On a late Friday evening, a man in a gray hooded jacket and gold locket around his neck sauntered into a bar. A worn sign bearing The Rusty Garden and the familiar chatter of voices from inside welcomed him back, like a junkyard would to an alley cat. The man's face was clean-shaven now, and he didn't come in often, but the nights he did he could still recognize some of the long-time regulars at the bar. There was the muscular, tattooed thug who was flirting with the bartender again, and the overweight bald man whose wife usually came to pick him up from the restaurant adjoined with the bar. The amount of familiar faces was actually somewhat depressing; Phoenix wondered if it might be better to go someplace new for once, but whenever he came out for a drink he found himself back at the same worn-out sign. It felt a little as if he owed it something after all that it had given him back when the outfit he wore was his normal attire.

Heading into the corner as always, he noticed that someone had taken his normal seat. He ignored the childish feelings of betrayal and opted to take the wooden stool next to it, raising his hand to catch the bartender's attention. She nodded and motioned that she'd be with him in a minute, so he took a gander at the people around him— then did a double-take. The man by his side didn't catch his attention at first, as he was dressed in all black like many of the usuals, but his skin was a natural tan that most Californians didn't possess, and his face was far, far too familiar.

Phoenix blinked, trying to place the face in his mind. The man suddenly noticed he was looking and glanced uncomfortably away. His light brown hair was tousled as if it hadn't been brushed in years, and his hunched-over body language implied that he wasn't all too confident, putting him firmly in one of the two categories of people at the bar. Phoenix frowned, turning away so as not to make the man more uncomfortable than he already was. Was he just mistaking him for a past client, or…?

"What can I get for you?"

The defense attorney looked up and smiled politely at the bartender. "Start me off with a glass of your house wine, please." The woman nodded and then looked expectantly at the odd quiet man on the other stool.

"I—I'll have a shot of your strongest drink, please," he mumbled in a quiet voice. The woman raised her eyebrows but walked off to fill the orders. "Thank you," he added quickly. Suddenly, Phoenix snapped his fingers.

"Ah!" he exclaimed, nearly startling the other man off his seat. "It's you!"

The man in black blinked. "M-me? Have we met before?" He looked almost fearful that he had been recognized, which for a moment made the defense attorney doubt his instinct. But once he'd figured out who he was, there was no mistaking the man's piercing black eyes.

"Professor Layton, right?" he asked, extending a hand. "I'm Phoenix Wright. You, ah, probably don't recognize me without my suit on… most people don't."

The Professor blinked in realization. "Mr. Wright!" he cried, accepting the handshake. "My profuse apologies, you look— very different."

"You're one to talk," Phoenix said with a smirk, "I couldn't even tell who you were for a minute there. I don't think I've ever seen you without your hat."

The Professor's eyes darkened, and the smirk quickly faded. "So, um," Phoenix said quickly, "what brings you to California? Heck, what brings you to America?"

"Business trip," Layton replied with a nod, "for a great archeological finding not too far away from here."

"Oh, yea, something about some mysterious ruins found during the gold rush, right?" he asked. "I read about that in the paper. It's a pretty big deal, huh?"

"It certainly is, at least in my field of study. I've been summoned to help appraise the authenticity of some of the clues regarding the ruins, but I'm not actually needed for another few days. The group that called me has kindly put me up in a hotel a block or so away." He seemed more at ease now that he knew who his company was, and Phoenix couldn't blame him.

"Well, I'm glad to hear you're enjoying your time," he said, adjusting his knit blue beanie. "Although I must admit, I'm surprised to see you here. You don't really seem like a Rusty Garden type of guy."

The Professor chuckled nervously. "Yes, well. I heard it was the local place to go, so I thought I ought to give it a try."

Underneath the gray fabric of the attorney's jacket, a faint green glow momentarily poked through. Phoenix frowned and touched a hand over the spot where his magatama rested out of habit.

"Here are your drinks," the woman behind the bar said, equipped with a wineglass in one hand and shotglass in the other. "I got you our most popular tequila shot; it's got quite a kick," she said to the Professor with a smile. "You boys enjoy."

Layton raised an eyebrow at her calling them "boys," but Phoenix nodded to assure him that it was normal. The attorney raised his glass up to his nose, breathing in the familiar scent before taking a sip. Back in the day, he'd drink cheap wine if that was all he could afford, but now that he was employed again he was glad to enjoy an actually good drink on a Friday night.

Suddenly, a glass crashed to the floor and the Professor started choking violently. Phoenix immediately yelped in alarm, and tensed his hand in preparation to deliver a strike to the back.

"Can you breathe?" he asked as the bartender ran over in alarm.

"Sort— *cough*— of—"

Phoenix relaxed slightly as the Professor coughed harder, trying to catch his breath. He looked in pain, but at least his airway wasn't totally blocked. As his hand hovered over the man's back, Phoenix scanned the scene in front of him. Layton was gripping the table, and his now-broken shotglass— as well as a small amount of liquid— was lying on the floor below him. It was a foot or so behind the stool; he'd apparently dropped it while trying to down the shot. Had the situation been different, Phoenix may have assumed poison (working with crime so much tended to mess with a mind), but for one, he trusted the bartender— she had served him many times before, and he probably knew her better than was normal for a customer— and for two, he was seriously starting to suspect something else.

"You okay?" he asked after a few minutes. Layton nodded, eyes squeezed shut and breathing heavily as the coughing subsided. The bartender looked both annoyed and relieved as she called to her friend in the back to come out and clean up the broken glass.

A sad, sympathetic smile crawled onto the defense attorney's face. He was quiet for a moment, studying his company up and down as the situation became clear to him.

"…You've never taken a shot in your life, have you, Professor?" he asked.

Layton tensed slightly in surprise and glanced away. "…N-no, I haven't," he sighed after a moment of hesitation. "I suppose I didn't do it right?"

"Not exactly," Phoenix said, shaking his head. He raised his hand and waved over the counter. "Hey, Linda?"

The bartender finished pouring a glass of beer for another customer and then looked up.

"Could we be seated at a table in the restaurant, please?"

The woman rolled her eyes, adjusting her too-tight skirt, and motioned for a girl through the doorway.

"M-Mr. Wright, really, I don't need—" the Professor started, but Phoenix cut him off.

"Don't try to get out of this, Professor. An old friend comes all the way over here from London and you expect me not to buy him dinner?" Phoenix smiled. "That wouldn't make me much of a gentleman, now would it?"

Layton flushed slightly, unable to argue with that logic. "Very well, then. I owe you one." He bowed his head slightly and got up as Linda's friend (a peppy, sweet girl who always reminded Phoenix of Maya) came over. Phoenix was almost startled out of his seat as Layton stood up: the latter was easily several inches shorter, although before, he'd always seemed so commanding and full of presence that Phoenix hadn't even noticed. Perhaps the top hat had also lent to the illusion of height, but either way, the difference was striking.

"Right this way," the dark-haired girl said cheerfully, leading the men out of the bar and into the restaurant. "Table or booth?"

"Either is fine," Phoenix replied with a smile, carrying his drink with great care. The girl led them to a two-person booth at the edge of the restaurant, which was fuller yet still quieter than the bar.

"Can I get you something to drink?" she asked, probably more directed at Layton than Phoenix, who was already downing his first glass of wine.

"Two waters," Phoenix replied, "and a menu, please. We'll fill the other drink orders when you come back." The waiter nodded and went off to fulfill the request as the black-haired man turned back to his company. He'd felt the magatama go off earlier, and it was time to use it.

"Professor, if I may ask a question?"

Layton nodded. "Certainly."

"Why are you really here?"

The archeologist blinked and cocked his head. "At The Rusty Garden? As I said before, I heard that this was a fine restaurant to visit."

CHHHHINK chink chink chink chink…

There they were. Three red psyche-locks, invisible to the naked eye but clear as day to Phoenix, hovered in front of the famous professor. He sat with a calm expression on his face, unaware of the chains surrounding him.

"I have a problem with that statement."

Layton blinked, then narrowed his eyes slightly— but more in confusion than suspicion— and inquired, "What do you mean?"

"That alcohol must be getting to your head pretty fast, Professor, because I know you normally wouldn't make a blunder that obvious. You weren't in the restaurant when I saw you, and it sure didn't seem like you were planning on going to it, either. You were in the bar, and hunched in a corner as if you were afraid someone were going to see you there."

CRASH.

The first lock shattered. Phoenix thanked his lucky stars that the Professor wasn't totally clear-headed, because he knew he would never be able to outmatch his wits on a level playing field.

Layton must have realized the situation, too, because he didn't reply. Apparently he'd figured out what several witnesses had too late— that a witness who refused to testify couldn't be caught in a lie.

"Listen to me. I want to help you," Phoenix explained. "But to do that, I'm going to need you to tell me the truth. So I'll ask you again: Why are you really here?"

Still no reply.

"Fine, then I'm going to have to keep pressing until you open up. Luckily for me, there's really no mystery as to why you were in a bar, because there's only one reason to go to a bar." A reason all too familiar to him, unfortunately, but the Professor didn't need to know that. "You came here to get drunk."

CRASH.

The second lock shattered to pieces: only one left now. The defense attorney locked his steely gray eyes onto his current opponent, who froze under his gaze. It was strangely exhilarating to hold so much power over someone usually so strong, but Phoenix kept his goal in mind as he pressed on.

"That only leaves us with one question. Why did you— a member of the upper class, who's apparently completely inexperienced with alcohol— want to get drunk? There must be a reason." He looked expectantly at the Professor: if he wouldn't give him any verbal clues, he'd have to look for visual ones. A twitch of a finger, a tensing of shoulders— anything could be a hint, but nothing was readily apparent. Phoenix found himself wishing he had Apollo's powers of observation. Still, there must be something there: something obvious, something he was missing…

"Your hat!" he suddenly cried. Lowering his voice to detract the attention he'd just gained from a nearby table, Phoenix said, "When I walked in, I didn't recognize you because you weren't wearing your top hat. And don't even try to tell me that's normal, because according to Luke you never take it off. It means something to you, doesn't it, Professor? There's a reason you left it behind."

CRASH. The third psyche-lock broke without hesitation, and the invisible chains starting slinking away, clattering against each other as they did. Layton looked down and sighed.

"I suppose I should have known better than to try to hide anything from you, Mr. Wright," he laughed weakly. "Very well. I came to the bar because—"

"I'm so sorry that took so long!" The waitress came bounding over, setting the drinks and menu down on the table. "There was this guy in the bar who was getting rowdy, and I had to help escort him out, and you know how that always goes, so—"

"It's no trouble," Phoenix said quickly.

"Okay then! I'll be back in a few minutes to check your orders." And with that, she was gone again. Layton shifted in his seat.

"Do you know what you want?" Phoenix asked gently, setting aside the previous topic for the moment. "You have to eat something; it'll help you feel less sick than downing alcohol on an empty stomach. Don't worry, though, it won't stop you from getting drunk." Motioning to the water, he added, "You also have to drink that. Helps with the hangover in the morning."

"I… uh… th-thank you," Layton replied, reaching for the glass of water. He seemed highly uncomfortable in a position of not being knowledgable.

"As for the drinks," Phoenix said, "I think you should probably stay away from shots until you know how to down one." The corner of his mouth cracked upward. "You can try some of my wine and then see if you want your own, if you'd like."

"I… think I will do that, thank you again," Layton said, nodding his head. He took the wine much better than the straight tequila shot and decided to trust the other man's judgement when it came to the rest of the menu, so Phoenix ordered them a bottle of the wine to split and meat shish-kebobs with a side of vegetables. It wasn't until after the food and drinks had all come, and the waitress was gone until the check, that the attorney turned back to the original topic of conversation.

"So… the reason you're here?" Phoenix pressed gently. Layton sighed.

"It's… an old wound. It shouldn't be affecting me anymore, really." He looked down at the table. "A long time ago, I… I lost someone close to me in what I later learned was an act of purposeful sabotage."

Fleeting images flashed in Phoenix's mind. "No kidding…"

"Her name was Claire," Layton went on, keeping his gaze trained on his glass of wine. "She was my girlfriend… and, had I actually worked up the courage, she would have soon been my fiancée."

Phoenix winced in sympathy and shock. He'd never known anything about the Professor's dating life, but he did always seem aloof, despite being kind to all the women he met. Phoenix wouldn't have guessed this was the reason why, but it made a horrid amount of sense.

"She sometimes spoke of wanting to visit America," Layton sighed. "I suppose coming here reminded me that I would never get to take her. I…" His hands started trembling slightly around his glass. "I wanted so much for her… She had a brilliant mind, and a beautiful soul… She didn't deserve…"

"I understand."

Layton looked up.

"I mean, I don't know exactly how you're feeling," Phoenix added quickly, "but I might have a pretty good guess. Over ten years ago, I found my mentor, Mia, dead in my office. I tracked down and got her killer a guilty verdict, but… it didn't make the pain go away."

The Professor's eyes widened in horror. "I— I am so sorry. Er, if I might ask, Mia sounds an awful lot like—?"

"Maya, yes. Maya is her little sister." Phoenix smiled sadly. "She channels her for me sometimes, when I'm in the middle of a case, but… I don't know. I should be grateful to see her at all, and I am, but it makes it impossible to let her go." He sighed.

"Channels?" Layton frowned. "How does that work, exactly?"

"It's hard to explain," Phoenix sighed, starting what was currently his second glass of wine. "Basically, Mia's spirit takes over Maya's body so she can talk to me. I know that must sound ridiculous, but it's true."

The Professor bit his lip. "That is hard to believe, but… I suppose I'm not at liberty to judge. You're not the only one who's seen the living dead." He sighed and took another sip of his own beverage, as if it would make all the craziness he'd lived through suddenly make sense. "Claire died in a test of a time-travel machine, but it sent her forward to the future before she disappeared entirely, so I… I saw her again, years after her death… I got the chance I never had to say goodbye, but it is as you said." He paused to wipe his eyes with the sleeve of his coat. "It also brought back everything I'd been trying to forget. And now it's as if I've lost her all over again, and I can't let go."

"And that's why you turned to drinking… as a way to forget?" Phoenix asked. Layton nodded in affirmation.

"Or at least to lessen the pain. I rarely drink— a glass of wine at special occasions, to be polite, mostly— and never more than a glass. I much prefer tea as my weapon of comfort, but…" He trailed off.

"I understand. And the hat?" Phoenix asked.

"Claire gave it to me before she left. One of the last things she asked of me was not to take it off." He laughed weakly. "I suppose I've tried to make myself feel less responsible for her death by granting her last request, but doing so makes me think of her." His hand automatically reached up as if to touch the tall black hat, but it brushed through his hair instead. He shivered slightly. "But not wearing it doesn't really help, either." He shifted in his seat every time he spoke, seeming uncomfortable and unused to hearing the words coming out of his own mouth.

"Ah…" Phoenix paused to take a few bites of his food, letting his focus drift to the conversations around him before speaking again. "When Mia died, she left behind a couple belongings in the office. One of them was a potted plant named Charlie."

Layton cocked his head, and the faintest trace of a smile flashed across his face. "Did you name the plant, or she?"

"She did," Phoenix chuckled. "She was certainly a… unique individual. But with a will of steel and a heart of gold."

"Hm. Poetic," Layton commented with a slightly teasing voice, focusing on raising his glass to his lips.

"No more so than 'a brilliant mind and a beautiful soul,'" Phoenix replied, "which, by the way, also fit Mia perfectly."

"She sounds like a lovely lady. But I'm afraid she still couldn't compare to Claire," Layton said, his teasing voice growing slightly. There were tears starting to form in his eyes, but his smile was also growing stronger.

"I doubt that," Phoenix replied, a smile of his own breaking across his face. "You've never seen Mia when she gets fired up about a case."

"Oh? Do tell."

The conversation continued late into the night. A few drinks and hours later, the two gentlemen finally emerged, both wincing from the chill of the night air as they stepped out of the nice, heated restaurant. Phoenix, although he'd downed three glasses, was still seemingly sober to the naked eye— both his heavier weight and years of experience aided him in this cause. The Professor had only managed a glass and a half (not counting the half-a-shot he'd swallowed); however, he stumbled as he walked, and took several seconds to answer any question, speaking slowly with a slight slur.

"I really don't understand how I ever found them not fascinating," he continued to ramble as he walked outside, "they're rocks!"

Phoenix chuckled as the Professor recounted how he'd gotten into archeology. It was a much more interesting story than he would've guessed.

"Well, when I was younger I thought I wanted to be a painter," Phoenix noted. "Just goes to show you how blind we are to the future."

"I think you'd be a good painter," Layton said after a few seconds. "You have the right hair."

Phoenix paused, then burst out laughing. "What does my hair have to do with this?"

"…It's painter hair."

"No, it's not!"

The defense attorney laughed and pulled out his phone as Layton continued trying to convince him that he had "painter hair."

K, ready 2 be picked up. Sry it took so long

Phoenix had been told before that he texted like an old person, which made no sense to him at all, but he tried to ignore that thought as he awaited a reply.

On my way. You meet a nice girl or something?

Phoenix rolled his eyes and didn't respond to the text. He shouldn't be encouraging texting while driving in the first place.

"Did you text a cab?" Layton asked innocently. Phoenix snorted.

"No, I did not 'text a cab.' I already arranged for a friend to pick me up afterwards, so I'll have him drop you off at your hotel on the way."

"Oh." Layton paused. "I'll pay, since you bought dinner."

"No, you're fine," Phoenix assured him. "Neither of us has to pay. We already have an arrangement; we do this all the time. When he goes out, I drive him home, and vice versa. He's a little scary, but actually a pretty nice guy. Until you're up against him in the courtroom, that is." He shuddered.

"Is he the frilly one?" Layton asked.

"The frilly—? Oh, no, he's not Edgeworth. You haven't met this guy before, his name's—"

Beep beeeeeeeeep!

A too-long honk and a sleek black car pulling up to the edge of the sidewalk alerted Phoenix that his ride had arrived. A little too eagerly, Layton tried to run to the door and tripped, completely losing control.

"Whoa!" Phoenix barely reacted in time to duck in front of the man and catch him, stumbling backwards into the back door of the car as he regained his balance. Layton held tightly to the gray hoodie, his head falling just below Phoenix's. The front door to the car opened and the driver poked his head out, grinning.

"I thought you'd found a lady to take home, Wright-dono. Anything you've been meaning tell me?"

Phoenix rolled his eyes, opening the door and helping Layton into the car. "Very funny, Simon. Careful or I'll tell the guys at the bar that you sing your pet bird to sleep every night."

Simon fake-gasped and put a hand to his heart dramatically. "You wouldn't dare. The great Wright-dono, defender of truth, telling a lie to sabotage the Twisted Samurai's reputation?"

"You know I'd never lie," Phoenix replied with a grin. "But I will reveal the truth for all to see." Layton cocked his head curiously at the shaggy-haired man in the front.

"Twisted Samurai?"

"I'll explain later," the defense attorney said quickly, knowing Simon would launch into some made-up fairy-tail to mess with the poor man if he got the chance. "Simon, take us to the Palms Hotel." He glanced at the Professor for confirmation, who nodded.

"Palms Hotel, got it. But you have to tell me where this friend of yours is from on the way. New client?" Simon asked.

"No, just an old friend. Now step on it, will ya—AAAAAAAAH!" Phoenix yelped as the car suddenly jerked forward, the screeching of tires on asphalt ringing through the air as the prosecutor accelerated unnecessarily fast into the night.

The front sign of the restaurant faded away in the rearview mirror until it was nothing more than a speck of brown and light green paint. Simon laughed, the Professor cheered, and Phoenix groaned as the car sped all too quickly through the California streets, passing lights and life all around it. Other cars and pedestrians blurred in and out of focus, colors blending together in a distinctive, familiar fashion.

The pain was still there. Not everything was right in the world.

But for a little while, nobody had to think about that.

For a little while, it was just two friends, riding in the back of a Cadillac as the laughter and colors faded to black.


(This is simultaneously a fanfic that is definitely not what I normally write, and I think my favorite fic I've ever written anyway. Reviews clear away my anxiety and feed my muse!)