump, the first moment of weakness he had shown since Justine arrived.
If the Master's youthful appearance had puzzled Justine, this display frankly baffled her.
She cleared her throat, moved closer to the pair and extended her hand in introduction. "Master Fey, I'm Agent Chase. I'm sorry this isn't the meeting you were expecting."
The young woman moved back from the prosecutor and nodded at Justine, sniffing loudly. "Yeah. I- I didn't expect something to happen to Nick." She ducked her head, toying with the red charm around her neck. "What can I do to help?"
'Nothing' didn't feel like the most suitable answer.
"We're doing everything we can to find Mister Wright. We'll need to postpone arrangements for Prosecutor Edgeworth's stay in your village." She looked at the prosecutor, whose glare had been replaced with a careful, stoic mask. "Right now I need you to stay close by and secure. This location is no longer safe."
Detective Gumshoe was hovering behind her, and she turned toward him. "We'll take the prosecutor to his office and post guards." Twelve floors of district attorneys and police officials should dissuade another kidnapping attempt. She could sort out the leave of absence excuse later.
"I'll go with him." Master Fey lifted her chin, dark eyes taking on a determined gleam. "I want to help."
She didn't see the point in arguing. If two people were holed up in the office, that just decreased the odds of something happening. "That's fine."
The four of them exited the apartment soon after, leaving the complex to the forensics officers. Detective Gumshoe led the Master to one of the squad cars and began directing a pair of officers to escort her and the prosecutor downtown.
Prosecutor Edgeworth had halted at the foot of the stairs where the attorney's coat had been found. She moved over to him, trying to think of something reassuring to say. The prosecutor had folded his arms again but turned his gaze away, avoiding her eyes.
"Please do everything you can to find Wright."
The commanding tone had shifted into a quiet plea, low enough that only she could hear. She remembered their initial meeting, when she suspected Mister Wright was more than just the prosecutor's attorney. With his head turned to the side she noticed the mark on the prosecutor's neck, close to his shoulder, a fresh red bruise standing out on his pale skin. If she didn't know better, the bruise looked remarkably like…
Well. Perhaps she had been right the first time. She may have to give up on that date after all.
"We'll find him."
She gave the prosecutor a firm nod as he too was directed into the squad car. She and Gumshoe returned to the detective's jalopy and sped toward the police headquarters.
There was a red-headed dealer to interrogate.
A thunderous voice halted Justine and the detective at the station entrance. Gumshoe snapped to attention, his arm rising in a salute as the Chief of Police pushed through the other officers toward them.
To say he looked upset was an understatement.
"What the hell were you thinking?"
Gumshoe managed to keep himself upright while the livid Chief planted himself inches in front of him. "Sir?"
Coordination with the local police departments was always a toss-up with the Bureau. Some precincts were grateful for the help, while others acted put-upon and resentful. The L.A. department had fallen on the more appreciative end of the scale, and was more than happy to let her commandeer Gumshoe as her liaison.
Justine suspected that was about to come to an end.
"You were the one who authorized Prosecutor Edgeworth to stay at that attorney's apartment. Instead of in a more secure location."
"I assigned four pairs of officers to watch the place. It should have been safe."
"Well, it wasn't!" The Chief slammed his hand on a nearby desk, spilling a cup of coffee over paperwork. "The first rule of secure locations is to find a place with no connection to whoever you're hiding!" He let out an exasperated breath. "Do you even read your case files? Or the news? Because letting the prosecutor stay at the home of the only person who ever beat him in court is the opposite of no connection!"
Justine felt like she had just fallen from a great height, her stomach flip-flopping uncomfortably. Her wonderings about the relationship between the attorney and the prosecutor redoubled. Wright had not only faced the prosecutor in court, but was also the only person to win against him? That sent up a red flag so high the counterfeiting ring was sure to notice. She had trusted Gumshoe to vet the attorney; that mistake had just cost her dearly.
"Now we've got a kidnapping and possible murder thanks to your incompetence, and the media sharks can already smell the blood in the water."
Gumshoe's shoulders had slowly drooped down, as though the weight of the error was pulling him down. "Sir, Mister Edgeworth agreed to stay there–"
"And if he agreed to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge, you'd sign off on that too?"
Gumshoe remained silent as the Chief pinched his nose in irritation. "If Damon Gant were still in charge he'd have your head on a silver platter."
The detective threw his shoulders back, a hard look on his face. "Damon Gant is in prison for corruption, Sir."
The Chief met his look with narrowed eyes. "Yeah. And one of the men who put him there might be dead now. And I don't trust you anymore with the other."
A long silence, the two men staring each other down.
"You're relieved of duty, Detective. Until further notice you are suspended without pay." The Chief finally spared a glance at Justine. "Agent Chase, you'll be assigned a new officer to work with."
She swallowed hard, pushing her emotions down. "Where is the dealer we arrested this morning?"
The Chief jerked his head. "Down the hall, room three-oh-seven. We waited to let you have the first crack at him." He turned on his heel, still incensed, and headed for a pack of officers further into the room.
Gumshoe looked over at Justine; his expression was full of guilt. "I- I guess this is it, Sir."
She had seen some miserable men in her lifetime, but Gumshoe's shame at his role in endangering both the prosecutor and the attorney was palpable. She shared some of that responsibility too, and would get her own reprimand, but he had certainly come off worse.
Everything he'd done had been out of loyalty to Prosecutor Edgeworth. She felt a twinge of sympathy, and extended her hand.
"Detective, it's been a pleasure working with you." They shook.
"Look after Mister Edgeworth. And I'll- I'll keep trying to find Mister Wright." Gumshoe turned away, his shabby coat her last view of him as he exited the station.
Taking in a steadying breath, she focused her attention on her upcoming interrogation.
The dealer's lawyer had already arrived by the time she entered the holding room.
"If you have any questions for my client, you can direct them at me–"
No. This day had gone downhill so fast it made her head spin, and Justine wasn't in the mood to play games. She slammed her metal briefcase down on the table between them, slammed her hands as well, and let her expression fall into hard lines that said 'No bullshit accepted.'
"Where is the attorney?"
The dealer leaned back, eyes startled wide, and vaguely gestured to his side. "He's right here."
"Not your own attorney, the one that's gone missing."
"I don't know what you're–"
His lawyer interrupted. "You don't need to answer any questions."
Justine ignored him and kept her gaze firmly on the dealer. "Either you tell me where your ring has taken the attorney and we can work out a lighter deal for you, or you keep quiet and become an accessory to murder. Guess which option has the longer prison sentence?"
The lawyer leaned forward, his eye twitching. "You have no basis to accuse my client–"
She suddenly rounded on the attorney. "He's been caught directly selling counterfeit goods that can be traced back to the ring. That's at least three years. He attempted to evade capture and assaulted a federal officer. Depending on how sympathetic the judge is, that's another two years. And we haven't even touched the fraud, electronic infringement, and association with the counterfeiting ring."
She glared at the dealer again. "Five years in a federal penitentiary is a long time, and you can't bargain your way out of prison hierarchy. You can plead with me, or you can plead with your new bunkmates."
The dealer paled. "Look, I- I really don't know anything about a missing attorney, I promise, I swear to you!" He was sweating, hands shaking in fear.
Time for a different tactic. She unlocked her briefcase and pulled out the picture of Christopher Banks. "Tell me everything you know about this man."
The dealer stared at the picture for a long time, hands still trembling. He met her eyes and she saw it: recognition. He turned to his lawyer. "What should I do?"
The attorney swiveled back in his chair, sensing weakness in his client. "I'd keep my mouth shut."
"But five years…"
"If there's a basis for conviction."
Justine interjected, voice icy. "Need I remind you that you were caught red-handed?"
The dealer licked his lips. "Hypothetically, what would happen if I did know something?"
She leaned forward, eyes narrowed. "Then you should talk. Cooperation leads to reduced sentences."
The lawyer shook his head. "You're indicting yourself."
He hesitated. "Then… let's say, in theory, I knew this person. And…"
She moved her hands in a 'go on' type of motion.
"…And, say I saw him arguing with some other people, a couple weeks ago. People I maybe didn't know, and had no association with. And they – and they told him they were tired of waiting and not to come back to them…"
Justine blinked. It took every ounce of her self-control not to let her surprise show. "Are you saying this man is no longer affiliated with the counterfeiting ring?"
The dealer swallowed audibly. "Hypothetically."
She leaned back, letting the pieces fall into place. Why would Christopher Banks be dismissed from the ring?
Failure to perform his role.
He had failed with their target, with Prosecutor Edgeworth. And if he took that failure personally, if he became fixated – if he refused to cooperate with the ring…
The realization struck her, and she felt as though she had just emerged from the ocean, wet and spluttering. Banks was working on his own now. This was a vendetta. He didn't have to follow the ring's rules anymore.
Wright had become collateral damage.
And Agent Chase didn't know what would happen next.
Trigger Warning: This chapter contains some violence (nothing graphic) and some light elements of non-con (again, nothing graphic or explicit).
Phoenix opened his eyes, but all he saw was darkness.
His head felt groggy, as though he had stirred from one of the deepest sleeps he had ever experienced. He was sore and sluggish, his body not completely woken with him. He tried to move and realized he was standing, his arms stretched over his head and his wrists encased in metal. Handcuffs? He turned his head, searching for something, anything, he could see, but the darkness followed. Something was stuffed into his mouth, damp fabric held in place between his teeth and trapping his tongue. Frightened, he yelled out, a muffled sound made unintelligible by the gag.
The sense that he was trapped was overwhelming, bringing him to full awareness; it was matched only by the instinct to run. He jerked forward and learned he was only barely on his feet: his foot dangled in the air in front of him, unable to reach the floor. His arms, however, had pulled back painfully, with almost all of his weight suddenly transferring to his wrists in their metal constraints. He flailed and wobbled on the chain, trying to right himself. After a few attempts he found his footing again, though now he was shaking – from pain or fear, he couldn't say.
What was going on? Where was he? His pulse pounded and his breaths turned into shallow gasps of air forced into his nose instead of his mouth. Cold terror and dread washed over him, and the sharp edge of panic threatened to drive him mad.
Letting fear take over wouldn't do any good. He had to get himself under control. Though he was in great discomfort, whatever was happening, he could still think clearly. That was a start.
Funny, how much his own thoughts sounded like Mia sometimes.
He waited until his heartbeat returned to something more normal, let his breathing get more steady, and kept the panic at bay. He could figure out this situation one step at a time.
Moving much more slowly, he gingerly shifted his feet and learned how much his movement was restricted: only a half-step in any direction and his arms were pulled back again, keeping him in place. Stretching out his feet, he learned that his ankles were bound in chains, too. He was missing his shoes, standing on what felt like a warm metal floor in his socked feet. He shook his arms back and forth above his head, listening: more rattling chains, though they sounded heavier.
He called out again, louder, willing his voice to not tremble. It was difficult to form words around the gag; Hello? came out more as a long stretch of vowels than a tentative greeting. The word echoed slightly, giving Phoenix the impression that he was in a large room. He strained his ears and held his breath, listening for a response of any kind: someone talking, moving, or even just breathing. Nothing.
Okay. He was chained up in a big room somewhere with a metal floor. He was blindfolded and gagged, his senses and movement limited. He seemed to be alone. All signs pointed to him being brought here, wherever here was, against his will.
How did he get here? He wracked his head, trying to remember. What was the last thing he could recall?
Feeling uneasy, he sorted through his most recent memories and found them… lacking. There was a jumble of images and feelings, but they were hazy and broken, too difficult to grasp. The last solid memory he had was–
Dinner with Edgeworth last night. At least, he hoped it was last night. He concentrated, working through the memory. Pasta and samurai shows, and – and his awkward confession. His cheeks burned anew as he remembered admitting his occasional attraction to men. The look on his friend's face was nothing short of dumbstruck. He would have been greatly amused if he hadn't been so preoccupied with what it might mean.
And after that – Edgeworth had fallen asleep during the last movie, had shifted on the couch, his body going slack and falling slightly to the side. Phoenix remembered the weight of the prosecutor leaning against him, warm and languid. He'd stayed there with his sleeping friend long after the film shut off, enjoying the stolen moment, running his fingers lightly through Edgeworth's grey hair. He'd wondered if Edgeworth might ever see him in a new light or if his hopes were playing up again.
Then morning. And things fell apart in his memory here.
He had flashes of Edgeworth looking upset, and Phoenix felt pangs of guilt. Why? He concentrated, trying to remember more, but it was all so blurry and jumbled. Raised voices, anger… an argument? Had he had some kind of fight with Edgeworth? He could imagine it. With the way his emotions had been running high and too tightly wound lately, yeah, they probably did get in some kind of quarrel. And then what?
What happened afterward?
He felt a sharp lurch in his chest – something important, something he knew he should remember but couldn't. Whatever he'd done that morning, it was gone, and he felt some ambiguous, profound sense of loss.
Where was Edgeworth now? Had Banks found him? Phoenix tried not to think about what could be happening to him, if he were hurt or in pain or even – No. He refused to consider that possibility. He had to believe that Edgeworth was safe.
Why couldn't he remember anything?!
Something must have happened to him to make him forget. That realization brought with it a new surge of both anger and fear. He moved his head around again, trying to discern if any part was sore; perhaps he'd been conked on the head by someone. Memories of Mia tried to barge into his consciousness, her body slowly cooling under the window from her head wound, and he had to fight the urge to dwell on those thoughts; if he let himself get carried away the panic would return. He pushed them aside and brushed his head against his arms, searching for any bumps or wounds. But if he had been physically knocked out, there was no soreness left to remind him.
A second possibility occurred to him – what if he had been drugged? His memory issues could be some sort of side-effect. That opened the door to a whole new slew of worries: What could he have been drugged with? Was it dangerous? What other side-effects were there? An acute sense of violation accompanied those thoughts.
He considered yelling out again, but decided against it. Whoever had brought him here might not appreciate a noisy prisoner. Instead he focused on figuring out who would want to capture and hold him like this. Corrupt police officers, mafia goons, disgruntled friends or relatives of people he'd helped imprison, maybe someone from the counterfeiting ring… To his dismay, the list was longer than he liked.
Blindfolded, gagged, and restrained, Phoenix realized the only option he had was to wait.
It was difficult for Phoenix to know how long he was left alone, both before he woke up and after. He didn't have the best sense of time to begin with, and without any sort of indication he was unable to guess how many hours had passed.
The air around him had grown hot. More than that – it was verging on sweltering. Phoenix could feel the sweat pouring down his face, across his shoulders and down his back, his shirt sticking to his skin. His mouth was dry, the gag sapping the moisture away. He tried to keep as still as possible; any serious exertion, like fumbling around on the chain, led to more sweat. If his captors were turning up the heat just to torment him, well, it was working.
His stomach had taken to rumbling. Had he eaten anything today? Again he couldn't remember, but given the gurgling sounds he was inclined to guess no. And when was the last time he had something to drink? Between the heat, his hunger, and his thirst, he was feeling thoroughly miserable.
Finally… a noise. Metal groaning, pushing against more metal. Footsteps moving slowly. A soft hiss, like a gas stove being lit, and the chains above him shaking slightly. Those footsteps came closer, slow and measured, until they stopped in front of him. Screwing up his courage, Phoenix forced the word out as strongly as he could past his dry lips.
As much as he wanted a response, he also dreaded what he would hear.
He breathed in sharply at the unfamiliar voice. Masculine but soft, somewhat melodic. Entirely too calm.
Something rustled his hair at the back of his head and he realized the blindfold across his eyes was being removed. One layer wound away, then another, then –
Phoenix blinked, the soft light in the room too bright after so much darkness. A man stood in front of him, smirking, though the amusement didn't reach his almost-red looking eyes. Dark hair framed his face, long strands that stood out against pale skin. He wore a dark suit as well, and in the dim light he resembled some sort of eerie, elegant ghoul.
This was the man from the photograph, the one kept by Agent Chase, brought to vivid life. The man that had harassed Edgeworth, threatened him, the one that – kidnapped people and… the dead prosecutors and policeman…
Phoenix's eyes widened and he instinctively leaned back, as far as his fastenings allowed. The man – Christopher Banks – let out an unsettling low laugh, entirely devoid of mirth.
"Afraid already, Mister Wright?
Banks cupped his hand against Phoenix's cheek. Phoenix winced, the gesture too intimate as to be mocking. He wished he could properly speak, so that he could yell and curse and scream at the man who'd hurt his friend and captured him. For that matter he wished his hands weren't chained above his head. He considered lifting both feet off the ground, enduring the pain in his wrists, to kick Banks as hard as he could; and though the thought was appealing, something about the hard look in those eyes told him that the retaliation would be brutal.
His stomach churned, suddenly horrified: if Christopher Banks had taken Phoenix, then what had happened to Edgeworth? Why had Banks taken him, if Edgeworth was his original target? Phoenix had no special connections to the police or to any other prosecutors. Kidnapping him would attract attention, certainly, but not enough to throw the law enforcement division into a desperate scramble to find him at all costs. What was he doing here?
Phoenix had the sick, startling sense that his being here had something to do with hurting Miles.
What do you want?
He tried to ask around the gag, tilting his head away from Banks's fingers. It came out as gibberish, and Banks gave him a one-sided smile.
Phoenix glared, putting all the venom he could muster into his eyes. He wished he had Edgeworth's glower, that he could shrivel a man just with a look. But Banks, unfazed, let out a condescending chuckle.
"All right, if you want to speak so much, then let's play a little game."
Banks circled around behind him. He let the hand on his cheek drop down to his chest and over to his left side as he moved, his other hand coming up to Phoenix's right side, fingers splaying across his ribs. Phoenix felt Christopher move close to his back, not enough to touch, but enough that he could sense the heat from his body through his thin dress shirt. A threatening imitation of an embrace.
"I'm going to remove the gag."
The words were spoken next to his ear, breath too hot and close.
"We're going to have a conversation. You ask me a question, I'll answer. But in return you'll answer one of my own. Refuse and I will hurt you. Make any loud noises, I will hurt you. Any attempt to injure me, and I will hurt you deeply. One question, one answer."
Such a low, quiet tone, holding the promise of pain if Banks was not satisfied. Phoenix attempted to repress the shiver that tried to move down his spine. He didn't quite succeed.
"And since you are a lawyer, there's one more thing: I only want the truth."
He recalled Edgeworth's creed to uncover the whole truth no matter how painful. How the noble ideal could be so easily twisted when wielded by someone with a warped perspective.
"Are the terms clear?"
He nodded, and a moment later felt fingers at the back of his head once more, untying the gag. The cloth slipped across his face, pulled back behind his cheek, and Phoenix was relieved to finally close his mouth, move his tongue around, re-wet his lips.
Banks stepped back around him, keeping a bit of distance and looking him in the eye once more. He raised an eyebrow, expectant.
After a few hoarse coughs, Phoenix finally asked the first question: "Where am I?"
Banks shook his head. "So mundane, Mister Wright. Look around."
He could see that he was in a long narrow room with metal walls, like the inside of an old boxcar or transport container. Parts of it looked corroded, as if it had last seen use some years ago. He must be in a shipping yard, or since the container was old and somewhat rusted, perhaps a junk yard. Glancing up, he followed the chain links above him, across the ceiling and to half a dozen heavy metal weights, the anchor to the line holding him up. Unless a link snapped, there was no way for him to untangle the chain knotted around them.
His gaze snapped back to Banks, who looked at him placidly. The man tilted his head, considering. "Why are you here?"
Phoenix blinked, confused; that was the question next on his lips. "I thought you were going to tell me."
Banks stepped forward, hand raised once again to Phoenix's head. He ran his fingers through a section of damp disheveled spikes, just once, his fingers tangling loosely at the ends. "That's not an answer." He pulled slightly, a warning.
Phoenix felt his pulse pick up again, his nerves on edge. Was he supposed to guess the right response? Or was this some sort of test? Depending on his answer, he might give away something about how much he or others knew about Christopher Banks or the counterfeiting ring. What if he let slip some important detail? Did the man realize the FBI was already investigating?
The best way to respond was to hedge his bets. Be truthful, but uninformative. Give nothing away: a poker face. "I'm here because you brought me here, I think. Because I'm worth something to you in some way."
Banks smiled. "You're not worth anything to me, Mister Wright. Nothing at all."
The fingers tightened and Phoenix's head snapped back, his scalp burning where his hair was wrenched. He gasped, the pain not unexpected but still sharp. "Then why are you keeping me here if I'm not worth anything to you?" He bit the question out through clenched teeth, grimacing.
"Because you are worth something to someone else." The answer was hissed at him, Banks pulling viciously one more time before his hand released him.
The sense that his capture had something to do with hurting Edgeworth returned, magnified. Phoenix moved his jaw, trying to relieve the stinging at the back of his head, and he considered that answer. Yes, he could serve as a hostage for the ring. And again his head filled with a list, this time of people who cared about him and could pay a ransom for him. But the way Banks spoke made Phoenix think this was something personal – and that meant the only person they had in common.
Banks's turn. "What are you worth to Miles Edgeworth, Mister Wright?" The question was asked softly, but that couldn't disguise the malice suffusing Banks's voice.
His stomach did another painful flip at the prosecutor's name. Unbidden, his mind supplied an image of Edgeworth across the courtroom from him, mocking him for his errors; looking flustered in his office surrounded by papers; hiding away in shame in the Hazakura courtyard; eyes closed, enjoying a fresh cup of tea; smiling softly at Maya and Pearl; smiling at him; staring at him from the doorway of the shower; him thinking, working, sleeping, calling him Phoenix.
What was he worth to Edgeworth? He wanted to be worth everything.
"Edgeworth has money, if that's what you're after."
Banks grinned, the white tips of his teeth showing. It reminded Phoenix of a predator, a panther or some other sharp-toothed hunter relishing its prey. Phoenix felt a flash of white-hot fear – not for himself, but for Edgeworth, and his next question slipped past his lips. "What have you done with him?"
"Such concern. It's almost touching, really."
Banks's smile slowly slipped off his face, replaced with a mixture of suspicion, anger, and something like incredulity. "I've done nothing. But you seem so worried."
Too late, Phoenix realized he had made a mistake; his concern was his undoing. If Banks was obsessed with Edgeworth, as he seemed to be, then he probably wouldn't like anyone else with eyes on the prosecutor. Did Banks see him as competition? The thought would seem absurd, if he wasn't currently hanging from a chain in fear for his own life and the life of the prosecutor.
"It makes me wonder – what is Miles Edgeworth to you?"
There was no good way to answer. Phoenix glared at Banks, weighing his options. "A colleague and a friend."
Banks met his stare for a long time, eyes narrowed, calculating. Finally he circled around Phoenix and picked something up – a lantern – and began moving toward the door to the container. Darkness edged around Phoenix as the dim light moved away.
Phoenix's pulse ramped up, that fear running hot through his veins again. "W-What are you going to do with me?"
Banks halted, setting the lantern down at the entrance. "Absolutely nothing." He tugged at the chain and after a moment it loosened, just enough to allow Phoenix to collapse onto the floor.
His knees hit the hard metal, pain arcing up through the bone. Phoenix hadn't realized how stiff his arm and shoulders had become, and as his arms fell in front of him more pain shot through his nerves. He couldn't stifle his howl of agony, the scream echoing off the walls. As the echo faded the light was suddenly extinguished, and the last thing he could see was the silhouette of Banks against the dim evening light closing the door to the container.
Phoenix yelled and screamed until his voice went hoarse, his throat too dry, and thrashed around making as much noise as he could until he finally lost consciousness.
No one came for him.
When Phoenix next woke, lying on the increasingly warm floor, his knees curled up into his chest, it was due to the most basic human need: he needed to relieve himself.
A number of obstacles stood in the way. Obviously there was no restroom, not even a bucket or some other crude waste receptacle. Even if there were, he was stuck in the middle of the container. Rising to his feet, the extra slack on the chain only allowed him a few footsteps of movement, not even enough to reach the walls.
The most disturbing thought, one which gave him pause, was his immense thirst. He'd had nothing to drink for at least a day, no moisture even from food. He'd heard of situations in which people were trapped, like in cave-ins, where they had to do unsavory things to survive. After giving it more consideration than he'd ever admit to, he realized that short of licking it off the floor, there was no way he could drink anything. Besides – wasn't re-imbibing your own waste supposed to be worse for you than a lack of water?
Seeing no other option, he moved as far to the back of the container as the chains allowed to relieve himself. Great. He was starving, parched, and boiling, and his body was still aching from being held up so long, and now there was a terrible smell to add to the list of things tormenting Phoenix.
Maybe this was part of Banks's plan, to make him go crazy with hunger and thirst, or to pass out from the heat. How long could a person could go without food or water? He vaguely recalled something about only lasting a few days without water. And by sweating so much he was rapidly losing what hydration he still had.
He knew he should try to keep stationary, to not exert himself so as to limit the sweat. Still, he felt compelled to try escaping, especially since there was enough light for him to see what he was doing. With his arms in front of him he fiddled with the handcuffs. No matter how he twisted his hands, though, he couldn't unlock them. He tried pulling his arms apart to snap the links in the middle, to no avail. There was no way to remove the cuffs from the metal hook connected to the pulley. Desperate, he tried pulling his hands through the cuffs' openings. His wrists were already bruised, scratched, and irritated; by the time he stopped trying he had started bleeding, his skin scraped raw.
Huffing in frustration, he gave up and turned to his feet. Again, he was unable to either remove or break the chains or slip his feet through the metal. Now his ankles ached as well.
Finally, he tried lifting himself with the pulley chain, like climbing the rope in gym class, to tug on it and try to break the links. The chain proved too resilient; all he earned for his effort was more soreness, more irritation at his wrists, and more wasted sweat.
Exhausted, he collapsed on the floor again. But even the flooring conspired against him – it was unbearably hot, too scalding now to lie against. He had already endured one day of baking in this box. The heat was stifling, making his clothing cling to him in a way that felt oppressive and sticky.
Well. Between staving off heatstroke and the loss of his dignity, survival came first. He undid his slacks and shoved them down until they caught around the ankle chains. Using his feet as leverage, he was able to pull at the seams until the fabric tore in half. For the first time in his life he was grateful that his clothing was cheap and inexpensive – easier to rip apart. The dress shirt followed, leaving him in his boxers and undershirt. The latter followed a moment later, and Phoenix breathed a sigh of relief as his torso was finally freed. He maneuvered the ruined clothing into a clumsy pile he could rest on, off of the metal floor.
God, he was thirsty.
He had to keep his mind occupied. He'd had some practice meditating, sitting with Maya under freezing waterfalls – Don't think about water! – while she recited some obscure chant hundreds of times. Crossing his legs as best as he could, he tried to clear his head.
That proved rather difficult. Apparently fearing for your life, and the life of a friend, and being tired and hungry and miserable was not conducive to a calming, meditative state.
Instead, other thoughts crowded in. He thought of Maya, her head hung low and lip trembling as she worried over him. He wished he could cheer her up, that teenaged vision of her in his head, and vowed to pay her a visit in Kurain when the police found him. He pictured Pearl, too, with her adoring eyes and happy giggles; he had to survive this, because he couldn't bear to be yet another person who left her behind. He even thought of Agent Chase, strong and determined, and wondered if his kidnapping screwed up her investigation.
Most of his thoughts, though, centered around Edgeworth. He hoped he was safe, and selfishly, a part of him wished that Edgeworth was searching for him. He had been chasing after Miles his whole life, after all; for once the prosecutor could run after him.
My whole life.
Well, enough of it to count. Miles was the first person to inspire certain feelings in him, something more than just friendship. As a teenager he never stopped picturing what his friend might have looked like, his round face grown into sharp lines, his body turned into broad planes and angles, his eyes older and just as clever. Did it all start with Edgeworth, his attraction to men as well as women?
Maybe once this was over with, once he was safe and Banks was imprisoned, he could find the courage to admit his feelings to Edgeworth. Though the prosecutor was clearly out of his league, perhaps Edgeworth would be flattered enough to not immediately end their friendship. Or – and his stomach churned from something other than hunger – he feared Edgeworth would turn him away completely.
Edgeworth had always been a significant part of his life. With a start Phoenix realized that, until Banks arrived, he was the closest thing Edgeworth had had to a stalker. He'd written him countless letters, even changed his entire career just for the opportunity to see him again. But he'd never expected anything in return. That is, he wanted many things, but he never felt entitled to them. At least he never broke into Edgeworth's accounts or texted him obscene messages or kidnapped his friends to get his attention.
Why had Banks become so obsessed with Edgeworth? Phoenix remembered the look on Banks's face, the tinge of jealousy. Was that born of true romantic feelings? Some possessive part of Phoenix balked at the thought. The man hardly knew anything about Edgeworth. Didn't understand what he had been through or how he had changed, or know how to help him break down those emotional walls. Couldn't appreciate his search for truth or his fanboy devotions. Hadn't waited patiently, hadn't seen all his faults and strengths and moments of weakness and triumphs. Had never looked at him and known that he was special, a trusted confidant, a partner.
No. Banks couldn't truly love him. Not like–
Phoenix reeled, the hunger and thirst and heat and long-burning realization making his world spin.
Not like I do.
The metal door scraped open again. Phoenix had found himself drifting in and out of consciousness, his world reduced to a haze of heat, hunger, and ever-present thirst. He was awake now, and saw Banks's shadow creep inside. The lantern was lit again and Phoenix watched as Banks pulled on the chain, hauling him to his toes. His body protested the movement, his arms aching as they were lifted back up, and he couldn't stifle a low groan of pain.
Once he was secured in place, Banks approached, a ragged smirk on his face as he looked at the near-naked man.
"Getting comfortable, Mister Wright?"
He sounded amused, like a young boy admiring a clever whirl in an anthill before kicking the mound over.
Phoenix didn't have the energy to glare anymore. "Water," he choked out, his voice dry and cracked. "Please. Give me some water."
Banks laughed. "I already told you: I'm not going to do anything with you. That includes feeding and watering." There was something sadistic in that docile smile, a gleam in his eye that betrayed the sick pleasure he took from controlling others or from making them suffer.
Phoenix's stomach contracted painfully, as if it had heard Banks and was gurgling in despair. He let his head dip low, refusing to allow Banks the pleasure of seeing just how miserable those words made him.
"I thought you would make an excellent guest for me," Banks continued, as though it were perfectly normal to refuse a suffering man any sort of relief. "The only person to defeat the renowned Miles Edgeworth – I thought people would be concerned about you!"
Banks leaned forward, hand whipping around to snap Phoenix's head back up. "But do you know what has happened instead?" Those maroon eyes were wide, rapidly scanning Phoenix's own. "No one is looking for you. Just a couple of unimportant, low-ranking officers. Imagine my disappointment!"
Phoenix blinked, confused. That couldn't be the truth. Edgeworth was looking for him, right? And the FBI was here, with Agent Chase… and Gumshoe, even… His head felt fuzzy, his thoughts slowed from exhaustion.
"I thought Miles would attempt to find you, at least."
"Don't- Don't call him that."
The words tumbled out before he could stop them, his inhibition withered. It shouldn't matter, it shouldn't, but it felt wrong to hear someone like Banks employ Edgeworth's first name. As though he knew Edgeworth. In response he earned a vicious backhand across his mouth. His teeth nicked the corner of his lip and he could feel a trickle of blood slip down his chin.
"Don't ever speak to me like that."
Banks's voice turned hard, cold as steel, his expression morphed into seething fury. As quickly as the outburst of violence occurred, the man schooled himself back into his pristine, calm demeanor.
"Why do you care how I refer to Miles?"
Phoenix caught the emphasis on Edgeworth's name, goading him into saying something stupid again. Swallowing hard – which hurt, since his throat was so dry – Phoenix kept his mouth shut, refusing to answer.
Another poor decision: Banks's hand leapt to his throat, gripping, choking. "I asked you a question." The fingers squeezed tight, and Phoenix felt his eyes water, his breath completely caught. Finally, when he felt on the verge of blacking out, Banks let go, and Phoenix spent the next moments coughing, a horrid wheezing sound of air scraping over dry tissue.
"I'm sorry," he managed after a while. "I don't care."
Banks had watched his coughing fit impassively, studying him with a detached air. His eyes flicked over Phoenix, lingering on all the exposed skin. Phoenix knew he should feel repulsed, or at least embarrassed, but he was preoccupied with trying to breathe again, with keeping his head from spinning.
"I've been thinking about our conversation," Banks said, voice soft. "It occurred to me that you might be thinking of Miles in a way that you shouldn't." He trailed a long finger under Phoenix's chin, smearing the blood, and forced him to look up again. "What makes you think he'd ever notice you?"
Phoenix's voice came out in halting rasps. "I don't know – don't know what you're talking about."
Wrong again. Banks reared back and threw a clenched fist into his side, hitting him hard around his kidney. The pain shot through, radiating to his stomach and his chest, and Phoenix instinctively tried to double over. The strain on his wrists was unbearable, the metal biting into exposed flesh. He let out an agonized groan, eyes screwed shut against his throbbing nerves.
"What could you offer him? What good are you?" The questions came in quick succession as Banks let his mask slip, a sort of righteous anger making his eyes blaze and his lips sneer.
When Phoenix couldn't answer, still staggered and trying to catch his breath, Banks let out an impatient growl. He began raining blows on him, lighter and less painful but faster, furious, on his stomach and chest and arms. The sound of flesh hitting flesh echoed sickeningly against the metal walls, each strike a dull thud that left a throbbing ache. Phoenix shook on the chain with each hit, hiding his face against the inside of his arms and gasping for air.
Finally, Banks relented. He stepped back from Phoenix, breathing hard, his hair disheveled and his face beading with sweat. How different he seemed now in his pristine suit, like it was a costume over a hideous core.
"You are nothing," he snarled, content to answer for Phoenix. "A poor, stupid attorney. No money, no prestige, no power. No good looks. No connections." He counted off Phoenix's failings, voice growing more satisfied with each one as Phoenix wheezed and tried not to pass out.
Banks backed away a few steps and removed a cheap flip phone from his trouser pocket. Phoenix watched him fiddle with it as he panted and took stock of his injuries. He'd have some bruises, but fortunately Banks had been more concerned with hitting as fast as he could instead of inflicting damage. He hurt, yes, but he'd fallen off a burning bridge and survived, hadn't he? As strange as it was to admit, he almost preferred the physical abuse to Banks's crazed questioning.
After a moment Banks jammed the phone against Phoenix's face. "Say goodbye to the prosecutor," he ordered.
Phoenix's eyes flew wide and he stupidly drew in a huge gulp of air, irritating his throat further. "Edgeworth," he spluttered, voice dry and cracking and injured, "Edgeworth I'm–"
Abruptly Banks yanked the phone away and hurled it against the container wall next to Phoenix's head. Little bits of plastic and circuitry scattered and the shattered phone skid across the floor. Phoenix flinched, any still-forming plans about getting the phone and using it to call for help splintering along with it.
With a smug look, Banks turned on his heel, kicked the phone husk further away, and made for the container entrance. Despite Phoenix's panicked protests, he loosened the chain and dropped Phoenix on his knees again like a deadweight. The pain shot through him, the light disappeared, and the door grated closed once more.
Phoenix woke up, his face smushed into the remains of his dress shirt. He pushed himself up into a sitting position, feet stretched out in front of him. He felt – terrible. His body protested every movement, bruises rising and purpling, his throat still sore from Banks's chokehold. Oddly, his heart was pounding, racing as though he was running.
The thirst remained. His tongue clung thick to the roof of his mouth, his saliva sucked away. He'd do anything for just a drop of water. His hunger, though, had reached a point where he almost didn't feel it anymore, his stomach's empty churning a constant that he could ignore. The heat, too, felt somehow less, like he had turned numb to it. He wasn't sweating anymore, and some distant part of him recognized that as a bad sign. But his head was so… fuzzy, the thoughts tangling up like cotton candy.
How much time had passed? There was no way to tell. It felt like days, like years.
There was a noise behind him, a shuffling sort of sound. He whipped his head around, the world spinning nauseously, but he saw nothing. Another sound, farther away, on the other side of the container. Again he turned to look, but could see nothing. Feeling deeply unsettled, he tried to drift off into sleep again. Except the feeling of raindrops hitting his face prevented him from drifting off. He raised his hands to wipe the water away and realized nothing was there. How could rain get inside a closed room anyway?
Fantastic. He was hallucinating. At least he recognized it, which was enough to allow him to ignore his senses telling him things that couldn't possibly be real, and try to let his consciousness slip into the comfort of sleep.
Distantly, he heard someone calling his name. It was a familiar voice, low and feminine, but filled with a deep, aching sadness: Maya. Every protective instinct in him flared and he tried to answer, tried to tell her to run away, keep herself safe. He wondered if this was yet another hallucination, or if she was psychically trying to speak with him.
Or – and he felt a hysterical laughter threaten to bubble up and overwhelm him – perhaps she was trying to channel him. Which meant he was dead, he had succumbed to the heat and thirst and was stuck here, a spirit unable to pass on. It was too much to consider; he told Maya's voice that he was sorry, so sorry, but he had to sleep.
He opened his eyes again and found Christopher Banks staring at him.
Phoenix was on his feet again, hands hauled above him, and his knees were so weak they could barely hold him up. He hadn't heard Banks enter this time.
Banks studied him, contemplative, and he stood on his toes and reached up toward Phoenix's hands. He felt the handcuffs tightening on his wrists, the metal resting snug against his raw skin once more. Banks made satisfied noise. "Can't have you slipping out of these."
He must have closed his eyes again. The sensation of a hand cupping his cheek jolted him back to consciousness.
"Rise and shine." Banks's voice was soothing, comforting. "Can you stay awake for me?"
How much time had passed? Was this the same visit? He knew he had to answer, so he let his head wobble slightly back-and-forth, hoping it was enough of a response. Banks smiled, and Phoenix still had enough of his wits to realize he should be afraid. That hand slid down, wiping away the remaining flecks of dried blood on his chin.
"Look at me."
Phoenix, vision somewhat blurry, focused on the man in front of him.
"That's better." Banks stepped closer, moved his head next to Phoenix, and lowered his voice conspiratorially. "Have you ever thought about it?"
"Wha-?" The word was a dry croak, barely a word more than a noise.
Fingers slid gently down his sides, along his flanks. "Wondered what he would be like. Miles." Phoenix shivered; those fingers were moving slowly, sensually, and alarm bells started blaring through the fog in his mind.
Banks turned his head and let his breath whisper across Phoenix's ear. "Lying in your bed, every inch of him exposed for you to see. Like a perfect statue."
No. That was the very last thing Phoenix wanted to think about right now, even as his mind supplied images from every guilty fantasy with Banks's words. The fingers reached his boxers, teasing back-and-forth against the waistband.
"What he sounds like, all the little noises he makes. The expressions of pleasure on his face. What he feels like, deep inside."
Oh god. Banks's hands had slipped lower, skillfully stroking him through the thin fabric. It was – Phoenix couldn't help the physical reaction, but he jerked back, consumed with the sense that this was wrong, so wrong, and deeply unwanted.
Stop! He wanted to scream it, but all he could manage was a gasping noise, almost like a cry of pain.
He could feel Banks smile against his cheek. "To feel him moving against you, strong and relentless. Touching you, making you writhe with desire."
Those hands grasped him more firmly, matching his words. Phoenix twisted around, trying to get away. Banks let him move, chuckling lightly, and instead ran his hands up along Phoenix's chest.
"I had him first," Banks murmured, voice turning possessive. "You think he would ever do this to you?"
Phoenix tried to breathe deeply, summoning every last ounce of strength and willpower he had left to glare at Banks with all the disgust and vitriol he could muster, and to form the words clearly:
"Just shut up."
Once more Banks laughed, airy and amused. He pulled Phoenix's head around and crushed their lips together. Phoenix sputtered, wincing as Banks shoved his tongue inside; his mouth was plundered quickly, thoroughly. He wished he had enough saliva to spit.
Banks leaned back, eyes narrowed with hate.
"Do you really believe you could satisfy him? That you could have him, like I did?"
Phoenix was going to pass out soon anyway – he could feel the blackout creeping in – and it made him brave and foolish. "He was never yours."
His lip split open again from the punch, but the pain was distant, fading. The last thing he recalled was the door slamming shut, and then blissful darkness took over.
The only thing Phoenix had left to sustain him now was hope.
Author's Notes: The Ace Attorney Big Bang has come to an end - I encourage you to check out the stories written for 2014! Much love again to my beta, fulldaysdrive, and my cheerleader/fanartist, surreyality.
Edgeworth stared at his reflection in the mirror, his cheeks smarting from the cold water he splashed onto them. His face was wan, his mouth a tense thin line, his brows drawn low over his eyes. The reflection gazed back impassively, disguising the turmoil Edgeworth felt roiling beneath the surface.
How could he have been so stupid?
Maybe it's that lawyer. Got a savior complex?
Banks had suspected, hadn't he? The text had been buried in a mound of other messages and threats, forgotten amidst the phone calls and pictures and compromised accounts. Just a single line, but... Edgeworth cursed at himself; if he had been thinking logically, he never would have stayed with or endangered Wright.
Never would have learned Wright's taste. Never have kissed Phoenix.
He groaned as his forehead met the mirror, his mind warring between distraction and reason. His skin warmed at the memory of Phoenix against him, mouth open and eager, eyes shining. He could still hear his voice, thrilled and wanting, still feel his lips at his neck.
Edgeworth leaned back and craned his head to the side, fingers tracing the red mark near his shoulder. Chagrined, he recalled Maya in his office, her voice carefully nonchalant as she recommended a Kurain herb to help heal it. He hadn't realized Wright left such a mark, and if he weren't so distressed about the man's safety he would have been utterly mortified.
Maya, thankfully, had left the topic alone.
With a heavy sigh, he adjusted his collar to hide the mark and exited the twelfth floor restroom. He avoided eye-contact with the police officer acting as his lavatory escort on the short walk back to his office-cum-holding cell; though necessary, such accompaniment made him feel more like a toddler than a grown man.
The whole floor was covered in officers, one posted at every corner and at the elevator and stairwell entrances. Any attempts to abduct Edgeworth would be met with great resistance – though the police presence also rendered the prosecutor unable to assist in the recovery efforts. Agent Chase had put him under lock and key in his office, as the arrangement with Wright had backfired so spectacularly.
The security guard rejoined his partner posted outside Edgeworth's door. As the prosecutor slipped back inside the two of them tried to peer behind him, their eyes lit up, to get a better look at the young woman in purple robes resting on his sofa. The light from the setting sun slanting through the window gave her a mysterious, almost ethereal appearance. The guards' tongues were practically wagging as they leered at her.
His sour mood firmly entrenched, Edgeworth took some small pleasure in slamming the door in their faces.
He avoided Maya's startled look as he returned to his desk. By this point she had ceased her attempts to engage him in conversation or to distract him. Perhaps she sensed that the only way he could maintain his stoicism, keep his emotions under control, was to try to find Wright as quickly as possible, even with his limited means. While she meditated on the sofa, tossing him the occasional worried glance, Edgeworth did the only thing he could: he threw himself into the paperwork on Banks.
His secretary had procured a copy of the police report he had filed with Gumshoe, which took up the majority of his desk space along with his own personal notes. He had combed through every scrap, memorized every detail – and despaired at the lack of pieces to figure out Banks's plan. There had to be something, some clue that would point him toward where Christopher had taken Phoenix.
The day's only interruption came from Agent Chase, stopping by to inform them on the case's progress. She gave him a profile of Banks; the words 'narcissism' and 'psychopathy' jumped out. He already knew he would spend the night obsessing over the report to find some connection between Banks's personality, motives, and actions.
At Maya's questioning, Agent Chase had disclosed their timeframe: "The strongest chance to recover a kidnapping victim is within the first seventy-two hours of their abduction. That's the window we're aiming for."
Three days. Three days to recover Phoenix, before…
Agent Chase also returned Wright's blue jacket. Forensics had found traces of gravel on it. While the samples were being analyzed, the jacket should have been retained in evidence storage. Its return was a gesture of kindness, Edgeworth realized, as well as a promise from Agent Chase: that Wright would be found, and that he would wear it again. As he stared at the coat, a torrent of emotion washed over Edgeworth like tributaries crashing into an ocean: fear, hope, and something brighter and deeper, something much more than longing, that made his chest ache and his pulse race and his breath come up short.
Maya slept on his office sofa that night, with Wright's coat wrapped around her.
In the small hours of the morning Edgeworth leaned over Maya's sleeping form and unpinned Wright's badge from the buttonhole in the lapel, and slipped it into his pocket next to his own prosecutor's pin.
He awoke at his desk, where he had passed out from exhaustion, to the crack of a whip hitting and scattering the papers near his cheek.
Instantly, irrevocably alert, he glanced up and found his sister scowling at him, a perfect picture of poise and smug satisfaction.
"Only a foolish fool would sleep foolishly at his desk when there is a criminal to be caught."
Edgeworth rubbed at his temples, stifling a sigh. Her repetition of 'fool' in all its variations was a sure-fire sign that she was riled up. He half-suspected the guards outside his door had been whipped unconscious from her enthusiasm.
"Why aren't you in Germany?"
She settled the whip at her hip. "If you must know, I wished to see Miss Adrian Andrews. And between the idiocy of this country's bureaucracy and your own foolish actions, I thought it prudent to assist you as well."
Franziska gestured toward Maya, who watched them from the sofa. The channeler had an expression on her face somewhere between amusement and fear.
His sister smirked. "Master Maya Fey has informed me of the pertinent details while you foolishly slumbered away. But you can cease your worry. Since Scruffy has been relieved of his position, I will aid the federal agent in his place."
The news of Gumshoe's suspension was startling, but not wholly surprising. As she explained, Edgeworth felt a stab of guilt: Gumshoe had taken the fall for his poor decision. He'd need to fix that.
Still: "You are not a police officer, Franziska."
"That does not matter!" She drummed her fingers against the whip handle, as though she longed to snap the end at him. To her credit, she refrained. "I will see to it myself that Phoenix Wright is rescued. He has yet to taste defeat from me, and he will not disappear before acknowledging his loss at my hands."
Of course – the prospect of losing her chance to lord it over Wright was enough to drag her away from courtrooms and Interpol. She was still a wild mare, chasing after her whims.
"Try to be effective while you are locked in here, little brother."
There was a lilt in her tone, mocking him for being forced away. Even in the midst of tragedy, sibling rivalry remained strong.
At the door she turned to face Maya, almost hesitant, before she spoke. "Tell the little one… If she wants to learn how to wield a whip, I will be pleased to instruct her."
Edgeworth and Maya exchanged a baffled look once she left. Maya opened her mouth, closed it, and finally grimaced. "If Pearly ever gets ahold of a whip, Nick will kill me."
Perhaps it was the image of Wright's terrified reaction, or the horrified look on Maya's face, or the absurd thought of a little girl wielding a whip three times as long as she was tall; perhaps it was lingering nervousness or an unexpected moment of levity; perhaps it was for all of these reasons that Edgeworth found himself laughing. After a moment Maya joined in, a cathartic release of all the worry and heart-wrenching fear they shared over Phoenix.
With renewed vigor, he stretched, pulled over another file, and began to work again.
Another day, another set of dead ends and restless waiting. Maya lingered at his shoulder, offering bits of advice now and then. She occupied herself with the books and memorabilia around his office, occasionally drawing him into silly, meaningless conversation; it was distracting, but it kept them from dwelling on thoughts of Phoenix in pain.
Much to his surprise, Maya's presence was a comfort.
Franziska brought him his personal effects in the evening as well as a bag for Maya, courtesy of Miss Andrews. However, Edgeworth felt little relief from finally washing up and putting on his familiar suit. The mark at his neck was fading. He ran his thumb over the ridges of Wright's badge as he stared into the bathroom mirror, unable to quell the thought that Phoenix's chances of survival were dimming along with it.
On the third day of Wright's kidnapping, Edgeworth's cloned cell phone rang.
He automatically checked the caller identification – Unknown Number – and felt his pulse spike in anticipation. He threw a wild look at Maya and pressed the button to answer.
Before he managed to speak he heard Christopher Banks's voice. The words were distant, directed away from the receiver. "Say goodbye to the prosecutor."
Edgeworth's breath froze, his heartbeat stopped entirely, as he realized who Banks was talking to. A familiar hoarse voice, weak, cracking and struggling to be heard: "Edgeworth – Edgeworth I'm–"
The line abruptly went dead.
The world spun, the moment stretched into an eternity of fear and unabated fury.
But there was no answer.
His fist clenched around the phone, tight enough to almost crack the plastic case. The temptation to throw it against the wall and scream was strong. He collapsed at his desk, his head held in his hands. He'd seen Wright make the same pose, on the brink of despair, but there was no miracle to save them now.
Was that another taunt? Or had Banks just… Was Phoenix…
After some time, a touch at his upper arm brought him out of his white-faced misery. Unclenching his jaw, Edgeworth looked at Maya Fey holding on to him. Her expression was a study in fearful realization: sorrow and anger, her lower lip trembling as though she wanted to sob, her eyes bright with tears. He was vividly reminded of the first and only time he encountered her sister in court; the same look was on Mia Fey's face as she realized her client had swallowed poison on the stand.
"That was Nick, wasn't it?"
He nodded; his voice was too shaky to properly speak.
Later in the day Agent Chase burst inside his office along with Franziska and a pack of policemen, though as soon as she saw his stricken face she ordered the officers out. With Maya at his side, Edgeworth composed himself and faced the unavoidable questions. The four of them reviewed every conceivable aspect of the phone call. By the time they had finished, a cold, sick feeling had settled into Edgeworth's stomach. Wright was hurt. Wright was suffering. Phoenix might now be dead, because of him.
Maya offered to switch places with him that evening, to let him rest on the sofa while she took his office chair. She patted the cushion on the sofa next to her, and waited for him to settle onto it before facing him.
"I know it's difficult to feel helpless. But we have to be strong for Nick."
Edgeworth could feel a biting remark on the tip of his tongue, but he held it in check. He remembered Maya standing beside Phoenix in court, cheering for him, helping him however she could without any legal knowledge. He thought of the village she had to lead despite her youth and inexperience; of her smiling at her cousin even though her own mother had died; her acting in contempt of court during his trial in a desperate move to prolong it. How she had endured during her own kidnapping. Perhaps more than any other person he knew, Maya Fey understood the feeling of helplessness and how to persevere through it.
Maya unclasped the red talisman from around her neck, and with a quick twist it opened.
"My mother kept a picture of Sis and me in here, so that we'd always be with her."
She withdrew and unfolded a piece of paper from the talisman and passed it over. He recognized one of Larry's drawings, commissioned and signed.
"This is everyone I keep with me – everyone I care about."
His felt his heart lurch at the echo of Phoenix's words – "Because I care about you, Miles!" Ignoring the pain, he studied the picture.
It was a collection of images, portraits of people he recognized. Wright was in the center, looking content. On one side of him Maya's cousin Pearl beamed up at the viewer; then her sister Mia, smiling proudly; Diego Armando, white-haired and masked, his arm wrapped around Mia; and an older woman in dark robes, Maya's mother. To the other side of Wright he saw Gumshoe with a goofy grin; Miss Byrde hovering next to the detective; and Franziska drawn at the end. Larry had lavished detail on his sister's figure. He wondered if Maya had requested Franziska's inclusion, or if Larry had let his idiotic desires guide his brush.
Most curious, Edgeworth saw an image of himself standing next to Phoenix. As much as he hated to admit it, it was a good likeness of them both. It made his chest tighten, his stomach churn painfully as he stared at the two of them on the paper, close enough to touch. Once more the memory of Phoenix in his arms threatened to derail his thoughts completely.
He lifted his eyes and found Maya studying him.
"I know you don't put much stock in the occult, but there are some things you don't have to be psychic to know. Nick – he's crazy about you. Ever since I've known him."
She pulled the drawing out of his hands and folded it back into the talisman. "So you can't give up on him. We have to be strong. Especially since he means even more to you now."
He opened his mouth, instinct pushing him to refute her words, but she cut him off with a cheeky grin. "You can't deny it, not when there's proof."
She pointed at the fading mark on his neck. "And you bet I'm going to squeeze all the juicy details about that out of Nick. That's what I'm going to do when we find him. I'm gonna make him get all fidgety and red-faced and buy me ten thousand hamburgers just to get me to leave him alone about it."
Edgeworth felt a hot blush threaten to embarrass him further, though he said nothing in his own defense. Maya just shifted closer and curled an arm around his waist, and leaned her head on his shoulder. After quite a bit of hesitation he relented and rested his head on top of hers, silently acknowledging her words and the sentiment. Was this how she always acted with Wright? Childish and insightful and somehow able to get around long-standing emotional barriers?
She eventually let go and moved to take her place at his desk. "You should think about what you're going to do with Nick too. When we find him." A moment later: "Just don't get too detailed till I'm asleep."
He spent the night staring at his office ceiling, wondering how long Phoenix had been 'crazy' about him, how long he had returned those affections, and how he could have been such a fool.
Despite her words and her brave demeanor, in the darkness he heard Maya crying.
Edgeworth stared into the bathroom mirror again. The mark on his neck was almost gone. His mood had sunk to abysmal levels. More than three days had passed; the chances of finding Phoenix alive were slipping away, if he wasn't already dead.
When he returned he found Maya with her legs crossed on the floor, her head wobbling slightly. Her eyes were closed, lips moving silently, oblivious to the world. He watched her, curiosity getting the better of him.
After a few moments she opened her eyes. She focused on him and then quickly lowered her gaze. "I thought you would be gone longer."
He raised an eyebrow in a silent question, waiting.
"I was…" She looked aside, suddenly ashamed. "It's the one thing I can do, so I- I had to know for sure."
"If Nick was still alive."
Edgeworth swallowed hard, putting two-and-two together. "You were attempting to channel Wright?!" He wasn't sure which emotion was boiling over more: incredulity or anger.
"He's starting to die."
Her voice was a low, somber note that stopped his outrage short.
She ducked her head, steeling herself. "Nick. I couldn't channel him, so that means he's still alive, but he's… He's getting really weak."
The hope that Wright was alive, the desperate thought that kept him focused, suddenly soured.
Edgeworth spun away from her and stood at his window, staring at the skyline. His hands balled into tight fists, pulse hammering, head spinning. Alive – starting to die. How cruel it was that the sun was shining and brilliant.
He heard Maya seat herself at his desk. Half-turning, he saw her pull a folded letter out of her clothes, written on his own stationery. She began loosening the sash on her robe, and Edgeworth quickly diverted his gaze back to the window.
"What are you doing, Miss Fey?"
His voice was still harsh, and she didn't answer him. That was fine; he needed to compose himself, to rein in his emotions again. He took long, deep breaths, deliberately avoiding any thoughts of Phoenix dying or being channeled.
Wright's badge was going to leave a permanent imprint on his palm.
He felt a hand on his shoulder, and with a weary sigh he turned. "Miss Fey, I apologize for– "
Except Maya Fey was not looking back at him.
"Hello again, Mister Edgeworth."
His breath hitched, caught in his throat. The woman in front of him looked like some amalgam of both Maya and her late sister: she had Maya's dark hair and wore her clothes – though the spacious robes fit much more snugly – but her face undoubtedly belonged to Mia Fey.
He blinked dumbly, stunned by the spectacle of dead woman speaking to him. Mia gave him a worried look, and he cleared his throat and adjusted his cravat in an attempt to appear nonplussed.
"Ms. Fey. It has been… some time."
She smiled. "Maya's kept me informed; she's told me everything that's happened." She removed her hand from him to gesture at the letter on her desk. "But she's feeling a bit overwhelmed, and she thought you could use the advice of someone with more experience in spiritual matters."
Immediately his eyes narrowed, his expression darkened. "Maya attempted to– She tried to channel–"
All of the stress, all of the anger and sense of helplessness and the relentless, unceasing fear that had grown and twisted inside him over the last few days reached their peak. His throat closed up in a choked noise, his chest constricted painfully, and he felt a sharp prickling at his eyes. He grabbed onto his elbow, letting his nails dig into his flesh to steady himself amidst all the unwelcome emotions. He ducked his head, shielding his eyes behind his bangs.
Once more he felt hands at his shoulders, Mia bracing him at arms' length. "Edgeworth, I know you're worried sick about Phoenix. Maya is too. Phoenix is strong, you know how strong he is. But what Maya told you is the truth. He doesn't have much longer."
Mia waited for him to meet her eye. She folded her arms beneath her chest, fixing him with a steady gaze. "Time is running out. If you want to find Phoenix, then you can't stay here anymore."
"How am I supposed to get past the guards? And even if I were to leave, where would I go?" Edgeworth, eyes wide, swept his hand out, encompassing all the useless paperwork in his office. "There's nothing in here that gives me any indication where Banks has taken Wright."
"Then it sounds like you need a new source of information."
She stated it so easily, so plainly.
"And where would I find some magical friend to give me the details I need?" The words came out more biting than he intended, frustration sharpening them into rudeness.
"Who says it needs to be a friend?" Mia tilted her head, her hand at her chin in contemplation.
"Even if they're no friends to the police, there must people who dislike Christopher Banks or his associates. Who else could benefit from giving you information?"
He had heard stories from Wright about how Mia guided him in his unorthodox thinking. Was this one of her ploys? A way to help him see beyond the rules and regulations binding him as a prosecutor?
…Perhaps he could turn his thinking around. He had everything to lose, and desperate times called for new tactics.
He drew away from Mia, tapping his finger against his arm in thought. Who would gain some sort of advantage by giving away information on Banks or the counterfeiting ring? Captured associates. Insiders or moles. People looking for a reward. People who felt threatened.
His head snapped up, his eyes locked with Mia's as the thought emerged. "Are you referring to…?"
The counterfeiting ring had muscled into Los Angeles and scored a lucrative operation. Besides its victims, who else would feel threatened by a successful crime ring? Simple: people whose territory had been stepped on, whose arrangements had been disrupted, and who might see the ring as competition. Who would be the ring's competitor?
The organized crime syndicate that already existed in Los Angeles, led by Bruto Cadaverini.
Edgeworth drew in a long, startled breath. Would the Cadaverinis feel threatened enough to cooperate with law enforcement? The enemy of my enemy is my friend? Was he really considering asking for their help?
And if so, how could he contact them?
The memory of Wright's trial jumped to the front of his mind. Prosecutor Payne's review seemed so long ago. The details about the bank teller's case had seemed insignificant, yet now Wright's words were ringing like a bell: "She is in debt to the Tender Lender loan company… My assistant and I paid a visit to their offices…"
Viola Cadaverini: Bruto's granddaughter, proprietor of the Tender Lender – and an acquaintance of Wright and Maya.
Edgeworth was blinking rapidly; he could hardly believe the thoughts he was entertaining. He gaped at Mia, who nodded encouragingly, as though she understood his absurd plan. Her look sharpened for a moment: "Just think about how far you're willing to go for the information."
The memory of another trial, the first one he ever lost, abruptly surfaced. Mia knew about shady deals and blackmail and criminals. Knew that sometimes combing the unsavory elements was the only way to find the truth – even if the cost was great.
"I know what I need to do, Ms. Fey. But I believe your sister knows the way."
Mia nodded, a clever smile on her face. He could imagine what a force she would have been, and regretted that they had only faced each other in court once.
"When we first met, I directed some unkind words toward you. I was a fool." The words tumbled out, an apology more than seven years in the making. "Wright was fortunate to have you as a mentor."
She laughed, a deep rich sound. "There's something I never expected. I'll accept your apology on one condition." Mia leaned forward, and Edgeworth found himself drawing near. "Look after Phoenix, and make him happy."
He reared back, scandalized at how many Feys had deciphered the feelings he held toward Wright.
Once Maya returned to her own self, he laid out his plan.
Edgeworth ended the call on his cloned phone. "He's here." He had to move fast, before Agent Chase noticed the outgoing call.
Maya nodded. While he had completed arrangements with Detective Gumshoe, she made a few changes to her appearance. Edgeworth couldn't pinpoint everything she had done differently, though he noticed she had tightened her robe considerably against her hips and re-tied her hair into a messier, more unkempt knot, letting the strands fall around her neck and shoulders.
At his quizzical look, she merely shrugged. "Gotta use what you got. That's what Sis taught me."
After confirming the address, Maya rushed forward and threw her arms around his waist. "Good luck," she said, voice muffled against his chest. "You'll find Nick, I know it." Her hold tightened, as though she were transferring every ounce of her faith into him.
She drew back and gave him her best grin. "And remember – don't drink the tea."
Maya threw open his door, startling the guards flanking the entrance. As she moved past them, Edgeworth's eyes flew wide: he'd never seen Maya move like that. She usually ran or hopped around, a bundle of manic energy; this time she shimmied, her hips swaying noticeably.
Out in the hallway she turned back, one hand against her hip and the other crooking a finger at the officers staggered behind her. "Which one of you can take me to a vending machine? I'm staaaaarving." Her voice was loud and coy, her lips curved up in a bright smile.
Several guards' heads snapped up at sonic speeds, and they all began arguing over who should escort Wright's assistant. If that line was Maya's attempt at seduction… it was a rousing success. She looped her arms around two of the officers and they allowed her to drag them down the corridor, the rest happily trailing behind.
As he slipped out of his office and raced down the no-longer-watched stairwell, Edgeworth made a mental note to dock the officers' salaries for incompetence.
Gumshoe was waiting for him in the alley behind the Prosecutors Building, next to his idling, run-down car.
"I guess this worked out after all, huh Mister Edgeworth?" The detective beamed as Edgeworth slid in the passenger seat, heedless of the prosecutor's dubious once-over of the vehicle.
"The whole force is working with Agent Chase now," Gumshoe said as he maneuvered down the narrow street. "She and Prosecutor von Karma are running the boys ragged trying to find Mister Wright. Boy, those two together are something else! I'd be there too except, well…" Gumshoe trailed off, and changed the subject to more upbeat news.
Edgeworth only half-listened as Gumshoe rambled, eager to provide updates on the precinct. For someone who had been suspended, he seemed well aware of the division's activities; but then, Gumshoe had always had plenty of friends on the force.
Eventually they turned into a small parking area near a park. A square, dull grey building sat at the end of the lot. Letters in a giant, intimidating orange font spelled out 'Tender Lender' in the window panes. It looked like any other quick-cash or loan center, but Maya had promised the lender was a genuine arm of the Cadaverini empire.
Edgeworth tried to quell the doubts intruding on his thoughts. This was a huge risk. Apart from his own vulnerability outside his guarded office, the plan was full of potential traps. If the Cadaverinis had bargained with the counterfeiters, he would be tipping them all off that the police were in a bind. Or the family might not wish to get involved in another organization's affairs, or to cooperate with law enforcement on principle. Perhaps worst of all, they might want compensation for their aid. In the back of Edgeworth's mind he catalogued what could reasonably be offered in trade for their information, even as he recoiled at the illegality of collaborating with criminals.
If he returned with nothing, Phoenix was as good as dead.
With Gumshoe trailing behind him, Edgeworth pushed open the doors.
Standing from behind a gleaming gold desk, a wisp of a woman with striking dark hair greeted the pair of them. She wore an expensive black dress, overly modest, and moved demurely. "Good afternoon… gentlemen," she said, smiling. Something in her soft tone sent a shiver creeping up Edgeworth's spine. "How can I… help you?"
Keenly aware of his limited time, Edgeworth opted for the direct approach. "Miss Cadaverini. I need information regarding a counterfeiting ring that has recently infiltrated Los Angeles – specifically the location of one of its operatives, Christopher Banks."
Gumshoe coughed behind him. The detective shuffled his weight on his feet and threw his shoulders back in an attempt to appear more menacing. Edgeworth got the impression that foregoing the niceties might cause offense, but he truly didn't care.
Miss Cadaverini ran her eyes up and down the two of them, appraising. "I think you misunderstand. We deal in monetary loans, not… information."
The woman's tendency toward halting speech was infuriating. Edgeworth fixed his most daunting glare on her, bristling. "I don't have time to engage in this play-act of legitimate business, Miss Cadaverini. I know your family connections. And given what is known about your family, the opportunity to help oust a rival is something to consider, is it not?"
The smile disappeared. There was something sharp and severe in her eye, like she was examining a choice piece of meat and deciding how best to cut and serve it.
"And what… authority… would you have to 'oust' someone, Mister…?"
"Edgeworth. Prosecutor." He gestured behind him – "And Detective Gumshoe."
There was no time for dissembling. Edgeworth spared a sideways glance at the detective, who puffed out his chest and maintained his intimidating stance. He remembered that Gumshoe had dealt with mafiosos in the past; should this path lead to trouble, Edgeworth was grateful to have him at his side. He wondered how many goons were watching from the shadows.
Miss Cadaverini shifted her gaze away, smiling to herself. "How… interesting." She folded her arms across her chest. "And what makes you think I can… trust you?"
Edgeworth was prepared for this: he removed Maya Fey's red talisman from his pocket. "I believe you are acquainted with Master Fey and Phoenix Wright. Here is proof of my intentions."
He remembered the times he had provided assistance to Wright and Maya, allowing them access to areas forbidden to them: while his own freedom was threatened, when Maya was in danger. Now that Wright's life was on the line, he hoped Maya's token would buy him the favor he needed.
"Wright is in trouble," he added, exhaustion and desperation making the words spill out before he could stop them.
Miss Cadaverini looked away. "Allow me a few moments," she stated, after a thoughtful silence. She moved toward a back room, her heels clicking on the tiled floor. "Help yourself to some… tea."
The minutes she spent away felt like an eon. Gumshoe availed himself at the drink stand; though Edgeworth felt obliged to pass on Miss Fey's warning about the tea, Gumshoe waved him off, guzzling several cups with great enthusiasm. Rooted in place, Edgeworth caught unintelligible snippets of Miss Cadaverini's end of a phone conversation. His finger tapped impatiently against his folded arm; how much time did Wright have left?
Finally she returned. "My grandfather passes on his… well wishes," she said, that eerie smile back in place. "If you are looking for Christopher Banks, we have information that could help you. But this is a business, Prosecutor Edgeworth. Something is needed… in exchange."
The worst trap had been sprung. Edgeworth narrowed his eyes, waiting for the conditions, weighing the ethics of the upcoming deal against Phoenix's life.
"You are a man of some… influence," she stated, letting the last word linger. "For this information, you must agree to never prosecute a Cadaverini in court." Miss Cadaverini smiled slightly, her face a serene mask. "Are the terms… agreeable?"
No. No the terms were not agreeable. Gumshoe nearly choked on his latest cup of tea. "That's- You can't ask for that!"
The police had been after the Cadaverinis for decades. If any of the family were brought to court, Edgeworth would most surely be assigned to prosecute; there were so few district attorneys who could be trusted with the task. Corruption ran deep, and the family had menaced the area for so long.
Edgeworth's mind, calculating costs and repercussions, remembering his promise to seek out justice, urged him to refuse. His heart, thudding rapidly with memories of Phoenix standing proudly in court, smiling at him on the sofa, lips and body pressed tight against him, calling him Miles, screamed at him to take the deal. He felt as though he would break into two, the no-win situation pitting him at war with himself.
So this was his choice? Trade the safety of the city for the safety of one man? Bargain away his integrity for a selfish desire? Could he really choose between his ideals and his rival-friend-something more? What would Wright say, if he jeopardized his career and innocent people to save him? Could he live with himself, truly live, if he refused the terms and let Wright die?
He felt Gumshoe's heavy arm on his shoulder, holding him steady. He could only imagine what rictus of misery must be etched on his face to cause such concern. Was this the despair Wright felt during that wretched Engarde trial? To choose between Maya's life or allowing an innocent woman be imprisoned? What did Phoenix decide?
He could almost hear Wright's voice inside his head. And deep down, Miles knew what his choice would be.
He drew in a long breath, bracing himself, when Miss Cadaverini interrupted his thoughts.
"Prosecutor Edgeworth… How is Furio Tigre?"
Edgeworth blinked, the question taking him completely off-guard. Why would she wonder about… Ah. The details came to him in a rush: her old lover, sent to prison by Wright, something about money and accidents and betrayal.
As a prosecutor, he was privy to details about penitentiary residents. Perhaps Miss Cadaverini was offering him an opportunity – information for information.
Edgeworth looked her in the eye as he answered, making certain she knew he spoke the truth. "He bullies some inmates and is a lackey to others. He occasionally causes some disturbance. He doesn't suffer, but neither does he win any favors. The structure of prison life seems to… suit him." He almost wished Tigre was something more than a petty thug, just so he would have a better story to report.
Miss Cadaverini looked down when he finished, considering. "I… never went to visit. I thought about it." She glanced up. "Mister Wright… showed me the truth about Don Tigre." Something in her expression almost made Edgeworth feel a twinge of sympathy; she looked grim and distant.
After a long, tense moment, she handed Edgeworth a folded slip of paper. "Our business is concluded… Prosecutor."
She returned to her desk and Gumshoe, sensing the dismissal, guided Edgeworth back to the parking lot. Whether due to a sense of obligation to Wright, or belief that the information on Tigre was equivalent, or perhaps out of some twisted sense of humanity, Miss Cadaverini had let him walk away with what he needed without agreeing to the terms. Whatever the reason, Edgeworth knew not to question it.
Inside the car, he examined the note. There was only a single line of text, its meaning unclear: RBCU2678438.
Edgeworth ignored Gumshoe's flagrant disregard for speed limits as they raced back to decipher the code.
Gumshoe parked behind the police station and led them inside through the rear entrance. Policemen scurried around them, the department in a state of near-chaos. Some of the uniforms were slightly different, the officers on loan from the surrounding suburbs. Among the standard police, several people whom Edgeworth didn't recognize bustled from desk to desk. Some of them wore suits, others dark jackets with 'FBI' in bright yellow letters on the back. It appeared Agent Chase had secured reinforcements.
As they approached the homicide division, a sharp voice rang out over the crowd like a shattering crystal glass.
"Miles Edgeworth, you stupid, foolish fool!"
Franziska stormed toward them, radiating fury. Officers dove out of her way on either side, an ocean of uniforms parting in biblical fashion.
Behind her he caught a glimpse of Maya Fey, her conversation with his sister abruptly paused. She gave him a shrug and a small, helpless grin.
Emerging from the sea of police, Agent Chase joined his sister in time to help her corner them against the wall. Edgeworth was startled at how quickly the two women coordinated their actions.
"Prosecutor. Please tell me you have a damn good reason for sneaking out of your office. And that you've been surrounded by security officers. Or I might have to kill you myself and save Banks the trouble."
Agent Chase sounded remarkably calm despite her death threat. There was an undercurrent of profound frustration in her tone, one that made him wonder whether she wanted to make good on that promise. Franziska scoffed, her disdain toward him evident in the noise.
Edgeworth squared back his shoulders. "A new source of information was needed on Banks." Before either of them could respond, he forged ahead. "And now we have a lead."
The tired lines near Agent Chase's eyes had grown a little deeper since she last spoke with him. A case like this, with a crime ring and a kidnapping, possible murder, people being safe-guarded and subsequently escaping custody – it could wear down even the most enthusiastic of investigators. She wore her indigo suit once more, recycling her limited wardrobe, and it bore the tell-tale wrinkles of an all-nighter. But despite her exhaustion, her eyes lit up at the mention of a lead.
Gumshoe chose that moment to chime in. "That's right! Leave it to Mister Edgeworth to get what we need."
The corner of Agent Chase's mouth twitched up as she glanced over at the detective. "Well, at least he had you with him."
Gumshoe grinned, puffing out his chest proudly. "Always ready to help, Sir!"
Agent Chase tilted her head, leaning her weight to one side. "Why do you call me 'Sir'?"
Franziska cut in before Gumshoe could respond. "Because that is the correct form of address for a superior. Right, Scruffy?" Her hand was on her hip, threatening.
The detective instinctively jumped back, dodging a whip crack that never came. "That's right, Sir!"
With a bemused look on her face, Agent Chase turned her attention back to Edgeworth. "Well, Prosecutor. You'd better have something good."
He handed her the slip of paper. "This is Christopher Banks's whereabouts. I don't yet know what it means."
"Do I want to know how you got this information?"
His silence was answer enough.
While Franziska grumbled about foolish risks, Agent Chase scanned the number on the paper. That wolfish, predator-like grin appeared again. "Right. Finally. Something new."
As they followed Agent Chase to the back of the department, Maya Fey stole through the throng and sidled up next to Edgeworth. "Did she give you anything?" she asked, voice low so that only he could hear.
He slipped his hand into his pocket, fingers passing over Wright's badge, and retrieved her red Master's talisman. He cupped it in his palm and passed it back to her, discreetly; she tucked it into her robes, no one the wiser about its use. Maya raised her brows at him, questioning. He nodded slightly, just a small incline of his head. Yes, it helped. You helped.
With a clear view of the whole area, Agent Chase cleared her throat to get the attention of the officers nearby. A low murmur rippled through the room until all assembled watched her, waiting.
Her voice rang out clearly. "Prosecutor Edgeworth received a tip earlier this afternoon. Anonymous."
An enormous whiteboard stood next to her, covered in an impressive collage of information on Banks and the counterfeiting ring. She grabbed a marker, cleared away a section, and wrote RBCU2678438 in large, bright red letters.
At one end of the crowd, Edgeworth noticed the chief of police staring at him and Gumshoe. He pointed an accusatory finger at them, interrupting Agent Chase. "What're they doing here?"
"They're with me." The authoritative tone in Agent Chase's voice pre-emptively shut down any argument. She resumed pointing at the board. "This code has something to do with where Christopher Banks is hiding. Let's figure out what it means."
Every available officer and agent in the room broke apart, some by themselves and others in small groups. The air started buzzing with the sounds of pens scratching on papers, fingers typing frantically on keyboards, the work of dozens trying to guess the code's meaning.
"Maybe it's a geo-location tag."
"Are the digits a phone number?"
"Could it be a substitution cipher?"
"RBCU might stand for a book and the numbers certain pages."
"Looks like a tracking code? Like for Internet shopping?"
Edgeworth moved amongst the crowd, letting the noise wash over him, filtering out the probable code explanations from the more ludicrous speculations. Gumshoe followed close behind him. Agent Chase and Franziska flitted from one group to another, monitoring progress. Eventually he slipped into a side room and seated himself at an empty table, mulling over the code. Maya and Gumshoe took chairs on either side of him after a while, lost in their own thoughts and guesses. After some time Franziska also joined them, and finally Agent Chase.
Enough time had passed for the code to truly sink into his subconscious, the digits seared across the front of his mind. Something about the code was familiar to him, but he couldn't quite identify what it was. He had latched on to the tracking code comment, turning it around over and over, trying to remember where he had seen a similar configuration of numbers and letters.
As they pooled their ideas, Maya's gaze focused on the window, staring at the buildings outside.
"I hope Pearly's all right," she said during a lull, a wistful expression on her face. "She doesn't know Nick is gone. I don't know what I'm going to tell her." She cast her eyes down into her lap. "I bet she's worried. If she doesn't hear from me soon, she'll board the first train here before any of the acolytes can stop her."
And just like that, Edgeworth felt something click inside his head, pieces falling into place. The dull fluorescent lights seemed bright, the stale air crisped, and the answer to the riddle became clear.
Franziska drew in a sharp gasp; apparently she had figured it out, too. "Master Maya Fey," she said, a victorious grin spreading across her cheeks, "you are–"
"–Remarkable," Edgeworth finished, eyes shining. He pushed to his feet.
"What is it?" Agent Chase sounded cautiously optimistic.
Edgeworth's words were clipped, rushed, as he explained. "It's an identifier. A tracking number for a shipping container. The kind you see on trains and semi-trucks and ocean-going ships."
Agent Chase was floored. "How on earth did you realize that?"
"You've never visited Germany," Franziska flatly stated.
"Railways everywhere," Edgeworth finished. "And international shipping uses a standardized code."
Agent Chase nodded sharply. "So if we find the shipping container…"
"We find Wright."
Things moved quickly. A team of coordinated officers tracked down and pinpointed the last known location of the shipping crate. Old records showed that the container had been tucked away at the Los Angeles Harbor. Finally, they had a destination.
Officers and federal agents lined up in front of Agent Chase and the chief of police. The two of them began explaining a detailed search-and-rescue plan to the assembled mass, dividing everyone into teams and barking out orders. The entire room was awash in nervous energy, the air filled with anticipation. Heavy weaponry was distributed, including automatic rifles and riot shields. If the entirety of the Los Angeles police was going to storm a harbor, apprehend a murder suspect, and possibly bring down a well-coordinated crime ring, they were taking no chances.
Amidst the preparations, Edgeworth found himself staring at the whiteboard on Christopher Banks, an uneasy feeling in his stomach. A map of the city was pinned to one side with little red markers dotted all over the city. His gaze flitted over the harbor, and his brows drew down in thought.
Franziska joined him, her voice quiet. "You are not pleased, little brother." She stared at the white board with him and did not ask for an explanation, waiting expectantly.
The L.A. Harbor was the busiest port in the nation, and one of the busiest in the world. It housed commercial cruise liners and an extensive tourist waterfront, and saw thousands of employees and visitors every day. The place was a bustling center of commerce, full of people.
Agent Chase appeared at his side along with Gumshoe. "I'm afraid that you'll need to wait here while the operation is underway. I've assigned a small team of officers to guard you–"
"Something is not right."
She blinked at Edgeworth's interruption. "What?"
"The harbor is not the correct location."
She narrowed her eyes, not suspicious, but considering. "The records show the crate with your code on it was last seen there. And there's precedent for Banks involving ships in his schemes."
He rounded on her. "And those records are outdated and the information may be incorrect. Think about your profile on Banks. Think about the locations of his previous victims: an abandoned apartment, a junkyard, a decommissioned boat. All isolated places. Different places each time. The harbor is both a populated area and filled with watercraft. It fails to match the pattern in two distinct ways."
Agent Chase stiffened. "Prosecutor, we're about to launch a major operation. Where else could the container be?"
Edgeworth's mind raced, one thought rapidly following on the trail of another, the chain of logic forming at lightning speed. Everything depended on finding the right location – or Phoenix was lost.
Banks wouldn't lower himself to any repeats; he'd stay away from the boats and the people. He might have found the container elsewhere, away from the public's prying eyes. How would the crate be moved from the harbor if not by ship? Two possibilities: a commercial trailer, or – or as freight.
With Maya's comment about trains still fresh in his mind, Edgeworth followed the Union Pacific and the Southern Pacific rail lines on the map. The latter led away from the harbor into the heart of the city, along the Los Angeles River and into a deserted freight switching yard for commercial trains. If the crate had been abandoned there… and the location made it more likely that one of the Cadaverinis had spotted Banks…
He jabbed his finger at the map. "There. Banks is in the abandoned train yard." Never before had he been so certain.
A sharp voice spoke up behind them, the chief of police startling them all. "It's more likely that a crime ring would operate from a larger location – lots of unregistered shipping containers to call home."
Edgeworth bristled. "We're not looking for the whole ring right now, we're trying to find where Banks has taken Wright!"
The police chief glowered, taking offense at Edgeworth's outburst. "Everything you've said is just conjecture! The evidence points to the harbor, so we're going there."
Gumshoe, with as stubborn an expression as Edgeworth had ever seen him wear, stepped into the chief's personal space. "Sir, I think it's best to listen to Mister–"
"You are suspended, Detective! You don't even have a right to be here!" the chief snapped.
They were drawing a small crowd. It was clear the chief of police was not going to bend. Despite Edgeworth's protest, the force was heading for the harbor. Heading for the wrong location.
Edgeworth turned toward the only person who could help, voice quiet, steady, and hard as steel. "Agent Chase. If I'm wrong, then one of the officers will find Wright at the harbor. But if I'm right, and if we don't go to the train yard, Banks will get away and Phoenix will die."
Her expression flickered as she caught his inadvertent use of Wright's given name. She glanced between his face, the map, and the assembled force.
"I'm probably going to regret this," she muttered softly. To the police chief she ordered, "Take your force and go to the harbor. Comb every inch of the port." With a final glance at the map, her expression grew more determined. "I'm going to the train yard."
"You can't be serious, surely." The chief looked nothing short of flabbergasted.
Agent Chase folded her arms, face locked in a stony stare. "I am."
"And don't call her Shirley." Nearly forgotten, Maya Fey peeked out from behind Gumshoe. As all eyes fell on her, she tried to smile and diffuse the tension. "It's – It's a joke." She didn't succeed.
The chief threw up his hands in resignation. "Do what you want. We're going where the paper trail leads."
As Edgeworth watched him return to the gathered officers, he felt a sudden sense of panic grip him, clinching around his chest like a vise. What if he was wrong? What if the container was at the harbor, with Phoenix locked inside? Who on the force would make sure he was all right? Who could he trust?
"Franziska." She inclined her head, still eyeing the police chief as Edgeworth spoke haltingly. "If- I am wrong, then–"
"Then I will rescue Phoenix Wright at the harbor." She looked at him, confident and self-assured, and offered him a tight smile. "I will make sure he's fit to face me in court, little brother."
Breathing a subtle sigh of relief, Edgeworth gave her a small bow. She moved to stand beside the police chief, silencing his protests with a quick crack of her whip.
After the brief exchange with his sister, Gumshoe offered to join them at the train yard. "Since I'm suspended, I can't go with the others anyway," he said, smiling broadly. Agent Chase attempted to persuade Edgeworth to remain at the station; either his assurances of familiarity with criminals and danger made her relent, or his glare. She instead transferred the officers she'd assigned to guard him over to Maya.
Once more Maya hugged him tightly, hugged Gumshoe too, and nodded at Agent Chase. "Go get Nick," she stated, voice trembling but full of faith.
Edgeworth, Gumshoe, and Agent Chase piled into the detective's vehicle. For the first time since Phoenix had been taken, Edgeworth felt a glimmer of hope.
Gumshoe pulled into one end of the abandoned train yard and shifted into park. The low sunlight glinted off the river nearby, casting the area in a subdued late-afternoon light. It had been surprisingly easy to enter the area. No one in the city was quite sure who was in charge of the yard anymore, with the assets divided among so many different owners. Security was non-existent, allowing them to roll directly into the freight area.
The yard was devoid of any outward activity. If the counterfeiting ring had headquartered themselves here, then they had an uncanny knack for camouflage and concealment. Letting his eyes drift over the area, Edgeworth felt more certain that Banks was hidden here – Banks, and hopefully none of his associates.
The heaps of abandoned shipping containers rotted in the yard. The flat metal holders beneath some of them, anchoring them to the tracks, had turned a muddy reddish brown with rust. A couple of the containers maintained their structural integrity, but most had holes of varying sizes decayed through their walls and their interiors open to the sky. All of them looked like they'd sat unused for years. Edgeworth felt his pulse quicken. Banks had to be in one of these containers. And he hoped, beyond anything he had ever foolishly wished for, that Phoenix was alive inside as well. They just had to find the right one, the one bearing the code Miss Cadaverini had given him.
Agent Chase, in the front passenger seat, turned toward Edgeworth in the back.
"We split into two teams," she said firmly. "Detective Gumshoe will stay with you and cover this end of the yard. I'll move ahead and scout the other side."
Gumshoe reached down to the floorboard behind him. After a few moments, shuffling his hands over various debris, he pulled out a few earpieces and a pair of short-range radios. "We can keep in contact with these," he stated, handing earpieces to Agent Chase and Edgeworth and slipping another over his own ears. He tuned the radios and handed one to Agent Chase, and clipped the other to his belt.
Once the plans were set they spread out from Gumshoe's car. Gravel crunched beneath Edgeworth's feet. His conviction that Wright was here heightened as he remembered the gravel found on Phoenix's jacket, left folded neatly in his office.
The air felt still, as if the yard itself was holding its breath. Only the distant hum of traffic disrupted the silence. Agent Chase gave them a quick nod and sprinted to the opposite end of the yard. For an instant Edgeworth marveled at how she barely made any noise on the rocky ground.
"Stay behind me, Sir," Gumshoe said, ushering Edgeworth to keep at his back. He kept his arm on his weapon holster, ready to draw in a hurry. Of all the detectives who could have accompanied him to the yard, Edgeworth was grateful to have Gumshoe with him again. He made a note to increase the man's salary substantially for his commitment and courage – once he could officially revoke the suspension.
One in front of the other, the pair of them crept across their half of the train yard, staying as quiet as possible. They moved from one container to another, checking the shipping numbers on each of them. The corroded metal walls loomed above them: eerie, silent landmarks in a maze of abandoned tracks.
Every so often Gumshoe muttered into his radio, giving their estimated distance from his car and a description of the container nearest to them: "One hundred yards in. By a blue crate with no doors. Clear." After each update Agent Chase responded in kind. The voices sounded tinny and detached in Edgeworth's ear.
They rounded a dilapidated crate, halfway through their section, and Edgeworth spotted a dark vehicle parked close to a container some two- to three-hundred feet away. It was nestled into the heart of the yard, tucked away from the outside. Feeling his heart lurch from a cocktail of fear and anticipation, eagerness and deep anxiety all at once, Edgeworth followed Gumshoe toward it. This had to be the container. It must be…
With agonizing slowness, they approached the shipping crate and the car, pressed against the metal husks, staying hidden from view. Once Gumshoe realized the car was empty, he allowed them to increase their pace slightly and move more openly. The container was painted dark red, somewhat faded from exposure, and Edgeworth was reminded of Banks's eyes: once striking, now tainted. All the entrances were welded shut save for the end nearest the car, unlocked. He checked above the metal door and, in perfunctory white letters and numbers, he found the code he'd been searching for: RBCU2678438.
The container was here – he'd been right. Was Banks inside? Was Phoenix? What would they find? Blood thrumming hot and fast, stomach dropping precipitously, Edgeworth waited while Gumshoe alerted Agent Chase. The majority of the police were scouring the harbor; how long would it take them to get here?
Gumshoe finished speaking, and the resuming quiet was interrupted by a loud thump from inside the container, like something heavy hitting the floor. An anguished noise followed, a male voice crying out in pain.
Eyes widening, Edgeworth was tempted to yank open the door to investigate; but instead Gumshoe roughly shoved him back, putting himself in front of him and keeping them both flush against the metal walls next to the entrance. Edgeworth watched him draw his firearm, arms raised high and ready to aim. A silent count to three, and Gumshoe drew in a breath and heaved open the metal door one-handed.
The detective slid into the open space of the entryway, gun trained in front of him. He remained there for only a moment: Edgeworth heard the crack of a pistol firing – and Gumshoe staggered back. He made a strangled noise as Gumshoe let out a howl of pain and fell to his knees.
This was wrong. This had gone so terribly wrong in an instant.
Gumshoe lost hold of his gun and fell to his side, a bright red splotch blossoming against his shoulder. Edgeworth grabbed the detective's closest arm – and fortunately it was the one not connected to the gunshot wound – and with a surge of strength he dragged him away from the exposed entrance. He maneuvered him into a sitting position, propping him against the container wall to the side of the door.
Blood dripped down the detective's shirt and added to the stains on his coat. Gumshoe grimaced, breathing hard, cursing. Even if the bullet had missed vital organs, the wound non-fatal, it likely hurt like hell.
Edgeworth hovered over Gumshoe, feeling helpless, and a voice called out from inside the container.
"Whoever else is out there, let me see you. No weapons."
Banks. Edgeworth would know that voice until his dying breath, to his unending regret. He froze: hands stilled, breath halted, eyes locked on Gumshoe.
A moment later: "Someone moved that body. Either show yourself or the lawyer's next."
Edgeworth clenched his jaw. Well. If Banks gave him no choice…
He rose, heart pounding, and moved to the open metal door.
The image inside was horrifying.
Banks stood in the center of the container, suit wrinkled, hair a disheveled mess. He pointed a pistol in front of him, the black metal held casually, almost carelessly. His eyes were blown wide, mouth pulled back in a grimace of barely-controlled panic. Any sign of the smooth seducer, all charm and innuendo and elegance, had vanished, leaving behind a desperate, unhinged man.
More alarming was the figure braced against Banks, held unsteadily in place by Banks's free arm: Phoenix. He was nearly naked, bruises on his torso, wilted hair, wrists raw and bleeding in the handcuffs in front of him, ankles chained together. He wobbled on his feet, barely able to stand, and his head drooped down with fading consciousness, eyes glassy and unfocused.
Phoenix was hurt. Phoenix had suffered, was on the verge of death. Banks had wrecked Edgeworth's affairs, caused him emotional turmoil, shot Gumshoe, tortured Phoenix. Edgeworth seethed, a hot, consuming mixture of fury, fear, hatred surging through his veins. The impulse to run forward and catch Wright in his arms and drag him away was eclipsed only by the urge to do something incredibly violent to Banks.
Who was laughing. The sound echoed off the metal walls, pitched low and slightly crazed. Those maroon eyes, the ones he once considered handsome, had grown even wider in disbelief. Banks gripped his pistol and pointed it at Edgeworth, and the prosecutor halted just inside the entrance.
"You." Banks's voice dripped with derision, an unsettling smile on his face. "This is because of you, you arrogant whore."
"Let him go." Edgeworth's voice was low, dangerous.
"Are you sure? The poor man's been on his knees so much lately. You don't want them to bruise any more, do you?" Banks grinned.
The words hit Edgeworth like – well, like a train, an intense punch to his gut that left him sickened and disgusted. If Banks had – if he forced Phoenix in any way…
He started forward, but Banks shook the gun slightly in his hand.
"Stay right there, Miles. Don't come any closer."
Edgeworth forced himself to keep still, glaring Banks with no small amount of rage. He was used to his anger feeling cold and cutting; now he felt nothing but fire. "If you think this is the first time someone's pointed a gun at me, Banks, you're quite wrong."
"I thought I told you to call me Christopher?"
Banks gave him a disappointed look, finally sobering. "After all we've been through, have we grown so far apart?" He sighed, and fixed Edgeworth with an answering glare of pure loathing. "Well, if you don't fear a gun pointed at you…"
Several things happened at once.
Banks hauled Phoenix part-way in front of him. He looped the arm that still held the gun around Phoenix's back and pointed it to the attorney's temple.
Outside, Gumshoe knocked his head back against the metal wall, letting out an agonized – and exaggerated – groan, catching Edgeworth's attention.
And a winded, out-of-breath voice whispered through Edgeworth's earpiece: "I'm here."
Though his heart nearly leapt to his throat as he saw the gun pointed at Phoenix's head, Gumshoe's commotion caused Edgeworth to look to his side. Past the doorway, Agent Chase stood only a foot or so away from him, pressed up against the container wall and concealed from the open entry. Her pistol was drawn, much like Gumshoe had held his earlier, ready to spring into action. Behind her the detective leaned against the wall, looking pained but able to flash an unsteady grin.
"Your dogsbody's not dead yet?"
Banks sounded almost cheerful, mistaking Gumshoe's groan for a sound of dying distress.
Agent Chase's voice was low and urgent, heard only by Edgeworth through his earpiece. "I need you to get out of the way, Prosecutor."
Caught in the doorway, Edgeworth was obstructing Agent Chase. He tried to step closer again, to get to the side of the entrance, but Banks just pressed the pistol barrel more tightly to Phoenix's skin and made a disapproving, warning noise. Phoenix let out a low moan, pained and confused.
If he moved, Banks would kill Wright. As his insides did a nauseating flip, Edgeworth realized that even if Agent Chase had managed to call for backup, no one else could get here in time to help.
Eyes lingering on Phoenix, he attempted to bluff. "What are you expecting to do, Banks? Walk out of here, past all the police, and get away?"
Banks made that disapproving noise again. "We both know there's no one else out there. The police blared it on all their channels: all units to the Los Angeles harbor, priority on shipping containers. They think they found me. Why do you think I tried to get out of here?"
The incompetence of the department knew no bounds. As Edgeworth silently railed at them, something pushed at his attention, something in Banks's statement that didn't quite match up.
"Not just you. You're trying to take Wright with you. You've killed your prisoners in the past, so why the change?"
Banks merely glared, and Edgeworth stared at him, unraveled, broken, and realized the truth. "You need a hostage, a bargaining chip. Because you're alone – the ring is not here to protect you."
Something wavered in Banks's expression, a flicker of uncertainty. "Your fault again. Why couldn't you have just…" He let out an exasperated growl. "No one ever denied me, you know. Not for long anyway."
Banks shifted and dragged Phoenix closer to him, almost hiding behind him. He glanced down at his prisoner, lip curled in contempt. "He never deserved you."
With equal revulsion, Edgeworth scowled at Banks. "No. I never deserved him."
Banks started laughing again, quiet, then building up to a howling cackle. Edgeworth felt something in his stomach plummet as Banks started shaking; he feared the gun might go off, Wright's life graphically snuffed out.
Agent Chase hissed in his ear: "Careful! Edgeworth, don't do anything stupid!"
And Phoenix – he jolted in Bank's hold, more alert. His eyes focused on Edgeworth, blinking rapidly, and his mouth opened though no words came out. Edgeworth had never been good at reading lips, but even he realized what Phoenix kept trying to say: Miles.
The laughter subsided, dying down into a deranged grin. "You're right – your little whore was going to be my hostage. But you're so much more valuable, aren't you Miles? I don't really need him anymore."
"No!" The cry slipped past Edgeworth's lips, terror propelling the word out at almost inhuman speed.
Banks's question had a curious lilt, something altogether unnerving. Like a child pulling the wings off a captured fly. His head tilted slightly. "What did you say?"
"Don't- Don't hurt him."
Banks clenched his arm around Phoenix's neck, not quite choking, holding him against his cheek. "What's he worth to you, Miles? He never gave me a good answer. Is he worth your life?" A hysterical bark of laughter. "Do you love him, Miles?"
Edgeworth looked at Phoenix, bruised, weakened, fighting for consciousness. Stared into those wide blue eyes. The answer had been growing for years, and it came out in a low, breathless whisper: "Yes."
"The so-called 'Demon Prosecutor,' duped by a stupid lawyer. It's almost funny." Banks's grin was all teeth, turning into a sneer. "I could kill him just to hurt you. Make you suffer."
Edgeworth remained silent. Anything he said might encourage Banks to act on his threat.
"Beg me for his life."
Phoenix tried to struggle, made a distressed noise as Banks just held on tighter. "M-Miles," he managed to choke out, dry like autumn leaves cracking and crumbling to dust.
Edgeworth found his voice. "Don't hurt him anymore. Let him go."
"Not good enough, Miles. Do it right. Get on your knees, and beg."
The metal floor was filthy, and he was wearing his court suit. The order was degrading, humiliating. Banks was laughing at him, laughing at the fallen prosecutor, demeaning him. Stripping him of his dignity and pride.
But Edgeworth fell to his knees without a second thought.
"Please. Don't hurt him."
That deranged grin spread across Banks's face, full of hatred and promise. "No."
Despair finally wrapped its icy fingers around Edgeworth's heart. He closed his eyes, looked away, unable to bear watching the light in Phoenix's eyes go out when Banks pulled the trigger.
And behind him, Agent Chase swung around the entry, her gun pointed straight in front of her, Edgeworth no longer blocking her shot.
The sound of a gunshot reverberated off the metal walls, and a ringing silence closed in.
Edgeworth slowly opened his eyes.
The amazing Surreality has finished her artwork for Part 10 for the Big Bang! Please enjoy her fantastic illustration, The Confrontation. Surrey has also uploaded her preliminary sketches of Agent Chase and Christopher Banks, and from the get-go they both looked awesome! Agent Chase Preliminary Sketch and Christopher Banks Preliminary Sketch. Thank you so much, Surrey!
Phoenix slowly opened his eyes.
Bright sunlight streamed in between cream-colored blinds. It took a few moments of blinking to adjust to the light.
He found himself in a hospital bed. A long IV was inserted into a vein in his left arm, a clear liquid dripping in. Various wires draped over him, attached to dully beeping monitors. He licked his lips and found that his mouth was not so parched anymore, and though he was still very hungry, it was not the unbearable pain of his stomach gnawing in emptiness.
Starchy sheets were tucked in close around him, and he kicked them down to get a look at himself. He wore a soft hospital gown, the creases worn, loosely tied at his side. Beneath it he was bruised, the dark purple marks starting to fade into green and yellow. His ankles were scuffed, the skin chafed and a bit discolored. His wrists looked even worse, skin raw and bright pink with a lingering sting from disinfectant. His muscles still ached from being held up for long stretches of time. Curiously, there was a portable table next to his bed covered with ice packs.
The sound of people filtered in, the muffled background noise of doctors and nurses, patients and their friends and family, all beyond his room's closed door. He was alone; no visitors were sleeping in the faux leather guest chairs. That was all right. He needed a minute to himself to sort through what had happened.
He'd been falling in and out of consciousness. Banks had let him down from the hook and left him lying on the floor, unattended, as he moved the pulley equipment out of the container. Phoenix remembered feeling so weak, so dizzy and out of it, that he couldn't really move, much less try to escape. It had taken Banks a couple of tries just to get him steady enough to stand.
There'd been a gunshot... Had Banks shot someone?
And then he remembered Edgeworth.
He'd believed it was another hallucination, something his delirious mind had dreamed up from anxiety and longing. But Edgeworth stubbornly remained there, with a look of fury he'd never seen before. Edgeworth had begged Banks not to hurt him, down on his knees. Admitted that he–
His room door swung open, and a nurse peeked in at him. When she saw that he was awake, she gave him a bright smile. "How are you feeling?"
Caught in the middle of his disbelieving thoughts, Phoenix tried to hide behind a quick grin. "Could be worse, I guess." His voice sounded more normal but felt strange, no longer dry and hoarse.
The nurse laughed indulgently and placed one of the ice packs against his side, covering not just a bruise but a good portion of his skin as well. The coolness felt oddly soothing. "I'll send the doctor in to see you shortly. There're some people waiting for you. Do you feel up for visitors soon?"
Company would be nice. It would keep him from thinking too much.
The doctor explained to Phoenix what he was being treated for, in that detached way doctors assumed when delivering unpleasant news. He was unconscious when he was brought in and had slept for over a whole day, recovering. He'd been starved and dehydrated for four days, and the heat in the shipping container had given him heatstroke. The prolonged lack of any fluids combined with overheating left him in dire straits; one more night and he might have died. The ice packs had helped to bring his body temperature down. He wasn't yet ready for solid foods – something to do with his kidneys – so he'd stay on the liquid-nutrient IV for a little longer.
With some slight hesitation, the doctor mentioned concerns that Phoenix had been sexually assaulted. Phoenix bit his lip and looked away, remembering Banks's hands and forced kiss, and that worrying gap in his memory. There were no external signs of assault, though a blood test revealed trace amounts of the drug rohypnol in his system. Phoenix wondered if Banks had knocked him unconscious with it: that could explain his memory loss. Tests to check for any infections had been ordered, just to be safe.
After the doctor left, Maya was sent in to see him. Though she looked tired she beamed at him, and he felt a deep happiness and relief spread through him at seeing her again, like a soothing balm on his injuries. She waved off a lot of his questions about what happened, explaining that the police knew more than she did. She also warned him that Agent Chase wanted to take his statement later. He felt a smile tug at his lips to learn that she was still here.
Banks had lied about no one looking for him. He wondered how many other falsehoods he'd been fed in lieu of food.
Turned out Maya did try to channel him. He could only imagine the pain and desperation she must have felt to attempt that, and he tried to apologize for putting her through it. She socked him in the arm in response. At least she missed the bruises.
Gumshoe had been shot by Banks, and Phoenix's pulse spiked in a sudden burst of worry, but fortunately the injury was not life-threatening. The detective had joined the 'shot-in-the-shoulder' club with Franziska, who was apparently in from Germany and not at all pleased that she had something in common with her subordinate. He was even in the same hospital, only a few floors down, and both of them had round-the-clock guards posted outside their rooms. Once he felt strong enough, Phoenix vowed to amble over and visit him.
Maya eventually gave him a hesitant, careful hug, no less sincere for her efforts to avoid hurting him. "I don't want to tire you out too much, old man, so I'm going to come back tomorrow."
He smiled, ignoring her insult. It felt like ages since he'd last seen her at the train station. A lifetime ago.
"Don't scare me like that again," she said quietly. Her smile and her voice both wavered, and Phoenix realized how much she had been holding back, keeping a strong face for him and probably everyone else. He pulled her into another hug, bruises be damned, and she let out a short, wrenched sob. The shoulder of his hospital gown grew damp, and he just held on more tightly. She'd lost so many people in her life; he was grateful not to be another.
She pulled herself back with an embarrassed smile, eyes still watery, and planted a kiss against his forehead. "I'll bring Pearly with me next time. She's missed you too." She wiped at her eyes and gave him a soft look, considering. "So… Do you want to see Edgeworth now?"
His stomach tried to turn in on itself, but not from hunger. "He's here?"
That earned him an eye-roll. "Duh. Why do you think the police aren't here first, bombarding you with questions? He made sure we got the first crack at you."
Her expression faltered, turning into something between worry and exasperation. "He wasn't sure if you wanted to see him, though. He thinks what happened to you is his fault, Nick."
Phoenix let out a long sigh, which hurt his chest a little. He remembered the things he considered in the shipping container, his resolve to admit his feelings…
"You'd better send him in then," he instructed Maya, bracing himself for what was likely to be a painful conversation.
He didn't realize he was holding his breath until Edgeworth entered.
The prosecutor looked exhausted. He was paler than usual, the lines etched deep near his eyes, his shoulders uncharacteristically slumped. But he was safe, unharmed. A warm, liquid feeling coursed through Phoenix, soothing like wine. When Edgeworth briefly met his glance he felt his heart speed up, echoed by the monitor attached to him. He had nearly lost his chance to see Edgeworth again, to talk with him, to tell him – everything.
Edgeworth planted himself a foot away from Phoenix's side, down by his legs. He wrapped an arm around himself, clutching at his elbow, and kept his eyes averted. His expression was a cross between worry and self-loathing, brows drawn low and mouth turned down in a grimace.
Phoenix hesitated. Edgeworth might not want to talk about feelings right now; he looked miserable enough already. He waited, letting an awkward silence settle between them, and allowed the other man to make the first move.
"I wish to apologize to you, Wright."
Phoenix finally let out his breath in an exasperated noise. "Edgeworth, don't apologize. It's not your fault. You know I don't blame you for any of this, right?"
The prosecutor fell silent, tense, as though he was waiting for Phoenix to lash out and had braced himself for it. The weight of the kidnapping hung heavy in the air, unspoken but impossible to be ignored. The silence grew stifling: Phoenix waiting for a response that never came, Edgeworth too preoccupied with guilt to reply.
Why had this gotten so difficult?
Phoenix yearned for that time – and it was difficult to believe it wasn't very long ago – when they'd worked together on his sofa, easy and content, relaxed with one another.
Those fuzzy memories in the shipping container spun around in his head. Edgeworth had said he loved him – but Banks had literally held a gun to his head, hadn't he? Of course the answer would be yes. Perhaps that was the problem: Edgeworth had needed to lie, and felt embarrassed around him now because of it.
Or maybe there was another reason for this gulf between them. The last thing Phoenix remembered before he was kidnapped was Edgeworth being angry. What had they argued about? Did it escalate into something else?
Were they even friends anymore?
A dull, dry feeling started spreading inside, withering, worse than thirst and more painful.
Digging his fingers into the sheets beneath him, Phoenix spoke quietly. "I don't really remember what happened right before I was… before I woke up in that container."
Edgeworth finally looked up at him, startled. "What?"
Phoenix swallowed hard; some distant part of him appreciated having even that small ability returned. "I think I was drugged. My memory's kinda hazy. The last thing I remember is us arguing."
Edgeworth looked stricken, almost as if he wanted to run out of the room. He wondered how it was possible for the prosecutor to pale further, turning white as a sheet.
"I don't even remember what the fight was about," he added. It must have been something pretty bad, judging by that reaction.
A strangled noise escaped Edgeworth's throat. "And after?" There was an odd inflection, hopeful and fearful at the same time, a murky undercurrent that Phoenix couldn't follow.
He shook his head. The silence that followed was thick and uncomfortable, oppressive.
"Perhaps it's better if you don't remember." The words finally tumbled out from Edgeworth, sounding almost… sad.
A weight pushed down on Phoenix's chest, stifling, heavier than the hospital blankets. His fear was confirmed: something had happened between them, and it put their friendship in jeopardy.
Edgeworth looked away, staring at a spot on the wall so intently it was liable to burst into flames. His jaw clenched tight, expression blank and unmoving. Finally, he drew in a long breath.
"Wright, I–" He halted, struggling, and then abruptly changed course. "I hope you recover well and quickly. I won't take up more of your time. Agent Chase wishes to speak with you, so I'll send her in."
Phoenix, head spinning, realized the prosecutor was leaving. "Edgeworth, wait! Please–"
But he was already gone.
Soon Agent Chase stepped into his room, a satisfied smile on her face. His death had been prevented, a murderer had been arrested, and with the capture of their honeypot and one of their dealers she'd made the first real headway into dismantling the counterfeiting ring.
"But your recovery is highest on my list of reasons to be happy," she assured him with a wink. He managed to give her a genuine smile in response.
However, his mood continued to sink as she recounted the details of the search and rescue. Phoenix nodded along, distracted, as she described how Edgeworth had figured out where Banks had kept him, how Edgeworth demanded to accompany her, Edgeworth who confronted Banks. He felt more confused with every mention of the prosecutor; she made it sound like he had moved mountains to get to him.
His subdued responses must have given something away. Agent Chase gave him a thoughtful look and switched her focus to the capture of Christopher Banks. Phoenix recalled the feeling of the gun at his temple, the cold metal terrifying. She'd had only an instant to react, and she hit Banks in his arm, the one holding the pistol to his head. With a grin, she confessed that hit was already giving her a 'cowboy' reputation among her colleagues: shooting instantly from the hip, so to speak, to take the bad guy down.
Banks was in custody now, under constant surveillance at a different hospital across town. Her shot had shattered his forearm and elbow, requiring Banks to undergo extensive surgery and a painful recuperation.
There was a part of Phoenix, a small vengeful bit, which was glad to hear that Banks was hurt.
He answered Agent Chase's questions as best as he could. The parts about his experience in the container were difficult; he didn't really want to remember most of that. She squeezed his hand, letting her professionalism slip in favor of compassion. Even though she had a million things to take care of – officers to lead, more criminals in the ring to apprehend – she made certain he was holding up okay. It made something in his heart ache.
She reminded him of Mia.
Maya returned the next afternoon with Pearl at her side, all bright grins and hugs. Phoenix did his best to smile and be cheerful. And he was happy, so thankful to see them both again. But Maya gave him a piercing look, and asked him what had happened with Edgeworth, and he couldn't answer.
It hurt to think about the prosecutor. If Phoenix was completely honest, he was upset and angry. After everything that had happened – all he had been through – Edgeworth couldn't face him.
Phoenix was almost certain their friendship was over.
But at the end of his fourth day in the hospital, Edgeworth returned.
Their first moment of eye contact was enough to make Phoenix's heart drop, like a plummet from a mountain: an unsteady, uncontrolled free-fall, thrilling and terrifying at once. He was angry – he was happy – a whole jumbled mixture of emotions surged through him. He loved and hated how it felt to see the prosecutor again.
Clearing his throat, Edgeworth quickly moved past the hospital bed and straight to the window.
"I have taken a leave of absence until the remainder of the counterfeiting ring is apprehended," he announced, looking out the blinds. "The police feel that since I was the original target, it is not safe to return home until the whole ring is in custody. Agent Chase assisted with hotel arrangements out of town."
"Is that why you haven't been here?"
Phoenix knew there was an edge of resentment in his tone. It was difficult to hide his – what? Disappointment? Bitterness? He'd had so much time to think about Edgeworth, to ruminate on this wedge between them. To wonder what they were to each other now.
Edgeworth flinched. Just a quick wince, gone in an instant, and a minute jerk of his shoulders, almost imperceptible. If Phoenix hadn't been watching so closely, he would have missed it completely. There was something darkly satisfying in knowing that he could make the prosecutor feel something, at least.
Ignoring his question, Edgeworth responded curtly. "Certain parties informed me you would want to know."
"So, did Maya or Agent Chase guilt-trip you here?" Phoenix retorted. The silence that followed all but confirmed his guess, and he felt a flash of deep irritation.
That awkwardness, cumbersome and unwieldy, stretched out. They hadn't been so uncomfortable around each other since their first trial.
He stared at Edgeworth, his profile illuminated by the streetlights outside the window; his shadowed features gave him a haunted expression. Like a ghost. Phoenix remembered the car ride, the night when Edgeworth met Banks. Remembered wanting to touch him, to run his hand along his face and smooth away the tired lines.
Edgeworth was running away: from his guilt, from Phoenix. Staying angry would only push him further away. And despite his resentment and this tension, Phoenix knew what he really wanted most was to pull Edgeworth to him and convince him to – stay.
He searched for the right words, anger beginning to thaw, but once more Edgeworth, stiff and unyielding, decided to leave rather than prolong the awkward visit.
He was filled with the irrational sense that if Edgeworth left, their friendship would well and truly end. And any hopes he had, any possible chance of having something more would be dashed, shattered, turned to dust.
Edgeworth halted, his hand shaking on the doorknob.
This could be his only opportunity. Whatever relationship they had, it was hanging by a thread. Phoenix launched into a speech before he even realized what he was saying.
"I don't know why things are so hard between us now. Nothing was your fault, I don't blame you for anything Banks did. If you're upset because of something I said, or something I did, I apologize. Whatever happened between us, I'm sorry. But don't leave like this."
"That's the second time you've apologized for…" Edgeworth trailed off, voice strange, sounding miserable and cautious and something else Phoenix couldn't identify. His body was rigid with tension, still facing the door. But he hadn't disappeared yet.
The only sound in the room came from the heart monitor, tellingly growing faster. Head down, eyes closed, Phoenix threw his cards on the table, all of them, the whole deck, let them land as clumsily as his words.
"Miles, I couldn't stop thinking about you when I was in that container. I- I care about you, more than I ever let you know, more than even I knew. And I hope saying that doesn't wreck our friendship, or whatever we have left. But I promised myself that if I ever got out, if I lived through all of that, I would tell you – how much you mean to me. Because you do. And even if we're just friends, or rivals, or whatever we are, I just wanted you to–"
Edgeworth had turned, and in a few loud steps he reached the hospital bed.
Phoenix never got to finish that speech, because Edgeworth placed his hands on either side of his face, thumbs braced against his cheeks, and tilted his head back up, and kissed him.
Edgeworth brushed his lips against him, once, and again, soft and not-quite-chaste, and moved back. He let his forehead dip down, bangs hiding his eyes. "That's what happened, Phoenix," he said quietly, almost a murmur.
The sound of his name, low in that baritone voice, sent a jolt straight to his soul. Oh.
"I thought- with the argument–"
"You were always good at turning things around." Edgeworth began to straighten. "But after what's happened, I understand if you don't–"
Phoenix had wrapped his fingers around the cravat dangling between them. Eyes falling closed again, he pulled Edgeworth back against him, lips already moving to take Edgeworth's between them.
Oh yes. This was the moment he'd been waiting for.
Edgeworth made a low, desperate, hungry noise, and Phoenix decided it was the best sound he'd ever heard. He opened his mouth, darted his tongue against Edgeworth's lips to hear it again, that sign the prosecutor could lose his careful control because of him. Edgeworth met him, tongues sliding together, warm and wet and utterly enthralling.
He drank Edgeworth in like water: something he craved, needed, so long denied. A great flood had opened up, powerful, washing away his anger and the fear and pain he had endured.
Something skirted just out of reach from his memory but not from his senses, exhilarating and vaguely nostalgic. A first kiss, new and thrilling and breath-taking, tinged with the almost-forgotten sensation of their other first kiss. He felt dizzy from the depth of it, drowning happily in the long-sought, familiar taste.
His hands slid upward, along Edgeworth's neck, and lightly traced his jaw, holding his face. He could feel every movement, every time Edgeworth widened his mouth or made a short gasp for air. Edgeworth's arms slipped around his shoulders and moved gently down, splayed across his ribs, fingertips curling against the hospital gown. They felt incredibly warm; Phoenix realized the gown's tie had loosened, the cloth gaping open, and– Edgeworth's fingers– moving against his bare skin…
He moaned, the sound low and heady, and he felt those fingers twitch sharply in response. He nearly pulled Edgeworth on top of him, not caring one whit for his injuries or the cramped bed.
But Edgeworth resisted his insistent tug. Phoenix watched him reluctantly pull himself away, the intense expression on that handsome face changing into something more controlled. Edgeworth finally opened his eyes, his chest rising and falling in slow, deep breaths.
"I have to leave tonight." It sounded more like the prosecutor was convincing himself – and his eyes were still piercing, heated.
He couldn't keep the disappointment out of his voice. His hands cupped Edgeworth's face again, pulled him in for another kiss to hide his frustration. This one was more forceful, and he poured every unspoken word and emotion into one frantic act, and was left wanting more.
"I – I don't know when I can come back."
"See me again when you do?"
He'd normally be embarrassed at the yearning in his voice.
Edgeworth grabbed Phoenix's hand and laced their fingers together, the only part of them still close enough to touch. The gesture was almost as intimate as the kiss.
Alone again in his hospital room, Phoenix relived the memory of their kiss well into the night.
The doctors kept him for another full week.
He spent the days resting in the hospital bed, recovering and watching inane daytime television. The Feys came by every day; even Mia paid him a visit, channeled by Pearl, sitting side-by-side with her sister. Maya insisted on watching the Steel Samurai marathon, which naturally led into Pink Princess reruns, and Pearls became enamored with the two leads. The relief Phoenix felt from himself and her cousin no longer bearing the brunt of her romantic aspirations was stifled by her endless sermons on how wonderful the two characters were for each other.
"We've created a monster," he informed Maya, half-joking.
He could drink water and other liquids now, and eat foods again, and never before had things tasted so good. Even the double orders of hospital hamburgers, which Maya cheekily forced him to order in exchange for shutting up about Edgeworth and kissing, tasted like gourmet fare. He'd lost some weight while starved in the shipping container, but was quickly getting back to normal. The infections tests turned out negative, a small relief, and his kidneys had bounced back unscathed. His ankles and wrists were almost healed, the bruises on his chest and sides fading away. The hospital even assigned a therapist to chat with him for an hour each day, to help him cope with any trauma caused by his kidnapping and abuse. Phoenix wondered how many of his former clients could have benefitted from therapy, and vowed to remember how useful a bit of psychology could be.
The nurses gave him bright grins, amazed at his resilience. Not so long ago, he would have felt flattered at their attention.
Franziska visited, once, an uncomfortable situation for both of them. She barely acknowledged his recovery and threatened to thoroughly stomp him in court as soon as he had the nerve to face her again. He almost incurred her wrath, and her whip, when he let out a half-nervous, half-amused laugh at her posturing. She ended her visit, with a slight pink tinge across her cheeks, by threatening to make his life as miserable as only a von Karma could if he disappointed her.
They both knew what she was really talking about.
Gumshoe was thrilled to see him. His shoulder was bandaged, his arm held in a kind of sling to keep from agitating the wound. Unlike almost everyone else he knew, the detective was enjoying his hospital stay, particularly the free meals. Maggey had claimed an area near the visitors' chairs as her permanent perch until her boyfriend was well enough to go home, doting on him with a determined smile. Gumshoe had been reinstated on the force, again, pending his full recovery, with an official apology from the police chief. Agent Chase had arranged some kind of commendation for him, and Edgeworth had recommended a substantial salary increase. Gumshoe beamed as he talked about all the new foods he could buy with the extra money. He and Maggey promised to invite him over for dinner soon, and maybe Edgeworth would come too.
Something inside Phoenix bubbled happily at the thought.
Agent Chase retrieved him personally on the day he was dismissed. His apartment was off-limits, like Edgeworth's, until the remaining ring members were apprehended. She'd had a few officers put together an overnight bag for him, and she'd even retrieved his blue jacket. It felt good to sling it around his shoulders again, like the final step in his recovery. His badge was missing, though, and he felt a little ping of loss at the empty hole in his lapel.
They stood to shoulder to shoulder outside the main entrance, suits on, professional, shades of blue reflecting in the puddles from recent rainfall.
"You're looking much better," she said, her eyes shining with approval.
"I feel better," he replied, stretching. He was grateful to move around freely again.
"Do you have a place to go?" Agent Chase asked. "That psychic village?"
Maya, along with Pearl, had returned to her home after close to a month away. The elders might throw a fit if he showed up and distracted her from her duties for even longer.
Besides, there was somewhere else he wanted to be.
"Take me where you took Edgeworth," he said, simply.
Their eyes met, lingering. Agent Chase – Justine – offered him a gentle smile. There was a hint of sadness in her expression, but she quickly brightened her grin over it. He knew it wasn't an act; she really was happy for him.
She drove him away from the hospital. Over an hour outside the city, in one of the wealthier feeder towns, she turned into a luxury hotel lot and parked near the entrance. And though Phoenix wanted to move straight to Edgeworth, he lingered in the car, not quite ready to leave.
They shared a quiet moment watching the last rays of the sun disappear behind the mountains in the distance. An almost tender feeling flowed between the two of them – not awkward, but more of an unspoken acknowledgement of everything that had happened.
"Thank you," he finally said, voice embarrassingly close to cracking, filled with more gratitude than he could express. "For everything."
She reached over and squeezed his hand like she'd done in the hospital. "I'm glad I got to meet you."
Phoenix remembered how he'd been taken with her, when she first showed up at his apartment. Now – well. Things had changed; no point in wondering what could have been. He thought about what Maya would do in a situation like this, and remembered. Leaning across the seat, he pressed a swift kiss to her cheek.
Agent Chase grinned in response. "He's in room 309."
Blushing, Phoenix nodded. "If he doesn't – I mean, if I have to come back…"
She raised her eyebrows, amused. "I'll wait here a while, just in case. But he's not going to turn you away." Almost as an afterthought, she added: "If he does, I really will shoot him."
The trip through the winding hotel, to Edgeworth's room, was a blur. He was distantly aware of fancy décor and expensive-looking fixtures, but he was too caught up in anticipation to really notice. With his fingers gripped tight around his suitcase handle, his heart pounding, and filled with a nervous energy, he stood outside the room and knocked.
Those seconds were the longest of his life.
The door swung open.
Edgeworth looked at Phoenix, eyes wide, surprised and disbelieving. He was barefoot, dressed only in a soft-looking red button down and dark slacks, caught looking unprofessional and relaxed.
Phoenix had planned so many things to say when he saw the prosecutor again. He'd had a whole week to think about his rival, his friend, to consider what he wanted, to imagine and insufferably wait. All his words died on his tongue as they faced each other across the threshold.
Edgeworth finally broke the silence. "Phoenix," he said, softly, like the opening note of a symphony.
That was all it took.
Phoenix had chased after this man his entire life. Had changed his career for him. Worried about him. Trusted him. Been angry at him, hurt by him, overjoyed with him. Everything had always been about Miles.
And he was done waiting.
The suitcase hit the floor as Phoenix stepped forward, lifted his hands to Miles's face, and crushed their lips together.
Miles drew in a shuddering gasp and returned his kiss with equal, desperate fervor. He felt a heady rush, his heart soaring at Miles's response. The hope he'd kept buried, nearly silenced, burst into vibrant song as the prosecutor circled his arms around his back and hauled him inside the hotel room.
"Wait," Phoenix gasped, parting reluctantly to slip back and retrieve his luggage from the hallway. "Okay, now we can–"
He was pushed to the wall in an instant. Miles swallowed his words, chased them away with his tongue, mouth hot and greedy and impatient. A hand slid through his hair and another wrapped around his waist, fingers splayed against his lower back.
After all the hesitant contact, respectful of boundaries; the tentative responses; the yearning for Miles to be closer; to grab hold and just touch – to finally have Miles braced against him felt hotter, better than he had ever imagined. Phoenix arched into him, bodies flush together, all heat and strength and hard, enticing lines. The months of frustration, days spent wondering, hours of aching want: the buildup of years poured out between them with each frantic press of lips. The cathartic release grew into an insistent, overwhelming need.
He let his jacket drop to the floor and fumbled at Miles's shirt, hands shaking, trembling with excitement, each inadvertent brush of his fingers against bare skin electric. He pressed his mouth to Miles's throat, tongue dipping into the hollow, tasting, savoring, collar hastily shoved aside to let his mouth roam.
"D-Don't you dare leave another mark," Miles ordered, the fluttering of his pulse under Phoenix's lips betraying his demand.
Another. Miles had let him do this before, allowed him to get close – the thought of Miles's long pale neck, tell-tale bruise hidden under his cravat, proof he'd let Phoenix kiss him, desire him... It sent his blood racing, speeding on a direct line between his legs. Brazen, he nipped at a spot just above his collar bone, worrying the thin skin with his teeth, tonguing, lingering, until Miles's breath hitched and his hips bucked against him. The friction, the unmistakable brush of their arousals against one another, just for a moment, felt incredible.
It was worth the sudden clatter of buttons against the tiled entry floor, another of his dress shirts ruined.
"Careful," Phoenix said, more breathless than reproachful, panting against his newly-made mark. "I didn't bring a lot of clothes, you know."
"If I have my way, you won't need any at all."
His hips rocked forward entirely on their own, responding to those words and that delicious, low cadence in Miles's voice. He kissed Miles again, deeply, scorching. After that kind of provocation, he let his hands slide down Miles's back, beneath his waist, kneading at firm flesh. His mind filled with graphic depictions of what he wanted to do to Miles, with Miles, because now he knew Miles wanted him too.
Warm hands spread across his exposed chest, tender around the last fading bruises, eliciting a low hum of approval from him. Miles's broad palms swept in unhurried circles, teasing, before drifting steadily down. They settled near his waist and rubbed against the heated skin just below his navel. In turn Phoenix dragged his mouth along Miles's neck, slow, and let his tongue trace his ear, breath hot against the sensitive shell. That fine, grey hair almost tickled as he nosed against it, inhaling deeply, lost in the citrusy aroma and, beneath it, the headier, masculine scent of Miles himself.
His remaining clothing had grown uncomfortably tight.
Trails of gooseflesh rose on his skin at the loss of the prosecutor's hands. Miles stepped back: shirt open, face flushed, eyes dark with need. Phoenix etched the image indelibly into his memory, to feature endlessly in every future fantasy.
"Do you want to stay?"
Miles's voice was pitched low and hoarse, knowing the answer but obliged to ask. Even still, there was a note of uncertainty, as if he were afraid Phoenix would leave.
"More than anything," he answered, nakedly honest.
The look on Miles's face – intense, focused, lustful – set his blood thrumming, singing in his veins. He followed the prosecutor into a carpeted suite, shedding his damaged shirt in the hallway, eyeing the shift of muscles across Miles's backside.
An enormous bed took up most of the wall, luxurious for one person, irresistible for two. Their eyes met, the implication clear.
They should probably talk first. Figure out what would happen between them before plunging into intimacy. But – they knew each other. Phoenix wanted this, wanted Miles, wanted everything, for longer than he cared to remember. There'd be no turning back.
He pressed a soft, gentle kiss to Miles's lips, and promptly pushed him onto the mattress.
Miles reclined against the pillows, watched with heated interest as Phoenix toed off his shoes, undid his belt, pushed his trousers to the floor. Left only in his boxers, Phoenix braced his knees on either side of Miles's thighs, arms on his shoulders, hovering above. Miles's hands rose to his flanks, drifted down and over his hips, inviting.
The sight of Miles beneath him, eyes half-lidded, mouth parted, sent something primal slinking down his spine. Their mouths met again, tongues tangling slowly, as Phoenix leaned down, bare skin finally meeting, warm and exhilarating. He could feel Miles against him, and it was tempting, so tempting, to just roll his hips endlessly until they were both reduced to shuddering wrecks. He canted forward, enough to brush together through their remaining clothing, to feel the delicious friction, unable to stifle his moan.
Miles clenched his fingers against his back, a pleasured noise escaping his throat, infinitely appealing. Phoenix wanted, needed to hear it again, louder, more frantic.
"God Miles," he murmured, breathless. He pushed the dark red shirt out of the way and ran his palm along the firm line of Miles's chest. Moving slowly, his mouth left a warm, wet trail as he descended that pale torso, completely smooth and deceptively broad.
He dragged his hands along Miles's sides, up over his ribs across heated skin. He brushed his thumbs against pale pink nubs and relished the resulting sharp inhale of breath. His tongue darted against one in wide hard swipes, his fingers circling and teasing its twin. Miles arched his back, breath growing ragged, fingers gripping Phoenix's biceps as he rolled his hips up again, rough and insistent, drawing out a groan from Phoenix.
It felt good, so good, and yet it was not nearly enough.
Phoenix shifted further down Miles's legs, enough to undo the button and zipper beneath him, and curled his fingers under the waistband. A final glance up, to make sure; Miles's eyes were locked on him, grey pools of liquid heat. Asking without words, agreeing without question. His pulse hammering, heart barely contained in his chest at what he was being allowed to do, Phoenix tugged both slacks and fitted boxer-briefs over Miles's hips and pulled them down mid-thigh.
He raked his eyes over the picture in front of him, permanently seared into thoughts, into his very molecules – he'd dream about this moment for the rest of his life: Miles, eyes dark with want, completely bared for him, framed by the deep red shirt spread beneath his shoulders and the darker clothing at his legs. Pale skin, like porcelain, flawless except for the mark, his mark, at his neck. Taut, toned muscles, hard and strong. Silvery hairs neatly nestled around his very obvious arousal.
Beautiful. Mouthwatering. All for him.
Banks had thought Miles a perfect statue, but he was utterly wrong. No statue would breathe so heavily, chest rising and falling in anticipation. Or sport a light flush, the reddish tint on his cheeks spreading down attractively. A statue was motionless, lifeless. Miles was magnificently, wondrously alive, shifting restlessly, a glare starting to form as Phoenix drank him in. Not a statue – but perfect nonetheless.
"Either do something or kindly get off," Miles huffed, blushing, annoyed and growing self-conscious at how long Phoenix simply stared at him.
He couldn't stop a grin from spreading across his face. "I think we're both going to do that."
Miles's answering, irritated groan was stifled in a heated kiss.
He slid his palm over Miles's hipbone, tracing that hard, defined line where leg joined body. Teased the light curls. Slipped his hand down to cup gently between Miles's legs, rolling the delicate skin softly, almost-but-not-quite touching where he was wanted most. And Miles – his breath turned into short, shallow pants, eyes closed, fingers digging white-knuckled into the covers, nearly writhing in desperation.
"You have no idea how much I want you," Phoenix breathed, something very close to awe suffusing his voice.
Those eyes opened, just a sliver of grey, and Miles's hand shot to Phoenix's shoulder and roughly pulled him down, cheek-to-cheek, chest-to-chest, all feverish skin and pounding heartbeats. His mouth found Phoenix's ear, warm air ghosting over it as he let out a frustrated noise.
"Then just touch me, Phoenix!"
God. He would hear those words every time he looked at Miles now, every time they faced each other in court, the demanding plea overriding whatever objections Miles pointed out.
Finally, finally, he lightly brushed his hand against Miles, teasing, thrilled at the needy moan Miles let out. He wrapped his fingers around him more firmly, stroking slowly, and kissed him, thrusting his tongue inside to twine wetly with Miles. That desperate, hungry noise reverberated into his mouth, straight into his bones. It galvanized him, his wrist flexing faster, determined to make Miles tremble with want. Miles's hands gripped his back, keeping them close together as he pushed up against him. Phoenix rocked his own still-clothed hardness into the jut of Miles's hip, an erratic rhythm starting to form between them.
He had never been so turned on in his life.
Without warning Miles tensed, his body tightening beneath him. For a brief, startled moment Phoenix thought he had finished already; but Miles rolled them over, spun Phoenix onto his back to reverse their positions. Miles gazed down at him with that hard, arrogant stare that reduced others to ashes – but Phoenix saw the flicker in his expression, desirous, turning into something altogether smoldering.
No; they were far from finished.
Miles dropped his shirt to the floor, a clear signal that his careful control had at last eroded away. He kicked off his loosened slacks and in one swift movement he stripped Phoenix of his last bit of clothing.
Nothing left between them now.
He felt a blush spread across his face as Miles, in turn, looked his fill, his heated gaze almost like a physical touch as it traveled the length of him. And even with his fading bruises he must have looked good enough, appealing enough, because he heard Miles make a low noise, almost like a growl, a sound that set his nerves on rapturous edge. Miles straddled his hips and leaned down onto him, pressed in close and intimate, gloriously meeting him everywhere.
Phoenix roamed his hands across Miles's back and sides, all smooth skin over hard muscle, and felt Miles explore as much of him as his hands could reach: his arms, his chest, his stomach. Each touch lingered, Miles learning every part of him, as though he were something unique and exquisite and cherished. And his pulse nearly skipped a beat as he realized, undeniably, that he meant something to Miles, was worth something, that he might occupy the same special place in Miles's thoughts and heart that his friend had in his own.
Perhaps he was worth everything to Miles after all.
Those heady thoughts were promptly scattered, to be closely examined later, when Miles pressed their mouths together again and gently bit at his lower lip, pulling at it, commanding his attention. The kiss deepened, Miles's tongue dipping in and out almost obscenely, a prelude, perhaps a promise. It was thoroughly distracting.
He was thus caught completely unprepared for the sensation of a hand tunneling around him, warm and unfamiliar and startlingly good. He bucked up wildly, his voice loud and unrestrained, the sensations more searing for their unexpectedness, a retaliation for his earlier teasing.
"Jerk," he muttered, when he could finally breathe again, as he continued to grind against those long, clever fingers. Miles caught his half-hearted glower, and a smirk briefly tugged at the corners of his mouth in return. It was a look unlike any Phoenix had ever seen on Miles, something open and almost mischievous, and he wondered if Edgeworth – Miles – had ever looked at anyone else like that. He had no choice but to kiss that smile.
Miles ran his hands up along Phoenix's chest, soothing, and braced his arms against his shoulders. He circled his hips, deliberate and maddeningly slow. Their arousals brushed against their stomachs, against each other, the friction and sensation achingly, wonderfully good. Phoenix met the next circle, and each one after, rolling his hips against Miles: point and counterpoint, ebb and flow, like a duet, following each other perfectly.
No other fantasy would do now. Phoenix knew he was ruined, spoiled by the decadent sense of Miles sliding against him with his name tumbling from his lips. He reached between their shifting bodies and touched Miles's hardness, touched himself as well. His hand could barely wrap around both lengths; but then Miles joined him, the two of them more than enough. They moved their hands together, stroking along both their lengths, a rough push-and-pull as they still circled their hips.
"Don't stop, Miles, please don't stop," he gasped, babbling, begging, words breathy with desire. His eyes fell shut, his body trembling. He could sense his release building, the chorus of sensation spreading through him. Phoenix felt he could stay like this forever, mind fogged with pleasure: the slip-slide of skin against skin; their mingled moans; their every movement languid and sensual. It was possibly the most erotic experience of his life.
But Miles soon ground his hips one final time, and halted.
"W-Why did you stop?" Phoenix panted, nearly a whine, need obvious in his voice. If they'd just moved a bit more- and Miles had seemed close as well…
Miles indeed was close, lying across Phoenix, his attention focused on the nightstand drawer next to the bed.
He wanted something more. The realization would have staggered Phoenix if he weren't pinned beneath his- his friend, his partner; none of the words seemed enough now. His Miles.
Banks had been crude, had suggested he had been taken by Miles: To feel him moving against you, touching you. What he feels like, deep inside. If- if that was the way Miles wanted to do this…
Phoenix had limited experience here, but he knew what to anticipate. He shut his eyes as the nightstand drawer slammed closed to signal the end of the interlude and he felt Miles lean back. He heard the telling noise of a plastic cap snapping open, and he drew in deep breaths, let the muscles in his legs fall slack as he tried to relax. Nervous, despite himself.
But the expected touch never came.
He grew restless and he opened his eyes, an anxious remark on his lips. Phoenix found Miles still astride him, angled, one hand conspicuously behind his back. The pieces fell into place, an unanticipated, thrilling key change to the music. This time, their time, would be nothing like what Banks had experienced.
"Oh fuck, Miles," he whispered, eyes blown wide, dizzy from the force of it.
That earned him a wry smile. "That was the intention."
There was no possible way Phoenix could simply lie back and wait after that. He sat up, crossing his legs, and earned a scowl as he almost jostled Miles, one that disappeared as he quickly leaned forward and kissed him, long and deep and fervent. Miles resettled onto Phoenix's thighs, eyes closed, an intense, focused expression on his face, mouth absently falling open as he resumed his preparations.
Phoenix found the discarded lubricant and drenched his fingers, the liquid warm and slippery. He ran one hand between Miles's shoulder blades in a slow caress. The other he slipped behind that flawless skin, reached down, and brushed his fingers against Miles's own. Miles's eyes shot open, startled, and locked with his own. Phoenix swallowed hard, and the corner of his mouth quirked up: "Together."
Miles managed to nod, his expression caught between surprise and something warmer, something that made Phoenix flush with warmth. Yes, they would do this together, as partners – in everything.
Phoenix trailed his lips along that broad chest in a distracting line and slid his fingers alongside Miles's, slid into Miles, pushed slowly into him, hot and tight and god, they were really going to do this. The sensation of both of them inside, brushing, stretching – the very thought was overwhelming. And when Miles arched his back, breath leaving him in a soft cry as Phoenix moved his fingers just so, his senses were overtaken by an irresistible, devastating need.
"I- I'm ready," Miles panted, eyes slightly glazed, both hands coming to rest on Phoenix's hips, every finger like a brand on his skin.
"Do you – you have any…" Phoenix trailed off, making a rolling motion with his fingers.
And for the first time since Phoenix rushed forward in the hallway to kiss Miles, the two of them fell completely still as they realized what they were missing.
"You've got this but nothing else?" Phoenix asked, incredulous, gesturing at the abandoned bottle.
He was astounded to see Miles blush, the pink color spreading down his torso. "I hardly expected you to come here. I believed – I would have only the thought of you to keep me company," he said, glancing aside in embarrassment.
Only Miles could remain so articulate while nude, hair disheveled from its peaks, skin flushed and unmistakably aroused. Phoenix found it tremendously appealing. And that suggestive confession: he didn't know it was possible for a new jolt of desire to course down his spine, fuelled by images of Miles taking himself in hand and wishing it was him. His blood rushed, making him so hard it almost hurt.
Phoenix bit his lip, considering. It was difficult to think when all he wanted to do was roll his hips up into Miles. "I'm – the hospital didn't find anything," he said, a hopeful note in his voice.
Miles met his gaze, eyebrow arching. "The same applies to me," he said, matching that tone.
A moment, a heartbeat – and they came together again, skin to skin, hands and lips moving frantically, desperately, hips rocking. They'd exchange proof later; all that mattered now was want and need.
Miles shifted up onto his knees and braced one hand against Phoenix's shoulder. He moved his other over Phoenix, too focused to tease, just enough to make him slick. Phoenix held himself steady as Miles slowly, achingly slowly lowered himself onto him. A push past last resistance, and then – heat, perfect heat and tightness and Miles gripping him, holding him, so hot and close, completely sheathed.
Phoenix had wanted this for so long, this intimacy, wanted everything with Miles. He drew in a shivering, halting breath as he fought against instinct, resisted the urge to simply release. He was going to savor this, lock every moment into his memory, into his soul if he could. The world could catch fire outside and he'd be unmoved, lost only in the exquisite feeling of Miles.
"Ph-Phoenix," Miles breathed, and that little pause, that falter in his name set his nerves alight. Miles was just as absorbed in this feeling, this closeness, as he was. Entire symphonies could be written from the sound of their mingling breaths, their heartbeats, the tension in their muscles taut like strings.
Their position meant Miles had control. Phoenix shifted his hips restlessly, moving just enough to draw out a low moan from them both. He wrapped his arms around Miles's waist and brought their foreheads together, reveling in the scent of sweat and sex and Miles.
"Either do something or kindly get off," he said impishly, gently mocking, letting his hands drift down to cup and squeeze the firm flesh against his thighs.
And Miles – he brought his hands to Phoenix's cheeks and pulled him in for a heated, passionate kiss as he finally rocked forward and slowly back, testing, adjusting. Phoenix buried his face into Miles's neck, a low, needy sound pouring out from his lips between lingering kisses to that long, pale length of skin. Yes.
Miles quickened, hips rolling, a rhythm forming, building, while Phoenix rocked his hips up to meet each movement. His arms wrapped behind Phoenix's neck, fingers toying with the sweat-dampened spikes, and he leaned in for another kiss. His length brushed against Phoenix's stomach with every grind, begging to be touched.
Phoenix wrapped his hand around Miles, stroking in time with their rhythm. He splayed his other hand against Miles's chest and ribs, his thumb rubbing against the pink nub again. The look on Miles's face, the sounds Miles was making, ragged breaths and low-pitched moans, spurred him on. And god, he was the one doing this to Miles, pleasuring him, making him lose control. Phoenix had Miles against him, wanting, needing, the taste of him bright on his tongue, his breath warm against his face, his noises of pleasure driving him mad with desire.
He needed more. Phoenix moved his hands beneath Miles's thighs and pulled them up, and shifted to his knees. Miles was forced to hang on to him, arms around his shoulders, legs around his waist, as Phoenix pushed up into him. The new angle was perfect – every thrust must have hit that spot inside Miles, the way the man writhed in his arms.
"More," Miles panted, eyes darkened, lips swollen. He moved faster, hips grinding up into Miles over and over, determined to give him more, give him everything.
"Miles," he murmured, breathless, toes digging into the mattress and fingers leaving impressions against pale thighs as he held on tightly with each hard thrust. "I want – want to see you."
Miles pressed close, held onto Phoenix like he was a lifeline, like he would drown if he let go.
He could feel that tightening in his abdomen, aching for release, urging him to lose himself in the wanton expression on Miles's face, in his groans, in the feeling of Miles against him, surrounding him. He pushed into him again and again and again, determined to keep himself right on the edge, an extended crescendo, until Miles found completion.
"Please Miles," he gasped, hips thrusting madly, his arms trembling with the strength of holding Miles up. "I can't– god I, just please–"
Miles arched sharply against him, head thrown back. He tried to say his name, a choked gasp, breath freezing as he clenched down around Phoenix, suspended at the height of pleasure. And Phoenix was utterly lost: nothing could ever compare to Miles coming undone in his arms, shaking with his release.
"Phoenix," Miles finally sighed, falling bonelessly against him.
He could hold out no longer. Phoenix thrust into Miles, hard and fast, again and again, and–
His nerves were flooded with sensation, the pleasure finally too much, cascading down his spine and into every inch of him. He stifled his long, heady moan against Miles's shoulder as he shuddered and trembled and reached his climax, and never had it felt so achingly, beautifully good.
His body slightly twitched from the aftershocks, little ripples of pleasure still coursing through him, the quiet comedown from ecstasy. Miles slumped against his chest, utterly unconcerned about the stickiness between them. Slowly, inevitably, Phoenix softened and slipped out, and he leaned back against the pillows, exhausted. Miles shifted to his side, resting against his stomach on the bedcovers next to him.
For a long, long moment, Phoenix knew only a deep, unfathomable contentment.
The spell of lethargy was broken when Phoenix felt a touch at his temple. He hadn't realized his eyes had closed; when he blinked he found Miles close to him, shifted up onto his elbow.
Miles froze, fingers halted right above Phoenix, as though he hadn't expected him to wake. He looked startled, caught in a moment of sentimentality. Even after this, after seeing everything the other had and touching and tasting and thrilling one another, it was the quiet moments of emotionality that left Miles naked. And he knew not to interrupt, knew to let Miles work through the moment in his own time.
Phoenix merely looked at him, waiting, a soft smile on his lips.
Only a moment more of hesitation, until the expression on Miles's face, tinged with fear, changed into something more resolute and sure. He finished the movement and gently brushed an errant lock of hair back from Phoenix's forehead, and slid his palm down to rest against his cheek. Their eyes met, shockingly intense. It was – Phoenix hoped it was an answer to the question still lingering between them.
He held Miles's palm against his face and craned his head to meet Miles's lips in a slow, languid kiss. There was a different kind of passion in it, tender and steady, intimate in its unhurried course. He'd never tire of Miles's taste, amazed that Miles could return his affections, match him, want him. What began as a confirmation, that this had truly happened, grew into fierce, aching joy, and by the time they parted the kiss felt more like a promise.
It gave Phoenix the courage to speak first.
"I know you were forced to say it. And I know it's a cliché and kind of tacky to say it after – well. But I don't care. Miles, I–"
"It was the truth."
Miles flushed, but he refused to look away. The air around them stilled, heavy with the weight of confession. Miles drew in a sharp breath, the corners of his eyes tightened, his muscles locking him into place. It was a firm stance, rigid and determined, and at the same time the most vulnerable he had ever seen Miles.
The world was silent an instant longer, letting the words echo through his mind and into the most treasured chambers of his heart. And suddenly everything was too bright, too colorful, too full of sound and music and closeness and Miles. He had almost lost this chance, this moment of pure, unadulterated happiness.
He shifted forward to properly pull Miles to him, heart pounding so fast it was liable to leave his body and move to join its partner in the man he – the man he loved.
"Me too," he whispered against Miles's lips, voice shaky with the intensity of it. As Miles eagerly returned the kiss, practically melting against him, Phoenix decided this was the best moment of his life.
When they pulled apart Phoenix saw Miles smiling at him, soft and fond, and he couldn't stop himself from laughing, the joy spilling out, uncontainable. Phoenix sifted his fingers through Miles's bangs, watched the fine strands fall back, adding to Miles's disheveled look. He took a strange kind of delight in seeing Miles like this, less prim and proper and more natural, more open.
"Does this mean we're in a relationship?" he asked, keeping his voice light.
The smile faltered. "Is that what you want?"
And this close to Miles, close enough to feel his heartbeat and see the hope in his eyes, Phoenix understood the question Miles was truly asking: he was making sure Phoenix really did want him. The idea that Miles was unsure, that he was afraid Phoenix would measure him and find him wanting, shouldn't have surprised him so much.
"Yes," he answered simply.
Miles glanced aside. "I put you in danger. You would not have been hurt if I hadn't–"
"We can't help hurting each other."
Sharp grey eyes abruptly met his again, brow furrowed above them. "What–"
Phoenix kept talking, his hands gripping Miles more tightly with each word. "But what matters is that we fight for each other, and that we always return to each other, and most of all, that we – love each other." He swallowed hard. "I know I will, Miles."
Miles stared at him, eyes flitting between his own, searching. At last he laid his head against Phoenix's chest, above his heart, and let his arms circle Phoenix's waist. His breath left him in a long sigh. "As will I."
Fingers gently carding through Miles's hair once more, Phoenix grinned. "I'm taking that as a yes?"
"It's a yes."
They spent a few more moments lying together, breathing softly, taking pleasure in the other's presence, until Miles grudgingly lifted himself off of Phoenix and disappeared into the suite's restroom. Phoenix shifted his arms behind his head, letting all the images he had of Miles play freely across his mind, ecstatic in the knowledge that this was a beginning and not an end. A short while later, Miles leaned around the corner wall and arched an eyebrow.
"Care to join me?"
He nearly tripped over their discarded clothing in his haste to meet Miles in the shower.
After they dragged themselves from the gleaming bathroom, freshly washed, back to the oversized bed, Phoenix curled up against Miles's back. One arm pillowed beneath Miles's head and the other slung low across his waist, bare skin still warm from the water. He could feel the prosecutor's muscles falling slack as his breathing slowed into the deep rhythm of sleep.
Phoenix, holding the prosecutor flush against him, face buried in Miles's hair, finally drifted off into the most contented sleep of his life.
It had been a long time since Miles had a pleasant dream.
For most of his life he'd been haunted by his father's death, reliving the painful memory every night for fifteen years. His unconscious mind had apparently grown accustomed to misery; now he tended to dream only when faced with uncertain or troublesome events. Most recently he had dreamed about Phoenix, his agony over his capture and possible murder manifested into new, anxious nightmares.
But this time his mind had taken pity on him, and had given him a most… enjoyable dream indeed.
Thoughts of Phoenix had lingered, distracting and all too tempting, particularly after that searing affirmation in the hospital. And it seemed those desires had followed him into his sleep. He could feel a pleasant weight on top of him, and with the certainty of dreaming he knew it was Phoenix lying against him. The weight shifted, hands moving to his shoulders and chest, followed by the soft press of lips to his skin. He followed the sensation as it traveled to his breastbone, to his navel, further and further down until he dreamed he felt Phoenix's breath against him.
He had pictured this more times than he dared count, had imagined the feeling of Phoenix's lips–
Ah. Yes, just like that: lips pressing against him, tongue laving in slow, deliberate trails, until at last he felt himself engulfed in warm, wet heat. Even in his sleep he heard himself moan, a low rumble that shook his chest and set his pulse racing. That hot mouth moved around him, enthusiasm making up for a lack of fine technique. The brush of tongue against him, rough-soft and sweeping right there, made every muscle in his body twitch in pleasure.
His hands drifted down automatically, searching, and as his fingertips carded through short, soft spikes, Miles gasped as he realized this was not simply a dream. His eyes flew open, irreversibly awake. Gaze traveling down the length of his own nude body, he saw the hotel sheets pushed aside and found that he was not alone.
Because Phoenix- Phoenix was–
His head collapsed back against his pillow, heart thudding with the memory of the previous night, scarcely believing they had–
The thought was abruptly cut off as Phoenix slid even further down his length. Breath heaving in and out, Miles forced himself to keep his hips still. He let his eyes fall closed again, allowing him to turn every ounce of his focus to the slide of lips and tongue against him, faster, bringing him right to the edge all too quickly. His fingers entwined in those disheveled spikes.
"Phoenix," he murmured, voice low and rough, the name almost reverent on his tongue. He heard – he felt – an answering hum vibrate through those lips and over him, through him.
He had to- he needed to see–
Miles wrenched his eyes open and found deep, guileless blue ones looking up at him, and the enormity of it overwhelmed him.
Muscles seizing, mouth falling open in a wordless gasp, he tried to push Phoenix away. Instead, Phoenix stubbornly sealed his mouth around him, blue eyes alight and piercing, as sensation overtook him and crystallized into deep, aching release.
"God, Miles," he heard Phoenix mutter, breathless, once he had been released. Phoenix rubbed his palm gently against his hip as the last tremors of pleasure pulsed through him. "You're just – amazing."
He let out a shaky laugh. For the first time since awakening, his mind started to arrange itself into proper order, instead of the staccato snatches of thought that Phoenix had reduced it to. The smile Phoenix gave him, pleased and brilliant, felt warm like sunlight.
He couldn't even chastise himself for such a sentimental, foolish thought. Of all the things he had expected to happen in his life, the fact that Phoenix was alive and, moreover, sharing his bed was more amazing than he could find the proper words to express. It left him a little uneasy, waiting for the illusion to shatter; and a bit uncertain, suddenly sharing not just his bed but his life, himself, with the person he valued above all others; but most of all, it left him profoundly happy.
Phoenix pressed a kiss to his stomach, and rose to disappear into the restroom.
Miles remained on the bed, his breathing beginning to return to normal. The morning light gave the hotel room a crisp glow, still early in the day. Sated from his release, and delighted at that satisfied look Phoenix had given him, Miles felt a bright surge of hope spread through his chest, his limbs, into every bit of him. He was not given to extremes, but he couldn't recall ever feeling so content: this was truly the best morning of his life.
And he had almost let this chance slip away.
The sound of the gunshot in the shipping container was burned into his memory, just like the echo of another gunshot in an elevator. He remembered opening his eyes, a leaden weight in his stomach, and found Phoenix still standing, still breathing; the momentary silence was broken as Christopher Banks cried out in agony. The gun clattered to the ground as Banks staggered back, Agent Chase leaping forward to pin him down; and Phoenix, unconscious again and no longer supported, tipped forward.
Miles had never moved so fast, heart racing manically, as he skidded forward across the container floor to catch him.
He had despaired once more when Wright could not remember their kiss, the moment stolen from them. His actions had nearly cost Phoenix his life. Seeing him pale and bruised and hurt in the hospital, he had convinced himself that Phoenix would be safer, happier, oblivious of his feelings and away from him. Consumed with self-loathing, he had isolated himself in his office, rebuffing all attempts to draw him out.
But Franziska had forced her way in, and drove him to action.
"You are a fool," she had admonished from his sofa, arms crossed, tapping her finger against her elbow in an all-too-familiar gesture.
"I will not lose my little brother again because of Phoenix Wright," she interrupted, eyes and words both sharp as diamond. "If you're going to be foolish, then do so with him. Be perfect fools together."
She had marched to him and faced him head-on, leveling a von Karma glare at him. "It seems for once you need to catch up with me, Miles Edgeworth."
He owed her a tremendous debt.
Phoenix returned and clambered onto the sheets beside him, and pressed a quick kiss to the corner of his lips; he tasted like mint, and early morning stubble scraped across his jaw. Miles tugged Phoenix against him to deepen the kiss, his senses reawakening with the warm body curled into him.
"I figured I'd get some practice in while you were asleep," Phoenix admitted when they parted, cheeks darkened red.
"Mm." A slow smile curled his lips. "I admit it's an exceedingly pleasant way to awaken."
"Yeah." Phoenix shifted his hips slightly, enough to press fully against the side of his thigh. "Do you want to, um, return the favor?"
He felt his heartbeat pick up again at the hope and desire laid plain in Phoenix's voice. Perhaps this morning held even more promise than he thought.
Without giving any sign or warning Miles promptly turned and pushed Phoenix beneath him, enjoying the sound of his breath hitching in surprise. He lay against him, covering him, skin-to-glorious-skin. So close together again, he could feel how much Phoenix needed his own release. Some distant corner of his mind marveled at the fact that Phoenix would want this with him, even as the rest of it was wholly preoccupied with the sight before him.
Blue eyes stared at him, their depths endless, growing darker as Phoenix's breath slowed and turned shallow with anticipation. Dark hair, soft and messy and still spikey, tousled around his head on the pillow. Skin lightly bronzed by the California sun, a light dusting of hair across his chest and enticingly down his navel. Hard lines, strong thighs and biceps, no longer hidden by the fabric of that inexpensive blue suit. Even the last vestiges of bruises couldn't detract from Phoenix's striking looks; they merely added appealing shadow to the firm lines of his torso.
For each one he had suffered Miles vowed to bring him pleasure ten times more, a hundred times, penance for endangering him. It would take a lifetime to apologize, and more to repay Phoenix for saving him. For believing in him. Loving him.
Phoenix Wright loved him.
His heart swelled with emotion he thought long stamped out by von Karma and his days as the Demon Prosecutor. Miles knew, with the conviction of a man who prized truth above all other ideals, that he loved Phoenix in return.
With one hand he laced his fingers with Phoenix's, and the other he brought to his cheek, catching the stubble, to guide their lips together. The touch of Phoenix's tongue to his own, hot, needy, sent sparks through his nerves. He hadn't yet recovered fully, but with the way Phoenix arched against him, hips rocking into his own, he could sense the stirrings of renewed arousal.
He pulled away in the midst of their kiss, ignoring Phoenix's indignant noise, to nose against his messy hair.
"What is it you want me to do, Phoenix?"
His voice was low, still getting used to the morning, a register deeper than his usual tones. He didn't miss the shudder that crept over Phoenix as he murmured near his ear. When he received no answer, he ran his hand slowly across Phoenix's chest down to his stomach.
"What do you want?" he repeated, pressing his mouth to the divot at his throat. Perhaps he should repay Phoenix's mark as well, though the man's neck was far too exposed to seriously entertain the idea. Elsewhere, perhaps…
"Y-You're not gonna make me spell it out, are you?" Phoenix's voice was tight, distracted, Adam's apple bobbing precariously.
He allowed himself a smirk. "I'm sure with your spelling, it would make for some interesting activities."
Phoenix groaned, whole body shifting with need. "Just–"
He silenced Phoenix's plea by closing his mouth around one of the dusky buds on his chest. Teeth lightly scraping, teasing, he let his hands drift upward in a long, heavy caress, the way Phoenix had enjoyed the previous evening. He was rewarded with hips canting into him.
"Mi-iiles…" His name dragged between parted lips, caught between a surprised huff and frustrated groan. Phoenix wrapped his legs around him, heels digging into his calves, fingers clenched at his shoulders, trying to drag and push him inexorably down.
He glanced up to catch the look on Phoenix's face, and spotted the lubricant bottle lying on the nightstand – and Miles's pulse quickened as he realized exactly how he wanted to give Phoenix his release.
The halting exhale of breath, as Miles finally closed his mouth around Phoenix, set his blood racing, hot and thrumming. He savored the taste of Phoenix on his tongue, the smooth hard length sliding between his lips, scent close and masculine and appealing. He brushed slickened fingers against Phoenix, studying his expression; moved them gently into him; let his tongue drag along his length in distracting wet lines as muscles gradually relaxed and welcomed him.
When Phoenix nearly arched off the bed, eyes wide with shock and pleasure, Miles was ready once more.
"Lie on your stomach."
Miles could feel his chest rumble with contentment as he let his eyes, and his hands, trace the muscles across Phoenix's skin. Strong shoulders tapered down to a trim waist, and Miles kissed the nape of Phoenix's neck and pressed his lips along the line of his spine down to the small of his back, stopping just at the swell of firm flesh.
Phoenix bent his knee and brought one leg forward, voice low with want as he breathed, "Yes."
Only a moment of hesitation, a moment to capture the image of Phoenix waiting for him, to know that Phoenix trusted him and wanted him. Every emotion Miles kept bottled inside, pain and gratitude and unfathomable love, spilled out into senseless, foolish endearments. He grasped Phoenix's hips and pushed himself inside, muscles tight with the effort of moving slowly. At last Phoenix enveloped him and his senses were devastated, overrun, lost in heat and pleasure. To give and to take, to push down onto Phoenix or to bury himself in Phoenix's warmth – both filled him with aching, immeasurable bliss.
Chest against Phoenix's back, Miles maneuvered them onto their sides so that Phoenix was half-lying on the bed, half-lying against him. Phoenix's thigh slid over his own, leaving him open and exposed. Almost every inch of him was within his reach, just as Miles wanted, so that he could give him every ounce of pleasure he possibly could.
He rocked forward and slid his palm across heated skin. Phoenix bowed his back, gasping, as Miles skimmed across the buds on his chest, down past his navel. He wrapped his long fingers around Phoenix's length, tunneled around him. With every grind of his hips he pushed Phoenix into his hand, pleasure inescapable: only a few thrusts and he had Phoenix writhing against him.
He usually scoffed at sentimentality. But with Phoenix leaning flush against him, head thrown back onto his shoulder, chest rising and falling rapidly with barely-controlled pants, arching up into his hand and back down onto him, little moans of need escaping his parted lips – Miles was ready to admit Phoenix was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen.
And as Phoenix cried out his name, clenching around him, shaking, trembling, spilling against his stomach, Miles shuddered and met him in that moment of perfect pleasure and release.
Phoenix pulled Miles's hand to his chest and weaved their fingers together, as they leaned against each other and caught their breaths. As his heartbeat returned to something more normal, all of Miles's senses lingered on Phoenix: the scent of his hair, the taste of his skin, the stretch of his calf as he ran his toes – his toes – along the firm muscle. Phoenix's eyes, bright blue and filled with warmth. His voice, softly speaking his name.
"Miles? You still here?"
He blinked, almost overwhelmed by the intensity of the emotions pooling in his chest, and tightened his arms around Phoenix in response. Phoenix let out a short, breathy laugh.
"I think that seals it, Miles," Phoenix said, neck turned to kiss along his jaw. His eyes grew sharper, playful and sincere all at once. "We have to stay in this hotel room forever."
They would have to leave eventually, of course. But for the first time in his life, Miles was content to shut himself away and forget the rest of the world existed, not wrapped in despair but filled with joy.
Three weeks after the best morning of his life, Edgeworth returned to Los Angeles.
He had been left with few tasks while confined to the hotel room. He had reorganized his personal affairs, including his finances. He had his case files, though most of his trials had been reassigned. The police occasionally dropped by to deliver news on the investigation. One bewildered officer had even handed over a care package, bundled in Samurai wrapping with a note from the Master of Kurain. The parcel was filled with tea and sweets, and several colorful drawings from Pearl: an unexpected, and touching, gift.
With his responsibilities temporarily lightened, Edgeworth had appreciated his forced vacation. After having kept his feelings at bay for so long, once the dam was broken, he had thoroughly enjoyed the long stretches of uninterrupted time alone with Phoenix.
It almost seemed like a dream.
During their sojourn, Agent Chase had offered Christopher Banks a deal: information on the counterfeiting ring in exchange for a reduced sentence. She had built an impressive pile of evidence against him, implicating him in the murders of the previous prosecutors and police officer. In exchange for his cooperation, the state would press for life imprisonment instead of the death penalty.
Banks had agreed, on one condition.
One by one, members of the counterfeiting ring were apprehended. With their honeypot in custody and fully cooperative, the police and the FBI wasted no time in shutting down the ring's operation. Edgeworth had been cleared to return home, as had Wright – which meant it was time for the prosecutor to hold up his end of Agent Chase's bargain.
Wright had secluded himself in his office, lazing about on the couch and watching inane cable programs. He had his cell phone out, complaining to Maya on the other end of the line about the terrible quality of daytime television. Edgeworth knew it was a determined, deliberate indolence, a way for Phoenix to keep his mind occupied instead of dwelling on other matters.
They both had to build their defenses for today.
"If you feel uncomfortable at any time, you're free to leave," Agent Chase said as he cleared the security checkpoint with her and entered the prison's visiting area. "You don't even have to talk if you don't want to."
"On the contrary," Edgeworth stated as he settled into the hard plastic chair facing the reinforced glass partition, "I find I have many words. The difficulty lies in holding my tongue."
Agent Chase, standing behind him, placed a hand on top of his shoulders and gave it a reassuring squeeze. "You can swear at him if it helps, yell at him, call him any name you want. He only asked to see you; he didn't say it had to be polite."
Call him any name you want.
Edgeworth considered her advice as he heard her heels clicking away, leaving him alone in the tiny, private visitor's cell. The lone security camera would record their conversation, though only Agent Chase would have access to the tape. She had promised to edit out anything personal or embarrassing. He trusted her to be discreet.
She had fired first. He owed her a tremendous debt, too.
The indistinct, muffled sound of the heavy door opening on the other side of the glass drew his attention. Flanked by two officers, a man in an orange holding jumpsuit was escorted to the small chair in front of the divider. Once he was seated and secured, the officers shot Edgeworth a dubious look. He nodded, and moments later he was alone with the inmate.
Incarceration had not been kind.
The once-smooth strands of dark hair had become frazzled, thin wisps that obscured his face. His right arm was locked in a plaster cast, secured with a strap around his neck. Edgeworth had been told a full recuperation was unlikely; the nerve damage was too severe. The orange jumpsuit was stark against his sallow, pallid skin, a far cry from his fitted, flattering suit. He sat slumped, shoulders rounded, defeated. Even his eyes had dulled to a tarnished, brownish-red.
They looked at each other. Edgeworth almost felt a pang of pity, buried beneath his simmering anger. Taking a long, steadying breath, he reached for the phone receiver and held it to his ear.
Slowly, moving clumsily with his non-dominant hand, the inmate picked up the receiver on his side.
"Why did you request my presence, Mister Miller?"
The man on the other side of the glass winced. "I preferred Christopher Banks."
He had had several aliases: Alexander King. James Worthington. Christian LaCroix. Christopher Banks. A different name for each city, for each victim. A different identity. A different life.
"Your legal name is John Miller."
Banks – Miller – curled his lip in disgust. "So depressingly common, a boring name."
"You have not answered my question."
He heard a long sigh over the receiver. "Do I need a reason?"
Edgeworth bristled; he could nearly feel the hairs on his neck rise, a tremor of rage erupting in his chest. But he was disciplined; the only outward hint he allowed was a tightening of his jaw.
"My time is not so plentiful to waste it on you." He rose, moving to set the receiver back into its holder.
"Was he worth it?"
Edgeworth froze. Their eyes locked, grey and red, both sets filled with anger and loathing.
Miller smirked, and cradled his receiver closer. "He's broken now."
Heart pounding frantically, Edgeworth wrapped himself in icy fury. It was an old, comfortable sort of anger, the kind he wore when he cared only for his record and for punishing criminals. It reminded him of von Karma, the disdain and the obsession with perfection. If anyone deserved Edgeworth's contempt, it was the defeated, imperfect failure, the broken wreck of a man imprisoned before him. It would be a simple thing, to destroy what was left of the man's dignity.
Miller had wanted the Demon Prosecutor, after all.
But that man, the one Edgeworth used to be, was only a shell now. It was a weapon, a shield, a façade used sparingly. Wright had brought out the best in him.
"If you believe you have broken Phoenix Wright, you are mistaken."
He chose his next words carefully. Nothing could hurt quite like the truth.
"Everything you've done has served to draw us closer together. I believe we're going to be quite… happy."
Miller blinked, taken aback. He had obviously expected Phoenix to still suffer, for the two of them to be driven apart. Their bond shattered. Something dark passed over Miller's face, his expression faltering.
Perhaps living well truly was the best revenge.
After a moment of stunned silence, Miller gathered what remained of his composure. "Well. I suppose I'll see you in court." His tone was sullen, a final effort to lash out with the promise of an embarrassing trial.
Edgeworth shook his head.
"No, you won't. Regulations prevent me from pursuing my own case against you." He let the corners of his mouth quirk up. "I leave that to my sister."
He met those startled eyes for the last time. "Goodbye, Mister Miller."
Edgeworth replaced the receiver and turned away. He trusted Franziska to perfectly conduct the trial, which meant he would never have to see Christopher Banks – John Miller – ever again.
No more time wasted on foolish mistakes.
Edgeworth felt lighter as he exited the visiting area, as though a weight he had been unaware of carrying had been lifted from his shoulders. A tension, slowly starting to uncoil.
Agent Chase met him outside the security checkpoint, a small, sympathetic smile on her face. "I can only imagine how difficult that was."
As she looked him over, she drew in a sharp breath, her demeanor turning professional. "You've helped us keep our end of the bargain. The FBI and the police appreciate your assistance." She paused, waiting for him to meet her gaze. "And so do I."
He gave her a brisk nod and strode toward the entryway, anxious to leave the prison far behind.
She matched his pace. "You'll be informed once the case goes to trial. From this point on the local police will be in charge of wrapping things up."
When they reached the edge of the parking lot, she stopped him with a hand at his elbow. "Prosecutor." At his expectant look, she held out her hand. "I fly out this evening. It's been a pleasure working with you."
He hesitated, remembering everything she had done to help Phoenix, and all he felt he owed her. Something must have shown in his expression; her eyes softened as she waited for him. He grasped her hand, hold firm, and his voice was thicker than normal. "And you, Agent Chase. Thank you for all you've done."
He was grateful she didn't press; the gleam in her eye told him she understood.
"Take care of Detective Gumshoe, once you're back working together."
He raised one of his brows, feeling more comfortable on familiar ground. "I already recommended a raise, didn't I?"
"Well, I suppose that counts." She laughed and pulled her hand back. "Give my regards to Mister Wright. I'm happy for you both."
Edgeworth felt his face warm, but answered her regardless: "So am I."
To his surprise, Phoenix was not sprawled out on the office couch when Edgeworth returned. He was quietly working at the back desk, papers stacked a little unsteadily beside him. He was even fully dressed, tie straightened, jacket on.
It made Edgeworth's pulse pick up, heart beating more firmly.
Phoenix swiveled around in the chair and smiled softly at him. "Turns out work is better than mindless daytime talk shows to stay distracted."
"I should hope work is normally more than just a distraction, Wright."
"Yeah. But today was…" He trailed off, head turning to stare absently out the window, expression growing somber. "Did he say anything?"
Edgeworth was quick to respond, hoping to stamp out that resignation in Wright's voice. "He wanted to gloat." Phoenix's eyes flicked back toward him, and Edgeworth gave him a tight smile. "He was unable to do so."
A slow, meandering grin worked its way across Wright's mouth. There was something stunning in the way that Phoenix could look at him and know his meaning. Even more amazing were the emotions laid plain on his face, everything Phoenix had once held back now free and open.
He was helpless in the face of that answering grin. Miles shifted forward, dragged Phoenix to his feet by his lapels, and soundly kissed him.
They could finally have this. They could be happy together. It was a potent, exhilarating thought, filling Edgeworth with deep, immeasurable joy.
Holding the cheap, endearing suit material, Edgeworth brushed his thumb over the topmost buttonhole on Phoenix's lapel. It was empty.
He abruptly frowned when they parted.
Phoenix tilted his head, curious. "What's wrong?" He followed Edgeworth's gaze and chuckled sadly. "Oh, yeah, I guess it's gone now. I should put in for a re-issue."
Edgeworth cleared his throat. "There's no need."
He reached into his trouser pockets and found Wright's badge, nestled against his own. Moments later he pinned it back in place on Phoenix's jacket; he could practically feel the smile radiating from Wright.
"You know, I'm the one who usually shows that off," Phoenix teased. "Should I guess why you had it?"
"I'm sure you can work it out on your own." He felt his face warm, but he could endure the momentary embarrassment for the satisfaction of seeing Phoenix happy.
Badge back in place, Phoenix truly looked complete.
He hadn't realized he was staring.
Phoenix moved forward, arms outstretched, and drew Miles to him, and Miles found himself kissing Phoenix, again and again, utterly, happily lost.
They had suffered. Had endured hardship. Had both been fools and had chased after a dream – and now they finally belonged with each other.
It had been a long way to fall in love.
Author's Notes: Thank you to everyone who has read A Long Way to Fall. I had no idea the story would grow so much! It's been an extremely emotional journey for me to write, and I hope that you enjoyed reading it as much as I've enjoyed telling this story.
Thank you to my most wonderful beta and friend, akadriver. This story wouldn't have finished without you, and I am thankful beyond words that we could work together. A huge thank you to the Big Bang community for all their excitement to write and create - particularly to Surreality for your amazing artwork and encouragement, to Madra for your support, and to Tellezara for keeping the Big Bang together.
To everyone who has commented on the story here or elsewhere, or let me know how much they liked reading this – you have my most sincere, my most heartfelt gratitude.
And finally, you can find me on my tumblr under the same name, prospectkiss. I'd love to fangirl over the Ace Attorney series with you.
Thank you so much for reading A Long Way to Fall !