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Palace of the Wild Things

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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-”

HOLD IT!

Everyone stops.

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.

Miles!” 

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.

Chapter Text

Dear Miles,

It’s only been a year since it happened. It feels so long and so short, all at once. 

It was a bad year for fishing. It’s cold and hard to get any kind of good food, but we managed. My baking skills have become, according to Larry, ‘more than edible’. I know you probably wouldn’t agree, but the improvement is there, I guess.

Some of the girls in town like me, I think. They’ve been really nice to me, and one of them even shared an orange with me when the seasons turned in winter. It made me feel all fuzzy inside. Is that what liking someone feels like, Miles? It’s not too bad.

Larry caught a snake last week. He kept it in the house until his mother found out and then we had to get it out from the cupboards.

Please write back.

With love, Phoenix.


“And you know, it’s easiest to get in contact with spirits if you use the proper blend of herbs, mixed with- Sis? Is it wine?”

“Cordial,” Mia corrects, from where she’s leaning out of the window of their wagon. They’ve been here a few weeks now, after finally receiving word of their cousin hiding away in Von Karma’s land. Ah, but what a few weeks it had been.

They had arrived, and Dahlia had panicked, and- well. Now she was sitting here, watching Maya cheerfully tell an almost complete stranger the secrets of their trade, the two of them comfortably facing the campfire in this little clearing they called home. 

He wasn’t as much of a stranger now, anymore, after all that had happened. He sits patiently, a scarf that was red once but had since faded to a dull pink around his throat. It’s hard to tell from this angle, but Mia can ever so faintly tell that his eyes are puffy with tears, and even from the moment she saw him, she knew he carried some deep hurt somewhere. It predated what Dahlia had done to him. 

Still, Phoenix Wright has been a helpful, if unusual, ally. She knows she’ll never forget placing her fingers on his throat so he could cough up shards of glass, twinkling in the red that dripped from his mouth, mismatched eyes tearing up as his throat ripped. He’s still hoarse, even now.

Fireflies flicker in the brush and Mia shakes off her reverie to finish cleaning up the thin metal plates her and her sister use for dinner every night. They had been a gift from Lana, before Lord Gant had sunk his teeth into her life and ripped her away, and Mia had to leave yet another person she could see herself giving her life to.

At least Diego would find her, eventually. She couldn’t love him in the way she’d loved Mia, but it was better than being alone. It was better than having no one to talk to about her- about the now-trail of broken hearts she had to leave behind. Mia knows a chunk of her heart remains every time too, scattered along the path.

If she leans out the window, she can catch a slip of stars from a gap in the canopy. The air is cool here, tasting like salt and trees, the leaves rustling with a nighttime ocean breeze. It’s a good place, she thinks. A good place with a good heart, despite the arm of Lord von Karma extending like some deep shadow. It might be a place that could really benefit from a pair of witches.

She dries the plates and secures them in their cupboards, and turns back. Neither of them have moved, but they dutifully turn when she claps her hands. “Maya, bedtime.”

“Aww,” Maya pouts, and her façade is almost immediately broken by a truly titanic yawn. Phoenix just stares with his watery eyes, reflecting stray sparks from the campfire. She wonders, not for the first time, what’s been done to him, for him to look like that. He’s full of love, but there’s some ache he never speaks of.

“What will you do now?” he croaks as Maya stands up and brushes herself off. 

“Ah, Nick, don’t talk too much! You’ll hurt your throat!”

“Sorry...”

Maya shakes her head and Mia laughs, propping her chin up with one hand. “Well, our little adventure is over, for the time being. But it’s been a while since we put any roots down, and this township is lacking a good witch or two, I think.”

Phoenix’s eyes instantly brighten. Much to Mia’s surprise, Maya’s do too. “Really? We’ll stay, Sis?”

“I’ll think about it,” she replies. “Come on, the moon is rising and it’s time for baby witchlings to sleep.”

She grumbles the whole way, but once Maya’s climbed the ladder and is busily getting ready for bed, Mia descends and starts to scuff dirt over the embers of their campfire. Phoenix watches it die and does not stand, some unnamed emotion in his gaze. Quietly, she walks over to him and places a hand on his shoulder, only drawing back when he flinches.

“Didn’t mean to startle you. Do you need a walk home, Mr. Wright? Or a bed for the night? I can set up a spare cot.”

He doesn’t respond immediately. Mia lets him stare at her, his eyes not focused on her frame entirely. She can feel him putting words into place, choosing carefully what will come from the sodden scraps of his throat. He’s fragile.

“...will you really stay?” It’s the question she was expecting, and she sighs as she takes a seat next to him, not caring that her robes will be stained with dirt. 

“Don’t tell Maya, but I’d already decided a week ago. We’re far enough away from Kurain that trouble will be hard-pressed to find us here, she needs a place to put down roots, and... it seems like you all could need us, too.”

Phoenix snorts, softly. “It hasn’t been... good. Ever since...”

“I know.”

“My best friend is up there.”

“Eh?” This isn’t something she’s heard before. Mia swivels to see that he’s looking up at the patch of stars visible from where they’re sitting, a deep longing in his gaze, hands clenched into fists.

“Up in Cliff Palace. Miles Edgeworth, the son of the late Lord, was my best friend. And I... they don’t let anyone in now, you know? I don’t even know what he’s like anymore.” His hands are shaking. “I missed so much. I’ve sent him letters every month, and he’s never responded. Not even once. But I still hope he cares.”

A twinkling fleck of blood, ink-black in the low light, falls from his lips and lands on his lap, staining the fabric of his pants. If he’s in pain, he doesn’t show it. When she reaches over to place her hand over his, it’s surprisingly warm.

“Dahlia promised me she’d give me a life here,” Phoenix continues. “She said she could make us happy. Now I don’t have that, either.”

How many nights had Mia sat in her wagon and thought the same thing? How many times had her heart screamed after she’d been forced to leave her lovers behind, looking over their tiny patch of world that could never rest and howling for what she had lost?

“Hey,” she whispers. He looks at her, for the first time in a while. “If you were ever interested in apprenticing under a witch, one who might be setting up a real shop soon, I can think of someone who’d gladly accept you.”

“I don’t have any magic...”

“Doesn’t mean you can’t help.”

And for the first time in weeks, Phoenix Wright smiles.


Dear Miles Edgeworth,

Well, Dahlia is gone. She took all her promises with her. Yes, yes, I can see you saying “I told you so” now. Spare me the pompousness.

She promised me so much. She said I could be happy with her, and I believed her. Even then, the girl who promised me those things and the girl who poisoned me... they barely felt the same. Is that what love is, Miles? Is it glass shards?

I want what she promised me, still. A family. A home. 

Please, please write back. I miss you.

With love, Phoenix.


The thing about working under witches is that you begin to feel things you hadn’t felt before. Before all this, Phoenix would be hard-pressed to tell you what, exactly, a spirit smelled like (alcohol and rain), or what a ghost’s presence was (stifling air and a chill over the skin).

If you were sensitive enough, and careful enough, you could pick magic apart like harmonies in a song, like scents in a flower. Each one had its own impact and emotion, and the longer Phoenix worked under Mia, the better at sensing them he became.

The day the curse is cast, Phoenix stops dead in his tracks in the middle of the cottage, drops a basket of autumn berries, and gulps down bile to keep himself from retching.

“Nick?” Maya says, across the room, before it hits her, too, and she has to keel over the table, head pressed to the wood. There’s a distant sound of glass shattering- Mia was working on her spell jars when it hit.

He recovers first. He has no magic of his own, and the witches do, surely hurt tenfold by whatever had hit him so hard. Crushed under Phoenix’s feet, the berries smear bright red, like fresh blood.

Maya comes first, as she’s the closest. Her eyes are glazed over with tears and her fingers have dug scrapes into the table, splintering under her nails, but when he asks her if she’s all right, she faintly nods. Good enough.

Upstairs, in the airy attic where they all sleep, Mia is on her hands and knees, fingers twitching against the shattered wreckage of a glass jar. The herbs and crystals inside are strewn across the sunlight from the porthole window, glinting cheerfully, despite the sickening emptiness in Phoenix’s gut. Mia barely stirs when he rushes to her side, groaning slightly, her hands slick with sweat.

He helps her stand slowly, and they lean against the nearest wall together, both gasping for air. 

“What was that?” Phoenix asks, when he feels like his throat has opened again. Mia’s face is shaded under her hair, hanging limply over her eyes. 

“Something... bad,” she wheezes. “I haven’t felt any magic that painful since...”

But before she can continue, Maya barges into the room, throwing open the door. The pallor on her face had faded, and her glassy eyes were replaced by panic. “Nick! Sis! There’s people coming out of the Palace!”

Situated as it was in the town center, the Fey Sisters’ Witchery shop more often than not had a front-seat view to anything interesting that went on in the seaside village, and today is no exception. Dozens of people are flooding from the road that led to Cliff Palace, the vast majority in the dull aprons of servants, although stiff-faced scholars are dotted amongst them. Phoenix recognizes none. All of the kindly researchers that inhabited the palace when Lord Edgeworth was alive had scattered when his successor had taken his iron-gripped place.

And there he was, the only one of them astride a horse, wading through the sea of his servants, barely holding back a grimace. Lord von Karma’s gaze is just as flinty and cold as it had been all those years prior, if not more so; when it sweeps over Phoenix he cannot not help but shiver. Mia, who had stayed behind to catch her breath, carefully slides outside where he and Maya are watching the spectacle.

On the tail end of the crowd comes another horse, this one ridden by a man who can’t be much older than Phoenix himself, hair pulled back in a braid and eyes that belied an inner shrewdness of character. No matter where Phoenix looks, however, there is no sign of Miles Edgeworth anywhere amongst the throng- and the low sense of dread boils to a pitch in his gut.

With such a large group, it’s easy to attract the attention of the rest of the town. von Karma lords above them all, surveying with a calculating expression on his face. The servants mutter amongst themselves, eyes wide. They seem afraid.

“Do not think I am unaware of what you ask for,” von Karma booms when nearly everyone in town has gathered. “I have heard that you ask for the late Lord Edgeworth’s son to take his father’s place, instead of my rule. Well, today, you get your wish.”

Phoenix’s heart is thick and pounding in his throat.

“My ward, Miles Edgeworth, has cursed himself and the land bequeathed to him by his father. He has become a monster, the Palace enchanted to enact a hideous transformation on anyone who steps foot upon it. I lost one of my daughters to it, transformed into a bird in front of my very eyes. Those who enter it kill themselves.”

As if in mockery, a flock of pigeons take flight in the woods. The crowd stiffens at the sound of their beating wings. 

von Karma’s horse tosses its head, and his hands tighten imperceptibly on its reins. “This township is cursed. It brings naught but misery. Your Lord Edgeworth is more beast than man, but I leave you under the protection of my Paladin Gavin. Let no one say I am not benevolent. My scholars and I shall be gone by morning.”

And then he trots away, as if the word has not shattered itself under his words, as if the sky is not askew. Phoenix cannot breathe. Maya reaches over and grips his hand, but he can barely feel her fingers.

He comes back to himself in front of a roaring fireplace, with Mia pushing a mug of hot tea into his hands. There are tears on his face that he doesn’t remember crying. That night, he finally tells Maya the truth: about Miles, about how much he had meant to him. About how he had lost his best friend at twelve years old. Mia watches, and nods, at things she already knew.

That night, Phoenix wakes to the moon fat and heavy in the window. A triplet of distant, pained howls come from somewhere far away.


Dear Miles Edgeworth,

Is that why you haven’t responded to any of my letters? Because you’re a monster? Some kind of beast? 

I can’t believe that. I won’t.

Can you even read these at all?

If you can, please. Send a sign. Write back.

Phoenix.


Mia Fey is found dead in her storefront a year after Lord Edgeworth takes his fathers’ title.

Cursory reading of her will finds that in the event of her untimely death, Phoenix is to take ownership of her shop, despite his lack of magical ability. A grueling investigation of her murder uncovers a great deal of corruption in a local lawman, and together, Maya and Phoenix run him out of town. The new Paladin Gavin thanks them both personally, but when they get home, there is still a hole where Mia used to be.

And the world, somehow, goes on.

Phoenix and Maya are now well-versed in the song of loss, and manage to drag themselves upright before misery swallows them whole. They both become very, very good at managing stock and finances, although Maya develops an interesting habit of disappearing every so often. Phoenix figures she needs her alone time, and doesn’t question it too much.

The first new breath of life in their existences comes in the form of a young woman in a shockingly yellow dress, her hair an almost equally shocking red. She shows up muddied and wet at their doorstep one night a few years into Phoenix owning the business, and after she’s been properly warmed with complimentary soup, claims that her uncle has vanished. When questioned, she tells them that he was looking for magic in a place called Cliff Palace.

By this point, the locals of the town have already taken to calling the palace the Palace of the Wild Things, and both Phoenix and Maya have to sadly shake their heads. Her uncle is lost, never to return, and Athena spends a tearful night in their attic and never really leaves. She herself has some burgeoning magical abilities, and it’s a no-brainer for Phoenix to offer her a spot in the shop.

Not too long after that, the circus rolls into town, so to speak. A traveling troupe of performers, bringing with them the Amazing Flying Man, a Genuine Lion-Tamer, the Trapeze Twins from Far Away, and the Troupe Gramarye, the Best Magicians in the Land.

Phoenix thought it would be a good idea if he, Athena and Maya went to visit, and see the spectacle. It was, for a while, very entertaining. The Gramaryes used real magic, Maya was sure, and they even bought a bag of sugared nuts, which they shared.

The night ended in murder, because nothing in their lives could ever be simple, apparently. 

Now Phoenix is sitting on a wagon’s stoop next to a little girl he barely knows, as his protege and semi-sister run around trying to help.

The girl’s name is Trucy, and she’s utterly adorable in the way nine-year-old girls usually are. Phoenix saw her in the show, riding nimbly on the back of a horse, face bearing the widest grin he’s ever seen. But now she’s half-tucked into his side, eyes teary and face hidden. He feels some sort of way about her that he can almost place as similar to how he feels about Maya and Athena- and Mia, in a different way, when she was still alive.

He doesn’t tell her not to cry- he knows better. But she takes solace in his arm around her shoulders, and so he lets her have it.

“Mr- Mr Wright?” she mumbles a few minutes later. “Where... where am I supposed to go now?”

It didn’t take long for Phoenix to figure out that Troupe Gramarye was a dysfunctional family at best. Trucy’s mother had apparently left years ago; her father was a poor presence at the best of times. She had been surprised that he even showed up to the event tonight. That only left her grandfather to care for her- a grandfather who happened to be the victim of the murder.

Trucy was alone. It reminded Phoenix sharply of him around her age, tearful and scared of everything in the whole world, after a fire had robbed him of his mother and left him stranded. When later, he was locked up in chains for a crime he did not commit. When he was tricked into swallowing glass for a woman who did not love him.

A morbidly comedic thought crosses his mind, and he chuckles; Trucy looks up at him, offended.

“It’s- it’s not- sniff- funny!”

“No,” he replies instantly. “No, it’s not.”

She’s confused, but doesn’t say anything more. Crickets hum in the nearby woods. On the outskirts of the forest, a flash of Athena’s red hair can be seen; she’s caught up in looking for clues.

“You know,” he says, “I have a nice house here. It’s got lots of room, and the town is pretty good, I think.”

Trucy doesn’t reply, but she’s a quick girl. Her eyes, lifted to his face, glimmer with hope.

“If you wanted to, you could stay here, with me and Miss Maya and Miss Athena. Only if you want to, though.”

She doesn’t say yes, but she presses her face into his side. His shirt will be wet soon, but that’s fine, especially when he feels her nod against him. He draws her closer, and the two of them sit there, and listen to a distant howl, and the sound of the night.


Dear Lord Edgeworth,

I have a daughter now. I know that’s a surprise, right? Who’s the mother, and all that? She’s not mine by birth, if that’s what you’re wondering. I adopted her after her grandfather died.

It’s strange. Sometimes I wake up, and the sun is shining, and I don’t feel as alone anymore.

For an alleged monster, you do a fantastic job of running the town. We’ve been doing well. The fishing is plentiful and we get more than enough customers. Maya says we should think about expanding, but where would we go, really? I think it’s good enough staying here.

I hope you’re well.

Phoenix.

Chapter Text

It is the nature of a comfortable life to smooth into a routine, eventually. Phoenix’s life has been comfortable for years, and has settled into an ease that only comes through repetition.

Athena is the kind of person who will wake up with the lark, no matter how late she went to sleep. She and Phoenix have an agreement: she’ll let him rest for an hour of her own time, in exchange for not having to open up the store. It works out well, especially because she’s normally up with the sun.

She wakes him most mornings with a kettle of tea already brewing over the fireplace and a gentle hand on his shoulder. It’s still far earlier than he prefers, but he’s gotten used to it, and the hot drink is always a godsend. By the time his mug is finished, he’s freshened up, and Athena helps him put out baskets of herbs and spell jars in the front room.

Frying eggs and bread always manages to drag Trucy and Maya out of bed too, and they eat together, over a swept-clean table in the back room. Once the dishes are piled in the sink and Trucy has set to washing them, Phoenix unlocks the front door, sits at the counter, and waits.

It’s a beautiful day today. The sun streams in through the wide windows, casting twinkling lights through the hanging prisms and bottles. Through the slightly open door, he can smell the freshly-baked bread from the bakery down the street, and the delicate scent of early-summer flowers. Seagulls caw overhead.

Phoenix knows he has a good life. He enjoys the routine- it helps him structure his thoughts, which tend to run wild and free without. He loves his family, ramshackle as it is, and everything has hints of Mia in ways that are startlingly comfortable, from the purple counter-dressing to her favorite plant, a nightshade named Charley.

And yet.

And yet.

He would be lying if he said he didn’t have regrets. He would be lying if he didn’t feel a void somewhere in the house, an empty space in his life left open by someone who wasn’t there anymore. And he’d be lying if he said it was Mia.

Mia is here, in every smile Maya shows, in every warm night in front of the fire and every package of herbs that Phoenix finds just when he needs them. He misses her, of course, but she is here with him, and everyone else.

No, he knows who he misses, and who he’s missed for years upon years. 

His life is not whole without Miles in it, and that is an inexorable truth.

He’s come to terms with it several times over, but recently it’s been weighing on him more than usual, as he gets older and his world ages with him. More than once, he catches himself staring at Trucy performing, or at an abject piece of the life he’s made, and wonders what Miles would think of it, or of how he would slot in. 

Phoenix considers the possibility of sneaking into the Palace grounds sometimes, less often than he used to. He had even tried, in the year following Von Karma’s ascension to Lordship, but he had never gotten far. And now, he has a shop, and a daughter; all things he cannot up and leave behind because he risked becoming a bird for a man allegedly more beast than human.

He can be happy without being whole. He is happy. He loves living here, he loves his family and his daughter and the regulars who come in every day, even just to make conversation. His life is good.

Before his thoughts get too far ahead in the tangle of emotions related to that, which he never really addresses, Trucy bounds out from the back room. She’s thrown on her customary cape, patterned with diamonds, and under it Phoenix can just make out the lumpy form of her marionette Mr. Hat against her back. How she gets him to move like he’s alive, Phoenix will never know.

She stops and hops up on the counter, kicking her legs and flashing him a winning smile. He smiles back, and reaches up to ruffle her hair, an action she accepts with a muffled giggle. “Good morning, Truce. You’re up early, huh?”

“I wanted to scout out some new performance stages today,” she replies, smoothing out her hair. “There’ll be people from down the coast coming in, right? Maybe I can wow them with my new trick, the one with the doves!”

“I still don’t know where you keep those,” Phoenix mumbles, and she sticks her tongue out at him cheekily. 

“Magician’s secret, Daddy!”

Before either of them can continue, however, the bell in front of the door jingles. Phoenix straightens in an instinctive greet-the-customer fashion, and immediately slumps back down when he sees who’s entered his shop: Larry Butz, childhood friend and village idiot.

“Hi, Uncle Larry!” Trucy grins, and he responds in kind, giving his signature doofy smile. Despite himself, Phoenix can’t help but snort good-naturedly at the sight of him; he’s a familiar presence here, and his presence, while annoying, is never unwelcome.

“Hey there, Truce! Hey, Nick, how’s my love potion coming along?”

“You know we don’t sell those, they’re immoral,” Phoenix replies. “What’s brought you here today? Our company?”

“Guess so. I feel like I had something to say, but I don’t remember. You got any breakfast left?”

In that way, Phoenix finds himself letting Larry into his backroom, where he greets Maya and Athena and proceeds to eat the rest of the eggs. This is far from an unusual occurrence, and he visits at least once a week. It’s gotten to the point where Phoenix just makes more food, just in case.

Maya leaves not long after, quoting one of her usual romps as the point, and while Athena is busy preparing something upstairs, Larry rejoins the front counter. The morning is almost over, and Trucy seems unwilling to leave, despite their lack of customers.

“Oh, Nick, I remembered! It’s been like, twenty years to the day since you met Edgey, right?”

Phoenix cringes, and Trucy’s eyes light up. Ah. No wonder I’ve been thinking about it so much.

Yes, it had been a day much like this, when he was chained up and thrown at the Lord’s feet and his life was changed. Now one of them was a beast, and one still a man. It felt like a different boy, a different Phoenix had lived back then, and the one living now remembered things from a storybook: a prince trapped in a castle, his friend in the village below, so close and yet deeply separated.

“Yes, I suppose it is...” Phoenix replies. He notices Trucy practically vibrating with questions a bit too late.

“Uncle Larry, who’s Edgey?”

It’s a topic Phoenix has avoided talking about with Trucy, or with anyone else in his life, if he’s being honest. But now the floodgates are open, and he supposes she’d learn eventually. Before Larry can embarrass both of them- and Edgeworth, wherever he is- Phoenix speaks up. “He’s talking about Lord Edgeworth. The one who lives in the Palace of the Wild Things.”

She gasps. “I thought he was a monster!”

“Well, he wasn’t always,” Phoenix says, trying not to let the hurt show on his face. “Not when I knew him.”

“He was an alright sort, when we were kids,” Larry pipes up. “Kinda stuffy, but we were practically attached at the hip. I wonder what happened to him, y’know? Nick here was really torn up about it, when von Karma took over. Barely talked about anything else for a month.”

“We were friends, Larry. He meant a lot to me.”

“No kidding! You sent him a letter every month for years! Do you still do that?”

Both Trucy and Larry are staring intently at him now, and Phoenix feels himself flush under their gazes. Awkwardly, he scratches the back of his neck. “No, I stopped a few years back. I only send one annually now...”

“Nick!” Larry burst out into a slightly mocking smile. “Bud, has he ever responded? That’s a bit much, huh?”

“You wouldn’t get it, Larry...”

There’s a glitter in Trucy’s eyes that bodes a plan in the works, but Phoenix is too embarrassed to catch it fully. Tucked beneath a nearby basket is his yearly letter for Edgeworth, written a few weeks prior. He can see a corner peeking out mockingly, and shame floods his body, hot and overwhelming. He’s right. If Miles cared, he’d have responded by now. I should give it up.

“Actually, I have to go, Daddy! I’ll see you for dinner, okay?”

Trucy is almost out the door before she’s even done with her sentence. Phoenix looks up, startled, as she leaves, and yells something after her about being back before sunset. Larry smiles.

“She’s a good kid. Aw, Nick, you all right? You look pale.”

“I’m fine.” Phoenix can’t seem to bring himself to look at Larry’s face. He busies himself with checking Charley for dead leaves, knowing that the plant had been pruned only days prior. A few petals from its silky-purple flowers fall to the floor as he absentmindedly combs through its structure, and are crushed underfoot. Larry begins to ramble about something that Phoenix only half-hears, and the world is sunny and warm and good, despite it all.

Tomorrow, I’ll burn that letter. This needs to end.

He knows he won’t. But it’s good to have a plan.

Chapter Text

“Ah- HA! I knew I’d find you here!”

Maya freezes in place, hair tangled and caught with leaves. The forest canopy, though thick here, is in no way able to hide her distinctive purple robes, so she crosses her arms and swivels on her heel to face her discoverer head-on.

“Trucy?” she questions. The magician in question points an accusatory finger at her in a familiar pose, looking fiercely determined. “Why are you all the way out here?”

“I could ask the same of you!” Trucy retorts. “I know you’ve been sneaking into the Palace, Auntie Maya!”

Maya hisses through her teeth. She’s tried to be subtle about her adventures, but she figures Trucy was the most likely to figure her out, and here she is. There’s little point in denying her claims, as they’re both standing not twenty yards from the Palace borders, so she may as well try and weasel out some other way...

“Fine, maybe,” she retorts. “But it’s for witch things, you wouldn’t get it.”

“I can do magic too!”

“You’re not a Kurainese Witch, though! See, totally different.”

Trucy huffs and places her hands on her hips, clearly gearing up to argue with her for as long as it takes, but before she can say anything else, Maya hears a faint noise from behind her. She immediately jumps and pulls Trucy into the bracken, shoving both of them down to the ground and clapping a hand over the girl’s mouth to stop her from yelping.

From behind where Trucy was standing, a horses’ hooves emerge, the only thing visible from their low vantage point. Trucy’s eyes widen as it trots by, the only sight of its rider being a fine leather boot, but Maya already knows who it is.

She doesn’t let up on her grip until the horse has completely disappeared into the trees, and even then, she keeps them both there for a few minutes. Once she’s convinced, Maya lets them both up, Trucy’s eyes wide and their fronts spattered with dirt.

“Who was that?” she whispers, as Maya brushes herself off.

“Paladin Gavin,” she replies, “and he’ll circle back around again soon, to get us in big trouble if he finds us. Come on, you can tell me whatever master plan you have at home.”

Thusly, Maya finds herself and Trucy nursing mugs of tea in the attic space above the shop, where they all sleep. Trucy is clearly burning with questions, and it’s far past time for Maya to indulge her, so she takes a long sip and sets her cup down.

“Okay, what’s on your mind?”

“How long have you been sneaking into the Palace?! Why aren’t you a bird!? Why do you-”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa- quiet!” Maya put her finger on her lips, effectively shutting Trucy up. “Do you want to let the whole town know?”

“Sorry,” she whispers when Maya pulls away. “Why is it a secret, though?”

“If Paladin Gavin hears about this, I’ll be thrown in the town jail quicker than you can blink. Or worse.” Maya sighs, and swirls her tea in its mug, before looking back up at Trucy. “I need to go in there for... my own reasons, but it’s still dangerous. Why are you so interested in it?”

Trucy doesn’t reply. Instead, she pulls out a small sheaf of paper from inside her cape, sealed with blue wax, and places it in front of Maya. She didn’t have to pick it up to know what it was, but she does anyway, the paper crinkling slightly under her grasp.

“Daddy’s sad,” Trucy says. Her eyes are downcast, and her voice is quiet. “He doesn’t want to talk about it, but I know he is. So I figured, if I got into the Palace, and found Lord Edgeworth, maybe I could get him at least one response to a letter. He deserves that.”

Maya holds the letter carefully, as if it’s as fragile as glass. For as long as she’s known him, Phoenix had always written these letters- it started monthly, but as his life got more complicated it became bi-monthly, and now... only once a year. She could tell that soon he would give up and stop altogether.

Though she once hadn’t been, Maya Fey is a believer in fate. It’s partially to keep herself sane- after all, she had been through a lot, and eventually you either accepted that not everything was your fault, or you were crushed by it. But it’s partially because she has a romantic streak, and no matter what the world does to her, it can’t fully goes away. After everything that turns her jaded, something always seems to turn up to remind her that there is love.

One of those things was Nick’s feelings for his friend, only now beginning to falter after twenty years apart. Two threads of fate pulled apart when they should have never been separated. Maya can feel it all the way down to her bones: this is a chance to make things right. How, she doesn’t know, but she never looks before she leaps, and besides, prophecy was not a gift of the Kurain Dynasty.

Trucy is still rambling. “I figure, I’m a magician, right? Not the same as you, obviously, but I probably won’t turn instantly into a bird, because you’ve always said that magic clashes and takes a while to work when it meets other magic, and if Lord Edgeworth really is a scary monster I’m probably faster than him-”

Her father’ll kill me for this, Maya thinks, but she’s giddy. She’s not built for keeping secrets, and she’s had these so long, they scrape at the inside of her chest. 

“Okay, Truce, if you’re really serious about this, listen to me. This is what you’ll have to do...”


Trucy does not show up for dinner that night.

Phoenix has been raising his daughter for over five years, and not once has she missed dinner.

It’s compared with how painfully ordinary the rest of the day is, and that’s the worst part. Ever since she hopped out after dragging Maya in from wherever she’d been that morning, Phoenix’s day had been almost boringly typical. He’d dealt with a few customers, reorganized supply, helped Athena work out a new spell she was experimenting with. The only other thing out of the ordinary was how Maya wouldn’t look him in the eyes the rest of the day.

And now he’s sitting at his kitchen table, shop closed for the day, nighttime fallen, with the fire crackling and Maya and Athena cleaning up, and everything is fine, except that they’re all here and his baby is not.

They’re all ignoring it. Phoenix can feel it, heavy on all of them, and when Maya dips her head to avoid his worried gaze again, he snaps. The vase on the table rattles concerningly when he slams his hands on the wood.

“All right, Maya, spit it out! I’m just about at the end of my rope!”

Athena blinks and looks confused, but Maya flinches. She’s standing at their sink, and dirty water splashes over her robes when he yells, but when she turns and her face isn’t mischievous but scared, Phoenix has to find his breath.

“I’ve made a mistake, Nick.” she whispers. If the fire had crackled a little more loudly, Phoenix would have missed her words. “I’m sorry. She’s at the Palace.”

His blood runs cold.

“Nick-” Maya’s voice follows him as he runs out of the room, throwing his cloak on in the front room and barely wasting any time before he’s out of the door. “Nick, I didn’t think she’d get caught, she just wanted you to-!”

He can’t hear her. Blood rushes in his ears, drowning out everything but the pounding of his heart. Trucy.

Phoenix hasn’t tried to approach the Palace of the Wild Things since that winter afternoon all those years ago. His hands still ache at the memory, of iron bars cold enough to burn his skin as he flung himself at them in vain. Yet the memories come unbidden, even through his panic. He knows this path; he’s walked it before, and the gate emerges like it always does, looming and elegant and cold.

More has changed than he thought it would. Vines now curl through the bars, and bracken has grown up through them, without the path being walked frequently. Heavy chains are draped across where the gates meet, held by a single, intricate lock. And an addition from the populace at large: painted wooden signs, staked into the ground, depicting humans twisted in pain as they grow feathers and a three-headed beast with fangs the size of daggers. KEEP OUT! the signs warn. BEAST INSIDE! STAY AWAY!

There’s no way he can break the chains himself, the gates are far too high to climb over, and are topped with imposing spikes beside. Thankfully, he doesn’t have to climb at all. 

A wooden cage, about eye-height with Phoenix, has been constructed next to the entrance. It’s ramshackle but sturdy, and its single door is similarly locked with a thick chain and deadbolt; nothing he can break. But none of that matters to him.

Inside the cage is Trucy Wright, forehead pressed against her knees, clutching onto a thin sheet of paper.

Phoenix rushes to the bars. “Trucy? Trucy!”

“Daddy?” When she looks up, her eyes are tear-stained, and Phoenix feels his own overflow. “Daddy! Daddy, please, I’m so sorry-”

The bars are so tightly together that Trucy can barely fit her fingers between them, and she’s just slightly too tall for the cage; she crouches uncomfortably and tries to hold his hand. They’re both sobbing now, and the tears in Phoenix’s eyes refract the signs and smudge them into even more horrible monsters.

“It’s okay, Truce, I’m here, it’ll be okay- who put you in here? I’ll get you out-”

“Mr. Phoenix Wright?”

Trucy squeaks, and Phoenix starts, looking back behind him. Neither of them had spoken.

Illuminated partially by moonlight and partially by the lantern held above his head, Paladin Gavin stands in the clearing before the gates, looking mildly confused. His horse tosses her head, picketed to a small stake not too far. He approaches with his free hand spread, concern etched on his features. He’s far from a stranger to Phoenix. After Lord von Karma left the estate, Gavin had taken over the job of delivering Phoenix’s letters, protected from the Palace’s magic by spells placed on him by his master. He can’t help but feel relieved at the sight of him.

“Paladin Gavin,” Phoenix says, and tries to collect his horribly broken voice.

“Ah, you are Mr. Wright. I’m so sorry about all this...”

“Paladin, can you help me? My daughter...”

“Ah, yes.” Gavin places his lantern down, now near enough to the cage that he was able to touch it. Trucy shys away from him slightly. “I’m sorry to tell you this, but I was the one who imprisoned her.”

“Wh- what? She’s done nothing wrong!” Phoenix knows it’s a lie as soon as he’s said it. Everyone knows that Paladin Gavin says those who get too close to the Palace come back twisted, a danger to themselves and others, but he plows forward anyway. “And even if she had, she’s no danger to anyone. She’s a magician! It doesn’t work the same for her!”

“My apologies, Mr. Wright, but it’s out of my hands. My oath to Lord von Karma...”

“I swear, she’s a magician! Let her free, she won’t harm anyone, and my shop can make sure of it! I swear!”

“Daddy...” Trucy pleads. He can’t look at her right now.

“Mr. Wright...”

The world is bleak here, under the watching eye of the moon. Though overgrown, the Palace of the Wild Things looms overhead, like it always has, a good place turned rotten. Despite the season, the night is cold, and his daughter is clutching his hand. 

And he makes a decision.

“I stake my life on it, Paladin. I will stay if she goes, and I swear she will never harm a soul.”

Trucy’s face morphs into one of absolute horror. “Daddy, no!

The shadows are thick. Too thick, even here, to see the emotion in Gavin’s eyes.

Nothing is said. And nothing is said for a long time.

“I do admire you, Mr. Wright,” Gavin murmurs, eventually, breaking the silence. “I lost my brother to this place, you know. I would have traded my place for his, had I had the chance. I will honor your request, Phoenix Wright, and believe you, but you must go in.”

He unlocks the cage gate. Trucy stumbles out and flings her arms around Phoenix, and he holds her tighter than he’s ever held her before. Something inside of him has gone very still, even when she cries into his shirt and begs him not to, but he knows he must. This close, how long until he starts sprouting feathers from his skin?

“Auntie Maya will take care of you, her and Athena,” he says, pushing her hair out of her face. Her eyes shine wet with tears, and he can only be regretful that it’s the last expression he’ll ever see on her. “You take care of them too, all right? Be good for me.”

“Daddy, you can’t! Please!” She waves the paper in her hand in his face, and he blinks. It’s his letter, the one for Edgeworth this year. “I was just trying to deliver your letter, Daddy, please, that’s all! Don’t do this!”

It’s too much. He can only laugh a little, just like how he laughed on that night where he’d taken her in, laughing at how cruel the world turned on them. His fingers shake as he takes the letter from her hands, and kisses her on the head, trying to make the feeling last. Gavin stands by the gate, now unlocked.

“Don’t worry, Truce. I’ll be able to give it to him myself.”

Trucy screams as she watches her father walk inside, but there’s nothing she can do. He disappears in the overgrowth not long after, and Paladin Gavin places a comforting hand on her shoulder, one she is too distraught to shrug off.

A single bird takes flight from within the Palace grounds, its form unidentifiable against the milky light of the moon. Trucy can only cry all the harder, and finally lets herself be led away by Gavin, back home.

Chapter Text

When Phoenix crosses the threshold of the Palace grounds, he holds his breath.

It’s a silly thing. Magic isn’t influenced by anything but other magic, and besides, Phoenix has always been empty of power, utterly and completely. No, he does it because it feels right to, like he might be able to hold on to the last breath of humanity, clinging to his shape as long as he can.

He holds it until the gate disappears from view, until he’s standing between the achingly familiar wings of the Palace, and his cheeks are burning. When he inhales, he’s still a man, and when he exhales again, he remains as such.

Standing here feels oddly like coming home.

It’s clear that hard times have come upon the Palace. The intricate cobbles are cracked, weeds pushing up in thick bundles wherever they have a chance. The long raised beds that once held decorative plants are overgrown and tangled closer to the gate, but towards the entrance to the Palace itself, they’re being cultivated for use as food. A squash has fallen off its vine and lies cracked on the stones, and flies buzz around it, feeding on the flesh inside. Even though it should be running, the fountain in the center is quiet and still, obviously dried up, but lanterns are hung from the mouths of its now-useless fish spouts, lighting the garden at night.

But despite that, the Palace does not at all feel dead. From the carefully farmed vegetable gardens to the lanterns shedding a decent glow, it feels like there are people here, not just birds and a rabid beast.

And for the first time in years, Phoenix allows himself to feel a shred of hope- not just for himself, but for the man he’s missed for so long.

But now he’s alone, in a cursed Palace, holding only a letter with his cloak wrapped haphazardly around his shoulders. The lanterns in the fountain only do so much, and the night is still deep and dark. There are a few lights on in the windows of the building, but they seem to be centered around the main hall and the library, and the blank windows of the wings form rows of pitch-black eyes around him. He shivers.

Should I go inside? Surely he’s in there, though, and I still don’t know if I’ll transform... Why haven’t I? There’s nothing particularly special about me-

“Why are you here?”

The question is blunt, delivered with complete directness, and it makes Phoenix jump. He turns on his heel, and finds himself facing-

A man?

He’s obscured in the shadows at first, and by what seems to be a thick black coat, but as he steps closer to the fountain his figure comes more into view: a tall, broad man, hair long and held back in a thick ponytail, oddly two-toned. His eyes bore into Phoenix, sharp and accusatory, and then he realizes.

Sticking from the man’s head are feathers. They seem to follow the growth of his hair and fluff up behind his ears; a crest of brown patterned like a falcon. A sharp clacking noise follows him as he approaches, and when Phoenix looks down, he sees that the man isn’t wearing shoes to make way for a pair of talons where his feet should be, tipped with sharp, predatory claws. 

Whoever this man is, he is well on his way towards transforming into a bird. Phoenix feels rather faint.

“Did you hear me?” His voice is deep and rattling. “Why are you here? If you desire knowledge, you may as well come inside.”

“Um,” Phoenix says. “Who... are you?”

The man looks down at him, and if looks could kill, he’d be dead twice over by now. “I am known as Simon Blackquill. I study magic here.”

A magician. That would explain why he managed to survive without transforming, but why hasn’t Phoenix? 

“Oh, that’s... that’s great. You stay here?”

Simon huffs, and seemingly unconsciously, his feathers ruffle. “Where else? The town below only has a small shop, by no means suitable for the complex magic I require. And the Paladin keeps us inside. If you’ve made the journey here, you should well know that.”

Phoenix is about to complain at the insult to what is his shop, thank you very much, but a single word stops him dead in his tracks. “Did... did you say us?

“Of course. You think I am the only one who desires to learn? Come inside, there are those more willing to answer your questions, as I have precious little time to spend on strangers who do not know their own way.”

What else is he to do, when Simon leaves, but follow? The main hall is the brightest of all the rooms he can see, and Simon makes his way towards it, keeping his eyes resolutely away from his follower. Phoenix feels that he could faint here and now and Simon would let him sleep on the ground, so resolute is his ignoring of him. Isn’t this welcoming.

If there truly are other people here... But how? If they’re magicians like Simon, they would have a better chance of survival, and if they’re still alive then surely Edgeworth is no vicious monster. None of this makes sense...

To his credit, Simon opens the door for him. “The bedrooms are up the right stair. Take any you like, spare for those being slept in, and avoid the seaside tower. In the morning, there will be people awake to explain everything to you.”

Standing in this hall after so long threatens to buckle Phoenix’s knees. He barely registers what Simon is saying, instead staring up at the high, arched ceiling, the glittering chandelier lit with flickering candles. He remembers staring in much the same way, the first time Miles let him inside. It is, perhaps, more dusty than it used to be, but the floor is swept clean and the room is warm, and absentmindedly, he slides his cloak off his shoulders, and stares.

“Did you hear me? Rooms are up the right stair- Ah, good evening, Lady Franziska, Lord Edgeworth.”

Phoenix was about to respond, but he suddenly finds himself unable. Two figures have emerged to walk across the hall’s second level, where the grand staircase leads to, and his mouth ceases functioning.

One of them is a woman, dressed in a fine shirt and vest, a shining cyan brooch holding a cravat at her neck. A whip dangles from her hand, and she tilts her head and regards Phoenix with an eye that is perhaps sharper than even Simon’s. But what is most arresting about her is not her eyes, but how far along she is on the transformation.

Her human legs are entirely gone, replaced by a tall, spindly pair of birds’ legs, of a kind Phoenix doesn’t know. Much like Simon, a ruff of feathers poke out from her hair, hers noticeable for the three long black feathers on each side of her face. Behind her, he catches the glimpse of a short black tail. 

His eyes aren’t on her for long, however. More concerning is the much larger figure next to her, one entirely different in nearly every way, who is looking down at Phoenix with shock in his eyes.

Lord Edgeworth.

The rumors were right. Edgeworth was far from a man.

Where Simon and Franziska were still recognizably human, Edgeworth was something else entirely. A now towering figure, he was covered head to toe in soft white fur, his legs distinctly canid and appropriately ending in dogs’ paws. Though his hands are folded behind his back, they are almost certainly tipped with sharp claws, and a long tail is still behind him.

But what is the most upsetting is his heads.

Rather than the head of a human man, Edgeworth now bore three, all those of the exact same long-snouted, white-furred dog. All three have their eyes trained on Phoenix, but surprisingly, only the middle one is free to express anything about it. The heads on either side are muzzled by a thick metal cage each, and a thin chain hangs between them, preventing them from moving too far away from the center. Even from below, Phoenix can tell that the muzzles are tight enough to cut into flesh.

Three heads. The middle unchained, its brothers prevented from speaking; unbidden, Phoenix remembers the trio of howls he heard the night of the curse, and a chill creeps down his spine. He remembers rumors of a three-headed creature, the one painted on the signs outside the gate. No man, but a beast.

Edgeworth’s eyes harden, and he steps down the stairs. His nails clack on the wood. Phoenix is frozen in place.

He is only a few steps up when he stops. Close enough to see that the chained heads do not bear the same look in their eyes; there is a pleading there Phoenix is unable to fully ignore, even when his own gaze is locked on the middle.

“Little brother,” Lady Franziska says, warningly, from the top.

Edgeworth’s hand is on the banister. It is more human than the rest of him; four fingers and a thumb, but his palm and fingertips are padded like a dog’s paw.

His gaze is inscrutable. The chained heads beg for something that they cannot say.

When he speaks, Phoenix wants to cry.

He knows this voice. He could be blind and mute and numb and he would know even the faintest whisper of that voice, because it’s Miles’ voice, cold and heartless as it is. And it is coming from a mouth where fangs flash behind canine jaws and he looks at him without love.

“You should not have come here, Phoenix Wright.”

It is the only thing he says. Then he turns, walks back up the stairs, disappears into the hallways above, and Phoenix is left standing alone.

Chapter Text

In a moment of uncharacteristic bitterness, Maya allows herself to think that she’s really had enough of the sound of crying. It’s awful. She’s heard far too  much of it- from herself and others- and despite the fact that the tears this time are definitely her fault, she gives in to the urge to complain, privately, to herself.

Franziska would say I am only treating myself as I deserve, she thinks, and that it would do me good to complain more. 

Shaking her head, Maya slams the pestle she’s holding into the mortar a little too hard, and herbal sludge spatters over the table. She wishes she was here, like a physical emptiness at her side. But you went and ruined that, too, didn’t you? Couldn’t stand to be without Franzy too long, and look where that ended up. 

Trucy had arrived home not too long ago, face messy with tears, guided by Paladin Gavin. As soon as he had left, with too-kind words of goodwill and apologies, Trucy had flung herself into Maya’s arms and taken up sobbing again, and she hadn’t really stopped since. No matter how hard she attacks the herbs, Maya can still hear her upstairs, paired with the gentle voice of Athena trying to help her calm down.

She drops the mortar and pestle and goes to sit by the fire, not caring when its contents spill across the table. She feels too small in her robes- too small, too little, and too weak to know what to do. 

The fire crackles cheerfully in the grate, and she lets herself get lost in the flickering flames. She doesn’t even look up when the upstairs door creaks, and Athena walks downstairs. Even without seeing, Maya can tell that she’s miserable. I’ve ruined it for everyone.

“I don’t even know how this happened,” Athena says, approaching Maya to place the kettle on the fire. She can see her shock of red hair in her peripheral vision. “I mean- is the boss really gone?”

“I guess so,” Maya mumbles. Athena sits down next to her, and waits for the water to boil. 

“...you had something to do with this?” Athena says, and Maya feels her shoulders tense. “I mean, I don’t want to pry-”

“You’re right. I did. I made a mistake, Athena.” What good does it do her to lie about it? A spark flies from the grate and lands mere inches from Maya’s foot. “I don’t think he’ll be back.”

“But he’s...?”

“Not yet. But it doesn’t matter.”

“Not yet? Maya!” It was the wrong thing to say, and a fire lights in Athena’s eyes. “What do you mean? Is it not instantaneous? How long does it take? If my uncle-”

Another wrong thing to say. Maya’s hands tighten on her arms, and she suddenly feels sick. “Stop asking, please. Not tonight.”

“But if my uncle is still alive-!”

“Not tonight, Athena!” She stands, harsher than she needs to. Athena flinches. “Don’t you see? None of us can go back, because Paladin Gavin will have his eye on the whole shop, and if any of us show any knowledge of the Palace we’ll be in stocks. You want to leave Trucy with no one, again? And if your uncle is around, it’s not like any of us can help him!”

“Maya...” 

She watches the tears bubble up in Athena’s eyes- poor, sweet Athena, who had done nothing but help, who had been mourning an uncle she thought years dead, the only family she had left ripped away. Had Maya not felt the same, even months and months after Mia’s body was found cold in this very shop? Did she not still sometimes feel the same now?

“I’ll be back in the morning,” Maya replies brusquely. She just manages to catch the sight of Athena wiping her tears away with her wrist before the door to the storefront closes behind her, and when the door outside does the same, Maya is crying herself.

There’s not many people out tonight, despite the balmy late-night summer air. The town is small, it always has been, and bad news is quicker than the plague here. Enough people saw Paladin Gavin lead a sobbing Trucy back from the Palace, and everyone knows what that means. The few folks out on the streets avoid Maya’s gaze when she passes, and she’s glad for it.

She cries quietly. She always has; the wagon was too small growing up, and Mia would have known if she’d made sound. It was the least Maya could do to make her worry less, back then, and the habit stuck, so now she walks down the road with tears streaming down her face and not a peep escapes.

By the time she reaches the town square, her eyes are almost dry. She looks up at the oak tree that spreads its thick branches over the plaza, and wants to be at the Palace more than anything. To see Phoenix alive and well. To see Franziska, and her sharp eyes and twinkling laugh and the way she always knew just what to say. To retreat to the secret world she had been hiding for herself, for so long.

There’s a sharp noise. A whinny, not too far behind her. She turns and sees a handsome flaxen horse, tied to the post outside of the town tavern. Vongole. Which means...

She slips inside mostly unseen. Yet another feature of such a small and well-spoken town is that they love, more than anything, to gossip. It was how the news had spread today, and now there is a healthy crowd in the tavern, hanging on the words of a single man.

Paladin Gavin leans on a swept-clean table, hair perfectly styled, eyes bright, hands expressive. He’s perfect, and Maya has to resist the urge to retch. She’s never trusted him, and seeing him sitting there, recounting his ‘adventure’ with the ideal balance of cocky self-sureness and regret makes her dig her fingernails into her palms. But she listens.

“Yes, it was a terrible thing,” Gavin says, raising his voice so his adoring public can hear. “But the girl is safe, at the very least. Her poor father... turned into a bird before my very eyes. Got too close, you see.”

The assorted townsfolk mutter their condolences and mourning for their neighbor, and Maya stills.

That wasn’t true. Phoenix wasn’t a bird, not yet, and Gavin knew that. He was hiding it. She hadn’t trusted him before, but she’d never had any proof- but now, she stares open-eyed, because Paladin Gavin is lying, and she’s the only person who knows about it.

What does it change? She isn’t sure. Nothing right now. But if she can prove it, there’s a tantalizing maybe just out of reach: the freedom of the residents of the Palace at last. 

She’s been away from Trucy and Athena for too long. She owes them both an apology, at the very least, if not an explanation just yet. As Maya turns to leave, her gaze snags on something across the room.

Paladin Gavin is looking directly at her. She tries her best to ignore him, and steps out into the nighttime air. But it’s colder now, with the look in his eyes, the darkness there. He knew she heard him. She doesn’t know if he knows she knows the truth.

Maya bites her lip to stop from crying again as she makes her way home, and feels the ropes tighten on the trap she’s fallen into.

Chapter Text

Phoenix wakes up, and almost instantly panics. It’s not that anything happens to him- he is alone, and entirely safe for the time being- but everything is just wrong. The way the light falls, the heaviness of the quilt over him, the creaking of the bed; it all serves as an instant reminder that he is no longer home.

The first room he had tried to sleep in last night, after his disastrous reunion, had been quite thoroughly occupied. Its residents were fast asleep, and it had been too dark to make out the people inside, but Phoenix had caught a flash of iridescent feathers in the gloom. There seemed to be two people, tangled up together despite how large the four-poster was, and they both made sleepy noises of displeasure when the door creaked. Phoenix could only mutter apologies as he backed out.

The room across from that had been thankfully empty, and the moment he stepped inside, Phoenix’s head had decided to start aching horribly. Normally he would have been upset, but that night it was a blessing. The pain was more than effective to silence his racing thoughts, and he fell asleep, fully clothed, with his letter still clutched in his hand.

The very same letter crinkles under his palm when he pulls himself upright now, feeling very much like he’s been hollowed out and filled with cotton. He flinches at the noise and quickly pulls his hand away; once he realizes what it is he frowns and shoves it away. The letter falls to the ground behind the four-poster. And I hope I forget about the damned thing.

After brushing himself off of the most egregious of wrinkles, he pushes open his door and steps into the hall outside. The room he had wandered into yesterday is ajar, and seemingly now empty of its inhabitants, with only a single ostentatious feather winking from inside in the early-morning sunlight.

It truly is early, Phoenix realizes as he makes his way to the main hall, which is similarly barren. The Palace has a fantastic view of the sea, and the sun has only just managed to crest the horizon, still brushing the waves. His footsteps echo in the wide-open space, reminding him that while it was not uninhabited, the Palace was a far cry from its heyday as a bastion of knowledge.

He’s hungry, and much to his chagrin, he can’t remember where the kitchens are- not that they’re likely to be in use anyway. In fact, Phoenix finds he remembers upsettingly little of the Palace layout, though it’s not surprising. He had been very young the last time he had been here.

Thusly, Phoenix finds himself wandering into the one place familiar to him: the library. Memories come unbidden as he walks through the halls, of distant childrens’ laughter and comfortable friendship that now feels distinctly alien. He finds himself so lost in thought that it’s only the appearance of new people that shakes him from it.

The library of the Palace of the Wild Things is a grand affair, three stories high and occupying a significant amount of the building’s available space. High windows send beams of weak sunlight between massive bookshelves and illuminate motes of dust that float through the air, seemingly going back forever. Most of the farther echelons of the library are untouched- with dust thick enough to visibly dull the colors of the books, even from the entrance- but the tables closest to the door are cluttered with all manner of ancient tomes. The collection is so mighty that it spills over onto the floor, and traces of dirty plates, empty lanterns and even what seems to be a loose sock can be seen amongst them.

The curators of this clutter are waiting for Phoenix when he steps inside.

“Oh!” the shorter one yelps, sitting up from where he’s sitting amongst a particularly tall pile. He’s a slight thing, with an unusual hairstyle- how does it stick up like that?- and a bright red waistcoat. Behind him, an impressive feathered tail fluffs up in anxiety, the delicate stringy feathers in the middle bracketed by an impressive pair of curled ones.

His companion only turns their head to look at Phoenix, eyes bright. They’re sitting on the table, one leg crossed over the other and with a truly magnificent tail accenting the tiny bobble-ended feathers in their blonde hair. The tail is draped over the edge of the table and brushes the floor like an exquisite rug, a shimmering blanket of green and purple feathers, dotted with emblems like eyes. 

Despite the fantastic nature of the strangers’ feathers, Phoenix can’t help but bite back a gasp when he meets their eyes. 

Because he looks exactly like Paladin Gavin.

“You must be the new arrival,” they say cheerfully, standing as their companion tries to extricate himself from the towers of books. “Guten morgen, my friend. I am Klavier, and Apollo here is my-”

“We study together,” Apollo interrupts, managing to clamber over the stacks and join Klavier, who places their hand on their chest in mock offense. He sticks out a hand and, feeling a bit put-upon and still in shock, Phoenix shakes it politely. “Simon mentioned that someone new had come last night. Nice to meet you...?”

“Phoenix Wright,” he replies, after a beat too long. “Um, if you don’t mind me asking, you look very much like...”

He gestures at Klavier’s face, and they grin. It makes him look less like Paladin Gavin, who Phoenix had never seen truly smile beyond a slight upturning of the lips that was never reflected in the eyes. “Ah, yes, you must have met my brother! The good Paladin. He keeps us safe here.”

Phoenix can’t even begin to address the fact that Paladin Gavin has been saying his brother is effectively dead for years. He decides that he must have his reasons, and plows on. 

“To be honest, I’m very hungry, and I’d like to know where the food is.”

“Oh, I can take you,” Apollo pipes up. “I need a break anyway.”

“Count me in as well, then,” Klavier smooths back their hair, and Apollo glares at them.

“You haven’t even been doing anything! You’ve just been sitting on the table and distracting me!”

“I am here for moral support, Herr Forehead! Why else would I look this good?”

The two continue to bicker as they all leave together, and Phoenix swallows down the acute feeling of being a third wheel. When Klavier manages to needle his friend into a shout so loud it nearly rattles the windowpanes, he finally decides to step in. “So, who else lives here? Other than Simon and... the others.”

“Oh, you’ve met Lady Franziska and Lord Edgeworth already? Then you’ve seen all of us. Rest of the place is empty as a tomb.” Apollo replies, turning his head to finally include Phoenix in the conversation.

“Ahh, what a rare sight!” Klavier sighs. Phoenix is beginning to believe that everything he does is overdramatic on purpose. “Normally Lord Edgeworth locks himself up in that tower of his. His sister has been trying to coerce him down for months. He comes down for dinner sometimes, but even that is not a surety.”

“He and I were... old friends, actually.” He rubs the back of his neck, and the two immediately eye him with extreme interest. “I don’t think he was happy to see me.”

“Well, he might be hiding up in his tower again, if you upset him,” Apollo shrugs. “Either way, it’s the most likely place he’ll be. I wouldn’t bet on seeing him at dinner tonight.”

Phoenix’s prediction proves correct when they arrive where the food is, tucked away in boxes in a storeroom off the main kitchens. Stoves and ovens sit dull and unlit, with only a scarce few showing signs of being used anytime in the last few years. It’s dark and dusty, and several sneezes occur as they pull out a box of apples and share them amongst themselves. Phoenix catches sight of the rest of the storage, and it’s primarily fruit and vegetables. He imagines most of them were grown in the gardens outside.

They eat their fill, and Phoenix decides to follow Apollo and Klavier back to the library. Simon doesn’t seem like a friendly sort, and he doesn’t want to cross paths with Edgeworth or his sharp-eyed sister again. Thusly, the rest of the day whiles itself to nighttime as Phoenix wanders through old bookshelves and wipes away dust. When he lifts his hand up from the wood, his palm is grey.

Apollo and Klavier are skittish about letting any sort of information that they’re curating cross his path. They speak in hushed tones when he’s far, and when he draws near their voices raise conspicuously, talking about something banal. Neither of them are very subtle; Apollo in particular has been blessed with the vocal cords of a trumpet and can’t help but be loud. Either way, they manage to keep whatever it is secret. If it has anything to do with how they share a bed, Phoenix figures he’s fine with not hearing about it.

Halfway through the day, Simon pushes open the library doors and almost immediately disappears up the stairs to the second floor. He does not respond to any greetings, and they all quickly forget he’s there.

Simon only reappears once the sun has sank to the horizon and the sky has darkened to a light purple, shot through with orange and gold. Phoenix has constructed himself a small pile of books and is beginning to read through one on the theory of magic related to the forces of nature when he’s interrupted.

“It’s time for dinner,” Simon calls, and all three of them look up at him. A silver pocketwatch dangles from his fingers; once he’s been seen he puts it back in his coat and steps outside into the hall. “You don’t want to be late, Mr. Wright. If you are, you might not get any food.”

As if to accentuate Simon’s point, Phoenix’s stomach chooses that moment to growl. He hadn’t noticed how hungry he was, and as the other man leaves, he extricates himself from the corner he’s stowed away in.

Apollo and Klavier are hot on his heels, and Phoenix finds it easy to follow them, especially with Klavier’s long tail following him in swishes of iridescence. He doesn’t have far to go, however.

A table is set up in a ballroom to the left side of the main hall, lit up warm with candlelight. Six chairs are spaced apart evenly, far too few for the table they’re lined up on. Bowls and delicate baskets of fruit and vegetables are scattered over it, laid on top of ragged lace that had surely once been fine. It’s an unexpectedly homely scene, despite how big the room is, how mismatched the table placings are, how meager the food on display looks. 

But almost as soon as he enters, Phoenix stiffens. 

At the head of the table is Miles Edgeworth, standing over his chair, holding a plate. He, too, goes ramrod straight when Phoenix enters. The air crackles, suddenly. Phoenix can’t breathe.

Franziska is sitting to Edgeworth’s right side, and when she sees them staring at each other, her brows draw together in a fearsome scowl. She turns her head and mutters something under her breath.

Activity in the room ceases, and Apollo sits down as quietly as he can manage, looking mildly terrified. The corner of Edgeworth’s mouth twitches into a frown, pulling at his jowls; there’s an impression of sharp teeth behind it, but he collects himself moments later.

“Apollo, Klavier, Simon. Good evening.” His voice is still clipped. He puts his plate down a little too hard and heads for the door, eyes trained resolutely forwards. But he has to pass Phoenix first, and when he does, a hand shoots out and grabs his wrist.

It’s the first time Phoenix has touched him in years, and it’s almost overwhelming. The skin under his hands is alien, sleek and silky and covered in inhuman fur; for a horrible moment he’s touching the beast that swallowed his best friend whole before he remembers that they’re one and the same. Three pairs of eyes instantly flick to him. The muzzled heads are hard to read, with a confusing array of emotions in their eyes, but the main one is only furious.

“Let go of me,” he says, quieter than he has to. His voice rumbles with an unvoiced threat, and much to Phoenix’s surprise, a matching anger rises in him, a fire tended by years of silence and never-answered letters, of a friend who had seemingly stopped caring.

“I need to ask you a few things,” Phoenix replies defiantly. Edgeworth’s hand curls into a fist under his grip. “But maybe you should take those off so you can speak freely, to a friend.”

He instantly regrets it. It was the wrong thing to say in every regard possible; all of the eyes harden and Edgeworth rips his arm out of Phoenix’s grasp with a sudden strength. Before he completely turns tail and leaves, his snout twitches again, and he’s close enough to see the rows of pearly teeth in his jaw.

An apology dies on Phoenix’s tongue when Edgeworth vanishes behind the door to the ballroom. He feels the eyes of the rest of the table on him; judgmental and intrigued in equal measure. Franziska mutters something that ends in the word ‘fool’.

He’s frozen there, but only for a few minutes. Once he’s certain Edgeworth is gone, he leaves himself, retreating to the safety of his room. The letter still lies alone on the floor, mockingly whole against Phoenix’s burning guilt.

He’s not hungry anymore.

Chapter Text

Phoenix valiantly makes the effort to hide in his room for the next week and a half. He is sustained primarily by deliveries from Klavier and Apollo of food, and by shoving the letter under the bed, where it lies ignored amongst only dust bunnies.

At least, he tries to ignore it. It is eventually what drives him to leave in the end, burning into his back every time he tries to rest, like a brand searing into his skin. Things unspoken, kinder words for someone who might not want them. He doesn’t sleep well.

It turns out that he didn’t have to put himself through it at all, when he finally emerges, as Klavier informs him that Edgeworth hasn’t left his own room in the same amount of time and is unlikely to make an appearance anytime soon. Still, he slinks around in shadows anyway, keeping primarily to his room, the library and the kitchens, avoiding dinner entirely.

The effort bears no fruit; as Klavier predicts, Edgeworth does not come down from his tower. And as the days while by, soaking into deep summer nights, Phoenix takes the initiative, slowly, to explore the Palace.

He knows that the seaside tower is where Edgeworth is hidden, so he stays away from there as best he can. The rest, however, is free game; no one else cares where he goes, spare that he leaves their rooms alone. 

His first discovery, though it’s barely one, is that the Palace is depressingly abandoned. It looks dead from the outside, but inside is far worse. Nearly every room is coated in a thick layer of dust, many scattered with signs of the hurried departure of whoever had been living there in the time of von Karma’s rule. Phoenix trudges through countless moth-eaten sheets and rifles through crumbling papers, none of which tell him anything other than that the previous Lord was a monster.

He knows that already, however, and lets them shred themselves into scraps in his hands. Nothing in the rooms is of worth, to him or anyone else, and he only brings a snack or two to keep him going as he explores.

Much to his surprise, the farthest room of the right wing, with the balcony, is occupied. He pushes open the door with his hip to reveal an extremely startled Franziska von Karma, sitting at a desk in a pleasantly dusted and decorated suite. Her workspace is neat, but clearly used very heavily, with tall stacks of papers and books piled onto it.

“Hi,” he says after a long moment of stunned silence, acutely aware that his mouth is full of the apple he had been carrying around. Her eye twitches.

“Get out of my room,” she warns, her voice low and threatening. Phoenix catches sight of the whip curled within arms’ reach on her left, and decides to heed her very polite warning. He leaves her room alone from then on- it’s only courteous.

The left side is much the same, spare Franziska’s room and a strict avoidance of the stairwell that leads to the seaside tower. Phoenix’s shoes are covered in dust when he stops his exploration every day, ending every time feeling profoundly lonely, and the company of Klavier and Apollo is greatly appreciated.

On the second week, Simon pulls them all aside and forces them to help him with the gardens. It’s not as hard as it looks, at least until they pull through to the other side of the Palace, which reveals a small grove of fruit trees. They spend the greater part of the day picking snails and worms off the leaves, and gathering ripe fruit. Franziska appears in the windows at one point, but does not join them.

“I wasn’t expecting you to know so much about farming,” Phoenix remarks to Simon offhandedly. He’s on break, watching Klavier playfully bat at Apollo’s hair from where they’re perched up an orange tree, their tail dangling down the trunk in a canopy of green and purple. Apollo squawks at him, but can’t hide the flush on his cheeks. A tin cup of water is cold in Phoenix’s hand, slick with condensation.

“Hmm,” Simon muses. In the late-afternoon sunlight, he looks less imposing, more thoughtful. He shifts his center of gravity, and Phoenix briefly catches sight of a faint scar circling his wrist when his sleeve pulls back. “I spent a great deal of time far away from civilized society. I had to provide for myself and my family. Tending to plants is a necessary skill that more should learn.”

“Why’d you come here, anyway?” Phoenix blurts, before really thinking. He visibly sees the feathers in Simon’s hair ruffle slightly, although it could have been the breeze. He doesn’t meet his gaze, and silence stretches, broken only by the rustling of leaves and the others’ slightly distant conversation. Phoenix takes a long drink, acknowledging that the question probably won’t be answered.

“I desired change that my skills could not provide to me at the time. Thus, I sought out a place I could learn and hone my abilities. I unfortunately did not know about the curse before I arrived, and now I am stuck here, same as you.”

Phoenix nearly sloshes water over his chest in surprise at Simon’s response. “I mean- it’s fine if you can’t leave, then, right? You can keep practicing here.”

Simon’s eyes center on the horizon and grow steely again. “We all have people on the outside, Mr. Wright. I am no exception.”

No further questions are answered that day, though Phoenix burns with curiosity. They arrange a schedule for tending to the crops, and both Apollo and Klavier seem quite happy to do less work now that he’s around. Digging in the soil dredges up old memories, Phoenix finds, of a woman he barely remembers tending to a small garden outside a house now long burned down; he lets them wash over him when he works, and ignores them when he doesn’t.

It’s harder to ignore the more recent memories, ones of the family outside the wrought-iron fence. Sleep is difficult without structure; he tosses and turns, haunted by the memory of Trucy’s pleading and the home he had left behind. It’s a dull ache tucked up between his ribs, pounding with his heart and turning into choking when he has to lie down and pretend that he can’t read the letter on the floor on the back of his eyelids.

Sleeplessness is no stranger to him. Phoenix has struggled with wide-awake nights as long as he can remember; there’s only one routine that works after trying fruitlessly night after night. He doesn’t want to do it, but eventually the time comes, on a balmy midnight when the moonlight lances into his room through the open window. The heavy curtains flutter in the cool ocean breeze, the only escape from the pervasive heat that sinks over the Palace like a thick veil.

He rolls sideways out of bed and leaves his thin blanket behind him as he does, only stopping to ignite the candle on his desk to light his way. The hall outside is predictably quiet, though there’s a faint noise from the adjacent room as he passes. The only sounds are his footsteps on wood and the faraway noise of the sea, all the way down the cliff, where the water drives itself against rocks.

Shielded from the worst of the summer sun, the library is gratifyingly cool, though cavernous in the low light. Phoenix holds his candle up to the darkness and feels very small. The high ceiling arches up into nothingness, and the circle of candlelight just barely illuminates the table close to the front where Klavier and Apollo do their research.

He’s investigated most of the Palace by now, other than what he can’t, but the one place Phoenix hasn’t explored is the library tower. It mirrors the seaside tower on the other side of the building, but can only be accessed from the library’s third floor, a spiral staircase ascending into some hidden room above. It seems that he’ll finally discover it today.

Guttering candlelight flickers over the spines of books as Phoenix goes up the stairs, revealing their titles for only the briefest of instants before he moves onwards. On the third floor he quickly discovers another table, laden with books, that can only be Simon’s workstation; most of them are on the topic of magical shapeshifting or human anatomy. An eerily detailed, life-size model of a skinless man has been pulled next to it. Phoenix shivers as he passes, its eyelid-less gaze seeming to follow his every move. 

The library tower’s stair is tucked in the far corner of the third floor, where the dust is thick and untouched and even Simon clearly does not go. Interestingly, however, this makes it all the easier to notice when things are different. Books are pulled slightly from their places and, when he reaches the stair, Phoenix sees that there are tall stacks of them at the foot, as if to be transported up. A chain hangs from the banister, dangling uselessly, no longer hooked to the other side to prevent prying eyes from going up. It sways under Phoenix’s hand as he begins to climb.

It turns out there are several rooms before the top, each one more neglected than the last. They are primarily occupied by unlit torches and crates, sometimes desks with an interesting range of glass instruments scattered over them. Each lets light in through a window with its panes more often than not shattered. Phoenix pushes onwards.

The highest room in the tower is larger than the rest, with a fantastic view of the moonlit sky. Phoenix emerges in it and uses his free hand to brush cobwebs out of his hair, already feeling sleepiness starting to creep in. He’ll just look around and go back to his room...

“Franziska, there’s no need to be up this late with me, I told you.”

Phoenix stiffens.

He is not alone.

“I can see your candle, you know.”

Sitting across the room, in a high-backed chair, is a familiar figure. His back is to the stairwell, but the chair is surrounded by prestigious stacks of books, and a small table where an oil lamp flickers. An elegant tea tray is next to it, with a delicate porcelain teapot and a matching cup, half-full. As Phoenix watches, a clawed hand picks up the cup and presumably takes a sip.

“No need for the silent treatment either. How have I wronged you this time?”

His throat, miraculously, unsticks itself, and he manages to croak out: “Evening, Miles.”

Edgeworth nearly drops the cup. He stands and whirls around, steps away from the chair to face Phoenix, eyes wide. It only takes a moment for them to harden again, though his voice is still laced with surprise. “Wright.”

Phoenix can only think to nod, jerkily. They stare at each other, silhouetted against the backdrop of stars and warm, flickering light. This close, he can see the whites of Edgeworth’s eyes, his huge body tense, hands shaking.

He realizes too late that he’s blocking the only exit from the tower. Edgeworth is entirely cornered, and he knows it. Phoenix could stand here until the sun rises, and force the truth from him, get the vindication he feels guilty for craving. 

“Let me go, Wright,” Edgeworth finally says, breaking the silence. His voice is shaking. Phoenix can’t stop looking at him, as if he’ll be able to see the boy he once knew if he keeps staring hard enough at the beast.

“I’m sorry.”

All three of the heads blink in unison. It’s slightly dizzying.

“I shouldn’t have said that to you. It’s not your fault, what happened.”

Silence. They continue to stare at each other. Slowly, Edgeworth puts his cup down, and grips his left arm, seemingly without thinking about it. The chain between his muzzles twinkles in the low light.

“...No. You were correct.”

“Huh?” Now it’s Phoenix’s turn to reel back. “What do you mean?”

“I have not been a friend, to you or to anyone.” Now his heads all avoid Phoenix’s eyes, shying away as he closes in on himself. Phoenix wants to take his hand away from where his claws are almost certainly puncturing his sleeve. “Now, may I please return to my rooms?”

Wordlessly, Phoenix steps aside. Edgeworth takes the chance, leaving even his lamp.

But he stops, just before he disappears entirely down the staircase.

“...I bring up the books I find the most interesting here. They might be interesting to you as well.”

The clacking of his claws on stone fades away, down the stairs, leaving Phoenix alone. Distantly, he can see the moon shining on the sea.

He snuffs out Edgeworth’s lamp before he goes back to bed.

Chapter Text

Phoenix does not mention the encounter to anyone the next day. He tends to the garden and needles Apollo and Klavier, who still refuse to reveal the topic of their intense research. He finally goes to dinner, and Franziska glares at him the whole while, the head of the table resolutely empty. 

When night falls, and the Palace is silent, Phoenix sneaks out and climbs back up the stair to the library tower.

He stays there a long time, rummaging through books and investigating every corner, though for what, he doesn’t know. He’s about to leave when the distant sound of claws on stone reaches him, and approaches up the stairway. Edgeworth emerges, his fur a ghostly white in the low light from Phoenix’s candle, and takes what can be assumed is his customary seat. The whole way, they stare openly out of the corners of their eyes at each other, a burning curiosity locked behind closed mouths.

And they do not speak to each other. 

Not that night.

Every night, Phoenix returns to the tower. And every night, Edgeworth appears, reads his book for a few hours, and either he excuses himself or Phoenix does. It starts slowly- quiet words of courtesy, a polite yet cold ‘goodnight’ or a curt nod. They dance around each other, terrified of breaking the fragile glass they both stand on, a poor replacement for years of distance.

It’s only after Phoenix starts dragging up his own books that a conversation truly begins. He’s started to carve a spot of his own in the tower room, across the space from Edgeworth’s chair. The collection around the chair is eclectic, ranging from collections of poetry to deep theses on the nature of the cosmos. Phoenix finds himself unconsciously mimicking the variety, though his are mainly transcripts of plays he enjoys and wordy volumes on the nature of magic, which he has to stop reading every few minutes to keep his eyes from glazing over.

He’s not sure what’s different, the first night he breaks the silence. It’s a warm and balmy evening, he had a filling meal, and Edgeworth is flipping through a book the size of an encyclopaedia at a speed only achievable by having three pairs of eyes. The tower feels safe and inviting and Phoenix is just tired enough to forget himself.

“I don’t know how you can read books that long,” he quips without thinking, noticing that Edgeworth is already halfway through. “I swear, I can never remember half the words when I tackle something that big.”

And much to his surprise, he is not met by stony silence, but by a light, amused chuckle.

“Well, you were never one for reading,” Edgeworth says. It’s so fond, so gentle, so unexpected that it takes Phoenix completely off guard and he can only gape at the back of the chair. He’s grateful Edgeworth can’t see him from his vantage point.

“One of us needed to know how to have fun,” he replies, unable to stop grinning. There’s another soft chuckle and silence falls again, but it no longer presses at Phoenix’s throat the way it did only minutes previous. When Edgeworth finally stands and bids him goodnight, he meets his eyes.

And thus it continues, with conversations stretching longer and longer with every passing meeting. They inch closer to each other every time, pulled together by an invisible tension, and no matter how much they dance around the real issues and Phoenix wakes up late in the day with shadows under his eyes, his heart is singing.

It’s one night when they’re close enough to touch that it happens. They’ve been holding an animated, friendly argument about a play Phoenix has been perusing; Edgeworth is of the opinion that its plot consists of little more than meaningless fluff and the main characters’ tragic love is paper-thin, backed up by no true relationship of trust and connection. Phoenix has always been a sap, and thinks it’s intensely romantic. Secretly, he doesn’t care that much, but the twinkle in Edgeworth’s eyes when they discuss it is more than enough to keep him pushing his opinion.

“Honestly, they didn’t even meet until they were eighteen, and they married two weeks later!” Edgeworth says, crossing his arms over his chest. His chair has been flipped around to face the footstool Phoenix is sitting on. “There was no time for them to get to know each other. It makes no sense that they’re willing to sacrifice so much for someone they barely know!”

“Haven’t you ever heard of true love, Edgeworth?”

The unmuzzled snout’s lip curls in a way that would be threatening if Phoenix didn’t know it was how he smiled. “I am more well-read than you. Of course I’ve heard of it, though I think it’s rare in reality.”

“Oh, really? Well, how would you have done it, then?”

“Hmm. They should have known each other as children, then were separated. It would make their relationship more compelling and justify the strength of it.”

“Pffft.” Phoenix leans back, smirking. “Those ‘childhood friends’ romances always end up thin anyway.”

“Not so!” 

“You have examples?”

“Well.” Edgeworth looks momentarily taken aback. “Not at this moment...”

Phoenix grins widely. “Ha ha! Checkmate, then!”

And much to his shock and awe, Edgeworth laughs.

He’s snickered from time to time, lightly and with a faint curling of his lips, but this time he well and truly laughs, with the sharp teeth in his mouth flashing in the candlelight. It’s terrifying, inhuman, and Phoenix can’t tear his eyes away. 

“That’s not proper chess terminology,” Edgeworth says, his eyes still tight with mirth. Of course he finds chess funny. “If you want proof, I do have it, just not here.”

Phoenix barely thinks about the implications of this, of the admission of trust, as he follows Edgeworth down through the library and through the dark, empty halls of the Palace. It’s been so late that the sun is starting to peek over the horizon, lighting the sky deep blue and yellow, edging everything in sharp contrast and illuminating motes of dust.

The seaside tower is a near-mirror of its rightbound twin, with more rooms to the top empty. A few are occupied only by splintered shells of furniture, broken beyond repair; Edgeworth studiously ignores them all. A portrait of a man, torn to ribbons, is the only inhabitant of the room before the top, with only its eyes intact. Phoenix feels its gaze on him as he ascends.

There are less windows in Edgeworth’s room, with a few walls available, mainly taken up by maps of the town below. A bed is against one wall, sheets surprisingly neat and tidy; against the other is a desk paired with a pair of bookshelves stuffed to bursting with various titles. A small table with a tea tray and a pair of stools stands in front of the windows, an empty plate next to it. It is surprisingly austere for a man who has grown up with whatever he wanted.

Edgeworth immediately makes a beeline for the bookshelves and starts rifling through the spines, obviously searching for something in specific. Phoenix follows, a few steps behind, unable to stop himself from staring at everything in the room. Somewhere, he feels like if he looks hard enough, he’ll get answers from the items in the room.

Once he’s close enough to the desk, he notices it’s by far the messiest place in the room. A larger map of the township is spread across most of its surface, scribbled with inscrutable notes. Papers are scattered across its surface, many stained with ink; it must be hard to write with hands that have pads. A thick stack of letters is on the far corner, shoved against the wall. 

All unopened. Every single one perfectly sealed.

He can’t stop looking at them. 

A nasty little thing digs its way down through his chest, spitting insults, reminding him he’s been scorned.

The corner of his mouth twitches in a joyless smile. “Guess you were too busy to answer letters, huh?”

“Hm?” Edgeworth turns slightly, so one of his heads can see Phoenix. “No, I’ve been through them all. None were worth replying to, so I didn’t bother.”

The thing snaps.

Suddenly the room is not so interesting, his presence no longer comfortable. Phoenix’s hackles rise unconsciously. He’s digging his nails into the palm of his hand until he swears his fingers feel wet.

“...What’s the matter?”

“So that’s what you thought of me?”

Edgeworth turns all the way around, confusion and concern written plainly on his canine features. “What?”

Phoenix splays his hand out towards the pile. There’s a line of red on his fingernails. “It would have been kinder to just tell me to stop writing, Edgeworth. But it wasn’t worth it? I wasn’t worth that small courtesy?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” is the careful reply, all pairs of eyes examining him, all equally bewildered. “I never received any letters from you.”

“Oh, spare me! I can see them right there!”

A spark of anger. “I would never lie to you, Wright. I have never received a letter from you!”

“I’m impressed you’d say that to my face when I have proof right there!”

They’re nearly nose-to-nose now, piercing grey staring into Phoenix’s own mismatched, and even though he’s so much taller than him he’s too furious, too hurt to back down. The letters are a mocking monument to cruelty new and old, and Phoenix is sick of being ignored.

“It’s not proof! I have never once gotten a letter from you, and I’m beginning to think you’re trying to make me think otherwise! Mockery is no way to soothe hurt feelings, Wright, but because you’ve apparently not grown up since we were children, I can’t say I’m surprised!”

He wants to go for his throat. “You’re telling me you never got a single one, after all these years? I was sending them before you went and turned yourself into a monster, and I’m realizing now why someone cursed you! Clearly, this is more fitting- at least people will know to stay away when they see a great three-headed beast, instead of having to learn about that part later!

Blood rushes in his ears, his heart pounding so loudly he’s certain the entire Palace can hear. The hurt in Edgeworth’s eyes registers too late- but it’s too late to be forgiven for years of abandonment, isn’t it? This is what’s right. He deserves to hurt for what he did to Phoenix.

“Get out.”

The same tone of voice used the first night they saw each other again, cold and unfeeling and unflinchingly hard. Phoenix didn’t realize how used he’d gotten to their pleasant conversations, quiet in the evening softness. The dawn is here and it makes every detail noticeable. Phoenix’s heart is hollow.

“I said, get out!

By the time Phoenix is at the bottom of the staircase, he’s crying. The tears are hot and heavy on his cheeks and it’s really all he can do, just stand there and cry, like the miserable wretch he is.

He feels like he’s lost everything, destroyed something so fragile it barely existed in the first place.

But he had never answered him. He had left Phoenix in the dark, for years and years, and ignored every plea of concern, of friendship, of love. So this is right, isn’t it?

Isn’t it?

Chapter Text

In the face of the rising sun, Miles stands frozen and cold.

His heart is thumping in his chest, a staccato rhythm that threatens to rip its way out of his ribcage. For a horrible moment, he’s afraid he’s about to faint, lightheaded. The accusing eyes of his other heads stare at him; he knows what they’re trying to say, even chained. The worst part of his curse is that he can’t get out of his own head.

Miles hurts. His head is spinning; every sound is too sharp. The birds outside are waking up and their songs are mockery to him, amplified by extra sets of ears, reminding him of what he’s done to the people closest to him.

The bedsheets under his hands crumple. His vision is too spotty for him to care about his claws tearing the fabric. He nearly falls backward onto his bed, with only his resolve keeping him upright.

Unaware of Miles’ misery, the morning continues to rise nonetheless. By the time the sun has fully crested the horizon his breathing has steadied and his vision has cleared, but dark thoughts run rampant in his mind, tearing with sharp teeth and sharper eyes, ripping him to shreds. 

He wants to run, but where would he go? The moment he steps off the Palace grounds, the townsfolk he had spent so long protecting would turn on him in an instant. They would see not the man he was, but the beast he had become- not that he could see it anymore either. It had been so long. 

...at least people will know to stay away when they see a great three-headed beast.

The townsfolk would see a dangerous monster, one to be killed at any cost. A creature that haunts the night, wretched in its wickedness, twisted beyond any semblance of humanity. Miles had thrown out all the mirrors in the Palace not a week after he was cursed because when he caught his own visage in them, he saw the same thing.

He buries his head in his hands. The chain between his muzzles presses against his chest. A hot bolt of shame fills him when he realizes that the only reason he isn’t crying is because he physically can’t, and it cools to integrate itself with his misery.

The only thing that startles him out of his despair is the sound of footsteps up the stair to his room. Miles flinches violently when he hears it at first, afraid it’s Wright, returned to... what? Torment him further? Tear him down further with poisonous words and malice grown from years of time apart?

No, it’s only Franziska, carrying a tray with tea and a fearsome expression on her face. He shrinks in on himself under her sharp gaze, even further than before.

She does not speak to him, not at first. Perfectly silent, she sets her tray down on the table, collects his dirty plate from the night before, and pours two cups of tea. The tinkling sound of the water pouring from the neck of the teapot fills the space, filling Miles’ head and keeping the thoughts at bay, if only for a moment.

Franziska stirs her tea- another sharp clink, replacing the liquid sound- and takes a sip. She sits with her avian legs neatly crossed at the ankle, holding her cup perfectly, staring him dead in the eyes. He stares back from between his parted fingers, feeling like the younger brother she claims he is.

She’s mad at him, and he has a creeping feeling he knows why.

After an indeterminate but not quite uncomfortable pause, she sweeps her free hand over the table. “Well?”

Ashamed, he picks himself up and sits across from her. He feels too sick to drink anything, so he picks up his cup and holds it in both hands, rubbing the thick pad of his thumb along the lip. Franziska takes another long sip.

“Miles Edgeworth,” she begins, holding her head in a way he knows means she’s trying to hold herself together, “you are the most foolish man in the world.”

He doesn’t reply. In his cup, a few fragments of tea leaves swirl around each other. He gently swishes them back and forth, and doesn’t quite manage to meet her eyes. Franziska’s hand twitches towards the whip looped around her waist, but she won’t hit him. They both know it.

“Are you listening to me?”

“I don’t see how this is any of your concern,” he manages to mumble. He crushes the shame of not enunciating properly down; Von Karma is not able to hear either of them, wherever he is.

“Not my concern, he says!” Franziska’s tone is dripping with scorn. “As if I don’t live here in this cursed place alongside you! We are all in the same boat, and though it might shock you to hear, I... care about your well-being.”

Miles’ eyes flick to her, finally, and as predicted, she’s no longer staring, her face turned ever so slightly away from looking at him directly. It’s a rare day when the pair of them rip down walls between them built there by a shared childhood under the same cruel name; that Franziska is willing to do so must mean that she really is concerned. 

He feels his heart soften, if just a little. “I am whole, sister-mine.”

“And yet you have done this.”

“I did nothing,” he bristles, now that he’s soothed enough to no longer be in the depths of despair. “Wright never sent me any letters!”

“Are you sure that’s the truth?” They’re on familiar territory between them now, and the feathers on Franziska’s head twitch as she shrewdly looks at him from over her cup. “It is entirely possible Paladin Gavin has simply never delivered them to you.”

“For what reason? He has delivered the rest of the post on time all these years.”

“He worked for Papa,” Franziska says, her voice uncharacteristically quiet. They both fall into silence after that. 

It’s horrible to realize that she’s not wrong. Miles takes a gulp of tea and it feels like molten lead down his throat, too heavy with the weight of a sudden, new flavor of despair. If Paladin Gavin has ulterior motives... if Phoenix really has been sending me letters all these years...

“Oh God,” he moans. “I abandoned him. He still cared about me and I abandoned him- my best friend-”

“Stop that!” Franziska demands sharply. “You absolute and complete fool! If none of his letters were ever delivered, then you had no means to respond! That is not abandonment, it is separation, and one you had no choice in.”

His lip twitches, and he wants to continue to mope, but she is right. She slides a coaster along the tray towards him, and he notices for the first time that she’s brought a tiny plate of her favorite cookies, the one she keeps in a box underneath her bed for special occasions. He takes one and eats it as delicately as he can, sweeping away any crumbs.

“...how long was he sending them to me?” 

“Phoenix Wright seems a sentimental fool, much like yourself.” Franziska replies. “I would... wager that it has been a long time.”

“Twenty-one years,” he remembers. “It has been twenty-one years, Franziska.”

She is still.

“...that is... no small amount of time, brother-mine.”

“No,” he whispers hollowly. “No, it is not. I have missed a great deal.”

There is an unbroached subject here, one they never tread. It is too fragile between them, too capable of breaking if they step too sharply. Miles’ other heads are practically tearing at the metal keeping them shut, which to this day feels as paper-thin as the day he put it on. He still dreams of his heads opening up wide enough to split the muzzles in twain, taunting him with what they know.

Of what he knows.

Miles can break the curse. He’s been able to for years.

But he won’t, can’t, shouldn’t- because it’s still right. Because at least this way his body matches his nature. Because if he said what he needed to say now, it’d be a lie.

Right?

“You should apologize.” Franziska’s tone is sharp and implies that she will not humor any of his arguments, but he has to, out of pride. He takes another sip of tea.

“I was not the one who did the wrong here.”

She rolls her eyes. “Ah, yes, and surely he’ll come around from years of assumed hurt. Don’t be an idiot, and be the bigger man.”

He snorts, and finishes his cup. “He’ll never hear me out.”

“It’s not about whether he listens. It’s about the gesture.”

Miles cocks his head as he stares at Franziska, whose cheeks are a faint shade of pink. “Why, when did you become so good at this?”

“I don’t understand what you mean. I have always been cleverer than you in all ways, and matters of the heart are no exception.” She primly examines her nails. “Take the next tray down yourself, Miles Edgeworth. I expect to see you at dinner.”

He watches her go, talons clicking down the stairs. The sun is up, and the air outside is clear. A new day.

Though he is tired, Miles has had many sleepless nights prior to this. He sips his tea and watches a flock of seagulls fly over the horizon, quietly considering the weight of his sisters’ words.

Chapter Text

Misery here feels standard, now. Phoenix doesn’t want to retreat to his room again, cage himself up in a tiny space untouched by the knicknacks and history of home, but it’s the only thing he can think to do. At least his room is guaranteed to be quiet and safe, free of old friends who seem intent on ruining his life countless times over.

He misses Trucy so much. It strikes flint in his chest now, an ache so physical he can practically trace the empty space next to him where she’s supposed to be. Phoenix is overwhelmingly alone, familyless and friendless, and it hits him then- wandering the halls in the dawnlight, his shadow casting sharp figures on the walls.

It’s only because the sun is positioned just so that he notices, caught up in a fresh agony. The perfect daybreak lances through the windows of the palace, catches against Phoenix, and in the briefest glimpse of his reflection on the glass, he sees it. Just for an instant.

There is something orange behind him.

Startled completely out of his reverie, he whirls around and faces himself in the windowpane- floor to ceiling, and only one in a row of many- but the snatch of color that he saw vanishes. Slowly, he turns around, twisting his body just so, and he sees it again. A flash of orange, gleaming in the light of the rising sun.

It only occurs to Phoenix that he has not seen a single mirror since he arrived when he’s already sprinting down the hall and careening towards Apollo and Klavier’s room.

Upon slamming open their bedroom door, Apollo predictably wakes with a sharp shriek. Curled around his short body, Klavier sits up groggily, their normally impeccably styled hair crushed on one side. Apollo is clutching the sheets to his chin and quickly going a fine shade of red, while Phoenix pants in their doorway.

“Do you have a mirror,” he asks, slightly out of breath. Still barely conscious, Klavier nods sleepily, and starts to slide out of bed.

“Klavier, your clothes! ” Apollo screams in horror moments before what Phoenix can only assume is a naked Klavier emerges. Thankfully, he’s stopped by the shout, and dutifully, Phoenix turns on his heel to let them both get decent.

When he does, he hears a faint ‘oh’ from one of them, though he can’t tell who and refuses to turn back around until Klavier yawns, “We’re clothed, Herr Wright. But I think I already see the problem...”

They’re holding out a mirror to Phoenix when he turns, too big to be held with one hand but not much larger. He rips it from his hands and twists again, trying to see the flash of orange tormenting him. Apollo, now dressed in a rumpled pair of pants and his binder, approaches and puts his hand on his shoulder.

“Slow down, Mr. Wright,” he says, taking the mirror. “Um... we know what’s happening. You might want to sit down.” 

“Show me what it is,” he insists, and Apollo sighs sadly. He shifts the mirror so Phoenix can see his back.

Sticking from his tailbone, underneath his shirt, is a cluster of curled orange feathers. When the light falls through a crack in the drapes in the room, it glitters faintly, as if lit from within by an ember. 

It’s attached to him. It’s growing from his skin.

I’m a failure of a father, he thinks for a brief and horrible moment.

“It’s happening?” His voice is too faint. It sounds as if it’s coming from someone else, very far away.

“Ach,” Klavier mumbles. “Looks like it is. I can’t- I mean, Herr Wright, don’t worry too much. You’ve got plenty of time before anything becomes debilitating...”

Apollo, who has since drawn back to put the mirror back on the dresser, makes a faint noise. “Isn’t it- uh, I mean...”

“The two of you,” Phoenix says in a voice that can only be achieved when you are very distressed and are also a father dealing with people younger than you, “had better stop being so secretive about this, I swear to God. I deserve to know what’s happening.”

The pair before him exchanges a look he cannot decipher. It’s the kind of look that can only be fostered between two people who have spent a great deal of time hiding things together, and have little else but each other in life; it’s so intense that Phoenix momentarily feels bad for asking the question, like he’s present for something a little too intimate. It’s only the ever-present ache of being away from his family that keeps him from quailing.

“Well, for starters, you’re under a curse,” Apollo says, sitting down on the bed, breaking away from Klavier’s gaze to watch Phoenix with a single-minded intensity. The sheets pool around his legs. “Same as all of us.”

“I knew that,” he replies, surprisingly finding himself not shocked. He’d come to the conclusion on his own, somewhere along the line. “Details. Tell me the details.”

“It’s a very non-standard transformatory spell,” Klavier picks up when their partner falls silent for a heartbeat too long. “Confined to the borders of the palace grounds. To most, it induces a slow transformation into a bird- we’re not sure what the parameters are for which bird you transform into, but we’re working on it.”

“You have plenty of time,” Apollo finishes. “The process is slow. Klavier and I have been here for years, and we’re still perfectly fine. The tail is normally the first thing to grow in.”

Gingerly, Phoenix reaches behind him. The feathers are short and soft, downy under his fingers. Newly grown things, barely formed. 

They’re surprisingly warm in his grasp, and he has to crush down the fleeting, sharp urge to tear them out. He knows they’ll just come back eventually. 

“How do we stop it? I mean- curses are breakable, they always are. There’s always an exit clause or a- an opposing ritual, or-”

“It’s a tricky spell, Mr. Wright,” Apollo mumbles. His hands have bunched up the sheets, where he grasps them so tightly his brown knuckles are going white. “It’s got layers- layers too tangled for any one person to push through on their own. Well... sort of.”

Phoenix opens his mouth to complain again, to press them for more, to hopefully make them stop being so vague- but he draws up short. Closes his mouth. Rubs his temples, which are starting to ache.

“It’s Edgeworth, isn’t it?” 

His words hang stagnant in the air. Quietly, Klavier crosses the room, bare feet soft on the rug below the bed, and pulls open the drapes. While they weren’t watching, the morning crept up on them, and bright sunlight streams through the glass. It doesn’t match the tension in the air.

Herr Wright,” Klavier says, when it becomes abundantly clear that Apollo is not going to speak any more. “You are no fool. You know the answer as well as I.”

He knocks his knuckles against the window, absentmindedly- Klavier is always moving, like he’s full of misplaced, electric energy- and through the panes Phoenix can just make out Simon in the courtyard, investigating the planters. It jolts familiarity and comfort in Phoenix’s chest, a sharp and unwelcome feeling. It makes him feel sick.

This place isn’t home. I don’t want it to be home.

But for all intents and purposes, it is his home, at least for the time being. At least until the feathers creep over every inch of his skin and he flies away. At least until he’s reborn, like his namesake.

Deep down inside, Phoenix curses his mother- long dead as she is- for naming him as she did. As if that would change anything.

“Does he know how to break it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you?”

Klavier’s fidgeting knuckles drum the windowpanes. It’s a soft rhythm to an unspoken melody. He’s not used to seeing them so pensive, so closed off, going against their natural exuberance, and it unsettles him. “If I did, would it make a difference?”

Phoenix knows the answer.

“Thank you,” he says. Apollo dips his head and stares at his own knees. Klavier watches him leave, their eyes stormy and inscrutable.

Phoenix goes back to his room and falls asleep, and dreams of doves, and dogs with three heads, tied up with chains on every joint. The dogs tear at the doves attached to them, teeth ripping through fragile bones, in an effort to get free, but when the feathers settle the dogs are only stained with gore, just as trapped as they were before.

Chapter Text

He can’t help it. When he finally wakes up- in the mid-evening, as he fell asleep far too early to wake at a reasonable hour- Phoenix reaches behind him to feel the feathers, pull them between his fingers. Logically, he knows it’s been less than twenty-four hours, and there’s no way they’ve grown enough for him to notice a difference.

His new tail still feels just a bit longer than before. Just enough to make his gut pitch in panic, instinctively activating his gag reflex. With an empty stomach, Phoenix chokes briefly on nothing but his own anguish, until his mind snaps him back to reality with an uncomfortable lurch.

My mind is still my own. It is still my own. I have time. I have time.

It feels distinctly untrue, despite its honesty, and the words are stale against his tongue.

Phoenix sighs and swings his legs to the side, feeling unreasonably pleased that his feet do not seem to have grown any talons, and nearly steps directly on an unassuming rectangle of paper. It briefly deters his thoughts from their despairing path, so he leans down and grabs it, then grimaces when he remembers what it is. Ah. That blasted letter.

It’s funny. Only a month or so ago, he was hoping that anything at all would make him stop agonizing over this letter, the one his daughter had risked her life to deliver- and here he is, feeling almost heartened by it, in the face of all that’s happened. It becomes friendly, under memories of unopened stacks of similar, under Edgeworth’s dismissive words, under the spray of feathers now jutting from his skin. It reminds him of where he wrote it, safe at home, whole and loved.

He flips it over and sees that the blue wax seal has been squashed slightly, which isn’t surprising. Phoenix runs a thumb over the indent in the material, feeling its ridges. The firebird-stamp had been a gift from Mia a year into his apprenticeship, when he was still nursing a confused and fledgling crush on her; a passion that had thankfully never kindled.

It had been a fragile thing, born from the ashes of his love for Dahlia; it would have never survived in reality. But for a moment, he hazards a thought: What if it had? What if he had been happy with someone who loved him as he was, and never had to think of the Palace of the Wild Things ever again?

It’s useless to imagine the world in a shape it had never held. Phoenix rubs harder at the seal, and his thumb is stained slightly blue when he lifts away.

His room is still so impersonal, even after so long staying in it. The curtains flutter in the evening breeze, kicking up dust; he briefly feels the urge to sneeze before it passes. He’s never touched the desk in the corner of the room, has barely opened the fine armoire looming in its oaken glory on the far wall. And yet this is where he feels the safest. 

The breeze is getting cold. Phoenix stands, and intends to pull the windows shut, but his attention is captured by a figure in the arbor outside, wandering through the fruit trees. He stills with his hands on the drapes.

Simon wanders alone, holding a book in one hand, and it’s the first time Phoenix has seen him without his thick coat. The white undershirt and simple slacks he wears makes him seem smaller, less of a monolith and more of a friend. He can see the short tail usually hidden behind fabric, and watches as Simon turns the page, and then brushes some of his hair out of his face. The scars around his wrists are sharply noticeable in the low light.

“We all have people on the outside, Mr. Wright. I am no exception.”

Simon must be missing someone, too- but unlike Phoenix, he has not shut himself up in his room. He seems comfortable here, at peace amongst the trees and old walls, making the most of what life he’s been given.

Phoenix leans forwards and closes the windows with a thump.

I won’t let this room become a prison. And I’m not afraid of Edgeworth.

He’s about to stride out of the door, full of bravado, when there’s a knock. It’s so sudden that Phoenix jumps, disturbing the letter laid on the bed and sending up another cloud of dust. He can’t remember a single time anyone knocked on his door before, so he doesn’t waste much time in going over and opening it; assuming it must be important.

A canid form looms in the hallway.

“Edgeworth,” Phoenix yelps in surprise, then his brow furrows, some of his anger coming back. “What do you want?”

It’s a little difficult for a dog-man to look awkward, but Edgeworth manages it seamlessly, noticeably fidgety and eyes looking elsewhere. His muzzled heads look particularly mournful, and stare at Phoenix with mopey gazes. “I... want to apologize.”

That was the last thing he had been expecting. “You what?”

Clearly mustering his courage, Edgeworth draws himself up to his full height- much taller than Phoenix- and stares at him with all three pairs of eyes. “I did not lie to you, but I worded myself poorly, and caused you distress. It is true that I have never received a letter from you, and if I had, I would have read them, but it was not childish of you to react as such. That was cruel, and for that, I apologize.”

Any irritation or anger Phoenix had been holding onto melts away in that moment, like ice in the sun. He stares with open, unabashed wonder at the man in front of him, who shuffles his paws on the hardwood but doesn’t look away. It’s the first time he hasn’t shied away from Phoenix when he’s uncertain, and there’s a blossom of warmth in his chest slowly unfurling its petals, so broadly it makes his throat close up.

“Then I’m sorry too,” he says, hand still on his doorknob. “I got upset, and I said things I shouldn’t have. You- you’re not a monster, Edgeworth. I’ve never thought that, and I never will.”

He can see it in his eyes- the desperation, the relief, a complicated concoction of emotions that Phoenix can’t place with a new light twinkling behind them. No one’s ever said that to him before, have they? I’m the first.

Quietly, he steps out of his room, and shuts the door behind him, pressing his back against the wood. Edgeworth dutifully backs up to allow him space, their eyes never leaving each other, silence falling between them like snow.

It’s immature, but Phoenix says the only thing that he can think of: “Then... are we friends again?”

Edgeworth’s eyes are soft, and he’s close enough that Phoenix can feel his presence on his skin- not touching, but comfortable. He wants to reach out for his hand, feel the pads on his palms. Get to know him through touch. “I don’t think we ever stopped.”

Phoenix smiles. “I’m glad. I really am.”

He finally looks away, and Phoenix is surprised by how wrong it feels, how sharply he wants him to look back again. “It is late, and I didn’t sleep well. If you’ll excuse me, Wright?”

“Of course. Good night, Miles.”

The name gives him pause, even as he’s turning, but the light in his eyes is still there. Edgeworth’s mouth twitches upwards at the corner. “...Good night, Phoenix.”

He waits until the white fur turns a corner and cannot be seen anymore, and goes back into his room with his heart pounding, elation buzzing at his fingertips. Even though it’s dark, the world feels full of light, warm and buoyant, endless and impossible to ignore. The letter on the bedspread seems to glow when the first snatch of moonlight sneaks through the window.

Tomorrow, Phoenix thinks. I’ll give him the letter tomorrow.

Chapter Text

Unfortunately for Phoenix, Simon demands his attention for the better part of the next few days. With the teasing onset of autumn, the palace gardens are beginning to really bear fruit now, vines choked with squash and orchard littered with fallen apples. Phoenix’s hands smell of soil and plant matter for hours afterward.

The quite literal fruit of their labors is a well-stocked pantry and several delicious meals, which serve to remind Phoenix how good freshly harvested vegetables are. Edgeworth and Franziska appear in the windows several times as they work, and once he even appears on the balcony overlooking the arbor. Phoenix waves at him, and he shyly wags his fingers in return before retreating, suddenly bashful.

Dinners are pleasant. Edgeworth attends all of them, and though they do not speak much- Phoenix is too tired to be a good conversationalist- they are warm and comfortable. He feels good, down to his bones; aching from hard work and a job well done.

On the third day, he wakes up early, bidden by excitement rolling in his gut, and waits by the stair to the seaside tower. Butterflies flutter against his ribcage, trapped inside with his pounding heart, so eager he feels almost sick from it.

He doesn’t have to wait long. A distant creak, the sound of nails on stone, and Edgeworth emerges from the stairwell, eyes bright. The morning light is still weak, and his white fur shines like silk in it.

“Hi,” Phoenix says, because he can’t think of anything else. Edgeworth’s mouth twitches upwards, just a little.

“Hi,” he replies, and his voice is kind, and Phoenix remembers dozens of sleepovers and late-night romps, of two boys rolling over in bed and greeting each other like they’d never met before erupting into giggles. The tone is the same, and he feels young again.

“I must admit, you probably know this place better than me,” Edgeworth says as they start off at a slow amble. His legs are longer than Phoenix’s now, but he keeps pace, slowing down so neither of them get lost. What he’s said is sad, in a way Phoenix can’t place, because he can’t decide if it’s true or not. “Where do you want to go?”

“The cliffside,” Phoenix responds. He’s been thinking of it ever since he picked the apples in the arbor, and the wind caught the branches of the non-fruiting trees on the far side, planted to protect the palace from the ocean winds. He remembers the bare lip of land beyond them well- it was never overgrown with too much bracken, as the wind always whipped seeds away, and Lord Edgeworth had always warned them away from the edge. They didn’t always listen, but never fell.

Their path there is slow and meandering. They travel through the main hall, and catch a glimpse of Apollo and Klavier, making their daily commute from room to library. Phoenix waves at them, and so does Edgeworth, which catches them off-guard. Klavier leans over to whisper something to his companion after they’ve gestured back, who shoves him playfully in the torso, looking embarrassed. 

Conversation is stilted at first, but flows eventually, if slowly. Phoenix remarks on his explorations, about the library, about the residents other than themselves; Edgeworth eats it up with perked ears and an interest that could only be begotten by someone who is truly ignorant to the topic at hand. It makes him realize how isolated the seaside tower is, how many years he’s been ignoring the life below. He introduces as much as he can as they push open the doors on the ground floor and walk between the apple trees.

Eventually, he mentions something he’d been skirting around: “And I’ve got to say, most of those papers weren’t too kind on the topic of von Karma. I mean- ah.” 

He winces. Edgeworth’s head tilts away from his, and a distance creeps into his eyes, but he doesn’t stop walking, and after a moment, his reply arrives.

“Fair. He was not kind to them in turn, so it is only just.”

Phoenix takes the plunge. “Was he- was he kind to you, at least?”

He knows the answer, but hopes he doesn’t. Miles stares up at the leafy canopy overhead.

“No, he was not. I don’t think he had it in him to be kind to anyone, but least of all me. He didn’t even treat his daughter with love, so why would I be offered that?”

His stomach lurches, and he wants to reach for Edgeworth’s hand, but holds back. “You didn’t deserve that.”

A faint laugh. “Two years ago, I would have disagreed with you wholeheartedly.”

He lets the statement sit as it is. Phoenix isn’t sure how to deal with it. He shoves his hands into his pockets, and paper crunches under his fingers- The letter! He’d almost forgotten. He draws it out with two fingers, thankful that it is still somewhat whole, and holds it out. Edgeworth blinks.

“A letter for you,” he explains, pushing it a little closer. Miles picks it up and looks curiously at the wax seal. “It’s the last one I wrote before I- well, came here. It’s actually why I came here, if you’d believe it.”

“To deliver it to me?” Edgeworth says, softly.

“Someone else tried, actually. My daughter.”

“Your what,” Miles’ eyes snap to his in shock, and Phoenix can’t help but laugh. You’ve missed so much, huh? 

“I adopted her- oh, five years ago now. Or maybe more, or less, I’m not sure. Her grandfather died, and she had no one, and you know me.” He taps his chest. “Heart too big for my chest.”

“I do,” Miles smiles again, just a little bit. “So there’s... been no one in your life? Other than her?”

Phoenix shakes his head, and before he knows it, he’s pushing through the treeline on the edge of the cliff and telling Miles about his family. He details Maya and Mia, and the death of the latter; he talks about Athena’s appearance in their lives, and most of all, he talks about Trucy. About being a father for the first time, fumbling upwards into parenthood, and finding he didn’t want to stop trying even when it got hard and he was terrified of making a mistake. About the joy he felt when she called him ‘daddy’ for the first time, and he knew he was in for the long haul.

Miles listens with something inscrutable in his eyes, and even though he misses Trucy with every fiber of his being, talking about her, with him, makes it hurt less. If he closes his eyes, he can almost imagine her walking between them, interjecting when he gets his stories wrong. He thinks she could make Edgeworth smile.

It’s a dizzying concept, one that hits too hard at someplace very new and very soft in Phoenix’s heart that he doesn’t quite understand. Thankfully, before he can go on and embarrass himself, the trees thin out and the breeze whistles in his ears, and they’re on the edge of the cliff that once gave the palace its name.

Phoenix hasn’t gone to the seaside in a while, even with it as close as it is, and especially hasn’t seen it from this angle in decades. The last time he was here, he was a boy, shading his eyes from the sun with Miles by his side, eager to have a new place to play. He finds himself mimicking his old movements, stepping forward with his arm over his forehead, staring out at the sea.

The sun is still low in the sky, tinged with traces of sunrise orange and rose, but it is fully above the horizon and shining appropriately. It makes the sea glitter under it, a celestial road leading far away, cobbles made of sunlight. The sky is a delicate blue, streaked with wispy clouds; the air is calm today and the water is in kind. Waves lap at the shore far below, a gentle, soothing rhythm far from anything smashing against rocks. A breeze tousles at his hair.

There’s a faint noise from behind him, and he turns to give Edgeworth a hand- and suddenly he’s eleven years old again, waiting for Miles to catch up as he carefully navigates between bushes and emerges from the trees. 

“Come on, I know you’re not that slow,” Phoenix cries, his grin wide and teasing. Miles brushes himself down and sticks his tongue out, frowning, but he can see the mirth in his best friend’s eyes and knows he’s not really mad.

“Father says there are stinging nettles in the trees,” he chides, but hastens his steps to reach him. “I don’t want to get stung.”

As he watches now, Edgeworth swipes his clawed hands over his thighs, brushing himself down once, twice, thrice- just like he’s always done. Exactly three times, no more, no less. There is something stinging at the back of his eyes.

“Next time I’ll leave you behind, if you’re gonna be so slow!”

“Just be grateful you didn’t bring Larry. He’d have gotten us all into nettles, and we’d hurt for days.”

Miles joins him, blinking in the warm light. It catches his fur in gold and yellow. “Well, what now?”

“Well, we’re here. What do we do now?”

“Duh. We sit on the cliff edge, right?”

“Th-the edge?! Isn’t that unsafe? Father says we could slip and fall!”

“The cliff edge,” Phoenix says. His tongue is almost too heavy for him to speak. “I just want to sit for a bit, if that’s okay with you.”

“It’s a bit dangerous,” Miles replies, furrowing his brow. “Are you sure?”

“Come on, please! It’ll be okay, it’s not too thin or anything.

Phoenix’s mouth is dry. “Yeah. I am.”

“Oh, fine.”

“...All right.” He goes ahead, because Phoenix is rooted to the ground. He can’t stop staring.

When Phoenix doesn’t follow, Miles turns, eyes drawn tight with worry. The afternoon light edges him in gold, his face is open and soft. Phoenix looks into his eyes, sees the warmth there, and something is keeping him stuck. His heart is pounding and he couldn’t say why. He never wants this moment to end- he never wants to stop seeing Miles like this, looking at him like he’s the only person in the world, not even aware that his gaze is pinning him down.

“Phoenix?” Miles asks, and his eyes are dark with worry, just like back then. He shakes his head, snaps out of the reverie, and goes to join him. 

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. Just- just remembering stuff.”

Miles’ laugh- quiet and clipped- is just the same. He remembers when he used to be able to make him laugh louder, until he cried- jokes told under covers, playfights where Phoenix would pontificate ridiculously enough that his mock opponent would break down in giggles.

Every step he takes is slow and deliberate. He walked the same path the first time, over rocks and low scrub, right to the middle of the cliff edge. The sky meets the sea in a neverending line, blue to green.

He doesn’t care, because he can’t stop looking at Miles, at the shape of his heads, of the folding of his jacket, the faraway look in his eyes.

Miles sits, looks up at him expectantly. It had been just the same, when they came here to explore the first time. Phoenix had felt his heart race as he swung his legs over and sat next to him, and he knew the height of the possible drop had nothing to do with it. Their fingertips are mere inches away, and he can feel every one.

Silence stretches between them, long and full of unsaid words. The waves keep track of it in an endless rhythm below.

“Nothing much has changed,” Miles says, after a while. All three of his heads are looking out at the sea. If Phoenix squints, he almost feels like he can see the profile of the man he would have become amongst them. “I’m surprised.”

“You haven’t been here since...?”

“No.” Miles hunches his arms, leaning forward a bit, but not enough to unbalance himself. “For... many reasons. I was scared- of myself, mostly. At what I might do. And... and it didn’t feel right, either. I think that was what kept me away.”

“Feel right?” His skin is aching for that something, and he almost has a name for it, but not quite-

“Every time I went here, it was with you,” Miles says, and twists to face him. He looks placid, at peace, even with the breeze fluttering his ears and making the chain between his muzzles thump lightly against his chest. The sunlight catches the silver in his grey eyes, makes him squint a little, but there’s a smile dancing on the corner of his maw. “It felt wrong to go alone.”

All those years ago, Phoenix had sat here and stared in open wonder at his best friend, and did not have the words for the feelings he felt. Now, the world has cycled back around; he is sitting here once more, staring at his best friend yet again, but he is older and wiser. The thing that blossoms in his chest is not new at all, not even a little; it is familiar and warm and he has the words for it. They took so long to find that they slot in easily, the place for them well-worn and kept over the decades, undulled by time and distance and shape.

Phoenix Wright is in love with Miles Edgeworth.

He always has been.

“I’m glad I’m here, then,” he says from far away, and it’s true but so very insignificant in the face of it all, of the feelings washing over him that are new and painfully old all at once. Everything has changed, and nothing has; he is a Phoenix from twenty-one years ago and a Phoenix from now.

But Miles is smiling, and the morning is warm, and they’re sitting together and enjoying the sunlight. And that’s enough, for now.

He settles back to watch the horizon. The sides of their hands bump when he shifts, and if Phoenix lays his pinky finger over Miles’, well, neither of them say a word.

Chapter Text

“Behold the... magic of Trucy Gramarye!”

The stutter in the girl’s speech does not escape Athena, who shifts somewhat, tilting her head to look at the circle around Trucy better. As she does every Thursday, she’s standing in a bare patch in the plaza, underneath the old oak tree, surrounded by onlookers eager to see a little magic. Normally green, the leafy canopy of the ancient tree is beginning to yellow at the edges, heralding the oncoming autumn.

Not that the weather agrees. Athena reaches down to adjust her skirt, which is hitched up a bit below her knee, held up by her belt. It’s not enough to really escape the heat, but it’s better than nothing, and she sighs and swipes her hand across her brow.

Normally, Trucy has a large, excited crowd, cheering and clapping and eager to see her performance. Today, she isn’t so lucky. The people circling her are few and hum with nervousness, muttering between themselves more often than they applaud for her tricks. Athena knows exactly why, and the reason makes her heart sink.

The people of this town are used to stories of the Palace of the Wild Things taking strangers- the last one was her uncle, and all the ones before were wanderers like him; not established members of their community. They mourned those too foolish to heed any warnings, but never truly lost any of their own, too close-knit and somewhere believing that those who lived here were safe.

But now, Phoenix is gone. Phoenix, who was born less than a league away; Phoenix, who grew up in the town after his mother’s death and was a recognizable shopkeep for years and years. It’s the first time they’ve lost someone considered one of them.

It’s made the township anxious. Athena can hardly blame them- it’s an uncomfortable and highly personal reminder that the Palace’s curse is not picky about who it chooses. Suddenly, anyone else could be next. Lovers, siblings, children- these people now sharply remember that they are under threat, and even though the shape of that threat has never changed, it is all the more looming and obvious.

Thusly: the way they treat Trucy now. Everyone saw Paladin Gavin lead her home sobbing that night. She may as well be a victim of the plague; even her audience is staying farther away than usual, regarding her with suspicious eyes and an air of distrust. If they get too close, will they start sprouting feathers in the morning?

Trucy is a chipper girl, bright and clever, more than capable of caring for herself. But she hasn’t been the same, not since Phoenix got taken. She puts on a brave front, but Athena can see past it- she’s hurting, in a way that only time has a chance of healing. Time... or the restoration of a missing piece in her life.

Athena knows this feeling intimately well. She’s gotten to know it up, down and sideways, because it’s the same one that’s been nesting in her own chest for the past decade of her life. Seeing Trucy struggle under the same... it opens up old wounds, keeps Athena awake as she remembers losing first her mother, then the other one, and finally her uncle. A long string of missing pieces.

So she’s taken up the charge of protecting Trucy, at least for now. If she’s too obvious about it she knows that Trucy will push her away, feel guilty; but if there’s one thing Athena’s glad she had when she lost each one of her family, it was someone there to catch her afterwards. Now it’s her turn to do the catching.

As she watches, Trucy tries another trick- a classic, one she’s practiced many times, the simple act of pulling flowers from inside her sleeve. She messes up. The flowers go everywhere in a puff, Trucy stumbles, and-

She’s been using doves in her tricks for years, Athena knows. It’s a staple of magic, and she’s skilled with them. But grief makes even the nimblest clumsy, and when Trucy trips, her hat falls and a single white dove flutters out in a burst of feathers.

It’ll be back by morning, but even as an accident- especially as an accident- it was the worst thing that she could have possibly done. The crowd visibly recoils from the bird in their midst, upset muttering transforming into shocked, outraged yells of discomfort. Trucy’s eyes are wide as she scrambles to gather up the flowers she dropped.

“I knew it,” one person in the tiny throng yells. “She did curse her father!”

What few of the group that weren’t scared away by the dove voice their agreement, tones turning angry, panic running high. Athena steps forwards. Time to go-

“I didn’t!” Trucy shouts. Even from a few feet away, Athena can see the tears bubbling up in her eyes. Wilted flower petals fall from Trucy’s hands to land next to the feathers on the cobbles. “I would- I would never do that to Daddy! It was- was- Paladin Gavin’s fault! He said he’d-!”

Today is clearly a day for mistakes, and if Trucy was in her right mind she’d know that saying that was the worst choice she could have made, because the people who were angry before become outraged. Athena starts shoving her way through, but it’s tough, because now their hackles are raised.

“How dare you say that?!” another person cries, bearing down on Trucy. “He’s the only reason we’re safe out here!”

“Typical lies from a curse-bearer,” someone else spits. Athena gets an elbow in the side, but ignores it, continuing to try and push people aside.

“It’s true!” Trucy’s voice is wobbling and plaintive. “I- I was there! It’s true!”

Liar!

Cursed!

When Athena finally manages to shove the last person out of her way, she’s greeted with a tearful Trucy, knuckles white on the bundle of flowers she dropped. The slender stems snap in her grip as she tries to keep herself from full-on bawling, and she jumps when Athena grabs her arm, immediately stepping closer when she realizes who it is.

“Okay, show’s over, folks,” Athena says, waving her free arm and raising her voice above the throng. “You’ve been great, thanks so much!”

She doesn’t let the angry mob say anything in response before she’s pulling Trucy away, walking faster than normal back home. Thankfully, no one follows them. They leave a trail of petals behind, and when they reach the shop’s front door, Trucy is quietly sobbing.

Maya is tending to the front desk, and there’s a quick second where she snaps into serving-a-customer mode before realizing who’s come through her front door. She rushes to their side and wastes no time in embracing Trucy, letting her cry against her shoulder.

“What’s wrong, Truce?” Maya casts a querying glance up at Athena, who can’t do much more than grit her teeth in a silent display of displeasure. She sighs and turns back to the girl in her arms. “‘Thena, can you take the counter? Come on, Truce, I’ll get you some tea and we’ll talk, okay?”

Trucy nods weakly and lets Maya lead her into the back room. Sighing, Athena rounds the counter to go to the other side, fussing with her skirt- and there she finds that Maya has left the front counter a mess. She has no idea what was going on before they arrived, but herbs, crystals and all manner of old papers on magic are scattered around with seemingly no rhyme or reason, all for Athena to clean up on her own.

She sighs again, and starts picking it up.

All of them have lost people. Athena’s family is years gone; Trucy’s before Phoenix was reportedly rather terrible (not to mention fractured), and she knows about the murder that took place here before she arrived, robbing Maya of her sister. If memory serves, even Phoenix was burdened with something similar- old stories whispered by townsfolk when it gets very late, recounting the day a column of smoke rose from the forest where a woman and her son lived a little ways away, and the only one rescued from the blaze was the boy, without his mother. 

And yet, in a way, he had held them all together. Athena picks up a sheaf of papers scrawled with Phoenix’s signature chicken-scratch and feels something ache in her chest. They’d all lost something, but found it again in him, in a friendly man, running a witch’s shop with no magic who had a home and a heart big enough for everyone.

Now he’s gone, and they have fractured without him.

It occurs to Athena then that a lot of the materials and notes she’s collecting have to do with transformatory magic, and she pauses for a moment. She’s familiar with the type- her uncle was studying it, actually. Practiced on himself, to shape his body in the right way. He’d always promised that he’d get it perfect for her, so he could help her do the same. It’s a promise etched into Athena’s bones, sworn time and time again during late nights when she felt like tearing off her mismatched skin would be better than existing in a body that felt so wrong.

Maya can’t perform this type of magic. She’s a Kurainese Witch, a very specific type; her skills lie with spirits and the deceased, not more practical kinds. Athena squints at the papers, pursing her lips. 

Not yet. But it doesn’t matter.

That’s right, Athena remembers, fingers tightening on the notes in her hand. Maya had said Phoenix wasn’t gone yet . After that night, Athena had been too busy to care, too preoccupied with new responsibilities and holding the shop together- but now her mind trails back to the conversation in front of the firelight, the secrets hidden just underneath in Maya’s voice. Is he still human, somewhere, suffering a sluggish and painful transformation? Is... is her uncle?

Maya’s always been one to go off on her own, but ever since Phoenix left, she’s been cagier than usual. Disappearing for hours at a time, leaving Athena alone to tend to the store, and now clearly keeping her own notes on transformatory spells. Spells that, if modified to be a curse, could definitely transform anyone affected into a bird. Possibly even... slowly.

She’s hiding something, and Athena wants to know what- because somewhere in that possible something is a glimmer of hope. And hope is something they desperately need right now.

Before she can continue down her thread of thought, however, the bell above the front door chimes. Athena stiffens, immediately putting the things in her hands neatly down and turning to greet the guest.

Paladin Gavin stands in their storefront, looking about with curious eyes.

He’s still in his armor, although it’s not full plate- reasonable, given the heat of the day. Outside one of the windows, Athena catches a glimpse of tan and gold, and knows his mare Vongole must be hitched outside. Gavin approaches with confidence, politely dipping his head when he’s in front of her. She responds in kind.

“Good afternoon, Paladin,” Athena says. She’s never been this close to him before, and he’s certainly never entered the shop before, if memory serves. His face is pleasant in a way that makes something inside of her crawl. It’s simply a little too perfect.

“Am I to assume that you are running the shop today, rather than Miss Fey?” Gavin asks. She nods, and he sighs somewhat, one hand on the counter between them. “And the girl? Trucy?”

“She’s in the back, Sir. We had an... incident in the square today, I’m afraid, and it upset her.”

“Yes, I heard.” Even his regretful face almost seems a little too sad- like he practiced beforehand exactly how much emotion to show on his face for it to be appropriate. “I came here to apologize, actually. She was being truthful- it wasn’t her fault her father was lost. I’m sure she must be in a lot of pain.”

“It’s been... difficult.”

“I can imagine. Still, will you pass on my deepest condolences? I will make sure the townsfolk know not to treat her that way, and that I will defend her honor in that regard.”

“Of course, Sir. Is that all?”

“Yes, thank you-”

In that exact moment, something very unexpected happens. Hung from the rafters in the front are delicate magic-detectors- small mobiles of twine and crystal, enchanted (by Athena) to respond to the presence of magic in their general vicinity. They are normally spinning gently, affected by the ambient energy of a house with three magic-users, which is exactly what Athena intended them to do. They’re popular sellers.

Halfway through Paladin Gavin’s sentence, however, one of the newer ones- a kind Athena was tinkering with to make them more sensitive- shatters, sprinkling tiny, sparkling motes of crystal all over the floor. The sound of it popping makes them both turn, viewing the destruction. Above, its peers spin wildly in place, threatening to slip and fall or even shatter themselves, casting dots of light over the walls.

“Ah,” Gavin smiles, an edge of sheepishness to it. “I’m very sorry. I must have brought in ambient magic from my patrols- what was the price? I’ll pay for the damages.”

“Twelve silver,” Athena responds in a daze. Even when they were performing larger spells, none of her detectors had ever shattered before like that. She didn’t even know they were capable of it.

Paladin Gavin pays and leaves, with that perfectly regretful smile still carved into his face, and Athena still has to clear the counter before she can gather up the shards. They wink at her the whole time, as if they know something she doesn’t.

Chapter Text

Autumn falls over the township suddenly; one day the trees are still green at the hearts of their crowns, and the next Phoenix looks out to see a blanket of fiery reds and deep oranges. The leaves start falling not long after, and the gardens are bursting with fruits and vegetables. One day, Franziska leaves the Palace itself- a rarity for her- and disappears into the low-lying forest around the gate that keeps them all sequestered away. When she returns, she’s dragging a young buck with a crossbow bolt through its eye.

Preparing and eating the buck takes a long time. The kitchen ovens haven’t been fired in a while, the inhabitants of the Palace preferring to keep them unlit to avoid excess heat during the cloying summer, and Phoenix has never butchered a deer before. Simon, however, has. When he’s finished, his forearms drenched in gore, he’s even more threatening than he normally is.

Cooking the meat falls to him, Apollo, and Klavier. Years of being the oldest in a house has made Phoenix a passable cook, and Apollo proves himself at least of equal skill. Klavier is nearly useless, and they both quickly adapt to understanding that he’s better served bringing utensils and ingredients rather than cooking.

Most of the buck is dried and salted for winter, but they save a few bits for later, as well as for dinner that night. Phoenix hadn’t realized how much he’d missed the scent of frying meat until it was filling the kitchen and much of the surrounding building, suffusing it with an aroma that made his mouth water.

Doing labor like this makes Phoenix simultaneously content and melancholy. The work is good, fulfilling; it’s hard to feel bad when you’re making something you know you’ll eat later. But the boxes of salted meat, the fruit they preserve in jars of boiling water... it’s all a reminder that he will be overwintering here. That he’s already missed an entire summer of his daughter’s life.

Throughout all of this, however, is Edgeworth. No longer sequestering himself up in his tower, Phoenix meets up with him nearly every day, and frequently at night as well. The library tower is truly a shared space between them now, equal parts Phoenix and Miles, their comfortable conversations whiling away the hours easily until dawn catches them off-guard.

Edgeworth has never been much for physical affection. Even when they were boys, it was simply not how he preferred to show affection, and Phoenix knows this. But there’s a night where the candle gutters low, and Miles is showing him an illustration in the book propped on his knee, pointing out a detail with one clawed finger. Phoenix leans in to see it better, and he’s pressed up against the man’s side, the closest they’ve been in years.

His fur is soft and silky, his muscles strong and warm. Phoenix can hear his breathing, faint through his noses, the candlelight catches in his eyes. Whatever detail was being picked out is lost in the rush of heat through Phoenix’s skin. He feels raw where they touch, heart roaring in his ears, and he’s certain that Edgeworth is going to push him away.

But he doesn’t. And Phoenix has never felt more right than in his arms. When they finally break apart, the faint chill of the tower is suddenly freezing; he immediately has to resist the urge to nuzzle closer. The faintest hint of a smile graces Miles’ mouth, but he says nothing.

And like that, they continue, an old thing growing new wings. Phoenix knows what it is, of course; he’d never forget. But he can only pray that Miles feels it too.

Days while by. Phoenix’s feathers are still growing in, longer and more numerous every day, rising up somewhat behind him like a rooster. He’s soon bearing a noticeable tail, his plumage nearly as shimmering and iridescent as Klavier’s, although his are firmly shades of orange and yellow. No matter how cold he is, the feathers are always warm when he touches them. They match the shade of the leaves on the trees.

The first time Edgeworth notices them, he has to turn and leave, and Phoenix does not see him for two days. Upon his return, there is an unspoken agreement between them to not mention it.

Whatever is between them grows slow and small, fragile in its age. However, love has clearly blown in with the autumn breezes, because on one clear-skied morning, Phoenix walks into the library to hear Klavier singing.

Phoenix has known Klavier was a musical type for a while- he keeps a lute in his room, tucked up against the wall, and every so often faint melodies will come from behind the closed door at night. However, this is the first time he’s heard them actually sing. 

Alone but for a square of sunlight falling through the window he’s leaning against, Klavier sits on the deep sill, framed by bookcases and his blonde hair catching the light, gazing with soft eyes at something outside. Their voice is low and silky-smooth, clearly well-used and well-trained; there’s something sparkling in it that Phoenix can’t describe. Klavier’s tail drapes down and pools on the floor in a curtain of shimmering green and purple, peacock eyes winking amongst the feathers.

It’s only when Phoenix steps next to them that Klavier notices his presence with a faint, startled noise, a faint blush feathering their cheeks as he leans forwards to look outside. “Ah- Herr Wright!” 

Beyond the window, Apollo is standing in the orchard, talking with Simon about something unintelligible. Phoenix smirks, but it’s fond, and he turns back to a still-flustered Klavier.

“So, it’s official now?”

“I- I suppose,” Klavier smiles sheepishly, but even his awkwardness can’t hide the joy in his eyes. They’re normally handsome, but now, they’re practically glowing. “Were we that obvious?”

“I walked in on you two naked once.”

“Ah. I forgot.” They sigh dreamily and resume gazing out the window, where Apollo has shifted from talking relatively calmly to explaining something in great detail to an ever-impassive Simon, his brows furrowed and hands waving. “I apologize if I bothered you, Herr Wright. It has been a long time since I was allowed the luxury of singing, and... my heart was so light, so full of music, that I would have burst had I not let it out. He is... my muse. The stars to my sky.”

Had anyone else waxed poetic like that, Phoenix would have doubted their feelings. But Klavier is so genuine, his eyes shining with such rich emotion, that Phoenix knows that everything he says is true. Carefully, he reaches out to lay a hand on their shoulder, and realizes belatedly that this is the first time he’s ever touched them.

“He’s a lucky man, to have you. I really am happy for both of you. Maybe you can stop fawning over each other whenever you think we won’t notice, eh?”

Much like his voice, Klavier’s laugh is bright and sparkling. “Aha! Or perhaps I’ll just do it openly now.”

“Woe befall us. You’ll get even worse!”

“Ah, as if you can talk,” Klavier retorts, and when Phoenix furrows his brows he notices that their dreaminess has sharply changed to a mischievous grin. “I’ve seen how you look at Herr Edgeworth. Now that’s a love story for the ages, eh? Childhood friends, reunited, facing impossible odds...”

Phoenix can, quite embarrassingly, feel his cheeks go red under the teasing. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. We’re friends, we always have been.”

“Ah, of course! Because friends look at friends like they’ve hung the moon in the sky and brought back the Holy Mother. I’m no fool!” Klavier is smug enough that his cheeky expression reminds Phoenix briefly of Maya. “It seems that romance has arrived with the autumn, doesn’t it?”

They’re right about it all, and Phoenix is sick of hiding it. So he leans his head against the wall and smiles. “Yes, I suppose it has.”

“He admits it!” Klavier crows, and then a moment later, something lights up in his eyes. “Ah. Ah! Herr Wright, I have come up with the most marvelous idea.”

That never bodes well, but the library is warm and he is in love, so Phoenix tilts his head to look at them better. “What is it?”

“A ball!” In a flurry of feathers, Klavier springs to his feet, claws tapping on old wood. Their face is illuminated by passion. “We are all here, safe and warm and happy. Why not send off the warm months with a farewell party they deserve? We have enough food to hold a feast and still be comfortable through the winter.”

Parties had once been commonplace here, Phoenix remembers. He hadn’t gone to many- the bright lights and crowds were often too much for him and Miles, who preferred each others’ company in one of their hidey-holes. But despite that, there was a certain kind of magic to them; the chandelier glittering and the room suffused by warm laughter even when outside the wind was roaring bitterly. The more he thinks on it, the more appealing the idea becomes. “You could sing, if you wanted to.”

“Hm.” Something breaks Klavier’s excitement for a brief moment, the flicker of a shadow in their gaze before it snapped back. “Perhaps not. But I will pull out my lute! And- and we can dance, late into the night. Raid the old closets for finer clothes, I’m certain not all of them have been eaten by moths. Yes, yes, I think it could work! I must tell Apollo.”

Before he can dart out of the room, however, he stops and turns around briefly. “Mention it to Herr Edgeworth, will you? I think this will be a lovely experience, and I want his help as well.”

Their tailfeathers are the last thing Phoenix sees before they’re gone, brimming with energy. He waits where he is for a little while, watches through the window as Klavier bounds outside and interrupts Apollo and Simon, who listen to him with curiosity as he explains his grand idea. 

The grand hall, lit up with gold like the old times. Music and dancing. A feast between friends. There are far worse ways to send off the summer and welcome the cold in, and Phoenix finds himself leaving the library too, emerging into brighter sunlight in the more open hall.

And, much to his surprise, Edgeworth is there, Franziska at his side, standing at the top of the stairs. When Phoenix appears, he stops the conversation they were holding and trots towards him. Left behind, Franziska’s face twitches, but it’s not to its customary scowl.

“Did you talk to Gavin just now?” Edgeworth asks, once he’s close enough. “If you did, what did you say? I swear, I’ve never seen him so excited. They might jump out of their skin.”

“Pfft.” Unbidden, the thought of dancing with Edgeworth crosses his mind, and he can feel his cheeks get even redder. “Well, you see, he’s got an idea. For a ball, to send off the summer. With a feast, of course.”

“A ball. Hm.” There’s an angle Edgeworth tilts his head to when he’s thoughtful- it’s subtle, but Phoenix can see it whenever he does. “You know... I’m amenable to the thought. Perhaps it is a good way to send off the season.”

“Don’t tell him, but I’m also pretty sure Klavier’s doing it so they can show off to Apollo.” With an air of secrecy, he leans in closer to Edgeworth. “They’re finally official, so he’s almost certainly planning some big romantic gesture.”

Klavier’s laugh was lovely to listen to, almost as much as their singing. Light, airy, twinkling with notes in a mysterious key. But when Edgeworth laughs, Phoenix’s heart stops beating. It’s not particularly beautiful; he’s got a deep baritone, and the sound comes out a tiny bit odd from a canine throat- but it resonates with something inside of the other man, makes his blood roar in his veins. He could listen to it forever and a day and never get tired.

“A romantic ball, here. Who would have thought.” A smile still curling his lips upwards, Miles tilts his head back to look at his sister, still on the balcony attached to the stairs. “What say you, Franziska? A party, in a few nights?”

Normally, she would have said something sharp in return. She would have fluffed her feathers, mentioned how foolish it was, and helped anyway, once they started.

But instead, she barely reacts. She’s standing at the window overlooking the balcony, gazing at something very far away indeed, one hand gripping her shoulder tight enough to bruise. Phoenix has seen her angry, even content, but he’s never seen her look like this.

Like she was mourning.

“...There are worse ideas,” she replies, after the silence has gotten thick. “Do what you wish.”

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

Morning dawns with the sweet melodies of birdsong in the forest below and a great, warm weight pressed against Phoenix’s side.

He blinks away the smudges in his vision and rubs the heels of his hands into his eyes, sore in a distantly pleasant way. It’s less the memory of pain than the memory of a good time, brought by movement and muscles. It doesn’t bother him.

The first thing he sees when he finally yawns and opens his eyes is the high ceiling of the seaside tower, painted a tasteful shade of deep red.

The second is white fur.

Tucked up against his left side is the great slumbering form of Miles Edgeworth, in all his glory. It doesn’t even occur to Phoenix to be startled; he merely runs his hand down along Miles’ stomach, smoothing down his sleek fur beneath his fingers. Miles makes a faint noise and shifts against the bed next to him, but does not seem to wake, all eyes resolutely closed and lazing on the pillows underneath.

Lying there next to him sparks nothing but joy in Phoenix’s heart. Even though he is still firmly canine, even though the muzzles still cut into the flesh of his other two snouts, he is Miles, whole and true, and Phoenix loves him.

And he loves me.

A smile creeps unbidden onto his face, and he hides it in the thick fur at Miles’ neck next to him, grinning against his warmth. Miles stirs briefly once more, wriggling unconsciously to accommodate Phoenix’s presence, a tiny thing that just makes him more elated. It’s something one would do for a lover, not just a friend.

And they aren’t friends, not in the same way. Miles is his best friend, yes; he always has been, but now they’re more. They’ve shared a bed and a dance and a cursed palace, and he’s the man Phoenix will love for the rest of his life and beyond. He knows it with complete certainty, as secure in the fact as he is certain in the sun rising every morning and spring following winter.

He pulls back enough to see Miles’ face. There is a tinge of pink to his collarbone, as if human skin is shining through the fur. The man he became is just underneath, if only he would throw away the pelt.

It doesn’t matter to Phoenix whether he does or not. All that matters is that he’s here with him, in this moment, and in every one after.

“I love you,” Phoenix whispers. “I’m going downstairs. I’ll be back soon.”

Miles makes a faint whuff and burrows deeper into his blankets.

Locating his clothes is somewhat of a task, given that he doesn’t remember where he flung them last night, but he finds the waistcoat and undershirt thrown across a stack of books and his slacks draped over the back of Miles’ desk chair. The tailcoat is nowhere to be seen, which is fine. He doesn’t really want to fasten all those buttons again anyhow.

When he puts the slacks on, his tail brushes against his hands, a shock of heat not dissimilar to standing close to a campfire. He’s used to it, now; it almost feels soothing after so many days of the sensation. If the feathers are a little longer than they were the day before, he can’t bring himself to notice or care.

Compared to last night, the morning seems incomprehensibly still, stripes of watery sunlight falling pale against grey stone and wooden stairs. He emerges from the seaside tower and makes his way to the main hall, the world feeling hushed; Phoenix resists the urge to tiptoe as he walks.

They had timed their ball well. The sky is no longer clear as it was last night; heavy clouds blanket the heavens, their bellies darker than their tops, threatening rain. Petrichor floats through open windows, a deep, earthy scent that soothes the aching muscles in Phoenix’s back and thighs. He rolls his shoulders as he enters.

Seeing their preparations in the morning light makes them pitiful, somewhat. The table in the center of the room is still up, though the remaining food has been removed (and safely stored away in the pantry, Phoenix hopes). Scuff marks from unpolished shoes marr the sleek wood below. Other than that, the space is empty- spare for one man, wielding a broom and a surprisingly patient frown.

“Good morning, Simon,” Phoenix calls, beginning to trot down the stairs. “Need a hand?”

“You are all abysmal at cleaning up,” Simon responds, but there’s a twinkle in his eye that belies a hidden amusement, despite his resting irritated face. “Didn’t even think to put the food away. Honestly.”

“Sorry.” Upon getting close enough, Simon gently throws something at him; Phoenix catches it and sees it’s a rag for dusting. He beelines for the table. “I was a little preoccupied.”

“Hah. I don’t want details, so don’t even think about it.”

“I wasn’t planning on sharing.”

“Just making certain.”

Together, they clean what remains in comfortable silence. Rain begins to fall in a few minutes, light at first, then intensifying to a heavy downpour. Miniature waterfalls pour down the windows, refracting splinters of light from inside the hall and scattering them on the ground. Phoenix stands in front of one for a moment, watching it flow, his heart at peace.

The rain is so thunderous on the ground that Phoenix doesn’t notice the knocking at the door. Simon, who is closer to the door, does. The feathers tucked into his hair puff up, as if on end, and he turns sharply on his heel to stare at the shut-tight entrance.

“Everything all right?” Phoenix asks, confused.

“There’s someone here.”

“What?” The rag nearly slips from Phoenix’s hand in shock. The entire time he’s been here, no one has come past the gates. He knows Paladin Gavin roams nearby, but the curse is dangerous to him, and he doesn’t enter the Palace grounds directly- at least, not that Phoenix can remember.

No one else already there would need to knock- they’re all inside already.

So who...?

Rather than getting the door immediately, Simon steps back, his talons clicking on the wood. The rain is thundering down, nearly obscuring the knocking, but now that he knows it’s there Phoenix can hear it clearly- frenzied and desperate.

“I don’t like this,” Simon mutters under his breath.

Before he can respond, Phoenix hears yet another thing through the downpour. A voice.

“Help- Help! Let me in, Phoenix!

He’s halfway across the hall before his thoughts can even catch up with him. Simon voices something, but he can’t parse it, because he knows that voice, and her name is falling from his lips as he flings open the door and catches her in his arms.

"Maya,” he gasps, stumbling somewhat under her sudden weight. She’s soaked and trembling, and accompanied by what feels like a tidal wave, but she’s unerringly alive. They stare at each other for a moment, the wind howling and blowing her hair.

It feels like so long since he’s seen her. It has been so long since he’s seen her, and he’s struck by how old she suddenly looks to him, like the past months have aged her faster than they should have.

“Nick,” she says, with lips so cold they’re turning blue.

“Maya,” he repeats.

And suddenly he’s crying, and she is too, hot tears spilling between the two of them. Maya unexpectedly leaps forwards and topples him over onto the ground, and the rain is definitely pooling beneath them but Phoenix couldn’t care in the slightest because it’s his best friend, his sister, his family , and he can’t believe he didn’t notice he missed her until now. 

“The door,” Simon complains from somewhere behind them. “I just cleaned.”

“Right- oh. Oh.” And suddenly it’s all wrong, instead of being joyful and light. Maya is on her feet far too fast for a woman who takes at least two hours to get up in the morning. Her eyes are wide and her hair is frizzy, and Phoenix steps back and truly absorbs how haggard she is, how her gaze flicks from place to place. “God- Nick, Nick, you have to listen to me-”

Because nothing is easy here, she’s interrupted once more by a strident new voice. “What is that racket-

Phoenix is still on the floor when Maya’s mouth drops open in a little ‘O’, thrown completely off track by who’s appeared at the top of the stairs. From the sound of it, the other person is just as affected.

He wriggles himself upright and is greeted by the sight of Franziska von Karma, staring shocked down at the dripping-wet woman in her front hall. The door is still open, and Phoenix cringes. Franziska is not one for surprises at the best of times, and her mood has been so sour lately that he doesn’t expect Maya to face her unharmed.

But before he can even say anything, Franziska moves, rushing down the stairs faster than he’s ever seen her. Maya steps forwards in turn, and- seemingly faster than he can blink- they’re wrapped up in each other, gripping with a startling familiarity at each other’s backs and arms. Now his jaw is agape. When he turns and looks at Simon, he looks equally as startled, if less exaggerated in his facial expression.

“Maya Fey,” Franziska says, pulling back to look the other woman in the eye, her voice thicker with emotion than Phoenix thought was possible, “you are a scoundrel and a liar.”

“I love you too,” Maya smiles, but there’s a glitter of tears on her cheeks.

And then Franziska leans forward again and she’s kissing Maya, right on the mouth, one hand on the back of her head in a passionate embrace, and Phoenix isn’t quite sure where he is anymore because this is patently far too outlandish for him to believe. He feels a bit as if he’s hit his head.

“You know each other,” he manages to say when they finally part. “That’s... good?”

“I’ve been seeing her for years,” Maya replies, not looking away from Franziska. “Sorry. There was... never a good time to explain things.”

When she finally tears her eyes away, however, she looks worried again, intensely enough to strike fear in Phoenix’s stomach. “Nick, listen. I-”

The rain has slowed, for just a moment. Enough for them to hear outside.

There’s a crunch, and the sound of metal squeaking against itself.

Maya’s face goes pale. “Oh no.”

Simon leans over and looks out of the still-open door. “Is that... Paladin-?”

Faster than any of them can parse, Maya leaps forwards and pulls the door firmly shut, then grabs both Simon and Phoenix by the collars and pulls. Despite both being significantly taller than her, she’s quick enough that she manages to drag them along, Franziska walking at a brisk pace beside them.

A million questions run through Phoenix’s head, tinged with a note of betrayal- you knew about the Palace? About Miles, and you didn’t tell me? - yet before he can voice them, Maya is looking at him, still heading for the stairs. 

“Trucy is sick,” she says, skipping all preamble. “And I think Gavin did it. It’s magical in nature; no idea what it is exactly, but it’s been days and she hasn’t gotten out of bed. We need help from a magic-user who isn’t me-”

“Ghk,” Franziska says.

Phoenix’s heart barely has time to drop to his shoes when they all turn as one to look at Franziska, who is no longer keeping pace. Franziska, whose hand shakes as she reaches up towards her shoulder. Franziska, who has red blooming on the white fabric of her tunic.

Franziska, who has just been shot with an arrow.

Franzi,” Maya gasps, as the door slams open behind them.

The ball is forgotten. It is only the here and now, with a growing thunderstorm rumbling in the air above, and they are in danger.

Paladin Kristoph Gavin stands in the doorway of the Palace, bow drawn, a placid smile on his face.

“Why don’t we make this easy,” he says, “and you can all surrender now.”