The first thing Phoenix sees in the San Francisco Hall of Justice is a rat the size of a handbag dog. It makes eye contact with him as he gets off the elevator. He blinks first, and the rat scuttles down a septic-looking hallway with track lighting and boxes everywhere, like it has an appointment.
He pushes his suitcase behind him protectively and scans the halls. There-- that open door. There are law clerks through there, and their eyes drop as he catches them, trying to pretend they’re working.
Too late. Phoenix drags his bag up to the smallest one. She blinks up at him. “I’m in the wrong place,” he says in an undertone. “Do you know where the DA is?”
“Oh. No,” she says. “This is it. District Attorney’s Office.”
“No, I mean the actual District Attorney. The person. What floor is he on?”
“This is it,” she says again. She looks him over. Her eyes snag on his beanie. “Do you have an appointment?”
Phoenix restrains the urge to say, Good eye, I’m a convicted criminal. Instead he says, “Down the hall?”
“No, like, here. Here. Like here. In the corner,” she says, and points. “His office flooded.”
Phoenix follows her finger and sees: a corner cubicle, with a track light directly above it. Its inhabitant is already standing, watching Phoenix figure it out. He’s wearing a gray suit and a bright pink pocket square. And glasses. And an expression that Phoenix can’t quite place.
Phoenix gives him a royal wave.
Miles’ mouth twitches. He steps out of the cubicle holding a case file the size of his whole torso and places it in front of the clerk, who looks mournfully up at her boss. “Medical records for the insanity plea,” he says, and pats the file reassuringly. “Don’t worry. I do know him.”
The fluorescent light is picking out new whites in his hair, the bags under his eyes, the fine wrinkles on his cheeks. He looks taller, which is impossible. Phoenix says, “I’m not taking an insanity plea.”
“If you’ve accumulated criminal charges since your flight I’m very impressed,” Miles says and then immediately and visibly regrets. “I-- ah-- which I hope was an easy one. Easier than Berlin.” He regrets this too, strikes out for a new thing. “How do you like San Francisco?”
Abruptly Phoenix realizes that he looks taller because he’s lost weight.
“Not bad,” he says. “This part could use, uh…”
“A floor to ceiling cleaning?”
“Or a major fire.”
The intern leans protectively over her files, and Miles says, “May I take your bag?”
Miles’ invitation had come as a double surprise. First, because Phoenix had been… well, he’d been going on ninety percent sure that they were done. In the end it hadn’t even been that bad, really. The breakup was bad, certainly, in ways he wasn’t going to look at even now. The first couple of years, when it was just him and Trucy. Those had also been bad. But then he’d gotten sober and started texting people again. He’d started texting Miles again. Carefully, cautiously. Birthdays and holidays. Formulaic jokes.
Eventually Miles had asked him to come out to Germany, and he’d gone, and they’d spent a few hours each day being conscientiously polite to each other. It had been fine. Sort of like jet lag. Dislocated and unreal, and once you returned home all the things which had felt so urgent went away again.
And then Miles had sent him confetti emoji at seven in the evening on his birthday, which was such a normal thing to do he suspected Miles had copied it out of an instructional manual. And a couple of months later, he’d made a joke about seeing Miles’ wrinkles in person, and Miles had said, “Come up anytime,” so of course Phoenix had said “sure?” and then, after some thought, “up??”
Which is how he discovered that Miles was the District Attorney of San Francisco.
“Acting District Attorney,” Miles says. The stairwell has an echo, so it sounds like a grand pronouncement. “They were looking for someone who had nothing whatsoever to do with the previous officeholder.”
“And they started looking in Germany?” Phoenix demands. “How bad could it have been?”
Miles glances over his shoulder. “He was caught on tape promising favors to luxury housing developers in exchange for bounties on nuisance crime.”
“Uh,” Phoenix says. He’d been picturing a sex scandal.
Miles pushes open the fire exit, which makes a sound like a dying heron, and waits for Phoenix to walk through. “If it helps, there may be mafia involvement.”
“Thanks.” The neighborhood isn’t anywhere near as bad as the Hall of Justice itself. The whole ecosystem is different than he remembers: no bail bondsmen, no fruit carts, no concrete buildings next door for the cops or the federal government. It’s mostly coffeehouses with avant garde names and furniture outlets. He looks back at Miles. “So they came to you because….”
Miles flushes. “I have a reputation for probity.”
“Oh my god.”
“It’s not what it--”
“Oh my god,” Phoenix repeats. He hugs his jacket closer to his chest. “They hired you because of your spotless record.”
“They hired me because I fired ten percent of the city’s lawyers in Berlin,” Miles says, rather caustically. “I don’t think my youthful indiscretions--”
“No, I don’t think they were thinking about the five years of malpractice,” Phoenix says. He sounds kind of like a demented Teletubby in his own ears, but he can’t stop. “Did you tell them you were friends with a forger?”
Miles doesn’t answer. When Phoenix looks back, it’s because he’s tugging on Phoenix’s suitcase, trying to get the wheels to stop sticking in the pavement. He makes a heaving noise and it comes loose, rolls about an inch, grinds to a halt again.
“It just does that,” Phoenix says. “Don’t buy suitcases from the five-and-dime.”
“It will roll,” Miles says grimly, and as if it’s feeling threatened the handle shifts and pops and suddenly it’s gliding along. He pulls it up alongside Phoenix, and Phoenix says, “Can we get coffee?”
The coffeeshop is fifty percent wood paneling, fifty percent chrome. It was probably really modern in 2015. Miles orders a drink big enough to make his hands almost look proportional and sits them by the window, sliding Phoenix’s bag under the table as though it had never fought him at all.
Phoenix runs his stirrer around his hot chocolate and says, “So I hear you’re charging cops.”
“The innuendo that we are in some way being soft on crime by holding the SFPD to the high standards they profess is insulting and wrongheaded,“ Miles says automatically. “How did you hear we’re charging cops?”
“No, go back, I want to hear the talking point again.”
Miles scowls. “You can read the newspapers.”
“I did.” Phoenix puts his feet up on the extra chair. “Gumshoe sent them to me. He seems very hurt.”
“It’s like nobody even remembers Damon Gant,” Miles complains. “Did you go to the wedding?”
“Gumshoe and Maggey? Missed it,” Phoenix says. “Trucy had a thing. School play. You know how it is.”
Something passes over Miles’ face, and he directs his attention to the coffee. “They were kind enough to invite me,” he says. “But I was in Berlin. I sent them something appropriate.”
“Everyone loves something appropriate,” Phoenix says encouragingly. “Come on, tell me. Fondue set?”
Miles’ head jerks up, extremely offended. “A fondue set wouldn’t be appropriate.”
“Right, right. Wine cooler?”
“Silverware,” Miles says, freezingly. “Off their registry. You can stop trying to entrap me into an extravagance.”
“Was I?” Phoenix says. He smiles. “Sorry. Old habits die hard.”
“What is it you say you do now?”
“Piano player.” The lie’s automatic. So is the expression: sheepish, not very convincing. He turns the mug around in his hands and says, “Seriously, though, tell me about the purge. What are you using for metrics instead of convictions?”
It turns out Miles has a platform. Miles’ coffee goes cold and his croissant stale as he lays it out. It’s art-of-the-possible stuff-- decent principles approached with care and an eye to personality. He’s granular when something’s real, full of friendly elision when it’s not, and after a while Phoenix stops asking questions and just goes “Yeah?” every couple of minutes so he can listen to the gravelly sound of Miles’ voice selling him something.
At last there’s a lull. Phoenix rouses himself and sees that Miles is looking just past his ear. “Convincing,” he says. “I’d vote for you.”
Miles smiles a little. He’s still dodging eye contact. “Of course you would. You wrote half of it.”
“That stuff? No,” Phoenix says, definitively. “That was noted defense attorney Phoenix Wright. I’m a stay at home dad. I don’t even remember what a tort is unless Trucy wants it for dessert.”
Miles coughs. “When did you learn to play piano?”
“Oh, I didn’t,” Phoenix says brightly. “Turns out that isn’t a job requirement.”
Miles has to take a call halfway through Phoenix describing the borscht at the Borscht Bowl, which is a little bit of a relief to both of them, but when he comes back in he says, half-distracted, “There’s a meeting down at the Embarcadero. Ah-- the waterfront. My apartment is on the way. A half an hour’s walk?”
It’s sunny and clear, and the suitcase pops and spits behind them as they head east. They walk past murals and under a giant billboard for Coca-Cola which looks like it took a wrong turn from the 1950s. They talk about sandwiches. Miles takes three more calls, each more frazzling than the last, and Phoenix eavesdrops and pretends he isn’t doing it: the mayor’s salty about something, one of the clerks doesn’t know how to Bluebook, a judge granted an exclusion motion. He hangs up the last one with particular violence and turns to Phoenix, taking a deep breath, and the phone immediately rings again.
“It’s ok,” Phoenix says. “You have a job.”
Miles curses and takes call number four.
What is going on with Miles Edgeworth? He’d expected a guy like Miles was in Berlin, distant and determined to be kind, his cravat perfectly pressed and his career on the upswing. Instead he’s got this awkward guy with his mousse getting messed up because he keeps yanking on his hair, who’s being yelled at by everyone with a municipal license plate for doing his job. Whose office is flooded, and rat-infested, and definitely smelled more like urine than Phoenix was expecting.
It’s probably not a good sign that this is making Phoenix feel right at home.
This time when Miles gets off the phone he puts it on silent, drops it in his pocket. “Never tell a judge you think she committed a gross miscarriage of justice,” he grumbles. “They take it very personally.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Phoenix says, watching with fascination as Miles’ hair slowly collapses to the right. “Have you tried telling them that they’re a sham? That went over well when I did it.”
“That was me,” Miles says dryly. “Thank you, by the way.”
“Then that’s probably fine,” Phoenix says. “Do they still let you argue cases?”
Miles shakes his head. The hair flops over to the left. “I imagine I’ll get one eventually, but I no longer have time for trial practice. I’ve substituted for some of the younger attorneys on a motion or two.”
“Nice, the power of intimidation,” Phoenix agrees, and Miles finally laughs outright. “Hey! It’s a practice suggestion. Against criminals you need every edge you can get. I can’t believe you’d disregard my advice like this, Miles, I thought we were friends.”
“Absolutely,” Miles says. “My mistake. I’ll make a note of it.”
Maybe not right at home. Miles hadn’t been this game in Los Angeles. Stress is good for him, or something, or Phoenix is getting to be kind of a sucker.
Miles is still smiling. “Did Maya ever follow up with Franziska? I know they were planning to meet when my sister was passing through, but she can be hard to track down.”
Oh. Phoenix forces a laugh. “No idea,” he says. “Last time Maya came down was New Year’s. She’s busy, we can’t keep up, you know?”
“Oh,” Miles says. He does a pretty good job of hiding the pity. “Of course. She’s the Master of Kurain.”
“Yeah, well,” Phoenix says. “Trucy’s staying with her while I’m up here, so--”
This time he catches it as it happens. Miles’ eyes slide right off him at Trucy’s name and he tenses up again. It’s subtle, but unfortunately for Miles Edgeworth, Phoenix has spent the last six years watching his daughter watch people.
There are a few ways that Phoenix could choose to react to this. He thinks them over. He picks a bad one. “You know, Trucy?” he says, widening his grin.
“Yes,” Miles says warily.
Phoenix keeps beaming. “Trucy Wright? My daughter? You’ve met a couple of times?”
“Yes. Of course. I’m sorry,” Miles says again. He’s completely neutral: he’s managed to learn the words but not the beat. “She and Maya must get along so well.”
“That’s very interesting,” Phoenix says, stopping in the middle of the street. “You were avoiding Trucy, huh? Were you going to pretend she didn’t exist?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Miles says. He tries to keep going in a futile attempt to stop Phoenix causing a scene, but that’s where he’s wrong about how much shame Phoenix has left. “Of course I know Trucy exists. You’ve sent enough photos.”
“Which you’ve mostly ignored,” Phoenix says. “Because you don’t want to admit that she still lives in my apartment.”
“Well, forgive me if I still find it difficult to believe that I left the country two months into our relationship and you adopted a child,” Miles says. He’s making a superhuman effort not to yell. The suitcase tips over. “I have nothing whatsoever against Trucy or against your choices, but if you are wondering whether I might be uncomfortable with that reminder--”
“She’s not a reminder,” Phoenix says tightly. “She’s fourteen. She’s a magician. She’s my daughter. She’s like eighty-five percent of my life.” Miles’ face contorts at that and Phoenix laughs, surprised after all. “Wow, Miles, yeah, if you’ve been wondering why I don’t have fun exciting adventures with all our old friends, surprise! I’ve been raising a child!”
“Congratulations! Did you want me to give you a medal?”
“It was not my fault that you didn’t trust--”
“We are in the middle of the street!” Miles grabs for the suitcase fruitlessly. “Is there any possibility that you can throw accusations at me somewhere less public?”
Phoenix opens his mouth to tell him where he can stick the public and closes it. He’s thirty-fucking-two. He’s old enough to know better than this.
“You’re right,” he says. “This was a mistake. Give me your keys.”
Miles’ mouth works for a moment. Then he reaches into his suit jacket and pulls out a fob. “Here,” he says, and Phoenix steps forward and takes the suitcase and the keys and says, “Have a good day at work.”
Halfway down the block he realizes he doesn’t know Miles’ address, but like hell he’s improving on that exit line. He’ll find it on Facebook.
The lights warm as he unlocks the door to Miles’ apartment, and the window’s tinting fades to show Phoenix the shimmering blue expanse of the San Francisco Bay. Miles’ couch is the same color as the islands. It’s probably the same size as the islands. A workspace unfolds from the wall, and from the kitchen Phoenix can hear the refrigerator say, in its computer-generated voice, “It is seventy-five degrees outside. You are out of milk.”
Phoenix lugs his bag over to the couch and collapses. It puts him at perfect eyelevel with the lamp.
It’s a $150 lamp from Pier 1 Imports. He knows this because it used to be in his apartment. For three months. Miles had bought it as a gesture which even at the time both of them had known was a little excessive. They’d been dating for-- what? Two weeks? Less? Miles had said something about being tired of never being able to see in the pit, and Phoenix had given him a blowjob on the broken sofa, which is something that makes his back hurt even to remember. How had he bent like that? How had either of them? Six years ago, at the beginning of recorded time?
He stands up to turn it on, and suddenly the whole place is boobytrapped. That’s a picture of Franziska threatening him from the sideboard. That’s Miles’ old office clock on the wall. That’s the color-coded chess set he used to beat Phoenix with backwards and forwards. These are the whole nutmegs he insisted on buying. That poster looks art deco and is definitely Steel Samurai memorabilia.
Phoenix goes over the place methodically: the front drawers with the emergency flashlight. The secret mystery novels in with the nonfiction on Miles’ bookcase. The ridiculous threadcount on his sheets. The plant that is already dying in his window.
He drifts back into the living room and sits back down on the couch and tries to drive off the treacherous sensation that says he knows every inch and year of Miles Edgeworth. It’s a charmer, but it’s lied to him for the last time.
His suitcase rolls past him.
Phoenix frowns and drags it back, lets it go, watches as it gently flops back into place. A quarter from his pocket just vanishes into the carpet, but a cup from the kitchen follows the same wobbly trajectory to the window. Miles’ seven million dollar condo is tilted at a ten degree angle.
When the door finally opens a couple of hours later Phoenix has finished watering the orchid and washing the dishes and is lying flat on his stomach in the carpet, trying to see if he can get the cup to bank into the corner if he wings it off the sofa. Miles’ feet appear in his line of vision. Phoenix cranes his neck up to look at him. “You live in the Leaning Tower of Pisa.”
“There are also odor problems,” Miles says, regarding the vent in the ceiling. “Apparently they declined to check both the foundation and the ventilation before finishing construction.”
“Give me a hand up.” He levers himself off the ground, which takes a lot of doing. “How did you end up picking this winner?”
“My streak of luck continues.” Miles lets go of Phoenix’s arm and takes off his jacket, folding it over the back of the sofa, then methodically loosens his tie. “I want to apologize,” he says. “I do apologize. I was avoiding Trucy.”
Phoenix winces. “Miles--”
“No-- I’m not making protestations to convince you to stay.” His shoulders are tense again, this time as he gets through a practiced speech. “But I wanted to say it regardless. You know that I feared that the adoption would end badly, that you or Trucy or both would be hurt. Evidently I was wrong.”
What does Phoenix say to something like that? If you were so worried why didn’t you stick around to help us out? Phoenix had known what he was doing. He’d known that he’d be giving things up. If he hadn’t known it would be Miles, well, that was because he hadn’t wanted to think about it hard enough. Miles didn’t owe him-- a daughter, a life, a second income, a different world; Miles doesn’t owe him anything anymore.
And Miles is, to be fair, trying: this is his best guess at what hurt. It’s not so close. But it’s not bad.
Miles’ smile is soft and a little sad. Phoenix reaches out and puts a hand on his arm anyway. “You fucked up,” he says. “It’s okay.”
“Every so often it does happen,” Miles says, not moving. God, his biceps are like steel, he must be doing CrossFit. “I am sorry.”
“Yeah, well,” Phoenix says. He goes for a smile. “Thanks anyway.”
There’s a pause. It’s because they have both realized that Phoenix is touching him.
It actually feels kind of like he’s been kicked in the chest. Suddenly his fingers each have an independent existence and they’re all individually trying to tell him about the fine pattern of hair on Miles’ arm. Phoenix tries to take a steadying breath and gets a lungful of Miles’ cologne. He should pull back.
Miles isn’t doing any better: Phoenix can hear him raggedly exhale, can feel his pulse speeding up as Phoenix slides his hand down to Miles’ wrist.
“This isn’t,” Miles murmurs, and Phoenix leans in and kisses him.
It’s slow. It feels right. After a moment, after it keeps going, Miles makes a soft noise and slides his fingers through Phoenix’s, reaches up to touch his cheek, and Phoenix turns into it, so Miles guides him back for another and then another, until, breathless, Phoenix pulls away a little to see Miles’ eyes go dark.
“What are we doing?” Miles says. He sounds half-drunk. He sounds unhappy.
“I don’t know,” Phoenix says. He runs a thumb along a new line next to Miles’ mouth. “This is probably a bad idea.”
“Do you think?” Miles lets out a laugh. “I can’t think of a reason it might be a good idea. Phoenix, let go of me.”
Phoenix lets go of him. Miles pulls down on his vest like he’s trying to make his body fall back into place. “Are you serious?”
Miles jerks his head back. “Yes.”
That-- hurts, actually, pretty bad, and Phoenix covers it with a smile. He rakes his fingers through his hair just to have something to do with his hands. “Okay. I get it. I mean, I don’t really have my old debonair charm.” He laughs. “The sweatpants don’t really--”
“What does that have to do with anything?” Miles says. His voice is thin and pained. “As if I’m not… We have hurt each other very badly. It has taken me a long time to find an equilibrium. How can you come in here and just--? What are you doing to me?”
“I thought I was making out with you,” Phoenix says, deliberately flat. “I didn’t really think it was going to be a federal issue.”
Miles throws up his arms. “Don’t give me your idiot act!”
“Oh, it’s an act now?”
“I thought I would be generous.” Miles’ nostrils flare. He is trying to be calm and even and not succeeding. “You knew it was not casual.”
All right, so what? Phoenix yells in his head. So what, so what? After they’d torn each other to pieces? How dare Miles still feel the way he does, how dare he admit it after he threw in the fucking towel? Doesn’t he owe Phoenix a pound of goddamn flesh? “Okay, so I should have backed off. My bad. I didn’t think you’d throw a fit about it.”
“Of course you didn’t.” Miles takes another step back, turns around and heads for the kitchen. Phoenix follows him. “My mistake again.”
“Well, fuck, Miles, why did you even ask me here?”
Miles says into the kitchen sink, “Because you used to be my best friend.”
They both flinch back from that one. Miles says, “God,” hunches over and grabs onto the counter, and Phoenix just turns on his heels and stares at anything else. The living room window. The few blocks down to the water. Yellow and gray.
It’s twenty-four stories to the ground, so he probably can’t dive out the window to escape. Phoenix heads back into the living room. At least he hasn’t unpacked. It’s just the basics. Phone charger: plugged into the wall. Jacket: fallen off the sofa. No, underneath. He folds it over the suitcase handle and sees the cup he was screwing with.
Miles is still just standing there at the sink. For one vivid moment Phoenix is back in the apartment in LA with a box full of his toothbrushes and underwear, trying to think of the right thing to say instead of the fifty thousand wrong things he’s been screaming over the last month and coming up empty. It’s fucked that he’s been in love since fourth grade with this guy when most of his memories are of them trying to take each other apart.
That’s not fair, but on the other hand he’s too tired to be fair. He puts the glass down on the counter next to Miles’ elbow.
“You’re going,” Miles says. He sounds just as exhausted.
“Yeah,” Phoenix says. “I’ll get a flight. I’ll tell them my grandmother is dying or something.”
Miles nods at this thoughtfully. He reaches over for the mug and puts it in the sink. “I wish you wouldn’t.”
“It’s okay,” Phoenix says. “It was worth a try. It just didn’t work.”
Miles calls him a car.
It’s stopped traffic all the way to the airport. Phoenix doesn’t really think about it. The guys at the counter are very sympathetic to the family emergency that has necessitated his sudden change in plans. He’s never gotten through security so fast, never spent so little time hoping the families with children and preferred boarders would all suddenly collapse and let him get on the plane. It’s no time at all before he’s got his head resting against the window and his headphones blocking out the safety announcement.
He’ll be home soon. He can swing by and pick up Trucy from Kurain tomorrow morning. He’ll probably have to dodge Maya, but if anyone can do it, he can.
Phoenix closes his eyes and pulls his hat down low and lets the rumble of the plane wash over him and feels selfishly, meanly, bone-deep glad to be the one to leave first this time.
“I’m in San Jose,” Phoenix says, because Miles has picked up on the first ring.
Miles says, “Oh?”
“The man in seat 7B had a coronary.” Phoenix wedges the phone under his chin and tries to get his hands back into his jacket. There isn’t enough heat in his whole body to operate his fingers. “The plane had to make an emergency landing. It’s not murder.”
“Oh,” Miles says again. He clears his throat. “Why are you telling me this?”
Phoenix also clears his throat, in case that will help. “I need you to come pick me up.”
There’s the sound of Miles fumbling the phone. When he gets it back: “Are they not flying you out?”
“Tomorrow morning. Out of SFO. They said there’s a train.” Phoenix rubs the back of his neck. “I could take the train, I guess.”
Miles says, “It’s nine o’clock and you’re asking me to drive an hour and a half to pick you up so you don’t have to take the train to the airport.”
“When you put it like that I sound like a real asshole.”
Another airplane is coming in. It’s got propellers. Phoenix leans his cheek against the glass to watch its slow approach.
“I’ll be there,” Miles says, finally. “Make sure your phone is charged.”
“Thanks,” Phoenix says. “I mean it. I’ll be out of your hair by tomorrow.” Miles has already hung up, though. Well, it hasn’t even been an hour and a half since Phoenix left. He probably needs to finish doing the dishes.
He buys himself some soda and a bag of M&Ms with the money he won off the elderly woman in the aisle seat at gin rummy and sits around for a bit, staring at the empty seats in his gate, then when he figures he’s run out of things not to think about he gets up again and heads for security. This airport is inappropriately fancy for something that’s in San Jose. There are these big arched ceilings and the escalators are very well maintained and the airport cops, instead of hassling him, keep a genteel distance in case he might be an eccentric billionaire. He puts his feet up on one of the chairs in the baggage claim and calls Trucy.
She’s breathless when she gets to the phone. “Hi, Daddy! Pearls! Say hi!“ The phone rustles. Very distantly he can make out “What? Why is Mr. Nick calling so late?” before his daughter takes the phone back. “Sorry. We’re playing Pandemic. She says if she gets up she won’t remember what she was going to do with Johannesburg.”
“She likes it, huh?” Phoenix says. “Tell her I’m calling so late because Daddy made a mistake. Maybe don’t call me Daddy in that sentence.”
“She’s really into it. She says it promotes cooperative harmony and it reminded her of a bunch of stories about you and that time you shut down a surgical clinic, so I’m really into it,” Trucy confides. He can hear her move around, getting comfortable. “What kind of mistake?”
“The kind where I should’ve figured out that vacations without you aren’t as fun,” Phoenix says. “I’m coming back home tomorrow.”
Trucy thinks this over. “I still have the rest of the weekend off,” she says finally. “You can come up and take the hot springs. Get healed!”
“I don’t think your dad actually has enough muscle left for the hot springs to work,” Phoenix says, rubbing his lower back. “How was school?”
She launches into a story about the latest arcane drama between a couple of the popular kids and the twenty-one-year old who’s subbing for the choir director. She sounds better this year when she talks about school. Not that she ever let herself actually sound down about middle school-- but either she’s a better actor or she’s got less to hide. Maybe she’ll keep some of these first-period friends this time around.
“...so they found his stash under the tree in the courtyard, but we’re all still pretending we don’t know it was him,” Trucy says, and Phoenix blinks at the far wall of the airport and says, “You know about the Fifth Amendment, right? It’s important to me that you know about the Fifth Amendment.”
“Don’t worry, Daddy,” Trucy assures him. “I’m not incriminated. And I’d never grass on someone!”
“That’s my girl.” He rubs his eyes. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay? Tell Pearls Johannesburg is a dead end unless you’re eradicating yellow.”
There’s a last minute flurry of advice and affection, and then Trucy’s vanished back into Kurain.
He puts down the phone, and Miles is there.
“Hey,” Phoenix says.
Miles is still just standing there. He’s taken the time to change out of his suit into dark jeans and a cotton shirt, apparently so he can stand there more comfortably and effectively. He looks at Phoenix, not exactly steadily, but with intent.
“Thanks for the ride,” Phoenix tries.
This makes Miles smile. It’s that fucking I’m-emotionally-vulnerable-ask-me-how smile, and Phoenix actually winces, puts up his hands, so when Miles opens his mouth to say the next thing he’ll stutter to a stop, avoid the confrontation. Miles ignores him completely. He says, “I’m hungry. Let’s get dinner.”
Phoenix thinks about this for a little bit. He says, “I’d kill a guy for a green curry.”
The Thai place is the only thing open in a strip mall off the 87. Phoenix and Miles are absolutely the last people in the restaurant, but when Phoenix makes an abortive move for the door, the hostess looks at him with dead eyes and says that they’re 24-hour.
The table they take by the wall doesn’t really fit Phoenix’s bag under it, but whatever. Phoenix jams his knees up against it as the hostess comes by to tell them about the two dollar tap water charge. She drops the menus on the table and vanishes into the back.
“This is spookier than I was expecting,” Phoenix says after a minute. “And I mostly work in an unlit basement.”
Miles makes a wry face. “I was just thinking that it was peaceful. I think this is the first time I’ve been out in public in Northern California without being at risk of being today’s Twitter scandal.”
“You know what Twitter is?” Phoenix says. “You don’t know what Twitter is.”
In answer Miles slides his phone across the table. The app is open to @ProsecMilesEdgeworth’s timeline. “It’s a professional obligation,” he says with loathing. “I am to issue regular and reassuring updates to clarify that the department is still serving the interests of the community, so that the Police Officer’s Association can ‘retweet’ them and imply I am a common criminal.”
Phoenix scrolls through in fascination. An honor to appear on panel w/faith leaders abt alternatives to the death penalty--solutions, not shock & awe, what is needed. Happy Purim. “I’m starting to regret not cyberstalking you.”
“Mmm,” Miles says, and takes the phone back before Phoenix can check his faves. “My point was that it’s-- pleasant. Not to be watched.”
“Oh. Yeah.” It’s been long enough for Phoenix that he’s almost forgotten it was an option. Parenthood, poker games, his close personal friend the murderer. “I know what you mean.”
They go through the menu. They talk about brown rice. Eventually the hostess reappears to light the candle on their table in a faintly sarcastic way, and they order, and Miles keeps running his fingers over the short hair on the back of his long, pale neck, which is fine. Phoenix’ll manage to stop looking at some point.
There’s a constant low-grade burn in his stomach which the curry was not really designed to alleviate. It’s kind of like staying up all night, actually, that sense of failure and full-body discomfort and also the weird feeling that he’s accomplishing something.
When Phoenix got sober-- well, he’d made a lot of discoveries, like the fact that you couldn’t replace vodka with wine product and you couldn’t replace wine product with off-brand grape juice. Also that Trucy had been pulling a blanket over him when he fell asleep on the office couch. But the really big one had been that there were exactly twelve hours between five o’clock at night and five o’clock in the morning, and they each lasted a decade and a half. This was before the job. He’d had to learn how to put his head down and get from six to seven, from seven to eight, from eight to nine. Cooking. Cleaning. Card tricks. Going over Trucy’s homework; making bento for Trucy’s lunch. Lying in bed and listening to the cars merging onto the 10 in the hopes that the clamor behind his eyes would fade out eventually.
It had been somewhere on the road between nine and ten one night that he’d texted Miles. Larry got a kid’s book deal.
The “...” bubble had popped up right away, then vanished for fifteen minutes as Miles remembered the Notes function. Finally: Did he?
Yeah. Phoenix had found the press release, linked it over: RICHARD’S LAST RESORT BY LAURICE DEAUXNIM FORTHCOMING FROM LEE & LOW. Check out the thumbnail.
...Please tell me Larry Butz is not being paid to draw Gumshoe as a cow.
We went to art school for this, Phoenix sent back, and then, Gotta go, work in the morning, which was a big lie and, worse, a panicky lie, and Miles hadn’t said anything about that or about the fact that the press release had been six months old. Miles hadn’t even commented on the fact that Phoenix was texting him in the middle of the night. It’d just been-- good. Ten, fifteen minutes of throat-pounding panic a few times a week, and that same irrational sense that he’d beaten something back. Miles had made room for him.
“Thanks,” Phoenix says, abruptly. “For dinner. For driving down here. I know it’s, you know.”
Miles doesn’t look up from his noodles. “These things happen.”
“This is better than most of my dinners,” Phoenix admits. He drums his chopsticks on the side of the plate. “We’re doing okay, but it’s still a lot of ramen. Canned corn to make it fancy. Or Borscht. Or some nights Kristoph takes me out.”
“Who is Kristoph?” Miles says with absent jealousy, and then his eyebrows lock together and he puts his fork down. “Kristoph Gavin?”
Phoenix can’t help smiling. “Don’t worry. You aren’t mixing him up with someone. The one who framed me.”
“And you… enjoy the pleasure of his company?” Miles tries. “He’s a vital source of information? He is somehow related to Trucy?”
“Please, that’s a recurring nightmare of mine,” Phoenix says, covering his eyes. “No. He’s, uh.” Is he going to say this? He’s already almost said it. If he can’t admit it in an empty restaurant in San Jose to Miles Edgeworth, when can he? “In point of fact, he’s stalking me.”
This time Miles thinks before he speaks. Phoenix watches him work it out, fast enough that he can’t track the whole thing: fear, which, wow, and then suspicion and maybe anger, and then: “He doesn’t think he’s won.”
“Yeah,” Phoenix says. It takes him a second; he’d forgotten Miles was smarter than him. “He knows I’m down and out, but he doesn’t trust it to be down and out enough, so… he knows there’s something out there that could trip him up. Something that might come my way.”
Miles has a hungry gleam in his eyes as he leans forward. “It can’t be Klavier or he would already have come to you. Something concrete: documentary evidence. No-- Gavin would have found and destroyed that by now. Someone concrete.”
“Zak Gramarye,” Phoenix says. Almost helplessly. “I thought you didn’t do trial work anymore.”
“Ha!” Miles says, slapping the tablecloth. “I knew it! So Gavin watches you to discover whether or not you’ve found him, and…” There’s a sudden loss of momentum. Phoenix avoids his eyes, but he can feel Miles’ expression. “What happens when you find him?”
When, not if. “Well,” Phoenix says, “that’s probably when Kristoph kills me.”
The silence is immense.
“I think he might kill me anyway,” Phoenix volunteers, trying to take the edge off. “It’s a stressful time for him. His career never really took off the way he was hoping. Hey, come on, don’t look at me like that. I know how to take care of myself.”
“You demonstrably do not know how to take care of yourself. You are having regular dinners with a murderer.”
That was your entire childhood. “They’re good dinners. He’s not cheap. No? All right.” He risks eye contact, but Miles is actually staring at Phoenix’s elbows. “You have to believe me that I know what I’m doing.”
“I would like to,” Miles says. “It would be easier if I knew what you had been doing.”
The note of accusation is faint and unfair. It’s buried under a lot of sorry. Phoenix could say a lot of true or true-ish things: he doesn’t know if Kristoph’s bugging his phones, he hasn’t exactly wanted to talk about it, Miles moved to Germany and ceded the right to know about his business. When Miles raises his eyes, though, Phoenix says, “You’re the first person I’ve told.”
“Not Maya,” Miles says.
Miles nods, slowly. The candle on the table is trying gamely to pick out colors in his skin. “I see.”
“I don’t really tell people things,” Phoenix says. “It got to be kind of exhausting.”
Now Miles half-smiles. “I didn’t know that either.”
“Well, see supra.” Phoenix blows out a puff of air. Miles’ hands are resting on the table now, as though he needs it to keep him stable. “You don’t exactly overshare yourself.”
“Yes,” Miles says. “I found fairly early on that it would not help. I have been told-- repeatedly-- that this view was wrong. I didn’t think to find you adopting it.” He hesitates a little. “For similar reasons.”
Having fished for this, Phoenix suddenly wants to give it back. He finds that he can’t quite get to the breezy dismissal he would need. He opts instead to say, “Thank god we started as such great communicators, right?”
Miles makes this appalled honk instead of a laugh. “Thank god,” he says. “Otherwise we wouldn’t be having dinner.”
“On a freeway in San Jose.”
“In a place with a three-star Yelp rating.”
“You are such a snob,” Phoenix says, his voice helplessly, pointlessly fond. “The curry was fine. You only like places with cloth napkins.”
“Yes, at all times I demand caviar and dancing boys,” Miles says in his most superior tones. “Franziska and I traditionally select them before every meal. Are you crying?”
“I’m laughing and I inhaled a pepper,” Phoenix says, trying to salvage his face. “Hey, I don’t remember you being funny.”
“You’re one to talk,” Miles says, unoffended. “Are you under the impression that you used to know what a joke was?”
Phoenix gives up and grins at him. “No.”
“So in some very limited ways you’ve improved with age,” Miles says airily, which is absolutely the meanest thing he’s said this whole visit. “What are you looking at?”
“You,” Phoenix says. “Sorry.”
The doors to the back thunk open, and they both jolt in their seats, turning to find their waitress, who puts their check in front of them. She gets all the way back to the doors before she remembers to turn around and leave them one mint.
Phoenix picks it up so he doesn’t have to watch Miles getting the check. “I guess we’re supposed to fight to the death over this,” he says. “Are you…” He trails off because he can feel Miles’ eyes on his face. When he looks up, Miles smiles just a little in acknowledgement, and slowly Phoenix’s cheeks begin to heat.
“It’s a long way back to San Francisco,” Miles says. “Your flight is not so early that we couldn’t drive tomorrow.”
“Oh,” Phoenix says, at random. “Good point.”
“So,” Miles prompts. “Would you like us to find a hotel?”
With an effort of will, Phoenix gets his breath back under control. “I thought you didn’t want casual.”
“I don’t.” Miles shrugs, one-shouldered. “Would it be casual?”
Phoenix thinks about this one. It takes a lot of work because Miles has put one hand on the check and is making big, lazy circles with his thumb, and every time it makes another loop Phoenix’s brain short-circuits again, but--
“No,” he says, finally. He drags his eyes back up. “But, Miles-- I don’t know what the hell it would be.”
“Let’s find out,” Miles says, and calls for the waitress.
Everything from the restaurant to the CVS to the hotel room is just a blur, differentiated only by Miles saying things way too calmly and Phoenix’s own rising sense of urgency. Car door, lobby doors, hotel room door, Phoenix dropping the card key and then putting it in upside down because halfway through Miles tries to kiss him. He shoves Miles back and gets the card in the right way up, and then they’re both in a room that smells like cigarettes and the highway, and Phoenix fumbles the chain home just in time to intercept Miles as he tries to hit the lights.
Six years since he last helped Miles unbuckle his belt. He yanks Miles’ shirt over his head so he can get at the collarbones he’s been staring at for the last hour, kisses him there while Miles is still trying to comb his hair back into place. Miles retaliates by backing Phoenix up against the TV stand to make out with him. Halfway through it something changes, they find each other’s rhythm again, and time goes away.
Phoenix’s elbow hits the DVD eject. Miles startles back and then laughs. “No property damage,” he warns Phoenix, sotto voce.
“No promises,” Phoenix says, and drags him to the bed.
But something has jolted loose. Phoenix is just as hungry, just as ready, but the clean fire of a moment ago is gone and in its place is this burgeoning awareness that it’s him, in bed with Miles, about to get laid, and it’s not like he hasn’t had sex since Miles, but it is also not like he’s had that much sex since Miles, and anyway the last time they did this-- six years ago-- they were both so hopped up on new love they would never have noticed a skill differential.
Miles has his head between Phoenix’s legs already. Miles was always really goal-oriented, but also had a weird thing for inner thighs. He’s breathing hard. Phoenix tips his own head back and tries to hold onto something. He wants this-- he wants this so much-- he doesn’t remember wanting anything as much as he wants this-- but when Miles actually puts his mouth on Phoenix’s dick he flails out a hand for Miles’ shoulder and says, “Wait! God--” Miles jerks back, and Phoenix says, “It’s not-- yes, please, go ahead, blow me, it’s just-- can we work up to it,” which is when he notices that Miles under Phoenix’s questing fingers is just as tense as he is.
“Yes,” Miles says, holding himself still. “Can we--”
“Oh, yeah, for sure,” Phoenix says when he realizes that Miles’ hand is trailing down his hipbone, “that I can handle, go right ahead, oh my god!”
Miles is thoughtful. The part of Phoenix that won’t shut up is awarding him a gold star for effort: handjobs were never his best event, but every hitch and moan in Phoenix’s voice makes him course-correct, and when this resolves into the thought of all of Miles’ careful attention on him he has to tap out again. This time when Miles pulls back Phoenix says, “My turn,” and pins him to the bed.
In the CVS Phoenix had just swept all of the condoms off the rack into a bag and slapped twenty dollars out of Miles’ wallet on the counter. He’d had to run back in to get lube. He manages to rip one of the condoms open now and rolls it onto Miles, who’s as hard as he is, panting and bucking and beautiful. Dial it back, Phoenix thinks, a little desperate, and starts jerking him off. Miles is almost but not quite saying things, an interrupted babble. He’s hit with a sudden flash of memory of their first try: ten minutes in a shower that had ended with Phoenix banging his knee so hard against the shower handle he had to go lie down with ice. They’ve never been any good at anything at all.
He’s not going to be able to get that blowjob. This is too much already. “Hey,” he says, and Miles opens his eyes. “Do you want to fuck me?”
“Yes,” Miles says. He heaves in a breath. “Yes. That’s what I want.”
It takes a while for Miles to work his way into him, but at last the tension runs out and he’s there. Six years. He can’t stop thinking that, mostly because he can’t really think anything else, except the basics, “come on” and “yeah” and “Miles” and “yeah,” as Miles finally gets moving, painfully slow at first, then faster and faster. Six years. They could’ve-- they should’ve-- Miles gasps, and Phoenix forgets that too, forgets everything but who he’s with, until Miles comes, and Phoenix is riding him through it as the pressure builds and builds and breaks and leaves him boneless, and gasping, empty of everything but astonishment.
It’s a little while before either of them can move. Then Miles rolls over onto his side. It’s too dark to see much, just the filtered light from the parking lot and the freeway behind it, but Phoenix watches the grey planes of Miles’ face anyway as they shift from surprise, to affection, and then, after a little while, to something else. Miles pushes himself up on an elbow.
“So,” he says. “Are you going to tell me what you think that was?”
Phoenix blows out air. It takes a lot of work to sit up, but it seems like the moment for it. Outside of the gravity well of Miles’ body, the air in the hotel room is cool. “I don’t know.”
Is that true? Okay, no, of course it’s not; there are probably people in the next zip code who overheard that and know what that was. “I don’t know what I want to do about what it was.” That came out more brutal than he meant it. “Sorry.”
“Mm,” Miles says, laying back down. He keeps his eyes on Phoenix. “Would you be interested in doing this again?”
Phoenix shrugs. “I don’t know.” He finds that he is almost angry. “Why do you need me to tell you?”
Miles treats this like a question that deserves a real answer. “Because it might have a considerable effect on my life.”
“What, were you planning to booty call me every time you’re in Ojai?’
“...When would I be in Ojai? No.” Miles turns his head so he can look at Phoenix harder. “Phoenix, I know I’ve done a number of unconscionably foolish things. I could enumerate them if you’d like. I’ve left, I’ve mistrusted you, I would understand if you didn’t trust me. I can only say that… that I trust you not to repeat your mistakes.”
Phoenix stares at the reflected headlights in the TV screen. “When would I even have a chance to repeat my mistakes?” he says. “I’m not going to adopt another kid without telling you.” This time Miles doesn’t rise to the bait, and Phoenix says, discovering it’s true as he says it, “No. I’m not afraid we’re going to do all that again. We’re not those kids anymore. I could even maybe be convinced you’re not going to walk out on me.”
Miles sighs into the pillow. Long-suffering. Kind. “But you’re still afraid.”
“Of course I’m afraid.” Okay, there’s the anger. “Why aren’t you? Do you think we ran out of ways to screw this up? You don’t even know me!”
“Phoenix,” Miles says, like he’s going to make some kind of a declaration, and Phoenix blurts, “I’m not a piano player.”
This stops Miles cold. “I’m sorry?”
“I’m not a piano player.” Phoenix deliberately loosens his grip on the sheets. “I lied. I’m a card sharp. I hustle people at poker.”
“Oh,” Miles says, rather blankly. After a moment: “And you have now decided to tell a district attorney.”
“Please, like you’re going to tell Klavier Gavin,” Phoenix says. “Although please do not tell Klavier Gavin. Anyway, it’s not illegal. It’s just--”
“Shady?” Miles offers. “Dishonest? Hardly more believable than musician? Wonderful. How did you become a professional liar?”
“Well, the state of California kicks you off welfare after a couple of years if you don’t get a job, so--”
“I was referring to the fact that you spent your mid-twenties writing dissertations for me on the value of the truth,” Miles says. He’s honestly taking this better than Phoenix had expected. “What changed?”
“What didn’t change?” Phoenix demands. “What about my life is the same as when you knew me last? I’m not a lawyer. I’m not a young man. I’m a dad and a con man and you don’t know me anymore.” He yanks his eyes away from Miles’. “That isn’t the only thing I haven’t told you. If you didn’t know by now, Miles, it’s a long fucking list.”
Miles is finally silent. After a minute, Phoenix hears him get out of bed. The bedside lamp clicks on, then the overhead. Phoenix’s phone comes sailing onto the pillow next to him.
Phoenix picks it up warily, as Miles bends down at the foot of the bed to plug in his own. “What is this for?”
“I assumed you’d need your own alarm,” Miles says. He’s kind of muffled, but Phoenix can hear the restrained anger just fine. “Since you appear to work nights.”
Phoenix elects not to mention that musicians also work nights. “You’re the one who wanted to talk this out.”
“Another error of judgment.” Miles gets to his feet. “I thought you’d respond like a human being.”
Strong words from a kid voted ‘most likely to be an alien spy’ in grade school. “I answered your question. That’s what I’m afraid of. This is what I’m afraid of.” He picks at the coverlet. “You told me this would be a bad idea, too.”
Miles picks up his clothes. He folds his shirt, sets it on the chair. “And you think I have been fooled by your personal charm.”
Phoenix says, “I think you missed what we had. I think you know we’re still stuck on each other. I don’t think you have any idea how hard this would be.”
From the bathroom door: “I’m beginning to get the idea.”
Under the sound of the shower, Phoenix scrolls through his phone. Missed call from Kurain, follow-up text from Trucy: nbd daddy!! We couldn’t remember if you’re allowed to name the diseases after people you know!, follow-up sticker from Trucy: Mr. Hat waving a cordial goodbye. Half an hour old. It’s almost midnight. Well, it’s not like he’s so cautious about her bedtime when he’s bringing her to the Borscht Bowl.
He sends back, yes but you have to vet them with me before you sharpie them onto the board. After a minute he adds, promise me youll show me how to do the sticker thing again.
Miles lets him have the shower after a few minutes, and Phoenix turns the hot water all the way up and leans against the wall and tries to be less of an asshole. He thought he’d given up on that self-improvement effort in 2023, but maybe it just takes one last push.
When he comes out, Miles is in bed with his face set to neutral. Phoenix carefully climbs in an appropriate distance away from him. “I’m sorry,” he says, in case it will help.
Miles rolls over onto his side. “All right,” he says. “So am I.”
“That sounds really sarcastic.”
“It lacks some of its earlier sincerity.”
Phoenix is briefly glad that Miles is facing the other direction, since this isn’t the kind of thing that should make him smile. He tries to school his voice. “Good night.”
“Good night,” Miles says. He hits the light.
For a little while Phoenix lies with his eyes open in the dark, watching the ceiling. It’s warmed up a little in here. The steam from the shower, probably. If nothing else, at least he stole a night somewhere where the water heater works all the time.
From next to him, Miles, his voice heavy with sleep, says, “That was uncalled for.”
Phoenix lifts his eyebrows. “Me?”
“Also me,” Miles says. “My apology isn’t…” He yawns. It takes a while. “Contingent.”
“Neither is mine,” Phoenix says. “It’s weird that you can say contingent when you probably don’t even remember where we are.”
“San Jose,” Miles murmurs, and he turns his head back to the wall.
On the side table, Phoenix’s phone lights up. He fumbles for it: twelve-seventeen, and Trucy, telling him they might have jumped the gun on the Sharpie thing. With it there’s a photo of the board and Pearl’s horrible handwriting next to the black disease: DICK GUMSHOE!
Close enough, Phoenix sends, and closes his eyes, ready to wait until morning.
Trucy comes barrelling out of the front doors of Fey Manor like a blue torpedo, skidding to a halt an instant from collision as she remembers that she’s fourteen and if she tackles her father his spine will crumple like an old Slinky. “Hi, Daddy,” she says, and hugs him. “How was your flight?”
“Garbage,” Phoenix says. He takes her hat off to ruffle her hair. “So was the ride up here. Let me look at you.”
Trucy takes a step back and spreads her arms. The cape flutters a little. “What do you think?”
Among other things: it is almost impossible to assimilate that she’s five feet tall. He remembers her pink hat knocking into his ribcage. “Not bad, not bad,” he says. “At least a two-star daughter. Wait-- what is that?”
Trucy puts a self-conscious finger to one of her puffy ears. “Oh. Remember how you said I could get a piercing when I was 45? And then I said it was a professional requirement and I’d be able to deduct it on your taxes? And you said ‘uh huh’?”
“He said what?” That’s Pearl’s voice from the door, conscientious and self-conscious as always. “Mr. Nick, I had no idea! I am so sorry, I take full responsibility--”
“No you don’t,” Phoenix says, examining the studs. Those are definitely already infected. He looks up and sees a tall skinny teenager with a pink kimono, biting her thumbnail as she watches them both. It’s like being hit in the head. He saw Pearl last year, didn’t he? They went to the zoo? They’d gotten churros, and she’d sat on one of the benches with Trucy and swung her legs and opined that zoos were animal prisons and prisons should probably be abolished, and she’d been a kid, visibly a kid, the size of a peanut at most. She looks like a person now. She looks a little bit like her sisters.
She catches his expression and smiles anxiously. “Mystic Maya did say it would be all right.”
“Mystic Maya’s full of shit,” Phoenix tells her, hefting his bag and coming up the steps. “Oof, sorry, Pearls. Mystic Maya was not correct about that. Neither was Trucy. You were the victim of two very talented masterminds.”
“That’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said about me.” It’s Maya, who sounds chipper as she comes up to stand behind Pearl, resting her elbow on Pearl’s shoulder for a sort of mid-level mafia boss vibe. “What’s up, Nick? Got tired of sourdough?”
Phoenix rolls his eyes. “Have you literally ever been to San Francisco?”
“Nope!” Maya says. “I’m still a gold-star Angeleno. Come on in.”
These days Fey Manor feels more like a place people might be living, and less like an open-air mausoleum. There are three or four acolytes and a couple of really earnest-looking pilgrims in the communal kitchen chopping vegetables. Maya sails through them and picks up a bag of bread and jars of peanut butter and jelly from the side counter. One of the acolytes makes a faint noise of protest and is silenced. Phoenix smiles sympathetically at them and steals a butter knife.
Pearl and Trucy have already run ahead down the breezeway into the little antechamber where Morgan used to sit and look ominous. Phoenix parks his suitcase next to the N64 in the corner as Maya spreads out the sandwich fixings on the low table, then hands her the knife. “Oh-- thanks.” She hands him the first sandwich in recompense. “Trucy, what’s your poison?”
“Just peanuts. Daddy, you have to stop staring at my earrings.”
“Counterpoint: I don’t have to stop staring at them, and you need to go soak them in salt water immediately,” Phoenix says, settling comfortably in front of the table. “I bet Pearls knows where the little bowls are.”
Maya presents Pearls with her sandwich. She’s cut the crusts off. “Aw, let Pearly have lunch first. She was up at five this morning.”
“Four-thirty.” Pearl takes a huge bite of her sandwich and then unfortunately tries to give Phoenix a reassuring smile. “It’s ok, Mr. Nick, it was just training. And we’ll clean them out right away. I should probably have gotten a new needle. Why are you making that face? Are you sick?”
“Jet lag,” Phoenix says. “Eat, then move, Truce. We’ve got to catch the three o’clock or they’ll trap us here overnight.”
“And feed you to the tourists,” Maya agrees. “We’ll tell them you’re tofurkey.”
Trucy guiltily swallows the last of her lunch and bounces to her feet. “Okay, okay. C’mon, Pearl--”
They whirl out of the room, Pearl’s beads jangling through the halls, and Phoenix turns to Maya, who is looking at him way more knowingly than she should. “It’s crazy, right?”
“It’s crazy,” Phoenix confirms. “I feel like I really get Cat Stevens now. I don’t like it.”
“That’s what happens when you never visit,” Maya says. She picks up the napkin from under the table while he’s still trying to come up with an answer to that. “Pearly is studying geometry now. I mean, on Coursera, but still. It’s not like I know anything about math. She says there’s stuff in the proofs that helps her think about spirit channeling.” At Phoenix’s expression she laughs. “I know. I don’t know what she’s talking about. Something something planes.”
“She seems like she’s still a good kid,” Phoenix offers. “No teenager stuff.”
Maya sets down her sandwich. “I know. Nick, it’s starting to freak me out. Is yours doing it?”
“Besides the piercings? No,” Phoenix admits. “Not at all. She’s still--”
“Talking to you?” Maya says. “Being helpful? Trying to be emotionally and financially supportive? Trucy told me that she had a five-year plan for the agency and Pearly just nodded, she said Trucy couldn’t ignore your spiritual needs. When I was sixteen…”
“I remember eighteen,” Phoenix says. “I bet you were a brat.”
“I mean, I talked to Mia, like, twice that whole year, Nick!” Maya claims. She’s got peanut butter on her nose now from the vehemence of the conversation. “I told her I was doing fine without her and I asked her to buy me a car!”
When Phoenix had been sixteen, everyone over the age of thirty had still felt like a Peanuts adult, vague and sketchy and impossible to deal with. “What kind of car?”
“I don’t know,” Maya says. “Wait, no. It was purple. Someone in Hidden Springs posted it on Craigslist as a fixer-upper.”
“And I bet Mia told you to learn to fix a car, right?”
“Mia told me I could keep driving the village Jeep until I stopped driving it off a mountain all the time,” Maya says, “and then I told her I was doing fine without her again and hung up on her. She was in the middle of a murder trial. Oh my god, Nick, I was awful. We super do not deserve good kids.”
“It’s probably our incredible work as parents,” Phoenix says very seriously, and Maya lets out a shriek of a laugh that she immediately claps her hand over. She’s right: they’re jackpot lucky. Trucy’s never wasted any time pretending she doesn’t like him. Maybe that’s coming next. Maybe he should want it; maybe it’d mean that she’s not so convinced she’s got to pull her weight. Speaking of things she and Pearl have in common. Phoenix says, “Are we completely fucking this up?”
“I don’t know,” Maya says. ”I hope not. How do we check?”
“Wait for them to grow up, I guess,” Phoenix says. “See if they kill anyone.”
Maya sighs. “We’d never catch them. Trucy totally knows how to hide a body.”
“You could channel the corpse.”
“As if. Pearly knows like eight different ways to dress up as a different suspect now.” Maya laughs again, this time more of a hiccup. “God. This would’ve been a really helpful conversation to have a couple of years ago, you jerk. Where were you?”
Phoenix doesn’t have an answer to that one either. He says, helplessly, “Probably my phone was on silent.”
“Did you actually block my number?”
“No.” He hadn’t blocked anyone. He’d just turned off read receipts and pretended he was on a really restrictive data plan. For a few weeks when Trucy was ten he’d flipped the phone over and used it as a coaster. I don’t really tell people things.
Maybe there are a few, small, limited areas in which Miles Edgeworth had a point.
“I went AWOL,” he says. “I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, okay,” Maya says. She blows out a huge puff of air. Then she leans forward. Phoenix instinctively recoils. “So,” she says, “we’ve had our grownup conversation. Now you legally have to tell me about your sex vacation.”
The whole story takes a lot longer than Phoenix had thought it was going to. Another thing that happens when you never visit is you leave out a lot of context, so Maya keeps dragging him down these long-forgotten emotional avenues from 2021 and then saying, “Nick,” like she’s really offended by all his decisions. At some point Trucy and Pearl come back in and announce that Trucy’s ears are doing “weird things” and then vanish, and Maya puts on the electric kettle.
But finally they stumble up to the present. Hookup, plane ride, train ride, end of story. They sit in thoughtful silence as Maya assimilates it.
“Wow,” the Master of Kurain says, finally. “You’re unbelievably bad at relationships.”
Phoenix gapes in outrage. “Excuse me, Ask Polly, what about your perfect twenty-year streak of never dating anyone?”
“I’m twenty-five. And I had sex that one time.”
Phoenix points at her. “That was with Franziska. We both agreed that never happened.”
Maya smiles, which better not be a fond memory. “We did.” She brings the teapot and cups over to the table, settling back into her seat. Her hands curl up in the fabric of her kimono. “I’m still kind of on the part where he doesn’t like Trucy. I thought Edgeworth was supposed to be smart.”
“It’s not that he doesn’t like Trucy,” Phoenix says. They’ve gotten off track again. He tries for simplicity. “He doesn’t know Trucy. He bailed before he ever got to know her. He just--” Phoenix slides his palms past each other: zip, into the future. “You know. That was too much.”
“Nick,” Maya says, but this time she follows it up by actually putting her hand on his knee. He wonders if it’s sweaty. “You really don’t have to make excuses for him.”
“I’m not, I just--” Phoenix closes his mouth on his own frustration. “I don’t know. I feel like I owe him the truth.”
“If you’re this stuck on him,” Maya says, “why did you even leave?”
Because Miles had put him into a car and driven him all morning, with the radio on NPR and the coffee cooling in the cupholder. Because he’d pulled into the airport and it had seemed easier. Because lots of people are in love with each other who should never even split a sandwich. “Because it was too much, too soon,” Phoenix says finally, “and before you ask-- sometime after the heat death of the universe, I don’t know.”
Maya’s still gently patting his leg. “Nick, I literally can’t believe how dumb you both are. You can’t date a guy who doesn’t know if he likes your daughter.”
“I know,” Phoenix says. “I’m the one who knows that, remember? If he doesn’t like Trucy, you know: fuck him! Don’t squeeze my knee.” The hand retreats. “Thanks. But even if he does like Trucy and Trucy likes him--“
“--which is not a guarantee--”
“--then that’s not even the first hurdle. That’s just him buying a ticket to the-- to the seventeen-event track and field meet. If I can’t trust him, it’s over. If I can’t stop lying to him, it’s over. If he leaves again, it’s over, and I’m a handsome corpse in the middle of my horrible apartment.”
Maya makes a hmm noise. “An okay-looking corpse,” she says. “You have to stay realistic!”
“You don’t appreciate me.”
“Ew, well, definitely not that way,” Maya says. “Honestly, the weirdest part of this story is that Edgeworth had sex with you when you’re--” She gestures at his whole look. “Like this. Did you shave? Did you wax? Did you do anything?”
“Uh,” Phoenix says. “Yes, no, and I put on clean underwear, so...” He catches her restraining a remark, and grins at her. “Let me guess: you were gonna say he really must be into me.”
Maya looks pained. “Okay, yes, but I thought it might give you the wrong idea, Nick. You still can’t date him.”
“I’m not going to date him!” Phoenix throws up his arms. “That’s what I’ve been saying! I’m not even thinking about it!”
“Good!” Maya says, encouragingly. “If you say that enough maybe it’ll end up being true!”
Phoenix is gearing up to complain in full when one of the acolytes ducks her head into the room. “Mystic Maya,” she says apologetically. “There seems to be a small flood coming from the bathroom where Miss Pearl has gone, and we wondered if you could perhaps--?”
“Excuse me,” Maya says, and clambers to her feet. As she gently pushes the acolyte out of the room Phoenix can hear her say, “How big of a small flood exactly?”
Phoenix checks his phone: nothing, not even a birthday reminder. He slides it back into his pocket and heads for the screen door. He could do with a little fresh air. That’s probably always true. He’ll have to send Trucy up here more often, make sure her lungs can still inflate the normal way.
The walls of the garden are low. Standing on the path, Phoenix can see the trees of the village, the very tip of the obelisk, and behind it the dramatic peak of whichever mountain that is. Wilson? Baldy? Shasta? Whatever it is, it’s obscenely green, a fine dusting of snow at the top. Nothing should be that color in April.
He’s not going to date Miles. He’s not even going to dignify the thought of dating Miles with the forty-page brief as to why he shouldn’t date Miles he’s been assembling inside his head. He’s just going to enjoy the late spring, the way the wind skids against the walls and rustles the olive trees. They’ve got one outside the office, small and spindly but dutifully watered by the city even during the drought. Mia pointed it out to him when he started clerking for her. He’d still been ninety percent an art student at that point. He’d said something sassy about how the leaves clashed with the salmon pink of the office building. Mia had laughed at him, but in a nice way.
It would be easier if he didn’t remember, if it felt distant, alien. It doesn’t. He remembers being 23, 25, 27. Being an optimist, being afraid, being in love. He’s spent a lot of time not thinking about it. Missing the guy he was means missing the one who made his worst mistakes: who taunted a young man for overconfidence as he screwed up a case, who trusted people way after they’d shown him who they were, who came up with the bright idea of solving his remaining problems with Wild Turkey. It means regretting Trucy. He can’t do that.
But if he’s going to be honest-- and apparently he’s going to be honest-- he has to admit that on the list of the things he lost, noted defense attorney Phoenix Wright is a line item. That guy was an idiot, but maybe he hadn’t deserved everything he got.
Maybe Phoenix could let himself miss the guy who was still best friends with Maya Fey. That counted for something.
Counts for something. She’s not dead. Unless Pearls has managed to accidentally drown her.
“Talking to yourself?” Maya says. Her sleeves are wet to the shoulder. “That’s such a bad sign.”
“How long do we have until they dry off?”
Maya grimaces. “They’re, like, Swamp Monsters 1 and 2 at the moment. Also I’m making them write ‘the water bill is a real thing that I am responsible for’ a hundred times each, so… half an hour, maybe? You’ll make the train.”
“No problem.” Maya wrings out a sleeve. “Apparently Pearl is the one who was going to remember that the bath was running, so this one’s on me.”
“Nice,” Phoenix says, and she flicks water at him. “Hey! Chill out, I have something I have to tell you.”
“Yeah?” she says. She straightens up, searching his face. “You’re not kidding.”
“No. I mean. It’s not imminently bad or anything,” he says. He takes a deep breath. “It’s about Kristoph.”
“Why was Maya yelling when we left?” Trucy asks, yawning hugely.
“Taxes,” Phoenix says. “Do you want the deck of cards?”
The train ride is a two-hour slog with pretty good views. Phoenix watches the scenery for a while. In the reflection in the window he can see Trucy dealing, cutting, redealing. She’s been trying to learn some close-up magic lately, nothing to distract from the big stage illusions but enough so she can keep her edges sharp. Her hands are pretty small, so poker cards are a tough palm.
He glances away from the mountains and the shadow of Trucy’s intent concentration to pull out his phone. Seventeen missed texts, all from Maya, all in caps. It was a dark day when they built that cell phone tower on Kurain. Nothing from Miles.
Text number eighteen comes in: I CAN SEE U READING THIS!!! I AM A PSYCHIC!!!!. He slips the phone back in his pocket to deal with later.
Trucy deals four aces face-up, then spreads the rest of the deck face-down in front of him. “Okay, mister, pick a card,” she says in her stage voice. “Anything you want. The miraculous Trucy’s on the case.”
Phoenix slides out a card, lifts it up: eight of diamonds. He hands it back. She flicks her hand like she’s tossing it out the window then flashes him her empty palm. “Oh, whoops! Guess I’ll have to get you another,” she says, and starts digging in her purse.
“Nah, I can see the reflection in the window,” Phoenix says, and leans over to tap the back of her left hand. “You’re looking way better, though, that was a smooth--” He breaks off to laugh as Trucy hands him the card she was palming-- an extra ace. “Trucy, you sneak.”
Trucy dimples and pulls the rolled-up eight of diamonds from behind his ear.
This calls for candy, but when he comes back from the snack car with the M&Ms she’s so deep in practice that she doesn’t notice when he pushes them her way. He sits back and pulls his phone out again. Maya’s sent him a Snap of her pointing to her eyes and then to where she assumes his eyes are. He takes a photo of Trucy and sends it back with a WISH YOU WERE HERE border.
Sometimes when he watches Trucy taking apart a trick and putting it back together he remembers Mia in the office, her and her ten thousand sticky notes as she turned a case file into a case. Trucy just has different stuff on the desk: little popsicle-stick models, flashlights, pocket mirrors. Sometimes also sticky notes. Here on the train table she riffles the cards with the same focus. It’s important to her, so she’s going to do it right.
He wonders if Gramarye was like that-- is like that-- or if she got it from her mother. He wonders if it’s something he could learn from her, if he actually tried. Probably not. There’s probably a baseline level of natural character involved.
He opens Miles’ messages again. The last couple are from yesterday around the same time. Miles: I hope your flight wasn’t too bad. If you take the train in, I’ll meet you at my office.
Phoenix texts him: Maya says hey. Then he thinks about it for a second and is less of a coward. so do I. we both say hey. I haven’t asked trucy for her vote yet.
He watches the phone for a while. The read receipt comes through.
Okay, he admits, after twenty minutes: he’d known that wasn’t going to work.
He taps his fingers on the screen and looks back up at Trucy. She’s got her cheek against the window and her eyes closed, but when he reaches for the cards to put them away, she mumbles, “I’m awake.”
“Yeah, of course you are,” he says. “Should I keep these in order?”
“No, it’s okay,” she says. “I think I’m done. I can’t really focus. Stayed up too late.” She props her chin in her hands and watches him go through some of the flashy riffles he never gets to use. He loves the feel of a deck when it’s not quite new. On the next pass he finds the curve in the eight of diamonds, cuts it to the top of the deck. He deals it back to her face-up and scatters the M&Ms on top like her winnings.
She touches it gently. “Wow,” she says, like she means it.
“Trucy,” he says, and then can’t quite figure out how to finish the sentence so she won’t just-- dodge. So it’s not another thing she feels like she has to hide from. Finally he says, “I got pretty lucky, when you picked me out.”
“Me too,” she says, idly trying to walk an M&M over her knuckles like a quarter. That’s going to be really gross in a minute. “Is this about your bad vacation?”
He scratches the back of the beanie. “Kind of.”
She pops the candy into her mouth and pats him hard on the free hand, three or four times. “Sorry about your friend. I bet he’s a jerk.”
Phoenix closes his mouth on the apology he was going to issue, a debt that Trucy would take as an obligation, and instead picks up Trucy’s hat so he can ruffle her hair. “He is,” he says, “but so is your dad, so it all washes out. Dealer’s choice: where are we eating tonight?”
Trucy brightens. “In-N-Out?”
“I think we can swing it.”
The phone buzzes, and Phoenix glances down. It’s an alarm reminding him to wake up in time for his gig. He flicks it off and checks his messages again. They’re still empty.
Sometimes you get things back, and sometimes you don’t, is the moral here. Sometimes you find out you can fix something you broke, and sometimes you find out it was relatively okay all along, and sometimes you take the thing that you already screwed up and then beat it with a hammer until it stops working. It’s not the most inspirational message, but at least this time it’s fair.
The train pulls to a halt. Union Station. Phoenix yanks his suitcase out from under the table and scoops the cards into his jacket pocket. “C’mon, sweetheart,” he says to his perfect daughter, who even now is wiping a smear of chocolate onto her forehead with the back of her dry-clean-only gloves. He loves her so much. “Let’s go home.”
It’s a thousand degrees in LA, so when someone knocks on the office door Phoenix thinks seriously about pretending he’s died. He already has the pose down: flat on his face on the sofa like he had a cardiac arrest halfway through trying to reach his glass of water. Oh, shit, he has a glass of water. He strains upright for it as the knocking comes again.
Forget it. It’s fifty-fifty bill collectors or the landlord. Everyone else he knows would start yelling.
He’s pulling himself into enough of a sitting position to take a drink when the letter falls through the mail slot.
In a second he’s up and across the room. Beautiful paper, heavy, like linen: it’s got to be Kristoph, but what passive-aggressive gambit involves the U.S. Postal Service? Or is it something worse? He flips it over: WRIGHT, in curling letters, and no stamp. Which means he’s here. Phoenix throws open the door, sprints down the hall.
Miles is frozen at the top of the stairs like a burglar trying to make a getaway.
Phoenix regards him, and then the letter in his own hands, and then the fact that he’s wearing boxers and a t-shirt that says HOT STUFF! in Japanese. Then he looks at the letter again. “You wrote me a letter.”
“Ah,” Miles says.
“Miles,” Phoenix says, unable to stop the smile. “Serial killers write letters.”
“I didn’t know if you wanted to talk to me,” Miles says. Stiffly. “I thought you might perhaps be avoiding me.”
“Not you specifically.” Phoenix can’t stop turning the letter over and over. “Not SWAK, huh?”
“Oh my god,” Miles says. “Why couldn’t you be wearing pants?”
“Well, come in,” Phoenix says, and holds the office door open just so he can watch Miles try to keep his eyes on the ceiling as he squeezes by.
The place is still tiny, carpeted with scarves from Trucy’s latest trick, Charley in the corner the only thing that really looks good in here. Phoenix flops down on the couch he’s just vacated, and Miles hovers next to the other, uncertainly.
“Sorry, it’s--” Phoenix begins, and then remembers Miles’ office and laughs. “Oh, hey, this is a big step up for you, huh? Don’t feel uncomfortable. If you want I can get you some mold.”
“We’ve fully mitigated the mold problem,” Miles says, sitting down. Part of the burglar look is probably the black jeans. Phoenix has never seen him in black before. Or in jeans. He drags his eyes up from Miles’ incredible thighs, past the horrible maroon dress shirt, to catch Miles catching him looking, as he says, “Which seems to have been just in time, since the treatment would have created dangerous fumes if it was applied at the same time as the chemicals for the termite removal. My eyes are up here,” he adds, apparently as an afterthought, and then colors.
Phoenix puts the letter on the table between them. “How long are you in LA?”
“A few days. There’s a conference,” Miles says. “Labor and Incarceration. I have to make an appearance tomorrow. I thought I might say hello to you and Trucy.”
Miles’ eyes aren’t actually any less distracting than the rest of him. “Are you pro or con?”
“Labor or incarceration?”
“Oh. Con,” Miles says. He scowls. “All three of my previous attempts have ended in gross misrepresentations of my policies in the press.”
“I think the secret to avoiding that is not to be a politician,” Phoenix says, helpfully. “You could kiss a baby. Want me to find you a baby?”
“I don’t want you to find me a baby, no,” Miles says. “Thank you for offering. Do you have water?”
“Oh, hey! Yeah,” Phoenix says, and pushes the glass across the table. Miles stares at it. There is something humming in Phoenix’s blood, something sweet and true and more than a little ridiculous, and he says, “Hey-- I was gonna haze you some more, but…”
“But you reached the limits of human capacity to do so?”
“Of course not,” Phoenix says. “Please. No, I just wanted to get to the part where I said I was sorry before I chickened out.”
Miles leans back a little. Then he leans forward again to pick up the glass of water. “Go ahead.”
“Right. I thought pretty hard about it about it. Over the last month,” Phoenix says. He drums his hands on the table. “I mean, I didn’t think I’d ever get to put any of it into practice. Which kind of focused me up, to be honest with you, and I put together this seven-paragraph apology. It’s really great. Elaborate.” He glances at the envelope. “I didn’t write it down, though.”
“Sorry! Sorry. My point is, I can’t remember anything I was going to say,” Phoenix says. “But I’m sorry.”
Miles sounds curiously gentle. “You were angry.”
“I was furious,“ Phoenix says. “And I was tired of trying to be fair. I’m out of practice at it. And it was easier to say all of that shit than,” he gestures, “the rest of it.” No. Come on. “I spent a lot of time pretending I didn’t miss you and then a lot of time trying to keep it to a dull roar. You reminded me what it feels like. And it was a pretty good date.”
He takes a breath, tries for a smile. Miles has been watching him with the kind of nervous intensity that he brings to physical fitness and murder trials. Now he says, “But…”
There had been a but. When this was still a speech he was never going to actually give. But, Phoenix had intended to explain: I’m still right. They couldn’t get back what they had, and that had had the structural integrity of a wet napkin anyway. Anything they tried now would be up against basically impossible odds. Then maybe Phoenix was going to pivot, put the ball in Miles’ court, and at that point the Miles of his imagination graciously acceded to a nightly sex schedule where Phoenix could still refuse to call and pretend to forget his birthday. Something like that.
But. He’s looking at the real Miles, this new man, the love of his life, a person with unholy determination and an apparent thing for deadbeats and, Phoenix suddenly noticed, reading glasses in the pocket of his shirt which he’s apparently too vain to actually use. Miles knows what he wants. God knows why he wants it. They can both have something good, if Phoenix just puts in the work.
“And,” Phoenix says. “And, given that I love you a truly stupid amount, I think it might be worth going on another one.”
He watches Miles’ face and remembers that bloodless trip to Germany, how it felt to sit in a cafe with this man and barely know what he was feeling. None of that shit anymore. This is Miles going from fear, to hope, to joy, and then, as he sets down his glass and the last vestiges of his dignity, straight into unbridled indignation. “Are you telling me that that worked?” Miles demands. “I stammer my way through an obscene proposition over pad thai and you follow this up by insulting me in a motel room, and you find this whole experience so alluring that you’re interested in repeating it?”
“At least once. No promises,” Phoenix warns. “I’m still completely crazy.”
“That’s more than evident!”
“Also I have conditions,” Phoenix adds, serenely ignoring this last. “Trucy gets veto power.”
“Yes, of course.”
“We’re not telling anyone but her yet.”
“We’re not moving in together. We’re dating. No shared bank accounts.”
“This is a little insulting,” Miles says. At some point he’s reached out and taken Phoenix’s hand. “You do realize we will have to trust each other.”
“This is what I’m talking about,” Phoenix complains, although he is also interlacing his fingers with Miles’ and smiling at the table at the time, so, you know. “I’m going to try. I don’t know how good at it I’m gonna be. My record is mediocre.”
“What a generous description of the facts.”
“Yeah, well, that used to be my career track.”
Miles sniffs. His foot has crept up to Phoenix’s under the table, and whatever he or Phoenix was going to say is obliterated by an embodied consciousness that this… might… Phoenix can’t quite get to the end of the sentence, for two reasons: one, Miles’ toe keeps sliding up his calf, and two, surely there must be some mistake. He can’t be allowed to have this. It’s been over at least four times that he can think of. His heart has begun to pound. “Why’d you come back to California?”
“I told you,” Miles says, a little taken aback. “For the job. Ah-- no, it wasn’t for you.”
“I guess,” Phoenix says. He tries not to feel disappointed. “But that whole thing you gave me back in SF, about criminal justice reform, that was a sales pitch, right? What was it you really wanted? Are the benefits really good? Did Franziska start threatening to have a kid?”
“...Obviously the part about reaching across the aisle wasn’t true,” Miles says, as though explaining it to a particularly dumb law clerk who he’s sexually harassing. Wait, is Miles sleeping with his law clerks? They’d looked desperate and sleep-deprived and apparently Miles has a fetish. No. Trust. That trust thing. Phoenix yanks his mind back to the point. Miles is still talking. “I’m not above rhetoric in the service of my goals. That was my career track.” He smirks a little. “But I was done running away from the California criminal legal system. It needs to be rebuilt from rubble. Someone handed me a very large hammer. I said yes.”
Phoenix gently disentangles his foot and gets up to cross over to the other couch, sitting back down next to Miles, whose eyes have followed him the whole way with a sort of helpless attention. “Miles,” he says, “that’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever said to me.”
Miles makes a small pained noise.
“No, I’m not kidding.” It’s something about the way that when Miles says it sounds possible. Real. Phoenix can picture Miles and the hammer already: bam, and down goes the Brady violations, the budget cuts, the cronyism and the bribery and the inequities and the three-day trial system. Like they could actually do it. “I’m glad you came back.”
“Ask me why I came to Los Angeles,” Miles says, eyes still fixed on his.
Obediently: “Why’d you come to Los Angeles?”
Miles says, “For you.”
Phoenix puts his hand on Miles’ knee, gazes into his eyes, and says really soberly, “That’s an incredible pickup li--” before Miles leans in and shuts him up. The second kiss is tender and brief. Miles reaches up to pull him closer, his fingers spreading along the base of Phoenix’s neck, and Phoenix shivers and opens his mouth and suddenly they’re hooking up like hungry teenagers, hands in weird places, eager and clumsy and new.
"Also," he says finally, kissing the inside of Miles' ear, "you hate San Francisco."
"The public advocate called for my execution this morning in the Bay Guardian," Miles murmurs against his shoulder. "They're considering making street parking a civil offense. A rat hitchhiked to my apartment in my briefcase."
Phoenix jerks back so fast he gets whiplash. "Don't you dare give me rabies!"
“Just to be sure,” Miles says, taking off the beanie, “we should probably burn that suitcase you brought.”
“Maybe tomorrow,” Phoenix says. “We’ve got a few days, we’re kind of busy right now-- no no no Miles you’re going to throw out my back!”
Miles pauses apologetically in the process of bending him over the arm of the couch long enough for Phoenix to find a pillow for his lumbar region, then goes right back in to give him a hickey. Phoenix claws at the upholstery. Here they are, making out in his shitty office with a broken air conditioner on a couch from 1993; it feels like he’s aware of everything at once, Miles’ chapped lips, the blanket of heat, the scent of the cologne that almost killed him last month-- Phoenix wants to laugh, does laugh, gets back to the important business of kissing Miles, which eventually takes up all of his concentration.
He could do this for years.
There’s a humming from the hallway, and the door bangs against the chain as Trucy tries to get in. “Daddy, did we buy-- why is the chain on?”
Phoenix fumbles out from under Miles and casts about desperately for a blanket. Miles is no help: he’s frantically trying to get his shirt buttoned. “Just a second,” Phoenix calls. “Daddy needs to put pants on. Miles, could you--?”
Miles gives him a look of deep betrayal as Phoenix ducks behind the other couch to pull on last night’s sweatpants. When he pulls himself back up, Trucy and Miles are both standing just inside the door, wide-eyed and uncertain.
“Hi, Trucy,” Phoenix says. “This is Miles.”
“Nice to meet you,” Trucy says. Phoenix watches as she sizes him up, shoes to rumpled hair, and she flicks her dad a look before favoring Miles with a brilliant smile. “Are you going to be my new daddy?”
Miles swivels to stare at him in horror as Phoenix says, “Ha! Sweetheart, how did you guess?”
Trucy drops her backpack so she can clap both her hands to her mouth. “Oh, wow! A whole new dad! New daddy, do you make a living wage?”
“Shh! Trucy!” Phoenix makes a shushing motion with both hands. “He’s going to know I’m using him for his millions!”
Trucy tsks and wags a finger at him, coming to sit on the far couch like a very small couples counselor. "Daddy, we've talked about this. It's important to be upfront and clear with your partners. If we’re going to have another breadwinner around here, he should know right away that we need a new air conditioner."
"...Ah, I see," Miles says. "You have been raising this child."
"Apparently," Phoenix says, kind of staggered with love. "Although all of the good parts already came with the package."
"I'm a supersaver bargain," Trucy explains, and sticks out her hand. "Hi. I'm Trucy Wright. I think I remember you."
Miles sits down across from her and takes it in both of his, shaking it very firmly like he’s sealing a contract. He’s got this expression of determined anxiety on that really brings out the wrinkles on his forehead. “It’s good to meet you properly. I’ve seen photos, of course. I’m Miles Edgeworth.”
They both look really focused: Trucy wary, Miles embarrassed, but both committed to do this the right way, to take seriously the task of assessing the other and acting accordingly, and both keep glancing at him as if they’re checking whether or not they’re doing it right.
Phoenix sits at the end of the table so he finally can get the glass of water, which is lukewarm and a lifesaver. He puts it down empty. “I figure we go out to dinner,” he says. “Miles can pay.” At Trucy’s indignant exclamation: “You can pick up the tip if you want, Miss Professional, but he’s thirty-five. Then Trucy has homework she’s got to get through before her gig, and I’ve got to go to work.”
Trucy brightens. “Want to come?” she asks Miles. “It’s a dynamite show. I’ll get you front row seats!”
“Of course,” Miles says. He sounds like he means it. He reaches out for Phoenix’s hand, and adds, “Your father and I are both thirty-two, actually. Our birthdays are fifteen days apart. Is his memory loss serious?”
“It’s probably dementia,” Trucy confides. “How do you feel about burgers, Mr. Edgeworth?”
Phoenix laughs, and when they turn to look at him, Trucy affectionate and perplexed, Miles affectionate and exasperated, he laughs again, squeezing Miles’ hand. Hey, he thinks: wouldn’t it be wild if this worked?
“No, Miles lives in San Francisco now, so actually by law he’s a vegan,” he says. “Maybe one of those vat-grown things, I don’t know where that is on the ethical chart--” and breaks off because Miles, having given up on trying to stop him with mere words, is hitting him in the shoulder with the lumbar pillow, and he ducks and starts wheezing with laughter and has to lie down flat to get his breath back long enough to say, “okay, okay-- geez.”