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And Be of Good Cheer

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And Be Of Good Cheer

"Do you still think we should do this?"

Miles looks across his office to where Phoenix is busy pacing from one bookshelf to the next, glancing at titles as he does, clearly not actually taking anything in. Pushing his chair away from the computer, Miles steeples his hands in front of his face. "You think we shouldn't?"

"I don't know." Phoenix shrugs. "It's in five days. It just seems..."

"We can always cancel, if you think we should. Have it just be you and me and Trucy." Settling back in his chair, Miles watches Phoenix. "Assuming, of course, you think we could manage to keep it just us and Trucy?"

"Given what happened last year... not likely." Phoenix chews on his bottom lip. "And I don't really want to leave Apollo alone for Christmas, not given everything that's happened. And Athena doesn't really know anyone other than us in the country, and—"

"And this is exactly how we got into problems last year." Standing, Miles moves to Phoenix's side, catching his lover's shoulder and holding the man in place. Really, after the day they just had, how does Phoenix have the energy to be fidgety?

"They weren't exactly problems..." Phoenix's arms wrap around Miles' chest, Phoenix's head nuzzling in to Miles' shoulder gratefully.

"We had sixteen people and enough turkey for eight, maybe nine, and enough seating for ten." It had been a disaster, really, the only thing keeping it from being a host's worst nightmare the fact that both hosts had far worse things in their nightmares.

It had started out simply enough. They were going to have Christmas dinner as a family, as they usually did, the three of them together. Except this time they were in America, rather than Europe, and that meant Franziska wouldn't be joining them.

Phoenix had quickly substituted Apollo onto the guest list, not wanting his orphaned protege to be without somewhere to go for the holidays. Given how much both Phoenix and Trucy talked about the young man, Miles was happy enough to acquiesce and finally get a chance to meet him.

Then Miles had noticed Gavin at the office Christmas party, off by himself, which was unlike the usually gregarious young man. A stilted, alcohol-assisted conversation later, and Miles knew that Gavin had no one to spend the holidays with and enough red flags hanging off his carefully-picked words that Miles wasn't going to let him be alone on such an emotionally-charged occasion.

Trucy adores Klavier, and he and Apollo seem to get along well, so he was added to the guest list.

Things get slightly less clear after that. There was some miscommunication between Miles and Phoenix about Maya and Pearl coming down for the holiday, and they appeared in the doorway Christmas Eve, when Miles was expecting them two days later.

Sebastian heard that Klavier had been invited to Christmas with Miles, and in order to make the injured, betrayed look in the younger man's eyes go away Miles immediately extended an invitation to him.

Kay Faraday heard that Sebastian was going to Christmas at Miles' house and immediately stole a non-existent invitation for herself, announcing said fact along with her appearance while Miles was trying to wrestle the turkey out of the oven.

Phoenix talked to Ema at some point and learned that Lana had been released four days before the holiday, and decided that the two of them would definitely have to come to Christmas dinner in order to spare an already-overburdened Ema the responsibility of cooking a holiday meal. He gave Trucy a note with the information for Miles, but a convoluted series of events led to the note being dissolved in acid, and in his concern for Trucy, Phoenix forgot about the invitation until they showed up.

Gumshoe heard from Ema that Miles and Phoenix were hosting everyone for Christmas, and he and Maggey appeared with a beautiful pumpkin pie and a lot of confusion shortly after Ema.

Sebastian told John that he had been invited to Christmas dinner, and John somehow convinced Justine—mostly, Miles figured out later from filling in backstory, through trickery—that they should stop by to say hi, they would definitely be welcomed.

Raymond Shields showed up while Miles was fuming as he attempted to figure out a way to salvage the situation, correctly assessed what was happening within a few seconds, and after spending a good half minute laughing did what he could to help.

Everyone had survived the disaster. Everyone had even had a good time. Everyone had even seemed to eat their fill, Phoenix being surprisingly adept at turning the most common ingredients into delicious food quickly. There had even been a bit of impromptu gift-giving, everyone else having apparently had a better idea of the guest list than Edgeworth himself.

Miles would much prefer to be in control of the situation, though, and so this year, invitations had been sent out over a month in advance. Now it's time to send out small reminders, but in the intervening weeks since invitations had been extended and RSVPs received... well, to say a lot has happened would be an understatement.

"I want to do it still." Phoenix mumbles the words into Miles' shoulder, but Miles has a fairly good grasp on mumbled-Phoenix by this point and understands clearly. "I want to have a good celebration with them. But I don't... Apollo's still so raw and sore, and Athena's happy but she gets overloaded pretty quickly after everything and..."

Miles spends a few moments considering his next course of action. Though Phoenix's people have been the most badly hurt by the Phantom incident, Ema and Gumshoe are still reeling from the reveal of the Phantom's true identity. Will they even have a chance to bury what remains of the real Bobby Fulbright before the holiday is on them? Most likely not.

But does it matter?

Wrapping his arms around Phoenix, Miles holds the other man tight. It has been a long year, for all of them. A good year, in some aspects—a great year, even, Phoenix returning to court, even if the case he returned on was... less than ideal. In other aspects, though, and especially with the way it has ended... well, it's not the first time Miles has had to deal with demons on days that others see as a celebration. "I'm not Apollo. But if you wouldn't mind me giving my own observations..."

Phoenix raises his head, smiling at Miles, both eyebrows lifted in a forced expression of confusion. "Who are you and what have you done with Miles Edgeworth? You never ask before giving out advice."

"I've never given out advice for situations like this." Miles lifts his shoulders in a small shrug. "But no matter what we do, the holiday is going to come. There are going to be people celebrating. Even if he stays locked in his apartment, any time he turns on the television, turns on the radio, there will be the Christmas season, proclaiming joy and good will and health and rebirth. It is unavoidable, in our world."

Phoenix's hand rises, strokes gently down Miles' cheek, and his eyes are haunted, the lost, helpless look that he wears when he sees a scar that he knows he can't erase.

"And while I doubt Mr. Justice will feel much like celebrating..." Miles leans his head into Phoenix's palm. "I think it would be better, all things considered, for him to be with us. With those who will understand that he is grieving, and respect that grief. With others who have buried family and friends, and know that the holidays can be a double-edged sword for more than just those who hate their in-laws."

A soft laugh escapes from Phoenix, one that is more bitterness and sorrow than mirth, and he gives his head a brief shake. "We know way too many orphans, you know that?"

"Speaking as someone who is on the orphan list, it does seem to be an epidemic amongst our friends and coworkers." Running his fingers up and down the length of Phoenix's tie, Miles sighs. "We can't bring back the dead. But we can give our family somewhere safe, to celebrate or grieve as their own personal histories dictate."

"Family. It's... it's really good, hearing you refer to our little crew as that."

Miles shrugs again, not meeting Phoenix's eyes. "It's how Trucy refers to us, and is slightly more... apropos to the conversation than Team Truth and Justice."

Phoenix laughs again, and this time there is a hint of joy in it. "Hey, Team Truth and Justice is a beautiful name. Though you stole that one, too."

"What can I say?" Miles trails a finger down Phoenix's face. "The young women in our family are good at coming up with names for it."

"They are." Phoenix nods, expression pensive again but at least less distressed. "And like I said, I'd still be happy to have everyone over... assuming you think you can think of a way to phrase the reminder card that shows we understand what the situation is. Because if I imagine Apollo opening a 'Come Celebrate!' card, it usually ends in either him crying or punching me in effigy. Or both. I can definitely imagine him doing both."

"You're a lawyer, Wright." Miles gives the other man a gentle whack on the back of the head. "You should be good at manipulating words. Certainly better than you think you can think, and well up to the challenge of crafting such a card."

"Who told me last game night that I am no longer allowed to play either Boggle or Scrabble, because I am a danger to myself and others when allowed around words?"

"That's because you were making up and misspelling words." Miles huffs out a breath, though he doesn't relax his hold on Phoenix. Though a joking Phoenix is a step in the right direction from a pacing Phoenix, he can still feel tension under his hands, thrumming through all of Phoenix's muscles.

"I know the real reason you don't want to cancel the party." Phoenix's head comes to rest on Miles' shoulder again. "It involves a whip and shouted German phrases at one-twenty-nine in the morning."

An involuntary shudder runs the length of Miles' body. "It was not my fault that she wasn't invited to the party last year. There wasn't supposed to be a party last year."

"And she was supposed to be in Australia at the time." Phoenix's chest moves in silent laughter. "Though when she and that Interpol guy showed up for New Years unannounced it was pretty great. 'I didn't want to hear any more excuses about why I wasn't allowed to spend time with your friends, Miles Edgeworth.' If Trucy hadn't run up to hug her aunt, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been able to touch you for a week once she was done with the whipping."

"Thankfully Trucy has a remarkably good sense of timing." Miles' voice is dry, not sharing in Phoenix's humor. He wishes he could say he doesn't understand where Franziska's anger came from, but he does. Being left out of family gatherings or intentionally distanced from family can be exceedingly painful, as he learned during his time in the Von Karma household, and he hadn't meant to inflict that on his sister. "But that was last year; this is this year. So come on, Wright. Between the two of us, we should be able to come up with the least painful way of wording things possible."

Phoenix follows him back to the computer, and they spend an hour fiddling with the lay-out and exact wording on the reminder cards, until they are both satisfied that it's the best they can manage.

Then they head to bed, and Miles holds Phoenix tight, old invisible scars throbbing as he stares out at the blurry shapes that fill the darkness.

Having the party is far better than not, he's certain of that. He and Phoenix will both feel better if they can keep their eyes on those who have been most hurt in this latest debacle.

That still doesn't mean it's going to be easy, though, for them or for anyone else.

XXX

Franziska is the first to arrive, coming into the airport at 5:53 AM Christmas Eve morning.

Miles still has to work most of the day, but after last year he doesn't want Franziska to have to find her own way to their house. He has no doubt that she would, either by taxi or by rental car, but he would almost certainly be hearing about it for the rest of her trip, and he would prefer this to be a good experience for all of them.

Phoenix believes that rising before the sun is at least a venial sin, though it can sometimes be upgraded to a cardinal one, so Miles has allowed him to continue sleeping. Though Phoenix and Franziska get along surprisingly well now, given how their relationship started, Miles still likes to have them both happy before introducing them to the same environment—rather like cats that one is attempting to coerce into getting along. Though Phoenix isn't so much a cat. Trying to coerce a fox and a cat to get along, perhaps? Besides, even though he left Phoenix sprawled in endearing disarray across the bed, it's not like Miles is alone.

"Is that one hers?" Trucy points to a plane banking in for a landing.

"No." Bending down so he's more at an eye level with the young woman, Miles points to the tail of the plane. "See the insignia on the tail? That one's from a company in South Africa; Franziska should be coming from Zheng Fa. You remember what the Zheng Fa symbol is, yes?"

Trucy nods eagerly. "You're sure she's not bringing the werewolf this time?"

"One, Agent Lang is not a werewolf." When Trucy just crosses her arms in front of her chest and gives him a look of stubborn determination, the same one she has used for the past five years with regards to Lang's species' identity, Miles decides to let it rest for the moment. "Two, after last year I'm not certain of anything, but three, Agent Lang said he won't be able to make it for the holidays given his own familial and work obligations but he will most likely see us around the new year."

"Good." Trucy's expression changes to a wide grin of anticipation again as she turns her gaze back to plane-spotting.

The girl loves the holidays. She has for almost as long as she's been Phoenix's daughter. Though the first Christmas they shared was a bit rough and uncertain, apparently it set enough of a positive groundwork for Trucy to regard the holidays as a time of love and celebration. Given associations other members of their family have with Christmas and the time directly after...

"That one! That is definitely a Zheng Fa plane! Come on!"

Trucy doesn't give him a chance to actually squint the plane she is pointing at into focus, grabbing his hand and pulling him as close as security allows to where international passengers will be released from customs. A quick glance at an arrival board as they pass shows that Trucy is right, though, and Miles makes sure that his suit is impeccably straight as he waits for Franziska to appear.

She is the first one through the door, her head high, the dark blue roll-along suitcase behind her somehow seeming to cower in abject surrender as she trundles it toward them. Her style has changed just slightly again—a little more length to her skirt, a little more flare to the blouse, a bit of a darkening of the colors so that her skin and hair stand out even more starkly. She looks good, strong, mature, capable, every inch the fierce and intelligent prosecutor that she has grown into.

A ferocious frown is etched into her face, and she scares the male customs agent who had been preparing to direct traffic away with a single glance, his attention immediately flitting to the couple disembarking behind her.

"Aunt Franziska!" Trucy jumps up and down, waving her arms, though there is very little doubt that Franziska has seen them.

Well... Miles glances down at the top of Trucy's head. There is little doubt that Franziska will have seen him, but perhaps when one goes through life from a shorter vantage point one learns to adapt.

"Trucy." Franziska's frown vanishes as she approaches them, and she actually holds her arms open, inviting the girl in to a brief but tight embrace. "It is good to see you, niece. Have you been keeping my little brother out of trouble?"

Trucy's grin falters, just briefly, before her stage smile is affixed in place. "I've been trying, but it's been kind of hard. I got taken hostage during a robot uprising that wasn't actually a robot uprising, and Polly... Polly..."

Even the stage smile falters, and Miles finds himself stepping forward, reaching out to rest a hand on Trucy's shoulder. She has been remarkably strong and confident these last few days, insisting that everything is all right, but he has no doubt that all she has gone through and all she has watched her friends go through has taken a toll on her.

Before Miles can reclaim the girl, though, Franziska pulls Trucy deeper into a hug, murmuring reassurances in German for a few seconds before holding her out at arm's length. "I have heard a bit about what has happened, but I think I will need you to sit down with me and tell me all that has happened, and all that my foolish brother and your foolish father let come to pass."

"They weren't really very foolish." Trucy rubs at her eyes, smiling more honestly as she does. "Just the normal amount of foolish."

"Given who they are, that can encompass a great deal of foolery." Franziska pulls Trucy's top hat down over her eyes, straightening and reclaiming the handle of her suitcase. "You can tell me about it while we place my presents under the tree."

"You brought presents?" Trucy's eyes light up, studying the suitcase with intense interest.

"I would not be a very polite guest if I were to come to Christmas and not have presents for at least my niece. And a Von Karma is always polite." Franziska finally raises her eyes to study Miles. "Isn't that right, little brother?"

"You do seem to do your best to uphold the tenets of etiquette. Speaking of which..." Miles gives a little bow. "May I take your bag, Franziska?"

For a moment he thinks she is going to protest. Accepting help from him was a sure way to earn her father's wrath when they were children, but they have had a decade to grow beyond it, and Miles can see the strain of travel and work weighing down her shoulders. Shoving the handle towards him, she sighs, acting as though she were doing him a great favor. "If you insist."

Trucy takes Franziska's hand once it's free of the suitcase. "We have so much planned for the next few days, it's going to be amazing! Aunt Maya and Pearl are going to be coming into town this evening—"

A strangely disappointed look flashes across Franziska's face. "They aren't here yet?"

"Nope, Aunt Maya had Master of Kurain stuff she had to do out in Boston, can you imagine it?" The horrified look Trucy wears makes it seem as though the east coast were some dangerous foreign nation. "But she'll be done by noon, and then she and Pearl are coming here and Daddy and I will pick them up this evening. In the meantime, we're going to make gingerbread cookies, and finish the interior decorating, and get the music playlist set for tomorrow, and make sure the turkey's thawing, and—"

Franziska listens attentively as Trucy continues to rattle off their plans for the next twenty-four hours, adding small commentary here and there. Her eyes continue to flit to Miles, though, including rather than excluding him from the conversation.

It's nice. It's companionable, even.

Trucy climbs into the back seat of the car while Miles is busy wrestling Franziska's suitcase into the trunk. What did she buy for presents, rocks? He knows better than to ask, though.

She is standing next to him when he finally closes the trunk and collapses against it, panting a bit more than he probably should be after the exertion.

"Little brother." Her arms are crossed in front of her chest, a gesture of uncertainty—a physical tell that they share.

Miles raises both eyebrows.

"I did read about the Phantom case. About what you did—and what Phoenix Wright did. About what Justice did." Her eyes are questioning, though anger waits in their blue depths, ready to spring up if needed. "Is it true he betrayed them?"

Closing his eyes, Miles draws a steadying breath. It isn't Franziska's fault. She knows only what has been reported in the news, and that has been both sensationalized and generally not flattering to anyone save the dead. (He dreads when even the dead will become fair game, when Clay Terran and Bobby Fulbright will have their actions and character questioned, but he has learned over the years not to borrow from future pain. It will come on its own in time, and the past and the present have enough of a store to last anyone a lifetime.) "Justice didn't betray them, and Trucy wouldn't appreciate you being angry at him. Terran was Justice's best friend."

He doesn't say more. He doesn't have to. Franziska grew up watching him celebrate the holidays in the shadow of his father's ghost.

Reaching out a tentative hand, Franziska lays it on his shoulder. "We will make this a good year. A good celebration."

Edgeworth nods. "We'll certainly try."

For a moment Miles thinks she's going to say something else, her lips parting. Then she just returns his nod, decisive and short, and walks around to the passenger's side door.

Climbing into the driver's seat, Miles checks the time, glad to see that he can both drop Trucy and Franziska off at home and still make it in to work on time.

Given their family's track record with Christmas, Miles wants to be there to ensure nothing else explodes in anyone's face before the festivities begin tomorrow.

XXX

The doorbell rings while Phoenix is busy trying to balance three pies on two hands. Trucy could probably do it, but Trucy can do many things that Phoenix cannot, a fact he has long since accepted.

"Coming! Maybe!" Phoenix doesn't know if his staccato shouts are even audible from the doorway—given the size of Miles' house, he suspects not. "Trucy, can you—oh, damn—"

The cherry pie begins a seemingly endless fall to the floor, having somehow oozed its way out of the crook of Phoenix's arm. He can't grab it, because if he lunges after it then the blueberry and the apple pie will likely try to follow it down, and—

"Daddy." Trucy cradles the pie gently in both hands, looking up at Phoenix and shaking her head. "How did you ever survive without me?"

"A very good question, Trucy." Shoving the two pies in his hands into the oven, Phoenix claims the pie from his daughter and slots it in with its siblings. "I'm honestly not sure, but I think it has something to do with Lady Luck both loving and hating me."

Trucy giggles, shaking her head and popping an extra piece of pie crust in her mouth before making a face.

"You do that every year." Phoenix shucks off his cooking mitts. "And every year it tastes bad, and every year you say that you won't do it next year."

"I haven't said that this year." Trucy tries to pout, but she doesn't manage it for very long. "And now I definitely won't, and maybe next year the dough will taste better."

"It tastes just fine after it's been cooked." Adding his apron to the pile of cooking mitts, Phoenix tries in vain to pat the worst of the flour out of his sweatshirt and jeans. Oh, well, whoever it is can deal with the fact that he's messy. It's not like Miles is here to be distraught over the impression Phoenix is giving people.

Turning to head for the front door, Phoenix almost collides with Maya, who wraps him in a firm embrace, her arms tight around his chest.

"Nick! Oh, man, it's good to see you again."

"Maya!" Nick blinks, his arms instinctively returning the hug even as his brain strives to catch up to what's happening. "But—I thought—your plane—"

"We got done early in Boston, so Mystic Maya used her powers of persuasion to get us on an earlier flight!" Pearls pops out from behind Maya, a backpack on her shoulders.

Maya grins as she releases him from the hug, placing one hand on her hip and one beneath her chin. "I can be very persuasive if I need to be, now."

"Pearl!" Trucy throws herself at her cousin, the two young women spinning in a circle.

Visions of broken cookware and desserts strewn about the room flash through Nick's mind, but Trucy and Pearl both have a better sense of balance than him, and despite the clutter nothing gets broken.

"What was Boston like?" Trucy keeps hold of one of Pearls' hands, though she directs the question to both Pearls and Maya. "Was it awesome? Was it scary?"

"Trucy, you've been to Europe." Maya shakes her head at Trucy. "In Boston they still speak English."

"No, they don't. They only believe in twenty-five letters of the alphabet." Trucy sticks out her tongue. "Plus they have snow all the time, yeah? Was it cold? Did you freeze?"

"My feet did get kind of cold." Pearls lowers her head in embarrassment. "And I'm glad to be back here."

"Of course you are." Franziska's voice comes from the doorway, her German accent a whip-crack over everyone else. "One should be with one's family for the holidays, after all."

Phoenix closes his mouth, deciding after the second sentence that maybe Franziska isn't choosing a fight. He has never been very good at reading Miles' younger sister, and he's still not sure if she even likes him or not.

Franziska lifts her chin, doing her best to look down on him despite Phoenix having a good half a head of height on her at least. "Even if that family neglects to pick you up from the airport."

"Nick didn't know we were coming in, and I didn't want to bother the great chef. But I definitely agree the holidays are a time to spend with the family." Maya gives Phoenix a light punch on the shoulder. "Especially when the family in question has been through rather a lot. We were following the news..."

"Yeah?" Rubbing at the suddenly tense muscles in the back of his neck, Phoenix lowers his gaze. "The basic facts are probably right; the opinions and accusations everyone's making about everyone not currently in jail—"

Trucy's hand slips into his, an easy fit. "And about Aura, who is currently in jail."

"Right. Well. Take those with as much salt as you usually take anything written by the press."

Maya's expression softens, and she reaches forward, her fingers brushing against his for a moment. "It's been a rough couple of weeks, huh?"

Phoenix doesn't bother answering in words. He just nods, allowing the truth of the last two weeks to become visible in his eyes, on his face, a bald showing of wounds that he would only willingly bare to two people.

Well... maybe more, now. Or at least in time there will probably be more, Apollo and Athena having proven their courage and compassion and kindness time and time again, Trucy and Pearls growing into brilliantly strong young women.

Maya's arms wrap around him again, and then she is past him, gathering up the apron and the oven mitts, the accoutrements a strange accompaniment to her Kurain Master's outfit. "Well, today and tomorrow are going to be great, so let's keep baking! We are ace bakers, after all, aren't we?"

Phoenix returns Maya's grin, pulling out the recipe for the pastry that will provide a quick breakfast for anyone who wants or needs it tomorrow.

"Where's Edgeworth, by the way?" Maya asks the question off-handedly, wrestling a bag of flour down off a top shelf.

"Working." Phoenix can't help rolling his eyes.

Franziska slams the vanilla and almond extracts down in front of him, clearly having read the recipe over his shoulder. "Justice doesn't rest or take vacations."

Phoenix stares at the woman, the word objection bubbling up in his throat despite his best efforts. Does he really need to point out to the woman who will be staying in one of their guest bedrooms tonight that taking a vacation is sometimes allowed? Encouraged, even?

"Given what I've seen and heard about Apollo, I'd say that's right." Maya pokes Trucy in the shoulder with one floury finger. "What about you?"

"Yeah, Polly's not big on breaks. As opposed to Daddy, who loves breaks."

"I know." Maya's voice drops to a stage-whisper. "Did you know he took over a month-long break once, when we left him alone?"

Trucy responds in the same stage whisper. "I'm not surprised. Daddy doesn't work well when he's alone."

"It's a failing that many people have." Franziska's voice is softer, almost conciliatory. "One that, perhaps, is not always a failing."

Yep, Phoenix has lost all track of where he and Franziska stand in relationship to one another. Are they enemies? Friends? Colleagues?

Family, he decides, settling down to mix the ingredients for the pastry together.

They are family, tied together by Miles and Trucy and the triumphs and tragedies of the last ten years, and that's really more important than anything else could be.

XXX

Dinner is a quiet, calm affair. Miles returns home in the early evening, and though it seems late from the schedule that Franziska has read on his office website, it clearly isn't unexpected to Trucy, Phoenix, and the others. Once he is home, though, Miles is home, clearly present and invested in everything that is happening around him and all the conversations they are having despite his long day.

It's not the first time she's seen this. She has spent enough time with Miles and his family when they are in Europe to know that this is how they always are, how they always function. It should probably stop surprising her, one of these days, stop dragging a dull scalpel across ancient wounds, but apparently that day isn't today.

(He was never like this, the man who betrayed both of them in very different ways. Would it have made a difference, if Manfred von Karma saw more of a purpose to his home life than just another pretty trophy to hang alongside all his other accomplishments?)

They finish the baking and the preparations for the next day, leaving the whole house smelling of delicious food and festive promises. Trucy rearranges the presents under the tree at least three times, ensuring that everyone has a pile, choosing and rethinking and re-rethinking whose presents are piled by whose. She frets a bit about differences in pile size, despite both Phoenix and Maya reassuring her that it's the content and thought of the presents rather than the quantity that matter.

There are more names under the tree than Franziska would have imagined, and Trucy seems familiar with and deeply attached to all of them. Some Franziska knows—Skye, DeBeste, Lang, Shields, Scruffy, one of Scruffy's long-time objects of infatuation, herself—and some she has heard a great deal about—Justice, Cykes, Gavin. Some are completely unfamiliar to her, like the child with the unfortunate moniker of Jinxie, but most of those Trucy assures her won't be at the party tomorrow, their presents waiting until some nebulous time between Christmas and the New Year to be delivered.

When Trucy is finally done rearranging the tree, they settle down for a few rousing rounds of word games. Franziska wins at Scrabble, arguing successfully that so long as it is a German word everyone recognizes it should be allowed; Wright stomps everyone at Scattergories; and Trucy and Pearl tie for first place in Boggle.

It was, all things considered, a good evening.

Tomorrow will undoubtedly be a marvelous day.

So Franziska should really be in bed, not prowling the darkened halls of her little brother's home.

She used to love the holidays. She used to look forward to Christmas every year, to Advent calendars that were purchased just for the chocolate and the joy of finding each number in succession, to buying gifts, to receiving gifts, to having her father home for a bit because everywhere closes down for Christmas.

He called her, the day Miles was arrested. He called and told her that their good-for-nothing ward had been arrested for murder, and of course he was going to be the prosecutor for the trial, and wasn't it just what Franziska had always expected from a no-account defense attorney's son?

She agreed with him. She shouldn't have, she didn't, not really, but she still told him what he wanted to hear, what it was expected that she would say.

Maybe one day she will forgive herself for that.

She realized long ago that she will never forgive Manfred von Karma for it.

She is too lost in her thoughts, not paying enough attention to where she's going, and she almost runs directly into Maya Fey.

"Whoa there!" Maya reaches out, steadying her, a smile flitting across the other woman's face. "Sorry, Ms. Von Karma. I didn't see you there."

"Apology accepted." Drawing a slow breath, Franziska continues, a decade's worth of experience telling her what she needs to say now. She wouldn't have, when she first met Maya, but she has changed and grown in the years since then, her time working hand-in-hand with people who are slightly better at, well, people than she is not having been for naught. "And returned. In all honesty, I didn't see you, either."

"It's dark. And late." Maya waves a hand, still smiling brightly. She, too, has changed in the years that have passed, growing into a remarkably beautiful woman. She resembles her sister in her face and her hair and the shape of her eyes, but she is built more to the lines that Franziska likes, having retained a less busty figure that her Kurain garments compliment very well. Not that Franziska has been looking. "I'd say it's a time no one should be up and about, but clearly most of the adults in this household feel otherwise."

"Oh?" Franziska asks the obvious question. "Who else have you run into?"

"Well, you, quite literally, right now." Maya points back over her shoulder. "Edgeworth's in the library, supposedly reading but I think mainly brooding. And I was slipping a few presents from Santa under the tree."

Franziska arches an eyebrow. "Santa is not real. Both Trucy and Pearl are old enough to know that."

"Both Trucy and Pearl do know that. But I still like getting them a little bit of a treat from an unknown person. Plus it's the only way to safely give Edgeworth and Nick certain gifts." Maya's grin widens. "Santa doesn't keep gift receipts, after all."

Franziska shakes her head, a smile flitting about her lips despite her best efforts. "You should not be feeding my little brother's superhero addiction."

"If I don't, who will?" Maya is completely unapologetic. Her smile fades a bit, though, as she studies Franziska. "Mind if I ask why you're up and about?"

"Yes." Franziska can make her voice just as threatening as her whip, to the point where she has had to use the whip very rarely these days.

"All right. Fair enough." Maya holds up her hands, backing away from Franziska. She stops three feet away, though, studying Franziska with a thoughtful expression. "Would you mind if I gave you some advice?"

Franziska returns the woman's scrutiny. "That will depend on what the advice is, now won't it?"

"Yeah, I guess." Maya's eyes drop to her hands, currently buried in her kimono. "I don't know if you remember or not, but I've lost family, too. And I know it can be easy to get caught up in thoughts of what-if, and maybe, and dreams of what can never be. So it's best to focus on the family you've got right in front of you, and do everything you can to make them happy."

Her first instinct is denial. Her first instinct is to lash out, to tell Maya that she knows nothing about what Franziska has been through.

That wouldn't be fair, though, and it wouldn't be true. Franziska knows that. And she doesn't want to lash out, for some strange reason. She wants to meet Maya's maturity with a strength and aged wisdom of her own, to show that Maya has not outgrown her in the race to and through adulthood. "It has been eleven years. I... have come to peace with it, I think."

"Good. I'm really glad, if that's the case." Maya's smile is honest, and she raises a hand to push black hair back behind her ears.

The unspoken question hangs in the air, and though Franziska doesn't give a complete answer, she offers at least a small portion of one in return for Maya's honesty. "You said my brother is in the library?"

Maya nods.

"I am going to talk to him, briefly." Franziska's hand moves before she intends it to, latching onto Maya's and giving it a short, firm squeeze. "I look forward to seeing you in the morning, for the celebration."

Another nod from Maya, a brief, beautiful smile, and the two women part, heading their separate ways for the remainder of the night.

XXX

Miles stares blankly at the book in his lap, not actually taking in any of the sentences on the page. It has probably been ten minutes or so since he last bothered to turn a page, but there is no one else in the library to watch his movements and know he isn't actually reading.

Phoenix is in bed, having turned in at a reasonable time and actually stayed there, though Miles knows better than to think that Phoenix is actually sleeping. Phoenix is waiting, biding his time, trying to decide if this is one of those times Miles needs to be alone or one of those times when Phoenix can save him from his thoughts.

It would be easier if Miles knew, but he doesn't. Sometimes it is good for him to be alone for a little bit, to pull out his faded and pawed-over memories of the last Christmas he spent with his father and see how they are holding up. It was like that in 2017, when he spent Christmas Eve with Franziska and Christmas Day alone while Franziska visited her sister and niece. Miles hadn't wanted to intrude on a family affair that his presence could make awkward, the ghost of Manfred von Karma undoubtedly hovering behind him, but it had been a good day anyway. A peaceful day, a chance to examine his hard-won sense of self and purpose in preparation for his return to America, and what he had found was satisfactory, at least.

Other Christmases have not been so pleasant. The year after Phoenix was disbarred was miserable for both of them, Miles doing his best to support Phoenix and Trucy while wrestling with demons he thought he had put down. Phoenix had helped him, then, spending most of the 28th in silent vigil at Gregory Edgeworth's grave with him while Gumshoe watched Trucy.

Last year... last year had been a mixed bag, the actual holiday itself a pleasant if stressful experience, but melancholy threatening in the time between the holiday and the anniversary of his father's death. Between the day he was led in chains into the detention center, and the day his mentor was finally arrested for his father's death. He tries, for Trucy's sake, not to think of the holiday in those terms, to let December 25th be the first day of Christmas and December 28th be simply the fourth, but sometimes the memories come whether he wills them or not.

And this year, when others are mourning losses that he couldn't prevent but should have prevented, when Gavin has buried his mentor and Ema and Gumshoe still need to bury their colleague and Apollo bleeds anger and pain onto every interaction...

"Little brother." Franziska addresses him in German, her arms crossed in front of her chest as she steps up next to his chair.

Miles tries not to startle, knowing he does a poor job of it. Of all the people to come find him, Franziska had not been one he expected. He responds to her in the language she chose, though—the language of their childhood, the language whose accent Von Karma could never quite banish from Franziska's voice despite his best efforts. "Franziska. Did you need something?"

"No." Franziska shakes her head. "Trucy showed me anything I could possibly want to find in your house throughout the course of the day."

She continues to stand by his chair, though, her hands fisted in the sleeves of her elegant dressing gown, not quite meeting his eyes. She wants him to continue the conversation, to give her an opening, and though Miles doesn't know exactly what it is she wants to discuss, he has a few guesses. Putting the bookmark in his book, he sets it aside. "I'm glad you could make it this year."

"I would have made it last year, but I was not invited." Her eyes sharpen, fixing on him.

Miles shrugs his shoulders. "When we talked right before the holidays, you said you were busy on a case. I wasn't going to try to interrupt your work, especially since there wasn't supposed to be a party last year. Though I am sorry you didn't get to participate."

"I... am sorry, too." The words are clearly hard for Franziska, but she says them evenly. "I know I was, perhaps, a tad unreasonable in my anger last year. I just... it had been a decade."

For a moment he doesn't understand, and Miles frowns up at the woman.

Then he does, decade paralleling with quarter-century, and he winces as he realizes exactly why Franziska was so upset. "Franziska, I—"

"I know that it was far harder for you than it was for me, what he did. The year that followed demonstrated that conclusively." Franziska's fingers and lips are both bloodless. "But he called me. On Christmas. While I was with my sister. To commiserate with me about what a failure and a disappointment you were. And I... I agreed with him."

"Franziska..." Climbing to his feet, Miles reaches out for his sister, but she steps back, avoiding his touch.

"And it has been eleven years now. Eleven years since that last betrayal, since he called me with blood on his hands to use me as a tool one last time." Franziska's chin is still high, and her eyes are bright with what may be unshed tears as she studies him. "I don't celebrate his birthday. I try not to think of him the day that he died. And I want, very badly, to wash his memory out of these days, but last year was a decade, and I couldn't seem to make it go away, and when I heard that you were hosting half of the county for a party while I was alone..."

He doesn't answer in words. There is nothing verbal he could say that Franziska won't already have thought of, over the years. Sometimes there is nothing that can be said, nothing that can erase the invisible scars.

There are things that can ease their ache, though, and he gathers his little sister into his arms, holds her close.

She doesn't cry. She just breathes deeply, her head buried against his shoulder, and they stay like that, seconds ticking by like small eternities.

Then she pulls away, straightens her nightgown and his nightshirt. "But I am here this year."

"You are." Miles brushes a non-existent piece of dust off her shoulder. "And there is nowhere else I would rather have you be. You are a part of this family, Franziska."

"As you are a part of mine, little brother." For the first time during the conversation Franziska smiles, her hand patting once against his chest. "So sleep well. And tomorrow we will make memories to far outshine anything else that has ever happened."

Miles nods, reaching up to turn off the light he had been using to read.

Franziska seems to find her way easily through the dark, drifting towards the guest room that is hers; Miles can see little, but he doesn't need to, the house as familiar to him as Phoenix's body.

Phoenix is sitting up in bed, a small puzzle box held in his hand. He raises blurry eyes to blink at Miles, expression hesitant. "Hey. Everything all right?"

"Is it ever?" Miles smiles wryly as he climbs back into bed, waiting for Phoenix to turn off the light and curl up against him before he continues. "But it's good enough. The past is unchangeable, the future uncharted, but the present, right now, is good enough."

A kiss is pressed to the hollow of Miles' throat, and Phoenix's hands massage gently at his back. "The whole future isn't uncharted. Tomorrow there will be food and friends and family and food."

Miles smiles, kissing Phoenix's cheek. It's not quite what he had intended, but given his vision without his glasses and in the dark he'll take it. "You said food twice."

"Did you see how much I baked today? It's worth being said twice."

"Fair enough." Miles sighs, closing his eye and willing his body to melt down into the bedding, to relax against Phoenix. "There is darkness in the past, but there is light enough in both the future and the present to counter it a thousand fold."

"We're trying." Phoenix whispers the word into Miles' ear, and Miles can hear the worry he feels for Apollo, the borrowed grief of those who dearly love a mourner.

"We're succeeding." Miles hasn't felt like they are, not all the time. When he answers questions to the press, when he stood amongst the mourners at Clay Terran's funeral, when he sees the pain and confusion in Ema and Gumshoe's eyes, he doesn't feel like he has succeeded. Survived, maybe, but not succeeded.

Sometimes survival is the greatest success one can reach for, though, and so he clutches tight to it, counts the blessings that they have and the lives that they have hopefully saved, and offers that light to the man he loves.

His lips find Phoenix's, this time, and he kisses Phoenix with tender ferocity, trying to say with his body what he can't say with words.

Phoenix relaxes against him, when the kiss is broken, and they both drift toward sleep.

Tomorrow may not be a perfect day, or a great day, but it will be a good day, and they will do everything they can to share that goodness with those of their family who need it.

XXX

Apollo wakes later than he usually does.

Given that he usually wakes long before dawn, this still has him up with several hours to spare before Ema Skye will be coming by to pick him up for the Christmas party.

He's not sure what else to call it. It isn't the office Christmas party. That was two weeks ago, before everything in his life seemed to explode. It isn't the county Christmas party, where prosecutors, detectives, forensics, and a smattering of defense attorneys who were invited by members of one of the other classes mingle—that was ten days ago, and Apollo managed to avoid going, despite being invited by several different people. (He and Clay had plans that evening, though, and he didn't want to cancel on Clay so close to Clay's big day.) It's just the Christmas party, the place where everyone who has fallen into the orbit of Phoenix Wright and Miles Edgeworth can relax and enjoy each other's company without worrying about cases.

He enjoyed the party, last year, though he hadn't expected to. He likes seeing Mr. Wright and Prosecutor Edgeworth interact. Even when they're not in the courtroom, there's a verbal back-and-forth between the two that requires them to stay on their toes, and it's fascinating to watch. Trucy had seemed ecstatic to have more company for the holiday, and he and Gavin had enjoyed a few quiet, intense conversations that Apollo doesn't think he will ever forget, and Ema had actually laughed when she was speaking with Mr. Wright, and it had been nice. The people Apollo wasn't terribly familiar with had been introduced by either Mr. Wright or Prosecutor Edgeworth or Trucy, and there was enough room in Edgeworth's house that everyone could keep however big or small a group of company they were comfortable with, and he had enjoyed himself.

He had been happy, when the invitation for this year's party came in the mail.

He had been thinking of seeing if Clay could come, if Clay happened to be on Earth. He hadn't asked, yet, because most likely Clay would be in space, but given how cautious space launches usually are there was always a chance—

Except Clay is not in space, and he will not be coming to the party, and Apollo allows himself to spend a half hour curled in the blankets, his eyes burning as he shivers over possibilities that will never come true.

He can't stay in bed forever, though. If he was going to do that he would have done it five days ago. Or two days ago, at least, but instead he had been strong. Instead he climbed out of bed, and showered, and forced food into his mouth, and carried his best friend's coffin to a hearse, and buried Clay while thousands watched on television, video cameras crowding as close as they could to watch the hero's internment.

There wasn't a choice. He had to be strong. He had to be steady and certain, the rock that Mr. Starbuck could lean against. He had to ignore the press, to tell himself that it was better, really, that they were there, because it meant at least Aura could watch Clay's internment.

He had to keep living, because Clay wouldn't want anything less.

And just like he did that day, and the day after, Apollo crawls out of bed and into the shower. He dresses in his usual work outfit, not wanting to try to put together something more festive. Red is a Christmas color. Trucy will likely tease him about it, but that just means someone will get enjoyment from it.

He eats after he showers and dresses, sitting in front of the tiny Christmas tree that he and Clay decorated together. It's only three feet tall; they didn't need it to be taller than that. The ornaments on it are ones that they have given to each other, over the years.

He hasn't turned it on since Clay died, and he finds himself staring at the power strip where the lights plug in, wondering if he should. Wondering if he will survive seeing it blink into vibrant life, the few electronic ornaments on the tree spinning and swirling to pieces of classical music that they chose together. Does he want to see Jupiter spin, its spot coming in and out of view? Does he want to watch the rings of Saturn glitter and glint? Does he want to see Pluto, the planet that Clay says will never be downgraded in his heart?

His hands move before he has made a decision, turning the tree on, the strings of color looking muted in the light coming in through the windows.

Presents spill out from under the tree. Most are from Clay to other people, and Apollo will need to see that they are delivered to their recipients over the next few days. He probably should have done that earlier, but between the trials and the funeral he hasn't had much time to deal with them. And now... right now Apollo doesn't think he can deal with them, doesn't want to see Clay's handwriting, doesn't want to think of the evenings they spent wrapping presents together.

Instead Apollo gathers the presents that he bought for Trucy, for Athena, for Mr. Wright, for Klavier and Ema into a small pile. They fit nicely into a box, leaving the tree looking oddly asymmetrical with only the gifts Clay wrapped spilling out from under it.

His present for Clay looks lonely, now, standing out starkly on Apollo's side of the tree, and before Apollo thinks about it he has gathered the slim square into the box with the rest of his gifts.

He sits staring at the box, then, knowing that he should put the gift back. Knowing that he's being foolish and illogical, that he needs to keep himself calm and collected today as he did during the funeral, and this is not going to—

His phone beeps, Ema texting him that she's waiting downstairs. Pulling the plug on the tree, Apollo gathers the box of gifts close to his chest and heads out of his apartment.

"'Pollo!" It's Athena who waves him down. She's wearing a green sweater and dark red slacks, and she smiles hesitantly as she waves. "You all set?"

Apollo nods, and follows Athena into Ema's car.

The car is already nearly full. Ema is in the driver's seat; her sister, Lana, is in the passenger's. Simon Blackquill sits behind the driver's seat, Taka on his shoulder. He is dressed just like he does for work, and he looks... nervous. Uncertain. It's the first time Apollo has seen the Twisted Samurai look anything less than coolly confident, save for brief flickers during Athena's trial, and Apollo would probably be happy or shocked or something about it another time.

Now he just files the information away, letting Athena slide into the center seat and settling in next to her.

"Hey, Justice." Ema's eyes study him in the rear-view mirror. "You need anything?"

Apollo shakes his head. "I'm all set. Let's go before Trucy starts texting, asking where everyone is."

"She would, too." Giving a brief chuckle, Ema puts the car in gear.

Silence descends. It's a thick silence, though, not the calm camaraderie of people who work together and like each other, but the silence of unspoken questions.

How are you doing? It's a question none of them have asked him since Athena's trial ended. They know him well enough to know how he will answer verbally; they know him well enough to know what the true answer is. They ask him smaller, more manageable questions instead, ones that will not force him to lie or bring a phrase that he shared with Clay to scald the tip of his tongue. They ask if he needs anything, if there's anything they can do, if there's something they can get or somewhere they can take him. They sit with him quietly, no holiday music on, and even if he hates most of the overplayed Christmas carols because of years spent in retail if the silence stretches on much longer he is going to scream.

"Do you like turkey, then?" It's Lana who breaks the silence, Ema's sister sitting with her hands folded demurely in her lap. There is a scar across the back of her left hand, and another small one along her right cheek. They weren't there when she entered prison—Apollo saw the photos and read the transcript of the court trial—but they were there last year, when she exited.

"Uh..." Apollo swallows, trying to remind his tongue how to work, realizing that it's the first time he's tried to talk all day. "Yeah. I'm not too picky about food, though."

"Me, either!" Athena's hand brushes against his leg—not demanding, but offering. "I'm excited to have an American celebration. It's been quite a while for me. Though I think pie is going to be my favorite part—did you hear all the different pies Trucy was talking about?"

"I... don't suppose they made a mincemeat pie?" Blackquill's hand strokes through Taka's breast feathers. "That would be Taka's favorite."

Apollo blinks, finding himself staring in Blackquill's general direction. Was that an attempt at a joke, or was that an honest statement, or...?

Athena's other hand strokes gingerly over Taka's back, brushing against Simon's shoulder in the process. "There'll be lots of food. Something to everyone's liking, I'm sure."

"And games." Lana's quiet, calm voice reaches out to fill the looming silence again, pressing it back. "At least, if it's anything like last year."

"Last year was a lot of fun." Apollo's voice is less gruff, this time, less rusty and broken. "Though I warn everyone, Trucy believes Twister is a contact sport."

"Given how she can contort for some of her magic tricks, I'll make sure to let someone else go up against her first." Athena grins, and her hand once more brushes against his leg.

This time Apollo grabs it, holding tight. "Good plan."

The small talk continues, touching only on gentle, innocuous topics, and Apollo settles into it, letting the company and their compassion salve the worst of his invisible wounds so that maybe, just maybe, he won't make everyone else miserable for Christmas.

XXX

Gavin is the first of the non-resident guests to arrive. He revs or guns or otherwise does something unkind to the engine on his motorcycle as he pulls into the driveway, and the noise causes Trucy to appear at the door as if by magic.

Klavier doesn't even have a chance to knock or ring the doorbell. He intends to, Miles can tell that from the awkward way he is leaning forward when Trucy throws open the door and assaults him, but he isn't given a chance to complete the action.

"Hallo, fraulein magician." Klavier recovers his balance quickly, returning Trucy's exuberant embrace, a fond smile on his face. "Frohe Weihnachten."

"Schone Feiertage!" Trucy's smile is hopeful as she looks up at the musician-prosecutor. "Was that right?"

"Perfect, fraulein." Klavier maneuvers the two of them through the door, closing it behind them to keep the chill of the outside where it belongs. "And a very happy holiday to everyone here, too."

Pearl has appeared at the edge of the hallway, is studying Klavier with the hesitant desire of a teenager suddenly presented with a star they admire. Miles has no doubt that within the hour Klavier will have her relaxed and hanging out with him and Trucy, since that was exactly what happened last year.

Stepping forward, Miles makes his presence known. "Guten Morgen, Gavin."

Klavier straightens, expression becoming more hesitant. Looking a bit like Pearl does, right now, and Miles doesn't know whether to be exasperated or touched by the way Klavier looks up to him. (Touched, and relieved, because it's good to see Klavier look at him with an expression free of guilt and shame, free of fear and doubt, at least some demons buried over the course of the last year.)

Taking the backpack off his shoulders, Klavier sketches a brief bow. "Guten Morgen, Chief Prosecutor. Thank you for hosting this lovely engagement."

Miles arches an eyebrow. "That would mean a bit more if you'd seen more of said engagement than the entryway."

Klavier draws a breath in through his nose, his blue eyes sparkling with humor as he sniffs the air. "I have precedent on my side, but beyond that, I present the smells currently circulating as evidence, as well as the company at my side and the guest list of who is to come. It is definitely going to be a lovely engagement."

"Well, for the time being, I suppose the evidence is accepted by the court. The court would also like to request shoes be left here, that presents be placed under the tree, and that you tell us if there's anything you need that you don't see readily available." If Miles were Phoenix, he would probably hug the younger man now, or some equally soppy and perfect display of affection. He is not Phoenix, though, and Klavier is not Apollo or Athena, so instead Miles holds out his hand. "Frohe Weihnachten, Klavier."

Klavier takes his hand, his smile somehow becoming even wider and warmer. "Merry Christmas, Chief Prosecutor."

Trucy waits impatiently as Klavier removes his boots, the backpack with Gavin's presents for everyone balanced on her shoulders. As soon as Klavier is halfway vertical again she grabs his arm, pulling him towards the tree, and Miles drifts after them, liking to hear Trucy's excited chatter. "We'll put these under the tree, there are piles for everyone already, and then we'll get my Advent calendar out, I still haven't opened the last one—"

"Ach, Fraulein, but how will Santa know you are prepared, if you didn't open it?" Klavier feigns dismay.

"Santa's presents were all in the top right corner of the Chief Prosecutor's closet, behind the boxes of Uranium Samurai figures that Larry conned Daddy into buying. Believe me, Uncle Edgeworth wasn't going to allow them to stay there for another year." Swinging the backpack around so that it's hanging in front of her, Trucy rips the top open. "Let's see, Prosecutor DeBeste, Apollo, me, oh, I can't wait to see what it is!"

"In a few hours." Given that Klavier is turning one of the presents from his pile over in his hands, Miles thinks this is a bit hypocritical.

Trucy continues to circle the tree on her mission. "Athena, Daddy, Ema, Uncle Edgeworth, Judge Courtney—how did you fit all this in here?"

"Very carefully." Klavier settles the present he had been toying with back on the stack.

"You could just get a car, you know, so you don't have to figure out how to get things on your bike." Trucy rolls her eyes as she gives her admonishment. "Not that your hog isn't cool, and maybe you could give me a ride—"

Miles shakes his head. "When you're eighteen. No sooner."

"But Polly—"

Unlike Phoenix, Miles refuses to allow himself to be drawn into a verbal competition that Trucy might win, instead staring her down, resisting the pull of her pleading eyes.

"Mister Gavin..." Pearl stands hesitantly at Klavier's side, the calendar that Klavier bought for Trucy at the start of the holiday season in hand. (Gavin bought half the office and all of the Wright Anything Agency Advent calendars, saying that it was a German tradition he wanted to share. Given the stress everyone was under, Miles hadn't protested.)

"Oh, thanks, Pearly!" Trucy settles the empty backpack against the wall behind the tree, presumably to be refilled once Klavier begins opening his presents. "Can you find twenty-four, Klavier?"

"Well, let us... ah, Trucy." Klavier reaches up, pulling the girl into a half-hug. "You waited because it was the one on the guitar, yes?"

"Maybe." Trucy grins. "Also because I know dark chocolate is your favorite. We can split it three ways!"

There is enough chocolate fudge and other desserts scattered about the house to keep a small army well-fed for the duration of a siege campaign, but there is still something sweet about watching Gavin, Trucy, and Pearl split the little chocolate guitar into three relatively-even pieces.

The doorbell rings, and Miles leaves them to their entertainment.

"Chief Prosecutor!" Sebastian DeBeste stands uncertainly on the front step, peering at Miles around a small mountain of presents. "I hope I'm not too early? Or too late? No, that would be silly, I can't be too late. But I also very much hope I'm not too early."

"You're fine, Sebastian." Stepping out of the way, Miles takes the overladen box from the prosecutor's hands, allowing Sebastian the freedom to step inside the house and begin taking off his shoes.

"Sebastian!" Trucy throws herself on Sebastian with the same eager joy she had shown Klavier. It hadn't taken Trucy long to adopt most people in Miles' life as some kind of strange pseudo-relatives in her own, and she and Sebastian tend to get along quite well. "Merry Christmas to my favorite procrastinator."

"Prosecutor." Sebastian pulls Trucy's top hat down over her eyes. "And a Merry Christmas to you, too."

(It had helped him, those first few months, speaking with Trucy, the two of them correcting each other on the polysyllabic words that they had heard but couldn't quite define. Now Sebastian rarely misspeaks, though he and Trucy still make a game of it.)

"You can be a procrastinator and a prosecutor." Trucy realigns her hat. "Though you aren't. The others should be here soon, and then we can maybe get some games going. First, though, the present box!"

"Trucy has a system worked out with where the presents are under the tree." Klavier throws an arm across Sebastian's shoulders, smiling easily at his friend. "Come, we'll show you, and then you and I can help set up the musical playlist."

"Phoenix and I already..." Miles trails off, deciding he will let Trucy and his guests do what they wish with the music. (Trucy, at least, knows what songs they were trying to avoid, what parallels they didn't want to draw for Apollo or anyone else grappling with painful memories; Gavin tends to be empathic; and he trusts Sebastian. Everything will be fine.)

Rearranging his already-immaculate suit jacket, Miles decides it will be best if he goes to help Phoenix with dinner.

Phoenix is basting the turkey once more, a repetitive, time-consuming process that Miles is happy to leave him to. Most cooking falls into that category, actually, though Miles appreciates a well-planned and expertly-cooked meal more than Phoenix does.

Wrapping his arms around Phoenix's waist, careful to announce his presence with a clearing of his throat so no one gets burned, Miles hugs Phoenix close to him. "Our guests have begun arriving."

"Oh, good." Phoenix tilts his neck invitingly, and Miles obliges by placing a kiss on the smooth skin. "Ema and Apollo...?"

"Not yet." Miles takes a step back as Phoenix closes the oven door, though he doesn't let go of Phoenix. "Gavin and DeBeste so far, though I have no doubt that others will be here shortly."

"Yep."

The voice is female, completely unexpected, and Miles jumps back, releasing Phoenix.

Kay grins at him, waving with her left hand as with her right she pops a piece of sweet pastry into her mouth. "Not half bad."

"Kay Faraday." Miles crosses his arms in front of his chest. "How long have you been here?"

"Not long. I rode in with Sebastian." Kay points toward the living room door. "I saw Ema's car turning down your road right before I came in, though, so I bet they'll be here shortly."

Miles' frown only deepens. "From what vantage point did you see this? Kay, if you went up on the roof again—"

"It's not my fault you've made all the easy-to-break-into places less easy to break into." Kay grins, snagging another treat.

"Has it occurred to you that you could present yourself at the front door like a normal guest?"

"Oh, but I'm not a normal guest." Kay tosses her head back, the key ornament in her hair jingling, her red scarf somehow billowing dramatically despite being indoors. "For I am—"

"The great thief Yatagarasu!" Phoenix strikes the usual Yatagarasu pose.

Kay blinks at him, clearly non-plussed.

"What?" Phoenix grins at the young woman. "I've heard it often enough now, and you've taught it to Trucy. The rest of us get to have some fun with it, too."

"You are also a detective-in-training, Kay." Miles buries his head in his hands. "You do not need to find a way to break into my house every time you visit."

"I don't know." Phoenix grins mischievously. "It's cheaper than hiring someone to check the security."

"More thorough, too." Kay's smile reappears. "Don't worry, I'm careful. There will be no falling off of roofs and requiring someone else to become Santa Yatagarasu."

Phoenix and Kay both giggle, leading Miles to believe he is missing some piece of holiday lore that they are sharing.

Music begins drifting through the house, an instrumental medley that Miles actually likes, and Franziska appears in the kitchen doorway. "Miles Edgeworth, are they supposed to be fiddling with—"

"Ms. Von Karma!" Kay teleports to Franziska's side. "How's the rest of the world been?"

"Similar to this part of the world. Filled with foolish fools who believe they can fool the courts." Franziska smiles, an honest expression of affection as she pushes pale hair back behind her ear. "They soon learn the error of their ways. How have you been, Ms. Faraday?"

The doorbell rings, and Miles takes Phoenix by the hand, leading him around Franziska and Kay so that they can answer it together.

If this is Ema's car, he wants to have Phoenix there, to maximize their chances of keeping the pleasant holiday spirit that has marked the day so far alive.

XXX

Trucy practically tackles Apollo to the ground as soon as they walk in the door, only Athena's supportive body behind his back keeping all of them upright. "Polly! You're here!"

"Unless you kill me with your enthusiasm, yes." Apollo rights himself and the box that Athena also helped catch, glad to see that none of the packages seem to have changed shape. "Merry Christmas, Trucy."

"Merry Christmas!" Trucy gives him a more reasonably-energetic hug, before going around the circle and giving everyone else hugs and greetings, too. Even Blackquill gets a hug, which seems to freeze him in place more thoroughly than an antarctic winter would.

"Let's take care of putting all the presents under the tree first, okay?" Trucy has latched on to Apollo's elbow, is staring up into his eyes anxiously as though waiting for him to say it's all right.

Which it is.

Really, whatever anyone wants to do is fine with Apollo. He's not trying to bring anyone else down for Christmas, and maybe it was a mistake, coming today. Except Trucy and Athena and Mr. Wright and Ema and Klavier had all been acting as though they really wanted him to come, but he's really not up for this right—

Someone tries to pull the box of presents from his hands, and Apollo immediately hugs it tighter to his chest, snarling up at the interloper.

"Frieden, Herr Forehead." Klavier holds up his hands. "I just thought perhaps it would make it easier for you to come in and take off your shoes if you had assistance with this?"

"Right. Sure." Apollo hands over the box, feeling his face flush, and bends down to untie his shoes.

When he's done he allows Trucy to lead him to the tree, trying to come up with responses as she tells him eagerly about everyone who's going to be present and what they can do for the remainder of the day. He's not surprised, honestly. From what he's seen of Trucy over the last two years, she responds to trauma and tragedy with action, finding some kind of solace in doing thing and being with people. She is trying to give him what has worked for her, and he appreciates the effort. He even tries to feign at least a modicum of interest, but mostly what he feels at her suggestions is exhaustion.

Klavier hands Trucy the box of gifts when they're in front of the tree, and Apollo relaxes a bit as he watches her work.

A hand falls on his shoulder, and Apollo forces himself to raise tired eyes to look at Klavier. "The library. There is a note on the door; the Chief Prosecutor will see that it is followed."

That's all the prosecutor says, giving Apollo's shoulder a brief squeeze before heading back towards the door, where it sounds like still more people are arriving.

"Apollo..."

Snapping his head back around, Apollo sees Trucy holding the present. The one he shouldn't have brought with him, the one that shouldn't be here, the one he never should have bought, and he snatches it from her hands before he thinks about what he should do, holding it tight to his chest.

"I'm sorry." Trucy's hands form into fists, pull back until they are tight to her chest. "I didn't mean—I—"

"It's fine." It's not. Nothing is fine, and though he knows it's not true—can't let it be true—it feels like nothing will be fine, and he didn't mean to say those words. "I just—I didn't mean to bring this one, and..."

Trucy bites her lip, and Apollo realizes abruptly that everyone else has pulled away from them, giving them space. Athena is still close, hovering in the doorway, ready to pounce in if she thinks she's needed, but they're trusting him. Trusting Trucy. Trusting both of them to handle this, and though handling it hurts, that's exactly what Apollo's going to do. Licking his lips, he forces his body to relax, one stubborn muscle at a time. "It really is all right. I can go put this in the car, though, or somewhere else that it's out of the way, where it won't be confusing."

"It's... not the only one for Clay." Trucy's voice is a soft whisper. "And if you wanted... if it was all right with you... I could put it with the other one?"

Apollo blinks, thrown for a different kind of loop. "Someone else has a present for Clay?"

Trucy nods. "It's right by your pile. I thought... you'd probably want your gifts to be together. Would you like me to put yours by the other one?"

For the first time since they arrived Apollo actually takes time to look at the tree that he is standing in front of. It's a beautiful specimen, really. It's at least eight feet tall, and decorated in a combination of gorgeous glass ornaments that probably cost more than a week's pay for him and clearly hand-made treasures that are likely worth far more. The Chief Prosecutor's touch can be seen in the way the garland and lights were placed, the strings of dancing color spaced almost too perfectly, the garland draped in clear geometric patterns; Trucy and Mr. Wright's touch can be seen in the rest of the ornaments, a controlled chaos encompassing the tree and speaking of joy and mirth and family more clearly than any words ever could. A mountain of gifts spills out in all directions from it... a mountain that includes gifts for him and, apparently, Clay.

Nodding his head, not sure he could do more, Apollo holds out the rectangular gift.

Trucy takes it, her touch reverent, and slides it in by Apollo's stack. "There we go. Safe until gift-opening time."

For a few seconds they just stand there, taking in the tree, some kind of intense orchestral remix of lesser-known Christmas carols playing faintly in the background.

Trucy's hand slides into his, and she smiles hesitantly up at him. "It's beautiful, yeah?"

"Yeah." Apollo nods. "Gorgeous."

"Lots of things we can do now, if you want." Swinging their linked arms back and forth, Trucy continues to study his face. "Food or games or reading. That's what Klavier meant—Uncle Edgeworth always puts a sign up on the library door that it is strictly for reading, no conversation or socializing and absolutely no eating or drinking allowed in there."

"It's Christmas. The day of eating too much and not regretting a moment of it." Apollo swings Trucy's arm in turn. "Let's go see how the turkey's doing and snag something to eat along the way, all right?"

Trucy leads the way, her eager animation returning as they head towards the kitchen, and Apollo actually finds himself smiling in turn, glad to see the young woman enjoying herself so thoroughly.

XXX

The party is a roaring success.

Miles slides from room to room, checking on everyone, ensuring that guests know when food is available, fetching small items, generally trying to make himself useful and a good host. There is little for him to do, though, the guests happily talking with each other, settling down to small games in clusters, striking up impromptu music sessions (really, he expected nothing less with Klavier and Sebastian in the same room).

He keeps an especially close eye on Apollo, as does Phoenix, but Trucy seems to have attached herself to the defense attorney and is doing a remarkably good job keeping him busy and engaged. Miles is even fairly certain he hears Apollo laugh, something he hadn't expected.

Which means Miles can turn his attention to his other difficult guest, and he ferrets Simon Blackquill out where he is attempting to blend into the corner of the dining room while Athena plays a rousing game of Pictionary with Sebastian, Kay, Ray Shields, Franziska, and Maya.

"Merry Christmas, Prosecutor Blackquill."

Simon arches one eyebrow. "I would respond with 'is it', but I've seen enough versions of A Christmas Carol these last few days to know better than to say that."

"A wise choice." Miles smiles, crossing his arms in front of his chest. "Though admitting to watching adaptations of that story always seems to result in someone wanting to know what your favorite version is."

Blackquill's voice is dry when he answers, but his eyes flit towards Athena, and Miles fills in what the true answer is. Whatever version she likes best. Whatever one makes her smile. Whatever one is on at three in the morning when I can't sleep but also don't want to wake Athena because she is being kind enough to let me stay with her while I look for my own place. Whatever one makes me feel the least like screaming because my sister is in jail but my nightmares are still fewer than they were a week ago. All Simon does is shrug, though, and murmur out a noncommittal statement about not having seen enough to really judge.

Miles nods. "A fair enough answer, though I would hazard that taste in movies tends not to need the kind of authoritative evidence backing it up that one would want in, say, a court trial."

"I suspect that depends on what one is talking about." Simon crosses his arms in front of his chest, and some of his usual confidence returns to his demeanor. "If I were to postulate, say, that the Steel Samurai was one of the worst things to happen to children's television in the last two decades in front of fans of said show..."

"If you were foolish enough to make such a statement, then yes, I expect fans of the show who recognize its deep themes and cultural worth would require evidence." Miles narrows his eyes, though a smile twitches at the corners of his mouth as he studies his newest subordinate. It's good, that Blackquill is goading him; good that Athena feels confident enough in how Simon is doing to play with others; good that Blackquill is here, celebrating with them, even though he is clearly not always comfortable. "Do you find literature to be a less fraught front on which to share one's opinions?"

Blackquill blinks, a slow, hesitant narrowing of his eyes. "You are jesting, aren't you? Literature has been a font of strife and disagreement since mankind first learned to write."

"True enough." Miles takes a sip from the glass of wine he has been carrying around. "If you wished to see where my tastes in literature run, you are, of course, welcome to peruse my library, especially if you find yourself not wishing to participate in certain games or events."

Glancing to the table where Athena is currently trying to sketch with her eyes closed, Blackquill smiles and gives his head a little shake. "The game requires an even number of players, and I felt more like sitting out than hunting down another. I prefer standing here, though, to not being included. Watching is... satisfying."

Miles nods. He can understand that. He did the same, for a while, when he was first trying to redefine himself after Von Karma's final betrayal. There can be something satisfying in simply watching others live, seeing the joy, seeing the laughter.

At other times it can be a knife in the gut, but so long as Blackquill knows what his options are and is choosing the one that is best, Miles has no complaints.

Continuing about his rounds, Miles spots Ema trying to get Trucy to reveal how she did one of her tricks in the middle of an impromptu magic show, Gavin and Gumshoe arguing over something in the old Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer animated special that is playing in the living room, Maggey and John and Justine debating the best type of drinks to go with certain pies, Apollo and Lana talking quietly by the Christmas tree.

Arms wrap around him from behind, hug him tight, and a warm voice whispers in his ear. "Guess what's above us?"

Miles looks up, a smile giving way to irritation. "Wright, I told you and Trucy no mistle—"

There isn't anything above them, though. Just the snowflakes dangling from the ceiling, the ones that were apparently an afternoon's activity for the Wright Anything Agency, and Miles is still staring up at them in surprise when Phoenix's mouth claims his.

It isn't a long kiss, or a deep one, but it is heartfelt and serious, and Miles returns it, staring into Phoenix's midnight-blue eyes as he does, etching this memory over older, painful ones, knowing one cannot replace the other but also hoping this will be the stronger.

Phoenix takes a step back, smiling honestly, with his whole face and body and eyes. "I'd say this year's party is a rollicking success."

"No one uses the word rollicking anymore. And you need to be careful what you say, since there's still several hours and the exchange of gifts to go before the night is done." Leaning forward, Miles presses a chaste kiss to Phoenix's cheek, his voice dropping to a whisper. "But you're right. So far this has been an absolutely amazing Christmas."

They stand in each other's arms for a few seconds more, and then separate, both having people they need to keep an eye on still, but the feeling that holding Phoenix gave him continues to smolder comfortingly in Miles' chest long after the man himself is out of sight.

XXX

Apollo forgets.

It isn't the first time that he's forgotten. Usually he doesn't remember for seconds or sometimes whole minutes after he wakes up, the knowledge a new blade across heart and soul and mind each day. Sometimes he forgets for minutes at a time during the day, even, until some little thing, some silly stray thought—I should show this to Clay or Clay will love this or wait until Clay hears about this—brings the memory back full-force.

Now he forgets for over an hour.

Now there is so much happening, so many people he cares about surrounding him but not crowding him, and he spends time with Klavier and Sebastian in the music room (seriously, someone has too much money if they have a music room), making faces at Klavier while Klavier comes up with more and more ridiculous covers of Christmas carols. He spends time watching Trucy put on small performances for anyone who asks. He spends time speaking with Ema and Lana, finding that Ema's sister has a rather beautiful dry sense of humor as well as some fantastic tales from working as a private investigator for the last year. He spends time with Athena (and thus by default Simon Blackquill, who seems to wobble awkwardly between a decent person and the sharp-tongued Twisted Samurai), playing party games with whoever else she can rope into the events. He grabs food, drifting from conversation to conversation in Trucy's wake.

It's not until dinner is done and Trucy declares it time to start handing out presents that Apollo remembers Clay is dead.

Clay's present stares up at him, wrapped in printed-out images from the Hubble space telescope, and Clay will never open it.

He doesn't say anything. He tries to keep it from being obvious that his hands are shaking, that his throat has closed up, that his vision is doing something strange, sending small details in-and-out of focus in rapid succession. A needle on the tree. A beam of sunlight along the ground. A piece of tape on one of his presents.

Understanding is joyous, scrawled in Apollo's own hand on the side of Clay's gift, a quote from one of Clay's favorite scientists, but there is no joy in this understanding.

There are enough people that he's able to ease his way back through the crowd. He doesn't say anything as he does, not trusting his volume control, not trusting his throat to make anything more coherent than a pitiful squall.

The library. Klavier had said that the library was safe, and there should be no one there given the gift-exchange, and perhaps if he just takes a few minutes he'll...

He'll what? He'll forget that Clay's dead again? He'll be able to pretend that he's happy despite remembering that Clay's gone?

He doesn't even know what he wants, but he knows that he can't fall apart in front of everyone else while they're celebrating.

He can't read the note taped quite primly to the library door, though he does notice it, shocked to see that it's an actual physical object and not just a verbally-defined safe space. No speaking without being spoken to, he thinks he can make out, and no arguments over the literature, and a space to relax with yourself and silence. His eyes are still doing their strange focusing-on-details thing, though, and so he sees the splinter in the wood to the edge of the sign, is almost blinded by a reflection off the doorhandle, and he gives up on reading the note, instead choosing merely to stumble through into the promised sanctuary of the room.

It smells of books. It reminds him of hours upon hours spent in the university library, reading textbooks so he wouldn't have to buy them, looking up case histories the old-fashioned way, doing everything he could to get through college and pass the bar with a minimum of money spent. The scent is comforting, and he spends a few moments just breathing with his eyes closed.

When he feels he can trust his eyes and his feet again, he works his way deeper into the room. It has a beautiful lay-out, really, several chairs set between tall, overstocked bookshelves. If he weren't here trying to avoid everyone else, he would probably find it pleasant.

The door opens while Apollo is standing in the center of the room, trying to decide what to do, and Chief Prosecutor Miles Edgeworth walks in.

It's not who Apollo was expecting. He was expecting Trucy, or maybe Athena, or maybe Mr. Wright. Klavier, if he stretches his imagination, because he remembers Klavier retreating here for at least a little bit last year. Not Miles Edgeworth, though, and he finds himself staring at the man, his eyes focusing first on the man's glasses, then on the gold buttons on his shirt-sleeves, then on his watch, and if Apollo doesn't figure out how to make this stop he's going to get a headache.

Edgeworth watches him for a few seconds, and then takes his glasses off, speaking to his hands. "I normally try not to break my own rules—a rather crucial thing, if one is going to fight corruption—but if I am remembering correctly you have no experience with panic attacks?"

Apollo shakes his head.

"Everyone handles them differently. But I would suggest deep breaths, with counting if you can. Also closing your eyes. Given your gift, it will likely help."

Apollo almost argues. Arguing has usually been his first response to people telling him what to do, and that has served him well.

There's no need to argue with this advice, though. Especially given how many people he knows who suffer from panic attacks and flashbacks, including both Athena and the man standing in front of him...

It takes several minutes, and he finds that humming to himself and keeping a steady rhythm with his foot works better than counting, but eventually his eyes stop feeling so strange, his breathing evens out, and he feels a bit more capable of handling... well, not anything, but at least something.

"Thanks." Apollo rubs at the back of his neck. "For..."

Edgeworth nods, though he doesn't respond verbally, instead gesturing towards the library door.

Licking his lips, Apollo glances around the room. He could just stay here, he realizes. He could pretend he doesn't realize what Edgeworth is suggesting, hide out here and use the apparently-unbreakable Library Rules to avoid Trucy if she comes looking for him.

He could, but instead he follows Miles Edgeworth back into the hallway and down into a spare room.

Where they stand, looking in the general vicinity of each other but not actually saying anything, for seconds that stretch out to a minute and onward.

Maybe he should just go back out to the tree, and hope Trucy hasn't noticed his absence.

"Mr. Justice." Edgeworth's silver gaze finally locks on him, and Apollo finds himself straightening automatically. "No, that feels far too clinical for this. Would you mind if I called you Apollo, at least for the duration of the conversation?"

"Uh... no." Panic of a different, more familiar sort builds in Apollo's chest. "Though I'm not going to be calling you M-... anything other than Mister Edgeworth."

"I wouldn't expect you to." A tiny smile graces the Chief Prosecutor's face, and he takes his glasses off, dangling them from one earpiece in his hand. "I have... some experience with bad situations and the holidays."

"Yeah. I know." Apollo looks away. "Your father was murdered three days after Christmas; you were framed for murder on Christmas."

"Yes." Edgeworth nods. "There are many people in our... our family who have suffered trauma, and holidays and trauma are a dangerous combination. Hence why I arranged the library rules."

"That's a good idea. A nice thing. And I know that a lot of other people in our..." The word family sticks in his throat, though he wants to say it. He wants to say it to Clay, though, to tell Clay that they have somehow landed in the middle of a large, mad family like they always dreamed about, and he can't. He will never be able to. "But it's still so... it hurts. Every time I think about him it hurts, but if I don't think about him..."

"If you don't think about him, it seems to hurt twice as much when you do again." The words are spoken clinically. "You want to live your life; you don't want to live it without them in it. You want to be happy; you feel guilty when you are. You don't want to upset others for the holidays; you want them to share your pain, to stop being so ecstatic when you cannot feel the same. Or perhaps you don't. Perhaps you've slightly different monsters to grapple with."

Apollo wants to say something, to agree, to disagree, but all he can seem to do is stare in amazement at Edgeworth.

"And that's fine." Edgeworth smiles, a sheepish expression. "Not to borrow your catchphrase, Apollo, but it is. It has been over a quarter of a century since my father died; it has been eleven years since the DL-6 case was finally completed. I spent several hours last night... I won't say moping, that implies it was unnecessary, and despondent is too dark a word, but... touching old wounds, remembering old hurts in the light of new ones. So I will be the last to tell you not to mourn, or to say that it will ever be the same as it was before."

"I know." Apollo's voice is hoarse, low and lost. "Everyone's been... really nice. Really understanding. Which makes me want to be fine, and I have to be fine, but I also..."

"You're also mourning. Mourning isn't a pretty thing, or an easy thing, or a thing with a beautiful road-map, of five destinations or any other distinct number. It's messy and complicated, angry and aggressive, tired and troubled." Edgeworth slides his glasses back on. "But it will pass. It will never be like it was before, but we will be here, when you're ready for us. When you know that you're ready... when you want to try, even if you aren't ready... when you can articulate what you need, and when you can't..." Miles Edgeworth, chief prosecutor, steps forward, placing a hand on Apollo's shoulder. "Whenever you need us, your family is here."

Apollo cries, then. He cries quietly, exhaustedly, though he hadn't intended to, and Miles Edgeworth puts an awkward arm around his shoulder, holds him in silence while he cries and offers him a tissue when he finally has himself under control again.

Then Apollo retreats back to the library, just for a few minutes, until he's ready to face Trucy and the others again.

XXX

Franziska doesn't realize what's happening until Miles works his way from in front of the tree to the back of the crowd and disappears down the hallway where the library is situated. As though it were some kind of signal, those who had picked up or been handed presents put them back, and everyone begins milling about in a sort of organized chaos again.

It's only when she does a head-count that she realizes who is missing, and she stands at the end of the hall, gazing down toward the library with a frown.

"Careful how long you make that face. It would be a shame if the rest of your beautiful expressions got lost behind that look." Maya smiles, holding out a glass with the disturbingly green punch that Trucy thoroughly enjoyed crafting from sherbet, soda, and other ingredients that are likely horrible for you if you're over the age of ten.

Franziska takes the glass, turning the liquid this way and that. "Did something happen?"

Maya's shoulders rise in a shrug, and her smile falters, something weary and wiser than Franziska expects flickering into view. "His best friend died a week ago."

"Yes, but that's been true all day." Franziska's frown only deepens. "And why did Miles follow him?"

"Because your brother has a bit of experience dealing with this sort of thing." Maya smiles again, but there is a wry edge to it, almost bitter. "I mean, a lot of us have a lot of experience with burying loved ones, yourself included, but death and horror and Christmas... Edgeworth's got a pretty good monopoly on that particular combination."

Franziska's fingers tighten, and she forces them to relax, not wanting to crush the cup she's holding and spatter green punch all over everything. "I just would have thought perhaps someone from the Agency would be a better fit."

"They might be." Maya nods. "If they are, then Edgeworth will come back and tag out, I'm sure. But things are still a little... raw, after everything. Sometimes distance is a good thing, when it comes to offering advice."

Franziska takes a sip of the almost neon-green liquid, finding it surprisingly palatable. "You seem to know a good deal about grieving."

"Well..." Maya spreads her arms, her Kurain Master's robes flowing around her.

"Yes. Of course." Franziska can feel her cheeks heating. "Why don't you use your... gift to aid him?"

"I will." Maya's response is prompt, serene. "If he wants it—and he knows it's available, we made sure of that—I'll channel Clay in a heartbeat. But that won't help at all with this."

Franziska arches an eyebrow, skepticism oozing from her voice. "Seeing and speaking to the man he is mourning won't help?"

"No. Sometimes it can make things worse." Maya's eyes drop to her hands. "Unfinished business he has with Clay, that I can help with. His hurt and betrayal that Clay didn't tell him certain things, I can give them time to work through. But nothing I can do will make Clay less dead. Clay won't age anymore. Clay won't text him after a boring day, or call him because he suddenly scrolled past Apollo's number, or be there for Apollo to laugh with and joke with and touch. Clay's dead, and eventually even his ghost will move on to whatever comes next, and nothing I do will change that."

Franziska studies the other woman, her lips pressed together. She hasn't thought much about what the Kurain family's abilities mean, other than that there is some form of soul that can persist as a ghost, but clearly Maya has.

Clearly Maya has thought a lot about a lot of things, from her job to their family, and Franziska finds herself studying the other woman closely. "You've changed, since we first met."

"Me?" Maya points at herself. "Nah. I'm still the same samurai-loving girl at heart. Just with more experience points now. Same with you, yeah?"

Maya's hand connects with Franziska's shoulder in a gentle punch, which Franziska allows. "I suppose... we have all changed, a bit, with time and tribulations. Do you think he will be all right?"

She doesn't specify who she means. She's not entirely certain who she means, in all honesty. Apollo Justice, the man she doesn't know but care for by proxy, because he is important to Trucy, to Miles? Miles himself, because she has seen where his scars still sometimes bleed? Klavier and Sebastian, currently leading a round of caroling around the tree, never far from Miles' thoughts and worries? Simon Blackquill, who is somehow managing to both sneer and sing a descant alongside Athena? (Herself, Maya, Trucy, Athena, all the others who don't fall under the male pronoun but have also seen horrors?)

Maya's hand slides into Franziska's free one, pauses there for just a moment before squeezing and letting go. "Everyone who's here is family, and our family will be fine."

"Not a very logical argument." Franziska smiles, following Maya as Maya makes her way back towards the congregation. "But for now, I will accept it."

She want it to be true. Everyone here, she suspects, wants it to be true, and perhaps that will be enough in the end to make it true.

XXX

When Apollo pulls himself together and emerges from the library, he finds everyone almost exactly where he left them.

No one questions him. No one asks if he's all right. No one makes note of his return, just as no one hollered after him when he left, but it's clear that presents haven't been opened in the twenty or so minutes since he left, and now that he's returned wrapping paper begins flying.

Trucy can't seem to decide if she wants to hand out presents, open presents, or glue herself to his side, and she alternates between the three, skittering here, there, and everywhere, a miniature Santa in a bright red top hat for the day. She smiles, a lot, just like she did last year, watching with bated breath every time someone opens a gift, clearly willing them to like it. No one seems to disappoint her, either, everyone smiling and at least acting like they are happy to be receiving what they are.

And perhaps it isn't an act. There had been no formal request to bring gifts; everyone who is giving and receiving gifts is doing so because they wish to. Most of the gifts are small—though the definition of 'small' clearly varies based on whether one is a defense attorney, a detective, or a prosecutor. It might have annoyed Apollo, another time, but right now it doesn't matter. Right now it is just the ambiance, the people smiling and laughing and telling each other with words and actions and touch that they care, that they are present, that they are happy to be here.

Mr. Wright brings him a glass of water, apparently remembering from last year that the punch is far too sweet for Apollo's liking.

Athena offers him a plate with a selection of cheeses and nuts on it, her hand falling on his shoulder and staying there, comforting, as she does.

Klavier asks if he has any song requests, his arm settling softly across Apollo's back, and then adds that he will also take un-requests, if there is a song that someone would like stricken from the record.

And Trucy makes sure that he opens his gifts, a tiny mountain of books and CDs and food and gift cards, until finally there are just two presents left under the tree at his section.

One that he recognizes, and one wrapped in paper that Trucy used for other gifts she sent.

Trucy picks them both up, coming to settle in front of Apollo on her knees, the presents held close to her chest. "Did you... want to open them?"

Yes. No. Never. With Clay, in a life where Clay didn't die, but that isn't this life, and he draws a shuddering breath. "Yes."

Trucy doesn't flinch, so it isn't completely a lie, and she holds out both presents.

Apollo takes the one that she had wrapped, leaving the rectangle with the quote and the space pictures with Trucy. "If you want... if you'd like... you could open that one, and I'll open this one?"

Nodding, Trucy turns her attention to the gift in her hand, beginning to carefully undo each piece of tape, a much more conservative approach than she used with her own gifts.

"You can tear it." Apollo works a finger under a corner of the wrapping paper, leveraging it free. "I don't mind."

"But it's pretty." Trucy frowns. "The pictures and the quotes... it's like a gift all on its own."

"The quotes are from some scientists that Clay liked. The one who wrote that one, about understanding, he's been dead for twenty years or so now, but he wrote some really amazing books. He's one of the reasons Clay got interested in astronomy." Trucy smooths out another page, and Apollo smiles as he sees the quote, though his heart also lurches in his chest. Space exploration is a force of nature unto itself that no other force in society can rival. "That one, that's from one of the other guy's students. Clay and I got to see him give a talk once. I thought Clay was going to pass out from sheer joy. He couldn't walk straight when we were done."

"Will you share them with me?" Trucy looks up, her eyes bright with both hope and hesitance. "The books, and... and the stories. About Clay."

"Yeah." Apollo's voice is hoarse, but he means the words. Allowing his eyes to drop to the gift that is coming free of the paper, he tries to steady his breathing again and finds that it has stopped completely.

A small model of the solar system looks up at him, the planets painted in beautiful detail, each attached to the others with a complex series of tiny wires.

"It stands up on its own, and the wind can make the planets orbit." Trucy is biting her lip almost to the point of bleeding. "I thought... I don't know. We could maybe... put it on his grave? Together?"

"Trucy..." Her name comes out strange, strangled, his voice too high and whistling. He's going to cry. Again. For the second time in an hour.

"Or if you don't like that idea we can do something else with it! Anything else. I just..." Trucy's hand creeps across the space between them, finds his and clings as though he is a lifeline. "He was so important to you, and I want you to tell me about him. I want to hear all about his life and I want you to grieve however you need and I want to be there and—and—"

Tears are standing out bright in her eyes now, starting to trickle down her face, and Apollo doesn't need Athena's ears to know that she is close to panic. To hear the caring and the grief and the helpless flailing for answers and purchase and reason in her voice, because he has heard it in his own.

Pulling the young woman forward, Apollo hugs her tight. "I'll tell you about it. And I'll take you to his g-grave. But we'll donate the model, because that's what Clay would want. For someone else to fall in love with space and take his p-place."

"Follow in his footsteps." Trucy hugs him back just as tightly. "Never take his place. No one can ever take another person's place."

"Right." Apollo laughs, though the sound is more a sob, and squeezes his eyes shut until the threat of tears has passed.

When Trucy finally pulls away, she reaches down to pick up the calendar that she had unwrapped, the beautiful full-color images from the new orbital telescope staring out at Apollo. It is the same type of calendar he has gotten Clay every year since he started working and earning an income, but this year he won't get to hear Clay telling him about when each image was taken, where each galaxy lies in the sky, the digital manipulation needed to clean it up and get the pictures ready for print.

Trucy's finger ghost over the plastic covering, caressing the pictures. "Can we... do you think he'd mind if we put this up in the office? Or... would you mind?"

It will hurt, every time he looks at it. It will be a reminder.

It will be a memorial, and better to have it where his friends are (his family is) than to have it in his house, where he might be caught for hours in its trap. "Yeah. Sure. If you'd like that."

"I think it's beautiful. And I'd like to have it in the office." Trucy tucks the calendar away with the rest of Apollo's gifts and stands, reaching down to help him up. "We can take care of that tomorrow, though. Let's go play a game, all right?"

Apollo allows her to pull him upright, tries to smile normally as Trucy grabs Athena's arm and tells Athena that they're going to go play something.

Within ten minutes the smile is normal, and Apollo finds himself laughing, again, as he watches Kay and Trucy argue about the rules of a card game Trucy probably isn't old enough to know.

It's still probably the worst Christmas he is ever going to have.

But it's better, far better, than it could have been, and he thinks Clay would be happy to see him happy, so when a toast is raised to the turning of the year and the cheer of family and friends, Apollo adds his voice to the chorus of support.

Even in the darkest of times—perhaps especially in the darkest of times—there is room for wonder and cheer, and even if he no longer has Clay's arm around his shoulders, he will forever have Clay's universe of wonder spreading out around him.

"See anything you like?" Ema pauses beside him where he stands on the edge of the driveway, waiting for everyone to bundle their gifts into the car so Ema can drive them home.

Apollo doesn't lower his eyes. "Yeah."

"Good." Ema's hand claps against his back. "That means you're looking in the right direction."

They stand like that, for seconds that feel like minutes, staring up at the same vast darkness, the warmth of the party at their backs.

No one says that they're fine.

No one needs to.

For the holiday, with each other, they are fine, and they are not, and they are together, and in the end that means they will be fine.

No one could ask for anything more.