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forty years in the wilderness (and the following holiday weekend)

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Miles Edgeworth comes home five weeks after Phoenix finishes rebuilding the jury trial system with his own two fucking hands.

“You had help, Daddy,” Trucy reminds him, as she’s watching Apollo try to correct her calc homework.

“Sure, sure,” Phoenix says, leaning back in his chair, judging his shot. When he takes it, his crumpled ball of a drugstore receipt lands in the trash can across the room without so much as sniffing the rim. Masterful.

“Are you sure you’re not in college yet?” Apollo says to Trucy, sounding desperate.

Miles had been going to come back earlier—before the MASON system test, even. Phoenix built a lot of it together with him, in law libraries Miles took him to, and at lunches with Miles’ European reformer friends, and frequently, pitifully, using Miles’ Westlaw log-in. The money hadn’t been there some months. But Trucy was right—Miles had been. And he’d wanted to see their monster live, doling out the people’s justice, but then there’d been some complication with the sale of his apartment, then another with immigration, and now it’s 9:00 P.M. on a Thursday in early November, and Miles is texting him: Boarding now. See you shortly.

Just in time for Veteran’s Day! Phoenix replies.

Miles’ three dots bob, indecisive, for their sixty seconds on screen then vanish. Phoenix doesn’t take it personally.

He has an oddly hard time sleeping that night, after Apollo’s gone home and Trucy’s checked her homework against Wolfram Alpha. Dreams he doesn’t remember wake him up on the hour, heart thundering, eyes still spotted with ghosts, and he’s lying in a nest of his own sheets staring balefully at the ceiling when sunrise comes. Outside his window, traffic condenses taffy-like into gridlock.

He unearths his phone, checks the flight tracker. Miles Edgeworth is over the Atlantic.

Somehow that hasn’t changed in the past twenty minutes.

Phoenix makes a disgusted noise and tosses the phone to the foot of the bed. He untangles the last of his sheets from his legs, plants his feet on the carpet, and heaves himself up and into the day.

 


 FRIDAY


 

Phoenix hasn’t been much of a father to his daughter for the past couple years, if ever. Since the Misham case he’s been trying to make up for it, getting up before Trucy and making her breakfast and packing her lunch and seeing her off to school like a regular, not-fraternizing-with-murderers parent. It’s a success this morning, even if he does feel near death and weirdly twitchy.

“Eggs, Daddy?” Trucy gasps when she bounces into the kitchen, as sprightly a morning person as Phoenix has ever had the pleasure to know. “And bacon?”

“Only the best here at Chez Wright,” he says, as she kisses his cheek and he narrowly avoids flipping the bacon down the back of the stove. “I made you lunch, too. Check the fridge.”

She sings a few too many praises over his bologna sandwich and baggie of carrot sticks. He laughs and makes her kiss his cheek again once she’s dressed.

“And Trucy, I swear to god, no Mr. Hat at school today, okay? If your homeroom teacher sees the rigging under your cape again he’s not gonna call me, he’s just gonna call the cops.”

“Of course, Daddy, I’ll make sure he doesn’t see it!” Trucy replies as she throws her scattered books into her backpack. Traitorous little angel. “Are you gonna be okay until Mr. Edgeworth’s flight gets in?”

“What?” Phoenix looks up from the Times’ comics page, confused. “What do you mean, why wouldn’t I be?”

Trucy pauses in her dash around the living room, backpack half-zipped, eyeing him steadily. The sun is bright through the south windows, warm and white even when the day outside is winter-chilly, and it lights his daughter sharply from behind. “No reason,” she says after a moment, and he wishes sometimes she used a bracelet like Apollo, just so he could know for sure when he was being looked straight through. “Forget I said anything. I’m sure everything will be fine!”

He can’t help but smile. “Still pretty ominous, honey.”

“I’ll work on it. See you tonight!”

The entire office-cum-apartment rattles when she slams the door shut behind her. Apollo, working on a small-time burglary case Ema brought to them, won’t be in until the afternoon. Miles’ plane lands at 11 AM. For now, Phoenix is alone.

He thinks he handles it pretty normally.

He showers, dresses, cleans up as much as he can without breaking out the bleach. Miles is staying at the Gatewater across the street until he signs the lease on his new place, but no doubt he’ll stop by the office/apartment (officement?) and Phoenix has to pretend like he’s washed down a single counter in the last seven years.

It has been seven years. Miles flew him out to Germany as often as Phoenix would let him spend the money, but not once in that time did he return to Los Angeles. Phoenix barely remembers what it’s like to talk to Miles Edgeworth in the United States, in California, on the corner of a street that smells like air pollution and Korean-Mexican taco fusion trucks and a poorly dealt-with housing crisis. He wonders, insanely, if Miles remembers how to speak English. What if without the MASON system, without that fragile pyramid of criminal justice reform being built between them, whatever magic kept them talking through seven years of long-distance friendship is gone? And now Miles can only communicate in sign? Or German? He finally naturalized a few years ago, could they make him do that? Maybe he’s—

Phoenix steps back from the stove, dropping the scraps of his of steel wool. The metal is mirror-spotless and every muscle in his arm is faintly quivering.

Maybe Trucy was on to something.

He spends the rest of the morning half-listening to the news and deleting interview requests from his inbox. The reporters gave up after a couple weeks of radio silence, but the public policy students are tenacious and likely to start camping outside the Borscht Bowl soon. Miles texts him at 11:10, letting Phoenix know he’s landed and asking about the traffic into the city.

It’s a nightmare, obviously. How long exactly have you been gone?, Phoenix replies.

Haha. Miles types back. Phoenix grins at his phone.

There’s a pile-up on the 105 bad enough that Miles sets foot in Phoenix’s apartment almost two hours after he leaves the airport. Phoenix hears the heavy thunking of luggage up the building stairs (He didn’t even stop at the hotel first? Or leave it in his car? No, Miles regularly texts Phoenix the property crime rates, he’s not leaving anything in his car.) and is waiting in the open door when Miles and his two bags finally summit the landing.

“And you accuse me of overpacking,” Phoenix says with a grin.

Miles, whose hair is mussed and shirt creased and jacket slung haphazardly over the handle of one rolling bag, glares at Phoenix. He’s glaring through his glasses, because apparently he’s given up denying his growing nearsightedness in the nine months since Phoenix last saw him. Phoenix’s cheeks hurt with the breadth of his smile.

“I moved continents, Wright,” Miles grumbles, “don’t be snippy.”

Phoenix presses himself against the wall to let Miles past and follows him into the apartment. Miles looks around in obvious interest, at the cabinets of legal files, the stacks of magician’s props, Trucy’s report cards pinned to the fridge. Phoenix was never much for taking photos, even less for actually sending them to people, and he knows Miles is seeing now the detritus of seven years spent apart—the impartial evidence of disbarment and fatherhood and Kristoph Gavin, all the little things Phoenix never bothered to bring up on their exciting European jaunts. Miles accepts gladly when Phoenix offers him water, the skin under his grey eyes bruised with jetlag.

He asks after Trucy and Maya and Pearl with unfeigned sincerity, frowning when Phoenix takes his coat then throws it without looking over the back of a chair. Phoenix laughs at that, and at him, at his very well-tailored shirt and the bit of blue lint clinging stubbornly to his silver hair. It looks like it’s from the fabric seat of an airplane, and clashes dashingly with his dress pants.

The impossible fact of Miles Edgeworth’s existence here, in Los Angeles, in this apartment that Phoenix shares with his daughter and her talent agency and the remains of his law firm, smashes Phoenix across the face like a sack of bricks.

When he manages to breathe again he understands that he’s on the couch. He’s bent over, how odd, head in his hands, and he’s sobbing like a child.

“Phoenix,” Miles is saying, crouched in front of him, trying to hide his terror, “Phoenix, what’s wrong?”

Phoenix shakes his head. “Nothing’s wrong,” he manages, choked, dribbling like a faucet from every part of his face, “I’m fine.”

Miles’ low chuckle is strained. “I’m really not certain that’s true.”

His hand is on Phoenix’s shoulder, a tentative grip. He never would have done that, the last time he lived in Los Angeles—touched someone without agonizing over it, been comfortable enough to offer comfort in return. Miles is home and they’re thirty-three and it’s all different.

Phoenix feels furious, a little bit, and miserable and disappointed and really confused, but mostly, he realizes, he feels happy. Toweringly, crushingly, skin-searingly happy.

“It’s okay, Miles,” Phoenix laughs, wiping at his eyes and nose with the sleeve of his hoodie, looking up just quick enough to catch Miles’ disgusted frown. “I’m alright,” he tells him. “I’m really glad you’re back.”

He means it completely.

Miles’ expression turns warm and baffled and sunny as the sky beyond the windows. His arms around Phoenix are hesitant at first, but Phoenix doesn’t shy back or shove him away, and then they’re both smiling, and sniffling, and laughing at each other’s snotty shirts, and then they’re hugging properly, and it’s all blue skies from there.

 


 

Trucy comes home and Apollo comes back with his case notes and Phoenix splashes a little water on his face and Miles buys them all take-out as Phoenix averts his gaze. Trucy decides she and her father’s best friend will be getting along like gangbusters, thank you. Miles, looking overwhelmed but deeply pleased, agrees. Apollo has comparative law questions and an incredible ability to talk clearly and succinctly around a mouthful of lo mein.

Miles doesn’t make it back to the Gatewater until nearly midnight.

 


 SATURDAY


 

The next morning, Phoenix meets Miles in the lobby of the Gatewater Hotel, wearing his finest hoodie and sandals. Miles has on a slim-fit button down and slacks so finely-pressed his shins cut the air with a faint whistle. If he at all regrets debating civil asset forfeiture with Apollo until 11:45 P.M. the night previously, he does not show it.

Together, they spend the day in Los Angeles.

It doesn’t stop being weird.

Every change in Miles that Phoenix saw take hold gradually over the past seven years, the little zoetrope flashes of difference scattered across a dozen transatlantic flights, now, here, in LA, seem to cohere into a new man entirely. It keeps startling Phoenix as they tour government offices and furniture boutiques and second-hand bookstores: how happy Miles looks, in a city that never once brought him happiness.

“I hold no opposition to burritos in the general, Wright,” Miles is saying as they wait to be seated at an obscenely expensive little Greek place in Hancock Park, “and if you make one more crack about European snobbery I’m not giving you a ride home.”

He gestures broadly when he speaks, long hands and blunt fingers drawing out all the ways in which he plans to strand Phoenix among the millionaires and their dolma. He didn’t used to, Phoenix remembers vividly. In court, sure, always, but never outside of it. All his natural expressiveness, those weird flares of showmanship, they would vanish as soon as they were out on the street and the horrible fucked-up repression of his adolescence kicked back in, making him go rigid and frozen and grim.

“I’m just saying, Trucy told me it was the best al pastor in the neighborhood,” Phoenix grins, lazy, enjoying the swoop of Miles’ hands.

“It was seventeen dollars, Wright.” Fingers spread wide, bending back from the palm. Affronted, and very much so.

“And you’re about to drop at least a hundred here! Don’t tell me, it was—“

“It’s the principle of the matter!” Miles points at him, the most familiar gesture of them all, and Phoenix busts out laughing.

Miles buys a TV in the afternoon, and a very nice couch. “Ooh, I see I’m going to have to find an excuse to crash at your place,” Phoenix says as he arranges himself over the floor model, sinking into luxurious, linen-covered depths.

Miles gives him an odd look. “Not on the couch, I hope. I do have a bed.”

An entire maelstrom of inexplicable whip-sharp energy lives and dies in Phoenix’s body before Miles continues, “Once the painting is done in the guest bedroom, of course. Franziska has given me specific directions regarding—Wright, are you alright?”

“Yes, fine, totally!”

What is happening to him.

Trucy brings Vera Misham over for dinner, and Klavier Gavin turns up with Apollo, which Phoenix expertly represses his feelings about. Sure, the kid’s been through hell and was manipulated just as much as the rest of them and has only recently stopped looking like he’s about to drive his motorbike off a bridge, but he also stole seven years of Phoenix’s life. And he’s fucking Phoenix’s only employee absolutely silly. It’s a lot to try and juggle, feelings-wise, and Phoenix is happy to avoid the man entirely as Miles chats with him in German and Phoenix does the hard work of using Miles’ credit card to order pizza.

Miles joins Phoenix at the sink a half hour later as Phoenix is wiping down dishes and the rest of the dinner party works their way through the thin-crust pesto. Their shoulders bump together, crowded in by Phoenix’s dismal counterspace and too-large fridge.

“Did you know he’s not German?” Miles says, low, and Phoenix nearly drops a plate.

“What?”

“His conversational skills are no better than mine. Worse, I think—he’s had much less recent practice than I. How long has he been doing that accent?”

“Since he was seventeen. Since he got me disbarred.”

Miles smiles, like this is some kind of joke to him. “Well, I didn’t point it out, but he knows I’m aware now. I’m curious to see if he abandons the act or doubles down. He’s an interesting young man.”

“Oh god,” Phoenix moans, quietly, because he’s not supposed to have any more breakdowns in front of Trucy, “where is he from then? Where was, oh Christ, where was Kristoph from? The fucking extradition request—”

“Should I leave you alone with this? I wouldn’t want to impose.”

Phoenix, forehead gently touching the sink edge, swears at him. Miles smiles again, like it comes naturally now, like he’s working on some kind of one-day record, and returns to dinner.

 


 SUNDAY


 

“Come in, come in, mi casa, su casa,” Phoenix says when Miles knocks on his door, 10 AM the next morning, very prompt. “Trucy took Apollo to LACMA, said he was lacking in culture, so the place is ours. Do you want tea?”

“I’d love some, thank you,” Miles replies as he squeezes past Phoenix. Is the hallway getting narrower? “I assume you bought it just for me, anyways.”

“Oh yeah, we’re a coffee household. Philz only, accept no substitutes.”

“Even Trucy?” Miles says, sounding a little surprised as he sets his bag on Phoenix’s coffee table and starts pulling out his laptop and papers.

“I don’t let her drink much of it, but I swear to god, Miles, she says she likes the taste.”

Miles chuckles, laying out document after document. He’s in another button-down, but has relaxed yesterday's look by replacing the slacks with dark jeans so expensive-looking Phoenix worries suddenly if he should throw a tarp over his couch before Miles takes a seat. “I drank coffee at her age, but certainly not for the taste. It’s all still like burnt dirt to me, to be honest.”

“Yeah, right, and as the sole representative of normal childhoods here, I was drinking Arizona by the gallon at fifteen,” Phoenix replies as he ducks into the kitchen, pitching his voice as he puts on a pot of water to boil, “so god knows who taught her this.”

“You still drink Arizona. I have seen the Arizona in your fridge.”

“Yeah, but normal amounts. Everyone drinks some Arizona.”

Phoenix can hear Miles’ disgusted expression from a room over, and smiles to himself. Sure enough: “It has more sugar than Pepsi, Wright.”

“And that’s what make it taste so good. Come get your boring un-sweet tea, Mr. Too-Good-for-Arizona.”

They spend the morning ensconced in paperwork. There’s a serious stack of forms involved in Miles re-establishing his residency, his bank accounts, his new apartment. Phoenix is minimally helpful at best—he looks things up on Miles’ laptop and finds the papers that, over the course of the day, hide themselves under coffee mugs and cups of tea—but Miles doesn’t seem to mind. They break in the afternoon for lunch and further tea. Phoenix runs a thumb over one of the remaining bureaucratic stacks as Miles clatters around the kitchen.

The state bar association seal flashes between pages, like a guttering candle. Phoenix stuffs his hand back in his pocket.

“I thought you already re-upped with the State Bar,” Phoenix says, when Miles returns with the best salad the Wright Anything Agency’s kitchen could manage. He settles beside Phoenix on the couch, pushing papers off one worn fabric arm to balance his bowl.

“I did,” Miles replies, distracted. “Those are for you.”

There’s a pause, the slow drip of the coffeemaker in the kitchen, a scooter revving on the street outside, and then Phoenix smiles. It’s easy. Like when he’s playing cards.

“I know I said I’d think about becoming a lawyer again when we got MASON running,” Phoenix says, “but I didn’t think you were taking me so seriously, Miles.”

The look Miles gives him, eyes concerned behind his glasses, a few silver strands of hair escaping over his brow, is shockingly sincere.

“Of course I was,” Miles replies, and the tone in his voice makes Phoenix wonder if he’s ever shown Miles his cardplaying smile before. “Were you not being serious?”

“I mean I wasn’t not—“ Phoenix starts, pushing back his beanie to run a hand through his hair, “—Obviously I should at some point, but I don’t even know if I could pass the bar again, and the fees are horrendous, and Trucy still needs help managing her gigs, and…”

He can’t think of another objection. He’s normally a better liar than this. He was a better liar than this last week.

“I’m not your mother,” Miles says, a little slow, as if worried Phoenix will spook. “I’m not going to nag you. If you decide you don’t want to return to the law, you have every reason to make that choice. But the registration fees, studying for the bar—is that truly why you don’t want to do this?”

“No, that’s not what I meant, Phoenix says, more forceful than he intended, feet thumping to the floor as he leans forward over his knees. “But look, I was disbarred for forgery, they’re not going to just let me back in—“

“The ban for reapplications after disbarment is only seven years—“

“At the Bar’s discretion! And I certainly haven’t spent any of the last seven years making friends among the higher-ups—“

“Phoenix, the man who manipulated you into presenting forged evidence has now been convicted of double homicide.” Miles has leaned forward too, from his end of the couch, some piss-poor reflection of how they used to debate across a courtroom. “The charges against you were ludicrous to begin with, I always said you should have fought them harder, to even think they’d uphold the disciplinary judgement now that Gavin’s been jailed is—“

The lines around Miles’ eyes, sharp and flashing, go slack. His long hands sink from their pointed shapes to settle in his lap, whatever spirit that had been pushing him into argument fading away, and Phoenix misses it so fiercely he feels like he’s been bludgeoned.

“I’m not going to press you about this,” Miles says. “It would be—beyond rude. I shouldn’t have brought it up, I’m sorry.”

Miles apologizing also feels strangely like being hit. He turns away from Phoenix, leaning to pick up his tea, and Phoenix says in a voice he barely recognizes as his own: “I don’t know if I can be that person again.”

Miles pauses, two fingers sliding around his mug. Phoenix can’t seem to look away from the thumping pulse in his wrist, bared by one bunched-up shirtsleeve. “I was an idiot when we were younger,” Phoenix says, before he can lose momentum, stretching his mouth into another smile. “Lots of garbage about hope and truth and justice, lots of big speeches, lots of falling off bridges. You remember. That’s the person who wanted to go into law, to right all wrongs. I don’t think he and I have much in common anymore.”

The way Miles looks at him, appraising, one arm still outstretched, makes Phoenix want to climb out a window. “I don’t think that’s true at all,” Miles replies.

“Come on,” Phoenix laughs, only a little forced, “can you really see any of that kid in all of this?”

He throws a hand out, wild, as if to encompass himself, his life, his apartment like an episode of Hoarders waiting to happen, the past seven years. His beanie starts to slide back off his head, and he grabs it and stuffs it in one hoodie pocket. Miles is still looking at him.

“Of course I can,” Miles says. “Plainly.”

“You don’t have to lie to me, Miles.”

“I’m not.” Miles’ expression is dour. Phoenix knows that can be concern, too. “Did you not do the same for me?” He sounds bullish again, determined to persuade. “You spent years trying to convince me that I was the good person you once knew, despite all I did as the ‘Demon Prosecutor.’ That I was good once and could be again. Why should this be any different? I know you, Phoenix. I recognize you. You are not the man you were, no, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do what he did, that you don’t already believe what he believed. We built MASON together. You saved the Misham girl’s life. You are just as capable of justice today as you were ten years ago.”

Phoenix feels physically winded, feels like he’s been run to the moon and back. “Jesus, Miles,” he croaks.

“And if the fees truly are an obstacle,” Miles continues, looking away now, like he’s realized just what new depths of emotional intimacy they’re plumbing here, “you know I will always pay for—“

“Oh, come on!”

Miles’ entire face is screwed up in stubborn embarrassment. “There’s no amount of money I can give you I don’t already owe—“

“Miles!” Phoenix nearly shouts, laughing, clapping a hand to Miles’ shoulder. Miles is red from his hairline to the unbuttoned collar of his shirt, and Phoenix knows he doesn’t look a lick better. “You’ve proven your point! Thank you!”

Finally, he relents. “I—alright,” Miles says, pink and rueful, “so I have.” He smiles, looking at Phoenix, finally managing to take hold of his tea. “But regardless of my bungled delivery, I hope you don’t doubt my sincerity.”

Never once has he let Phoenix have the last word. Even to his own detriment. Phoenix smiles back, with the afternoon sun creeping up his neck, lighting Charley in the corner like an emerald disco. “I would never. I swear. Give me the stupid paperwork.”

Despite all his rhetorical efforts, Miles still manages to look surprised. Phoenix finally lets his hand drop, catching a little on the sleeve of Miles’ shirt. “Really?” Miles says.

“I’m not going to make any promises beyond looking at the paperwork,” Phoenix replies. “But, you know. I’ll look at the paperwork. I think I can manage that.”

Miles smirks, not because he’s smug, just because that’s what his face does sometimes when he’s happy, and drops the pile of forms into Phoenix’s lap.

Miserably tallying Bar fees, thinking about a lot of things he was never sure he was going to think about again, takes up the rest of the day. Miles, relieved of his own tasks, moves around the apartment as Phoenix works, reading at the dining table for a while, poking at Trucy’s props, making himself yet further pots of tea. And as much attention as he must give to the State Bar of California, Phoenix can’t keep from looking at Miles. He’s not sure they’ve ever had a conversation like that, not one that Miles didn’t hide from or disavow as soon as it was over. Phoenix marvels again at how—alright Miles seems, that he could say all those things to Phoenix. He marvels a little that Miles would.

It reminds him of when they were younger, he thinks, a bit helplessly. What’s happening to him. It’s like when they were younger, and fought together, and against each other, and Phoenix had found Miles again and could sometimes even convince him to stay. He’s different now, they’re both different, but the feeling’s stayed true. Like a huge, whole-body clenching—a little like a heart attack, a lot like joy.

Miles leans over his shoulder, refilling Phoenix’s cup of decaf on the table, and Phoenix’s skin heats like he’s basked all day in the park on a bench in the sun. Phoenix thanks him, strips out of his hoodie, and stares fixedly at his papers until the sun sets behind the distant waves and Miles starts to wander the apartment, finding and turning on each of the lights.

 


 

 

He didn’t mean for it to happen. That part’s key.

“Put down the laptop,” Phoenix says to Miles, after Trucy has called to tell him she’ll be staying over at Apollo’s little shoebox apartment and dinner has been procured. The TV is playing some sitcom rerun on low, inoffensive white noise sprinkled with laugh track.

“I’m almost done,” Miles says. His glasses are sliding down his nose.

“Think you told me that an hour ago.”

“Hush, Phoenix.”

Phoenix grins. Despite the many years, Miles still only uses his first name when he’s out-of-his-mind terrified, or—well, Phoenix hasn’t quite defined the second use-case, but it’s the better one of the two. “Did you know Steel Samurai’s on Netflix now?”

“Get thee behind me, Satan,” Miles mutters, pausing in his typing for only a moment. Phoenix throws his head back to laugh, deep and loud. Miles smiles, too, head tilted, still looking at his screen, and when the silver hair pushed back from his eyes starts to drift down across his face, it’s only natural. It’s like breathing.

Phoenix reaches out, fingertips brushing against Miles’ warm cheek, and tucks the lock of hair behind Miles’ ear.

Miles freezes. Phoenix freezes. Several blocks of central Los Angeles freeze.

And then Phoenix whips back his hand, entire body jolting away, stammering like a maniac. “Sorry! Sorry! Your hair just—Weird! Sorry!”

Miles doesn’t say anything. His eyes are huge, his mouth half-open. He’s looking at Phoenix like he’s known all of Phoenix’s secrets, each and every one of them chaining back across the decades, and now he’s seeing the rest.

“Sorry!” Phoenix says again. It’s a shout. It’s very high-pitched. He leaps off the couch, pacing uncontrollably between the kitchen door and dining table as Miles stares unmoving into the space Phoenix left behind. “It’s, you know—must be drunk! Haha!”

“You’ve been sober for four years,” Miles mumbles, which, obviously, but if Phoenix had known when he gave up drinking that he wouldn’t even get to keep using it as a desperate joking excuse for his lunacy—

He can’t stop running his thumb over the tips of his fingers, where they’d touched Miles’ cheek.

“Excuse me,” Miles says, standing, in the distant tones of the recently clubbed. His hand rises, as if to push his hair behind his ear, then drops back to his side. He turns on his heel and disappears down the hall. The bathroom door closes.

Phoenix stops pacing. He looks down at his hands. What if he strangled them. Could he strangle his own hands?

He sits down on the couch.

Five minutes later, Miles returns.

“You—” Phoenix starts, then finishes, because he spent the past five minutes chasing his fraying mind around with a broom and still hasn’t collected any of the useful thinking parts.

Miles ignores him. He stops in between the coffee table and the couch, his legs four disastrous inches from Phoenix’s. Phoenix cranes his neck to try and see his face.

Miles looks—normal. Like he washed his face then carefully dried it then maybe blew his nose. He picks up the remote, switches to Netflix, then strides into the kitchen while the app boots and Phoenix does nothing of any use.

“Uh?” Phoenix tries again, but there’s no reply, and then Miles reappears with two bottles of wine in hand. They’re both cheaps reds and carpeted in dust, stored above Phoenix’s fridge for at least six years now—he hadn’t wanted them even when he did drink. A gift from Gumshoe, maybe?

“You know I can’t drink those,” Phoenix says when Miles sits beside him on the couch. He’s sitting kind of close. Should Phoenix move? Phoenix really seriously considers moving.

Miles says, “Both of these are for me,” and pops the first cork.

Phoenix keeps trying to say something as he and Miles, for whatever reason, sit together on the couch and watch an episode of Steel Samurai in complete silence. Hey, I’m sorry, that was a weird thing for me to do and I really hope I didn’t make you uncomfortable, Phoenix could say. Or perhaps: Haha so crazy how I had a super minor, localized stroke and accidentally hit you in the face there, buddy! Even, This show is so poorly written, acted, and filmed, it is physically difficult for me to look at it without becoming nauseous. That’s something he could say. Miles would yell at him if he did, but what’s a yelling match between old friends? What’s a little—

Miles reaches forward, remote held out, and pauses the show. The timestamp shows twenty-one minutes exactly. One of the wine bottles is empty, the other halfway there.

His cheeks are flushed red as he turns to look at Phoenix, as he carefully removes his glasses and hooks them between the buttons of his shirt. Phoenix can’t take his eyes off him. He imagines, near delirious, that Miles would vanish if he did, that, poof!, he’d be back in Germany with his library and his criminal practice and his part-time teaching career, and then Phoenix would never see that little determined wrinkle between his eyes ever again.

“Do you know,” Miles says, and Phoenix is shocked at the tone of Miles’ voice until Miles’ fingers come forward and thread through his, and then, oh, “—for the first few years, I truly thought you were straight?”

Phoenix doesn’t have time to goggle, a new record in awe, a universal all-time high.

Miles is leaning forward.

Phoenix’s lips crash hot and desperate and wondering to his.

 


 MONDAY


 

Phoenix wakes up late, overheated, with the sun in his eyes. Half-propped against his headboard, with Miles Edgeworth’s sleeping head on his chest.

The disorientation is punishing until he remembers—then it gets really murderous.

“I’ve wanted this for so many years,” Miles had said to him last night, as Phoenix had kissed his mouth and his jaw and his neck, hungry beyond fathoming for something he’d so long neglected to want.

“Oh, God, I think I did, too,” Phoenix had replied, breathless, and Miles had laughed and dug his fingers into Phoenix’s shoulders. “Oh, fuck.”

“Phoenix,” Miles had said, flushed with wine, flushed with more than wine, kissing Phoenix’s lips and the teary tracks down his cheeks.

They hadn’t had sex. They’d fallen asleep together, instead. Bodies tangled underneath Phoenix’s thready sheets.

That probably meant something. That probably meant a lot.

Miles grumbles, soft and muffled, and Phoenix realizes how hard he’s been clutching at the man’s shirt. He lets go, a moment too late. Miles comes awake in his arms—in his arms, Jesus—and blinks muzzily.

Phoenix can see in his face the same process of realization that Phoenix just survived—the shock, the second shock, the flash of fear, the hesitant joy. There’s a swerve back to fear, the lines around Miles’ mouth going tight as he starts to push himself off Phoenix’s body, but Phoenix is familiar with Miles’ many anxieties. He takes Miles’ head between his hands and kisses him hard, soundly, until Miles presses forward and kisses him back.

“I want you so much,” Phoenix says, quiet, when they break apart, Miles’ breath gusting hot over his chin. “Just in case you were wondering.”

Miles’ eyes look so big when he’s not wearing his glasses. He’s only been wearing his glasses for a few months. Phoenix should really have noticed this earlier. “Good morning,” Miles replies, smiling, a little giddy, “I suppose. How do you expect me to respond to that?”

Phoenix raises a salacious eyebrow. “I may have an idea or two,” he says, then kisses Miles again before he has a chance to scowl.

Kissing feels more consequential than it did the night before, when the threat of Miles’ jetlag and Phoenix’s iffy lower back and the unreal nature of midnight at age thirty-three left Phoenix halfway-convinced that he’d wake up any moment to miserable, lonely reality and the worst morning wood of his life.

It’s the morning. Miles is full-length atop him, tongue tentative against his lips, in his mouth. Phoenix’s hands are pushing up his undershirt. When he woke up, Miles had been snoring against his collarbone. He hadn’t even been sure Miles knew how to kiss before last night. Miles shudders when Phoenix kisses him back, deep, Miles rubs against him, and, oh, everyone’s hard-ons are very present in this reality, and Phoenix arches his back and—

Screams, briefly, because he spent eight hours slumped against the headboard with Miles asleep on top of him, and then Miles jerks away and that’s apparently too quick a motion for his hangover, because he immediately slumps to Phoenix’s side with a rattling groan, and Phoenix tries very hard to rub at the aching muscles of his lower back without moving any of his limbs, and then the magic kind of wraps up.

“Do you think we—” Phoenix starts.

“Where’s your ibuprofen,” Miles says.

“That’s fair. I didn’t need to finish my sentence.”

“Phoenix.”

“Yeah, you’re going to have to help me up.”

Miles groans again, and shoves himself off the bed.

 


 

Phoenix realizes, as he sits at the kitchen table in only minor agony and watches Miles make him an omelette, that his life can now be halved quite neatly into a Before and an After. Maybe several Befores and Afters. Before Miles kissed the corner of his mouth and ran two careful fingers around the shell of his ear. Before Miles wove his pink fingers between Phoenix’s and accused him of ever being heterosexual. Before Miles drooled on his chest. Before Miles held him. Before Miles cooked him an omelette.

And now—After. The undiscovered country. The summer lands.

It doesn’t quite fit, of course. Phoenix considers this, sipping Miles’ too-caffeinated tea and watching his oldest friend in the world, whose cock he is really now interested in sucking, putter around his kitchen. The whole of Phoenix’s future is now changed, irrevocably. But his past has been affected, too. Or maybe just his perception of it.

It reminds him of the first time he’d listened to Hamilton. Cool stuff, he’d thought. Good music, some avant-garde storytelling choices, not to his taste but he could understand why other folks might go wild for it. And then Trucy had strolled up and said, “Daddy, are you listening to that on shuffle?” and tapped a few buttons and suddenly Phoenix got the hype.

Miles has loved him for years. A whole bunch of them, all in a row. When he invited Phoenix to Germany, he was in love. When he finally paid for Phoenix’s own Westlaw subscription last month, he was in love. It’s like Phoenix’s life was fine already, not the worst, and now the tracks are playing in order. Every day in his remembering has taken on six extra colors and a lens flare because Miles Edgeworth was in love with him, and he, Phoenix, as it turns out, was in love right back.

Absolutely bananas, that he could have missed so much of his life as he was in the middle of living it.

“Here,” Miles says, and slides a slightly dry omelette onto the table in front of Phoenix. He sets the bottle of ibuprofen beside it. “Much good may they do you.”

“Not fast-acting enough for your needs?”

“Mmmm,” Miles says, sitting down very very slowly. He’s wearing yesterday’s undershirt and a pair of Phoenix’s sweatpants, which are short on Phoenix and reveal a dashing amount of ankle on Miles. The silver mess of his hair is falling across his face. Phoenix, feeling liberated and dangerous, like his back could heal and he could go run a nine-minute mile at any moment, leans across the table and tucks it behind his ear.

Miles’ answering smile could power a city. God almighty.

“Last night, you…” Miles says, not quite able to meet Phoenix’s eye, despite his unfading smile. He’s holding his tea with both hands, like a caffeine talisman. “Have you really had feelings for me, too? All these years?”

“I—you know,” Phoenix laughs, leaning as far back in his chair as his back will let him, “you were how I figured out I was bisexual?”

Miles stares. Steam wavers across his glasses. “I was not.”

“I’d had feelings for guys before, don’t get me wrong! But you know how it is— or, actually, maybe you don’t, you must have had the gay thing figured out by the fourth grade—” Miles scowls at him, which means Phoenix is right. “But anyways, I— stuff made more sense, when your picture started showing up in the papers. I remember getting a hard-on watching a clip of you in court when we were both nineteen or something—” this horrible secret is a lot easier to admit, knowing that Miles is seven thousand times more embarrassed by it than Phoenix “—and that kinda solved some shit for me. It didn’t indicate anything feelings-wise, but… you were handsome. You’re still handsome. Turned out I liked handsome men.”

“This is appalling,” Miles says, appalled, as Phoenix laughs and the wild parrots chatter outside his kitchen window. “You’ve been in love with me since you were nineteen?”

“No, come on, that wasn’t love!” Phoenix protests, slapping the chipboard table, making his omelette jump. “That was—I don’t know, hormones! Being sexually confused and an idiot!”

Now Miles is laughing at him, coughing and wheezing into the back of his hand, which they’ve both probably earned. Phoenix grins, cheeks stretching with it. “I think I fell in love with you later,” he adds. “When we met again in court. Probably then.”

Miles’ eyes are watchful even through the fog of hangover. “Me, as well.”

“God,” Phoenix says, chuckling. “And it took us this long? Why didn’t you say something?”

“Me?” Miles raises an eyebrow. “Do you have no memory of the state in which I spent most of my mid-twenties? Why didn’t you say something?”

“Because of the state in which you spent most of your mid-twenties!” Phoenix shoots back, and they both laugh again. “God, I don’t know, Miles. Because I was happy enough just to have you back. Because I didn’t want you to run again. Because I didn’t think it mattered. I mean, even if that weirdly constant need to be near you and know how you were doing and argue with you was anything more than normal friendship—“ tea spatters the table as Miles chokes, “—you were way out of my league anyways!”

Phoenix leans his cheek on his fist, soaking in the sight of Miles spluttering and coughing in Phoenix’s tiny little kitchen. He’s got a few pale freckles on his neck, almost hidden by the necklace of hickies Phoenix left him. God, they’re lucky Miles doesn’t start work until next week.

“I guess it wasn’t the right time,” Phoenix says, a little quieter. He slides a roll of paper towels Miles’ way. Miles takes one and mops a little sadly at his t-shirt. “Like I assume it wasn’t the right time after I lost my badge.”

“No,” Miles replies, setting down his paper towel. “Not with Trucy, especially.”

Phoenix nods. She’ll be home soon. He should try to look less like he’s been making out with the love of his life all night. “That makes sense. I guess we were just— never in the right place at the same time.”

Miles reaches across the table, taking his hand. His thumb bumps methodically over Phoenix’s knuckles. “We appear to have met up in the end,” he says.

Phoenix has to stand up to kiss him. It makes his back twinge, but that’s alright. He’ll live.

The sun keeps rising, and the birds yammer their way to People Park, and Phoenix finishes his omelette. Miles, not a breakfast man, drinks more tea and criticizes Phoenix’s lack of newspaper subscriptions. Phoenix tells him to open an app some time, you luddite. They debate the news, then the entertainment section, then the crossword. They’re halfway through the second crossword, sourced from Miles’ NYTimes app that he forgot he paid for, before Phoenix looks up at Miles’ face—strong nose, sharp jaw, the newly-familiar shape of his mouth, the most damnably smug expression Phoenix has ever had the displeasure to love— and realizes he could the do this for the rest of his life. Like the whole and entire span of his days. It wouldn’t even be hard.

“Hey, do you have anything planned today?”

“Hm?” Miles is trying to make ‘Monroe’ into a nine letter word containing an F and a D. “No, not particularly. Some more furniture shopping, perhaps.”

“The answer’s ‘Mansfield.’ Wanna get married?”

Miles drops his phone in his tea.

“Oops,” says Phoenix.

“God damnit,” says Miles, lurching for the paper towels with one hand, fishing out his dripping phone with the other.

“Do you want a towel?”

“No, Phoenix, I— rice, maybe—“

“You know that doesn’t work, right? It just gets rice in your phone?”

“Phoenix.”

“Sorry, sorry,” Phoenix says, rising to stand beside him at the sink. Miles is dabbing without much optimism at his phone. “Didn’t mean to… startle you.”

Miles exhales heavily, keeping his eyes on his hands and his dripping device. “It was a rather weak joke.”

“It wasn’t a joke,” Phoenix says.

Miles glares at him, sideways. “We’ve shared a bed once. We only admitted our feelings for each other last night. Don’t be ridiculous.”

“What’s so ridiculous about it? We may not have been together for longer than, oh, ten hours,” and saying that out loud does send a little shock of fear through Phoenix, but that’s not going to stop him now, “but we’ve been in love for a decade! We’ve been friends for twenty-five years!”

“Hardly continuously,” Miles mutters.

“Well, close enough. Look, Miles, you know me better than anyone alive in the world today. That is literally true. You’re my best friend, I trust you completely, god knows why, and I love you so much I’m having trouble breathing right now. Why not?”

The phone clacks against the countertop. Miles, with the mid-morning sun shining through his hair, stares at Phoenix in deepening wonder. Possibly also some fear. “You really mean this,” he says.

“I… think I do, yeah.”

He’s beyond understanding how he got to this point. It was something to do with how Miles chewed on his thumbnail as he tried to remember the names of 50s Hollywood starlets, or maybe how Miles had touched him last night, like Phoenix was worth more than his student loan debt and his daughter’s good grades. It’s got a lot to do with Miles chartering a private jet when they were 27, and how Phoenix’s whole body used to slip into a richer mode of sensation, a deeper understanding of joy, when they faced each other in court. It feels like that again, like when he was young and stupid and full of hope.

He can’t be young anymore, but it’s been a while since he lost his badge. He could give the other two a try.

“What about your daughter?” Miles asks. He’s gripping his own elbow, an old habit.

“She might be a little surprised,” Phoenix replies, “or a lot. But she likes you. And you wouldn’t have to adopt her or be her father or anything, I’ve got that part covered. You wouldn’t even have to pay for her college tuition—“

“Of course I would pay for her college tuition—“ Miles cuts in and then flushes immediately, like he’s been dunked in dye.

Phoenix laughs. “You’ll have to fight Maya and her Kurain Young Leaders of Future Past program or whatever it is for the honor, but really Miles, I think, embarrassing as it is, Trucy would probably just be happy for me.”

Miles leans his hip against the counter, a heavy slumping of weight. He’s still holding his elbow. “We’ve never lived together,” he says.

“Yeah,” Phoenix replies. “I could be a terrible roommate.”

“You could.”

“Are you afraid of that?”

Miles glares at him, pushing off the counter, making to pace and then stopping three steps away. Phoenix could still reach out to take his hand, wouldn’t even have to stretch. “Why aren’t you?” Miles asks.

Phoenix shrugs. He’s beyond worry. He’s transcended. It’s 10:42 AM on Veteran’s Day, per his microwave’s flickering clock, and Phoenix knows what he wants. It’s an incredible relief.

“Listen. Miles,” he says, and seizes the temptation of Miles’ hand in his own. Miles doesn’t pull back, though he looks for a minute like he might want to, his eyes big and shocky as Phoenix threads their fingers together. He hasn’t left, is what Phoenix is counting on. Miles knows how to shut him down, how to get him to fuck off, but he’s still standing here, in Phoenix’s apartment, with tea drying on his borrowed sweatpants. He’s still holding Phoenix’s hand.

“If it doesn’t work out,” Phoenix says, low, smiling, with Miles’ chilly fingers between his, “so what? We’ll get divorced, burn each other’s clothes, figure out how to be friends again, the whole ugly thing. But if it does work out, and I do get to spend the rest of my life married to you, then I want to start the rest of my life now. Why would I wait even a second?”

“That’s not—“ Miles starts, bristling, still flushed to the tips of his ears, and then he groans from the back of his throat and throws his hand dramatically in the air. The effect is only a little lessened by his other hand, which is still holding tight to Phoenix’s. “I don’t understand how you live like this!”

“Hey, I don’t spontaneously propose that much!” Phoenix says, laughing helplessly.

“Ngh, that’s not what I—”

He’s not this much of a bastard. “Wait, Miles—”

“Just give me a minute!” Miles snaps, letting go of Phoenix’s hand to pace as forcefully as he can in the miniscule kitchen. Kitchenette, really. That Craigslist ad was a fucking lie. “I—do I make you happy?”

“What?” Phoenix says, entire body contracting in surprise.

“My mother and father, they were married three days after they met—”

“What!” Phoenix says again. “Then what is the problem—”

“And my mother asked my father these questions,” Miles says loudly, over him, both of them making way too much noise in this little sunny box, “and he told them to me when I was child, and I don’t remember them, but I do—”

“Yes, you make me happy! Of course you make me happy!”

Miles’ glare is verging on murderous, and Phoenix experiences the deep, momentary certainty that he’s about to have his ass handed to him in a court of law, but Miles is still flushing and pacing, and Miles certainly never paced in court, let alone blushed—

“Do you enjoy spending time with me?” Miles demands, making full use of his prosecutor’s voice as Phoenix drags a delighted, disbelieving hand through his hair.

“Obviously! Really feel like I’ve made that point clear!”

“And— damn, what was the last one...”

Phoenix’s laugh is uncontrollable at this point, popping out of him like champagne corks.

“Are our senses of humor compatible?” Miles rounds on him, index finger extended. “Do you enjoy my jokes?”

“This one’s getting a little esoteric for my tastes—”

“Phoenix.” Despairing.

“Miles,” Phoenix says, and steps into Miles’ space, folding his hand into Phoenix’s own. Miles meets his gaze, wild-eyed, frenetic, like Phoenix could believe he’d gone without sleep all night if he didn’t have such conclusive evidence to the contrary.

“I—I just got home,” Miles says, quieting, as Phoenix leans their bodies together. He’s looking at Phoenix’s mouth. “It’s been so many years.” His voice is rough, bruising. “We haven’t even had sex.”

“I could suck you off now,” Phoenix says, cheery, quiet, too. “That one’s pretty easy to solve.”

Miles smiles slowly, like ice melting. His nose is brushing against Phoenix’s, the most romantic thing that’s ever happened in Phoenix’s entire goddamn life.

“You make me happy,” Phoenix says. The kitchen is cold, barely insulated, at the whims of November’s cruelties. The space between them is warm. “You make me really, really happy.”

Miles’ lips touch his, the barest hint of contact, a promise of more, and then someone slams full-body right into the front door.

“Jesus,” Phoenix hisses, jerking back as he and Miles stumble into the table, knocking Phoenix’s phone and a damp wad of paper towels to the linoleum. He hears Trucy’s voice immediately, her key scrabbling at the lock, and there’s Apollo, and then, oh, Christ—

“They brought Gavin back?” Phoenix says, kinda moans, as Miles starts looking around desperately, as if clean pants that do not belong to Phoenix will suddenly materialize for his convenience.

The key slides home and the door bangs open and Trucy shouts down the hall, “Hey, Daddy—!”

“Trucy, five more minutes!” Phoenix calls back, willing his voice not to crack. “Emergency! Emergency!”

“Roger that, Daddy-O!” Trucy replies without a moment’s hesitation, truly the most perfect daughter Phoenix could ever have hoped to be adopted by. “All of you, back up, down the stairs, let’s go!”

There’s confused noises from Apollo, some fake German squawking from Gavin, and then the door slams shut again. Phoenix tries in vain to suppress the feeling that he’s just been thrown into an ice bath, like whatever magic got him this close to Valhalla is flaking away.

“How on earth did you two come by this protocol?” Miles asks from behind him, voice still a little rocky.

“Secret reasons,” Phoenix replies, offhand. He can’t believe they brought Gavin. To his home. Again. “But look, Miles…I don’t want to pressure you into anything that—”

He turns at Miles’ hand on his shoulder.

“Trucy truly won’t mind?” Miles says, red-faced and determined, eyes overbright, to the tune of Phoenix’s heart thundering like fireworks in his ears.

Phoenix swallows. “No.” It’s a croak. “Not at all.”

“And, you wouldn’t…”

“No,” Phoenix says, “or—yes, yes, whichever you want.”

“Alright, then,” Miles says, with a laugh like a hiccup. They’re holding hands again. Phoenix is going to make sure they never stop holding hands. “No further questions, your Honor.”

“You mean it,” Phoenix says. He’s giddy, filled with helium, this close to popping. “You’re not kidding.”

“Do you think a courthouse wedding would be too on the nose?” Miles asks with a watery chuckle. He’s dragging his hand under his eye, blinking damply at Phoenix. “It would save money on the suits.”

Phoenix crushes their mouths together, a kiss without hope of surrender, and Miles’ hands are suddenly on his waist, digging into his back. He shoves forward and Miles shoves back, harder, slamming them into the cluttered countertop. Oh, God, Phoenix’s back hurts so bad. Oh, God, it’s worth it.

“Can’t believe the kids are outside now,” he groans into Miles’ mouth, “when I really need you to fuck me like a lot.”

“Focus, Phoenix,” Miles says, while grabbing his ass, which should absolutely be made illegal. “Marriage license. Witnesses.”

“Yes, yes, Trucy and the, no, shit—”

“What?”

“It’s Veteran’s Day,” Phoenix says to him, breathless, a little out of his gourd. It’s Veteran’s Day? It’s seventy-two hours since Miles came home to Los Angeles? It’s that Veteran’s Day? “Everything’s going to be closed.”

“Damn,” Miles says, still close enough for Phoenix to feel it on his own mouth. His hand drifts down Phoenix’s leg, loose.

It feels like a real obstacle for a moment—like whatever lunatic inertia they’ve built up won’t survive another hurdle. If not now, then when? A month? Several months? A perfectly standard year-long engagement? Never?

“So, tomorrow?” Miles says.

Phoenix forgets to breathe. Miles smiles. Phoenix beams.

 


 

TUESDAY

AND THEREAFTER.