How did this happen?
His wrists ache now, weighed down by iron and chain, cold and hard. Whenever he moves, they rattle uncomfortably, as if broadcasting his guilt to the world-
Wait! But I’m not guilty! I didn’t do it!
Some help that was. He’d already told the grocer the same thing dozens of times, but it hadn’t stopped him from dragging Phoenix to the guards anyway, throwing the boy in front of them like so much trash.
"This boy stole from me! Take him to the Lord, he’ll know what to do!”
Phoenix’s pleas had fallen on deaf ears there, too, although at least one of the guards had taken some form of pity on him, and wriggled the chains looser than usual. He knew he was in a state. It was easy to assume he was a thief, with his mud-stained face, with the holes in his shirt and pant cuffs. It wasn’t his fault that he didn’t have much, but he’d never had to steal, and he hadn’t started today.
Cliff Palace is inescapable, no matter where you looked in the town. Perched on the cliff that cut into the sea, to the town’s northeast, the purple-plated roofs and gleaming windows protected its little slice of land, a monument to the love of its Lord. Just yesterday, Phoenix had looked up at the shining spires- attracting his attention away from Larry’s rambling- and imagined visiting the gardens and towers, to browse through the sum of the Lord’s knowledge on magic and be one of the elite.
Now his wish was being granted... except this time, he is in chains.
The moment the ironwrought gates swing open, Phoenix immediately feels eyes on him. Cliff Palace is inhabited by dozens of people, servants and scholars alike, and is graced with wide gardens between its two wings. With the sun high in the sky, it’s easy to catch sight of the little boy in chains, trapped between two guards.
However, they didn’t have far to go. Phoenix fully expected to be led all the way to the main hall of the Palace, but before they even made it to the doors, a man sat on the edge of the elaborate fountain in the courtyard’s center stands up. He carefully shuts his book in his hands and adjusts his glasses, a stern face only belied by a subtle gentleness in his gaze and grip. The guards unexpectedly halt and bow low, leaving Phoenix to look up tear-stained at him.
“What seems to be the problem?” asks the Lord of Cliff Palace, Gregory Edgeworth, staring down not unkindly at the boy in front of him.
“This boy here stole a box of apples,” says the guard on the right, straightening up. “We’ve taken him here to be judged and so he can repay the tithe for the crime-”
“I didn’t do it!” Phoenix shrieks, before he loses his nerve. Gregory blinks at him, surprised. “I swear, my Lord, I would never steal! Please!”
“We have it from the grocer himself, and you know how he is...” says the guard on the left, the one who had loosened the chains so they didn’t chafe Phoenix’s wrists. “He won’t let up on the boy if he doesn’t get some kind of sentence, so it’d be easier for everyone if he got something light and went on his way tomorrow...”
“Hmm.” Gregory rubs his chin thoughtfully. “I don’t want to tarnish the boy’s reputation, but-”
Where Lord Edgeworth had been sitting only moments before was suddenly a small boy, around Phoenix’s age, with grey hair and an already formidable glare, pointing directly at him. Once he had everyone’s attention, the boy put his hands on his hips, scowl deepening.
“Father! How could you! You told me a Lord is to uphold justice- you can’t punish this boy for a crime you don’t even know he’s done!”
Much to Phoenix’s surprise, when faced with the boy, Lord Edgeworth’s stern face broke out into a fond smile. He reaches over and ruffles his short hair, and though the boy squeezes his eyes shut at the movement, it was clear the two loved each other very much.
“You’re right, Miles,” Lord Edgeworth replies. “You’re very right indeed. What’s your name, my boy?”
It took Phoenix a moment to realize the question was aimed at him. “Oh- Ph- Phoenix Wright, my Lord.”
“Well, you certainly won’t be getting any sort of punishment for something you did not do. Do you have any idea what might have really happened?”
“It- It might have been my friend Larry, but I don’t know for certain, my Lord. The grocer has never liked us... he thinks we’re ruffians.”
“Very well.” Lord Edgeworth straightens up again, and returns to himself, a stern but caring ruler in all his majesty. Miles hops down from the lip of the fountain to stand next to him, eyes trained on Phoenix all the while. “Guards, unchain Phoenix Wright, and let him know he’s welcome here. I think I will go investigate this matter myself- either I’ll catch the culprit, or I’ll have words with the grocer who thinks it’s appropriate to frame young boys in my township.”
He walks off, but Miles stays, hands behind his back and swaying slightly on the balls of his feet. His gaze is arresting, and even as the kindly guard reached over to unchain his wrists, Phoenix couldn’t stop staring in kind. He could already feel tears prick at his eyes when the chains fall off and he is free- free and in the Cliff Palace, no less!
Miles opens his mouth, likely to ask him something, but before he could get the words out, Phoenix is overwhelmed with a sudden emotion and flings his arms around the other boy, pulling him into a crushing hug. Small hands only reciprocate the embrace for a moment before Phoenix flushes and pulls away, embarrassed.
“Thank you,” he mumbles, but Miles smiles- only slightly, yet enough to soothe Phoenix’s worries.
“Of course. You deserved it- everybody should be defended from injustice.” Miles’ chest puffs out proudly. “When I’m the Lord, I’ll make sure of it! I’ll defend everyone in the township!”
The glitter in Miles’ eyes and the confidence in his voice- Phoenix found, in that moment, that he believed him completely.
“Will you be my friend!” he shouts, before his nerves abandon him. When he’s met with a faintly confused look, Phoenix grows even more sheepish, rubbing the back of his neck with his hand. Around each wrist, a line of faint indents are slowly filling out on his skin. “I- I mean! You seem nice and I want to be your friend! That’s all!”
And slowly, Miles smiles. “Yes. I think we’re friends already.”
When Lord Edgeworth came back at sundown, after an unsuccessful investigation, he found the boys side by side, pouring over a book in the library, Phoenix listening to Miles chatter with the utmost concentration. He smiled, and let them carry on, and when Phoenix started to fall asleep, Miles and his father walked him home together.
Summers in the seaside town were always pleasant, the wide sky and beating sun offset by cool ocean breezes. The deep forests that surrounded the Lords’ land were just wide and friendly enough to be the perfect playplace for a pair of young boys with little else to do but wrestle and climb amongst the grasses and squirrels, and every year up until now, Phoenix and Larry had done just that.
It had been six months since Phoenix was falsely accused. He had spent most of the winter making the trek up to Cliff Palace to be welcomed with warm arms by the Lord and his son, and whenever he returned home to the little cottage he shared with Larry and his parents, he always deftly avoided their questions. For whatever reason, for a long time, Phoenix wanted to keep Miles all to himself, as if he’d lose him if the rest of his world entered the picture.
It did almost feel like a dream- the Cliff Palace, where the fires were always warm and roaring and he was always welcomed with a cup of hot tea. He’d become intimately familiar with it over the winter and spring, and Miles was happy to share every part of it. Many a cold afternoon was spent together in the library, or dueling with wooden swords in the ballrooms, or even bundling up to wander in the frozen gardens.
But the world had thawed, and Phoenix had thawed with it. Larry’s nagging- “What are you always up to, Nick? We never see you around anymore!”- had finally worn him down, so he asked Miles to come down with him the next day, and here they were.
“Whoa, are you Nick’s new friend?” Larry asks, pacing around Miles as if he was some strange creature. He does look a bit out of place, a small boy in finery standing awkwardly in the woods, but if there’s one thing the young Edgeworth has in spades, it was pride. He straightens under Larry’s gaze, shooting him his already formidable glare; Larry flinches under it and Phoenix stifles a chuckle, knowing that it wasn’t as ironclad as it seemed.
“My name is Miles Edgeworth,” he retorts, “and I’m Phoenix’s best friend.”
“Hey!” Larry frowns. “I’m his best friend!”
“Oh, no,” Phoenix groans. “None of this. You’re both my best friends, and I wanted to introduce you so you could be friends too. Come on-n.”
They both fall silent. Neither seems happy with the situation at hand, and Larry kicks at a pebble at his feet, frowning mightily.
“What... what do you do out here?”
Phoenix wasn’t expecting Miles to break the quiet, but he does, eyes softening somewhat. Larry cocks his head, regarding him again, and kicks the pebble hard. It lands just before the toe of Miles’ boot, much finer than either of the other boys’.
“Well...” Larry replies, “just what we normally do, I guess? It’s warm enough to go swimming.”
“Isn’t the ocean too cold? And dangerous? There are lots of ships docking at this time of year.” Miles’ eyes flick towards Phoenix in confirmation, but before he can reply, Larry steps forwards.
“Oh, no, not the ocean! Bleugh.” Larry shakes his head. “No, don’t you know about the river?”
“Ah!” Miles’ eyes light up. “You mean Snake Stream? The one that feeds into the sea? That’s barely a river...”
“Which is why it’s always fun to swim there,” Phoenix interjects. “Come on, we’ll show you!”
He takes Miles’ hand as they run through the trees, until they finally thin enough to reveal the thin slip of river running through the mossy earth. Phoenix knows that it runs all the way to the ocean, and is deeper than it looks, although not by much. Sunlight falls in dapples through the leafy canopy ahead to shine on the clear surface, like dozens of tiny coins on the top of the water.
It only occurs to Phoenix that he has never seen Miles outside of the Palace grounds when his shirt is over his head. Larry has already done the same and has flung himself into the water, splashing with wild abandon; experience had long informed that he was not afraid to splash water directly into peoples’ eyes. Phoenix turns to see Miles standing awkwardly a small ways away, gripping his arm and seeming unsure of what to do.
“We don’t have to swim, if you don’t want to,” Phoenix says softly, walking up to him. Miles shakes his head.
“No, I- I want to. I’ve just never done this kind of thing before...”
“Well, it’s fun. And you can always get out whenever you want. Promise.”
The answering nod was shaky, but Miles reaches down to unlace his shirt moments later, and joins them with his eyes screwed shut.
“It’s cold,” he gasps through gritted teeth, and Larry- floating idly on his back- spits an arc of water in response. Phoenix laughs, and when he’s was done, Miles is smiling.
By the time the sun was deep gold on the edge of the horizon and the shadows had lengthened to sundown, all three were freezing cold to the bone, soaked completely and utterly. Fireflies had crept out from between the trees while they played, and darted around each other in the tall grass; Larry had fallen asleep on the shore not too long ago.
“We should go, soon,” Miles says, wading through the water to tuck himself against Phoenix’s side, vying for what little warmth he could get. Their stream-cooled skin wasn’t much, but when Phoenix closes his eyes and leans back against Miles, he could have sworn that he felt his heartbeat through the water droplets.
“Yes, we should,” he replies. But there they stay, alone in the pool, waist-deep in the cold water, until Larry wakes up and splashes them both heavily and they run laughing back to town, stomachs grumbling and feet stained with mud.
“You know, I never thought I’d see you dancing,” Phoenix says one day, watching Miles from between two high, arched windows. Miles stops in the middle of second position and tilts his head in a way that is now so normal that it almost hurts.
“My father has always said that dance is the most respectable of arts,” he replies, and Phoenix snorts. The charcoal pencil in his fingers twitches.
It has been three years since Phoenix was chained up one fateful day, and they are now both lanky and twelve, beginning that awkward phase in between being a man and being a boy that always lasts just a bit too long. Phoenix is distinctly aware of how gangly he is, and even more aware of feeling different around many of the village girls, and some of the boys, if he feels honest that day.
It’s autumn again, and the midday sun is lighting up the ballroom of Cliff Palace in massive squares of gold. Miles runs through his waltz in between them, with an unfair amount of grace for a twelve year old, and today is only one of the many days that Phoenix has sat and watched him.
The three of them are fast friends now, with three summers behind them, but there’s something special between Phoenix and Miles that not even Larry tries to wriggle his way into. Sometimes, Phoenix thinks it might be in the way he looks at Miles’ eyes sparkle when he laughs, or the edge of elegance in every way he moves. It might be the feeling that presses behind his teeth whenever Miles gets close to him recently, something enormous and heavy enough to stop the whole world.
His sketchbook- a gift from Lord Edgeworth on their second celebration of his birthday together- is littered with drawings of Miles, tucked between every sketch of a bird or tree or cloud. He’s a good model; Phoenix has shown him the drawings many times, and if he really likes it and asks nicely he carefully tears it off, and Miles tucks them in the sides of his vanity mirror’s frame.
“Most respectable of arts, huh,” Phoenix replies, mouth twitching in a grin. “I see what he thinks of me.”
“Oh, come now,” Miles says, crossing his arms and rolling his left ankle back and forth. “You do great work. But dancing is a good way to demonstrate class and refinement to other Lords and Ladies.”
“Ah, so you’ll dance the nights away with them? In your frilly finery?” There’s no venom in Phoenix’s voice, and the smile pulling at the edge of Miles’ mouth attests to that. “I can see it now. Ooh, Lord Edgeworth, you do so impress when you spin. I’ll marry you and so will every other eligible candidate at the ball.”
“Dance with me, then.”
Phoenix, who had admittedly gotten caught up in staring at a mote of dust floating through a sunbeam during the brief gap in conversation, starts back to reality with a hand extended towards him. He gapes, thrown off guard.
“I- Miles, I haven’t practiced-“
“Then now is as good a time to start as any,” was the retort, and Phoenix takes his hand without even thinking.
Miles twines their fingers together, and lets his other hand fall to his waist. Phoenix unconsciously tenses under his fingers, and is close enough to see Miles’ eyes crinkle when he chuckles. “Lighten up, I won’t hurt you.”
“I don’t want to step on your toes!”
“Then I’ll have to take wide steps, won’t I?”
And then he does, and they were off, dancing in long loops across the ballroom floor. Phoenix felt as light as air; no matter which way his clumsy feet stepped, Miles kept guiding him, like cogs in an elegant clock. He isn’t very good at it. His palms are sweaty and his footwork shoddy. But when he looks up, Miles is beaming at him.
“You’ll make a fine dance partner yet, Mr. Wright,” he teases, and there’s a something there, in the glitter in his eyes and the way his fingers feel between Phoenix’s own, slotting together just right. Something shifts and falls into place.
“Maybe I will,” and he’s breathless when he says it, but that’s all right. The sun sinks towards the horizon as they dance, and dance, and dance.
He’s away from the palace when he finds out.
Larry’s mother tells Phoenix the news on an overcast afternoon, only weeks after they shared their dance together in the sun-drenched ballroom. Phoenix drops the bucket in the well with a resounding splash and runs- runs- all the way to Cliff Palace, ignoring her calls for him. By the time the gates come into view, his throat is slick with the taste of iron.
They’re locked, but he doesn’t stop, running into them and grasping the bars tightly in white knuckles. The impact is hard enough to bruise, but Phoenix can’t bring himself to care.
There are strangers littered throughout the familiar courtyard of Cliff Palace, strangers with tired faces and sharp eyes, and they stare at Phoenix judgingly. He ignores them, sticks his face and arms through the bars, looking for the only person who matters-
A boy dressed in mourning black.
He only looks up once, but once is more than enough. Miles’ face is tear-stained and worryingly pale, hands balled into tight fists. His gaze falls on Phoenix and it’s heavy enough to hurt, rich with misery, the kind Phoenix could never take away.
Behind him, a stern-faced man is guiding him. Phoenix’s gaze only falls on him for an instant before he has to look away. There was no faking the cruelty in the man’s eyes.
“Miles, please-“ He turns away. Phoenix isn’t sure when he started crying- or is it the rain? It’s both, he’s sure, as the man walks Miles away, into the palace, and away from him.
Phoenix catches a cold waiting for him to emerge again. He never does. He trudges home weak and shivering, opening the door only to collapse in the kitchen moments later. And after his fever breaks days after that, Larry’s mother tells him the whole story: Lord Gregory Edgeworth is dead, his son- too young to rule- adopted by Lord Von Karma, their township under his jurisdiction.
Moonlight is the only witness as Phoenix cries into his hands that night, alone and forsaken.
He won’t see Miles Edgeworth again for another twenty-one years.