Across the Felt
Author's Note: Spoilers for all AA games. No Gyakuten Kenji canon is included. Takes place about a month or so after Coffee Housing.
One advantage in having a distinctive sartorial style, Edgeworth considered, as he stepped out of the cab he'd used to reach his destination, was that a simple change in clothes was almost all it took to render a man utterly unfamiliar. People grew used to easy identification based on the location of the meeting or color of clothing; they no longer took note of features, eye color, height. Edgeworth encountered sloppy observers all the time. Many a witness would finger a killer based on the shirt he was wearing, but make a huge blunder about something so obvious as his age.
Edgeworth had arrived home from his office, dressed in his usual suit. The doorman knew him, and the people he passed in the halls. The elderly dame in the elevator asked him if he had been to Paris lately. But when he departed again, half an hour later, he was a stranger to everyone he passed. Although if any of the people in his high-end apartment building had known one Gregory Edgeworth, deceased, they might have noted a certain similarity.
The man reflected in the front window of the Borscht Bowl club was well-dressed in an impeccable gray suit, his hair a hint of warm silver mostly concealed under his fedora. The vivid magenta silk of his necktie was an open dare, and Edgeworth flashed a tense smile at his own reflection as he stepped up to the restaurant door.
Outside it was July, and Edgeworth blamed that for his failure to remember his overcoat. The climate inside the Borscht Bowl was frigid. Air conditioners blasted out a Siberian chill, their grates concealed by plastic icicles. It made the furry hats and mittens of the waitresses practical rather than purely fetishistic, and it also made the club a comfortable place to drink copious amounts of vodka. Besides himself, Edgeworth figured the only sober man in the room was the one sitting at the silent piano, knit cap pulled down over his ears and a juice bottle balanced in his fingertips. He made a point of not looking at Edgeworth.
"Privyet!" Edgeworth's waitress said, with a reasonable approximation of authenticity. She placed a shot-glass of vodka on the table for him, a bracing courtesy of the house for all customers. At the least, it kept them from catching pneumonia. "You would like the borscht, da?"
Edgeworth held his glass up to the light, squinting at the contents. The club's gratis vodka was invariably cheap. "In point of fact, I was hoping for some entertainment this evening. I heard there was a new challenge to be had here."
"Oh!" the waitress said, momentarily forgetting her accent. She recovered quickly. "That is, da! Would you like dinner before your game, or after?"
"After," Edgeworth said, and tossed back his shot. Cheap or not, vodka was vodka, and his nerves could use it. He felt like every eye in the place was drawn to him, and he was braced any moment for someone he knew to walk through the door. The sooner he got himself out of sight, the happier he would be. "But bring down a pom martini."
"Da! Would you like dealer for your game?" The girl held up her camera. "Or picture to remember occasion?"
"Neither," Edgeworth said. "Just send down your new piano player. I want to see what he's got."
The Hydeout Room beneath the restaurant was atmospherically cluttered, and only slightly warmer than upstairs. It was a tiny, cramped room, and Edgeworth was never on good terms with small spaces. Among the boxes and storage cabinets was a poker table with three chairs; the only concession to tidiness was that they had been dusted off recently. Edgeworth's waitress showed him inside. She left the drink Edgeworth had ordered, two decks of cards, and a neat rack of chips on the table. Bowing out the door, almost lost in her furs, she asked him to wait a moment.
Edgeworth waited, listening to the creak of the old building, straining for the sound of footsteps on the stairs. He wanted to laugh at himself for feeling so ridiculously nervous. Like a boy on his first date. Or, he allowed himself, perhaps like a spy. To pass the time, he read the collection of newspaper clippings framed on the far wall, detailing everything from old organized crime murders in the building, to the subsequent ghost legends, to the renovation of the Borscht Bowl Club.
There was clunk from the landing, the rickety door opened and closed. Edgeworth tensed, but found he could not quite look to see who it was. Maybe it was those ghost stories getting to him, he thought.
"...I thought you preferred chess to poker, Miles."
"The city chess club meets at Gourd Lake Park, Wright." Edgeworth turned around then, pulling off his fedora. "And as I have learned, that's no place for a clandestine meeting."
For a moment they only looked at each other, weighing the somber grey pinstripe suit and the tatty blue beanie like two actors who had appeared on stage and found themselves in the wrong costumes. Then all the empty days apart caught up with them and they rushed together, Phoenix leaving one of the poker chairs spinning wildly in his wake. He was gloriously solid in Edgeworth's arms, warm and real and safe. After a week spent in the regular company of a man he suspected would stick at nothing, Edgeworth knew he could no longer take that for granted.
"Are you all right?" he demanded. "Has there been any change? How's Trucy?"
"God, Miles," Phoenix breathed in answer, and it was a long time before either one of them was able to say anything else.
"I have things to tell you," Edgeworth said when he could, as Phoenix slid his hands up into Edgeworth's hair, disrupting the careful, combed-back style and sending it back around Edgeworth's face where it belonged. Phoenix's smile was his own again at last, no longer the forced one Edgeworth had seen before. There would always be the shadow of old pain there, but instead of making him look haggard, now it gave him a kind of melancholy wisdom. Edgeworth, to his surprise, found that he liked it.
"You can start with how you missed me," Phoenix said, tugging on the ends of Edgeworth's hair.
"I thought that was patently obvious," Edgeworth answered. Phoenix was running one hand along the side of his face; Edgeworth tilted his head slightly to kiss his fingertips. "Unless you think I'm in the habit of doing this with everyone I meet."
"I don't know, are you?"
Phoenix laughed, throwing his arms around him again. Edgeworth could feel the vibration of his laughter against his own breastbone. "I know, I know. I just wanted to make you say my name like that." He pulled away with reluctance, and leaned on the edge of the poker table. "So!" he said, suddenly serious, "What's the news?"
Edgeworth glanced around the room, making sure that the glass spy-window was blank. According to the clippings, a ghostly watchman from prohibition days could often be seen there, but now it was dark and empty. "You're certain we're alone down here?"
"Absolutely. I checked the passage before I came down. Sorry it took me so long."
"Good." Edgeworth reached around Phoenix to get his drink, their shoulders brushing. "It would seem that Kristoph Gavin has taken an unusually keen interest in your welfare," Edgeworth said, sipping his drink. It was much better--and much pricier--than the shot he had been served before. "More precisely, in what influence I personally might have on your situation. I couldn't come down here any sooner, I'm afraid. He's been shadowing me all week."
Phoenix's eyebrows lowered, pulling down his hat with them. "Do you think he suspects you?"
"No," Edgeworth said, firmly. "I believe I was able to convince him our break-off was complete. Owing to my new position, I was able to imply that you had simply been a rung on my ladder." Edgeworth took another sip, to get the bad taste of Kristoph's company out of his mouth. "He is the sort that understands power, and the complexities of getting it. Much to my distaste, I fear he thinks of us as similar creatures now. I've given him a little information, information that I hope will lead him to draw exactly all the wrong conclusions."
Phoenix's expression was telling, as he heard everything that Edgeworth had not said. "...Did you sleep with him?"
Edgeworth spun the stem of the martini glass between his thumb and forefinger. "No. I made it clear to him that I'm in the market for pawns, not lovers."
"Just like he is," Phoenix said, and his smile was a little shaky. "But you're not the only one getting buttered up. Would you believe you just missed the man, himself? Kristoph left not ten minutes before you arrived."
Edgeworth felt a chill that had nothing to do with the air conditioning. "He was here?"
"Yes. But not, I think, because he was tailing you. He wanted to see how I was doing, offered to buy me dinner." Phoenix scratched at his hat. "Way too friendly. I don't like it."
"Too friendly, and too close a call for my taste. He must think you're still a threat to him."
Phoenix finally pulled off his hat and rubbed his thumb between his eyes, as though fighting off a headache. "Are you sure about that, Miles? I mean, I barely knew the man a few months ago. What do I have that he would want?"
"Not what you have, what you had. A reputation as the most talked-about defense in the city, and an almost uncanny knack for winning impossible cases. Kristoph has a beautiful German instinct for order and protocol, your sloppy achievements in his field must have grated. To say nothing of the fact that he was Zak Gramarye's lawyer before you were."
Phoenix sat up, all at once. "...He was what?"
"You didn't know?"
Phoenix shook his head, numbly. "No. There was no name on the files I was given. I thought Gramarye had a state-appointed defense."
"Hardly. Only one defense lawyer in this city has a perfect record, Wright. A record that even you do not hold, in spite of your greater fame." Edgeworth held up his glass in an imaginary toast to the man not present. "Kristoph Gavin. Imagine, then, his feelings when Gramarye threw him over for you. Even worse if Kristoph had prepared something extra to ensure his case would be won, possibly even going to a lot of trouble for it. It was a famous case, Wright. Had Gavin won it, your name, and likely his brother's name as well, would have been left utterly behind in his wake." Edgeworth drained the last of his cocktail, and eyed the bloody stain it left on the glass. "You were in his way, and he had been spurned for you. It's a common tale, Wright. You'll hear it from every jilted lover I ever got convicted of murder in the first. Only for Gavin, it was not his heart that was broken, it was his pride."
"And he stood up for me at my disbarment, knowing how I got that forged evidence, knowing that it would keep all suspicion off of him, knowing that his support wouldn't matter and I would still lose." Phoenix brought his fist down on the table, sending a landslide of poker chips out of their neatly-stacked pile. "That bastard."
"Gavin's through with me. He'll be haunting you, now." Edgeworth could already feel his jaw tensing, as though in the man's presence again. "He's dangerous, Phoenix. And he's worried you'll try to find out who ruined you. Make sure he knows you're not a threat. Be glad you gave up law. Chatter about Trucy. Be his best friend if you have to. He'll keep watching you, I suspect, and that's fine. I can do our legwork while he's not looking. He doesn't think I have anything to do with the case, and now he thinks I don't have anything to do with you, either."
"I foresee a lot of interminable dinners in my future," Phoenix sighed, resigned.
"Better that than a tombstone," Edgeworth countered. "Trucy's already lost one father, and I--"
"Yes?" Phoenix prompted, glancing at him sidelong. "What about you, Miles?"
Edgeworth found he could not meet Phoenix's eyes. He looked away, hugging himself. "I suppose it would only be fair for my suicide note, wouldn't it."
"...You know I would never do that to you."
"What? Get yourself killed?" Edgeworth's eyes flashed. "You'd better not, Wright. I mean it."
"I'll do my best," Phoenix said, wryly.
"Good." Edgeworth put down his glass, and picked up his hat. "That's all the news I have right now. I'll be in touch--"
"Wait." Phoenix caught Edgeworth's arm, holding him. "You're not just going to turn around and leave, are you?"
"The more time we spend together, the more dangerous it is. I really shouldn't--"
"Miles," Phoenix said, his hand tightening on Edgeworth's arm, "if getting my name cleared means never being able to touch you until I do, then I don't want it."
Edgeworth started to make an incredulous noise of disbelief; it died half-finished in the wake of Phoenix's expression. "...You really mean that, don't you?"
Phoenix smirked in a way Edgeworth knew quite well and had come to associate with every lost case of his career. "Justice isn't the only thing worth living for."
Edgeworth wanted, logically, to have an argument for that. But Phoenix was kissing him again, and even if Edgeworth had had an argument, he would have been unable to say it. His hat fluttered back down to the floor, unnoticed.
It had been months since it had been like this, six months and worlds away, before Edgeworth left on his trip in March. They never expected, either one, what he would come home to find. How much had Edgeworth taken for granted in those years? There would always be long nights making love in the comfort of his apartment; that Phoenix would always be there the morning after, reading Edgeworth's paper and stealing his shirts, puttering around in Edgeworth's immaculate kitchen, using quail eggs to make French toast.
We thought nothing would ever change, Edgeworth thought. We thought we were the only ones capable of hurting ourselves. His hands pushed up Phoenix's hoodie, moving underneath the folds of his t-shirt to find the warm skin along his ribs, to run his fingertips down the valley of his spine. Phoenix's mouth was open against his, a low noise of longing down in his throat. It set off a warm explosion of need low in Edgeworth's belly, and Phoenix pressed his hipbone hard against it, startling a gasp out of Edgeworth. He let Phoenix back him up against the table, his fingers hooked in the belt loop of Phoenix's jeans.
"Just looking at your neck turns me on," Phoenix confessed, his breathing ragged. "You keep it covered up all the time, seeing you in a tie is practically indecent--"
"Not as indecent as this," Edgeworth said, and the sound of Phoenix's jeans zipper was loud in the close room. The poker table rattled as they both fell across it, sending a shower of chips and cards onto the floor, plastic disks clattering like machine-gun fire.
"Sorry this isn't the most comfortable arrangement," Phoenix apologized, his fingers invading the crisp buttons of Edgeworth's shirt, yanking it out of his belt.
"Wright," Edgeworth growled, pushing down Phoenix's jeans just far enough to get his hands on the aching weight of the other man's cock, "I don't intend to be here long enough to complain, now get. these. off."
"Not the only thing I'm going to be getting off," Phoenix said, and Edgeworth's backside was suddenly bare against the cold poker table, a startling contrast to the delicious heat of Phoenix's mouth around his cock.
Edgeworth arched back against the table, his hands in Phoenix's hair, his eyes fluttering closed. Phoenix pulled away just long enough to dig in the pocket of his undone jeans, producing a foil packet that he tore open with his teeth.
"You've been carrying that around all this time?" Edgeworth said, squinting up at him. He tried to sound morally superior, but it was difficult to accomplish with his pants around his thighs.
"I knew you were going to turn up sooner or later," Phoenix said, tossing the condom wrapper down among the poker chips. He shifted his position just so, and slick, hard heat nudged up against Edgeworth's ass. "Even now, I'm still an optimist, Miles."
Edgeworth's snappy comeback never got made; Phoenix put both hands on either side of Edgeworth's head, pressing the other man down against the unyielding surface of the table. Edgeworth's body was more accommodating, he made a low noise of satisfaction as Phoenix moved inside him, all he ever wanted and more than he would ever admit.
It had been too long since the last time for it to take too long now. Phoenix folded Edgeworth underneath him, his breath hitting hard against his teeth, the poker table rattling as it was put to a new, innovative use. Edgeworth's belt buckle jangled against the table leg, chiming like a courthouse bell. He had his hands around his own cock, restraint gone, wanting nothing more than the simple friction of being fucked by the man he loved.
Even if he could only manage to admit that to himself when it was actually happening.
Phoenix moaned against Edgeworth's throat, his body drawing taut as though there was atroquinine in his veins. Everything he said then, Edgeworth already knew, but he thought it had never sounded so sweet to him as it did at that moment, with Phoenix inside him and the blinding white flash of shared pleasure momentarily shoving back all the darkness in their lives.
"Next time, perhaps a hotel would be better," Edgeworth said, looking down at the ruin of his shirt, and making a moue of distaste as he buttoned up his suit jacket to cover it.
Phoenix was still slightly pink across the face, as though he had been the one drinking. "I'm not complaining."
"Of course not. You aren't the one with a 500 value chip-print on your ass." Edgeworth tugged his tie back into place, and bent down to the floor for his hat. "I really should go now, though."
"I know," Phoenix said, his smile turning wistful. "Any idea when I'll see you again?"
"None, I'm afraid." Edgeworth tipped down his hat, to hide his own smile. "But next time, I'll try to arrange an actual bed." He stopped in the doorway to kiss Phoenix goodbye, lingering more than he intended to. "Be careful, Phoenix," he murmured, as they parted. "Even if we find out what he's up to, there's still the problem of convicting him in our current courts. I don't want you getting killed before we can clear your name."
"Not before you can kiss me on the courthouse steps," Phoenix promised. "You be careful, too."
"Hmp! I'm always careful, Wright."
"Of course. You know the Jack of Spades is in your pants, don't you?"
Edgeworth froze for a moment, then he carefully removed the playing card from his waistband and dropped it into Phoenix's waiting hand. "Definitely a hotel," he said, and walked back up the stairs, already wondering how many days there would be before the next time.
And how many more after that, before the truth would come out, before justice was done.