Stone Cold Bluff

by Tenshi

Author's Note: Spoilers for all AA games. No Gyakuten Kenji canon is included. Takes place after Forward Motion.

The alley behind the courthouse smelled like decomposing garbage and urine, mingling in a sickly miasma with the pleasant odors of fresh donuts and coffee from the employee breakroom window. Phoenix's watch ticked over another minute closer to nine, and he shifted his weight, impatient.

Last time he had been so nervous, it had been before his first case. He was amazed by how many butterflies managed to jostle around in his stomach, since it was twisted into a knot. It was enough to make him skip breakfast--no real loss as the stench in the alley would have made him queasy even at the best of times. And at the moment it was certainly not the best of times, as he was about to have a very loud, very public, and very messy breakup with the man that had been his lover for the past three years.

Phoenix pulled a small, sample-sized bottle of whiskey put of his pocket and twisted off the plastic lid. He'd never been much for hard liquor, and normally, he would never touch the stuff. But as Edgeworth had said, a good performance was all in the details. Phoenix swished some around in his mouth, made a face, and spat it out again behind the dumpster. The rest he scattered on his shirt and jeans. The potent smell of alcohol joined the other scents in the alley, and Phoenix hoped he'd been there long enough for his clothes to absorb some of it. Ideally, he needed to smell like he'd spent the night there.

Phoenix's phone buzzed only once, an aborted call that didn't make it all the way into a ring. He didn't really need the reminder for his cue, but he was grateful for it, all the same. If anything, it told him that his fellow conspirator had his back. No matter that they were about to make a clear demonstration of the contrary.

The courthouse bells began to ring, tolling out the hour. For Phoenix, the sound had always been one of hope and fairness, freedom for the innocent and judgment for the guilty. Now it signaled the beginning of a new life, one of whispers, secrets, and lies. He tugged down the hem of his t-shirt, wishing for the crisp folds of his suit for armor, and strode out of the alley.

Miles Edgeworth was halfway up the courthouse steps, on his way inside, precisely on time. Phoenix's heart lurched at the sight of him, looking so familiar and normal, as though nothing at all had changed. His resolve quavered for a moment before Phoenix got it back under control.

There was a sudden blur of olive drab fabric on the stairs, and then Edgeworth's hand was being wrung by a thrilled Detective Gumshoe. Phoenix had to stifle a groan. Of all the people he didn't want to do this in front of! But there was no turning back now.

"I'm just so happy for you sir, I can't even tell ya!" Gumshoe was beaming. "Chief Prosecutor! You should have had it years ago."

"Yes, thank you, Detective." Edgeworth tried in vain to free his fingers from Gumshoe's crushing grip. His attempts at escape were interpreted by Gumshoe as encouragement; he clamped both his hands on Edgeworth's and shook harder.

"I thought you swore you'd never take it, though? What made you change your mind?"

"Ah, well. Even I get a little tired of traveling after a while..."

Phoenix would not have a better opening. He came around the corner of the ornamental hedge, placing one foot on the lowest step of the courthouse steps and doing his best impression of a drunken lean. His voice was intentionally too loud. "Oh really? Well it's news to me, sweetheart."

People on their way in or out of the courthouse came to a halt, and Phoenix could hear his name among the hiss of whispers. Nine was the busiest time of the morning, and there was a good audience for the show.

Edgeworth went very still. He turned, slowly, and arched one eyebrow at the man standing ten steps below him. "...Wright." He looked away, inspecting his cuffs in a dismissive manner. "I apologize for not letting you know I was in town, but I've been rather busy--"

"So I heard," Phoenix growled. "Chief Prosecutor, huh? Well, You always acted like you were too good for anybody else to breathe around you, I guess now you've got the rank to prove it."

"Hey, pal," Gumshoe began, placating. "Look. I know you're having a rough time. Why don't I give you a ride home and you can get some rest--"

Dammit, Gumshoe! Phoenix thought. "I'm not talking to you," he broke in, with a silencing gesture at the detective. "I'm talking to Mr. King of Prosecutors up there who doesn't have the balls to face me now. What's the matter, Edgeworth? Worried I might make you look bad? Or worried that innocent verdict I got you three years ago might smell a little fishy now?"

"That's not what smells fishy to me," Gumshoe muttered, glancing at Phoenix and waving his hand in front of his face. "You need to lay off the sauce, pal."

Phoenix took another step higher. "I asked you a question," he said to Edgeworth, belligerent. "Are you going to plead the fifth, now? Or does the Prosecution rest?"

Edgeworth turned away, his hand white-knuckled on the handle of his silver briefcase. "Wright," he said, almost sadly, "...Go home." He started up the steps again, but Phoenix was after him in a second. He caught Edgeworth by the shoulder, whirling him around.

"Hey, pal--!" Gumshoe began, with a bit more warning, but Phoenix ignored him.

"I'm not going home before I get some answers. Although I can guess now what they are." Phoenix's eyes narrowed, his hand twisting in the lapel of Edgeworth's suit. Edgeworth flinched, authentically, at the stench of whiskey on Phoenix's breath. "I'm no good to you anymore, am I?" Phoenix said, not so softly that it would escape the audience. "Don't think I don't know. You were only keeping me around in case you needed to be gotten off the hook again. Or was it just to get off, period?"

"Let go of me, Wright."


"I'm not finished!" Phoenix roared at Gumshoe.

Edgeworth swatted Phoenix's hand away, his face flushed against the crisp white folds of his cravat. "No," he said, sharply, "I'm afraid you are finished, Wright. Utterly finished. I suppose we all know how you won your cases now. Evidence forgery certainly makes it easier, doesn't it?"

Phoenix's lip cured into an involuntary snarl, and his retort came far, far too easily. "Yeah well, you would know, wouldn't you, Edgeworth?"

A flash behind the impassive gray eyes was Phoenix's only warning. For being a manicured guy in a ruffled pink suit, Miles Edgeworth had a surprisingly solid right hook. His fist connected with Phoenix's jaw, slamming into him with all the force of a cross-town express.

Phoenix staggered backwards from the punch, slipping down two steps and catching himself on the center stair railing. Wrought-iron hit him hard across his abdomen, knocking all the air out of his lungs.

Funny, Phoenix thought, as the world flashed white in his vision, that sure doesn't feel faked. He hung there, limp and gasping for air, as Edgeworth yanked his suit straight again, brushing the sleeve as though to dust away Phoenix Wright along with the lint. The crowd around the courthouse steps--and there was a considerable one now--was hushed with shock.

"It's a pity, really," Edgeworth said. "I thought better of you." He shook his right hand faintly, and picked up his briefcase. "Remove this piece of trash from the building, would you, Detective? He's already soiled the very name of justice, I see no need to let him do the same to the steps."

Phoenix shook his head, trying to clear it. Edgeworth's immaculate shoes clicked away up the stairs, and a sibilant whisper rippled through the crowd. The rumor was already off to a fantastic start. Which was a good thing, because Phoenix was still seeing stars, and he didn't think he was capable of giving it any more help.

"Come on, Pal," Gumshoe said, and a gentle hand lifted Phoenix up under the armpit. "I'll--I'll give you a ride home."

The two Gumshoes in Phoenix's vision turned into one, and Phoenix's stomach clenched with guilt. The Detective looked like a kicked puppy, and his eyes were almost on the verge of tears.

Phoenix blotted his mouth on the back of his hand, it came away bloody. Dammit, Miles. If I need dental work after this, you're paying for it. He staggered down the steps on Gumshoe's arm, and the crowd parted silently to let them pass.

Gumshoe's clunker of a car grumbled to a choleric, wheezing halt at the curb in front of Phoenix's office building. Gumshoe didn't kill the engine, no doubt worried that it wouldn't start again if he did.

"I'm sure Mr. Edgeworth didn't mean it, pal," he said, his eyebrows rearing up against each other in concern and worry. It was the first thing he had said on the whole ride.

Phoenix took his face out his hands. He would have smiled, but his injured jaw wouldn't allow it. "Oh, he meant it, Detective. Don't worry about seeing me up. I can make it." Phoenix opened the door, stifling a groan as he got out of the car.

"Yeah, well." Gumshoe still looked uncertain. "I'm sure it'll work out, somehow." He didn't sound very convinced. "Take care of yourself, pal."

Phoenix nodded, rapping his knuckles on the chipping paint of Gumshoe's side door. "You too," he said.

"You won't say it, but it's okay," Gumshoe said, with determination. "I'll look after Mr. Edgeworth, too." His car engine coughed, stuttered, and then he pulled out into the street, leaving behind a lingering cloud of exhaust. Phoenix slowly made his way into the building.

DeMasque Consulting had the office right next to his own, recommended by Phoenix back in happier days, and Trucy was there under the watchful eyes of Desiree DeLite. Those eyes widened as Phoenix opened the door, and Desiree took in the already purpling mark. "Wow! That's a beauty! What happened?"

"Fell down some steps," Phoenix said, and realized he sounded like a textbook abuse victim, unable to admit that his boyfriend had hit him.

Ex-boyfriend, Phoenix reminded himself. Ex. Gotta remember that.

"Well, Trucy's in the back with Ron. They've been getting on like a house on fire." Desiree's smile lit up the room like a firework. "Talking about performances, costumes, things like that. Anytime you need a sitter, just let us know!" Her wink for Phoenix was conspiratorial. "It keeps Ronnie out of trouble, too."

Trucy stared at Phoenix's face, but she refrained from comment until they were back in their own offices. "...Are you okay, Daddy?" she asked, carefully hanging up her hat on the lowest coat-rack hook.

Phoenix was rummaging in the mini-fridge for enough ice to go in a sandwich bag. "I'm fine, Trucy. Daddy just had a little accident."

Trucy's face scrunched into disbelief. "...No you didn't. Someone hit you."

Phoenix blinked at her as best he could, his one eye trying to swell closed. "You can always tell when someone's lying, can't you, Truce?"

"Yes," Trucy said, matter-of-fact. "But I don't need to now. My other daddy got hit lots, so I've seen it before."

Phoenix laughed bitterly at the memory of Zak Gramarye. "I imagine he did. I wouldn't mind adding one to the record." He put the bag of ice against his face, and sighed at the blissful cool. "Okay, Trucy. I'll play it straight with you. Uncle Edgeworth punched me."

Trucy put a finger to her chin, pondering. "...Why?"

"Because we're..." Phoenix struggled for a metaphor, and his eyes lit on Trucy's top hat. "We're working on a magic trick. A very difficult, very very secret magic trick that's going to take a long time to set up. And to make it work, we have to make everyone think we don't like each other. But it's not true. It's only for the surprise. It's a secret, Trucy, can you keep it for us?"

"Of course!" Trucy said, looking shocked that he would need to ask. "It's another magician's trick! I can't reveal it!" She put her hand over her diamond brooch. "I promise, I won't tell!"

"Thanks, Trucy."

"What kind of trick is it?" Trucy jumped up on the edge of the desk. "Will you make someone float? Will you walk through a cement wall? Will you make something disappear?"

"Better than that, Trucy," Phoenix said. "If it works, we're going to bring back something that's already disappeared."

"Ooh!" Trucy's eyes shone. "What is it? Wait--don't tell me. It's a surprise?"

"You got it, ace." Phoenix said, and ruffled her hair. "Now how about you go get your cards for me, and show me that trick again where you make the five of hearts reappear. I think I'm almost on to you, now."

"You'll never figure it out!" Trucy sang, but scampered off to get her box of magic tricks. Phoenix took his bag of ice over to the sofa and sat down, letting the numbness sink down through his face as far as it would go. Maybe it would reach his heart.

It hadn't quite gotten that far before his phone rang, beeping a tinny rendition of the Steel Samurai theme. Phoenix glanced at the number, and found suddenly that all the ice in the world wasn't enough to freeze a heart suddenly suffused with warmth. He pressed the answer button.

"...Joe's Mortuary. You kill 'em, we chill 'em!"

"Wright. Try to be serious."

"Sorry. Couldn't help it. You must have knocked me silly."

"I would rather have knocked some sense into you," Edgeworth said in Phoenix's ear, sounding crankier than usual. "And I'll have you know I just spent the last fifteen minutes being soundly chastised by Detective Gumshoe for my efforts." Edgeworth pitched his voice into an eerily authentic imitation. "It's not his fault, sir! You know he didn't do it! On and on and on. I only got rid of him by telling him I was going to call you."

"Yeah, well I think you kind of deserve it." Phoenix pressed the good side of his face into the phone, imagining the scent of expensive aftershave and earl grey. "Because I'm going to have to go down to social services to finalize Trucy's adoption tomorrow, and I don't know how I'm going to explain the bruises. If I didn't know better, I'd think you meant that punch for real."

"What makes you think you know better?" Edgeworth's voice was wry, Phoenix could almost see the smile. "I've been waiting three years to knock your lights out, Wright. You can't blame me for doing a proper job of it when I got the chance."

"No kidding. You know if you ever get sick of prosecuting, you could take up a career in middleweight prize-fighting."

"That's what prosecution is, Wright." A pause. "Keep some ice on it, though. I am rather fond of your face, after all."

"Already ahead of you." Phoenix shifted the baggie of ice on his jaw. "Now what?"

"I think we may have to bring in the detective," Edgeworth said, sounding thoughtful. "He's good at keeping secrets, when he needs to be. But it'll be a little while, and I'd like to have you positioned by then. Have you got any marketable skills besides taking it on the chin?"

"Not really. It's not like I can play piano in a bar, Miles."

Trucy bounded back into the living room and fetched her hat from the peg. Phoenix cradled the phone on his shoulder and applauded silently as she bowed and displayed her cards with a flourish.

"There's got to be something," Edgeworth mused.

Trucy fanned out her cards for him, and Phoenix tapped one of the backs at random. Trucy showed him the five of hearts. It was always the five of hearts.

"I'm good at poker," Phoenix suggested, watching carefully as all of the cards vanished between Trucy's hands.

"I know that," Edgeworth answered, smug. "Although, I suppose you're talking about cards?"

"Of course I'm talking about cards! I'm not going to make a living with any other kind of poker."

Edgeworth snorted delicately. "I'll say. You'd make a lousy rentboy."

"Thank God for small miracles."

Trucy shook her cape and a shower of aces fell out of it, but no five of hearts. She took off her hat and pulled the king of hearts and the king of spades from the lining. With a wink, she made a deft gesture with them behind Phoenix's ear, and the five of hearts appeared between the two kings. Phoenix's own battered heart swelled with gratitude for her, for the man on the other end of the phone, and for the tiny portent of two paperboard kings separated by a wall of hearts. He had, until that moment, forgotten how to hope.

"Although, that does give me an idea." Phoenix could hear Edgeworth tapping his pen on his desk. "Sit tight, will you? I'll be in touch."

"I will. And... Thanks, Edgeworth."

"Anytime you need another punching, Wright, I'll be glad to oblige." The phone clicked off in Phoenix's ear. He put it back in his pocket, and asked Trucy to do her trick for him one more time.


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