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Grounds for Involvement

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The man who was probably Von Karma's conspirator was named Matthew Eriel, and minutes after learning that, Edgeworth was on the phone with someone at home who could get a dossier on him together. While he did that, he had Phoenix call Maya.

She was, according to whatever plan Edgeworth was hatching, supposed to check in to the Gatewater as soon as possible and use his name to get the murder suite -- the suite that looked directly into Phoenix's office. Once there, she'd keep an eye on the office, and call Gumshoe the second she saw anyone inside. (She didn't object to being asked to help out, and was particularly enthusiastic once Phoenix told her to go ahead and order as much room service as she wanted, since Edgeworth was paying for it.)

By the time that was arranged, Phoenix turned around and found Edgeworth was packing for him, since they were still in Phoenix's room.

"So are you going to explain to me what's actually going on, or just stand there and look smug?" Phoenix asked, tossing his pajamas in to the suitcase. Edgeworth gave him a pained look, picked them back up, and began folding.

"No wonder your wardrobe leaves so much to be desired. Even those cheap suits of yours would look a little nicer if you'd treat them better."

"Is that really important right now?"

Edgeworth gave him a prim look, but finally gave in. "What's going on is simple and should have been obvious from the get-go. I'd have figured it out immediately if I hadn't been so flustered by the pictures. You see, I'm not the only target in this scheme. In fact, I'm probably the lesser target -- Von Karma has it out for you."

"How was sending blackmail photos of you to me supposed to target me?" Phoenix asked.

"Think about it. You knew it was blackmail immediately, and so would anyone else who saw it. And blackmail is illegal, so if it was discovered that a defense attorney had material like that on a well-known, highly-placed prosecutor…"

"But I didn't, I…" It clicked in his mind, suddenly. "You hadn't lost until you faced me. I was no one, came from nowhere, and beat the demon at his own game. If those photos were found in my office, people would assume you'd thrown those cases."

"Indeed. And you would be arrested, probably disbarred and jailed, and I would be humiliated, and Von Karma would get to see us both destroyed. But for that plan to work, your office would need to be raided and the material discovered."

"Okay," Phoenix agreed. "But then why send it to me early and not just plant it during the search?"

"I have a theory about that, but no proof yet," Edgeworth said. "But it's irrelevant. The key is that there will be a search, and since we know that, we can set a trap and catch whoever is leading it red-handed. I'm betting that will be Mr. Eriel."

"Wow," Phoenix said. "You really are brilliant… Did you fold my socks? I didn't know you could fold socks, I always just, you know, make them into a little ball."

Edgeworth shot him a look that was almost a smile. "Of course you do. But we have one last thing to see to before we leave. Do you still have that matchbook?"

And so they disposed of Von Karma's notebooks and documents, keeping only the legal papers that Edgeworth might find useful to have, and then took a magnet to the hard drive.

*

Phoenix had only barely adjusted to the time change, and now he was antsy and riled up for the flight home. Edgeworth was calm, though. Somehow, Edgeworth even managed to shut his eyes and just fall right asleep, as if he'd willed himself to do it and then just… had. That would be a nice skill to have, though maybe he was just exhausted.

Except that only an hour later, as Phoenix was staring mindlessly at an in-flight movie and wishing he could stretch his legs, Edgeworth began to tremble, his head shaking back and forth, and then he gasped, and --

Phoenix shook him awake. A noise died on his lips and his eyes snapped open and Phoenix said, "It's okay. We're on the plane still, on our way home. Hey, this is first class, they'll bring you tea even if it's not beverage service time, right?"

"Yes… yes, that would be…" Edgeworth trailed off.

Phoenix summoned the flight attendant, threw on his best charming grin and asked for the tea, and while she hurried off to get it, he put his hand over Edgeworth's on the armrest.

"I didn't know you still had nightmares," Phoenix said.

"Not as frequently now. But occasionally. Particularly on trips to the Von Karma manor."

"That makes sense." Phoenix gave his hand a squeeze. "So is that what you meant by cuddling not going well? If you used to have those dreams all the time…"

"Indeed. My occasional lovers didn't enjoy all the screaming. Thank you for waking me before I could alarm everyone on the plane."

"Occasional lovers, huh?" That twisted a little somewhere in Phoenix's chest, and he definitely knew why even if he didn't want to think about it.

"Yes." Edgeworth pulled his hand away, and, gaze fixed on the back of the seat in front of his, said, "Men. I guess I'm somewhat more discerning about gender than you are. But those affairs were all brief. My work keeps me busy, and I'm not exactly a pleasant or easy person to spend time with."

The flight attendant returned, and Edgeworth nodded his thanks to her.

Phoenix started to respond -- he liked spending time with Edgeworth -- but Edgeworth beat him to it. "You're my friend, and that's different. Go back to your movie, Wright. I'm fine now that I'm awake."

And yikes, there went Phoenix's momentary hope that Edgeworth's reference to his sexuality had been a prelude to something else. Just a few days ago, he'd have been thrilled to hear Edgeworth refer to him as a friend, but now it seemed like a deliberate ploy -- a way to ensure Phoenix knew that friendship was all there would ever be between them.

But even so, it was something personal, and not something Edgeworth had been forced to share by circumstances and blackmail, so Phoenix would take it.

*

The return trip screwed even more with Phoenix's head than he'd expected -- they'd left Germany in the early afternoon, and arrived home late evening, but had been in the air for seventeen hours, and it was all disorienting.

They'd barely touched down when Edgeworth's phone rang. Edgeworth snatched it up and said, without preamble, "Is it done?"

Phoenix strained to hear, but luckily Gumshoe's voice carried. "It sure is, Mr. Edgeworth, pal."

"Was the warrant fake?"

"Just like you said!"

"Of course." Edgeworth looked extremely satisfied with himself. "Hold him. I have a quick errand to run and will be at the detention center in a matter of hours."

"You have an errand to run before talking to our attempted life-ruiner?" Phoenix asked.

"Yes, and if you thought my lock-picking was entertaining, I think you'll enjoy this even more."

"What are you planning?"

"Some slight breaking and entering. I'd go through official channels to get a warrant, but I'd rather not explain what's going on, for the obvious reasons." He shook his head a little. "And anyway, it's only fair, since he broke into your office, that we break into his apartment in return."

Phoenix laughed. "Yeah. This I have definitely got to see."

*

Phoenix was ready to collapse, but somehow Edgeworth just kept going. Ninety minutes after they left the airport, they were searching Eriel's apartment. It wasn't too hard to find Von Karma's laptop -- it was years outdated and stuck out from his more modern set-up. Edgeworth started it up, did some poking around, and decided it was unlikely that the photos had been backed up anywhere else. He did a factory reset on it before they took it out of the apartment and headed for the detention center.

Maya met them there. "It was so exciting to watch! I saw him break in from the hotel, and then Gumshoe came running in too and it was so dramatic. And the warrant is fake? Oh, and thank you for the burgers, Mr. Edgeworth."

Edgeworth actually smiled at her. "My pleasure, Miss Fey. The Gatewater's chef is quite good. And yes, the warrant was fake. Wright has yet to commit any crimes that require a search of his premises."

"You say that like I'm planning to at some point in the future," Phoenix said.

"You never know," Edgeworth said, but he sounded very pleased. "Would you like to accompany me for questioning?"

"I definitely would."

"Are you going to defend the guy who broke into your office?" Maya asked.

"Oh, no. I'm just going to enjoy watching Edgeworth take him apart. It'll be nice to watch him work without having to try to beat him for a change. And then I'm gonna go home and pass the hell out for awhile."

"If Miss Fey hasn't checked out yet, you're welcome to use the suite at the Gatewater. It's closer," Edgeworth said.

"Yeah, but that place is expensive, and it's not so far…"

"Think nothing of it. I consider that, along with the expense of our flights, part of the cost of this investigation. I will also expect your invoice for hours and expenses incurred during the time you spent aiding me."

"Invoice… uh, no? This wasn't billable hours, this was just me helping a friend." It actually stung a little to realize that Edgeworth was only thinking of him in professional terms. He hadn't insisted on going to Germany so he'd be able to charge for the investigation, he'd done it because he cared about Edgeworth and wanted to help.

"What were you two investigating, anyway?" Maya asked.

Edgeworth shot him a look-what-you've-done expression. "We can discuss this later. For now, I have a criminal to intimidate."

"I wish I got to watch," Maya said. "He's so cool when he does that."

Phoenix privately agreed, but he felt a little like a tag-along now that he was just following Edgeworth around. He hadn't felt that way back in Germany any more than he'd felt like he should be tracking billable hours. There, they'd been working together. Now, though, it was all Edgeworth's show. It had been ever since he'd realized the plan, and that left Phoenix as little more than an accessory.

Phoenix felt a strange loss at that. It didn't really matter. But after everything, the thought of reverting to what they'd been before -- friendly rivals, only sort-of friends -- didn't sit quite right. Especially not now that he'd realized he wanted something much more.

Eriel was sitting behind the glass and he went stiff as a board when Edgeworth walked in. His jaw dropped open, his eyes widened, and he said, "Oh, shit."

"Indeed." Edgeworth sat, looking smug.

"I, uh…" Eriel winced, clearly knowing it was a bad play even as he said, "I have some pictures of you. You probably shouldn't mess with me."

Edgeworth held up the pilfered laptop. "Do you think I'd be so sloppy as to make threats before ensuring I had control of this?"

"Shit," Eriel said again, and sank low in his seat.

"Did you know they used to call me a demon?" Edgeworth asked. He leaned forward, eyes flashing a reflection of the florescent lights. "I am not a man to be crossed lightly, and you have made a very, very big mistake. But I'm not unreasonable. You have information I want. So tell me, Mr. Eriel, are you interested in making a deal?"

Eriel sang like a canary.

*

Phoenix woke the next morning in the comfortable luxury of the Gatewater, then glanced out the window at his own office. It was a bit of a mess -- his own tendency, plus a few things had been scattered around when Gumshoe had made his arrest. Too bad there were no Blooms here to do the housekeeping.

He called Edgeworth, just to check in, and got voicemail. Hopefully Edgeworth had also fallen asleep, finally.

He checked out, took a cab to his apartment, and dropped his suitcase on the floor. The stuff in his fridge was all a little dubious now, and he was going to have to go grocery shopping. Maybe he could bill Edgeworth for that, too, since so most of his food had expired while he'd been out of the country…

But that made him frown. He'd thought it as a joke, but suspected Edgeworth would have accepted the bill without comment. He'd expected Phoenix to invoice him, after all. Like this had all been business, and not something Phoenix had thrown himself into because he cared about Edgeworth and couldn't stand by and watch him get ruined.

He called Edgeworth again. If he was up and moving, Edgeworth definitely was, too. But again, got no answer… and this time it hit him. Edgeworth wasn't going to answer the phone, because he didn't consider this case closed yet. There was one more job to do, and apparently, he'd intended to do it alone, because he hadn't invited Phoenix along.

Well, screw that. If Phoenix was right, he was definitely not going to let Edgeworth do this alone. He made himself a cup of coffee, poured it in a travel mug, and headed downstairs to catch another cab.

*

He made it in time. Edgeworth was in the prison's waiting room, poring over some paperwork under the sterile, florescent lights, while security guards periodically called people in.

"So, did you think I wouldn't be interested in seeing this, or did you not want me here?"

Edgeworth looked up, startled, and then away, guilty. "The later. I would appreciate if you'd wait here for me. Once I'm called, it won't take long."

Phoenix shook his head. "I thought we'd established days ago, I am involved in this. I was targeted. I have ground to stand on, here."

"I don't deny that. I'd just rather you weren't witness to this."

"Are you going to threaten him? Because if he mysteriously dies in prison, I will absolutely defend you when you're inevitably considered a suspect."

"I am not…" Edgeworth sighed. "I think this confrontation will get very personal, and I would rather you didn't have to endure that."

"I'd rather you didn't have to, either. But since you're here, I'm with you."

Edgeworth considered that for a moment. "You don't need to worry. I'll make sure he doesn't target you in the future. Can you trust me in that?"

"Of course. I didn't even think about that, but yeah, I absolutely trust you to protect me," Phoenix said. "But that's got nothing to do with you walking in there and facing your demons, okay? Because that's what you're doing. And that's why I'm here. To help you if you need it, and to cheer for you if you don't."

Edgeworth shook his head, opened his mouth to speak, and Phoenix cut him off.

"So help me, if you say accepting my support is a weakness, I will take up defense on every single case you prosecute."

"You wouldn't win them all. Some people are actually guilty," Edgeworth said.

"You're right. But I'd definitely annoy you in the process. I have it on good authority that I'm very irritating."

Edgeworth actually let out a laugh, though he seemed a little startled by it. "Very well. If you insist."

"I do."

Phoenix sat down next to him to wait, and it was another half-hour before they were called. And he was glad he'd come, and glad he'd insisted, because Edgeworth's breath caught and he actually hesitated before stepping into the visiting room. But then his expression went totally neutral and he moved with easy confidence to sit down.

This was a step up from the detention center, and whether it was thanks to Von Karma's connections or Edgeworth's, they'd been given a modicum of privacy. Von Karma sat at a table opposite them, wearing a striped uniform, a shackle keeping his wrists bound to the table. But none of the other tables were in use, and the officer stepped out and shut the door.

"How good of you to finally visit, my boy." Von Karma gave Edgeworth a smile that was all disdain.

"You seemed to want my attention. You'll have been informed by now that your plan failed, of course."

Von Karma shook his head, tsking a little. "And you should know I'm not so easily beaten." He looked over at Phoenix. "Tell me, Mr. Wright, did you enjoy the photos? I doubt it was a side of Miles Edgeworth you ever expected to see."

Next to him, Edgeworth went so tense and rigid Phoenix thought he might shatter. The reaction was so visceral that it was obvious just asking the question, mentioning the photos at all, was a point in Von Karma's favor, putting Edgeworth on the defensive. Which was infuriating. Any snappy reply Phoenix might have had was smothered by his anger, and what came out instead was, "Fuck you."

Von Karma laughed. Which meant that had been the wrong response.

"It doesn't matter," Edgeworth said, words clipped. "Because you underestimated him. You assumed he would use those photos as you would -- to destroy me or control me. But Wright isn't like you. He brought them to me, so we could stop you together."

"Yes, I heard about your little sting operation." Von Karma rolled his eyes. "It's disappointing that I won't see him disbarred. But no matter -- it's not as if my situation gets worse. This little event still only has upsides for me."

"You're wrong," Edgeworth said, flat and cold. "Your situation is definitely about to get worse. The state has opened an investigation into corruption in this very prison, starting with some names Mr. Eriel provided. It will all be handled by a neutral party, of course, so all Is will be dotted and Ts will be crossed, with no room for anyone to protest. I expect it will result in a full housecleaning -- meaning the corrections officers you've managed to bribe will be gone, and thus your contact with the outside world will be cut off."

Von Karma slammed his hands down on the table, his face somehow even paler than usual. "You should not have done that, Miles Edgeworth. I may have failed to drag Wright into it, but I still have those photos. You won't be able to keep me silent forever."

"We've already wiped your laptop," Edgeworth said, smooth and dismissive.

"Do you think that was the only place I had them saved?"

Edgeworth stilled again. He'd checked -- Phoenix had watched him check. But it was always possible they'd missed something…

But Von Karma's smile was too slow to form. He was waiting for a reaction, not ready to be smug until he was sure he had it, and Phoenix realized why. After all, he was usually the one bluffing desperately. Edgeworth had told him days ago that a blackmailer needed to be ready to prove what he had, so…

He pulled out his phone. "You have them backed up? To the cloud, I assume?"

"Of course," Von Karma said, which was a tell in and of itself. His laptop was ancient, and he kept hand-written files. Phoenix would eat his own tie if Von Karma knew what the cloud was, let alone how to save files there.

"Okay." Phoenix unlocked his phone and passed it across the desk to Von Karma. "Go ahead, then. Unleash them. Right now."

Von Karma took the phone, and shit, Phoenix hoped he was right. He needed to be right, because Edgeworth's hand was shaking. He pressed it down against the table to mask it, but if Phoenix had read this wrong and Von Karma actually did have backups…

Von Karma slammed the phone down on the table in anger. Phoenix picked it up -- the screen had cracked, but nothing had been opened or touched. He smirked.

"He was bluffing. He's got nothing on you, Miles. Not anymore."

Edgeworth let out a breath and composed himself. "Good try, but here we are," he said to Von Karma. "And here's what's going to happen. You are about to lose every privilege you've gained in this place -- the investigation will see to that. Which means the only comfort you'll have will be what you can purchase in the commissary, which will require funds. For that, you'll have to rely on me."

"Franziska will provide for me."

"Are you sure about that?" Edgeworth's smirk was annoying in the courtroom, but here it was brilliant. "She had your portrait taken down and destroyed. Your criminal activities are a black mark on her perfection. I rather doubt she'll be filling your coffer any time soon."

That sat there for a moment and Phoenix had to wonder if Edgeworth had texted Franziska or something, or if he'd just taken Phoenix's theory and run with it. Or if he was bluffing entirely, stone-faced and unflinching.

Whether it was a bluff or not, Von Karma bought it. "What do you want?"

"I want you to be a model prisoner. I will be receiving reports on the matter, and as soon as one of them cites you as suspicious or causing trouble, I will cut you off. I want to never hear from you again, and I want to ensure that you will never, ever, ever contact Wright again, or attempt to harm him in any way."

Von Karma glared. "Do you really think you've won this?"

"I know I have," Edgeworth said. "I have you isolated, and desperate, and fully dependent on my goodwill and whims. It's quite an effective tactic, which you should know, since you used me as your guinea pig in testing it."

For a moment, just one, it seemed like Edgeworth had won. There was nothing Von Karma could do or say in response -- it was true, and more importantly to Phoenix's justice-seeking heart, it was fair. Or as close as could be, in a situation like this.

But then Von Karma said, "Keep your money. Do you know what I'll treasure for the rest of my life instead? The look on your face right now, as I take away the thing you want most in the world."

He turned to look at Phoenix, ran his gaze down and up, smirking. Phoenix stared back, baffled, but Edgeworth was already turning away in horror -- whatever bomb he was dropping, Edgeworth knew what it was.

"You love Phoenix Wright very much, don't you, my boy?" It may have been addressed to Edgeworth, but he kept Phoenix pinned with his gaze. "You've been pining for him for what, months? Years? It's pathetic. I couldn't get him arrested, but I showed him what you really are -- how pitiful, how desperate, how ruined. Even if no one else ever does, he's seen the photos. Do you really think, now that he's seen your shame, that he will ever care for you? Touch you?" Von Karma laughed in cruel delight. "You beat me, but you still lose."

He went quiet and it hung in the air for a horrible moment. Phoenix reeled, the final piece of the whole puzzle falling into place. Edgeworth's unproven, unspoken theory about why the photos had been delivered to his office early, not just planted in the search -- Von Karma had wanted to make sure that Phoenix saw them. He'd wanted Edgeworth to know Phoenix had seen them. Which was why Edgeworth had come here alone, so that if nothing else, Phoenix wouldn't know this.

It was obviously no bluff. Phoenix swallowed, and shifted his gaze to Edgeworth, who had shut his eyes, turned partially away, and holy shit, it looked like he might actually cry. Because he hadn't wanted Phoenix to know that he loved him.

Edgeworth loved him.

Edgeworth loved him.

"Miles," Phoenix breathed, but Edgeworth wouldn't look at him.

"Don't. Wright, please don't say anything. I'm sorry this happened, but you don't need to worry. I won't bother you again." He stood, started toward the exit while Von Karma laughed.

"Miles." Pheonix rocketed to his feet, too, and grabbed Edgeworth's arm, pulled him back, but Edgeworth still wouldn't look at him. "He's wrong."

"No, he isn't." Edgeworth pulled free and started for the door again.

"Hold it!" Phoenix didn't mean to yell, but nothing else was getting through. Edgeworth had spiraled into complete misery, unwilling or unable to see reason, to stay and listen to Phoenix, but Phoenix's courtroom voice brought him up short. Maybe reacting to it was instinct, because he stopped his desperate retreat. "He's wrong."

"I am in love with you. He's correct. There, I've admitted it." Edgeworth's voice shook as he said it.

"Yeah, he was right about that, but he made a two-part claim," Phoenix said. "Part one, you love me -- true. Point granted. Part two, I could never love you back after seeing those pictures. But that is false because I've been in love with you for years, and the photos didn't change a damn thing."

Edgeworth stared, mouth slightly open, as if he were about to register an objection, but then he shut his mouth and swallowed and just studied Phoenix's face. "If you're bluffing to help me save face…"

"It's no bluff." Phoenix took a tentative step forward, and then another, and Edgeworth didn't run away any further, didn't flinch or pull away when Phoenix took his hand, and didn't object when Phoenix kissed him. It wasn't much of a kiss, barely brushing his lips to Edgeworth's, but Edgeworth's arms came around him and pulled him close and yes, his cheek was damp against Phoenix's neck. Just a tiny bit. So Phoenix held him, and murmured, "I love you. I love you."

It didn't last all that long before Edgeworth pulled away, and turned to Von Karma, not bothering to hide his glassy eyes. Von Karma had gone silent, wide-eyed with shock. Phoenix smirked a little. Von Karma may have known Edgeworth and predicted exactly how he'd react, but he didn't know Phoenix at all.

When Edgeworth spoke, his voice was steady. "I've disposed of your blackmail, your corruption and contacts outside this prison, and every comfort you might have had. You are left with nothing, and to my great surprise, I have my heart's desire. Goodbye, Manfred. You won't be hearing from me again."

Edgeworth nodded at the corrections officer on his way out, and led Phoenix by the hand to the lobby, where he stopped and put his arms around Phoenix again.

"Miles -- " Phoenix started, but that was as far as he got.

"I didn't want you to know because I couldn't imagine you'd ever feel the same way," Edgeworth said, a quick explanation that carried so much weight. "And you've done so much for me. You've been so kind, such a good friend. I didn't want to lose that, just because I foolishly had to want more."

"I keep trying to tell you, feelings aren't foolish," Phoenix said. "Can I count this as evidence?"

Edgeworth gave a slight laugh, though it sounded desperate. "I suppose I can allow that. But still. It was bad enough to love you before all of this, and then you saw those pictures and… I was so ashamed. I still am."

"You don't need to be." God, it felt good to have Edgeworth in his arms. They fit together perfectly. "I understand why you are, but you need to know, what he did to you? It wasn't your fault, and you didn't deserve it or do anything wrong."

He could feel Edgeworth starting to disagree, and kissed him before he could.

"You read his notes," Phoenix continued, once Edgeworth's protest was quieted. "He did it on purpose. He wanted you to feel ashamed, and weak, and alone. But I'm here, and I love you, and I think you're amazing, and strong, and brilliant, and gorgeous."

Edgeworth clung tighter to him. "Thank you. I will… I will aspire to be the man you see me as, and not the one he made me."

Phoenix kissed him again, and could feel Edgeworth's smile against his mouth, though he pulled away slightly.

"I'd rather not continue making out in a prison lobby with people staring at us," Edgeworth said, and Phoenix laughed.

"Is that your only objection? Because you've got a nice car and I'd be happy to make out in there, instead. Though I've got to tell you, I'm still pretty much dead on my feet so I might just pass out."

"I am, too, come to think of it," Edgeworth said. "I was up all night tying up loose ends and preparing myself for this, and… concerned that I'd have a hard time sleeping."

"Worried about nightmares?"

"It's embarrassing, and it feels like a weakness to admit it, but yes," Edgeworth said, and the fact that he didn't deny it was already such a huge step that Phoenix wanted to hug him again. But instead he let Edgeworth lead him out to the parking lot.

"Well, how about this?" Phoenix suggested. "Let's go back to your place, since it's probably cleaner than mine, and take a nap. Together. Because I don't mind about the nightmares, and it's time for you to learn to love cuddling, Miles Edgeworth."

Edgeworth laughed. "With you, Phoenix, I really think I could."