Despite Franziska’s melancholy behavior, Klavier’s plan proves popular with the rest of the inhabitants. They start that very evening, pulling out old brooms and rags in order to clean the main hall, knocking down cobwebs and sending up clouds of dust.
Under their ministrations, the dusty floor shines, and the chandelier twinkles in a way that it hasn’t in years. Within a few days, Phoenix walks into the past when he enters it again; the warm light fills the room and makes him feel much older, faced with a room that seems much smaller now that he’s grown. The balcony outside is swept clean, revealing a mosaic inlaid into the stone, geometric patterns filling space.
Once they’ve cleaned to their satisfaction, Klavier takes great delight in going through the empty rooms for finer clothes. Some of the ones they procure are far less dusty than they should be; Phoenix has a feeling that they’ve been hiding away a stash of elaborate costumes for a while. Still, fitting them is fun, and many surprisingly fit Phoenix himself, even with his new tail. Even Simon agrees to try some on, though he predictably settles on a black tailcoat that is only marginally sleeker and fancier than the black coat he always wears.
If Edgeworth gets any new clothes, Phoenix doesn’t see it. Still, he goes about his Palace with a twinkle in his eyes and a lightness to his steps that almost makes him look like a new man. One night, while they’re scrubbing the floor of the main hall, Phoenix looks over at him and swears he sees the silhouette of a human man, tantalizingly overlaid like a shadow on the heads of dogs.
They don’t have a date planned. They merely prepare, and keep preparing, shifting onto cooking once they’ve decided on new outfits. Phoenix’s hands are consistently stained with fruit juice from coring apples, and pulling out what they preserved of the buck, they make a true feast out of the bounty that autumn has provided.
Eventually, the day comes when they fry up the venison, and the whole Palace smells of cloves and leaves in fall. Evening falls in a conflagrant, beautiful sunset, and they all know that they will be holding the ball tonight.
Phoenix takes a bath, which is a rather difficult procedure that involves buckets most of the time. Sitting in the lukewarm water, he can feel his heart pounding, and he runs his fingers through his hair and then his feathers.
Having much time to grow, his tail is now very noticeable, and rivals Klavier’s in terms of iridescence. It glimmers with reds and yellows, shimmering down the length in a prismatic display whenever he moves. As always, they’re hotter than he expects when he touches them, even in the water. When he looks down at his reflection, there are hints of orange at his temples.
Neatly folded next to the tub, his new clothes are a deep shade of blue, silky and fine, embroidered vines in a lighter shade on the tail and collar. He had darned the few moth-holes himself, making certain the outfit was as whole as it could be.
What am I doing, he thinks, leaning back to dunk his hair into the water. What are we doing? A romantic ball, held by the cursed... it’s frivolous.
And yet he can’t pause the excited thumping of his heart in his breast. It’s the most fun he’s had since he arrived, and they’ve spent so long getting ready... it would be a shame to waste their time, wouldn’t it...?
Loud raps on the door interrupt his reverie. “Mr. Wright, are you done in there? I need to bathe too.”
“Sorry, Apollo, I’ll just be a minute,” he responds, standing up and toweling off as quickly as he can. The clothes fall far too easily on his frame- as if he was always meant to wear them. As if he was always meant to be here.
I look like nobility, he thinks once he’s dressed, the tailcoat framing his own feathers and a jabot around his neck. He isn’t as uncomfortable as he expected he would be. He feels... ready.
The party has barely begun when he arrives. Simon and Klavier are already in attendance, each garbed in their own finery, with Klavier boasting a vest of deep purple and holding his lute on his lap, tuning the instrument. They’re sitting on the table where the food is, peacock’s tail delicately draped to the side, and they wave as Phoenix enters.
“Good evening, Herr Wright!” Klavier greets cheerfully, not pausing in the twang of his tuning. “What a beautiful night for it, eh? How is mein Apollo?”
“He’s in the bath,” Phoenix replies, pulling at his sleeves. Simon nods briefly in acknowledgement as he approaches and raises his glass of cider. “We really have done a lot of work on this hall, huh?”
They truly have. It had been impressive how cleaned it was before, but tonight, everything seems to sparkle. Phoenix can nearly see his reflection in the smooth floor, and above, the chandelier washes everything in golden, warm light. Contrasted with the velvety blue skies outside as they slowly darken to black with the setting sun, the evening stars twinkle, just barely seeable through the reflection of the room on the windows. The balcony doors are open, letting in a gentle breeze that smells of fading spring.
Set up in the middle of the floor, their dining table is laden with the finest foods they could create, a true bounty interspersed with flickering candles. Phoenix isn’t hungry, though. He can’t tear his eyes away from the hallway leading to the seaside tower, where he knows Edgeworth will eventually emerge.
Apollo joins them a few minutes later, to great fanfare by Klavier, who strikes up his lute the moment the smaller man crosses the doorframe. He is suitably embarrassed, but Phoenix can see the affection in Apollo’s eyes as he rushes to Klaver and bats at their arm to get them to stop. They do not, and their music swells, filling the room with a sweet melody.
Though Apollo takes a drink and begins to eat, Phoenix can’t bring himself to do it. The longer it takes for Edgeworth to appear, the more nervous he becomes, and he turns to pacing as the night gets darker outside.
Just when he’s nearly ready to assume that Edgeworth isn’t coming, he hears the sound of claws on wood. It takes a moment, but eventually the man he had been waiting for emerges from the gloom, his sister on his arm, and Phoenix suddenly can’t breathe.
Miles had gotten new clothes, or perhaps old ones. He’s dressed in the same shade, but gold glitters on his collar and jacket sleeves, tail wagging behind him as he guides Franziska inside. Even as Phoenix stared in the direction he approached, Miles’ eyes find his almost instantly. Under the golden light, his white fur shines silver.
Phoenix is spellbound. He barely notices Franziska, who is garbed in a fine new dress of her own, in a delicate icy blue. She looks beautiful, but her face is deeply sad, besotten by the melancholy that has been plaguing her the past week. Miles leans over and says something to her, and she shakes her head, untwining their arms and going to stand at the window, looking into the distance.
And Miles turns and looks at Phoenix, standing below.
He steps down the stairs, one hand on the banister, nails clacking on the wood. Stopping a few steps above where Phoenix stands, a smile softens his snout, all eyes looking unequivocally at him.
“I’m glad you came,” Phoenix says as if in a trance, and holds his hand out to Miles without thinking. He hesitates for only a moment before taking it, pawpads rough on Phoenix’s palm.
Klavier cries out cheerfully in response to them as they approach, Apollo smiling widely. Even Simon has a grin on his face.
“I couldn’t not come to a party in my own home,” Miles says, twinkling with mirth. “Besides, it’s a lovely night. I would be remiss.”
“We’re all here at last!” Klavier crows, pulling Apollo closer to them. “Now this ball can truly begin, eh?”
“You seemed to have it going before I arrived,” Miles replies cheerfully, and reaches for a glass of cider, without dropping Phoenix’s hand.
And the night melts before them like sugar in water. Phoenix drinks and eats and laughs at Klavier’s jokes, all while the lute music fills the hall more than it seems one instrument could. Conversation melds together in a comfortable blur, the only two constants being Franziska’s lonely perch looking out at the balcony and the vision of Miles, garbed in finery, warm and friendly and laughing in the candlelight.
The night has become deep and dark when Klavier picks up a tune that strikes a memory in Phoenix’s mind. He bobs his head to the beat, but much to his surprise, when he looks over at Miles next to him, he’s shifting his feet.
“I know this song,” he says, canine heads cocked in curiosity. “It’s a waltz, is it not?”
“That it is, Herr Edgeworth,” Klavier confirms, strumming confidently with Apollo tucked into his side. “I would dance, but... I have to play the song. It would be a good opportunity, no?”
Miles’ eyes dart to Phoenix next to him, something unidentifiable in them. “Yes... yes, it is. Keep it going, would you?”
“What are you-” Phoenix is barely able to ask before Edgeworth’s hand finds his and gently guides him to place his glass on the table. He twines their fingers together.
“Dance with me,” Miles says, and his claws trace Phoenix’s skin and would never break it. “It’s a good night for it, and Simon wouldn’t.”
Across the room, Simon snorts in amusement.
“I- I haven’t practiced in-”
“You’ll pick it up again,” he says, and then Phoenix is swept along with him.
With Miles’ hand on his waist and their chests close, Phoenix can’t think of anything else. He lets the other man guide him, bidden by the sweet melody of Klavier’s lute; his feet slowly lighten as they go, orange feathers swirling as they move.
He barely notices when Miles begins to guide them up the stairs, not stopping the waltz, only stumbling once. When he trips, Miles catches him, Phoenix’s head falling against his neck, silky warm and the steady beat of the other man’s heart making his own race.
“I don’t want to step on your toes,” he whispers.
“I can take wide steps,” Miles replies, voice just as soft.
He guides them up, through the open balcony doors, the waltz following them as they emerge into the cool night. Despite the chill, Phoenix is warm down to his core. As they danced on, they drew yet closer and closer, Miles’ heads framing Phoenix as they dance, chest to chest, barely separating.
Above, the stars twinkle, dressing the sky in diamonds for them to dance amongst. They twirl between squares of golden light from the balcony windows, going further and further away, until they’re inches from the railing and Phoenix is breathless.
Finally, they pause. Miles stares at him, and he stares back, just able to see the reflection of the stars above in his eyes. Even the waltz fades in the background, nothing else mattering but the two of them, but Miles’ hand on his waist and Phoenix’s on his arm, unwilling to pull apart, unwilling to stop watching each other.
Eventually, it’s Miles who breaks- not pulling away, not looking elsewhere, but his face breaking into a tranquil smile. He leans closer, nose almost brushing Phoenix’s forehead.
“I was right,” he murmurs.
“About what?” Phoenix replies, just as quietly, seemingly unable to speak above a gentle whisper. Why would he want to? He’s already speaking to the person who matters most.
Miles tilts his head, moving one of his hands to reach for Phoenix’s cheek. His thumb brushes just under his eye. They’ve never been so close, and Phoenix wants to get closer still.
“You do make a fine dance partner,” Miles says.
There is nothing else in the world. There is no one else. All that matters is this moment, the way Phoenix’s heart leaps to his throat, the care in Miles’ fingers on his skin and the stars glittering far above.
He’s not even afraid before he speaks. It’s the easiest thing in the world to tell the truth.
“I love you.”
Miles’ eyes go wide.
Phoenix isn’t sure what he expected. He’s heard the stories, everyone has; a proclamation of true love curing those who are cursed, restoring their humanity within moments. Deep down, he supposes he wished that this would cure Miles. Would end the only thing ruining their lives, in this moment.
But there is no light. There is no change. Miles stands before him, just as furred as before. And yet he’s staring at Phoenix as if he’s given him the moon, as if he’s looking at the most beautiful person in the world.
“Do...” He has to pause for a moment, rendered speechless. “Do you mean it?”
No matter what he looks like, it’s still Miles holding him like this. It’s still Miles, eyes shimmering with affection, staring like he never wants to look at anyone else.
“Of course. Of course, of course- I would never-”
Phoenix is stopped by Miles pulling him even closer, crushing him to his chest in a tight embrace. He’s startled for a moment, then relaxes into it, tucking his head up underneath Miles’ chin, nestling into his fur.
“...does this mean that you...?” He mumbles into Miles’ fur.
“I- Phoenix. Of- yes. Yes, yes, of course, I-” Miles draws back just enough to press his snout to Phoenix’s forehead, looking down at him, trying to get closer. “I love you too. I do. How could I not?”
Phoenix smiles, and he can feel the tears pricking behind his eyes. And yet...
I can’t kiss him.
It’s almost too much, in the moment. It almost drives him away. Phoenix has never been this happy, and yet he wants more, more that neither of them can have. He wants to kiss Miles Edgeworth, and he cannot.
It’s an injustice. It’s a cruel spit in the eye from life, souring a beautiful moment.
But he’s still here, and so is Miles, and the stars are twinkling above just for them.
So he pulls him closer, and there they stay, the only two people in the world.