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Grounds for Involvement

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

Phoenix had never flown in first class before, a fact which got him a disdainful snort from Edgeworth when he mentioned it. There hadn't been any direct flights available, but with one layover it was still going to be 17 hours. Phoenix stuck a couple of books in his briefcase for the trip, though mostly he planned on watching in-flight movies and dozing, but within minutes of takeoff Edgeworth had a laptop open and was apparently doing work.

"You make me feel like such a slacker," Phoenix said.

Edgeworth gave him a slight glare. "And yet you, who has never spent five minutes on preparation, bested me in court. Don't interrupt me."

Phoenix shrugged, put his earbuds in place, and picked a random movie. It was some action flick, which he found pretty mindless but suspected that Maya would really love. It wasn't exactly riveting, but it was entertaining enough.

It was an hour into its runtime when he caught Edgeworth glancing at it surreptitiously before going back to his laptop. But twenty minutes later, it happened again, and this time for long enough that Phoenix pressed pause and glanced over.

"You want to watch? I could start it again, we could watch in sync if you wanna."

"Why would I want to do such a thing?" It was barely even a question, more a sneered statement of disapproval.

"I dunno. You seemed pretty interested. Are you going to work the whole flight?"

"Of course not. I also plan to use this flight to adjust my sleep schedule so that I won't lose valuable time to jetlag upon arrival."

"Smart," Phoenix said. "I saw some old Steel Samurai episodes when I was scrolling through the options, though. If you do decide to take a break. I already know you like it, you can admit it."

"It's fanciful nonsense," Edgeworth said. "But did those episodes include the two part Evil Magistrate origin? I never did see the conclusion."

Pheonix couldn't stop his grin. Steel Samurai wasn't exactly his taste, but he didn't mind it, and he knew way too much about it for someone who wasn't a hardcore fan. "I haven't seen either part so let's watch together."

"I have work." Edgeworth looked back at his laptop.

"You also have seventeen hours," Phoenix reminded him. "And no pressing cases, because if you did, you wouldn't have been able to leave the country on a moment's notice. Also, I'd probably be hearing from the defendant right about now."

Edgeworth shot him a glower, as he usually did when reminded that defendants flocked to Phoenix's office as soon as they heard that Edgworth was prosecuting. Phoenix only took them on if he truly thought the person was innocent, of course, and he won more often than he lost. Edgeworth had chilled out about it, in as much as he was capable of chilling out about anything, though his whole spiritual journey about what it meant to be a prosecutor had helped. But that definitely didn't mean Edgeworth liked losing.

But still, Phoenix was surprised when Edgeworth said, "Well, I suppose. Once this brief is done."

"Just tell me when." Phoenix nudged him with his elbow, and Edgeworth went back to his laptop. And Phoenix was incredibly satisfied when, after the flight attendants had come through and given him a cup of coffee and Edgeworth an apparently terrible cup of tea, Edgeworth did in fact put his laptop away, his headphones on, and they started the episode at the same time.

Edgeworth even smiled at the Steel Samurai's first appearance. Though as soon as he realized that, he stopped and scowled instead. But it made Phoenix smile, too.

*

Phoenix snoozed on and off throughout the flight, waking abruptly at one point as he realized he was drooling, his head mashed against the window. He wiped his chin off and looked over at Edgeworth, anticipating an eyeroll or a smirk, but found Edgeworth was totally conked out, too. Not drooling -- Phoenix couldn't picture Edgeworth doing something so unbecoming -- but slack jawed, more at ease than Phoenix had ever seen him.

Then the slightest snore escaped from Edgeworth, and Phoenix had to clamp his own mouth shut to keep from giggling and disturbing him. Perfect Miles Edgeworth snored, and he had no explanation for why that delighted him so much.

*

By the time they touched down, Phoenix was both exhausted and totally wired, with no idea at all what time it actually was. Everything around him was a jumble of foreign language and florescent lights, and he would have stopped and gawked at everything if not for Edgeworth's steady, purposeful strides forward.

Edgeworth looked unfairly rested, not a silver hair out of place, and steered the two of them precisely. They picked up their luggage as soon as it began circling, and mere minutes later Edgeworth had them in the back of a sleek car with a driver who'd greeted Edgeworth by name.

It took Phoenix a few minutes to realize the recognition had been mutual -- this wasn't a Lyft, or even a slightly nicer chartered ride. Phoenix rubbed his eyes and asked, "Do you really have a chauffer waiting around when you don't even live in the country anymore?"

"He isn't my chauffer," Edgeworth said. "The manor has a small staff who keep it running and inhabitable whether or not any members of the family are present. Herr Bloom is primarily the groundskeeper, as Franziska and I both have cars of our own, but he was willing to see to our arrival."

"A small staff," Phoenix repeated. He'd known the Von Karmas were rich and had servants, but the idea seemed so… old-fashioned. But then again, so were Edgeworth's cravat ruffles, so maybe it made sense. "So would any of them know about the… incident we're researching?"

"I certainly hope not," Edgeworth said. "But they may be worth questioning, if we can't turn anything up on our own. Assuming we can approach it subtly."

"You don't think I can be subtle?"

"No, I don't." Edgeworth rolled his eyes.

It was well after 1 AM before they pulled into a street that turned out to actually be a driveway, leading up to a mansion that looked like the backdrop for a horror movie. It was probably beautiful during the daylight, big with weird arches and gables and Phoenix didn't actually know what else, and there were no other houses around for miles. The car stopped in front of the doors, and the groundskeeper-slash-chauffer let them out, and said something to Edgeworth in German.

Edgeworth gave an affirmative answer -- even Phoenix knew ja and nein if they weren't said among a slew of other words -- and the groundskeeper opened the front door for them and called out something.

Pheonix gave Edgeworth a confused look.

"I will be in my usual quarters and a guest room has been prepared for you. Herr Bloom will escort you. I'll see you in the morning."

With that, Edgeworth walked briskly away down the hall, leaving Phoenix waiting as Herr Bloom pulled their luggage out. Someone else came in to retrieve Edgeworth's, and Bloom insisted on carrying Phoenix's for him, speaking in heavily accented English: "Breakfast is prepared by eight, but will be available after that whenever you are ready."

"Oh, thanks," Phoenix said. "And thanks for picking us up, too."

"Of course. It is nice to see Herr Edgeworth finally has a boyfriend he does not feel he must hide."

Phoenix blinked. "It's nice that what now?"

"Perhaps my English is no good?" Bloom tried again, slower: "Herr Edgeworth has never brought a friend home before. Master Von Karma did not approve of wasting time on friends when there is studying that must be done. Since he has been, what's the word, arrested, there has been much more freedom for Herr Edgeworth and Fraulein Von Karma."

"Ohh, that makes sense. It must be the jetlag. I thought you said boyfriend before, not friend." Not that he was sure Edgeworth considered him a friend, but whatever their relationship was, it was close enough.

"He has never had either as a guest, until you. It is good to see. He was…" He trailed off for a moment, clearly searching for the word, then, "lonely, I think it is, as a boy."

"I bet," Pheonix murmured.

"Ah, here we are!" Bloom opened one of the many, may doors in a hallway that seemed mostly unused, and gestured in. A light had been turned on already, and a bed made up, with a dresser and desk and a cozy looking armchair tucked in to the room as well. "This will be your room, and the bathroom is at the end of the hall. Goodnight."

"Thanks, 'night," Phoenix agreed, and shut the door behind him. As he dug his toothbrush out of his luggage, he couldn't help but imagine the Edgeworth he'd known as a kid, suddenly transported to this house of long, lonely corridors. He wouldn't even have known German yet, and he'd have had no one at all to turn to -- no one except Manfred Von Karma, secretly planning his downfall, and Franziska, with her whip and anger, assuming she'd had those when she was only a toddler.

What had happened when Edgeworth turned eighteen and accepted Von Karma's bargain was horrible enough, but Phoenix couldn't shake the feeling that everything before it had been pretty bad, too.

*

Phoenix woke with even less of an idea of what time it was than he'd had before going to sleep, but there was sunlight leaking from under a set of heavy curtains and he was starving, so he assumed it was after eight. He grabbed his phone, but it was still on LA-time since he'd turned off all his data and had no idea what the wifi password was. Assuming that weird historical manors had wifi.

His memory of the house's layout from last night was pretty bad, but he pulled on slippers, sweatpants, and a t-shirt and wandered down the hall. Breakfast had to be downstairs, right? The house was big but not that big, he could probably find…

The smell of coffee and something baking brought him directly to the kitchen, where a woman jumped in surprise as he walked in. "Oh! You must be Herr Wright! Allow me to show you to the dining room."

"Thanks. Good morning," he said. "I'm so lost, I appreciate it. What's your name?"

"Ah, it is Ann Bloom, Herr Wright. Will you take coffee or tea with breakfast?"

"Coffee, please," he said, as she deposited him in a cavernous room with what must have been the largest table he'd ever seen. Candelabras and floral arrangements dotted it, and though it probably sat at least 20 people, only two places were set out, and Edgeworth was already at one.

"Wright," he said, not looking up from the newspaper he was reading. A cup of tea sat at his elbow, his knife and fork already set evenly down on a plate that contained only crumbs and scrapes of what had once been breakfast. He glanced up at Ann Bloom and said something in German. She nodded and scurried out.

"What was that?" Phoenix asked. "And what time is it? And what's your wifi password?"

"That was a request for sugar and milk with your coffee, it's nearly ten, the password is 'foolishness' with zeros instead of ohs, and that is not appropriate attire for breakfast."

Phoenix glanced down at himself. "I didn't know we'd be dining so formally."

"We will be doing everything formally; use your alleged observations skills and take a look around. It's the only way things are done here."

"You're crabby this morning," Phoenix said, but he did, in fact, take a look around and actually take things in this time.

Like: an honest-to-god chandelier hung above them, though it wasn't lit.

Like: the plates and glasses that had been set out were delicate and gilded, and would definitely shatter if Phoenix dropped one, and he really didn't want to think about the consequences of that.

Like: all of the furniture was heavy wood, clearly ancient but incredibly well cared for, and so heavy Phoenix wasn't sure it would be possible to move even if someone wanted to.

Like: portraits -- painted, not photographed -- hung along one wall, a whole gallery's worth of them. Some were ancient, though it was easy to pick out the Von Karma features of strong chins and hilarious cravats, with others more recent -- less faded, a more modern sensibility, and also one was of Franziska which was a pretty big clue that they were newer.

Like: a prominent blank spot where an enormous portrait should be, and judging by the color of the wood behind it, had been until recently.

Mrs. Bloom -- Frau Bloom, probably -- returned with an enormous cup of coffee in the fanciest mug Phoenix had ever seen. He accepted it with thanks, took a nice, long gulp, and said to Edgeworth, "Fair point, I suppose. I didn't exactly bring my formal pajamas, because I don't think those exist, but I guess I could get dressed before breakfast."

"Formal…" Edgeworth finally set down his paper and reached for his tea. "Honestly, Wright. You are ridiculous."

"True enough," Phoenix answered cheerfully. "And I take it back, of course formal pajamas exist, because what else would you wear to bed?"

"Don't be absurd."

"Can't help it." Phoenix grinned into his coffee. "I'm guessing they're maroon and have ruffles, mostly because I can't picture you in anything else."

That got him a glare.

"Oh, and one of those old-time-y, Ebenezer Scrooge caps."

"What I wear to bed is not your business!"

And Phoenix wasn't sure, maybe it was still jetlag, but he could swear there was a touch of pink on Edgeworth's cheeks.

Frau Bloom reappeared with a whole tray of breakfast for him -- pastries and eggs and sausage and Phoenix honestly just said yes to everything she offered because he was starving. While he shoved food in his face, Edgeworth tapped his fingers against the paper.

Then said, "We ought to have a plan for the search."

"How much is there to search?" Phoenix said.

"Don't speak with your mouth full."

Phoenix swallowed. "How much is--"

"I heard you, and there is quite a bit. We should also ascertain whether or not Franziska has been looking through files or accessed the safe, though if one of the Blooms is assisting her, they'd surely call her as soon as the question is raised."

He trailed off. Frau Bloom had come back in to begin clearing dishes, apparently. Phoenix shot her a grin. "This is all amazing, is every meal here so delicious?"

"Oh! Thank you, Herr Wright."

Phoenix gestured that away. "Phoenix is fine, or you can call me Nick. Pretty much everyone does except Edgeworth, because I'm not sure he knows first names exist. And nicknames are, by definition, informal. Apparently that's not allowed."

She nodded along politely, but either he'd been speaking too fast or her English wasn't good enough -- not that he could blame her, since he didn't speak German at all. But Edgeworth translated -- or at least said something that made her laugh and smile back at Phoenix.

Phoenix took one final, long swig of coffee before surrendering his mug to her, and seizing an opportunity. "I may need more of that in awhile. We're going to be locked away in an office all day, going through some old files, and it's going to be so boring. Do you know if Fraulein Von Karma or anyone else has been organizing them? I'd hate to mess up her filing system."

She shot a hesitant, confused glance at Edgeworth, who translated. She responded to him, and they had a brief back and forth and finally she curtsied and said, "I will bring you more coffee, Herr Phoenix."

After she left, Edgeworth gave him a surprised look. "That was well done. She doesn't know if anything has been organized or rearranged but will ask other staff members who may know."

Phoenix grinned. Getting a compliment from Edgeworth was a rare thing, and it was nice to have his approval.

"I'll show you back to your room so you can get dressed, and then to the office," Edgeworth said, and stood. Since his coffee had already been taken away, Phoenix had no particular objections to that, and followed. Edgeworth narrated as he went, explaining the house layout -- Phoenix's guest quarters were above the family's rooms, and the office was in an entirely separate wing.

"This place is pretty overwhelming," Phoenix said. Then, because he was genuinely curious, "What was it like to grow up here?"

Edgeworth frowned. "I learned a great deal. I studied, and worked, and learned to achieve perfection. The trappings hardly mattered, except as a reminder."

"Reminder of what?"

They'd arrived at his room, one of the only open doors, but he waited. Edgeworth finally said, "I had been taken in by someone generous, given a future I could never have earned on my own. This house was a constant reminder that I should be grateful. Get dressed, Wright."

He turned away as he said the last part, clearly not wanting to discuss it, so Phoenix stepped into his room and closed his door. He hadn't unpacked or anything, and he also hadn't brought any suits, but he had at least brought slacks and a few button downs and even a tie. It was still no match for Edgeworth's get-up, but wearing them let him feel closer to even footing with Edgeworth.

Though Edgeworth gave him a critical look and said, "I will have Frau Bloom launder, iron, and put away your things before you further damage them. Those wrinkles are…" He actually made a tsking noise.

"If you point me toward the ironing board, I can take care of that myself," Phoenix said.

Edgeworth shook his head. "It's part of her job. You didn't grow up with servants, I can sense your discomfort, but I assure you that it's a perfectly common, reasonable request to make of a housekeeper."

"If you say so," Phoenix said. Because Edgeworth was right, it did make him feel uncomfortable. His parents had done fine for themselves as he'd been growing up, but the idea of servants was super weird to him. And what really bothered him was that he couldn't picture Von Karma being particularly kind -- or even polite, or respectful -- toward servants, since he wasn't kind or respectful to, well, anyone. And since Phoenix didn't speak German he had no idea if Edgeworth was being particularly kind or respectful, and if he wasn't… it would just be disappointing.

They reached what had once been Von Karma's office. It was large, technically, but every wall was covered in shelves which in turn were stacked with files. Thousands upon thousands of files. They were neat, of course; nothing falling out or on the floor or gathering dust. But the sheer amount was overwhelming.

The desk was huge, solid wood -- mahogany, maybe? Phoenix didn't actually have any clue, except that mahogany sounded fancy and rich. There were also the trappings of pretentious rich people scattered around -- an antique globe, a ship in a bottle, knick-knacks that screamed look how much money I have instead of look what a fun vacation I had, which was the kind Phoenix personally preferred.

"Well," Phoenix said, looking around uncertainly.

"Well," Edgeworth repeated.

"My theory, which I'm sure you'll immediately punch holes in because that's your job," he shot Edgeworth a quick smile, "is that -- aside from giving us an excuse to ask if anyone else was sniffing around here -- there might be something in here that would give us a clue. Right? The photos were taken in this house, and taken out of this house at some point, but there might be something in… all of this."

"Hmm." Edgeworth considered it, and looked around. "Von Karma kept meticulous records on everything; it isn't out of the real of possibility that he would have kept a file. But how would he have classified it?"

"That's the question," Phoenix said. "How very Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler of him."

"What?"

"It's a book, a children's book," Phoenix said, almost absentmindedly, as he began examining files on one of the shelves. They were dated, and when he checked, they were case files from that date. Some trial where Von Karma had, of course, crushed the defense. He'd taken notes, not just about the case, but about the defense's performance -- dismal, boring, unprepared and easily defeated -- and his own reaction -- nothing of note, no challenge. "It's about these kids who run away to live in a museum, and eventually have to figure out a crazy rich lady's filing system to prove a statue is the real deal."

"That sounds like nonsense." Edgeworth also selected a file at random.

"Nah, it was really fun. The idea of running off and living in a museum… but then again, living here must have felt like living in a museum. But without the adventure."

"Something like that, I suppose. This shelf is organized by date, is yours?"

"Yep."

"Logical. I should be able to approximate the date I was offered the… arrangement, and I know the days it began and ended."

"You remember them that clearly?"

"It was my eighteenth birthday and six months after. It's not hard to recall."

"Your eighteenth birthday? Fuck, man. That's…" Phoenix shook his head.

"It was a necessity on his part, of course; Von Karma would have needed to keep the arrangement technically legal. It would have done him no good to present blackmail that could backfire on him with an accusation of child pornography."

"Oh yeah, instead he only made a deal with you when you were underage and took advantage of the fact that he had complete control of your finances, school, and future. What a saint, waiting until you were a legal adult."

Edgeworth went stiff. His voice was even more flat than usual as he gave Wright the date of his birthday -- his eighteenth birthday, an adult only in the legal sense, Phoenix was going to pay someone to knife Von Karma right in the prison cafeteria.

Between the two of them, they were able to triangulate the right shelf for the date and begin examining each file in turn. Unfortunately, it didn't turn up anything but legal cases.

They worked through the next six months in silence, Phoenix only ever glancing at the files enough to see that they were yet more trial notes, and occasionally Von Karma's unflattering recollections. "This guy really hated defense lawyers. What a douche."

"He hated criminals."

"Yeah, but I only need a glance to see that plenty of these defendants were innocent. He cut off cross-examinations, he threatened, he withheld evidence. And he put it all in writing."

"He was set on an achieving a goal. He would never allow a criminal to walk free."

"He was a criminal. Why do you keep defending him?"

"I --" Edgeworth cut himself off, and shook his head. "Yes, he was a criminal. Before I knew that, he was everything I aspired to be in a courtroom."

"Oh, please. You're better than he ever was." Phoenix rolled his eyes and reached for the next file, but Edgeworth went still next to him.

"That's an inaccurate assessment."

"Not from where I'm standing. You want to see my definitive evidence?"

Edgeworth crossed his arms. "As if such a thing exists."

Phoenix picked up one of the files he'd already checked. "Von Karma forged evidence and bragged about it in his notes." He pointed at the notes in question. "But further, he'd provided that forged evidence in place of the real evidence, which he also noted, here." He trailed his finger down the page.

"He could not risk a criminal going free," Edgeworth repeated.

"Risk it? He freaking ensured it. The evidence he withheld proved the defendant was innocent -- do you disagree?"

Edgeworth took the file, examined it, and gave a curt headshake. No disagreement.

"Sooo," Phoenix continued, knowing the conclusion was obvious and annoyed that Edgeworth refused to admit it. "He was found guilty, and went to jail, and no one else was ever investigated. Since he was innocent, that means the guilty party remained at large. A criminal, walking free, probably relieved that no police ever came knocking."

Edgeworth looked away.

"But it makes sense," Phoenix said, because years of sparring with sly prosecutors had taught him never to relent just because his point was made, not when he could press harder. "Because, to reiterate my earlier point: he was a criminal. He was a murderer. And so it's obvious that you, Miles Edgeworth, are a better prosecutor than he ever was, because you are committed to finding the truth and seeing justice served, not just winning for the sake of your own ego."

Edgeworth set the file down and walked a few steps away. His shoulders were hunched just slightly -- it was a strange thing to see on him. He wouldn't look back at Phoenix, wouldn't look at anything except out the window. And shit, Phoenix realized he'd pressed too hard.

"Have you ever talked to anyone about… about any of it?" Phoenix finally asked, voice soft.

"What's there to talk about? You summed the matter up quite succinctly. He was a criminal; he murdered my father."

And somehow this had all turned around, because Phoenix found himself saying, "Yeah, but he also took you in and -- and for all those years, made you believe he cared about you and was helping you. Finding out it was all just a set up must have been…"

Edgeworth didn't say anything for a long minute, and didn't turn back around to look at Phoenix when he did. "It was like an earthquake. My world was shaken and I couldn't breathe. I understood it rationally. You made it clear enough in court. But it felt -- it felt --"

He stopped suddenly. Straightened up. "Feelings are for fools and simpletons. I am neither. We should resume working."

"That's not actually true, though," Phoenix said, and though his heart wrenched he forced his tone to be conversational, natural. "About feelings. Everyone has them, even if they don't want to."

"The defense is incorrect, as usual. Had I not been encumbered with feelings, I would have seen Von Karma clearly for what he is. A criminal -- a genius, yes, but a criminal nonetheless. But I was grateful. I cared. I wanted his respect. He used those emotions to blind me to obvious facts, and as a result I sat in the defendant's chair and was ready to accept my own guilt for a crime I didn't commit."

He sounded disgusted, but it was with himself, no doubt.

"Yeah, and I proved you didn't do it. You didn't kill that guy at the lake, and you didn't kill your father." Phoenix couldn't help it. He reached out, put a hand on Edgeworth's elbow. Edgeworth looked at him, startled. "I believed you were innocent even when you didn't. And that was because of feelings, too. Because I was still grateful over third grade. Because I cared about you. So does that make me a fool and a simpleton?"

Edgeworth pulled away. "Yes, of course you are."

Phoenix shook his head. If that was how they were going to talk to each other, fine. "Okay. Then by that logic, you have to accept that a fool and a simpleton beat you in court. Repeatedly. And beat Franziska. And beat Von Karma himself. So what does that make all of you?"

"Failures. Each and every one of us."

"Or human. Each and every one of you."

"This line of questioning is pointless and we have been sidetracked. Let us work in silence."

And so they did. For the next hour, checking files, seeing nothing to them, until blessedly Frau Bloom arrived with coffee for him, tea for Edgeworth, and cookies for them both. Phoenix could have kissed her for breaking the tension, but instead poured some coffee down his throat, then said, carefully enough that he was pretty sure she'd be able to follow, "Hey, Edgeworth, how do you say thank you in German?"

"Danke, Frau Bloom," Edgeworth said.

She beamed at Phoenix. "Bitte, bitte, Herr Phoenix. Please let me know if you would like more!"

Coffee put Phoenix back in a good mood, which was saying something, because they'd now been through the complete six-month span and found nothing. Not even a sign of a missing file.

"Okay, let's talk this through," Phoenix said, though he waited to make sure he'd swallowed his cookie before speaking.

"I think talking has caused enough trouble this morning."

He ignored that. "The file could be from when the bargain was arranged, not fulfilled, so we should check the months beforehand."

Edgeworth gave him the barest nod and said, "While you do that, I will check other sources -- some of these shelves aren't case files, they're miscellaneous other records."

"Sounds good."

It wasn't much of a conversation, but Edgeworth clearly didn't want to talk. Not that Phoenix blamed him too much. He couldn't even imagine what Edgeworth was feeling, except that Edgeworth didn't want to feel it at all. Which, in Phoenix's opinion, was a bit of an issue -- Phoenix was no therapist, but it was pretty clear that Edgeworth had some serious trauma going on. From losing his dad, from being groomed by Von Karma to hate himself, from discovering the truth about Von Karma, from losing back when his winning record was the entirety of his self-image…

And from having been blackmailed into sex with a man who should have taken care of him, even if Edgeworth insisted on referring to it as a bargain. And from having that incident resurface now, undeniably for blackmail purposes.

God, Edgeworth was a mess. And in that moment, Phoenix didn't care how rude he was, or condescending, or cruel. It was suddenly obvious that that was only a mask, a persona he wore to keep his inner mess from being spotted by anyone else. Probably to keep anyone else from caring about his inner mess.

Well, too bad for him, because Phoenix cared. And wasn't going to stop caring, no matter how testy Edgeworth was about it.

"Wright."

Phoenix looked up from his file. Edgeworth had something, and set it out on the desk. Phoenix walked over, looked over his shoulder.

"What's this?"

"His office expenses, six weeks before my birthday. The paper, books, writing utensils -- all standard. But the miniaturized camera…"

They'd both run across cameras like that before in various cases. It had proved Matt Engarde's complete undoing. Small enough to be placed almost anywhere, with a remote control that could tell it when to fire, and its contents sent to a computer somewhere else. It would be easy enough to hide in Edgeworth's room. Von Karma could have turned it on before entering and retrieved the photos from his computer later.

"Okay. Well. We knew he did it, and this proves our theory about how. Do you know where he'd have kept his computer?"

"I can hardly imagine him using one," Edgeworth said. "But if not here, then perhaps in his room. It would have to have been in the house, since the camera's broadcast range is fairly limited."

"This desk has drawers," Phoenix pointed out. "So let's see…"

The drawers were easily big enough to fit a laptop, but locked. Edgeworth cursed. "The only person who'd have a key and isn't currently in prison is Franziska. She is behind this."

"That's awfully spurious evidence for drawing that conclusion. We don't know if the laptop is in there or ever was, or if she's ever opened the drawer. I wish I knew how to pick a lock."

Edgeworth gave him a long look, then sighed and reached for a fork that had been on the tray Frau Bloom had brought them. He bent one of the tines back until it was perpendicular to the rest, crouched down, and inserted it into the keyhole.

"Okay, so someday you're going to tell me when and where you learned to do this, Mr. Prosecutor," Phoenix said, but he was more impressed than anything else.

"It's not much of a lock. This wouldn't work on anything more sophisticated." A moment later, he had the drawer open.

No laptop, but a charger and a mouse that could be plugged into one, which made its absence pretty conspicuous.

"The prosecution rests," Edgeworth said, and even did his stupid little bow.

"Okay, yeah, that looks pretty bad," Phoenix agreed. "But we still have to search his room, and the safe, if we can."

"Why waste the time? I'll call Franziska and ask what her terms are. There's no point in prolonging this."

"But we haven't solved it yet. I really don't think it was her, and I know what you're going to say -- no, I can't prove it. But I trust my gut."

"You're an idealist. A kind person, who listens to his feelings." Somehow, when Edgeworth said it, it didn't sound like a compliment, even though Phoenix had always prided himself on that. "I assure you, she is capable of doing this. Whether it's to control me or simply have her vengeance… she has motive, and she has access. She's probably waiting by her phone for me to call and surrender."

"Then why did she send me the photos?" Phoenix asked.

Edgeworth finally looked at him. "What?"

"If her intent was to control you, she could have done it herself, or sent them directly to you. And if her goal was revenge on you, for whatever deluded reason Von Karmas imagine you deserve it, then she could have sent the pictures to a newspaper. But they were slipped into my office. Why? That's a crucial question and you have no good answer for it."

Edgeworth was still for a moment, considering, then said, "Has anyone ever mentioned that you are very irritating?"

Phoenix grinned. "Only prosecutors."

"We will carry on our search, then. But it's lunchtime now, and I'm sure Frau Bloom has the meal prepared for us."

He was correct, and lunch was as delicious as breakfast had been. But after, instead of returning to the office, Edgeworth jerked his head toward the wing where the family rooms were. "There's something else we should check. I'll need your help."

"You got it," Phoenix said, though it didn't click until they'd reached Edgeworth's room.

The place was immaculate, and looked shockingly like it had in the photos -- nothing much had changed. The bed, the shelves, the window with its curtains now open. And there were pieces he hadn't been able to see in the photos -- a writing desk, a dresser with a mirror mounted above it, an ornate headboard, a shelf mounted above the bed with a row of trophies on it. No posters or photos of friends, nothing with any personality other than wealthy. And maybe neat freak, except of course Frau Bloom or someone else on the staff probably did the cleaning

And as he'd expected, Edgeworth walked directly to the enormous mirror. He caught Phoenix's eye, and Phoenix nodded and took the other side. It was heavy enough to require them both, but sure enough, one look at the wall behind it revealed a small hole where the camera must have been mounted -- and the mirror sat in a heavy frame, which had a hole that lined up with it. A small camera could have been placed easily, and from the back the mirror looked more like glass.

"Creepy," Phoenix said. "But at least it's gone. No more creeper shots in here."

"Indeed." Edgeworth nodded down at the mirror, and together they lifted it back in place. "But now we can be sure he had an accomplice; he would not have been able to move the mirror by himself."

"And if you were eighteen at the time, then Franziska would have been… twelve?"

"Eleven."

"So too small to help."

"I doubt her father would have involved her directly at that age," Edgeworth said. "He may have informed her later, after his arrest, or she may have discovered the pictures herself."

"Or maybe she's not the one behind this."

"All right," Edgeworth said, as they walked back toward the office. "You have a gut feeling that it wasn't her. Examine that, and tell me why. You know she's cold and calculating, and I'll add that she resented me for most of her childhood. She was raised by a man capable of masterminding this, to be just like him. So what makes you so sure she wouldn't do it?"

Phoenix did as asked, and took a moment to reflect inward. And he knew what it was -- maybe not rational, but he desperately hoped she hadn't done it. She was the closet thing to family Edgeworth had left. If she had betrayed him, too… It was too horrible to contemplate.

But that was just his optimism. Not a good enough reason for Edgeworth to accept.

So he went with the observations that made it feel correct: "She's never been cruel to you, that I've seen. She says you're foolish, but she says that about literally everyone. She wants to win, but I've never seen evidence of her using the tactics her father did -- just her wits and her whip, nothing illegal. And when she's talked about you, she's always sounded fond. I think she really, truly does see you as a brother." And another thought occurred to him: "Have you ever talked to her about what happened? How her father… did all of that to you?"

"We've spoken of logistics. I told her what had transpired after the trial, she considered it, and she let me know that she would still permit my presence in this house. But when you say talked about, what you actually mean is the emotional impact. No."

"No, of course not, because you'd both rather pretend you don't have emotions. Okay," Phoenix said, but then a piece clicked in to place. "In the dining room, the blank spot on the wall -- I'm guessing Von Karma's portrait used to hang there?"

"Yes, of course."

"Did you ask her to take it down?"

"No."

"Would the staff dare to do such a thing without her explicit instruction?"

"No," Edgeworth said, then, "Is this line of questioning relevant?"

"You already know where I'm going, you're too smart not to have figured it out." Phoenix gave him a friendly elbow to the side. "That means that Franziska had it taken down. But if she had no feelings about him -- about what he did to you -- why would she bother?"

Edgeworth frowned. "He disgraced himself, and thus the whole family."

"Yeah, I guess he did. But he did it because he was out to get you. He wanted to hurt you. And Franziska, who believes that feelings are for fools, still felt deeply enough that she had his portrait removed. I don't think that's the action of someone who could then turn around and blackmail you. And I don't think it's the action of someone who wants revenge on his behalf. I think it's the action of someone who cares about you, but won't allow herself to express it."

Edgeworth actually stared at him.

So Phoenix did an imitation of Edgeworth's obnoxious bow.

"As I said before: you are quite irritating. But I'll consider the matter."

That was probably the best Phoenix was going to get, so he just let Edgeworth lead the way back to work.

*

The afternoon continued the same as the morning had. They worked through the rest of the files from the two months before Edgeworth's birthday, as well as all of the office expenses and receipts, memos, and other notes that they could find from that same eight-month span. Nothing seemed out of place, nothing seemed to be missing.

Dinner and dessert were both quiet, and Phoenix caught Edgeworth periodically glancing over at the blank spot on the wall. After that, they both agreed that they'd check Von Karma's bedroom tomorrow -- horrifying though that prospect was -- and they headed off for bed.

Not that Phoenix could sleep. He still wasn't exactly adjusted to the time, and the day had been long and largely fruitless. He grumbled into his pillow, then gave up and wandered toward the kitchen. A midnight snack never hurt anyone, and he was pretty sure Frau Bloom wouldn't be awake to scold him and make him sit in the big, lonely dining room. But as he stepped into the kitchen, he saw a light coming from said dining room, so he checked.

And there was Edgeworth, a mostly-empty bottle of brandy at his elbow, a glass in his hand, his head tipped back and staring at the ceiling. For a moment, Phoenix thought he might be unconscious -- but then he sat up, drained what was in his cup, and reached for the bottle.

"Edgeworth?" Phoenix asked, barely a whisper. It must have carried, because Edgeworth stared at him. His eyes were wide and blood shot.

"Of course you're here. Of course." He laughed. "I allowed myself a moment of weakness, and here you are to observe it, as always."

"Are you okay?" Phoenix took the glass from his hand, and he didn't resist.

"I am not okay. I have not been okay since I was nine years old. I demand that the defense stop asking stupid questions. How could I possibly be okay?"

Either he was drunk or having a nervous breakdown. Or both. "Do you want to go to bed?"

"Not in that room. I can't sleep in there. I know the camera is gone, we checked, and yet every time I close my eyes --" He cut himself off. "It could drive a man to drink. I haven't slept."

"It clearly did drive a man to drink. Why don't you sleep in a different room? There are, like, thirty-seven other bedrooms."

"And allow the staff to see my weakness? Don't be foolish."

"I'm not. How would they know why? Why would they care?"

"I know. I care! I am stronger than this -- there is no reason for it, no reason why I shouldn't sleep. He is in prison. He isn't watching me. He isn't going to come into my room. He will never touch me again, never, but every time I shut my eyes I feel -- I feel --" He broke off. "What will I do? When those photos are released, when everyone sees, what will I do?"

"That won't happen. I won't let it," Phoenix said, his voice almost a growl at the thought. He would figure this out. He would stop it.

"It's bad enough that you've seen it. Out of everyone in the world, it had to be you. What you must think of me. Mein gott. How can you even stand to look at me?"

"I think you need some water and some sleep."

Edgeworth shook his head, but didn't resist when Phoenix took his hands and hauled him up. Didn't resist when Phoenix pulled him into the kitchen and made him drink an entire glass of water. And didn't resist when Phoenix brought him upstairs, to the guest room he was using.

"Wright…" Edgeworth murmured, as Phoenix let him sprawl on the bed.

"Don't worry. You sleep here, I'll sleep in the creeper room downstairs. No one will know, and if they do, so what? Since when does the demon prosecutor bother explaining himself?"

Edgeworth stared at him, then said, "Of course. Good night. Thank you for the water."

Phoenix nodded, turned out the light, and slunk down to Edgeworth's room. And damn it, it was creepy, knowing there'd been a camera in here, even though it was long gone. And creepier still to think about why.

What Edgeworth had let slip, drunk and freaking out… He isn't going to come into my room. He will never touch me again…

When he was sober, Edgeworth would barely allow himself to speak of what had happened. But for all he dismissed Phoenix's talk of feelings, of talking to someone, he'd fallen apart. It was long, long, long overdue -- I haven't been okay since I was nine years old -- and it was also confirmation of what Phoenix had suspected. Whether Edgeworth would admit it or not, what had happened to him had not been consensual. Dressing it up as a bargain didn't change that. Von Karma had violated him by doing it, and again by filming it. The man was in jail and still destroying Edgeworth's life.

Phoenix found he couldn't sleep very well that night, either.

Chapter Text

Phoenix woke from shallow sleep to a rap on the door. It took him a moment to orient himself -- he was in Germany, and he was in Edgeworth's room -- and then he stood and answered it. Edgeworth was standing there in his rumpled clothes from yesterday, bags under his eyes.

"You need to get dressed?" Phoenix guessed. "What time is it?"

"Early. And yes."

"Right, of course," Phoenix said and stepped out. "I'll go shower up by my room and hopefully Frau Bloom will have, like, eighteen cups of coffee ready for both of us."

"Indeed," Edgeworth said, but placed a hand on Phoenix's shoulder as he moved to leave the room. "I must also offer you an apology for my behavior last night."

Phoenix shook his head. "There's nothing for you to apologize for. I can't imagine how hard this is for you --"

"But it shouldn't be. And to break down like that, to indulge my weakness and get drunk, was completely unacceptable. I appreciate your compassion, and that you let me sleep in your room, and I assure you it won't be necessary again."

Phoenix didn't know what to say, and suddenly realized that Edgeworth's hand was still on his shoulder. Apparently Edgeworth did too, because he snatched it away and looked down at the carpet.

"Okay," Phoenix said. "But it's okay if you do want to trade again. You've gotta get some sleep, Edgeworth. We need that brain of yours sharp."

"Yes, of course. I'll see you in the dining room shortly."

Phoenix nodded and headed upstairs. He indulged himself in a long, hot shower, then grabbed his phone and checked his email. He'd sent Maya a text that he had to go out of town for a potential client for a few days and she'd agreed to keep an eye on the office, so he let her know he was still working and okay. Early morning here was night there, so she'd probably be on her way to bed.

He dressed and headed down for breakfast, and thank god, yes, was immediately provided with an enormous cup of coffee for him and tea for Edgeworth. "Frau Bloom, I could kiss you," Phoenix said.

She flushed. "It is my pleasure, of course, Herr Phoenix."

Edgeworth only gave her a nod, and focused on his tea, quiet but still tense.

"Did you get any sleep?" Phoenix asked.

"Yes, a small amount. I think I passed out. How embarrassing."

"Hung over?" Phoenix asked.

"Somewhat. It's quite terrible."

"You're telling me. All through college, I let Larry drag me to parties, and…" He shook his head. "If I know how to take care of a drunk guy, it's thanks to him. Except I used to do it when I was totally wasted, too. The worst were the nights I'd pass out with him and wake up in his bed."

Edgeworth finally looked up from his tea. "You slept with Larry Butz?"

"Not like that!" Phoenix shuddered. He loved Larry, but no. "But we'd just pass out and I'd wake up with him wrapped around me. It turns out he's a compulsive cuddler when he's asleep. And I like to cuddle, but Larry isn't my first choice."

"You'd prefer a pretty girl?" Edgeworth's voice was calm as he asked, but it was maybe the most personal thing he'd ever asked Phoenix, who suddenly wondered what this conversation was about.

But he said, "Well, yeah. Or a pretty boy, I'm not too picky about gender. Just, you know, not Larry."

Edgeworth took a considered sip. "I see."

"What about you? I bet you secretly love to cuddle."

"Hardly."

"Have you ever tried? Don't knock it until you've tried it."

Edgeworth set his teacup down on its saucer. "I have tried. It went poorly. Let us return to the matter at hand. Today we're going to examine Von Karma's bedroom and personal effects."

Well, that was a conversation killer. Phoenix was definitely curious about how cuddling could go badly, and suspected the subject change was specifically to avoid any questions about that, but he couldn't exactly object. They were here for a reason, and it was incredibly important.

So they finished breakfast and went to work.

Von Karma's room was exactly as ludicrous as Phoenix had imagined. It was easily four times the size of Egdeworth's, with a king-sized bed still draped with a soft, lush bedspread. It had the same looming, dark wood furniture that the rest of the house did, with walls that were painted dark red, for some horrifying reason, and what looked like honest to god tapestries hanging on the walls between shelves. They were mostly bookshelves, stuffed with tomes in multiple languages, but there were more files here, and another desk, and a safe.

"I don't suppose your fork trick is gonna work on that?"

"Probably not. I only learned the basics of lock-picking, I never worked my way up to safecracking."

"And exactly why did a state prosecutor learn to pick locks?" Phoenix asked, as he selected a random book from the shelf. Its title was long and German and even without knowing what it said, it looked very boring.

"I wanted to know what level of skill would be required so I could better estimate the abilities of accused thieves. It turns out that with a deft hand and a good ear, most basic locks are easy." He glanced over at Phoenix. "I would prefer that my colleagues in the prosecutor's office didn't know about this particular skill."

"Of course," Phoenix said. "But where did you learn?"

"From Von Karma himself. He was capable of safecracking, and disappointed that I never learned."

"I mean, it is too bad. It would be great to get into that thing. Unless you can guess the combination?"

"Doubtful. He despised sentiment, so wouldn't have used a date or any other predictable sequence." He paused to consider. "Unless… He had one obsession he may have used." Edgeworth crouched in front of the safe and spun its lock. Phoenix abandoned his book and watched, almost holding his breath, and -- click.

"What was it?" Phoenix asked.

"Twelve - twenty-eight - oh-one."

That sounded familiar, but… "What was it? A date?"

"Yes. The day my father was murdered." He shook his head. "The day he murdered my father."

"Shit, what a psycho. So what's inside?"

He crouched down next to Edgeworth as they excavated the safe's contents. Folders and notebooks and -- paydirt. A tiny camera, and an external harddrive.

"I'll hook this to my laptop. If this is where they're saved then all we need to do is delete them and make sure no other copies were made," Edgeworth said.

The folder contained legal documents -- about how to legally get Edgeworth into his custody, Edgeworth's birth certificate, his father's death certificate, and other papers like that. The notebooks were full of, well… notes. About Edgeworth.

Von Karma thought he was weak, stupid, and worthless. He'd tracked when Edgeworth had cried, or shown evidence of a nightmare. And he'd planned. Every trap he'd considered, every move to undermine Edgeworth…

Edgeworth looked over the pages along with Phoenix, his face perfectly blank as he periodically commented, "Yes, I remember that," and similar. Not every plan had been executed, but many had.

So there it was in blue ink: all of the times Von Karma had struck insidiously at Edgeworth's self-esteem. All of the times he'd ruined Edgeworth's confidence, replacing it with desperation. An extensive document of how he'd groomed Edgeworth to care more about his approval than anything else, then delighted in snatching that approval away arbitrarily to watch him falter, and took victorious notes at every misstep.

It was so fucking twisted. Von Karma hated Edgeworth so much, and had kept him under his thumb just to nurse that grudge, to be able to torment him.

No wonder Edgeworth had been so lost he hadn’t questioned the so-called bargain that had brought Von Karma into his bedroom. Von Karma bragged about that in his notebook, too -- the sick pleasure he'd taken in exploiting Edgeworth. Who read the whole thing, his face impassive, then closed the book.

Then said, "Excuse me. I must still be hung over. I think I'm about to be very, very ill."

And then, with as much grace and elegance as always, he pulled a trashcan out from under Von Karma's desk, fell to his knees, and vomited.

*

Phoenix hadn't meant to shout, but he'd been so startled he couldn't help it. A moment later, both of the Blooms had run in, and though Edgeworth was still leaning over the trashcan he managed to hiss, "The evidence."

"What has happened? Herr Edgeworth!" Frau Bloom broke into a string of German, and Edgeworth periodically said something to interrupt her. Phoenix piled the notebooks, folder, and electronics together, but saw Herr Bloom had caught what he was doing.

"What is all that?"

"What we were looking for," Phoenix said, and since that wasn't much of an explanation, "Edgeworth's birth certificate and a few other legal documents. He needs them to renew his license."

Edgeworth finally got to his feet. Phoenix shoved the evidence into his hands and then threw arm around his shoulder. "But since he isn't feeling well, and we found it, I'm gonna try to convince him to take a nap for awhile. And I know he's going to spout something about weakness, but barfing is barfing. You think he should lie down, right?"

"Ja, ja," Frau Bloom agreed.

Edgeworth shook his head, but Phoenix dug his fingers into his shoulder and pushed him forward, ushered them all out of the room. He didn't even stop to think about it, steering Edgeworth straight past his adolescent bedroom and up the stairs. Frau Bloom headed to the kitchen to find something to settle his stomach, but Herr Bloom followed at a distance.

"Wright, I'm fine," Edgeworth hissed, as Phoenix pushed him into the guest room. "It was a… a momentary…"

"Lie down," Phoenix snapped, and gave a significant glance at the doorway where Herr Bloom was lurking.

Edgeworth followed his gaze, then set the bundle of goods down on the desk, slid his jacket off, and hung it over the back of the desk chair. "Yes, perhaps I will lie down. But I still have work to do, will you bring me my laptop?"

"Yes, of course." Phoenix let himself out of the room, only then realizing it would have been easier to bring Edgeworth to his actual room, where the laptop already was, and it would probably be less suspicious to the Blooms. But Edgeworth had made it clear he didn't like being in there, so Phoenix was just as glad he hadn't.

Bloom followed him down the hall. "Herr Wright, is he… quite sick? I have rarely seen him sick before."

"Probably just a bug. Maybe he caught it on the plane. Those things are full of germs."

"My wife found a bottle last night, and… it is not like him to drink."

"My bad influence." Phoenix shot him an apologetic smile, bluffing as easily as ever. "We were having fun, but who knew Edgeworth can't hold his liquor? Probably because he doesn't drink much."

"Yes, well… I just… I just wanted to say, it's good that you convinced him to rest. He always pushes himself. I am glad he is with someone who cares so deeply for him now, who he will listen to."

He probably didn't mean that how it sounded. After all, he wasn't a native English speaker -- his English was better than his wife's, but even so. But then again, Phoenix had just effectively put Edgeworth to bed, in his own bed, with the Blooms watching. It wasn't exactly an illogical conclusion.

So he decided not to confirm or deny, and instead said, "He thinks it's a weakness to need rest. I bet I know where he got that idea."

"Indeed. Master Von Karma was rather harsh with the children. He expected great things."

They'd reached Edgeworth's room, and his laptop was sitting right on his desk. Phoenix grabbed it. "He is great."

Bloom smiled. "I am glad you think so."

"So… what was it like, working for Von Karma? How long have you worked here, anyway?"

"Oh, most of my life. Long before Herr Edgeworth came to the house." Bloom shook his head. "I didn't care for Master Von Karma, but this is my home, and I care for it. I care to stay."

"So is it a relief, him being gone?"

"I have not heard the whole tale. I only know he brought shame to himself. But… yes, it is a relief."

"Shame, huh? Yeah, he should be ashamed. He should…" Anger boiled under Phoenix's skin, but he locked it down. "He's in jail. For the rest of his life, probably. I'm the one who put him there, and I'm glad I did."

Bloom nodded. "That is what I suspected. Your name sounded familiar. But I did not think it wise to ask the Fraulein for more details when we found out."

"Not if you value your life, no," Phoenix agreed.

"Herr Wright…" They had almost reached his room, but Bloom stopped walking. "Yesterday, you asked my wife if anyone else had come to organize files? Yes. A man did. Several weeks ago, with instructions from Master Von Karma that we were to help him access all that he needed. He took a computer."

Shit. But good to know. "Do you know his name and address?"

"His address, no, but I can retrieve his name for you, if you would like? I do not know what he was looking for, but… I trust you wish only to help Herr Edgeworth. I do not think the same could ever have been said for Master Von Karma."

"Yes, please. A name would be great. It would be really helpful."

With that, he was back at his room. Edgeworth was lying on the bed, still looking a little green. He moved to get up, but Phoenix handed him the laptop and said, "You might as well stay there. You could use some rest."

Edgeworth gave him a disdainful look but didn't argue, just held out his hand for the external drive. Phoenix gave it to him, then sat on the bed next to him. Even as Edgeworth plugged it in, Phoenix warned him, "Von Karma did have someone come here to get his laptop."

"He'd have had to. Even he can't print these photos from jail. And it is, undeniably, him behind it. He was always a likely suspect, even from prison, but I thought…" He shook his head. "I was naïve, still, somehow. I assumed that once he was beaten, he'd stay that way, but he's obsessive. And this means there are other copies."

"Yeah, probably. But Bloom is giving us the name of whoever he paid to do this, so…"

"So we will find him, and pay him more." Edgeworth opened the drive's contents, and sure enough, there were the hundreds of other photos, ones where Von Karma's features were clear, or which were out of focus, or that simply hadn't been scandalous enough.

"I was going to suggest murdering him," Phoenix said. "The conspirator, maybe, and Von Karma, definitely."

"An appealing idea, but impractical. Even a well-executed murder leaves evidence, and I would rather this not come to light," Edgeworth said, pulling the drive free without transferring its contents.

"Okay, so no murder. I'm not sure I'd have the stomach for it, anyway," Phoenix admitted. "But we can't just pay someone off."

"We will do nothing; I will handle the payoff."

"But then it'll still exist. You won't be able to ensure it doesn't, anyway," Phoenix said. "Which means it'll be hanging over your head forever. You know how blackmail works. The price will go up annually."

"I have quite a bit of money."

"Miles." Phoenix hadn't realized until just then that he only used Edgeworth's first name when he was serious, but maybe Edgeworth had, because he looked up from the computer and caught Phoenix's eyes. "You're never going to be able to be happy if it's out there. You'll never be secure. And you deserve to be."

"Happy? Secure?" Edgeworth shook his head, a scoff in his throat. "I've survived this long as neither, I am quite equipped to continue."

Phoenix couldn't stop himself from reacting to that, reaching out to take Edgeworth's hand and say, "Edgeworth, that's… that's tragic."

"Don't be ridiculous." Edgeworth snatched his hand away. "I've stated facts, not sung an opera. This is my life, and I'll handle it as I see fit. As long as my career is secure, nothing else matters."

"Maybe it matters to me," Phoenix said.

"And what grounds do you have to make such a claim?"

"You're my friend. That's my ground," Phoenix said, though that hardly felt adequate anymore. He was certain he knew Edgeworth better than anyone in the world -- Von Karma had treated him as a bug under glass, observing him but not knowing him. Franziska knew him, yes, but still didn't understand how he'd changed and evolved.

But Phoenix… Phoenix could remember him as a child, before the tragedy. He'd always been serious, but he'd practically leaked compassion back then. And Phoenix had come to understand Edgeworth's descent into his demon prosecutor role, the dark and angry place he'd been pushed to by Von Karma, trapped in when he'd first re-entered Phoenix's life.

And Phoenix had seen him dig himself out. Phoenix had helped him dig himself out. He'd exposed Von Karma, desperate to prove Edgeworth's innocence because he'd known, deep in his heart, that the childhood friend he remembered wasn't a demon, wasn't capable of murder.

And after that… He'd been so angry about Edgeworth's disappearance and supposed suicide. But despite his fury, his knees had gone weak with relief when Edgeworth returned, and he hadn't hesitated to entrust Edgeworth with Maya's safety.

What he was feeling now, looking into Edgeworth's eyes, had been building for years. Decades. Friendship didn't even come close to capturing it, and it struck Phoenix all at once. He wanted -- he wanted so much, and Edgeworth was just staring at him, looking hungry, his mouth opened slightly as if to speak. Phoenix leaned forward, and --

"I know why the photos were sent to you," Edgeworth said abruptly, pulling away, leaving Phoenix's heart racing over something that hadn't even happened. The moment shattered, and Phoenix didn't even have time to mourn it as Edgeworth continued, "Go get that name from Bloom and ask him to pack my things -- I have calls to make and we'll be leaving here as soon as possible. We may already be too late."

"Too late for what?"

"To stop this. But if we aren't, and I'm right, we can stop it, once and for all. Get moving, Wright. This is important."

Phoenix wanted to ask more questions, to demand to know what the hell Edgeworth had figured out and how. But Edgeworth was already getting up and reaching for his phone, so Phoenix just went to do as he was told, ready to help, because the matter at hand was more important that the moment that had passed between them. That had probably just been in his head anyway.

Chapter Text

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."