Unfortunately for Phoenix, Simon demands his attention for the better part of the next few days. With the teasing onset of autumn, the palace gardens are beginning to really bear fruit now, vines choked with squash and orchard littered with fallen apples. Phoenix’s hands smell of soil and plant matter for hours afterward.
The quite literal fruit of their labors is a well-stocked pantry and several delicious meals, which serve to remind Phoenix how good freshly harvested vegetables are. Edgeworth and Franziska appear in the windows several times as they work, and once he even appears on the balcony overlooking the arbor. Phoenix waves at him, and he shyly wags his fingers in return before retreating, suddenly bashful.
Dinners are pleasant. Edgeworth attends all of them, and though they do not speak much- Phoenix is too tired to be a good conversationalist- they are warm and comfortable. He feels good, down to his bones; aching from hard work and a job well done.
On the third day, he wakes up early, bidden by excitement rolling in his gut, and waits by the stair to the seaside tower. Butterflies flutter against his ribcage, trapped inside with his pounding heart, so eager he feels almost sick from it.
He doesn’t have to wait long. A distant creak, the sound of nails on stone, and Edgeworth emerges from the stairwell, eyes bright. The morning light is still weak, and his white fur shines like silk in it.
“Hi,” Phoenix says, because he can’t think of anything else. Edgeworth’s mouth twitches upwards, just a little.
“Hi,” he replies, and his voice is kind, and Phoenix remembers dozens of sleepovers and late-night romps, of two boys rolling over in bed and greeting each other like they’d never met before erupting into giggles. The tone is the same, and he feels young again.
“I must admit, you probably know this place better than me,” Edgeworth says as they start off at a slow amble. His legs are longer than Phoenix’s now, but he keeps pace, slowing down so neither of them get lost. What he’s said is sad, in a way Phoenix can’t place, because he can’t decide if it’s true or not. “Where do you want to go?”
“The cliffside,” Phoenix responds. He’s been thinking of it ever since he picked the apples in the arbor, and the wind caught the branches of the non-fruiting trees on the far side, planted to protect the palace from the ocean winds. He remembers the bare lip of land beyond them well- it was never overgrown with too much bracken, as the wind always whipped seeds away, and Lord Edgeworth had always warned them away from the edge. They didn’t always listen, but never fell.
Their path there is slow and meandering. They travel through the main hall, and catch a glimpse of Apollo and Klavier, making their daily commute from room to library. Phoenix waves at them, and so does Edgeworth, which catches them off-guard. Klavier leans over to whisper something to his companion after they’ve gestured back, who shoves him playfully in the torso, looking embarrassed.
Conversation is stilted at first, but flows eventually, if slowly. Phoenix remarks on his explorations, about the library, about the residents other than themselves; Edgeworth eats it up with perked ears and an interest that could only be begotten by someone who is truly ignorant to the topic at hand. It makes him realize how isolated the seaside tower is, how many years he’s been ignoring the life below. He introduces as much as he can as they push open the doors on the ground floor and walk between the apple trees.
Eventually, he mentions something he’d been skirting around: “And I’ve got to say, most of those papers weren’t too kind on the topic of von Karma. I mean- ah.”
He winces. Edgeworth’s head tilts away from his, and a distance creeps into his eyes, but he doesn’t stop walking, and after a moment, his reply arrives.
“Fair. He was not kind to them in turn, so it is only just.”
Phoenix takes the plunge. “Was he- was he kind to you, at least?”
He knows the answer, but hopes he doesn’t. Miles stares up at the leafy canopy overhead.
“No, he was not. I don’t think he had it in him to be kind to anyone, but least of all me. He didn’t even treat his daughter with love, so why would I be offered that?”
His stomach lurches, and he wants to reach for Edgeworth’s hand, but holds back. “You didn’t deserve that.”
A faint laugh. “Two years ago, I would have disagreed with you wholeheartedly.”
He lets the statement sit as it is. Phoenix isn’t sure how to deal with it. He shoves his hands into his pockets, and paper crunches under his fingers- The letter! He’d almost forgotten. He draws it out with two fingers, thankful that it is still somewhat whole, and holds it out. Edgeworth blinks.
“A letter for you,” he explains, pushing it a little closer. Miles picks it up and looks curiously at the wax seal. “It’s the last one I wrote before I- well, came here. It’s actually why I came here, if you’d believe it.”
“To deliver it to me?” Edgeworth says, softly.
“Someone else tried, actually. My daughter.”
“Your what,” Miles’ eyes snap to his in shock, and Phoenix can’t help but laugh. You’ve missed so much, huh?
“I adopted her- oh, five years ago now. Or maybe more, or less, I’m not sure. Her grandfather died, and she had no one, and you know me.” He taps his chest. “Heart too big for my chest.”
“I do,” Miles smiles again, just a little bit. “So there’s... been no one in your life? Other than her?”
Phoenix shakes his head, and before he knows it, he’s pushing through the treeline on the edge of the cliff and telling Miles about his family. He details Maya and Mia, and the death of the latter; he talks about Athena’s appearance in their lives, and most of all, he talks about Trucy. About being a father for the first time, fumbling upwards into parenthood, and finding he didn’t want to stop trying even when it got hard and he was terrified of making a mistake. About the joy he felt when she called him ‘daddy’ for the first time, and he knew he was in for the long haul.
Miles listens with something inscrutable in his eyes, and even though he misses Trucy with every fiber of his being, talking about her, with him, makes it hurt less. If he closes his eyes, he can almost imagine her walking between them, interjecting when he gets his stories wrong. He thinks she could make Edgeworth smile.
It’s a dizzying concept, one that hits too hard at someplace very new and very soft in Phoenix’s heart that he doesn’t quite understand. Thankfully, before he can go on and embarrass himself, the trees thin out and the breeze whistles in his ears, and they’re on the edge of the cliff that once gave the palace its name.
Phoenix hasn’t gone to the seaside in a while, even with it as close as it is, and especially hasn’t seen it from this angle in decades. The last time he was here, he was a boy, shading his eyes from the sun with Miles by his side, eager to have a new place to play. He finds himself mimicking his old movements, stepping forward with his arm over his forehead, staring out at the sea.
The sun is still low in the sky, tinged with traces of sunrise orange and rose, but it is fully above the horizon and shining appropriately. It makes the sea glitter under it, a celestial road leading far away, cobbles made of sunlight. The sky is a delicate blue, streaked with wispy clouds; the air is calm today and the water is in kind. Waves lap at the shore far below, a gentle, soothing rhythm far from anything smashing against rocks. A breeze tousles at his hair.
There’s a faint noise from behind him, and he turns to give Edgeworth a hand- and suddenly he’s eleven years old again, waiting for Miles to catch up as he carefully navigates between bushes and emerges from the trees.
“Come on, I know you’re not that slow,” Phoenix cries, his grin wide and teasing. Miles brushes himself down and sticks his tongue out, frowning, but he can see the mirth in his best friend’s eyes and knows he’s not really mad.
“Father says there are stinging nettles in the trees,” he chides, but hastens his steps to reach him. “I don’t want to get stung.”
As he watches now, Edgeworth swipes his clawed hands over his thighs, brushing himself down once, twice, thrice- just like he’s always done. Exactly three times, no more, no less. There is something stinging at the back of his eyes.
“Next time I’ll leave you behind, if you’re gonna be so slow!”
“Just be grateful you didn’t bring Larry. He’d have gotten us all into nettles, and we’d hurt for days.”
Miles joins him, blinking in the warm light. It catches his fur in gold and yellow. “Well, what now?”
“Well, we’re here. What do we do now?”
“Duh. We sit on the cliff edge, right?”
“Th-the edge?! Isn’t that unsafe? Father says we could slip and fall!”
“The cliff edge,” Phoenix says. His tongue is almost too heavy for him to speak. “I just want to sit for a bit, if that’s okay with you.”
“It’s a bit dangerous,” Miles replies, furrowing his brow. “Are you sure?”
“Come on, please! It’ll be okay, it’s not too thin or anything. ”
Phoenix’s mouth is dry. “Yeah. I am.”
“...All right.” He goes ahead, because Phoenix is rooted to the ground. He can’t stop staring.
When Phoenix doesn’t follow, Miles turns, eyes drawn tight with worry. The afternoon light edges him in gold, his face is open and soft. Phoenix looks into his eyes, sees the warmth there, and something is keeping him stuck. His heart is pounding and he couldn’t say why. He never wants this moment to end- he never wants to stop seeing Miles like this, looking at him like he’s the only person in the world, not even aware that his gaze is pinning him down.
“Phoenix?” Miles asks, and his eyes are dark with worry, just like back then. He shakes his head, snaps out of the reverie, and goes to join him.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. Just- just remembering stuff.”
Miles’ laugh- quiet and clipped- is just the same. He remembers when he used to be able to make him laugh louder, until he cried- jokes told under covers, playfights where Phoenix would pontificate ridiculously enough that his mock opponent would break down in giggles.
Every step he takes is slow and deliberate. He walked the same path the first time, over rocks and low scrub, right to the middle of the cliff edge. The sky meets the sea in a neverending line, blue to green.
He doesn’t care, because he can’t stop looking at Miles, at the shape of his heads, of the folding of his jacket, the faraway look in his eyes.
Miles sits, looks up at him expectantly. It had been just the same, when they came here to explore the first time. Phoenix had felt his heart race as he swung his legs over and sat next to him, and he knew the height of the possible drop had nothing to do with it. Their fingertips are mere inches away, and he can feel every one.
Silence stretches between them, long and full of unsaid words. The waves keep track of it in an endless rhythm below.
“Nothing much has changed,” Miles says, after a while. All three of his heads are looking out at the sea. If Phoenix squints, he almost feels like he can see the profile of the man he would have become amongst them. “I’m surprised.”
“You haven’t been here since...?”
“No.” Miles hunches his arms, leaning forward a bit, but not enough to unbalance himself. “For... many reasons. I was scared- of myself, mostly. At what I might do. And... and it didn’t feel right, either. I think that was what kept me away.”
“Feel right?” His skin is aching for that something, and he almost has a name for it, but not quite-
“Every time I went here, it was with you,” Miles says, and twists to face him. He looks placid, at peace, even with the breeze fluttering his ears and making the chain between his muzzles thump lightly against his chest. The sunlight catches the silver in his grey eyes, makes him squint a little, but there’s a smile dancing on the corner of his maw. “It felt wrong to go alone.”
All those years ago, Phoenix had sat here and stared in open wonder at his best friend, and did not have the words for the feelings he felt. Now, the world has cycled back around; he is sitting here once more, staring at his best friend yet again, but he is older and wiser. The thing that blossoms in his chest is not new at all, not even a little; it is familiar and warm and he has the words for it. They took so long to find that they slot in easily, the place for them well-worn and kept over the decades, undulled by time and distance and shape.
Phoenix Wright is in love with Miles Edgeworth.
He always has been.
“I’m glad I’m here, then,” he says from far away, and it’s true but so very insignificant in the face of it all, of the feelings washing over him that are new and painfully old all at once. Everything has changed, and nothing has; he is a Phoenix from twenty-one years ago and a Phoenix from now.
But Miles is smiling, and the morning is warm, and they’re sitting together and enjoying the sunlight. And that’s enough, for now.
He settles back to watch the horizon. The sides of their hands bump when he shifts, and if Phoenix lays his pinky finger over Miles’, well, neither of them say a word.