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There was no warning of what was to come that afternoon. Miles left for the office at 7:30, same as any other weekday, carpooling Trucy to her morning classes at the community college along the way. Phoenix rolled out of bed and dragged himself into the agency sometime around ten. Athena scolded him, same as always, but there wasn’t anything she could really do about it—being boss had its perks.

She was hunting down clues and interviewing witnesses on her own today. She’d insisted. Which left him with a whole lotta nothing to do, so he made paper airplanes, texted Maya, and answered the phone sometimes to turn down a slew of obviously guilty jerks for clients. He debated with himself whether he should crash in on Athena’s investigation under some pretense—not that he didn’t trust her to find everything she needed, but he had a feeling this lone wolf streak she’d developed lately could turn into some kind of self-criticizing panic. Learning to be self-reliant was one thing, but isolation could easily transform a promising young lawyer into a dumpster fire of self-esteem issues if they weren’t careful.

…Nah, she was probably fine. Maybe she was just at that age where she was embarrassed to be seen with the old guy of the agency and just wanted to prove herself capable of getting by without help. That was probably it.

But in all, it was a solidly boring day. That seemed to be the familiar pattern—long periods of calm broken up by a week of high-stakes emotional rollercoasters where somebody’s life was on the line and witnesses started throwing inanimate objects. Same old, same old. And maybe it was just because he was getting older, but the downtime started to feel more welcome than it used to. He had time to spend with the family, and clocking in that quality time—especially with Trucy getting older and planning to move out at the end of her associate’s degree (horror of horrors)—it felt more important to have the quiet moments now.

Coming home and tossing his keys in the bowl on the side table, Phoenix called out a greeting but was surprised with an answering silence. He tiptoed through the foyer into their living room and found Trucy standing with a knife in her hand, its blade glinting over her head. He squinted suspiciously.

“Hi Trucy.”

She threw the knife, and it hit the target board across the room—about four inches southwest of the bullseye. Another knife was sticking in the board from a previous throw.

“Hi Daddy!” she said, turning to face him with a big, innocent grin.

“I don’t see any safety goggles,” he said, folding his arms.

“Oh, whoops!” she giggled, knocking her own forehead. “Guess I forgot!”

“Trucy.”

She looked up at him with puppy dog eyes. “Daddy, it’s hard to see the target with those on! And I can’t wear them in front of the audience! What kind of entertainment professional would I be?”

Oh, he hated the puppy dog eyes. She’d learned them from him, and it was worse because she was ten times cuter than he’d ever been. He sighed and lightly tapped her forehead with a finger. “Doesn’t matter. At home you wear the safety goggles. If you put them on now, I won’t tell Dad when he gets home.”

“Won’t tell me what when I come home?” said Miles, opening the door.

“Nothing!” he and Trucy chirped at the same time, turning to greet him as he came in the room.

It took a moment for Phoenix to process what he was seeing. Later, he’d be convinced he’d gone temporarily blind.

“Wow, Dad!” Trucy said, barreling forward to give him her customary hug. Miles returned it with his usual gentleness. “You look fantastic!”

“Thank you, Trucy,” he said, running his fingers through his hair—an old habit he had of brushing back his bangs, except this time, the bangs were largely absent. He’d had his hair cropped to something that could only be described as elegantly professional, parted to his left. “I thought it was perhaps time for a change. Something that would be more fitting for a Chief Prosecutor.” His mouth pulled into a small frown. “…It doesn’t make me look too old, does it?”

With a start, Phoenix realized he was being addressed. He tried opening his mouth, couldn’t remember the letter N, and instead just shook his head dumbly.

Luckily, Trucy answered for him. “No, Dad!! You look like an exceptional, distinguished gentleman! It suits you!”

Miles stiffened a bit and darted his eyes away—his usual reaction when he got bashful—but he wore a small smile all the same. “…Well, if you say so. What are we thinking of for dinner?” he asked, looking back at Phoenix.

It felt like he’d been stabbed. Stabbed with confusion and a sort of terrified awe. He knew he’d been asked a question, he almost even understood the question, but all his resources for answering were simply gone, as though he were a tourist and his translation guide had been ripped in half.

“Dinner,” Phoenix parroted helplessly.

“Yes, unless Gumshoe stopped by and cleaned out the kitchen while we were gone,” Miles replied with a smile. “I was thinking either a stir-fry or—”

“I vote for pizza!” Trucy said.

Miles frowned. “We had it last week.”

“Yeah, but they have a really good offer running right now! Razz was telling me about it earlier.”

Some part of that fizzled into Phoenix’s brain, and he recognized the name under That Punk At The Pizza Place That Likes My Daughter.

“Hmm…I suppose if it’s on sale. What’s your verdict, Phoenix?” Miles asked, stepping further inside.

Phoenix instinctively recoiled out of his path, even though his eyes were trapped on Miles’s face. Whatever his sorcerer hairdresser had done, it was almost as though the silver of his hair caught the light a little more now, and with the bangs gone, Miles’s face shone out like the face of the Moon on a clear summer night. Phoenix couldn’t tell whether he should spontaneously burst into tears or if he should sprint into the woods and become the next resident cryptid, never to return.

He remembered he’d been asked a question as soon as his unfathomably beautiful husband furrowed his brow at him.

“G-Guilty?” he tried. It sounded right.

His unfathomably beautiful husband unforgivably flicked his forehead. It almost succeeded in breaking whatever spell had been cast on him, and he kept his eyes squeezed shut.

“You’re not at work anymore, dear,” Miles said.

“Right.” Right. Something had been said about pizza. “Pizza,” he offered.

“Very well,” Miles said.

“Yay!! I’ll go order it right now!” Trucy said, skipping to the coffee table to retrieve her phone.

“Place it for carryout,” Miles instructed her—Phoenix could hear his footsteps following after her, and he deemed it safe to open his eyes again.

“Aw, really?” Trucy said. “But pizza always tastes better when it magically shows up at your door, Dad, everyone knows that!”

“But it’s only two blocks away. It’d be a waste of fuel for them,” Miles replied. “Not to mention an unnecessary expense on our part.”

“Okaaay,” Trucy said, puffing out her cheeks a little—something she’d picked up from Maya at some point—as she tapped in their usual order. “I guess I’ll go get it. I’ve been meaning to ask the manager if I can put up fliers—”

“I WILL GET IT,” Phoenix blurted out. It was his chance. It was his chance of a lifetime. He could sprint into the woods.

“Oh, Daddy, I really don’t mind! You just got home, so I can—”

“I WILL GET IT,” Phoenix repeated, already edging towards the foyer. The alternative was being left alone with The Ethereal Being in his house, which was completely unthinkable.

“Wright,” said His Personal Destruction.

Escape was so close. The door was right in his sights. He didn’t dare turn around. “Y-Yes?” he said to the door.

Something struck the back of his head, and he flinched. Looking down around his feet, he discovered the culprit—Miles Edgeworth’s flying wallet. He picked it up.

“I have a couple of twenties in there. Leave them a reasonable tip,” Miles said.

“Okay,” Phoenix replied, pocketing the wallet. Conversation was almost easier now, as long as he didn’t have to look directly at him. Maybe if he could just go through the rest of his life without ever looking at his unfathomably beautiful husband again, it would all be fine.

There might be a few problems with that plan. He’d deal with them later.

“See you,” he said to the foyer, and escaped.

Being in the fresh air felt like a fresher breath of fresh air than fresh air had ever been freshly breathed before. It was like gulping down pure sanity. He swallowed and stepped purposely down the driveway, his thoughts gathering together like shaky, nervous colts.

It would be impractical to sprint into the woods—‘the woods’ were well over an hour’s drive away, and he had no hope of running that far before Miles would realize he was missing, and Miles was deep in cahoots with the police force. He’d be found.

He needed a plan, a strategy, something. Something to get him back on his feet again. But what the heck had happened back there? It was like everything inside himself had just stopped, paralyzed.

A dim memory came floating in—“Hey, Nick…you ever see a girl so pretty you think you’re gonna die?”—and he’d just chalked it up to Larry being Larry at the time, because Larry said something similar every time he got a new crush. But that’s exactly what it’d felt like. He’d thought he was just going to drop dead right then and there.

Phoenix exhaled, the evening January air still warm from the day but beginning to take on the crispness of night. He was in trouble, more trouble than he thought possible after five years of marriage to a man he’d known since he was nine.

It was going to be the longest night of his life.

***

Phoenix woke up instantly, his heart careening into his ribcage, before he remembered that Miles would have gone to work by now. He released the breath he didn’t realize he was holding and waited for his heartbeat to calm down, then slowly turned onto his back, staring at the ceiling.

There was a crick in his neck—he’d kept his head turned to Trucy’s side of the table all during dinner. His eyes were dry and fuzzy from staring at the TV screen all evening before they’d gone to bed. Had he even remembered to blink? He couldn’t tell. All he knew was that sitting next to Miles on the couch had become a new form of torture. It was like sitting next to a stranger on a plane.

Maneuvering into bed without getting Miles’s attention had been an Olympic feat. It’d required speeding through his evening routine and pulling the covers over his head before Miles was out of the bathroom, fending off an inquisitive “Are you all right?” with a mumbled lie about being tired, enduring the still presence of his warm body…

It was hours before he’d fallen asleep.

With all the energy of a sack of flour, Phoenix began the day. Over a bowl of cocoa puffs, an idea struck him, and he fished out the locket necklace from underneath his shirt and popped it open.

Inside, there was the most recent picture of his daughter, smiling as always and tipping her magician’s hat towards the camera. On the opposite side was Miles from a few months ago, wearing a small, almost Mona Lisa-like smile that was rare to evoke out of him for a camera—he had difficulty smiling on cue, but during that particular photograph, Phoenix’s Steel Samurai ringtone had suddenly blared and caused the charming anomaly.

The pictures made him feel calm, as they always did. Calm with a touch of rock-solid inner peace that had been a long time coming in his life.

Phoenix smiled. Whatever had happened yesterday—whatever was still happening, it couldn’t touch this, so it wouldn’t be permanent. At least, that’s what his heart told him.

His phone buzzed on the breakfast table, and he offhandedly picked it up and grimaced at the time. Half past eight. Athena had court in an hour and a half.

>Boss are you EVER coming to court?

He typed a quick reply.

>Sorry Athena. Rough start. Will be there in a bit. Everything ok?

>Yup! I got a few critical pieces of evidence last night!

>Great – look forward to hearing about it. See you soon.

However, he immediately proved himself a liar and decided to check his email instead. Nothing urgent, thankfully. Then he cycled through the usual things he always checked on his phone—the weather (sunny, high of 68), Maya’s ChatYu Moments (a stray calico kitty sunning itself next to a koi pond), and Trucy’s Klicka account.

He flinched, slamming his phone face-down on the table.

His own daughter. His own daughter had set this trap for him.

He closed his eyes and took a steadying breath. He wasn’t being fair. It was well within Trucy’s rights to post a picture of her dad on her own photo-sharing app. It wasn’t her fault that Phoenix didn’t know how to handle looking at his own husband all of a sudden.

Slowly, holding the phone an entire arm’s length away from himself, he began to turn the device over.

Yup. He was still there.

Phoenix forced himself to turn the phone over completely and face the man who was in fact his husband and not some overpowered Helen of Troy.

Miles was primly cutting into his pizza slice with a knife and fork and smiling awkwardly at the camera. The warm yellow tones of their dining room lighting brought out the darker shades in his shortened hair, and it softened the lines on his face. It even made the white of his shirtsleeves look more cottony. He looked…realer than he had at first glance last night.

Unfortunately, the photo also made Miles look about a decade younger, with a fresh openness and warmth to his face that was surprising—even breathtaking.

Phoenix felt his skin burn up, turn clammy, then violently U-turn right back to unpleasantly warm again. His pulse was playing a can-can in his ears.

Good grief. It wasn’t like he was a stranger to arousal, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to mimic a literal hot flash. He’d been in love before, multiple times. He’d even describe one memorable experience as ‘overenthusiastic.’ But even so…there was absolutely nothing to justify feeling as though he were flirting with a panic attack.

He closed his eyes, took three deep breaths, and opened them again to face the picture.

Like clockwork, the exact same thing happened.

Why was this happening? He was a grown (married) man with a semi-successful law-and-etc. business and a college-age daughter. He should be more level-headed than this.

He yelped as the phone buzzed in his hand.

>BOSS WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU?! D:<

Somehow, forty minutes had already gone by.

>SORRY I’M COMING I SWEAR

With no time left to spare, he fled back into his bedroom to change.

***

“Hey, I’m here,” he said breathlessly, speeding into the defendant’s lobby.

Athena had been shuffling through a pile of assorted evidence at the coffee table, but her hands flew to her ears as soon as Phoenix spoke. She turned sharply to him.

“Boss, what the hell?!” she yelled at him.

“OW OW OW,” Widget supplied.

“Sorry,” he said, holding back a huge sigh that would only hurt her ears more.

“Jeez, I haven’t heard that much tension from you in years.” Cautiously, she removed her hands from her ears and studied him a moment. “It sounds like frustration—and maybe fear? And something else…” She made a move as if to activate her Mood Matrix.

He gave her a sharp look. “Athena, do you like your salary?”

“EEP! S-Scary!” Widget squeaked, and too late, Athena covered the device on her necklace with a hand.

“Ah…hahaha, n-never mind, boss, forget I said anything,” she said, holding up a hand placatingly.

He sighed as softly as he could. She meant well, but there were some things he definitely did not want his protégé prying into, and this was right up there in the top five.

“Though it’s kinda funny…” she continued, giving him a playful grin. “You sure sounded a lot like Mr. Edgeworth just now!”

“Ghkkkk,” Phoenix said, his shoulders automatically tensing.

She just had to bring him up. The one person he most wanted to avoid thinking about.

“Um…Mr. Wright?”

“…Let’s just go over your evidence pile, Athena, we don’t have much time,” he said, waving away her concerned expression.

She still looked troubled, but they went through the pile together without questioning the stiffness in his shoulders, and Phoenix tried to offer as much insight and advice as he could before sending her off to trial.

It was a long day. He hung out in the gallery during the first half just to see how she fared on her own, and at her request, he came down and stood beside her as co-counsel in the second half, somewhat relieved that she still seemed to like having a second head nearby to bounce ideas off of. She was getting stronger every year. At this rate, if she decided to stick with him at the agency, he could consider taking another newbie under his wing and let her handle more cases on her own.

The trial was extended to another day, and Athena took off on her bike to head towards the crime scene as he called out a reminder that she could call him if she needed anything. Kids…they were always in a hurry. Though when he thought about it, she’d seemed kinda friendly with the detective that had testified in the first part of the trial today… Maybe she was just trying to ditch him to talk to her more. …Kids.

He sighed as he climbed onto the bus for home, realizing that he may be being a bit hypocritical in that sense. But he had a good excuse for that: he was the old guy in this circle. Kids didn’t want to listen to their elders going on about their love lives.

Phoenix clicked open his locket for the second time that day and reminded himself that this is what he was going home to—he was going back to his own little sanctuary, not the hormonal alien circus. There was enough of the alien circus at court. He didn’t need more of it.

His phone pinged from his pants pocket, and he clicked the locket closed and returned it safely to his breast pocket before retrieving the device. It pinged again.

Instantly, he smiled. Two notifications from his ChatYu app.

>Nick I just checked Trucy’s Klicka!! (*゚O゚*)
>u lucky boy… (˵¯̴͒ꇴ¯̴͒˵)

Maya. She would understand.

>Maya it’s awful
>I can’t even look at him

>What?!?! What do u mean, he looks so classy!!

>That’s the problem…

>u…don’t like classy guys? Nick…why would u marry him then??? He’s the classiest guy we know!

Phoenix sighed.

>No. The problem is I like him TOO much.

>ꉂ ꀞꀞꀞ(ᕑᗢूᓫ∗)˒˒ I seeee…

>I’m not sure you do…

>tbh I assumed u woulda jumped him as soon as he got home

Phoenix squawked. Loudly. Several of his bus-mates gave him a baffled look, and he flushed, mortified. Thankfully his stop was the one after the next.

He glared down at his phone and shot back a reply as sternly as he could manage with all the typos he was making.

>One does NOT simmply JUMPO Miles Edgeworth, Chief Porsector, tha’ts how you DIE. You knock politley on his door, see hif he’s in agood mood, and POLITELY ASK.

>。゚(TヮT)゚。

>MAYA

>Nick we HAVE to make “One does NOT simmply JUMPO” a thing now

>NO

>It can be the new office motto! Maybe like “One does NOT simmply JUMPO to conclusions!” u know? Though I guess that might be more Edgeworth’s thing…

>MAYA PLEASE
>MY HOME LIFE IS IN DANGER

>Nick is it really that bad? Honestly?

>YES

>Do u have time to talk then?

Phoenix sighed, looking up and out the window. His stop was coming up shortly.

>In a minute

He double-checked that he had all his things, and as soon as the bus squeaked to a stop, he shuffled off, determined not to make eye contact with the other passengers. On the sidewalk, he took a quick look around his surroundings to check for anything out of the ordinary, then retrieved his phone once more and began walking. He tapped Maya’s contact number. She answered on the first ring.

“Yo, Nick!”

Somehow, hearing her voice always made him feel a little better, no matter what was happening around him.

“Hey, Maya. What’s up.”

“Not a lot, really. It can get kind of boring out here sometimes,” she said, nearing a wistful tone, but right before Phoenix could say anything to that, she charged on. “But, more importantly! What’s going on with you?”

Phoenix groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I don’t know,” he said, exhausted. “I feel like running from the room when I look at him. I don’t get it. It’s like I’m terrified but also not terrified. Of my own husband.”

“Huh. That’s pretty weird,” she said thoughtfully. “Any clue why?”

He blushed. “Well, it’s not as though I…don’t like how he looks…” he grumbled. “He’s always been stunning.” Maya ‘mhmm-ed’ her agreement. “But now it’s almost…overwhelming? Or intimidating? Somehow?” He sighed. “I’m not making sense.”

“Nope, not really,” she agreed. “But that’s okay. So are you saying like…he’s too beautiful?”

“Yes!” he said. “And it came from nowhere! It’s worse than an autopsy report! What am I supposed to do?! I wasn’t prepared for this!!”

She laughed. “Maybe you just have to turn everything around!”

“And how would I do that?” he asked flatly.

“I dunno. Maybe you could cut your hair to get back at him?”

He balked, nearly tripping on a crack in the sidewalk. “Wh-Why would you say that?!”

She laughed again. “Calm down, Nick, I was just kidding.”

He exhaled. “Don’t scare me like that.”

“Would you really have done it if I told you to?” she asked, intrigued.

“…Of course not,” he said, then before she could prod any further, “Any other ideas?”

“Hmm, not really,” she admitted. “But if you want my Professional Opinion, it kinda just sounds like you got a super weird crush on him.”

Phoenix’s face twisted with skepticism. “On my own husband?

“What’s wrong with that?” she asked. “It’s kind of cute, even if you’re being super weird about it.”

“Maya, I’ve been married to him for five years. I already had a crush on him.”

“Hmm…did you?” Her tone was surprisingly serious.

He blinked. “Well, duh.”

“I don’t know. I mean, you never really said anything about it for years—not to me, anyway. It was obvious you cared about each other, but like…it’s sort of like you went from rivals, to friends, to an old married couple overnight. Maybe you just missed a step?”

He stopped in place. A horrible thing was happening. A horrible, terrible, awful thing. She was almost starting to make sense.

His blood ran cold. “Maya…that can’t…”

“Let’s face it, Nick, you’ve always been bad at doing things by the book,” she said, snickering.

This was awful. He was forty, not a teenager. “Maya,” he croaked, “what am I gonna do?”

“Well, if you wanna go old-school, you could write him a note: ‘Do you like me? Circle Yes or No,’” she teased.

Phoenix covered his face with his free hand. “Oh god…he’s not gonna let me live this down when he finds out.”

I’m not gonna let you live this down, Nick.”

He scowled. “Thanks, Maya.”

“Hey, look on the bright side! It could be worse.”

“How?” he groaned.

“He could look that beautiful and you could be not married to him.”

He had the distinct feeling like someone had just walked over his grave. “I don’t even want to think about that,” he said, shuddering. Trying to face off against that in court while not making a complete idiot of himself? Impossible.

“See? It’s not all that bad. And at least you don’t have to worry about keeping the spark alive.”

Phoenix sighed, tapping the security fob on his keyring to the electronic pad outside their gate. “Listen, Maya…I’m home now, but it was great hearing from you—and thanks, really, for listening.”

“No problem, Nick,” she said softly. “Call again soon, okay? I wanna talk to Trucy next time!”

He smiled. “Absolutely. Say hi to Pearls for me.”

“Will do! Go get ‘im, tiger!” she chirped, and he grimaced as she hung up. The way things were at the moment, he couldn’t muster up a ‘tiger’ even if he’d wanted to. He couldn’t even manage a ‘kitten.’ Shaking his head, he walked up the driveway and went inside.

Trucy was home, as she usually was in the afternoons, though it looked like she was soon on her way out. She was back in her magician’s outfit and dumping the cutlery drawer into her hat.

“Hi sweetie,” Phoenix said. “How were classes this morning?”

“Hi Daddy!” she said, bounding forward to give him a hug. “They were good!” She pulled back and squinted suspiciously at him. “Daddy, what’s wrong?”

The downside of having a very perceptive daughter was that it was nearly impossible to hide anything from her for very long. “Nothing, sweetie—nothing serious,” he amended quickly, but it was too late.

“But you’ve been acting weird since Dad came home yesterday,” she said. “You’re not fighting, are you?”

“N-No, Trucy, we’re not fighting, you can trust me on that,” he said, sweating nervously.

She folded her arms, a worried knit forming in her brow. “Daddy…you promised you’d always tell me the truth.”

Gah, she had to pull that one on him. Technically, he hadn’t lied to her, but still…maybe it would just be easier if he told her. Trucy was good at keeping secrets. Or maybe he could jump into a snake pit and spare himself the embarrassment. The latter idea was tempting. Very tempting.

But she did look worried…and he didn’t want her to be worried before she got on stage.

“Okay, Truce, but this stays between you and me, got it?”

She nodded seriously.

“I think I have a crush on your dad,” he confessed.

She stared at him. “Daddy, that’s the worst dad joke you’ve ever done,” she told him frankly.

For a hot second, he debated rolling with that angle before deciding it wouldn’t make her feel better. “It—It’s not,” he said awkwardly, then clarified, “Not a joke.”

Her eyes widened, and her hand flew to her mouth.

“Yeah, I know,” Phoenix said with a sigh, “it’s weird, but—”

“Daddy, that’s great!” she said, beaming.

He stared at her. “What?”

“Have you told him?”

“Uh—”

“Here, give him these!” she said, reaching into her hat and pulling out a bouquet of red roses. She stuffed them into his arms. “Dad likes red!”

“Th-Thanks, sweetie, but—”

“Too red? That’s okay! I also have pink!” she continued, pulling out a second bouquet of pink roses and also stuffing them into Phoenix’s arms.

“Trucy, don’t you think—don’t you think it’s strange?” he finally managed to ask over the heads of two dozen humongous roses.

Her energetic demeanor softened a little, and she stood on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek. “No, Daddy, you’ve always been a romantic,” she said, smiling. “It makes perfect sense for you.” She popped her hat back onto her head, and it made a metallic crashing sound. “I have to make sure everything’s set up at the Wonder Bar. You’ll be coming for the show, right?”

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

“Okay! Good luck, Daddy!” She whisked her new, floor-length cloak out of the closet and clasped it in front of her neck. “Bye!!” she said, waving cheerfully.

“Bye,” he replied, his arms full of flowers.

When the door closed, he was left staring down at the two bouquets. Trucy had always been quick to roll with the punches, and for a moment he pondered if she got that quality from him or if it was just something she’d always had on her own. In any case, he had more immediate things to think about—namely, how he was going to handle Miles coming home, and what on earth he was going to do with both of the bouquets. One of them could go in a vase to decorate the table. But the other…

…Maybe the other could serve as a distraction, if he played his cards right.

***

At the sound of a key turning in the lock, Phoenix raised his newspaper shield.

“I’m home,” Miles said from the foyer. His briefcase scraped across the side table as it was set down.

“Welcome home,” Phoenix replied stiffly, pretending he was extremely invested in new water filtration techniques.

Footsteps came into the living room. “Hm? What are these?” Miles said, and Phoenix peeked over his newspaper to see that his husband was heading over to the adjacent dining room, where both bouquets had been set side-by-side in two vases on the table, with an accent light shining down on them. The distraction was working.

“Flowers,” he said. “From Trucy, one for each of us.”

“That’s kind of her. I’ve been needing a new set for the office,” Miles said.

Phoenix risked another glance over his shoulder and saw that he was favoring the red ones, a finger brushing the petals of a bloom. He couldn’t help a small smile—he’d had a feeling Miles would like those ones better. He ducked behind the paper again when Miles started turning his way.

“I wonder what the occasion is?” Miles asked.

“No idea,” Phoenix said, shaking his head. He pointed vaguely towards the kitchen. “Dinner’s in the fridge.”

“You’ve eaten?”

“Yep. Sorry,” he said, sweating.

This was the tricky part. They usually ate something together before heading off to Trucy’s shows, and Miles could almost always tell when he was bluffing, so offering a false explanation why he’d eaten early was out of the question. He kept his eyes fixed on an ad for custom window installation, praying to Luck that Miles wouldn’t press the issue.

“I hope it isn’t—ah,” Miles called from their weirdly echoey kitchen, and Phoenix let out a breath. “I was expecting your macaroni concoction. But really, what’s the occasion? It’s not my birthday.”

As microwave buttons were being pushed, Phoenix wondered what the hell Miles was talking about before the answer smacked him upside the head.

He’d accidentally made his husband’s favorite stir fry.

His own subconscious. His own subconscious was working against him.

“Uh—um? N-No reason, really?” Phoenix called back, which was, for all intents and purposes, true.

“Well, thank you,” Miles said, and Phoenix nearly ripped the paper in two—damn the man for always walking so softly, he was right behind him.

“No pr—” he tried, but his tongue fell apart like a helicopter shot out of the sky. His head was on fire. His hands seemed numb, cold, and distant. The newsprint had inexplicably dropped to 144 pixel quality. It was possible he was having a heart attack.

It wasn’t until Edgeworth pulled away to retrieve his reheated stir fry that Phoenix realized what had happened. He’d been kissed on the cheek.

Sighing, he tossed his newspaper onto the coffee table. He wanted to bury his face in his hands. Why did he have to feel like such a kid over this? Couldn’t he just be a married man in peace without Puberty 2.0 rearing its zit-crusted face?

The kiss smoldered on his cheek. He thumbed at his wedding band.

Maybe actually saying something to Miles would help. His therapist had always insisted that communication could solve most things, and maybe just getting it out in the open would help improve things—like breaking a curse with just the right magic words.

Though he wasn’t sure that saying “Miles, every time I look at you I feel a strange, primordial fear of the unknown and like the prom queen just asked to borrow my pencil and then never gave it back” was the best way to go about it. The same could be said for Cthulhu, after all.

Or maybe it couldn’t hurt to try.

“Miles,” Phoenix said, bracing himself as he looked over his shoulder.

Thankfully, his earlier set-up of the flowers had succeeded in its second goal—with Miles seated behind them, his face was hidden by a mass of red and pink petals.

“Yes?” A hand, expertly clamping a broccoli floret in place with chopsticks, paused on the path to an unseen mouth.

“I, uh…” It was deadly quiet. Usually the TV was on, or somebody was rustling something, or Trucy was practicing something for her routine, or there was a casual comment every now and then. Phoenix snatched up the paper again and held it to his face with a reassuring rustle. “I love you,” he said to the custom window installation ad.

Silence.

Confused, Phoenix glanced over and just managed to bite back a yelp. Miles had craned his neck around the flowers and was squinting at him with deep suspicion.

“Did you do something?” Miles asked, and it was in that terrifying tone he used when cross-examining defendants.

“No…” Phoenix said. This was a mistake. This was a horrible mistake. He’d just made everything so much worse.

“First the flowers, then my favorite dinner, and quite frankly you’ve been acting a little odd since yesterday. I know it’s not our anniversary. You’ve done something but I haven’t discovered what it is yet. What did you do?”

“I haven’t done anything,” Phoenix said. “I just.” Why were newspapers so unhelpful when he needed words? “I just. Thought I’d…do something.” Oh no.

“…So you have done something?” Miles said, sounding confused.

“…Okay, I realized how stupid that sounded right after I said it,” Phoenix replied. “But no, I just meant…” He sighed, closed his eyes, and reached blindly into the depths of his gut to say something, anything. “I’m just glad you’re here, Miles. With us.”

It came out so much softer than he’d planned. Actually, the whole thing was coming out a lot differently than he’d thought it would. He should just give up on plans. They never seemed to work for him.

But that didn’t mean that what he said wasn’t true. And when it came to truth, they’d always find their way there, inch by inch. They both knew that.

“Phoenix…” Miles murmured, and the scrape of a chair pulling back and his light footsteps coming towards him were barely enough warning for Phoenix to leap off the sofa and pretend to look at his watch.

“We should get go—”

Too late. Miles had pulled him into a hug, and Phoenix closed his eyes, trying to distill the feeling down into what he normally felt. A part of him crackled like a sparkler, sharp and bright, popping with irrepressible energy. But the other part, the part he’d fallen into so many times before, was a glowing warmth that wrapped around him like a heated blanket. Cautiously, he put his arms around Miles.

“We should get going,” Phoenix tried again, once he’d unlocked his voice.

Miles sighed. “I’m sorry for snapping at you. You’d think by now I’d learn not to judge a simple kindness as being indicative of an ulterior motive…”

Well that raised an eyebrow or two. Phoenix squeezed him back a little tighter. “Hey, it’s all right,” he said gently. “You realized what you were doing and stopped. You’ve become so much more mindful than you used to be, I’m proud of you.”

Miles just sighed again. “Yes, yes, and I’m sure my therapist would agree with you too,” he said dryly, pulling away with a self-depreciating smile. “But you’re right, we should get going.”

Out of self-preservation, Phoenix had deliberately forgotten what Miles looked like up close. But with him just a foot away, the light catching the spark in his eyes, an unexpected ache knocked Phoenix out by the knees and swept him under. The sound of water roared in his ears.

The term ‘aging gracefully’ must have been invented for the man in front of him. There was just no other explanation. Because it was clear he was aging—the stress furrow across his brow only got more pronounced over the years, and in the midst of his newly shortened silver hair, there were strands of white beginning to show. But, amazingly, a few laugh lines were visible at the corners of his eyes now that they weren’t hidden by his bangs, and though Miles’s eyes were weapons in their own right—clear and sharp as flint—where they’d once been hard and cold, there was now gentleness, like jagged river stones smoothed over the years into glistening ore.

A single thought managed to break through Phoenix’s trance, and it surprised him, both in its intensity and its unexpectedness—‘I need to paint him.

He hadn’t thought of painting in years, not properly.

It was just something he’d done when he was young, in college, somebody else. When he was a dreamer, when his focus hadn’t yet snapped into place, when he was taste-testing different dreams and ideas of who he would be. When he’d been in love, and it had felt like an avalanche instead of a fortress. Paint had been his way to color the clouds, to start a shape, and create a path to somewhere new.

He’d never taken it as seriously as most of his classmates did—trying to hammer in art history had bored him, and he disliked almost every painting that he’d ever laid eyes on except his own—but just the act of holding a brush, dabbing ink to paper, and creating, he’d found happiness in.

His second coherent thought managed to bubble through—‘He’s the only one who makes me feel this young’—and it sent his heart tripping over the game controller connected to his smart adult lawyer brain and entirely ripped it out of the console.

***

“Phoenix?”

Miles was staring at him, the furrow in his brow deepening with concern.

Phoenix had no idea what they’d been talking about.

“…Yeah?” he replied tentatively.

“Are you feeling all right?” Miles asked.

That felt like a trick question. “Why do you ask?” Phoenix evaded.

“You’ve been smiling since we left. It’s…getting a bit unnerving.”

Well, that explained why his cheeks hur—wait.

With a jolt, Phoenix took in his surroundings: dark, with chairs everywhere, and a stage at one end of the room with Trucy’s logo decorating the stage curtain. They were at the Wonder Bar. Somehow.

“Oh, I’m just…happy to be here. Ha ha ha,” Phoenix said, sweating. It was finally happening. All these years of narrowly escaping death were catching up to him and cashing in on his brain cells.

No, no, wait…if he thought hard enough, he could remember bits and pieces. He’d made the mistake of looking directly at his unfathomably beautiful husband instead of through eclipse goggles like a smart person. Then there was a lot of smiling and nodding on his part. A car was involved. Now he was here. Great.

Miles had broken him.

And how was that fair? He needed his brain. He had nothing else to fall back on in a crisis; his husband and daughter swam in pools of beauty and natural talent, and all he had besides what Mia had taught him was the magic rock he kept in his pocket.

“Are you sure you’re all right?” Miles asked, and Phoenix felt a hand rest on his arm and squeeze lightly.

“Yes,” Phoenix managed, fixing his eyes on the stage and determined to ignore the warmth flooding into his skin.

With eternally perfect timing, the spirited music of Trucy’s magic show began, and Phoenix sighed with relief. Another distraction, and this one was sure to hold Miles’s attention for longer than the flowers. It would hopefully give him enough time to recover his senses, too.

“Laaaadies and gentlemen!” Trucy’s voice rang from the speakers. “We have a very special show for you tonight! So snuggle up with your loved one and prepare forrrr…The Magic of Trucy Wright!”

As the audience clapped, Phoenix squinted at the curtain suspiciously. That wasn’t quite the usual recording.

The curtains peeled apart, and the growing dread in his gut spiked.

Stars, diamonds, and card suits were Trucy’s usual design choices, per her Gramarye heritage. But today, the stage was covered in hearts. Lots and lots of hearts.

“It’s a little early for Valentine’s, isn’t it?” Miles remarked.

It was the second week of January.

How his daughter had found the time to completely redesign her stage in an afternoon was beyond him. He never doubted that she could, because Trucy was capable of anything, but it was always the how that stumped him—just like a true magician. He’d feel more impressed if he weren’t low-key panicking.

With a flash of white light and puff of pink smoke, Trucy appeared on stage. Even her costume was different from when Phoenix saw it a few hours ago—though her hat was the same as always, she was now sporting a white skirt and tank top. A cute pair of plastic wings were strapped to her back.

Somehow, Phoenix had the feeling that he really should have expected this of her.

She grinned widely. “Gooood evening, everybody! I just fell from heaven, and boy, is my bottom sore!” she said, pantomiming rubbing her behind. “What is earth made out of, rocks?!”

The audience chortled good-naturedly.

Why,’ Phoenix mouthed at her. She just winked and grinned wider.

“Back home in heaven, I’m what’s known as a cherub, and my job is to help all the cute little creatures on earth find their one true love!” she continued, flourishing her wand, which magically (of course) turned into a rose in her hand. “I was just minding my own business when POOF!” The rose turned into a dove, which flew from her hand over the audience. “I felt a pining so strong I was suddenly pulled to earth! So, fess up!! Which one of you pulled me here?” She put her hands on her hips and leant towards the audience slightly, her tongue peeking out between her teeth in concentration as she made an exaggerated “HMMM” sound.

The blood drained from his face, and Phoenix began to pray with every fiber of his being that his daughter still truly loved him.

“AHA!” she said, dramatically pointing into the audience. “You’re the culprit!!”

The spotlight panned over to a mousey young man in glasses. “M-Me?!” he said, pointing at himself.

Phoenix sighed with relief. Trucy still loved him after all.

“Yes, you sir! Come on up!” she said, waving him forward. She bounced on her heels as the young man was escorted onto the stage by one of Trucy’s backstage helpers. “So, tell us about yourself, mister!”

“Um, my name is Sean,” he said, smiling sheepishly. “I’m an economics major.”

“Soooo Sean, a little birdie told me—” A dove flew from stage right onto her already outstretched finger. “—that you have a big enormous crush on somebody!”

Sean turned an interesting shade of tomato and scratched the back of his neck. “Um, well, I guess you could say that…”

Trucy suddenly linked arms with him and put a hand to her brow, looking back into the audience. “Is she here tonight?” she asked.

“Oh, no, no, no, she’s, ah, working tonight—couldn’t make it,” he said, a bit downcast.

“Aw, you got stood up, huh?” She pouted, then abruptly slapped his back and grinned, and Phoenix saw a glimmer of her biological father shine through. “No wonder you pulled me to earth! But don’t you worry, Sean, I know just the thing to make you feel better!”

She took off her hat with an excessive flourish, then stuck her arm in it. “Hmm…” she said, hand shifting uncertainly within the hat. It blared a car alarm. Sean and half the audience jolted. “Oh, whoops!” she said, hand flailing within the hat, and the alarm silenced. She stuck her tongue out, concentrating. “I know she’s in here somewhere.” She shoved her arm deeper into the hat, up to her shoulder, and the hat honked, made a cash register noise, and went AWOOGA. “Gosh, where are you hiding?” she said in exasperation, taking her arm out of the hat. Instead, she stuck her face into it.

From the back of the auditorium, Trucy’s voice projected, “Helloooooooo? Pretty laaaaadyyy?”

The audience laughed. Phoenix could even hear Miles’s soft chuckling. The poor victim on stage looked like he wanted to melt into the floor.

“There you are! Sheesh, what’re you getting all shy for?!” Trucy’s projected hat-voice continued. “Come on, he’s waiting for you!”

She pulled her face out of the hat and smiled. “Sorry about that! Well, Sean, are you ready to meet the new and improved love of your life?”

Sean smiled back a bit cautiously. “Uhhh, sure…”

Trucy turned her head to the audience and grinned. “Everybody say hi tooooo…Sean’s lovely girlfriend!” she said, holding the hat out dramatically.

A green puppet frog with a pink bow popped its head out of the hat and looked around the room skeptically.

The audience laughed, Sean included.

“Well, Sean? Isn’t she everything you ever wanted and more?” Trucy said, bouncing excitedly.

“She’s lovely,” Sean replied, still laughing.

Trucy held the hat up closer to Sean. “Why don’t you give her a little kiss, then?”

The frog took one look at Sean, then sealed its mouth closed like it had eaten a lemon and shook its head from side to side.

Sean seemed equally contrary to the idea. “Um, I—I don’t think she wants me to,” he said.

“Really?” Trucy said, looking at the frog. The frog looked back at her and vigorously shook its head again. Trucy gave the frog the stink eye and chided, “Are you seriously getting cold feet at a time like this?!”

The chortling throughout the audience suddenly erupted.

“She’s still your daughter, I see,” Miles said with a sigh.

Phoenix couldn’t help it. He was proud.

“What are you, a woman or a toad?!” Trucy scolded the frog, who hunkered down and disappeared into the hat. “Come on, you, the love of your life is waiting!” she said, shoving her hand back in.

A small mechanical frog sprang out of the hat and began rapidly hopping towards the edge of the proscenium. “Wait, come back!!!” Trucy shouted, chasing after it, and just as it was closing in to freedom, she fell to her knees and slammed her hat back overtop the frog. “Phew, that was a close one,” she said, wiping nonexistent sweat from her brow with one arm while the other still kept the hat in place.

She sent another grin to Sean. “Let’s try that again, shall we? Sean, are you ready to meet the love of your life?”

He didn’t quite seem to know how to respond, so he just smiled awkwardly.

Undeterred, Trucy beamed at the audience again. “Okay, everyone! I think we just need to give Sean’s girlfriend a little encouragement to get over her shyness. Luckily, I know a few magic words to help even the most nervous sweetheart come out of their shell, and I want you to say them with me. On the count of three, repeat after me: ‘Bibbidi-Bobbidi-COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT!’ You ready? Three—two—one—Bibbidi-Bobbidi!”

“COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT!” the audience echoed with her.

Trucy pulled the hat up off the floor, and as she did, a smiling chestnut-haired woman came up with it. The audience whooped and clapped.

“D-Dina!” Sean said, shocked.

“Hi Sean,” the woman said, a vivid blush in her dimpled cheeks.

Sean, smiling and laughing, approached her with his arms outstretched and gave her a quick hug. “I thought you were working tonight!” he said.

“Sorry,” she replied, grinning.

“Well, Sean?” Trucy said, springing up between them. “How about now? Isn’t she everything you ever wanted and more?”

Sean turned positively crimson and just managed to nod; Dina laughed beside him, equally red.

“Why don’t you give her a little kiss, then?” Trucy prompted, beaming.

The audience whistled and cheered encouragement.

“You’re, ah, not gonna turn back into a frog are you?” Sean said.

Dina just laughed and snuck a quick peck on him, and the audience cheered louder.

“Give ‘em a hand, folks!” Trucy said, and one of her assistants began escorting the couple off the stage as the audience obediently applauded them off. “And that’s one more success in my record of love!” she continued, giving a little victory twirl.

“Which of the two do you think she knew?” Miles murmured in his ear, and Phoenix nearly catapulted out of his skin.

He had just managed to put Miles’s presence at the back of his mind, his daughter’s natural charisma diverting his attention, but with his husband’s warm breath at his ear and the careless press of his arm against his own in the dark of the theatre, nervousness boomeranged back into his gut.

“Uh-um, probably the girl,” Phoenix managed to reply. The boy had seemed too genuinely surprised and awkward to be in on the act.

“That was my thinking too,” Miles said.

Phoenix shushed him, silently begging for him to return to his side of the armrest. He did.

“It looks like my work here is done!” Trucy was saying, clapping imaginary dust off her gloved hands. “I’ll just return to heaven and—” She jumped into the air—and landed back on her feet. “Huh, that’s weird. I hope the warranty hasn’t expired on these wings…but let’s try again! I’ll just…” She looked like she was powering up for a super jump. “…RETURN TO HEAVEN!!!” she said, leaping into the air, and she propelled to nearly the top of the stage.

Then, she hovered, frozen in a sort of superhero pose.

She gave the audience a Wile E. Coyote grimace. “Uh oh,” she said, and tumbled to the floor.

The audience gasped. Phoenix’s heart leapt into his throat. He was half out of his seat when the trap door on the stage opened and Trucy dropped through it, only for her to instantly spring right back onto the stage with an expert somersault. Phoenix breathed again.

“Wow, the landing sure was a lot softer this time! We outta get some of these trampoline contraptions in heaven!” Trucy chirped. “But who keeps pulling me back here, huh?!”

Phoenix was outlawing that trick when they got home. If not for her own safety, then for his own—his blood pressure was already high enough as it was without trying to trigger a heart attack on the side.

Speaking of heart attacks, a warm, familiar hand was tightened around his own. It tugged him back slightly. Phoenix sank into his seat like a brick, his pulse knocking in his ears.

Miles squeezed his hand again and murmured, “Not sure about that trick…”

Phoenix gulped, then shook his head in agreement. Miles wasn’t letting go of his hand. It was burning up his arm.

“My cherub senses tell me that it’s someone nearby…” Trucy was saying, scanning the audience once again. “But I get the feeling that they’re shyer than usual… You know what, I have an idea!” she said, and she reached behind her and pulled a bow and heart-tipped arrow out of nowhere. “I’ll get my handy-dandy Aphrodite Arrow to find them for me!”

She closed one eye and stuck her tongue out as she pulled back the string and aimed into the audience, shifting from left to right until finally she held her position—pointed straight at the ace attorney in the front row.

Phoenix knew he was being bullied, and he didn’t exactly appreciate it. With all the power that thirteen years of fatherhood had bestowed upon him, he sent her his very best Stern Dad Glare.

On any other youngster he’d taken under his wing, it might’ve worked. But this was Trucy, and he knew that she knew he was sweating like a teenager on prom night. That was the trouble with a family who knew each other’s tells—out-bluffing each other was nigh-on an Olympic sport.

For two seconds, their gazes were locked.

She smiled—and imperceptibly adjusted her aim. The arrow flew, exploding on the floor of the stage in a cloud of glittery fuchsia.

When the smoke cleared, Mr. Hat was beside her with an arrow struck through his eponymous hat, looking quite nervous for a wooden puppet.

“So it was you, Mr. Hat!” Trucy gasped. “I never woulda thunk it!!”

Mr. Hat twiddled his thumbs together. “Even gentlemen fall in love, Miss Trucy…” he said.

Phoenix sighed quietly, pulse still hopping like a rabbit on the run. Miles hadn’t released his hand yet—in fact, he’d leant closer again, pressing their arms together from palm to shoulder. With some horror, Phoenix realized that their fingers were intertwined as well. He debated quietly gnawing his arm off, but it was as though he was stuck in a cloudy dreamlike stasis, looking in on himself from a distance.

Luckily for him, his daughter wasn’t cruel by nature. A bit playfully naughty from time to time, but all kids were to some degree, and Phoenix liked to think that despite everything, he’d raised her Wright. She’d stopped blatantly needling him, but it was surreal watching the rest of her show. Mr. Hat’s love interest was an almost identical wooden puppet with an inverted color scheme and abundance of frills—a parallel that even Miles noticed as he muttered under his breath, “Is that my cravat?”

Phoenix was tempted to say it couldn’t’ve been anyone else’s, but instead settled on a weak chuckle. Watching Mr. Hat’s nervous antics as Cherub Trucy pulled increasingly outlandish disappearing and reappearing acts in an effort to get the two together helped him understand on a personal level how King Claudius must have felt watching Hamlet’s reenactment of his crimes. Miles’s thumb caressing the back of his hand felt like a damning confirmation that he, and possibly everyone else in the theatre, knew exactly what they were watching.

In the final act, though, something truly magical happened.

“Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve all been a fantastic audience—it’s been my honor to be your wingman this evening,” Trucy said, adding in a formal bow that she was clearly copying from Miles. She smiled as the audience clapped, then struck a power pose. “Now, I think I almost have just enough love magic to get back to heaven, but I need all your help for the final boost!

“Here’s what I need you to do: see the person on your right?” she continued. Phoenix didn’t need to see who was on his right, but the person on his left who looked his way was an older lady he’d seen before from time to time at Trucy’s shows. He thought her name was Antonia.

“I need all of you—yes, each and every one of you—to hold hands with the person on your right, and hold on tight! Don’t be shy now, we’re all friends here!” Trucy said. Phoenix sent half a glance at Miles, whom he was already pretty hand-tangled with, and felt a squeeze; he held hands with his lady neighbor too, obediently.

“Now, I want you all to think of the person dearest to your heart. Do you remember the first time they smiled at you?”

It was the fourth grade, and he’d just told Miles a joke—he didn’t even remember what the joke was anymore, but Miles had laughed so hard he’d had trouble catching his breath, and Phoenix remembered how amazing it was that Serious, Quiet Miles could actually laugh like that.

“Do you remember the moment you realized you loved them?”

He was twenty-nine, and he was watching Trucy charming the pants off an elderly Belgian chocolatier who thought she was the most adorable child ever. Miles was beside him, awkwardly conversing with the chocolatier in French, and though Phoenix didn’t know more than a handful of French phrases, he could tell from the blush growing on Miles’s face that the chocolate artisan thought that Trucy was their daughter, and Phoenix had had yet to hear a single negation from Miles on that point. That was the moment, right then, when he knew without question that he wanted days like that with Miles for the rest of his life.

Miles squeezed his hand again, and it sent a small jolt straight into his heart—and Phoenix wondered what the moment had been for him.

“Good. I want you to keep thinking of that person, of all the joys they’ve brought into your life, and keep holding on to your neighbor’s hand.” Trucy held up her own hands and joined them together, her expression earnest. “Whether that person is here with you tonight or not, we carry that love with us wherever we go, and the greatest gift humans can share with each other is that love—that energy is being shared by each and every one of you in this theatre tonight, and you’re creating something new.”

After a significant pause, Trucy nodded. “I think I’m just about ready to make the trip for home. So on the count of three, I want you to release your partner’s hand, and when you do, all your power will spring me to heaven! Are you ready?”

The audience murmured a sporadic assent.

“Okay!” Trucy shifted and bent her legs, preparing for a jump. “On the count of three, everybody! One…two………THREE!”

She sprang into the air.

A loud clap sounded, and in an incredible flash of light, Trucy somehow turned into a flock of white doves that took off flapping over the heads of the stunned audience. As Phoenix let go of both his neighbors’ hands, a strange, fluttering sensation erupted from between their palms, and he looked down, startled, to discover that somehow…individual flower blooms were now cupped in their hands.

He didn’t recognize the pink blossom that had come from his lady neighbor’s hand, but in his and Miles’s, there was a large, red rose.

“So that’s why she had all those today…” Phoenix murmured, and he made the mistake of looking up at Miles.

He looked equally stunned by the appearance of the flower, but when he made eye contact with Phoenix, a tender, shining smile broke across his face, and Phoenix’s breath hitched. There it was, another priceless moment of their life together burning into his memory. He could get dangerously lost in moments like this, and from the look Miles was giving him—

“C-Camellia,” a voice hiccupped beside him, and Phoenix abruptly snapped out of the spell he’d fallen under as he turned to his left-side neighbor.

She was holding the pink flower, and he was startled to see she was crying.

“A-Are you all right, ma’am?” he asked as the lights came on.

She hastily wiped at her eyes with one hand. “Y-Yes, I’m sorry. Do you mind if I keep this, Mr. Wright?” she asked him.

He was somewhat surprised she knew his name, but then again, she was a regular, so he supposed it wasn’t unexpected. “N-No, please, go ahead. But are you sure you’re all right?” he said, concerned by the tears that kept welling up in her eyes.

She sighed, holding the flower to her heart. “My daughter’s name was Camellia,” she said sadly, but then a wistful smile finally emerged on her face as she lightly patted his wrist. “Your little girl is very special, Mr. Wright, I hope you know that.”

“Of course,” he said quietly, smiling a little in turn. “She helps brighten up people’s days, after all.”

“That she does,” the lady said with a nod, standing up. She looked a little sturdier, some of the light coming back into her eyes. “Goodnight, gentlemen.”

“Goodnight,” Phoenix said, and he heard Miles murmur the same beside him.

When she’d exited the aisle, he turned back to Miles, still somewhat stunned by what had just happened.

“Well,” Miles said, shaking his head fondly. “Shall we go pick up our daughter, then?”

“Yeah,” Phoenix said, grinning.

***

“Yeah, I overheard her a couple of weeks ago talking to an usher about her daughter,” Trucy was saying. She sipped at her tea, sitting cross-legged in their living room armchair. “She lost her a few years ago around this time of year. I’ve been working on that trick for a while, so I thought—I dunno, maybe it would cheer her up if I tweaked it a little. If magic can’t do that, then what’s it good for, right?”

Phoenix blinked. He’d suspected since she was little that besides giving her a connection to her biological parents, Trucy loved magic simply because it made people happy…but she’d never phrased it like that before. That was new.

“It was a very sweet thing you did for that lady, Trucy,” Miles said, setting down his own cup.

She beamed. “It worked, then? I was a little worried it might make her sad…”

“No, it worked, sweetie,” Phoenix told her. “I think she appreciated the thoughtfulness you put into it.”

“Good!” Trucy said, setting down her cup and stretching. “Well, daddies, I’m gonna go to bed, I’m bushed,” she continued with a yawn. “I’ve got a ton of homework, so I’m gonna get up early tomorrow to work on it before class.”

Since when did she become so mature and responsible? Had he blinked and missed it? Phoenix watched her carefully as she got up and started to take her cup to the kitchen.

“Sweetheart,” he said before she got too far.

She paused, giving him a curious look. “What is it, Daddy?”

It was kind of scary, because he’d gotten pretty accurate about reading her feelings over the years, but at that moment, he honestly couldn’t tell from looking at her if she was hiding something from him. “You know, sweetie…you’re allowed to do things for fun, too, right? It doesn’t all have to be about how ‘useful’ you are.”

She blinked, then bounced over to him and kissed him on the cheek. “Oh Daddy, of course I know that! But that doesn’t mean I can’t do both, right?”

He sighed, relieved. “That’s the spirit, kiddo,” he said, patting her back as she gave him a one-armed hug. “I’m proud of you, you did a great job today.”

“We both are,” Miles added. Phoenix smiled into Trucy’s shoulder.

“Hehe, thanks, dads,” she said, pulling away to give Miles a goodnight kiss on the cheek as well. “Goodnight!”

“Sleep well,” Miles said.

“You too!” With that, Trucy also snagged her phone from the coffee table and headed off to the kitchen, then to her bathroom to wash the makeup off her face.

It was quiet, apart from the drone of commercials playing in between news segments.

Phoenix sighed, an empty feeling settling into him. “Miles, stop her,” he said at last.

“Hm?”

“She’s growing up on me and I don’t like it.”

Miles just chuckled softly. Traitor. Grumbling, Phoenix picked up this morning’s newspaper from the coffee table and began skimming it. Miles crossed his legs beside him. The TV began a report on what policies the newly elected president might try to bring about once inaugurated.

“I wonder if she’s texting that boy from the pizza place,” Miles remarked out of nowhere.

The newspaper wrinkled violently in his hands. “What makes you say that?” Phoenix muttered.

“She’s more of an early bird than you are, but this bedtime is early even for her. It wouldn’t be an unheard-of tactic for some privacy.”

Phoenix glared daggers at the horoscope section instead of replying. Had he not just made it clear he didn’t want to talk about his little girl flying out of the coop on him? Rude jerk.

Miles chuckled. “Don’t you think you’re being a bit overprotective?”

“I’m protective just the right amount,” Phoenix retorted. “She’s had enough trouble in her life without some random punk adding to it.”

“Perhaps. But if she isn’t allowed to make her own decisions, she won’t learn from them,” Miles said, then added a bit more gently, “I know you don’t like to think about it, but even you realize she’s an adult now.”

Phoenix sighed. Trust Miles to always have a good rebuttal. “I know. But it’s not as though I’ve ever tried to stop her from doing anything she really wanted—she’s always been smart enough to take care of herself. I just…don’t like the guy.”

Another soft chuckle. “Have you ever talked to him?”

Aside from saying “Hello, I’m Trucy Wright’s father” and glaring, he hadn’t really. “Nope.”

“He’s rather earnest. Seems committed to his work—told me he’s planning to go into culinary school once he saves up enough. He reminds me a little of you, actually, when you were younger,” Miles said.

At that offhand betrayal, Phoenix slammed the newspaper onto his knees and turned sharply to him. What a mistake that was. Miles was smiling, clearly holding back a snicker, his arms spread along the back of the couch in such a way that his body looked so open and inviting it made Phoenix’s mouth go dry. “How dare you?” Phoenix sputtered, which was not exactly what he had meant to say. He was supposed to be angry at him, darn it.

“That wasn’t meant to be an insult.”

“You spoke to him?!” Phoenix soldiered on, darting his eyes away before he lost his senses staring at Miles again. It occurred to him that maybe he was getting better at this—talking to his husband again. He was actually managing to hold a decent conversation this time.

“Why not? I was curious to know what he was like, since he and Trucy were getting acquainted. It’s easier to get the measure of a man if you talk to him rather than scare him half to death,” Miles said, gently chiding.

“Since when am I the scary one, Mr. Chief Prosecutor?” Phoenix mumbled.

Miles didn’t reply right away, so Phoenix risked a glance over. He looked thoughtful, staring off into the middle distance. “Since you became a father, perhaps,” he said at last, sending Phoenix a quick smile that made him tighten his jaw and swallow.

Suddenly, there was a touch on his shoulder—just a couple of fingers, and when had Miles crept that much closer?—but it was enough to set off every internal alarm and flare up his face.

“Well, I think she has the right idea for tonight, anyways,” Miles said, “I think I’ll head off myself. You coming?”

Oh god. Oh no. Coming from Miles, that phrasing was practically the equivalent of a strip-tease.

“In—in—in a minute,” Phoenix croaked, “there’s a finish article that I, want to, here.” He gestured desperately at the newspaper. “And light. Light is better…here.”

Miles quirked an eyebrow, and something inside Phoenix flipped like an undercooked pancake and threatened to fold in on itself. “All right,” he said, getting up from the couch. “See you in a minute, then.”

As Miles passed by and around the couch, he swiped a finger through one of Phoenix’s spikes and padded off to their bedroom with nary a pause. Phoenix fluctuated through every temperature the human body could endure.

It wasn’t too late. He could sprint into the woods if he stole a taxi. He could fake his death. He could start a new life in Sweden.

He covered his face with his hands, forcing himself to breathe. His palms were sweaty. He hadn’t been this nervous since his first day in court.

Darting a look at the stairs, then another one at his wedding ring (it probably needed a good polish soon), he decided his best option was to take a shower. All his best ideas and winning arguments happened when he was in the shower. At minimum, it would buy him more time and get his hair clean. Ideally, he could slip and concuss himself and avoid having to make a decision at all. There was no downside!

So he turned off the TV and skulked his way up into their bathroom, grateful that it came with a hallway access instead of having to sneak his way through the proverbial lion’s den. The constant, underlying odor of Ms. Spotless cleaning solution greeted him, and one of the knots in his stomach unraveled. It was hard to be too worried when the shower tiles gleamed and the mirror sparkled—some men, like the King Nerd he’d married, made shrines in their houses to things they loved (Phoenix had long since learned to accept the Steel Samurai Corner in their bedroom), but for himself, a pristine bathroom was where his own pride lay. It was like having a Zen garden made of porcelain and bleach.

The hiss of the shower water unraveled another knot, and by the time he’d stepped in and gotten his hair wet, it felt as though all but one knot remained. He could think again.

So what if Miles had become effortlessly hotter without warning? It shouldn’t matter. It didn’t matter. It changed absolutely nothing. If Miles suddenly decided to wear a paper bag over his head for the rest of his life, he’d still love him. It was as simple as that. No problemo. He’d just go in there and…

Phoenix paused, hands still mid-scrub in his hair.

Maybe he’d just…rinse and repeat. That’s what the bottle said to do, right? Right. Start over.

Why was he so nervous? It couldn’t just be because of a crush, could it? He couldn’t remember his previous crushes being this nerve-wracking. Some jitters, sure, but nothing this bad. Besides which, it was Miles. He’d already seen all there was to see, done all there was to be done. No surprises left, not really—not to say they didn’t still learn from each other, that was par for the course in their marriage, but surprises they’d mostly left behind in the days when they were still facing off against each other in the courtroom.

And he liked that, honestly. Some days his job felt like such a constant whirlwind that it was nice to know where he stood with someone, that at the end of the day he had someone he could wind down with instead of needing to put them through the cross-examination wringer. He cherished that feeling.

But what about Miles?

The thought suddenly floored him, and he stared blankly at the shower tiles as he let the water rinse his hair a second time. He’d been so focused on his own feelings he hadn’t paused to consider why a man who hadn’t changed his hair style in thirty years would abruptly choose to do so out of nowhere.

Phoenix tapped a thoughtful finger against his chin. He replayed the scene over in his head.

Miles had come home.

“I thought it was perhaps time for a change.”

He wanted to shake up his routine?

“Something that would be more fitting for a Chief Prosecutor.”

Was he feeling out-of-place at his job?

Phoenix distinctly remembered something like a pout appearing on Miles’s face. “…It doesn’t make me look too old, does it?”

He was feeling…old?

Phoenix snorted, then chuckled. Miles Edgeworth was having a midlife crisis. It was almost incredible to believe, considering the man had had the mind of a thirty-year-old since he was nine. Though adding up the additional mental years after nine, it would put him in his mental fifties or sixties now, so maybe it made sense.

But still…being concerned about age and dull routines were so outside the realm of Edgeworthness it was almost alien.

A light went off inside him. “Hold it…” Phoenix murmured to the showerhead. Was that it? Maybe it wasn’t just a crush he was suffering from, per se, but he was sensing something internally off about his husband and it made him go haywire himself? …It made sense. Last time one of his lovers had (seemingly) abruptly changed on him, she’d tried to both frame him for murder and kill him. Maybe it was just his survival instincts going into overdrive. He squinted and reflexively reached for the shampoo again.

Well, that just wasn’t fair. He’d already gone through his own quarter-life crisis, and Miles was dragging him into another mental crisis along with him. Rude.

Phoenix blinked, sniffing the air, then looked at their shampoo bottles on the shelf. He’d accidentally snagged Miles’s shampoo the third time around. Great. Now his hair smelled like some weird fancy plant oil.

Grumbling, he rushed through the rest of his shower and emerged prune-fingered. As he brushed his teeth, he checked his watch where it rested on the counter.

His eyes bulged. Somehow, he’d managed to spend over an hour in there.

He gnawed on his toothbrush handle. Miles had likely already fallen asleep.

In a way, it was a relief. He wouldn’t have to deal with all of the weirdness they were feeling right away, and he might actually get some proper sleep.

But on the other hand…he’d finally put a finger on what was wrong, only for the problem to scuttle out of his grasp into another day. He sighed.

And what was Miles hoping for from all this, anyway? If his husband was re-examining himself, was he re-examining other aspects of his life? His job? His car? Phoenix?

Phoenix crunched hard on the toothbrush, sending his reflection an uncertain look through the steam gathered on the mirror. He wasn’t exactly an Adonis himself. He was maybe twelve to fifteen pounds heavier than he’d been in his twenties—better than he’d been when it was just him and Trucy, but still…

Well, they could figure it out tomorrow. He swished antiseptic, spat, secured the towel around his waist, and cautiously opened the door into their bedroom.

…A pre-Raphaelite was in there. One of the ones with a long line of exposed neck and accentuated shading along a sharp jaw, eyes gently shut in serene grace. The picture was colored in warm tones by the bedside lamp on Phoenix’s side of the bed, which had been considerately left on. One of his arms rested above the covers, fingers brushing the bottom edge of Phoenix’s pillow. His chest softly rose and fell.

Phoenix stepped back into the bathroom and shut the door.

That was a trap. That was definitely a trap.

His clothes were in a pile on the floor by the sink, and he put them all back on piece by piece, including his socks and tie. He wasn’t going back in there without armor. There was a Strange Edgeworth going through a midlife crisis in their bed who effortlessly pulled off Bewitching Pre-Raphaelite Fairy in his sleep. Normally, an asleep Miles looked like he was trying to glare at the inside of his eyelids. Phoenix had had years to learn when to be cautious around the other man. This was one of those times.

Taking a deep breath, he opened the door again and started the long tiptoe to his side of the bed, keeping an eye on Miles in case he made any sudden movements.

But even after making it to his bedside table without incident, there was already a problem. He’d gone through all that effort to put his clothes back on, but if he wanted to pretend that everything was perfectly normal, he’d have to change into his pajamas.

He squinted at his husband. His suspiciously angelic husband.

Who was he kidding? There was nothing normal about this. Gingerly, he lay down on their bed, fully dressed, overtop the covers, and stared with grim determination at the ceiling after clicking off the lamp.

As if on cue, there was a sleepy sigh beside him, a shift, and Miles’s arm slid over his chest like an anchor settling into sand.

“Did you get lost in there?” Miles mumbled into his shoulder.

As long as Phoenix didn’t look at him, maybe he could do this. “…Sort of,” he managed. “I was thinking.”

“Hmm?” Miles breathed against his neck, then hummed in confusion. “Is that my shampoo?”

Phoenix struggled and failed to repress a shudder. His breath was so warm, his arm heavy across his chest. “Uhhh, yeah, maybe. Sorry.”

“Hm.” Miles kissed his shoulder. Another puzzled hum from him buzzed down Phoenix’s arm. “You’re still dressed?”

“Uhhh…yeah. I’m…” Miles’s thumb had curved towards his tie, curling inquisitively into the fabric. Phoenix gulped. His pulse kicked in his ears. “I’m…I’m not tired yet.”

Miles’s smile bled through the cotton of his shirt like an ink stain. “Me neither.”

Oh. Oh no. He just remembered. Miles liked clothes.

“S-SO I WAS THINKING,” Phoenix yelped, clamping a shaking hand over Miles’s, which had drifted to a shirt button. “I WAS THINKING…WHAT IF…WE GOT NEW WINDOWS?”

“Is that what you were thinking of in there?” Miles said, thankfully still for the moment.

“Y-Yeah! I mean, with global warming, we should…reduce our carbon footprint! And there was this article I was looking at about these new kinds of windows—did you know they’re making kinds that double as solar panels? So not only are there the energy-efficient ones, but they could also power our electronics!”

“So you were thinking about reducing our carbon footprint while spending an hour’s worth of shower water in our drought-ridden state that’s half on fire,” Miles said, tapping a finger against Phoenix’s stomach.

Damn it, of course Miles wouldn’t fall for that.

But you know what, there was no judge here. All he needed was to distract Miles enough until his heartrate went back to normal. “That—That wasn’t the only thing,” Phoenix said. “I was also thinking—they were saying, there’s these windows that can sort of act like one-way mirrors. You know, so we can look outside, but people outside can’t look in. That could be useful, it wouldn’t hurt to have the extra security.”

“Mmhm,” Miles said, pressing a kiss against his shirt collar.

Phoenix jolted. “AND you know, how, there’s even a way to control how much sunlight gets into a room? With a remote. We wouldn’t have to worry about getting a glare on the TV.”

“Mmhm.” Another kiss, wet against the line between shirt and skin.

“COULD JUST NAP ANYWHERE, INBUILT BLACKOUT SCREEN.”

His mouth pressed at the corner of Phoenix’s jaw with the barest hint of suction.

“Mi-My office—could also—you’re not listening, are you,” Phoenix groaned.

“Not really,” Miles admitted, dragging his hand over to Phoenix’s waist and rubbing circles with his thumb. “I’ve grown accustomed to tuning out your bluffing.” He brushed his lips reassuringly along his jawline and murmured, “Though I suppose I’ve become fond of it, in a way.”

Phoenix tried not to vibrate out of his skin. Strange Attractive Midlife Crisis Alien or not, Miles was still the King of the Backhanded Compliment—and somehow that still managed to make him go toffee-hearted even as he heaved a frustrated sigh.

Miles’s pinky finger bumped into his belt, and he plucked at it. “Really? Even this?”

Phoenix snagged his hand again and gripped it far too tightly. “Miles,” he said, surprising even himself with how stern it came out.

Miles’s languid warmth beside him suddenly froze up. “W-What’s the matter?”

Phoenix inhaled and exhaled slowly. His heartbeat still thudded in his ears, but maybe just…slowing it all down a moment would help.

“Phoenix?”

“Sorry,” Phoenix murmured, rubbing the back of Miles’s hand. “Didn’t mean to scare you. It’s just…” Where to begin, really. “…is everything okay?” he finally asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Well…” Now was the moment to remember his husband skills. He had five years of practice under his belt. “Well, I mean…with you. Are you okay?”

“…I feel I ought to be asking you that,” Miles said.

It almost felt like Miles was withdrawing his hand slightly, perhaps subconsciously. Phoenix kept hold of it. “Evading the question, dear,” Phoenix said softly.

“Why do you ask?” Miles tried again.

“Evading the question, dear.”

“I think I’m entitled an answer to mine.”

“I asked first.”

“Technically, I asked first.”

“Miles.”

Miles hummed but didn’t offer anything further. His fingers, trapped in place, drummed against Phoenix’s stomach.

Phoenix sighed, some of the eggshell-thin uncertainty he’d been walking on for the past two days solidifying. At least they were getting somewhere. He tapped a finger thoughtfully on Miles’s hand.

“Is it something at work?” Phoenix prompted.

“How do you do that?” Miles hissed.

“Do what?”

That. Just come up with conclusions out of nowhere!”

He half-smiled to himself. “Magic?”

“Hmph. I’d believe it,” Miles grumbled.

After another lingering silence, Phoenix prodded, “Come on. Tell me what’s up.”

Miles sighed, pressing his nose to Phoenix’s shoulder. “Not much, really,” he replied.

“I find that hard to believe.”

“Well, it’s no more than the usual,” Miles said.

“Weird circus cases?” Phoenix said sympathetically. Those were enough to make anyone go off-kilter.

“Hmm,” Miles replied, but it didn’t sound certain.

Phoenix took the quiet moment as a chance to reposition—wiggling an arm underneath Miles’s neck and encouraging his husband to rest his head on him. Settled in as best as they could with Phoenix still laying overtop the covers, they let the sound of their breathing stretch on. Phoenix began carding his fingers through Miles’s hair, somewhat surprised each time he abruptly came to the end of the shortened strands.

“I think…” Miles said a few minutes later. “…it’s not enough circus cases.”

Phoenix paused, his eyebrows shooting as far up as they could go. “Huh?”

He was kidding, right?

“Miles, you’re the Chief Prosecutor. You handle every case,” he said.

“I supervise every case,” Miles corrected mildly. “My subordinates handle the majority of them.”

“But still…every case, Miles. In one of the most crime-ridden cities in the nation.”

“Yes, well…” Miles said with a sigh. “I suppose a desk can only be so interesting after a while.”

Miles Edgeworth, who’d been reading law books since he was nine—Miles Edgeworth, local law encyclopedia, was getting tired of his desk job?

“You could always…assign yourself more cases, couldn’t you?” Phoenix suggested awkwardly.

“I do assign myself cases,” Miles said. “But I have to make sure my subordinates have an appropriate workload as well—I can’t exactly leave them with nothing to do. Besides which, you’re usually defending the most interesting ones, so I can’t do those anyway.”

Phoenix winced. “Ah.”

“Mm.”

Phoenix chewed on his lip. “I could decline some of the interesting ones?” he offered.

Miles snorted. “As if you’d willingly turn away someone you believed to be innocent.”

“Er…got me there.”

“Mm.”

Well, now he just felt kind of awful. He was inadvertently taking the interesting parts out of his husband’s job—and it was no secret that between themselves, they both knew Miles had more dedication and passion for the field itself. Sure, there was no question Miles could handle anything the courts threw at him, but having that brilliant legal mind locked in routine casework and administrative drudgery was practically a crime itself.

Miles puffed a sigh into his shirt and nuzzled him. “Don’t,” he chided gently. “I can hear you devaluing yourself from here.”

“Hard not to, sometimes,” Phoenix grumbled, rubbing his thumb across Miles’s shoulder.

“If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be where I am now,” Miles reminded him. “The whole legal system wouldn’t be where it is now without your help.”

“Hm.”

“Really.” Miles placed a hand over his heart, close by the locket resting warm against his skin.

“I could retire,” Phoenix suggested.

“Don’t you dare,” Miles said flatly.

“Why not?”

“Because I need you on that side.” Miles sighed and gripped the fabric of Phoenix’s shirt, his blunted fingernails lighting up a cascading tingle from Phoenix’s chest down to his thighs. “Truth be told, I don’t think it’s even so much the circus cases I miss so much as it is you.”

The words struck a match against his cheek—sharp, sudden, a flash of burnt surprise. “R-Really?”

“Why is that so surprising?”

Phoenix idly scratched his cheek, nerves jumbling. “I mean…that is, you…before we were, thing is, you spent seven years fine without me over in Europe? So why would it be me? How do you know it isn’t…I dunno, needing a change in scenery? Or studying something new?”

Miles groaned, sitting up out of Phoenix’s arms and pinching the bridge of his nose. He sighed. “Oh my god, you idiot.”

“What?”

Why do you think I kept flying you over on my dime?” he all but hissed.

“Well…nominally, so I could study the legal systems over there with you, but I assumed you were just trying to keep me occupied so I wouldn’t spin off the deep end,” Phoenix muttered. “But it’s not as though we were—we hadn’t yet, uh…” In the dark of their bedroom, Phoenix saw the silhouette of Miles’s shoulders stiffen. His jaw dropped. “S-Seriously? Were you actually…since then?! Me?!

With a tremendous sigh, Miles rolled over to his side of the bed. “Goodnight, Wright.

Oops. “M-Miles.” He cautiously put a shaking hand on his shoulder.

Goodnight, Wright.

Okay, that was the scary hissing cat voice. Phoenix withdrew his hand.

“Miles, I-I had no idea that you…since then?” He released a breath that almost sounded like a laugh, then shook his head to himself, smiling. “I mean, I guess I suspected, but I didn’t know for sure. You’ve never said anything about back then. But that—that’s about when I realized it too, for me. That I loved you.” He cast a cautious eye over Miles’s frame, which remained stubbornly unmoved. “I still do, you know,” he added softly.

It was hardly perceptible, but the hunch of Miles’s shoulders relaxed a bit.

“Goodnight, Wright.”

That was a bit better.

“We’ll figure something out, just like we always do. Maybe tomorrow,” Phoenix said.

Miles made an assenting noise. Phoenix was pretty sure that this was probably the most he was going to get out of Miles until the next day—and maybe that was for the best right now. It gave them both something more concrete to think over until they could come up with a plan. In the meanwhile, he had to decide whether he was going to change into his pajamas or sleep in his work clothes.

He decided on changing and swung his legs over the side of the bed.

“Wright.”

Phoenix froze. He looked over his shoulder. “Yeah?”

Miles still had his back to him. “Stay,” he said, after a moment.

Phoenix blinked, a weight dropping from his shoulders. He breathed out. He was only getting up to change, and he could’ve told Miles that. He also could’ve said there was no way he’d ever leave. He could’ve told him that he’d rather trade in his badge than give up what they had together—and all of this would have been true.

But at that moment, he wanted an answer of his own. Just to be sure.

So instead he said, “You want me to?”

“Of course,” Miles replied, the answer easy and firm.

The smile came to his lips like the sun coming up, as natural as anything. “All right.” He took off his belt and tie and laid back down, then cautiously moved his arm so that part of it pressed against his husband’s back. Tension sloughed off Miles’s shoulders like a hillside crumbling.

They breathed easier.

“Goodnight, Miles,” Phoenix said.

“Goodnight, Phoenix.”

***

Phoenix could not find his tie. Never mind that he’d literally just taken it off and dropped it on the floor before going to sleep, which should have made it easy to find the next morning, but nope, apparently the dust bunnies had eaten it.

He couldn’t look for it forever. He’d already made a promise to himself to come in early(ish) to work today, so casual Friday was just gonna have to be a thing.

The remaining vase of pink roses was waiting for him in the dining room—and just like that, memories of last night struck like a dart to the heart. Phoenix hiccupped painfully.

Maybe today wouldn’t be as bad. He’d managed at least two full-blown conversations with Miles yesterday—one avoiding his eyes and one in the dark, granted, but they were getting somewhere, and he’d promised that they’d figure out something together.

So that were today’s goals: get to the office on time so he could give Athena a hand hauling her new evidence to the courthouse, then find a solution to Miles getting bored at work. With any luck, his own unique problem would sort itself out with all those things resolved. No problemo.

His phone dinged with a text from Trucy. He checked it as he brushed his teeth.

>Daddy what did you do?!?!

Uh oh. He hesitated, then typed back with one hand:

>What do you mean?

The reply was almost instant.

>Dad’s scaring me!!!

A rock clunked into the pit of his stomach. He could’ve sworn they’d come to some sort of understanding last night, but…

>Is he mad?

He stared at the phone screen. A minute passed. Then another minute. He spat toothpaste into the sink and stared at it some more.

>Trucy?

A text came through—from Athena.

>Coming to work today, boss?

Oh damn it.

>Yep, on my w

Suddenly, a text from Trucy.

>Not sure. He’s muttering to himself and keeps saying “Wright.” He’s not answering me when I talk to him either.

That was worrying. Really worrying. He could be in worse trouble than he thought.

>Keep an

>Is that a no, boss?

Phoenix checked his watch. If he left right now he could make it on time. He slammed Send on his draft message to Athena, then went back to his message to Trucy and accidentally sent that one too. He sighed.

>ok daddy

Bless her for always understanding.

>Boss don’t text and drive. >_<

Phoenix scowled.

>You know I can’t.

>If you got Mr. Edgeworth to drive you we wouldn’t have this discussion every morning.

Yeah, they’d tried that for about a week before they gave up on Phoenix ever being a morning person. He snagged his house keys and briefcase off the side table on his way out. After he’d successfully hunted down the bus as it was about to pull away and found a seat, he typed another reply to his associate.

>Stop getting up early then. You’re a young person. Be young. Sleep in.

>Nope. :P You’re the old person Mr. Wright. Be more responsible.

What are they feeding the kids these days that’s making them so sassy? Not that he really minded—a meek lawyer isn’t a good one, after all.

Another text from Trucy arrived, and he opened it swiftly.

>Daddy I think you’d better be careful…
>I was trying to distract him by talking about my group project and he got the weirdest look in his eye…
>I’m at school now btw
>He drove off awfully fast

>Weird how, Truce?

The bus hit the same pothole that it always did. His stop would be coming up soon.

>Trucy?

She was likely rushing to her class right now or maybe talking to her friends, but still…to leave your own father hanging like this…did it mean he’d have to pull out the anti-Edgeworth evil eye charm for the agency?

He stepped off the bus with dread buzzing around him. This wasn’t just a normal angry Edgeworth. This was an insanely attractive midlife crisis angry Edgeworth. That was a whole new level of scary and unpredictable. He could become fillet o’ Phoenix if he wasn’t careful.

When he opened the agency door and muttered, “Hey, Athena,” she threw her hands over her ears.

Yeesh, boss, what is it now?! You’re worse than yesterday!”

He winced. “Sorry, sorry,” he said, drifting past her to his desk. “I just…might be in trouble.” He pulled open the bottommost drawer and took out a rolled-up poster, then slowly began unfolding it. “Can you help me put this on the door?”

Her eyes widened, and Widget went round-mouthed and yellow in surprise. “Really, boss? That bad? What the hell did you do?”

Phoenix sighed forlornly. “I don’t know if it’s that bad, but I may have accidentally hurt his feelings a little,” he explained. “I think it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Yipes!” Widget chirped, and Athena picked up the scotch tape and said, “S-Sure thing, boss.”

After they’d securely taped the autographed Steel Samurai poster on the door to the agency, Athena cautiously asked, “Do you think it’ll be enough?”

Phoenix thoughtfully tapped a finger on his chin, scrutinizing the poster. There was the Steel Samurai, of course, with Will’s signature by his feet, and the Pink Princess and the Iron Infant were on either side of him in their typical fighting stances. The backdrop of Neo Olde Tokyo had a shadowy Evil Magistrate looming over the city by the light of a full moon. The show’s logo was stamped onto the bottom-right corner.

It wasn’t visible, but Phoenix had also had Maya write an inscription warding off evil on the backside of it, just to be safe. He typically stocked up with about five new posters every year, and though it was kind of early to bust out the first of them already, it couldn’t be helped.

“Hmm…I think I’ve got just the thing to hold him off a bit longer,” Phoenix said, nodding decisively. “Can you grab me a pen?”

Bien sûr, Patron!” she said, scampering back inside and returning with the pen.

He took the pen from her then crouched down, tongue sticking out between his teeth, as he very, very carefully began writing the Pink Princess’s signature by her feet. Athena looked on, both amused and somewhat incredulous.

“Is that really something you’ve needed to practice, boss?” she asked.

“I’m a man of many talents,” he replied cryptically, then murmured to himself, “I think it’s heart-cherry blossom” as he dotted the Pink Princess’s i’s with a heart, then a cherry blossom respectively. He stood up, satisfied with his work. “That should give us four minutes.”

He’d done all he could for right now, and there was no guarantee that Edgeworth would be coming over anyway, so he turned to his associate and said, “So what do you got so far?”

The rest of the morning he spent helping her haul her newfound evidence to the courthouse via public transit (a pair of bicycles and a huge, heavy, antique mantel clock…his back was not going to thank him), then he stood beside her in court and watched her absolutely devastate the prosecution’s case to smithereens. He couldn’t be prouder.

After treating her to victory lunch, Phoenix promptly abandoned her to deal with the hassle of closing paperwork and seeing off their client before heading back to the agency for a well-deserved snooze. Somewhere around four, his ChatYu pinged, waking him up.

He opened the app and flinched. Maya had sent him the recent pizza picture of Edgeworth, except she’d drawn a red interdiction circle overtop it with the words “SIMMPLY DO NOT JUMPO” across the bottom. He sighed.

>Thanks Maya

>Always happy to supply my talents <( ̄∇ ̄)ゞ
>So how’s it going today Nick? (^_−)☆

>We’ll see
>We got out the poster just in case

>…what did u do?

Phoenix chewed his lip. So far, he hadn’t heard even the smallest blip from Edgeworth, and he wasn’t sure whether to take that as a good or bad sign.

>Hypothetically
>How mad would you be if I implied you were helping me out of pity rather than love?

>I *do* help u out of pity

He scowled.

>Oh thanks Maya

>I’m KIDDING Nick ヾ(_ _*) u know it’s cause I love u
>I guess I’d be a little mad? But idk not *that* mad
>u didn’t try to say he *didn’t* love u did u?

>No
>Not exactly
>He’s apparently been in love with me since around when I got Trucy though
>Maybe earlier?
>Didn’t know that

>(ლ‸-) how did u 2 EVER get married?
>For a couple of lawyers u can be pretty clueless

>Honestly it’s a mystery to me too sometimes

Without warning, his cell started ringing. His mouth went dry. Incoming call: Miles.

He quickly typed Maya a “brb,” took a deep breath, and answered.

“It’s about time!” Miles barked.

“Sorry. Um…what’s up?” he asked, stretching and getting up from the client sofa to wander into his office.

“I’ve had an idea!”

Phoenix blinked, pausing mid-stretch. He didn’t sound angry at all—if anything, he sounded excited. “Oh?”

“Do you have a case on at the moment?” he asked.

Phoenix squinted suspiciously. “No? We just finished up one this morning.”

Perfect.”

His face went warm. That wasn’t exactly Miles’s…most professional tone.

“Um—”

“I was thinking you could help me investigate a case—maybe act as my legal aide if it works into your schedule. What do you think?” Miles continued.

“Uhhh…” Phoenix said, his heartbeat starting to flurry. It wasn’t a bad idea, all things told. “Is that legal?”

“You’ve done it before. And I’ve done it for you.”

“Yeah, but that was when I was disbarred, then again when we were in another country. And that third time was, uh…”

“That’s neither here nor there,” Miles said dismissively. “I’ve been looking into it since the morning. Obviously I couldn’t assist you while we’re in this court system’s jurisdiction, but I don’t see why you couldn’t assist me as long as your agency isn’t associated with the defendant in question.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. What do you think?”

Phoenix bit his lip. He really sounded excited about this. “No—I mean, not ‘no,’ but are you really sure you’d want me investigating with you? I’m not exactly geared to think like a prosecutor. I’d just end up pointing out all the flaws in your argument while you’re trying to find stuff.”

“That sounds like a prosecutor to me,” Miles replied, and Phoenix couldn’t hold back a surprised giggle. He really had loosened up a lot since he’d first started prosecuting, huh?

“Besides,” Miles continued, bursting Phoenix’s reminiscent bubble before he got in too deep, “I’ve found I work more effectively with a foil pushing me to do better.”

Warmth flooded through his chest, and he found himself helplessly smiling as his shoulders dropped. It was things like this that reminded him just why they paired so well. When they went into a crucible together, they came out even stronger than before. Tying the knot was the best thing they’d ever done.

“All right, sounds fun,” Phoenix said gently.

“Excellent, I’ll be right up.”

His sweet little balloon of tenderness exploded. Phoenix shot a frantic glance to his office window. “You—You what?”

“I’m outside.”

Phoenix darted to the window and peeked through the blinds. Miles was getting out of his car, a folder under one arm, and he sent up a wave while pressing the phone to his ear with his shoulder. Phoenix felt his throat close. In the bright unfiltered California sun, Miles looked like a Jovian streak of lightning, which didn’t even make sense as a metaphor but he was panicking too much to think of a better one.

Oh,” he managed, recoiling from the window.

The soft chuckle transmitted directly into his ear was illegal and needed a restraining order. “See you in a minute.”

At the click of the line, Phoenix sputtered every curse he forbade himself from saying around Trucy. The charm on the door would only hold him back so long, and he didn’t have an Athena to hide behind. This could be the end.

Except he didn’t believe in giving up, especially not while Charley was right here to judge him. He needed to think of something, fast, anything to buy more time until the tides turned his way. Anything.

He could barricade the door.

Except the door opened out, not in.

He could hide.

But where was there to hide? Behind the ceiling tiles? Not enough time, and he wasn’t that agile or stealthy enough to avoid detection.

He turned his eyes to the window once more. It was the only way.

With shaking hands and desperate shoves, he wrenched one of the windows open, then stared at the sidewalk below and felt his stomach turn over. Of all the times to remember he was terrified of heights.

The agency door opened in the next room, and Phoenix broke out in a cold sweat. It had only been three minutes. Something had gone wrong with the poster.

It was now or never. He put a hand on the sill.

“Nice try, Wright, but the Pink Princess dots her i’s with a cherry blossom then a heart, however…what are you doing?” Miles said, walking in without even bothering to knock.

“AHAHAHA, IT’S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY, YOU KNOW? I JUST THOUGHT SOME FRESH AIR WOULD BE—” Phoenix slammed the back of his skull into the windowpane as he hastily tried to bring his head back inside. Stars blossomed before his eyes like a vivid field of fiery mistakes.

“Phoenix!” Miles yelped, and suddenly there was a hand on Phoenix’s back and he’d never felt stupider in his life. Miles sighed. “Can’t you be more careful? You could’ve seriously injured yourself.”

“Urgh…how do you know I didn’t?” Phoenix muttered, lightly rubbing his skull as he—carefully—came back in. He hissed as his fingers connected with a tender spot.

Miles rubbed his shoulder. “Well, when’s our anniversary?”

“March 8.”

“I think you’re fine, then.”

“Such a caring husband,” Phoenix grumbled, turning around.

Miles.

He wore one of his half-teasing smiles. “If I weren’t certain that you’re nearly indestructible, I’d be more concerned,” he said lightly.

That was a lie. If the ghostly clank of a hidden psyche-lock hadn’t told him already, Phoenix would’ve known that was a lie just based on past experience with the man. Miles expressed worry through action, not words, which was why his hand was still resting on Phoenix’s upper arm.

It must have been the sharp pain still ringing from the back of his head that made looking at Miles easier. The thin gunmetal frame of his glasses really brought out his eyes, even in the outdated, unflattering, fluorescent light of the office. And it was strange he hadn’t thought much about it before, but the shape of his mouth looked almost identical to his father’s now—the deepening lines forming at the corners of his mouth made him look older and more serious, but there was a certain dignity to it too. The haircut made him look professional. Phoenix Wright realized for the umpteenth time that he was a lucky man.

Miles squinted. “Phoenix? Are you really all right?”

“I’m always Wright,” Phoenix mumbled, gaze drifting down—before sticking in place at the base of Miles’s throat. It was wrong. Extremely Wrong. He blinked in confusion. “Is that…is that my tie?

Miles started, then slid into that pompous persona he wore so often in court. “Where’s your proof that it is?” he replied.

“You don’t wear ties!” Phoenix shouted, recoiling from him.

He wagged a finger. “Incorrect. I do in fact own a few ties; just because I seldom wear them doesn’t mean I never wear them,” he countered, smirking.

Phoenix glared at him. “All your ties are black!

Miles shrugged. “Then consider it retribution for using my shampoo.”

Their gazes locked. Phoenix stared into the devastating eyes of his weird attractive imposter husband and would swear to the court itself that he saw baited hooks dangling in them. He dashed to his desk and snagged Mia’s prized purple stapler, holding it up between them like a vaguely menacing shield.

Who are you?” Phoenix hissed.

“Oh for goodness’ sake,” Miles sighed, stepping back up to him fearlessly.

“Why did you STEAL my tie?!” Phoenix waved the stapler back and forth, trying to ward him off.

Miles folded his arms and scowled. “If it bothers you that much, then take it back!

The words jarred him before they had a chance to fully sink in. “H-huh?”

Miles took one step closer, and somehow, Phoenix felt as though he was standing too close to an open fireplace—his entire front and the skin of his face were scorching. The back of his legs hit the desk. Miles cocked his head a little, the dangling hooks in his eyes dancing.

“If you want your tie so badly, take it back,” he repeated calmly, making absolutely no move to take it off himself.

The words sunk in. Phoenix clenched the stapler like a lifeline. ‘Magnetic’ had never been a word he’d used to describe Miles Edgeworth—until now. In the quiet emptiness of the offices, a humid spell was hanging in the air. His grip on the stapler started shaking.

It wasn’t as though Miles had never initiated anything before; but he was usually subtler, far more indirect, and more comfortable letting Phoenix set the pace for how things went. This, though, was indirectness with teeth and intent and the suggestion of licking chops, and fillet o’ Phoenix was advertised in bold letters on the chef’s special.

Being cornered never sat well with Phoenix. His instincts screamed ‘run, dodge, object, parry’ while he just stood there shaking and flushed like an idiot. Now was the moment to turn things around.

But could he even do that now? …Did he even want to?

His head hurt. Sweat was building up on the surface of the stapler in his hands. Miles blinked at him, and the hooks in his eyes swayed suggestively with a very definitive question. Something wobbled in the pit of his stomach.

“Um,” Phoenix began, soft and low. A breeze swept in through the open window and blew something papery off the decorative table near the door. His eyes darted to it.

The folder Miles had brought up with him had flipped open and lost its top two sheets to the floor, and the coiled poster was gently rolling back and forth over the remaining papers. The warm, watery feeling coursing through Phoenix abruptly froze.

“Um, it’s-it’s fine,” he said meekly. “You can—You can wear it today…”

He regretted saying that as soon as the words left his mouth. He felt solid again, steady, but it was as though his insides had been caverned out with a giant scoop.

Miles sighed. “As I thought, you’re just making a big fuss over nothing,” he said coolly, but out of the corner of his eye, Phoenix saw the disappointed slump of his shoulders. Guilt pierced him deep below his breastbone.

Before Phoenix could say anything, Miles stepped to the abandoned papers and bent to pick them up. Phoenix diverted his gaze and stared miserably at the open window.

“This is the case I was thinking we could investigate together,” Miles stated, shuffling the papers back into order and closing the folder. “Or at least, what I’m able to confer to you at this point in time.” He approached Phoenix once again and lightly smacked the folder against Phoenix’s face. “Take a look at it when you get the chance.”

Phoenix grabbed at the folder. “Y-Yeah, sure thing.”

There was a pause, and Miles radiated anticipation beside him. Phoenix thumbed at the folder, painfully aware. At last, Miles sighed again and said, “Well, I can’t wait all day for you to read it. I have other cases needing my attention at the office.”

“Ah, s-sure, okay,” Phoenix said to Miles’s back as he stamped his way to the table. “Thanks for bringing this over.”

“I’ll be taking this,” Miles declared peevishly, snatching up the poster. “See you later.”

“See you,” Phoenix mumbled to the slamming door.

Through the open window from the street below, the engine roared to life, and the car shrieked down the road. Phoenix collapsed against his desk. His vision swam.

Shivering, he retrieved his phone.

>Maya he’s gonna kill me
>I made him angrier
>He took the poster
>He stole my tie

>What?

>HE STOLE MY TIE

>Nick are u ok

>NO

>Nick??

Frustration swelled and burst over him, and he threw his phone across the room and raked his fingers through his hair. “What the hell is wrong with me,” he groaned, suddenly hot with anger. It should be easy. He was married to the man, for crying out loud, been in love with him longer than he could remember. It should be easy. It shouldn’t feel like pulling teeth. It shouldn’t be hurting Miles, who was already going through a midlife crisis. Why on earth did he feel so stuck?

His cell started blaring the Steel Samurai ringtone from the rug, and he groaned again and stomped over to it. Picking it up, he blindly hit ‘Accept Call’ and snarled, “WHAT?

“Whoa, jeez, Nick, is that any way to greet your old buddy?” Larry said.

Phoenix’s head throbbed. “Not now, Larry.

“Aw, come on! I’m back in town for the month, man! I thought we could get drinks or something.”

Not now, Larry,” he repeated, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“You sure, Nick? It kinda sounds like you need one to me,” Larry said.

“Not n—” He bit himself off, and really thought about it for a second. A drink actually sounded perfect about now. “When were you thinking?” he asked instead.

“Dunno, sometime tonight I guess? Same place as usual,” he said casually, then more excitedly, “Hey! Can you get Edgey to come too?”

NO,” Phoenix blurted, then smoothed a hand over his face. “No, he’s pretty busy tonight.”

“Jeez, that stick in the mud never changes, huh?”

“Haha…yeah…” he said, casting a wary glance at the door in case Miles decided to suddenly reappear.

“Okay, dude, see you later!” Larry chirped, oblivious as ever.

“Bye.” Phoenix hung up with a sigh.

His ChatYu showed multiple notifications, but he didn’t feel like replying yet. It was only 4:30. He was already exhausted. Miles had taken up 98% of his brain for the past 36 hours, and he kind of just wanted to try to sleep it off with another nap.

Instead, he texted Trucy and warned her he might be home late tonight.

***

“Wow, Nick, you look like crap,” Larry stated when Phoenix melted onto the bar stool beside him.

“Gee, thanks, Larry.”

The bar that night was crowded with professional types who’d just gotten off work from the weekly grind. Some were in large groups, some in twos, some by themselves. The lights hadn’t dimmed yet, but it would only get busier and louder as the night went on—there was apparently a baseball game that would be coming on later.

After ordering a couple of beers for them, Phoenix asked the obligatory, “So what have you been up to?”

“Just got a contract signed for the new one by Genevieve LaPlume!” Larry declared. “It’s really something, Nick, you oughtta read it when it comes out.”

“LaPlume, huh? Sounds familiar.”

“Dude, the Princesses Can’t series, remember? I know you got a couple of them for Trucy,” Larry said, looking almost offended.

“Oh, wait, yeah! Princesses Can’t Do Magic, she loved that one. She and Pearl both liked Princesses Can’t Fly Airplanes too,” Phoenix said, grinning fondly. “She’s coming out with a new one?”

“Yeah, Princesses Can’t Be Quarterbacks. Princess Tasha of Ferny Dell discovers football and decides she wants to make a royal team to compete in the annual kingdom tournament, but all her advisors say she can’t. She does anyway, disguised as the mysterious newcomer Ash van Ruckersberg, and her team comes out on top—and she reveals who she really is, along with the rest of her team who’s made up of the rest of her handmaidens,” Larry gushed, his eyes shining. “Genevieve’s always spun a good story, but she’s in the middle of a really creative period that’s sure to take her international!”

“And you’re illustrating this one?”

“Yeah! It’s kinda hard, since I don’t really know, like, sports, and I have to keep the style consistent with the others and it’s really specific, but it’s cool, y’know?” Larry thumped his chest proudly. “My art will be out there inspiring loads of people!”

Phoenix couldn’t help smiling a little wider. Larry, annoying as he was most of the time, had a type of enthusiasm and zest for life that was always a little infectious. “That’s great news, Larry, I’m glad your work’s getting out there more—and for such a good series, too.”

Larry grinned and scratched the back of his neck. “Hahaha, thanks, Nick.”

They took a drink. Larry set his elbow on the bar and rested his chin on his hand. “So what’s going on with you?”

Phoenix sighed and fiddled with a coaster. “Don’t ask.”

“It’s Edgey, isn’t it?”

Phoenix stiffened and took a long, careful drink. “What makes you think that?”

“Dude, it’s always Edgey with you,” Larry said, rolling his eyes.

“It is not. Sometimes it’s Trucy.

“Niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiick.” Larry poked his cheek repeatedly until Phoenix swatted him away. “Niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiick, are you in the doghouse agaaaaaain?”

Phoenix scowled. “No. …At least, I don’t think so. What makes you think it’s my fault anyway?”

“‘Cause Edgey’s a goody-two-shoes and you’re Nick.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?!”

His phone pinged. Worryingly, it was a text from Gumshoe.

>hey pal what did you do to Mr. Edgeworth?

“Oh no.”

Larry thumped him hard on the back and signaled the bartender. “Yo, another one for my buddy here.”

Phoenix sent a reply as another beer arrived next to his first.

>What do you mean?

>he was really scary this afternoon…
>he was kinda out of touch this morning but he seemed happy, you know?
>then he saw you and came back mad as anything pal
>I tried to ask him about it and he just cut my salary!!

Phoenix sighed.

>I’ll talk to him, Gumshoe

Even though he really didn’t want to right now…

>you better pal
>for all our sakes…

Suddenly, an extremely loud “YOU GOT A TEXT, DUDE!!” in Larry Butz’s voice blared from Larry’s pocket. At least five other patrons jumped, Phoenix included.

“Can’t you have a normal text alert, Larry?” Phoenix said, waving an apologetic hand to the other patrons who were still staring.

Larry ignored him. “Oooo it’s probably my Tiff-Tiff!!! She always worries about me, you know, when we’re not together she always asks when I’m coming home and—” Larry broke off as he read the text, then silently typed back a short reply.

“…Everything okay?” Phoenix asked. It wouldn’t be the first time a girlfriend broke up with Larry over text.

Larry stuck a tongue out at him. “Edgey says I’m not allowed to send you home plastered.”

Phoenix groaned. “Jeez, it’s not like I’m in my twenties anymore. I know my limits. Why’s he texting you, anyway?”

YOU GOT A TEXT, DUDE!!” Larry’s phone announced.

Larry looked down at it. “HEY!” he yelled at the device. “WHO YOU CALLIN’ A BAD INFLUENCE?!”

Phoenix snorted back a laugh.

“Jeez, that guy…” Larry sighed, pocketing his phone again. “He could’ve just met up with us if he was gonna be a nag.”

Phoenix’s phone pinged again. He paled on reading it.

>I expect you home by 11.

Still mad, then. Phoenix didn’t expect to stay that long at the bar, though—maybe after he caught up with Larry, he’d stop by a corner store and see if he could find a peace offering. He typed back:

>Got it
>Do we need anything from the store? Thinking of stopping by on my way home

After a significant pause, the reply came:

>Soap.
>Did you look at the file I gave you yet?

He hadn’t. The rest of his day had been unproductive, aside from eventually texting Maya back and fending off her nosy questions. He may have also been avoiding the subject of his husband altogether.

>Yep. Looks like a tricky one

>Oh really.
>What’s the name of the defendant?

Damn it.

>brb they scored a touchdown

It was the coward’s way out and he knew it, but so help him he didn’t want to feel guiltier than he already did. Putting the phone face down on the bar and ignoring the next ping, he slowly drained his first beer and reached for the second Larry had ordered.

“So what did you do this time, Nick?” Larry asked again, after glancing cluelessly at the baseball game on TV.

“Why does everyone think it’s something I did?” Phoenix muttered. “I haven’t even done anything.” He reached for the pretzel bowl and stuffed a handful into his mouth.

“Something you didn’t do, huh,” Larry said, crossing his arms and frowning in thought—it always looked like a weird caricature of Edgeworth whenever he did it. Suddenly, a lightbulb went off in Larry’s eyes and he leaned over to whisper in Phoenix’s ear, “You know there’s, like, doctors for that sort of thing, dude.”

Phoenix nearly choked on the pretzels. He shoved him back. “It isn’t that, Larry,” he hissed, reddening.

“Huh? Then did you forget his birthday or something?”

“No, of course not!”

Larry looked incredulous. “You’re saying it’s something Edgey did?”

Phoenix threw his hands in the air. “Yes!” He paused. “No? Maybe??” He swiped a hand over his face. “Ugh, I don’t know. Have you seen him lately?”

“Edgey? Nah. I haven’t seen him since…Thanksgiving?” Larry said dubiously. “Dude, we gotta get him out more.”

“Then you have no idea what I’m dealing with.” He picked up his phone again, cautiously navigated to Trucy’s Klicka, and shoved the phone along the bar to Larry. “Look.”

Larry picked up the phone. His eyes widened. Then, both his eyebrows went up. His jaw dropped slightly. He slowly turned his head to Phoenix. They stared at each other.

“…Dude,” Larry said at last.

Phoenix slammed his hands on the bar surface, and all the glasses on it rattled. “You see?! YOU SEE?!”

“Dude, he’s always been a cute guy, but this is something else,” Larry agreed, glancing at the photo again. He tucked his chin between his thumb and forefinger. “You know, he looks like one of those hot professors chicks always swoon over.”

“He what,” Phoenix said, snatching the phone back and gaping down at it. His face blossomed a bright, burning red. “Oh god,” he moaned. “Oh god. I can’t believe it. You’re actually right.”

Larry scowled. “What do you mean, ‘actually’?!”

Phoenix pushed the phone away from himself and buried his head under his arms on the bar. “Great. I can’t unsee it now. What if I accidentally call him ‘sir’?”

“Don’t you do that already?”

Shut up, Larry,” Phoenix said, glaring at him from under the hood of his arms.

“Dunno what you’re upset about,” Larry said, taking a sip of his drink. “Don’t married guys usually have the opposite problem? Letting yourselves go, losing interest?”

As if Edgeworth would ever ‘let himself go’—the man was so regimented in his habits. If anything, it was Phoenix who had that specific failing. He sighed. “It’s not just the…the new look. He’s going through a midlife crisis or something too. It’s weird. He’s usually pretty independent, but lately it’s like…” A collage of memories swept through him—the uncertain, cautious look Miles had given him when he’d first come home with The Haircut, asking for his opinion; the subconscious draw-away of his hand last night after Phoenix had pinpointed the motive behind his obviously staged seduction attempt; the almost puppyish energy he had while proposing his investigation idea before it completely swept out of him, returning to that cool, professional distance. “…It’s like he’s desperately trying to get my approval for some reason. I mean, we’re married, it’s not like we don’t do stuff together—we’ve always been a team. But it’s never been like this before. I almost feel like I’m being hunted. I just freeze up like a deer in headlights whenever he does anything now.”

“Hmm,” Larry said eloquently, folding his arms on top of the bar and slumping down to rest his chin on them, meeting Phoenix at eye level.

Phoenix sighed. “The worst part is I feel like there’s something wrong with me now. And I’m hurting him with it.”

“Hmm,” Larry said again. His eyes shifted back to the ball game.

Phoenix reached for his glass and sipped at it in silence.

Larry studied the baseball game with the glassy-eyed attentiveness of a freshman in an 8 A.M. lecture. But something must have sunk in, because after two solid minutes of silent drinking, he suddenly said, “Oh, I get it now.”

“Huh?” Phoenix grunted.

“He’s trying to see if he’s ‘got it.’”

Phoenix stared at him blankly. “Huh?” he repeated.

“You know, if he can pull you.”

Phoenix squinted. “Well, duh. I’m not exactly new to that, Larry.”

“No, Nick, I mean like—” He stuck his tongue out in agitated thought, crossing his arms. “Okay, like, so which one of you asked the other out first?”

“Me.”

“Yeah, and like, which of you made the first move?” Larry continued.

“I did.”

“And who proposed?”

“I did,” Phoenix said, smiling fondly at the memory. “Still can’t believe he said yes.”

“Yeah, and who changed his entire life around just to chase after the guy?” Larry said bluntly.

Phoenix drummed his fingers against the glass. “…Where are you going with this?”

“See, Edgey’s got his pride too, you know?” Larry said. “You’ve pursued him pretty hard. He’s trying to take the lead for a change.”

Phoenix lifted his head from the bar counter. “Huh, well, when you put it that way, it does make sense…”

Larry grinned and shot him a thumbs-up. “That’s why I’m the love expert, Nick!”

A feeling of profound horror washed over Phoenix. “I’m taking love advice from Larry Butz,” he whispered.

Larry hooked an arm around his neck and dragged him into a reluctant side-hug. “Yup, I’m the best there is! Larry Butz: Marriage Savior!”

Would his family ever be able to look him in the eye again if they knew? It wasn’t too late to join the Bigfeet in the mountains, was it? The taxis were still running. He’d leave a note and explain everything. Miles would understand. Miles would in fact probably divorce him on the spot.

Or maybe he wouldn’t. Miles could be awfully stubborn about romantic things sometimes. Then they’d be right back at square one.

Phoenix shook himself out of his stupor. “Wait, how does that explain me?”

Larry shrugged with his arm still draped over Phoenix’s neck. “Well, you’re a guy, too. Maybe you’re just not as used to being pursued. It’s kinda like dancing, y’know? If you both try to lead at the same time, you’ll just end up stepping on each other’s toes.”

It was getting worse. The Butz was making sense. Phoenix made a mental note to get his head checked. “Wh-What am I supposed to do, then?!”

Larry finally released him. “I dunno. Let him?”

Phoenix pressed the palms of his hands over his eyes. “I can’t believe I’m having this conversation with you.”

YOU GOT A TEXT, DUDE!!

Phoenix nearly fell off the bar stool. Larry calmly checked his phone and squealed on seeing the sender. “IT’S MY TIFF-TIFF!!! See, Nick, I know what I’m talking about, she wants to see me again at the boardwalk!! Oh man, I’m gonna win her the BIGGEST unicorn they got,” he said, hopping cheerfully off the bar stool. He wrung Phoenix’s hand in a wild handshake. “Wish me luck, Nick!!”

“Er, good luck,” Phoenix said, trying not to fall off the stool a second time.

Larry gave him a humongous grin, slapped him hard on the shoulder, and pranced out of the bar like a lovestruck sheep, leaving Phoenix to foot the bill like he always did.

Even though Larry probably needed all the luck he could get with those rigged carnival games, Phoenix had the feeling he needed it more himself.

***

Miles hadn’t specified if it was hand soap or body wash soap they needed, so Phoenix did the sensible thing and got one of each. Usually, they stuck with a generic antibacterial hand soap, but Phoenix spotted one of the scented ones Miles had a certain fondness for—white tea & ginger—and picked that up instead. Then he picked up shampoo because why not, it was on sale, and it would make up for whatever amount he’d used yesterday. Miles also liked the white citrus hand lotion so he got that too. Then he got a handful of fun scented mini hand sanitizers because he may as well make a gift basket out of everything. Finally, he picked up an angry-looking rubber duckie because it looked a little like Miles.

With this bulging plastic bag of bath stuff, Phoenix reasoned that maybe just dumping it all in Miles’s lap was probably not the best way to get back into his good graces. Trucy had a variety of props and décor stashed away at the agency; there was bound to be a basket and a ribbon in there somewhere. It was only nine o’clock—plenty of time to stop by the office again, arrange the bath stuff in some semblance of thoughtfulness, and still make it home before eleven.

Creaking into the agency at this time of night was always a bit surreal. Not scary, but when he opened the door, for half a second it would always feel like he’d briefly stepped back in time. Tonight was no different. Clicking the light on, Phoenix had to blink and shake his head. Athena’s desk was back to where it was usually was; the door to his own office was closed again. The air had a strange, expectant energy in it.

“Me again, Chief,” he murmured to the room.

Maya had explained it to him once. That even when a spirit had moved on, they still liked to check in on their favorite places and people from time to time. It made sense.

Phoenix dumped the bag onto the client sofa and cautiously opened their storage closet. Everything spilled out in a cascade of pops and clunks and rattles. Phoenix frowned down at the mess of his daughter’s old or broken set props, and with a sigh, he squatted and began fishing through it.

“Sorry about earlier, if you saw that,” he continued, because it would be rude not to talk to her if she was actually here today. “We’ve been a bit weird lately. Got him a bunch of soap stuff, so I’m looking for a basket or something like that to put it in. Any ideas?”

He found a bright red ribbon and yanked it out of the mess. It emerged with a cloud of glitter. As he got up to put it with the bath stuff before he lost track of it, a soft click to his left turned his head.

The door to his office was cracked open.

Squinting, Phoenix tiptoed over and stuck his head in. “Chief?”

The lights inside were still off, but from the street light coming in through the window, he could see that the file Miles had left him lay open on the desk. Come to think of it, he should’ve put that away better—at least in a drawer, so prying eyes couldn’t find it so easily. Though he could’ve sworn he’d locked his office suite before leaving, for Charley’s safety if nothing else.

Sighing, he opened the door fully and went in, picking up the file and going around the desk to stick it in one of the unlocked security drawers. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a paper on the floor by Charley.

“Light reading before bed, Charley?” he asked, coming over to retrieve it.

It was the top sheet from the file; the same reference number was on the upper-right corner. Phoenix was suddenly overwhelmed by the smell of incense, and underneath that, the lighter smell of something floral—Mia’s perfume. He sighed.

“You really think it’s that important, huh?” he said. “I guess it couldn’t hurt to give it a skim…in case he decides to quiz me again.”

He turned the lights on and sat at his desk, pulling out the file from the drawer again.

Almost immediately, he saw something was off. The defendant was accused of killing her boyfriend by means of a poison-tipped dart (creative, he’d give it that), except the extremely visible thickness of her bifocals left him with doubt—and by all the other witness accounts, they’d been a happy couple. He circled her glasses with a pen, then wondered if he was even allowed to make notes on these papers. Oh well. Too late now. He flipped to the next page. Then the next.

The information he had was sparse, but just from what he’d been given, no one else but the defendant could have had the opportunity to commit the murder; the motive was still up in the air too, but Phoenix knew well enough that it would probably be revealed over the course of the investigation. The real question, though, was how she could’ve done it, and that was obviously where the prosecution was stuck in this case: where did she get the poison, where did the dart come from, did she even have the dexterity to aim and hit her target at such a specific point (right in the carotid) over such a distance (holy cow, twenty feet)? The defense would tear it to pieces unless the police could come up with something more substantial than ‘there was no one else in the room at the time of murder and her fingerprints were on the dart.’ Phoenix chewed the end of his pen. They’d need to grill the eyewitnesses more, probably. That always seemed to be the prosecution’s weakness, really, is that they put a little too much trust in eyewitness accounts—there was always human error in there somewhere. He jotted down a few notes and reminders, then stretched.

The atmosphere felt calm again. Phoenix smiled lightly. She must’ve gone back to…wherever spirits go when they’re at rest. He checked his watch.

“ACK!!!”

How was it already 11:30?!?! He hadn’t even found a basket yet!

Swearing, he shoved the file in the drawer and rushed into the next room, grabbing his bag of soap stuff and the ribbon. One last glance at the closet’s contents showed him an unsuspecting shoebox filled with sewing and knitting needles. Apologizing to his future self, Phoenix dumped the contents of the box onto the floor, haphazardly arranged the bath stuff inside the box, and tied the ribbon around it.

He ran to the door. “Night, Charley! Night, Chief!” he hollered, slamming the door behind him and locking it before sprinting to the stairs.

A soft chuckle whispered through the rooms after he left, and the lights turned off.

***

The fact that Miles wasn’t waiting up for him in one of the armchairs asking where he’d been was deeply worrying. Phoenix had missed the last bus, so he’d had to hoof it a few blocks to get to a street where he could hail a taxi. Sure, he’d gotten a few looks—L.A. after dark was always shady—but he was used to keeping a close eye on his surroundings, and he hadn’t spent over a decade in that part of town without people getting to know him. Mugging a famous lawyer (who happened to be married to the city’s Chief Prosecutor) was high up there on the list of incredibly stupid things to do, so for the most part he was safe, but that didn’t mean Miles wouldn’t rip his head off anyway for being such an easy target for hired assassins and kidnappers.

Phoenix snuck into the master bath and set the offering on Miles’s side of the sink. He brushed his teeth and washed his face. Silently, he cracked the door open into the bedroom.

Yikes. There wasn’t even a lamp left on for him. From the skinny bar of light spilling out of the bathroom, Phoenix could just see a silver-haired lump on Miles’s side of the bed.

There was a chance he’d be banished to the couch for the night, but he did owe Miles an apology if he was awake to hear it. He turned out the light. He tiptoed to the bed. So far, so good. With the caution of a surgeon, he retrieved his pajamas from under his pillow, fumbled them on, and pulled back the covers, listening carefully. Miles’s breathing was…not soft enough to be asleep, but the practiced evenness of someone pretending to be. He hadn’t said anything yet, though, so maybe he was in the clear. Phoenix slowly crept into bed, then waited.

“Well, you came home at least,” Miles said.

Phoenix winced. Miles had a unique tone of voice that was best described as ‘freezer burn,’ and he only used it for special occasions that ended with Phoenix becoming reacquainted with the couch cushions.

“I’m sorry,” Phoenix sighed.

An exaggerated sniff came from the frigid lump beside him. “And you’re not drunk either, so that’s reassuring.”

“No, I—I stopped by the office for something at the last minute and lost track of time. Did you get the text I sent from the taxi?”

“Yes.”

Ah, so that’s why he hadn’t been kicked out of bed yet. Phoenix twiddled his thumbs and bit his lip. Miles remained unmoving beside him.

“Kristy Clear,” Phoenix said.

“What?”

“The name of the defendant. It’s Kristy Clear,” he said.

“Do you really think I care about that right now?” Miles snapped.

“Yes,” Phoenix said, adding, “Not right now-now, but you do care about that, too. I’m sorry if it seemed like I was blowing you off—I didn’t mean to.”

Miles muttered something too low to decipher.

“What?” Phoenix asked.

“Nothing.”

Phoenix cautiously reached over and touched his arm. It was allowed. He rubbed at the arm soothingly.

“I’m sorry for making you worry.”

Miles sighed, and Phoenix could feel the tension melt off him. “The main thing is you came home safely,” he replied. “You locked the door, correct?”

“Yep.”

“Good.”

Phoenix glanced at the bedside clock. It was twenty after one. Considering how early Miles got up, he was probably more exhausted than he let on.

He patted the arm one last time and drew away. “Goodnight, Miles.”

“Goodnight.”

Phoenix turned over and started to get comfy. They listened to each other’s breathing, waiting to see who would fall asleep first.

“…I’m sorry I stole your tie,” Miles murmured.

Phoenix started, suddenly confronted with the mental image of Miles from that afternoon—all sharp, crisp, professional lines and a look in his eyes that would melt the cover off a romance novel. The bed felt too warm. He pushed the duvet down slightly.

“It’s—It’s fine. I mean, it…it looked good on you,” Phoenix mumbled.

“It did?” He sounded genuinely surprised.

“Well…yeah,” Phoenix said eloquently.

“Hm.”

Miles shifted beside him, and Phoenix tried really, really hard not to panic. An arm curled around his waist, and Miles breathed against his neck. Phoenix’s legs twitched, as if they had half a mind to start running on their own.

“Well, next time I’ll ask before I take your tie, then,” Miles said through a yawn.

Oh…Okay,” Phoenix squeaked.

“Night.”

…O-Okay.

In the end, Miles fell asleep first. Phoenix, trapped under the weight of his arm, chased after his own racing heart until it settled into the rhythm of his lover’s behind him, and then he, too, followed into sleep.

***

The morning light was weak—overcast, with a chance of cold rain. Phoenix snuggled into the soft blankets, breathing in deeply. It was impossible to wake up on mornings like this. It was too dim outside, too cold, and he was comfy. He’d gladly hibernate until the next sunny day if employees and spouses would let him.

Speaking of… He rolled over blindly to smash his face into Miles’s pillow as he usually did on hibernation days, trying to capture whatever warmth and scent of his remained—only to find it a lot warmer and far more solid than usual.

“Ghk,” the pillow said, sounding pained.

Phoenix pulled back and blinked, confused.

Miles was there, rubbing at his bashed nose and sporting an unfairly impressive amount of morning stubble.

They blinked sleepily at each other.

Miles was the first to crack a small smile. “Not how I’d prefer to wake up…but good morning.”

Phoenix blinked again, squinting.

Miles was awfully calm for someone who never missed work…unless he didn’t have work…which would explain why he was still in bed…which meant…

IT WAS SATURDAY.

Phoenix’s eyes shot open. Miles snickered quietly.

“Yes, dear, good morning,” Miles repeated, rubbing a thumb over the back of Phoenix’s hand. “You don’t need to be anywhere today, do you?” He left his hand overtop Phoenix’s, a soft look in his eyes.

His hand was warm, so warm, like a lit match, and Phoenix had an unstoppable feeling he was going to catch on fire. Miles curled toward him with a smile, and Phoenix realized just how dry his throat was. He opened his mouth. He closed his mouth. He tried to swallow. Miles squinted at him suspiciously, the morning haze in his eyes evaporating into something far more calculating. Phoenix flung the covers off the bed and tried to make a break for it.

He didn’t get far. Miles dove toward him and managed to lasso his arms around Phoenix’s torso, hauling him back. Phoenix squawked and pushed at his arms.

“Get off!”

“No! Not until you tell me what the hell I’m doing wrong!” Miles yelled, muffled by Phoenix’s shoulder.

“You’re—You’re not—just let ACK!”

Miles unexpectedly heaved him back with one powerful yank and shoved him into the bed. While not exactly nimble, Miles had a quickness to him, and he took advantage of Phoenix’s temporary stunned torpor to scramble on top of him and sit on his thighs.

Miles folded his arms, catching his breath as he stared down at him.

Phoenix turned beet red and tried scuttling backwards into the headboard, with little success.

“G-GET OFF,” Phoenix said.

“No,” Miles said calmly. “You haven’t even so much as said hello to me yet. We need to talk.”

“CAN IT WAIT?” Phoenix’s eyes darted to every side, trying to find an escape route. His heartbeat flooded his ears. Miles’s fancy sleep bottoms were indecently smooth on his thighs.

“No,” Miles said again. He tapped a finger against his bicep, his brow wrinkled. “You’ve been avoiding me for the past three days and you haven’t been acting like yourself. I’m worried.”

Phoenix buried his face in his hands and groaned. So, this was how he was going to die? Trapped under Miles Edgeworth while confessing his darkest secret? He supposed there were worse ways to die. But he hadn’t thought it would be this soon. He’d thought he’d at least walk Trucy down the aisle before it happened.

“Please, I want to live,” he whined.

“What?”

He had not meant to say that out loud. Oh god, it was already happening. He bit his lip.

Somewhere above him, Miles sighed. “All right, let’s start with this: Good morning, Phoenix.”

Maybe if he didn’t look at him, it’d be fine. That strategy had been working reasonably well so far. Even if the heavy weight of his body was incredibly distracting.

“Hey,” Phoenix said from behind his hands.

“…Phoenix, I’m not going to have this discussion with you like this,” Miles said, pinching at Phoenix’s arm. Phoenix flinched and tried to shy away from his hand. Miles sighed once again. “Can’t you talk to me like we’re both adults, please?”

Oh, he just had to use the A word on him, didn’t he? Phoenix took a deep breath and lifted his hands from his face. There he was. Same as any other Saturday morning. Except he looked half between giving an opening statement before the court and half like he was starring in a high-end mattress commercial. Sure, the stubble was out of place in that scenario, as were the sleep-tousled strands of hair, but that wasn’t the main thing. The main thing was Miles was wearing himself differently—in the privacy of their life together, Miles tended toward a quiet serenity, but it was as though…as though he’d infused himself with the energy he pushed forward in court, like black tea steeping in still water.

Had Phoenix ever painted with tea before? He couldn’t remember. But there was always a first time for everything, and that’s how he’d paint Miles—shades of Ceylon, chai, oolong, and rooibos. The fluidity of a watercolor and the scent of a boiled leaf, with the zing of caffeine in its taste.

“There, that’s a bit better,” Miles was saying, stretching to the side to retrieve his glasses. They glided onto his nose with ease.

Oh no. The glasses created a centerpiece out of his face. Everything about him inexplicably sharpened like a flash of reflected light.

“So, then: hello, Phoenix. I’m still waiting on that, by the way,” he said.

“Hello, sir,” Phoenix said.

A pause. Miles’s eyebrows skyrocketed, and his head reared back slightly. Phoenix felt the inferno of Hell take him, and he reached for Miles’s pillow and sealed it over his own face with a pained scream.

“Um,” Miles said. “M-Maybe if we…try that again…”

Phoenix tightened his grip on the pillow and shook his head violently. There was no coming back after that. Game over. He’d died on a Saturday morning.

“Take care of Trucy for me,” he said through the pillow.

“What on earth are you talking about?” Miles said, plucking at the pillow.

Phoenix clutched the pillow with the full-blown rigidity of rigor mortis.

Miles sighed. “Phoenix, you’re acting like a child.”

Child or no, he was not moving. His grave was nice and cozy, and there was a horribly good-looking widower knocking on the headstone threatening to disturb the peace of the dead who did not want to relive the acutely embarrassing moment of their death all over again.

“Fine, if you’re going to be like that,” Miles hissed. “I’ll give you five seconds to change your mind. Five…”

Five seconds to do what? What else could the man do? Phoenix was already dead, it hardly mattered.

“Three…”

Miles wasn’t the bluffer in this family. He was all bark and no…well, maybe some bite, but never much more than a hard nip.

“One. Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” he said, and suddenly the pillow was pressing into Phoenix’s face.

Phoenix scrambled, letting go of the pillow to fumble at Miles’s wrists. With a triumphant little “Ha!”, Miles ripped the pillow out of Phoenix’s reach and threw it at the far wall. Phoenix stared up at him wide-eyed, catching his breath.

You were trying to kill me,” he hissed in disbelief.

“No, I was trying to stop you from suffocating yourself, idiot,” Miles retorted, crossing his arms again and frowning. “Enough of this. Talk to me.”

Phoenix slowly reached for his own pillow. With a mild snarl, Miles ripped it out of his grasp, and it joined the other somewhere on the floor.

Phoenix Wright, we did not go through couples therapy to end up like this,” Miles said. Suddenly, he sighed, and all the fight seemed to leave his shoulders. “Please, just…tell me what I’ve done wrong so I can fix it. I can’t stand seeing you, of all people, afraid of me.”

That found a way to pierce through his nerves, and Phoenix sighed, pressing one hand over his eyes, then sliding the hand over so he could look up at his husband with at least one eye, still shielding half his burning face.

“I’m not afraid of you, Miles, not the way you’re thinking,” he said. “You’re just…making me nervous.”

Miles stared at him earnestly. “How?”

“Oh god, can’t you tell?” Phoenix groaned, covering his face again. He felt Miles pulling gently at one of his arms, and he allowed his arm to be pulled away.

“Phoenix, this is why we went through couples therapy,” Miles reminded him. “So we could talk through things instead of trying to magically intuit each other all the time.”

Well, he had a point there. “I have a crush on you,” Phoenix mumbled. “I have no idea what to do with myself when I look at you. It’s like I just forget how to function.”

Miles gave him a blank look. “Huh?”

“What do you mean, ‘huh’?!” Phoenix snapped. “You suddenly come home looking like Sexy McSexbeast without even warning me, and then you start pulling all these moves on me outta nowhere, what am I supposed to do?!”

Miles’s brow furrowed with worry. “…Was I doing it wrong?”

Boy, did he ever wish he had a pillow to hide behind again. Phoenix clawed a hand through his hair instead. “No, it worked…maybe too well? Think of it this way…how would you feel if I suddenly came home magically sexier and started hitting on you in weird new ways for no reason?”

“Hmm,” Miles said, tapping a finger to his mouth as he thought it over. “I suppose I’d be concerned something was wrong with you, especially if it happened all at once. It’d be a bit alarming.”

“See?” Phoenix said, relieved.

“Not…exactly, but I think I’m beginning to,” Miles said. He cocked his head, a glimmer appearing in his eye. “You have a crush on me?”

Phoenix turned his head to the side, his blush somehow intensifying. “That’s Maya’s theory,” he muttered. “That I fell for you out of order.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised, seeing as it’s you,” Miles said lightly. “You have an unconventional way of going about things.”

Phoenix debated whether he meant that as an insult or a compliment.

Miles sighed, some of the worried lines on his face smoothing. “Well, I’m glad we’ve straightened that away. As it is, I’ve missed you.” He started unbuttoning his nightshirt.

Phoenix automatically tensed, his eyes popping. “O-Objection…” he said weakly.

Miles paused. “What is it?”

Phoenix struggled for words. “I…I…you’re…

“You’ve seen it all before, dear,” Miles said, gracing him with a small smile. But he took pity on him anyway and let his hand fall away from the last clinging button, for now. Instead he gripped the small of his arm, his gaze turning bashful and a blush forming on his cheeks. “Though I guess…this past week I’ve been thinking…well, what brought this on to begin with…” He cleared his throat and seemed to force himself to make eye contact with Phoenix. “I’ve realized that in a lot of ways, you’ve always been strong for my sake, and you’ve guided me through many difficult paths in my life. And I…well, I just wanted to try being strong for your sake, if…if you’d like that.”

A look of such warmth and tenderness spilled across Miles’s face that Phoenix couldn’t help trembling, just a little. Only Miles had ever looked at him like that. Only him.

“Miles…” he murmured.

“There you are,” Miles murmured back, and it was impossible—it should’ve been impossible—but his smile softened even more. He placed a hand over Phoenix’s chest, where his heart was fluttering like a bird trying to escape the bars of his ribs. Phoenix sank into the mattress, the tension he’d been holding suddenly dropping to nothing. His skin felt warm, warmer still where Miles’s legs pressed against his own. A hum seemed to resonate through his head.

Miles was leaning closer to him, the grey of his eyes shining. “Good morning,” he said, and the words against his mouth were like a kiss in of themselves.

“Good morning,” Phoenix whispered, and this time, when their mouths finally met, the room brightened with a radiant glow, the sun having found its way at last through the cloud-woven sky.

***

Trucy was already up, scribbling through her German exercises at the breakfast table. She perked her head up when Phoenix came stumbling in.

“Morning, Daddy,” she said, taking a sip of her coffee.

“klshgiuh, sweetie,” he mumbled, drifting to the coffeemaker.

“You sure slept in,” she commented.

He struggled to remember how the coffeemaker worked. It was a super fancy Chinese one Miles had gotten him for Christmas, and it came with so many settings it could be a Transformer. There was even a setting for soup. He didn’t know why it needed a setting for soup. He pulled out a cereal bowl and a spoon while it hopefully brewed.

“Dad’s in the shower,” he told her. “He’ll be out in a minute.”

“He’s gonna miss his show at this rate,” she said, cocking her head in the direction of the living room, where the usual set of Saturday morning cartoons could be heard playing on a low volume.

Phoenix shrugged. “We have DVR.” Rubbing sleep out of his eye, he poured cocoa puffs into his bowl and set it to one side, waiting for the coffee to finish. “It’s German today, right?”

“Yup yup, though our pronunciation set isn’t as much this week.”

The coffeemaker chimed, which usually meant that it was done. He carried his bowl over to the table and tousled her hair. “He can check your spelling, then,” he yawned, sitting down in the chair across from her.

She squinted at his bowl. “Daddy…”

He looked down at it too. His cocoa puffs were swimming in coffee. He sighed and lifted a spoonful. “Just…trying something new,” he mumbled, stuffing the spoon into his mouth. It tasted like a crunchy, crunchy mocha.

“Hmm,” Trucy said, stealing the spoon from him and tasting a spoonful of it herself. She got up and retrieved the milk from the fridge, then poured some into the cereal bowl. She tried some of it again, then nodded to herself before returning the spoon to Phoenix. “There, that’s better,” she said.

“Thanks, sweetie,” Phoenix said, trying it again. It tasted like a crunchy, crunchy mocha latte. All it needed was whipped cream to complete it.

“Glad you’re feeling better, Daddy,” she said.

Phoenix squinted at her. She looked back at him guilelessly—or so he liked to think. Their rooms were at opposite ends of the house for a reason, but Trucy read people like she was the world’s biggest bookworm, and if she saw the chance to tease him a little, she’d take it. She never meant anything mean by it, though, and he had a feeling she was just happy knowing her family was happy.

“…Back to the books, kiddo,” he replied, sipping at his crunchy coffee.

She grinned at him.

Miles wafted into the kitchen in a cloud of various fragrances. “Good morning, Trucy,” he said, stopping by the coffeemaker.

“Morning, Dad.”

“Have you gotten far along on your homework?” he asked.

“Almost done. I just want you to check over the spelling and grammar stuff.”

“All right.”

A coffee cup and a bowl of Steel Samurai Sugar Puffs appeared at the place setting between Phoenix and Trucy. Phoenix felt a kiss dot his forehead.

“Thank you for the present, dear,” Miles said.

“Mm,” Phoenix said, smiling a little.

As Miles took the seat between them, he cast a concerned look at Phoenix’s bowl. “What have you done to it?” he asked.

“It’s fast cereal,” Phoenix deadpanned. “The hip new trend hitting college kids everywhere, right, Trucy?” He darted a quick look to his daughter, and she beamed theatrically.

“That’s right, Daddy!”

Miles shook his head, a fond little smile belying him, and he turned to look through Trucy’s homework. The theme song for The Steel Samurai: Reforged soon came on in the other room, and Phoenix listened quietly to his husband and daughter practicing simple German phrases beside him. His locket rested against his peaceful heartbeat, and he smiled around a spoonful of chocolate coffee.