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Grounds for Involvement

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Phoenix found the envelope because he stepped on it and nearly slipped as he walked into his office. It was on the floor and obviously had been slid under the door overnight; he hadn't expected anything to be there and skidded a tiny bit, then set his coffee down on his desk and picked it up. He'd left a shoe print on it, but it had been well sealed and had survived his mishap.

His name was printed on it, a white label sticker in the center of the manila. There was nothing else on it, so he sat down at his desk, took a gulp of coffee, and pried the flap up so he could see what was inside -- a series of photos, apparently.

He flipped through them, and dropped them as his brain caught up with his eyes, because they were photos of Miles Edgeworth, and he was naked.

Holy shit.

Phoenix lifted the pictures again, prepared this time, but not sure how to look at them when they clearly had not been meant for his, or anyone's, eyes. But they'd been delivered to him and there was something very wrong here, and he didn't know what but every single one of his instincts screamed at him that this was definitely not good.

So he looked, grimacing as he tried not to focus on the details of his colleague-slash-rival, but instead only tried to figure out what the hell was going on. He was used to taking in pictures and putting pieces together almost instantaneously, thank god, because a whole list of important details cascaded into his brain without him having to stare.

Like: Edgeworth was young in these pictures. Not quite so young as to be illegal, but it was before he'd taken the Bar -- nineteen, maybe twenty.

Like: Edgeworth was having sex in these pictures, and always clearly identifiable, but his partner wasn't. The partner -- male, older, pale; Phoenix was pretty sure it was always the same man -- was sometimes naked, sometimes not, but never facing the camera and if he had any identifiable marks, they weren't in view either.

Like: Edgeworth was clearly not enjoying these encounters. In the first few his features were twisted into an expression of misery -- shame, sadness, Phoenix didn't even know what; in the later photos, he had the same blank expression, devoid of any emotions at all, that Phoenix was used to. But never a smile, never a hint of pleasure, nothing whatsoever that indicated he was enjoying the experience.

Like: the photos hadn't all been taken at once. There was a side table in the background with a few books and a drinking glass and a vase with flowers, and in some photos the glass was empty but in others it was full and in others it was gone entirely; the flowers changed; the stack of books grew shorter, presumably as someone finished reading them.

Like: the photos had been taken from the same angle, probably from a camera on a tripod or a surface and probably automated with a timer. There had probably been more -- dozens or hundreds, depending on how frequently the automation was set for -- and this was a curated selection. Likely for the very purpose of keeping Edgeworth's partner from being identifiable.

Like: Phoenix was going to have to find out what had happened, why these pictures existed, why they'd been sent to him, because these were not pictures Edgeworth would have wanted anyone to have. If the camera had been hidden, he might not even know they existed, and they could destroy his whole career. And if Phoenix's hunch was right, and Edgeworth had really not wanted to be there, not wanted to be having this sex, then he certainly wouldn't have wanted anyone to know about it. Phoenix was going to have to murder whoever had done this to him.

He just hoped Edgeworth wouldn't prosecute him when he did.

*

The problem was, Phoenix couldn't think of a way to solve this without talking to Edgeworth. In his ideal world, he'd simply figure out who'd sent the pictures, what they wanted, and put an end to all of it without Edgeworth ever being the wiser. It would be easier for everyone that way -- Edgeworth would never have to worry, and Phoenix would never have to let on that he'd seen any of this. Whatever had happened could remain buried.

(Actually, in Phoenix's ideal world, this had never happened. A lot of things had never happened to Edgeworth. He and his father had never gotten into that elevator, he'd never moved away, they'd never lost touch, and so on.)

But Phoenix just didn't have enough information. The office building where he rented space did have security cameras at the doorway, but the man who'd dropped these off had been dressed for anonymity -- a hoodie with the hood pulled low, sunglasses on despite it being dark out, and no details that stuck out on any of his other clothes. So that was a bust.

Phoenix hated looking at the photos themselves, but he tried his damnedest to find a clue in them. They were all taken in a bedroom -- the same bedroom, with white walls and navy blue curtains drawn shut. Nothing else was hanging up, the bedspread was the same shade of navy, and there were no personal belongings other than those books.

The books were a clue, of course. With a magnifying glass Phoenix could make out the titles and discovered that they were, no surprise at all, legal tomes -- in English, French, and German. Edgeworth had spent his adolescence traipsing through Europe and apparently picking up languages at the drop of a hat. Phoenix could barely read legal books in English and he had his law degree; Edgeworth had been reading up in multiple languages before he'd ever passed the Bar.

So, in summary: it was probably Edgeworth's room, or at least one where he spent a lot of time. But beyond "somewhere in Europe" Phoenix really didn't know the specifics of where Edgeworth had been when from the time he'd vanished at nine until he'd reappeared as a prosecutor at twenty.

Phoenix had even zeroed in on the flowers, hoping that they had a clue -- like maybe they were some specific weird species that only bloomed in the Alps once every decade or something. But no luck; they were all pretty common and gave no hints.

Which meant he was officially stumped.

As an investigator, the next step was obvious. He knew who one of the people in the pictures was, and that that person would know who the other one was, and probably have some theories as to who would have access of these pictures to send them to Phoenix. But that person was Miles himself and the thought of talking to him about this…

But there was no way around it.

So Phoenix put the photos in his briefcase, triple-checked to make sure his briefcase was locked, and sincerely debated asking Gumshoe for a pair of handcuffs so he could make sure the briefcase didn't get lost or stolen but ultimately decided that was too suspicious looking. He set out for the criminal investigations building, where he was immediately scoffed at and given suspicious looks when he arrived. But the chief only shrugged and reminded him what floor Edgeworth's office was on, so he headed up the stairs and down the hall and then just stood there.

He needed to knock. He needed to do this. But he couldn't even imagine how Edgeworth was going to react, and this was going to be so, so bad. But he had to. Someone was trying to hurt Edgeworth with these pictures, and it had to be stopped. So he made himself knock.

Edgeworth answered the door, made eye contact with him for the briefest moment, and then stood aside to let him in. "Keep this short and to the point, Wright, my time is valuable and I'm uninterested in small talk."

"It's nice to see you, too," Phoenix said, taking that as the greeting it probably wasn't. "But I'm actually here for something serious, and it's not good, and… I think maybe we should sit down."

"I'm unaware of any case you've taken on that I might have any reason to speak to you about," Edgeworth said, but he didn't physically block Phoenix from stepping further inside and sitting on his sofa. He did cross his arms and glare as Phoenix set the briefcase down and unlocked it, but that was pretty much standard for Edgeworth.

"You should sit, too," Phoenix said, and nodded at the space on the couch next to him.

"If you insist on taking up enough of my time that I need to sit down, I'll bill you for it, by the hour."

Phoenix looked up at him, caught his eye, and said, "Miles."

Edgeworth sat. "Are you in trouble?"

It was a surprisingly compassionate response -- especially from Edgeworth, who would rather set his own cravat on fire than admit that he cared about anyone, let alone that he cared about Phoenix. Who gave him a grim look and shook his head. "Not me. This was waiting for me in my office this morning. I don't know who sent it." He pulled out the envelope, but before letting Edgeworth take it, he said, "It's pictures of you, and it's bad."

Edgeworth gave him a slight raised eyebrow, but accepted the envelope, delicately slid its contents out, and took a look.

For one moment, Edgeworth froze, horror written across his face. Then he decisively snapped his mouth shut, eyebrows drawn down in an expression that was probably meant to be blank but leaked anger. He looked through the photos carefully, as he would with any piece of evidence, considering each one in turn while Phoenix waited in agony for him to give some reaction. To say something.

But he didn't. Just looked at each picture, then slid them back into the envelope and then set it down on the coffee table. Then, arms crossed again, "Well?"

"Well… what?"

"Your price," Edgeworth said. "I told you, I'm uninterested in small talk, and I'm definitely not interested in any niceties surrounding this. You have these photos, you came to my office; tell me your price to make this go away. I'll pay it, you'll leave, and that will be that. "

Phoenix just stared at him for a moment, blinking, taking that in. Edgeworth thought he -- no. That wasn't -- Phoenix wouldn't. It had never even occurred to him that he could use the pictures that way himself, only that someone else would if they weren't discovered and dealt with. Or worse, that maybe someone already had.

It wasn't like it was unheard of. Gant had blackmailed Skye for two solid years before that had unraveled. Having power over the prosecutor's office was a weapon that could be wielded with devastating results.

But not by Phoenix. Never.

"Think logically," Phoenix said, soft, still stunned. "If I were going to blackmail you, would I have brought you those photos?"

"After you'd made copies, you'd have to."

"I didn't make -- there are no copies," Phoenix said, horrified.

"No? So if I were to pick those back up," he gestured at the envelope but didn't bother, "and burn them, you would have no backup versions at your disposal to humiliate me with?"

"No, I wouldn't. And if that's what you want to do, I'll happily light the match for you. God, did you really think I would…"

"Of course I thought you would. Blackmail is only effective if the victim knows the material is real. Well, here it is, undeniably. It's a perfectly logical conclusion."

"Yeah, but only if you think I'm capable of doing that." He hoped his voice was steady, but unlike Edgeworth, he wasn't particularly good at hiding his emotions, and the realization that Edgeworth clearly did think he was capable of blackmail, of using something so heinous to get… what, a case thrown? Leaked information from the prosecutor's office? He would never.

But Edgeworth looked away and said, "It wasn't a judgment of you. Only a reaction to a long life of evidence that anyone is capable of cruelty and betrayal. There's no need to take it personally."

And god, wasn't that the truth. Edgeworth had lost his father to murder, and spent years training with the murderer unknowingly. He'd idolized Von Karma's perfection, and spent half his life desperately trying to win Von Karma's approval. The revelation that Von Karma hated him, had done it only so he could fully destroy Edgeworth, that he'd pushed until Edgeworth had been willing to plead guilty and face a death penalty out of guilt for a crime he'd never even committed --

Of course Edgeworth believed that anyone was capable of cruelty. Phoenix's heart stuttered as the overwhelming gravity of what had happened hit him yet again. Edgeworth did such a good job of burying his emotions behind logic and his untouchable persona, even Phoenix had overlooked just how much it must have destroyed him.

"All right," Phoenix said, and let out a long breath. "But no, I didn't come here with intent to blackmail you. I came because someone out there has these pictures, and I don't know why they sent them to me, but I figured… I figured you'd want to know about them, and that together we can probably figure out who it is. Track down the originals, and make sure they're destroyed entirely so that this never gets out. Before someone can use them to hurt you. Unless they already have."

The look Edgeworth gave him could only be described as wry. "You assume I need your help for any of the above?"

"No, but I'm offering my help. And they were sent to me, so I think that gives me grounds to claim I'm already involved." He hesitated, then reached out to touch Edgeworth's hand -- just for a moment, before Edgeworth snatched it away. "Let me help you. I don't know what this is, but you don't have to deal with it alone. I'm here and I'm on your side."

"And if the photographer throws himself on your mercy, begging for the defense lawyer with the best track record in the state?"

"I'll tell him to fuck off, he deserves to go to jail. I'm the one with professional ethics, remember? Besides, neither of us should take the case -- conflict of interest. Maybe you could give it to Franziska. Watch her destroy someone for you."

"Ah, but she wouldn't," Edgeworth said. "Because I know exactly where and when these pictures were taken, and by whom, and Franziska would not be on my side."

"No? Someone is trying to blackmail her little brother, and you think she wouldn't help you?"

"On the contrary, she's a suspect, not an ally." Edgeworth looked away. "She has motivation and access. She's very likely behind it."

"Holy shit," Phoenix said. "What are you talking about? What… what happened, anyway?"

Edgeworth was quiet for a long minute, then said, "Listen closely, because I will not be cross-examined on this. I'm not going to repeat myself and you're not going to write anything down. Bad enough that these pictures exist, let's not put anything else on paper."

Phoenix held up his empty hands. "No pen here."

"Very well." Edgeworth took a breath. "That's Von Karma in the photos. I was eighteen, and living with him, and never suspected there was a camera, which in retrospect was a foolish oversight. It must have been behind my mirror for quite some time. It's embarrassing that I never investigated the possibility.

"At the time, I never suspected anything. I had no idea he'd been anywhere near that elevator or held any ulterior motives. All I knew was he was undefeated, and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. He'd taken me in, and taken me seriously, and given me access to the best education available. I was… grateful."

And wasn't that the most heartbreaking thing Phoenix had ever heard.

"But I wanted more, I wanted to know more, to learn more, to be better. I wanted mentorship, not just education. And I wanted to ensure he'd speak on my behalf, what with me getting my license to practice so young, and I hoped he'd help me find a suitably prestigious job.

"He's no more interested in small talk or niceties than I am, so I approached him and asked, quite bluntly, what it would take for him to see to those requests. His terms were reasonable, really. The events in those photos are the result. For the last six months I lived with him, I was available to him; I was not to resist, complain, or allow anyone else to discover.

"I was… quite surprised by the offered bargain, I suppose. But I was an orphan, living on his charity. He'd already given me more than I could ever repay him, and yet I still asked for more from him. It wasn't as if I had anything else I could give, or any other way to pay, and ultimately, it was my decision to acquiesce. I agreed, and for six months I was his… plaything, and he saw to everything we'd agreed upon, and we never spoke of it again after the six months ended."

He finally finished and Phoenix just sat there, trying to take it all in. Edgeworth shifted slightly on the couch, away from him, not looking at him at all, and Phoenix had to wonder what was going through his mind. He'd said it all so calmly, matter of fact, as if someone offering his adoptive son a deal of sex for education was anything even remotely okay.

"I…" Phoenix trailed off. "I'm sorry that that happened."

Edgeworth made a disdainful noise. "It was a bargain, not a tragedy. I knew what I was agreeing to. I shouldn't have been surprised by this turn of events. He never showed any other sexual interest in me, or in other young men that I'm aware of, so I should have realized there was an ulterior motivation."

"Yeah, uh, the… the photos are pretty curated to keep his face out of them."

Edgeworth finally looked at him, and said, voice extremely dry, "Astute observation."

"I'm just trying to wrap my mind around how anyone could be that horrible."

Edgeworth looked away again. He clearly didn't want any sympathy, but beyond that Phoenix couldn't even fathom what he was feeling.

Phoenix took a deep breath, trying to clear his head. "Okay. Let's back up. You said Franziska was a suspect, but I just don't buy it. She loves you, she wouldn't do this to you."

"Love is a weakness and Franziska doesn't tolerate those. What she'd weigh here is the shame this would bring to the family legacy compared to her ability to keep me under her thumb, and even that is assuming this isn't an attempt at vengeance for her father's jail sentence."

"But you weren't responsible for that. I was."

"He wanted me destroyed; she may have sided with him. And she is the most likely suspect because she has management of the whole Von Karma estate now, which means access to all the likely places these may have been kept."

Phoenix still didn't buy that. Franziska was terrifying, and he had no doubt that she'd happily blackmail her enemies, but he just couldn't imagine her placing Edgeworth into that category. But Edgeworth knew her much better, and besides, he was pretty sure that if he spoke up Edgeworth would shut him down or pull further away or kick him out.

So he played along: "Where are the likely places it might have been kept?"

"He had plenty of locking filing cabinets at home, and at least one safe that was visible. I know of one safety deposit box, though I don't know the number or have the key. He also owned several vacation properties, each of which may have had a safe or some other storage he'd have considered secure, since it was removed from the house."

"You are the only person I know who can speak in paragraphs," Phoenix said, before his mouth caught up with his brain. Edgeworth was always so precise when he spoke, so when he rattled off a list like that it somehow sounded as if he were reading a scripted drama. Phoenix could have listened for hours.

Edgeworth rolled his eyes. "I was trained in proper diction."

"That sounds dirty."

"Must you make every inane comment that comes into your mind?"

Phoenix shrugged. "Trying to lighten the mood, but okay. Let's come up with a plan. There are a lot of places worth checking into, but the photos were taken at the house in Germany, so… let's start there."

"Hmm." Edgeworth stood and walked over to his desk, checked something on his computer, and then nodded. "Franziska will be attending a women's leadership conference for the next week. I think she's teaching a session on wielding a bullwhip. I'll leave this evening and hopefully complete the search before she returns."

"We," Phoenix corrected. "We'll leave this evening."

"I don't recall inviting you."

"Those pictures were sent to me," Phoenix reminded him. "My grounds for involvement were already established."

"Your help in this search is not required. The trip is long and the estate is unpleasant."

"And it wouldn't be a little more pleasant if you had a friend with you?" Phoenix shot him a grin, but at Edgeworth's irritated look, let himself get serious again. "I know you don't really think of me as a friend, but I'm just… I'm just saying, you don't have to face this alone. You're brilliant, I'm fast on my feet, we'll figure this out quicker if we work together."

Edgeworth considered that for a long moment, then said, "Very well. Meet me at the airport at 7:00, and do not be late. In the mean time, do you have a lighter?"

It took Phoenix a second to realized what he meant, but then he dug into his pocket and produced a matchbook he'd picked up over at the Gatewater. Without Edgeworth having to ask, he picked up the envelope, lit the match, held them both over Edgeworth's trashcan until the envelope caught, and dropped the smoking envelope in. They stood shoulder to shoulder and watched it burn.