Memories Never Sleep
Author's note: This story is a PW-only plotline, not involving the events of AJ:AA, or at least not yet. Title is from Sting's Ghost Story, the epitome of Phoenix/Edgeworth songcalls.
"No, Maya, it's fine, really." Phoenix looked out his office window, through the venetian blinds. There wasn't much to see; even the Gatewater across the street was a hulking grey blur, lost in the thickly falling snow. "You and Pearls should probably stay put."
"But!" Maya said, and Phoenix could see her expression, even if she was two hours away in Kurain village. "Tonight is the second full moon in the element of water, and Venus is in the eighth house of--"
Phoenix could feel his eyes glazing over. "I thought it was Christmas Eve."
"Oh," Maya checked herself in the middle of her mystical protestations. "R-right. But an auspicious alignment like this, it only comes around once in a hundred years!"
"That's what you said last Tuesday."
"That was a different auspicious date. Did you buy a cactus like I told you to?"
"And did you wear blue? It's totally vital that you wore blue!"
"I always wear blue."
"Oh, phew. That's a relief then. You won't have to worry about fox-demons trying to seduce you."
"That's real great, Maya. 'Cos I was really up nights about that." Phoenix pulled the cord on his blinds, and the muffled, snowy light in his office took on a yellowish tone through the plastic. "So, what kind of plant do I have to buy tonight, to keep turtles out of my bidet, or to ungremlin my cuisinart?"
"You don't have a bidet, Nick. You barely know what one is."
"I have a better idea than you do. And you never know about those damn turtles."
Phoenix could hear Maya's little sigh. "You don't believe in any of the Kurain traditions, do you, Nick?"
"Listen, Maya. I really respect your work. You know? When you channel, it's really amazing. But--" Phoenix cast around the room for an example. "Okay, when you're with me in court, and I'm yelling objection all the time and unraveling murder twists before a live studio audience, that's really cool, right?"
"Okay, that's cool. But how about if I was just sitting here saying," Phoenix took a deep breath, "The party of the first part, heretofore referred to as the Primary party, concedes that this agreement is legal and binding in accordance with the clauses of article nine, section vii.4, insofar as the first clause is not actionable in Papua New Guinea, or during biyearly diurnal adjustment, hitherto daylight savings time, which is enforced on--"
"Gaaah! Nick come on, are you trying to put me in a coma?"
"Maya, that's what your mystic mumbo-jumbo sounds like to me. You make with the ooky-spooky, I'll point my finger around, and we'll respect each other's trade secrets, okay?"
"But--Nick, tonight, it's--" Maya fumbled a moment for words, her consternation almost audible through the phone. "Don't spend tonight alone, okay? Go down to the PD to hang out or go out for drinks with Gumshoe, or something. It's important! Really important!"
Phoenix blinked. Maya, when she was on a real kick about her studies, would go through a whole streak of traditions in a month, and then let the next six dates slide by. Still, she rarely sounded so adamant. "Maya, are you okay? You haven't had a bad premonition, or anything?"
"No, it's nothing like that, just-- well it's Christmas, right? So you shouldn't be alone."
"Fine, fine. I'm sure I can find a bum who wants me to give him some cigarettes. You and Pearls will be okay?"
"We'll be fine! We've got the whole village here. Listen, I've gotta go, it's time to dance naked in the snow for the spirits."
Nick spewed out the mouthful of coffee he'd just taken. "What?!"
"Gotcha!" Maya's laugher rang through his phone speaker like tiny Christmas bells. "We're just gonna make hot cider, and then play a fortune-telling game about our future husbands. I'm worried, though, I think Pearl has rigged it so my apple peel will always spell your name."
"Okay, well, don't have too much fun. I'll see you for New Year's, right?"
"Right! You promised Pearls you'd let her watch you drop your balls."
More coffee on the desk blotter. "That's watch the ball drop, Maya, you know that!"
Maya was giggling. "I know, I know! But it's funnier the way Pearl says it. Have a good night, Nick! I'll call tomorrow, and don't forget what I said!"
"Right, don't be alone," Phoenix said, as Maya hung up. He looked around his office, full of shadows, memories, and the fluttering light of falling snow. "Can't really be helped now, though, can it?"
He closed the office before noon. The phone was so dead he thought someone should come in and put a toe-tag on it, and there were only so many half-remembered song lyrics he could look up on the internet and games of solitaire he could lose. Phoenix bundled up in his coat and walked down to the bus-stop, where, blinded by snow and preoccupation, he took the number 568 instead of the 563. He didn't realize he was on the wrong bus until the floor-heater had begun to melt the snow around his shoes, and by then he had no clear idea where he was.
Looking out the fogged window didn't help. The area the bus traveled through was vaguely familiar, but it wasn't enough to get his bearings. Through the falling snow, every Asian grocery and mattress warehouse looked the same to him. Only when he saw a long brick fence and a frosted-over picnic sign did he recognize Gourd Lake park. No wonder the route looked familiar. How many times had he taken this bus with Maya, that dismal Christmas week? But with the weather and the holiday, there would be nobody at the park now. Only one lone car was in the picnic area parking lot, muffled in snow with a glint here and there of glossy red paint showing through, a bratty spoiler on the back end, a license plate that read EDGWRTH--
Phoenix was suddenly yanking on the signal stop cord so hard that he thought it might come out of the mounting on the bus roof. Ignoring the abuse from the bus driver, Phoenix rocketed out of the bus and onto the slushy curb. There was only one set of footprints leading through the alley of skeletal trees, and they had been softened by the snow that had fallen after they were made. It was an easy trail to follow. The picnic area was abandoned, and the cheap plastic holiday decorations on the hot dog stand were made somehow festive with a coating of actual Christmas snow.
It took Phoenix a moment to find him. In the snow, with his back turned, Edgeworth might as well have been part of the frozen landscape, his greatcoat the gray of wet stone and his hair the color of frost. He turned at the crunch of Phoenix's approaching footsteps, and only then did Miles Edgeworth become mortal, the vivid color of his suit painting a streak of lively color against the sluggish, ice-choked lake.
"I'd think you'd want to avoid this place," Phoenix said, his cheery fancy-meeting-you-here greeting evaporating at the sight of Edgeworth's face. "Today, of all days."
"You can never go back to the scene of a perfect crime, Wright." Edgeworth toed over an innocuous chunk of snow, revealing a muddy patch of bare ground and a flattened soda can underneath. "But this crime was hardly perfect, I should think." Before Phoenix could think of anything to say to that, Edgeworth asked, "What are you doing here?"
"Um," Phoenix said, wracking his brain for a plausible alibi. "I saw your car," he said at last, voting for truth as the best recourse. "From the bus. It looked pretty snowed in, I thought you might need a ride home."
"On your bicycle?" Edgeworth countered, one eyebrow raised.
"On the bus," Phoenix retorted, stung. Sheeze, flunk a driver's test six times and they never let you live it down. "I figured you wouldn't even know what route to take. And they don't take fifties."
"I do carry change, you know. And I'm quite familiar with the city bus routes." Edgeworth squinted up at the sky, which had developed a faint glow as the winter sun retired and the clouds began to reflect the city light. "But you're right. It is getting late."
"What, no fancy Christmas party to go to?" Phoenix meant for it to be teasing, but somehow Edgeworth's face was even more cold and still than Gourd Lake itself.
"I see no especial reason to commemorate this day," Edgeworth said, coiling his scarf tighter around his throat. "I have few pleasant memories of it."
Phoenix frowned. He knew that Edgeworth meant to be off-putting, to keep himself at arm's length from anyone intending to offer him compassion or companionship. At an earlier time, he would have succeeded. But now Phoenix thought he only looked sad, like a proud child declaring that he always knew Santa Claus a phony in order to cushion his own disappointment. "You didn't get arrested for murder every single Christmas, did you?"
"No. But crime never takes a holiday, Wright. And even in the middle of a Bavarian fantasy, Yuletide at the von Karma estate was rather grim. Before that..." He trailed off, unwilling to speak of the days before his father's murder, when he had been much like any other child. "At any rate, there is always work to do. But for the sake of tradition, have a Merry Christmas." Edgeworth flicked up his collar and turned, brushing past Phoenix without another word. He had not made it three steps before Phoenix reached out and caught his elbow.
"Wait." Phoenix said, unwilling to let Edgeworth play Scrooge to his own better nature. "It's Christmas out there, whether you like it or not. Maybe crime never takes a holiday, but it's time you did." Phoenix dragged Edgeworth back down the path, the prosecutor's affronted silence his only protest. Well, that was just fine and dandy, Phoenix thought. He'd dealt with that plenty before, and it was no longer enough to discourage him.
It was full dark by the time they got back to Phoenix's apartment, partly due to the fact that Phoenix had gone halfway across town the wrong way on his mistaken bus, and partly because Phoenix made Edgeworth leave his car at the park and take a bus back. The snow had drifted up to the top of the sports car's tires, and Edgeworth had to admit it wasn't suited to the drive.
"Still, we could have called a cab," Edgeworth said, brushing snow off his shoulders as Phoenix dug in his coat pocket for his apartment keys.
"I'm not that tired of living yet," Phoenix answered, putting his shoulder to the door. "Come on in... Sorry about the mess, I uh, I haven't had the maid in."
"Not in years, apparently," Edgeworth said, gingerly stepping over a pile of paperwork and granola-bar wrappers. But he shed his coat as though intending to stay, so Phoenix bit back on any argument as he rummaged around beside the couch to get a tiny plug into the outlet. A moment later the room was illuminated with the golden-colored glow specific to a mishmash of colored Christmas lights, gleaming on the boughs of Phoenix's artificial pine. Edgeworth eyed it askance.
"That's... a lot of yarn garland."
Phoenix grunted as he pulled off his slush-encrusted shoe. "Ah. Well, I had the flu last Christmas, and I thought I'd teach myself to crochet, to pass the time. I never really got past the chain part, but it kept me occupied."
"...It looks like it's wearing a sweater."
"Sweaters are festive," Phoenix said tersely, unwilling to be baited. "I realize you haven't worn one since grade school, but many consider them a Christmas wardrobe staple."
"If they can put sweaters on Chihuahuas, I can put them on trees."
Edgeworth stepped over to the tree, examining the fragile glass ornaments of Phoenix's childhood, the bright plastic ones of his frugal adulthood, and the several million miles of red and green yarn. "If you ever want to progress beyond chaining, you'll have to improve your hook technique. This is much too tight." Edgeworth shrugged. "Of course, I'm a knitting man, myself."
Phoenix was dumbfounded. "I... can't even begin to picture that. In school you couldn't even manage to make a jersey-loop potholder, much less--"
"Much less--" Edgeworth challenged, and twitched up the hem of his pants to better show off his sock-feet. "--four colors of Filatura di Crosa silk in a ribbed argyle pattern on bamboo needles?" He could not quite manage to keep the note of smug pride out of his voice. "It took some effort to learn but I can do a pair a week, now. It's excellent for long flights, and it produces something useful. I can't abide pointless hobbies."
Phoenix thought about those malformed pot holders (and the mangled paper cranes, and the disastrous macaroni angels), and wondered how many half-formed and mismatched socks Gumshoe had gotten as 'presents.' He knew better than to ask. "Well, in that case you can make me a pair. All mine have holes."
"I charge for materials," Edgeworth answered, and scooted Phoenix's half-folded clean laundry to the side of the sofa so he would have a place to sit. "I believe you lured me here with promises of eggnog?"
"Yeah," Phoenix said, wondering if any amount of eggnog would improve Edgeworth's temperament. "It comes out of a carton, though. I didn't braise it or use organic quail eggs or anything."
Edgeworth rubbed at his temple as though trying to fight a headache. "As long as it's got rum in it, I won't complain."
Phoenix retreated to the safety of his kitchenette, where he managed to produce not only eggnog, whipped cream, and rum, but a tiny shaker of nutmeg as well. Take that, Mr. Fancy Socks he thought, sprinkling it on the whipped cream. It wasn't quite as vicious as he wanted it to be. They were really nice socks, after all.
Franziska von Karma had sent him a box of thin ginger cookies (with a note saying that Christmas was a foolishly festive holiday and only festive fools would enjoy it), so he piled some of those on a saucer and brought them over. Edgeworth was looking at the tree, his gaze a thousand miles beyond the Pink Princess ornament Maya had gotten for Phoenix, and he started when Phoenix spoke.
"Here. That nightmare sister of yours sent these, but they're actually really good-- hey, you all right?"
"Fine." Edgeworth's voice was rough at the edges; he busied himself with the logistics of mug and cookie and Phoenix tried to find a way to sit on the tiny cluttered sofa without putting them uncomfortably close. There wasn't one, so he sat down as though he was always close enough to Edgeworth to smell the man's hair product, and there was a long awkward silence as they dutifully attended to the snack. It was only slightly more festive, Phoenix thought, than a trip to the coroner's office.
Edgeworth finished his cookie first, made a noise of what could only be considered relief, and stood, leaving his half-full mug balanced precariously on a stack of DVD cases. "Well, I thank you for the valiant stab at Christmas cheer, Wright, but I really should get a cab home--"
"Why?" Phoenix asked, staring into the melting scrim of whipped cream on his cup. "Why is both of us spending Christmas alone somehow better than being together? If you went home, what would you do?" Phoenix fixed Edgeworth with a glare. "Work on cases? Or brood over DL-6 case photos and drink enough Earl Gray to embalm yourself in bergamot?"
"Scotch, actually," Edgeworth said. "And if I might quote a holiday literary redundancy, you can keep Christmas in your way, and let me keep it in mine."
"Going home and getting hammered is not keeping Christmas," Phoenix snarled, not sure at all why he was angry. Did he really think that some store-bought eggnog and his sweater-wearing Christmas tree would be enough to undo years of solitary self-loathing? "It's pathetic. But if that's what you want to do, fine. I just thought together we might have a better chance at a decent holiday."
"...It's just like any other day," Edgeworth said. Something in his tone made Phoenix look up. He sounded as though he desperately wanted to be convinced otherwise. "Because if it's a special day, Wright, then it's a special day that's irrevocably ruined for me. Don't you know that--" Edgeworth's voice broke. He looked away, at the tree, and the tiny colored lights reflected a hundred times over in his too-bright eyes. "That last Christmas, before my father died, I asked him to give me a peculiar sort of present." He took a shuddering breath. "I asked him to let me come with him, to court, on his next case. On December 28."
Phoenix closed his eyes, his heart sinking. Edgeworth's guilt was almost visible in the air around him, a cold sheen as thick and heavy as artic ice. "It's not your fault, Miles."
"It is my fault!" Edgeworth shot back, his voice sharper and more painful than Franziska's worst whip-crack. "If I hadn't been there, he wouldn't have died! For years I thought I shot him, and that was horror enough. But I know I might as well have placed that gun in von Karma's hand! I should never have been there and it's my fault, goddamit!"
He stood there a moment longer, his face blank with anguish before he shoved it aside, dredging up a tattered semblance of his usual aloof expression. "Thank you, for your efforts, and for your eggnog. But I am hardly the company you--or anyone else--would want on Christmas Eve. Good night."
Phoenix stood up to catch him, upsetting his mug and not caring as it oozed eggnog into his stack of clean undershirts. "No," he said. And when Edgeworth turned around, to look at him in frustrated confusion, he said it again. "No. That's not how this is going to end. Not with you going home alone, and me sitting here alone. It was an accident that you were there, Miles. Your father wouldn't want you blaming yourself for it, for all these years. And if you don't believe me then dammit I'll call up Maya and I will make you talk to him yourself."
Edgeworth blanched. "She can't--can she--?"
"You've seen what she can do, but really it would be better if you did this on your own." Phoenix pushed Edgeworth at the couch and he went remarkably easily, falling onto the dilapidated cushion. "What else did you get for Christmas that year?"
Edgeworth blinked. "I--I don't remember--"
"Of course you do." Phoenix sat down next to him. "Just like you remember all the other days besides the one when your father died. Tell me. Was it a train set? I remember you talking about wanting a train set."
Edgeworth's eyes flickered. "Yes. I think it was. He had set it up around the tree for me. A train set, and a briefcase for my school things, and..." Edgeworth's brow furrowed as he tried to remember. "A chemistry kit, and some games, and a complete set of boy detective books. We had one of those little trays of party food... you know, the miniature cheeses and all. Someone sent it to his office. We ate those and played video games and he took the whole day off to spend it with me. I don't think he checked his email once." Edgeworth's clasped hands tightened, and he stole a furtive glance at the tree, as though he would be punished for liking the looks of it. "...It was nice."
"Because that's what Christmas is for," Phoenix said. "Spending time with people you love. Not brooding over something bad that happened almost twenty years ago. Because if you forget that, then you forget all the good things, too." Belatedly, he noticed his overturned cup, and knelt by the sofa to fold up his eggnog-soggy undershirts.
"In that case it does rather beg the question," Edgeworth said, eyeing him, "as to why you're spending Christmas with me."
Something inside Phoenix squirmed sideways, as though to avoid being pinned by Edgeworth's gaze. It didn't quite succeed. They were, he noticed, uncomfortably close. His apartment didn't leave much room for maneuvering and the tree was taking up most of it. "Well, you know," Phoenix said.
"No, I don't," Edgeworth answered. "Enlighten me. Even Detective Gumshoe gives up on me on Christmas, Wright. I feel compelled to ask why you would brave my temper in this fashion."
"I don't know," Phoenix said, busying himself with a spill that was already well-controlled. "Because I'm too stupid to know when I should give up?"
"That much is certain," Edgeworth said. "Well, you've forced me to recollect that Christmas isn't all about murder and dodgy alibis. Splendid. Unfortunately it's too late for me to catch a cab so I can go home and hang up a holly-who-wreath."
"You don't have to be so damn sarcastic," Phoenix muttered, blotting at a damp spot near Edgeworth's feet. ...Those really were some nice looking socks.
"I wasn't." Edgeworth said, softly. "I suppose it's foolish to continue living in the past. ...Thank you, Phoenix."
Phoenix swallowed, unsure why his mouth had so quickly gone dry, his breath snagging in his chest. "Sorry about the cab, but I can put you up for the night."
"I think it's put up with, but thank you." Edgeworth reached down to pick up one of Phoenix's discarded shirts. "Here. This is partially my fault. You should soak these before they sour."
"No, it's fine, I'll get them--" Phoenix's intended parry did not go as planned. Somehow his arm got tangled with Edgeworth's, and turning to free himself, he realized he was kneeling on the floor between Edgeworth's knees, one hand on the other man's thigh, their faces scant inches apart. For a long time they stayed that way, both unwilling to advance or retreat.
"Just how much rum was in that eggnog?" Edgeworth asked, close enough for his breath to stir the hairs at Phoenix's temple.
"Not enough to excuse this," Phoenix admitted. Another long pause.
"...I'm willing to pretend otherwise," Edgeworth said, at last.
The tree lights winked out between them as the distance between their faces closed to nothing. Phoenix leaned up into Edgeworth's kiss, sliding his hands between the other man's vest and the warm satin lining of his suit jacket, opening his mouth to Edgeworth's ginger-spice-rum heat.
They didn't bother to move to the bedroom, tangled up together on the sofa with the Christmas lights blinking over them in a dreamy glow. Edgeworth gave himself up with remarkable ease, the intimacy of Phoenix's hands and lips on his skin somehow no longer invasive after his touch on Edgeworth's memories and fears. Christmas Eve dwindled away towards the first hours of Christmas morning, unnoticed, and Phoenix pulled his couch blanket up over the unexpected present drowsing against his shoulder.
"I'm still going to want those socks, though," he whispered, as Edgeworth slept on, dreamless in the waning light of the year.