part one: brother
There were certain lessons in life that Franziska had learnt to accept as gospel since a very early age.
One was that being a prodigy meant that every waking moment of her life was of both vital and intriguing significance to the world at large, and that the world wanted exclusive knowledge of every detail. This was not to be confused with genuine curiosity. The world also had a very rigid idea as to what each of the moments of a prodigy's life should contain, idyllically film-like, and had a habit of reacting badly when those ideas were challenged.
A prominent example would be on the question of her first words; her first memories. The very early childhood of a prodigy was of particular interest, as every mother and father on the face of the earth secretly harbored hopes that they could unlock the secret formula with which to make their children equally as exceptional. So it was with a surprising degree of frequency that this question arose throughout her lifetime. By the time she was eleven and had more than a dozen law books memorized by heart, she was well aware of the proper answer; it was refined and recited in her mind until it had the glossy sheen of a magazine photograph.
Her first memory had been of the courthouse, smelling of ancient wood and the symbol of her destiny laid before her. The details were perfectly arranged in a bulleted list, to be laid out at a moment's notice: her father had been prosecuting a case on charge of serial murder. And from her vantage point amongst the spectators, she had had the opportunity to see the demonstration of the impenetrable logic she was to inherit, and the subsequent destruction of the wicked that it would bring about. She had scarcely been three years of age at the time, but regardless had understood in heart and soul from that point on what it meant to be a part of the von Karma lineage. Her first word, of course, had been papa. Not papa for the man, sneering as he put the unfortunate defense attorney of the week in his place, but papa for absolution; papa for perfection. Papa for legacy, and everything it embodied in her flesh and in her blood.
This was the story. It was what the world wanted to hear; even more importantly, it was what her father wanted to hear. It was the stuff legends were made of, embedded forever into the books of legal history.
It was only after reaching the age of thirteen, sitting alone in a hotel in Germany, that she spoke aloud with closed eyes towards the ceiling where no one could hear. She had made up the entire thing. She'd never attended that trial. Rather, she had researched her father's records to find a case date in which nobody would be able to conceivably contest her story; the days before Manfred von Karma's pride had been willing to admit that he had sired a second daughter.
Her first memory had been of the mansion, dimmed and darkened as it always was, surrounded by the ebony of polished marble and a dozen ancient portraits lined against the walls. She couldn't remember the time of day; just that she was able to see the dust afloat in the air with dots of sunlight reflecting from them--a wave of sparkles suspended at her fingertips. When she exhaled, they danced before her. This was before she learned the proper reaction when faced with such a scenario: of immediately summoning and scolding the housekeepers for doing such an unacceptable job in keeping the place spotless.
This was the story. No grandiose tale that formed the promise of a grandiose life; nothing related in any way to bloodlines or predecessors or prosecution; just a tiny girl blowing at wisps of airborne filth like a rat from the streets. And dreaming.
She had been so ashamed of that memory. Because the second cardinal rule was that a von Karma did not dream. A von Karma knew their purpose from the second they were born, their fate engraved into the first breath they took. Dreams were for the weak; the self-indulgences of pathetic men whose only purpose in life was to provide a platform for the exceptional to rise above.
Papa was the exceptional. Papa was a force that had torn into her life with the force of a hurricane the instant he recognized that this flesh of his flesh might hold promise as an extension of his own perfection.
Franziska had no clear memories of her father before, or outside of, her practice of law and its use as a weapon against the base and the foolish. She could not recall hearing the sound of his voice, stern and gravelly in its constant criticism, without the weight of a whip at her side.
But where there had not been Papa, there had been Miles Edgeworth.
She had never fully comprehended that he had not always been there; she'd intrinsically accepted his physical dissimilarities and unfamiliar last name as a natural extension of his other peculiarities. He was solitary in her remembrances; his features defined and vivid in a sea of faceless crowds and simpering idiots. He had always been with her. He was a constant. Little brother.
She had preserved many early recollections of her little brother, from the lost days before she'd begun the ritual of attending her father's lectures in the morning. They were silent and ethereal, grainy like an old film--and most seemed to revolve at their core around his silent figure, staring out of the windows lining the chambers throughout the house: into the courtyard, across the gardens, through the streets where automobiles raced in torrents of lurid smoke--shoulders hunched and eyes downcast in what she had then defined as weakness and had only recently brought herself to recognize as yearning. Yearning for many things; a complex tangle of things that even now Franziska could not fully process, or perhaps was still afraid to.
He had infuriated her. She had pulled at him, tearing the seams of his jacket coming loose; she had torn away buttons and pressed her hands against his face and demanded that he grow up. She stood on chairs to tape bedroom sheets over the windows, enveloping the interior of the house in complete darkness. She had gone as far to stick a fork in his hand when he had shown the nerve to begin pulling one of them down.
His target at the time had been the window that gave the clearest view of the courthouse, solemn embodiment of judgment as it always was, and the prison just beyond it. It was the only act of rebellion he'd made in Franziska's war against the concept of his loneliness.
"Grow up!" she screamed, hard enough for her throat to hurt, hard enough for her lips to quiver with the force of it. She willed it at him with all of her might, mentally searing the words into his brain, watching for the flicker of an epiphany in his eyes. But no matter how she raised her voice, balled her fists, and yanked at his hair--he remained blank and uncomprehending.
Franziska turned on her heels and left him there, striding with fists clenched back to her room. He made a sound towards her retreating back, which she ignored. She did not stop until she had reached the doors of her own room, which slammed shut behind her as she threw her private tantrum at Miles Edgeworth's refusal to be fixed.
A von Karma was supposed to be capable of remedying any problem within their sights. A von Karma's strength of will was iron, crushing all those beneath its weight and setting any inconsistencies back to their proper course, whether they be documented evidence or fellow human beings. Miles Edgeworth, somehow, would not adhere to this most basic of truths, and therefore rendered her world incomprehensible.
It was more than that, of course. It marked the beginning of her lifelong failure to assuage that quiet sense of grief and of yearning she recognized in him since the start of her conscious lifetime, and the beginning of her failures as Manfred von Karma's daughter, before she had even truly begun.
Hours later, she returned back to the place with the half-covered window, full of the lingering remnants of her anger and bitterness-- and something in her reeled to discover Miles, who had failed to move from the spot where she had stabbed him. He was watching the blood cake on his skin in a strange, entranced kind of fascination. She had wanted to scream anew. She wanted to retch. She wanted to knock his head upside the closest wall and see if that would finally get the message across.
"Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!"
He raised his head, seeing her, but not understanding.
She wanted to cry, at both his helplessness, and at her own.
Instead, Franziska opted to slap him hard before physically dragging him downstairs in order to personally wrap his hand. No doubt if he tried to tend to it himself, he would botch the job somehow, the foolishly foolish fool. He went with her without protest, and she could feel the rough scabs coating his flesh under her own. The fork lay forgotten on the floor tiles.
She wasn't tall enough to reach the medical cabinets on her own, so Miles had had to pull them down for her. When he didn't respond immediately to her shrill orders, she had stomped on his foot.
It was two weeks later, in a conversation with the head of housecleaning, that she learned that at the time Miles had been unable to understand a word she was saying because he did not speak German.
If she was horrified, she was horrified at his show of self-pity, his appalling show of weakness and sickening ignorance. He had been living with she and her father at that point for three years. He only had himself to blame. Even if the vast majority of the household primarily spoke English. Even if the same was true of her father. A von Karma does not feel sympathy.
No, a von Karma sees a problem before them and does everything in their power to make it disappear.
She had raided her father's library the following day, carrying thick editions of Germanic dictionaries to his room where he sat studying, two at a time. Miles had turned towards her, puzzled at this bizarre interruption. Heavy books on evidence law were strewn across his desk; Franziska showed no shame in kicking these aside to make room for her assignment of choice, which obviously took higher priority. He reached down to retrieve them; caught the look in her eye, and thought better of it.
"Read these," she ordered, in English. "Now you have no more excuses." She jabbed a finger in his face for emphasis, lower lip jutted out so that he understood just how serious a matter this was.
If possible, he looked even more baffled than before. They locked gazes before he seemed to realize she was waiting for him to immediately follow orders, slowly reached over--still incredulous--and opened the cover of the index closest to him. Satisfied, task completed, Franziska turned and strode back out through the doors with her head held high.
Miles never knew peace in the month after that announcement. At each mealtime when Papa was away on business (and therefore a minimal amount of riotous behavior at the table could be tolerated), or any other moment she caught him when it did not appear to him he was vigorously practicing, she immediately began barking at him in her native language and pinched him hard when she got bewildered silence in return. Miles had taken to inconspicuously sliding their forks and knives under his sleeve, safely out of her reach, and quickly taught himself how to cut even thick slices of meat with the dull edge of a spoon.
"You're not even trying," she said, bristling with rage, her small fingers pulling him down and smoothing out an unacceptable crinkle in his jacket. He didn't deny it. He never denied any of the accusations she would make towards him; about the state of his clothes, the state of his mind, the state of his everything.
But it took a total of forty-six days for the miracle to happen.
During the last vestiges of autumn, Franziska was tearing through her wardrobe with the impassioned fervor of a six year old girl whose heart was set on a particular piece of clothing and could not be swayed into accepting substitutes. She had several piles of hangars resting at her feet by the time Miles, on hearing the commotion, had stuck his head through the doorway, the tip of a quill between his teeth. He watched her go at for several minutes without comment. When she began kicking the nearby furniture in frustration, however, he finally went on to inform her in perfect German: the article of clothing in question was currently in the wash, presumably due to the garden dirt she'd managed to smudge it up with last evening.
She'd thrown a shoe at him in answer. It rebounded off of his forehead with a most satisfying crack.
But it was strange. Ever since that single breakthrough, she found that, for some reason, she was now perfectly happy to converse with him in English. She never heard him speak German again, and more than once she found herself wondering if she had only ever imagined what had happened at the door.
It was after that that they'd taken to studying law together, even while he still sported the bruise on his head from her projectile attack. If he'd been ahead of her in terms of legal complexity at first, she quickly caught up to him, and if Miles had felt threatened by the idea of a girl half his age being an intellectual equal, he failed to show it. They traded surprise verbal exams on any number of obscure legal facts: if he got it wrong, he earned a thwap upside the head and a fierce lecture; if she got it wrong, she earned a quiet flicker of a smile.
Franziska refused to admit to herself that she had deliberately botched these contests more than twice.
They challenged each other in other ways. Prosecution, they knew, was not a simple matter of presenting facts and testimony. What it meant to be a prosecutor was carried in body language, in argumentation, in the presentation of your own confidence. It was almost unfortunate that this aspect of the profession seemed to come naturally to both of them; their mock confrontations escalated in theatrics to the point that they were making outright farces of themselves. Miles had been able to perfect his imitation Papa's trademark wave of the finger to the level of an art form, and Franziska was forced to deny all allegations to her outburst of incredulous laughter at this accomplishment for years afterwards.
Something else in particular they'd taken to was playing chess. It was Miles's initial idea. He actually hadn't said much of anything in challenge; simply dropped the board in front of her with a familiar, smug quirk of the eyebrows. She promised herself she would throttle him as soon as she defeated him in the game.
The sentiment increased a dozenfold when Miles, ever so casually, laid her bishop flat with a brisk flick from his knight.
That game quickly rose to the levels of unprecedented epic warfare; there was one turn in which Franziska took a full twenty minutes to work out her next move, surrounded by an amalgam of Miles's pawns, commanded by a stray bishop. Inevitably, their earlier rounds of practice at psychological warfare came into play: Miles scoffed, shrugged his shoulders, and remarked on the comparative ability of a primate's capacity to strategize to his opponent's. By the time she had decisively cornered him into a checkmate, Franziska had modified her promise to ensure a drop-kick out of at least a second-story window as a follow-up to the throttling.
Miles blinked in surprise. But then he shrugged again and graciously tipped his king face-down on the board in defeat. "Well done," he conceded. "But you are now aware I can't allow this to pass without requesting a rematch."
The first game had taken them upwards of two hours. She agreed instantly.
They simultaneously set about preparing for the second round. Miles regathered his pawns first, and then proceeded in order of pieces of ascending power. When his fingers closed around the white queen, he hesitated, turning it over in his hands in quiet contemplation.
"Franziska," he said abruptly, "You're the reason I'm alive."
For an instant, everything inside her froze.
She'd pretended she hadn't heard, returning her own knights and bishops to their proper positions. What an absurd, foolish thing to say. But she knew that no matter how hard she tried, she had never been able to stamp out that persistent streak of sentimentalism in her little brother. Yes. It was certainly little more than his ridiculous softness emerging once again.
The flash of inward panic and its cause faded quickly enough in the face of the beginning of the next game. Miles seemed as willing to pretend it had never happened as Franziska, and was quickly distracted regardless by his second, considerably more humiliating, defeat.
They played at least once a week after that; it wasn't uncommon for them to hold virtual tournaments, lasting several days in a row. She would be in the midst of any variety of activities when the board would abruptly clatter in front of her face in challenge. But Franziska's triumphs over Miles remained constant as they both used each other to master the use of the board. The ending of the stories they crafted always remained the same: Miles shaking his head, expression more thoughtful than angry, before bowing the figure of the white king to hers.
She fought hard for each checkmate, to be certain, but even after years of play continued to uphold her perfect string of victories. As much as she prided herself in this accomplishment, she had no qualms about expressing her deep disappointment in her little brother, either.
"Are you even trying?" she demanded, hands on her hips. "Is something wrong with your brain? Do you honestly expect to uphold the von Karma creed with that display of paltry skill, Miles Edgeworth?"
He looked bemused. "I wonder."
The response infuriated her all the more in its apparent indifference. A von Karma could not afford indifference. To a von Karma, the division between victory or defeat was synonymous with the division of life or death. She shook with righteous fury at the idea that Miles could place so little value on the question of his life.
(It was an unspoken rule between them to never bring up the contradiction, to never break the chain of doublethink that permitted Miles Edgeworth to be Miles Edgeworth and yet as much of a von Karma as she at the same time; to do so was to threaten to destroy something more intimate, more precious--something indefinable that, all the same, she knew somewhere deep down that she could not afford to lose.)
The next day, for the first time in two years, she turned down his offer of a game. He'd looked at her, board balanced between both hands, expression stoic but disappointment written in the thin curve of his mouth. He shook his head and turned to reshelf it without so much as a word.
Franziska had been abjectly disgusted. He had brought it on himself; and so let him sulk about it by himself. She, on the other hand, would be returning to her studies--dismissing the quiet, sobering realization that for Miles Edgeworth to be alone meant that Franziska von Karma was also absolutely, completely alone.
And yet it was nearly ten years later that the truth finally dawned upon her, sitting on an airplane back to Germany and furiously dabbing at her reddened eyes, all pretenses of perfection and legacy lost.
The entire time, Miles Edgeworth had been letting her win.
She had known of Papa's achievements before she had known of Papa himself. They were her lullabies and her fairy-tales as an infant, not yet able to walk, and always weighted with the pregnant pause afterwards that told her that she would be expected of the same. The inheritance of his name alone would never be enough.
A von Karma's perfection extended far beyond their professional ability. A von Karma upheld their prestige with every action in every aspect of their lives they took; walking, speaking, eating, sleeping; the very act of breathing.
She had not been perfect at any of these things. Her first steps had been wobbly and stumbling; the first sounds she had made were much the same gibberish any other child not born of a genius would speak. Flaws every, and from such an early stage.
And as such, she could not recall ever seeing her father until she caught a glimpse of a legal document and understood. Four months after her fifth birthday. Suddenly his existence was far more than speculation and the whispers of the nannies; his figure had become the only thing she could see before her, demanding constant attention and reverence. Where he had been too occupied with work before he suddenly had time to personally ensure her instruction was moving properly now.
He spoke before her with knuckles white against the support of his cane. His eyes swerved around the room, and when they met her own she could feel her legs becoming shackled to the ground beneath her. The sound of Papa's voice felt like the weight of iron against her ears as her thumbs dug quietly against the underside of her desk. There was a reverence thick in the room as he perfectly guided their minds and shaped their intellects. It was a house of worship as much as a house of learning.
Sometimes Miles was beside her. Sometimes she was alone. The latter occurred with more and more frequency, as they both grew older.
Franziska had never dared question or voice incomprehension on the more difficult concepts--to do so was to jeopardize the assurance of her prodigal status, which subsequently meant invalidating her right to continue to exist in the eyes of her father. She listened to him speak on courtroom procedure in obedient silence, and spent more nights than she cared to remember ripping tissues apart in her hands as she pored over books that explained the concepts he'd spoken of that she couldn't understand. Her hours of sleep ticked away under the strained watch of a flashlight, concealed beneath the mattress of her bed.
It was a precarious balance. To appear exhausted the next day would raise questions with unacceptable answers. She learned to widen her eyes and remain upright and attentive no matter how much she wanted to slump over in her chair; to contest will against any personal weakness. Naturally, she shouted at Miles for daring to show any hint of his own exhaustion.
He could see through her, of course. He was the only one that ever did.
Inevitably, of course, she was eventually unable to keep teetering balance between family perfection and human fragility, and fell ill for the first time four months within starting her sleepless regiment. Her fingers shook underneath her as she used them to trace lines across the pages of her textbooks, endless rules and policies starting to blend together in a meaningless blur within her mind. Holding her shoulders forcefully rigid, planting one foot in front of the other, old court records pinned underneath both arms. Step after step, she had pushed the doors open to the library and felt the world sway, and then the coldness of the floor was pressed against her face the next moment.
She could have died then, she had thought. If anyone else had found her, her play-acting would have been done, and everything would have ended.
"And you call me a fool, Franziska."
Franziska startled into awareness; her hands clutched around blankets instead of old papers and she panicked, nearly tumbling out of the bed. Her struggles did result in her forearm striking the bed stand, and the mug of hot soup flew off the surface and nearly struck Miles in the face.
She had been saved because she had been followed. Because of the sentimentalism; the same sentimentalism she had been trying to stamp out from him since as long as she had known him. She began to mentally mark down plans for the months of corrective lectures she would have to give him in order to reverse the infuriating vindication he was undoubtedly gloating in.
"Stay down," he said. "You have a fever. You're in no condition to be walking around. I have no idea what you thought you were playing at."
"Stay down?" she repeated, incredulous. "Who do you think you are? I am a von Karma! I am a prodigy! I do not stay down, not for any reason, not for any excuse, and hardly for the likes of a fool like you!"
"Franziska," Miles said, not ungently.
He bent down to pick up the fallen mug, and turned it over in his hands with a bemused expression. "Wait here," he said, standing, with the clear intention to refill its contents. "Your levels of expressive violence never do cease to amaze."
She seethed. But she waited, nonetheless.
What followed after that was one of the most surreal periods of Franziska's life.
The question of falling behind in their studies, for reasons of illness or otherwise, did not exist. The familiar, leather bound stack of books would remain beside her, even if she lacked the strength to carry their weight. And so Miles took the liberty of doing it on her behalf--reading the text to her, line by line, and over the top of his head she was able to see the sun make its arc across the sky from either horizon to the sound of his voice. To listen to a person speaking and counting the minutes to the beat of that sound was to fall into trance--the visage of which would remain with her for a long, long time to come.
She closed her eyes as Miles sounded out the word perjury over the top of her head, and slept well for the first time in what seemed forever.
The next day, she took a few stubborn, yet wobbling steps out of the bed, feet small and bare and white against the rich carpet. She gripped onto the bedside table for support, lips pursed in angry determination, and she slapped Miles's hands away from her when she felt them touch her arm to steady her further.
"I'm fine," she said shortly. "I'm not an invalid."
He got a strange, sly smile on his face then; Miles opened his mouth to answer with some smart remark, but when Franziska hit him in the face with a pillow, he relinquished and let her go. She wished he hadn't.
Afterwards, they had worked out the secret system between them, which even Papa or his attendants were not privy to; the ones and twos in hours of sleep and recovery that she stole from the day as he kept watch, advising that the mistress not be disrupted from her studies, and was not to be bothered. Her hands had stopped shaking, and she no longer had to press them against the folds of her skirts to keep them convincingly still.
Keep the flashlight on at during all hours of the night to earn one's keep for one more day the next morning. Those stolen hours were her recourse for breathing, with Miles standing guard just beyond the door.
Ah, she thought, standing across from him in an airport in America, under his steady gaze--uncompromising, but not ungentle--and weeping bitterly.
You're the reason I'm alive.