Notes: This is an AU written a while back (but for some reason never posted) in response to a request, exploring what would have happened if Edgey-poo had moved in with Phoenix and his family after his father's death. It keeps threatening to turn into a whole multi-chaptered thing, but my rabid love for this thing is tempered somewhat by my overwhelming and persistent laziness. Well. We'll see.
"Through the Looking-Glass"
Miles looked heartbreakingly small and lost, struggling with his too-large suitcase, but he hadn't let them carry it for him.
"Thank you," he'd said when Amy had offered, looking up at them with an expressionless face. "That's very kind, but I can take it."
"This'll be your room, then," Chris said, holding the door open for him. Up until recently it had been Phoenix's room, but Nick had insisted so vehemently on moving in with his brother and giving his own room up to his friend that they weren't about to refuse. He'd even cleaned it, thoroughly enough that they'd hardly even had to go over the floors and corners.
"It's, um, pretty bare right now I know," said Amy, "but that's only just because we thought that you might want to decorate. Um..." She smiled down uncertainly at the boy, who was hanging back on the threshold. "We thought maybe we could take you out later and buy some things to spruce it up."
Miles nodded faintly, but didn't look at them and didn't step into the room. "That's very kind," he said again.
"Yeah, well, um...Hey, do, uh, do you have a favorite food?" Amy asked. "I don't want to brag, of course, but Chris is a really good cook." She smiled at her husband. "If there's anything special you'd like him to make..."
"Thank you," he said, "there's nothing."
They were all silent a moment before Chris stepped in. "Would you like any help unpacking?"
"Thank you, no."
Another beat, and then Amy clapped her hands together. "Well! I guess we'll leave you to it, then, um. Feel free to do anything you want, knock down some walls, trash the place, just, uh..." Miles looked up at her, and she forced another smile. "Just make it your home."
The boy looked away again. There was a moment, and then he stepped into the room, then turned to drag his suitcase in after him. Once he'd propped it up against his bed, he turned again and shut the door.
Chris and Amy looked at each other.
"What nice manners," she said, and swallowed, and smiled.
"You're going to have to be really careful with him," Dad warned Phoenix. "This sort of thing changes people, you know."
"I know," Phoenix had replied.
"He might not be like you knew him."
"I get it," Phoenix said, and to his credit he tried. He didn't ask any questions, didn't quiz Miles on what had happened. He didn't even treat it lightly - even though he thought it, he didn't say anything about how it was going to be like a sleepover (an extremely manly sleepover) and didn't talk about how it was going to be like having a brother, except an awesome brother that you got to pick and who you already liked rather than the sort of irritating jerk who you just got stuck with and who was way too cool for you because he was in high school, big deal.
Somehow, though, in the middle of showing Miles the latest issue of Temple Guardian Warrior - a really good one, by the way - he must have done something wrong. Miles just stood up and left without a word.
Miles' mother had died when he was only two years old. She hadn't had any brothers or sisters. His father similarly had been an only child. His closest relatives were his paternal grandmother who lived in a nursing home, his maternal grandparents who didn't have the means to support a child, and a great-uncle on his mother's side who simply wasn't interested.
"So he doesn't have anywhere to go?" Phoenix had asked. "He's just stuck at the orphanage?"
Amy had explained that it wasn't called an orphanage anymore, and while it would be nice if everyone had family to go to some people simply didn't, so this was the best arrangement and just a temporary one, but Phoenix had kept protesting and whittling away at her arguments until she was forced to admit that, yes, his best friend was just stuck at the orphanage.
Amy was a social worker, and Chris was a freelance graphic designer. They had difficulty making ends meet with just Phoenix and Frances, and when Phoenix had asked if they could take in his friend, the answer was a pretty well-reasoned iSorry, sweetie, we can't./i But Phoenix kept at it, and Miles looked so small and sad when Amy went to see him that eventually, she and Chris shut the door and sat down beside each other.
"It could be just - just temporary, maybe..." she suggested.
He, more realistic, looked at her. "Temporary until what?"
"Yeah, um...I don't know. Maybe..." She hesitated. "We can't leave him there."
Chris said nothing.
"We can't leave him there."
"I know," he said slowly.
"Because it's hard for a child his age. People only adopt them when they're young, when they're able to, you know, mold them into the person that they want them to be. No one wants a boy his age." Nothing, so she continued: "And it's not like - like taking in every wayward child we find. It's just Phoenix's one friend."
"But there's food, there's clothes, there's God-help-us-college..." Ever since Frances had started looking at schools, most of them private, the word college had gained three extra syllables. "Would we pay for that?"
"The state would help." Amy shrugged with one shoulder. "Some."
"Yeah," Chris said, but even though he was the more realistic one he was still so compassionate, so incredibly compassionate. They only waited a few days before they put in the paperwork.
And no more than a month later, Miles arrived with his too-large suitcase. "This is your home," they'd said to him, "if you'll have it."
A month and a week later, Amy went into his room to find that as soon as she'd done the laundry, Miles had folded the clothing neatly and returned it to his suitcase.
School started up again not long after that. Miles and Phoenix were in a different homeroom from Larry, but Larry (of course) found them the moment lunch started.
"Man oh man, my old teacher got pregnant and my new teacher's the worst," Larry sang, dragging a desk around to face them and plopping down without so much as asking permission or acknowledging them as people. He'd probably have been just as happy to talk to the wall (if the wall had been able to offer sympathetic noises and trade a brownie for his twinkie). "Does not understand the idea of cooties, you know what I'm sayin'?"
"Not really," said Phoenix. He stole a glance to his right. Miles looked a little startled, a little uncertain.
"I'm just sayin', I don't want to touch Sherry McMillan, I shouldn't have to."
"Why do you care about cooties?" Phoenix asked. "Seriously, Larry, you're not in second grade."
"Aww, you know..." Larry turned in hopes of a more sympathetic audience. "You're with me, right, Edgey?"
"What?" Miles asked softly, a genuine confusion on his face. The whole day, everyone had been speaking softly around him. There'd been a little pause before the teacher called his name, and all the students looked at the ground when he walked by. And then Larry came by and deafened everyone within earshot.
"You're with me! Girls. Cooties. Yeah?"
"I don't..." Miles said, that confusion giving way to desperation.
"C'mon, simple answer, yes or no."
"Larry," Phoenix said. "Shut up."
"Hey, don't tell me what to do!" Larry said, scowling at Phoenix. "I just want to know - whoa, hey, Edgey!" Larry started to get up when Miles stood. "I didn't mean to - "
Phoenix pushed Larry back into his chair as Miles made his escape.
"I don't get it," Larry said, shaking his head. "What's with Edgey?"
Phoenix frowned at Larry. "His dad died, Larry."
"Whoa, whoa, what?" Larry's eyes went wide. "His dad? The one he was always talking about?"
"No, no, no, that's not possible," Larry said, shaking his head. "He's not supposed to...you know, die. He's supposed to...When was it?"
"About a month ago."
"Aww, man." Larry scratched the back of his head. "And here I was, being all insensitive and stuff...I remember when my pet rat died. I know, it's different," he said before Phoenix could yell at him. "But, I mean...How?"
"He got shot."
"Seriously? Awww, man!" Larry shook his head. "I..." There was a moment when Larry's mouth worked, and he looked like he was going to cry. "If my mom...or my dad..."
"I know, yeah." The day after he'd heard about what had happened, Phoenix hadn't really wanted to let his parents out of his sight. It seemed wrong. They were supposed to be around forever, and protect their kids forever, not die.
"We should throw him a party." Larry's jaw was set. "We should throw him a huge party. We should throw him a huge party with an elephant."
"I don't think that's what he needs right now."
"Well, then what does he need?"
Miles hadn't hardly said a word the entire time he'd been with the Wrights. He spent most of his time in his room with the door closed, and mealtimes were spent with his head down until the last moment when he looked up and complimented Dad on his cooking. He went to sleep early and got up late and read a whole lot, and whenever Phoenix came to see him he said that he was really engrossed in his book and would sort of like it if maybe Phoenix could come back later. Phoenix himself had asked that very question not long ago - What does he need?
So he repeated the answer he'd been given. "Time."
A few days after he arrived, they all went out together to find Miles things he could put up in his room. Frances, who really didn't know what to make of the silent boy who'd moved into their house, wandered off on his own as they browsed the mall, but the rest of them stayed together.
Phoenix was the most excited about picking things out. He'd grab Miles' hand and drag him off in three directions at once, talking excitedly about a poster or a clock radio or some comic book that he was sure Miles could con his parents into buying. Miles, for his part, just sort of nodded and agreed with everything Phoenix decided.
When they got home, they put everything up and arranged everything and it was like it was Phoenix's room again. Miles just sat on his bed, his hands on his knees, and looked around and said nothing.
That door stayed closed for the next two months.
"Would you like some music, maybe?" Amy asked. "It just seems so - so quiet up there..."
"Thank you, ma'am, no," Miles said at first. Once Phoenix had badgered him out of ma'am, it was, "No thank you, Mrs. Wright." As hard as they tried, they could never get anything less formal than Mr. and Mrs. Phoenix was never Nick anymore, but he still at least got Phoenix. Miles never addressed Frances at all.
He didn't eat much, and he asked for nothing but the occasional ride to the library. Chris didn't pry into what books Miles borrowed; the one time he tried, his answer had just been a murmured, "Nothing interesting."
"He's like a ghost," Chris said once in frustration. Then he caught himself and said loudly, "A friendly lovable ghost. Very nice. The house wouldn't be the same without him."
It wasn't like they ever caught the boy eavesdropping or anything like that, but they all sort of assumed that he did. It seemed impossible to go with so little exposure to human voices. It seemed wrong.
He walked with Phoenix to school in the morning, and home at night, and the entire time Phoenix chattered desperately, terrified of the awkward silence that Miles wouldn't fill. Lunchtimes were awful affairs. Phoenix kept waiting for Larry to say something, but Larry was scared to talk - scared of Miles, scared of hurting him, scared of seeming a fool, something. The only talk between them was the muttered negotiation over the market values of their respective desserts.
They had a test two weeks after they came back. Phoenix stole a glance over at Miles' paper, like he always did, and was startled to see the number there: 73. This was weird because of Miles' previous string of scores - the lowest Phoenix had ever seen was a 94 - and also because of all the reading he'd been doing. Phoenix had assumed there was some homework going on at the same time.
He managed to pull the teacher aside without anyone else noticing. Phoenix hated talking to teachers. They terrified him. Nevertheless, he swallowed his nerves and reminded himself it was for Miles and said, "You know about Miles Edgeworth's, um, s-situation, right Mr. Forbes?"
Mr. Forbes blinked at Phoenix. "I heard about it, yes."
"Well, I, um. I'm sorry for talking...Hey, he should get a break, am I right?" Phoenix half-grinned.
"He's getting a break," the teacher replied, then flopped his hand down on Phoenix's head a few times in something resembling an affectionate pat. "How good you boys look out for each other."
Phoenix looked over the next class to see Miles hunched over his notebook, writing furiously, looking up at the board and then down at his paper. He looked intent upon his studies. But a C - a C-minus, even - coupled with that being a break...
When Miles went to the bathroom, Phoenix leaned over and tipped up the front cover of his friend's notebook. Immediately, he dropped it when the teacher gave him a chastising look, but he wanted so badly to take another look, because he didn't understand what was there. Because, scrawled across the first page in huge letters was a single, nonsensical sentence:
For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.
A few days later at lunch, Phoenix broke the silence to drag Larry away to get a drink from the cafeteria.
"Oh," Larry said, sounding weirdly surprised. "You want to talk to me."
"Yeah, um, you know weird things," Phoenix said. "Have you ever heard of a snark?"
"Nope," Larry said without missing a beat.
"Wait, this one I know!" Larry said. "My parents told me about this. When a man and a woman love each other very...No, wait, that's, um...Never mind. Why do you ask?" Larry asked quickly.
Phoenix asked because he'd come across it again. He'd asked Miles if they could do their homework together the night after the channeling, and Miles had agreed. Phoenix had actually watched him writing it as Phoenix was trying to talk his way through a math problem. He hadn't even been looking at the paper. His hand just subconsciously, dreamily traced out that sentence: For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.
"I don't know," Phoenix said. "It's nothing. Just - you know how sometimes you write something without even intending...No, it's nothing," he said, then shook his head. "Forget it."
When they returned, Miles looked up at them expressionlessly, like he hadn't known or hadn't cared that they were gone. He had a notebook open before him, and he stopped writing and closed it when Phoenix sat down but Phoenix still saw what it said.
For the Snark was a Boo
"We're having difficulty with this case," said the detective in charge, leaning forward and fiddling nervously with his ear. Miles sat on the couch between Amy and Chris, looking up at the man with solemn eyes.
"So we're turning to less conventional methods, I suppose," he said. "There's a spirit medium up in the mountains, about two hours from here, and I think it's a bunch of hokum if you know what hokum is, do you son? But there are a couple of us who are pretty well convinced, but apparently we need to find someone with some connection to the deceased."
Amy winced despite herself at the neutral finality of that word. Miles didn't react at all.
"If you know what that means," said the detective, looking keenly at the boy. "Do you, son?"
The detective looked a bit startled by Miles' clipped, unemotional answer. "Well. Okay."
"I'm sorry - I don't mean to interfere," said Amy. "But is this really the best - best idea? It's..."
"Also, a spirit medium?" asked Chris skeptically.
"Right, but that aside, I have to think that - that this wouldn't...You wouldn't want to do this," Amy said to Miles. "Would you?"
The boy looked up at her, his face utterly expressionless. "Anything to help catch the murderer," he said, his voice flat.
So the next day, Chris and Phoenix and Miles all made their way east up the mountains. It was a Tuesday, and a school day, but Phoenix had insisted on coming along, claiming curiosity. Everyone knew the real reason he was coming, except maybe Miles, but who knew what he was ever thinking.
The medium was a kindly-looking woman with sympathetic wrinkles around her eyes, and her two daughters were adorable and rather cheerfully aloof respectively, and they treated the whole group, the three of them and all the detectives, to a nice lunch before the channeling. Chris was still nervous. He didn't really think that this was going to work - he wasn't one for ghosts and the like - but the thought that it might, that Miles might be confronted with the face of his father who was going to disappear sooner rather than later -
"Are you sure you want to do this?" he asked.
"Yes," said Miles.
Phoenix grabbed his friend by the wrist. "I don't think it's a good idea."
Miles said nothing to him. He just pulled his hand away and walked towards the cluster of detectives.
When they walked out from the channeling chamber, the detectives looked hopeful, and Miles looked pale. "It's done," he said to them tersely, then walked by and climbed into the car and waited. They followed.
Miles faced out the window the whole time as they wound their way back down the mountains. Chris glanced in the rearview mirror once and saw that he'd hunched in on himself, that his eyes were closed, that his face was twisted, that his shoulders were shaking so slightly. Phoenix was watching him with his eyes wide and his brows knitted together, but he wasn't saying anything.
And Amy looked in Miles' empty dresser, then at the full suitcase beside it.
"You don't have to come to the trial," he said softly, quite possibly the first thing he'd ever said at a mealtime that wasn't a response to a question or a formulaic thanks for the food.
Amy was the first to recover from her surprise. "We'll be there," she assured him.
"Oh." He stirred his Cheerios restlessly and said, "But you don't have to."
"Do you not want us there?" Chris asked, even though Phoenix gave him no don't ask that signs so broad that even Miles looked up for a second and blinked.
"No," he said as soon as he'd returned his gaze to his food. "I don't."
"Tough noogies," Phoenix declared. "You're not about to get rid of me just because - "
"Nick," Frances interrupted. "The kid doesn't want you there, he doesn't want you there. Right?"
Miles nodded but didn't look up.
"No," Phoenix said. "Come on. I want to be there. Really a lot. I mean, 'cause I've never seen an actual trial and it seems really awesome, so I don't think it's very nice of you to keep me away there, and also I want to be there, okay?" Miles met his eyes for the first time in what seemed weeks, so he kept at it. "You never talk anymore. I don't like it."
"I'm sorry," Miles muttered, turning back towards his cereal.
"No," Phoenix said, slumping back. "That wasn't what I meant..."
"Phoenix brings up a legit...A legitimate point," Amy said. "Um. We worry about you, Miles."
"No, stop it, please," she cried, then clasped her hands together before her in embarrassment and cleared her throat. "Um. Sorry. I."
"Are you happy here?" Chris asked quietly.
"Chris, no," Amy said, and he looked towards her and then back towards Miles. Miles looked up, and Chris shrank back before his gaze and didn't say anything else. Neither did Miles.
Neither did Phoenix as they walked to school together. He just stayed quiet, his hands in his pockets, his eyes on the ground.
He was startled when, maybe a few minutes from the school's front gates, Miles spoke.
"I wish you'd say something," he said, and his voice was broken, halting. Phoenix looked at him, but he didn't look back.
"I wish you'd say something," he repeated instead. "I think sometimes that your - your chattering - I think sometimes it's the only thing keeping me from going totally crazy."
"Oh," Phoenix said.
"It's..." Miles shook his head. "I'm sorry I'm no fun any more."
"You're not..." No fun? "Supposed to be sorry."
A moment. "I want you to be at the trial." Another pause. "If you can. Please."
He snuck another glance over at Phoenix, and Phoenix would have hugged him if he weren't afraid that Miles would just pull away. "Yeah, of course." He made do with a clap on the back. "I'll totally be there. Don't worry."
The day before the trial, he'd been shut up in a room with the prosecutors, and when he'd come home he'd said nothing at all. None of them knew what to expect. None of them knew if they were supposed to do anything, or how long it would take, but even so they all came, even Frances, who explained self-consciously that he was interested in law programs so it'd be good to see a trial. They sat, Miles in between Amy and Phoenix, as they watched the opening arguments, the initial presentation of the evidence, the details of the autopsy report. Amy looked down to see the boy pale. She took his hand. It was limp and unresponsive in hers.
He was the prosecution's second witness.
"Could you say your name for me?" said the prosecutor, giving the boy a smile that was probably supposed to be comforting but just looked solicitous.
Miles looked back at him solemnly. He looked tired up there - he'd have looked aged if it weren't for his youth. "Miles Edgeworth. I'm the victim's son."
Amy winced. She looked over to see Phoenix flinching, too.
"And how old are you?"
"How are you feeling?" the prosecutor asked disingenuously. "This must be so hard for you."
Miles just stared at him.
The prosecutor nodded. "Of course it is. Could you tell me what happened that day, Miles?"
"I came into the courthouse with my father," Miles said, clipped and matter-of-fact. "It was the last day of a trial. He lost. We got in an elevator. There was an earthquake. The power went out, and the elevator stopped between floors. My father argued with Mr. Yogi..."
Then, silence. Then, nothing. Miles was simply quiet, staring at the prosecutor.
"And then?" the man prompted after the silence went on just too long.
Slowly, Miles' right hand came over to touch the palm of his left. He didn't say anything.
"Didn't Mr. Yogi shoot your father?" said the prosecutor.
"Objection, Your Honor!" said the defense attorney, slapping his hand down on the table before him. "Prosecution is leading the witness."
"Sustained," the judge said. "Rephrase, Mr. Greene."
"Of course." The prosecutor took a moment, clearing his throat. "You saw something happen, though, didn't you?" When Miles didn't say anything, the prosecutor frowned. "Please answer me, Miles."
"Are we sure the boy is mentally fit to stand trial?" asked the defense attorney eagerly, happily. "We shouldn't force him in his clearly fragile state."
"Thank you for your concern, Mr. Hammond," Miles said clearly. Then he turned to the startled prosecutor. "I fell unconscious. I don't know what happened after that."
The prosecutor seemed at a loss for words. He cleared his throat. "That's not what..." He cleared his throat again. "You said something different earlier."
Miles didn't say anything.
Frantically, the prosecutor turned towards the judge. "Objection, Your Honor, the boy sounds coached."
"What are you implying?" the defense attorney asked happily. "What are you trying to say?"
"That this is highly suspect, and...Miles, please. Remember what you said to me earlier?" the prosecutor begged.
"Are you moving for a mistrial?" Mr. Hammond gloated.
"No one said anything about a mistrial!" Mr. Greene snapped. "God, Hammond! Miles. Don't you remember what you said earlier?"
"I'm sorry," Miles said, posture slumped and his face sad but his voice, his rarely-heard voice, strangely proud. "I don't remember. I really don't."
The kindly spirit medium later fled her home in disgrace, though neither Amy nor Chris told Miles this. He saw his father's murderer go free. Despite all this, on the car ride home he didn't huddle in on himself, and when they arrived home he said, "Thanks. Thanks for coming, all of you."
"Yeah, can't tell you how glad I was I could make it," Frances said, and actually reached over to tousle Miles' hair. "You looked pretty awesome up there, kid."
And despite all this, his door would crack open for a few hours each day, and he'd sometimes come to read in the living room. He was still their gloomy ghost, but at least he was no longer a rumor.
Once, when Phoenix was watching TV while Miles read, he caught the title of the book. His heart seemed to fold in on itself.
"Hey," he said, trying to keep his voice steady, trying to keep from revealing his nervousness. "That one. Is that one a good one?"
Miles looked up over the cover of the book, embossed with gold letters reading The Hunting of the Snark. "Why?" he said, his voice quiet.
"I'm just looking for something good to read." Phoenix hoped his smile wasn't too shaky. "I'm just looking for a book to borrow."
"It's all right," said Miles noncommittally, then took a moment before he looked up at Phoenix once again. He buried himself back in the book when their eyes met, then a few minutes later retreated back to his room.
"I have to stay after," Phoenix said the next day. "Can you get home okay?"
Miles' gaze was slightly contemptuous. He'd never have looked at Phoenix like that back in the days before his father had died, but like Dad had said, this sort of thing changed people.
"I think I can manage," he said.
"Cool," Phoenix said. "Tell Mom and Dad, won't you?"
The school library didn't have the book. The librarian was just tickled that he'd asked, though.
"And here I was, in despair because all you kids are watching your teevees and playing your Nintendos and nobody's reading the classics anymore, but then you come in and restore my faith in future generations," she said, pulling down a few books nevertheless. "We can special order it for you or you can go to the city library but in the meantime have you read these?" She held out two books: Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.
"I, uh, saw the movie."
"Well, bother to that, the books are far better," she declared, holding her hand out for his student card. He passed it over to her. "You're going to read these and then you're going to tell me how you liked them."
She slammed the books down in front of her and looked at him over the tops of her glasses as Phoenix reflected on how much he was doubtless going to sacrifice for his friend. (He also reflected on how okay he was with that.)
They had the book at the city library. Phoenix sat down and flipped through it until he found the sentence he was looking for, at the very end of the poem.
In the midst of the word he was trying to say
In the midst of his laughter and glee
He had softly and suddenly vanished away
For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.
And that was it. Phoenix checked the book out and flipped through it on the bus ride home, but there was nothing else there, nothing better, nothing explanatory. Just that.
Larry didn't show for lunch one day and then the next. Miles didn't stir when Phoenix went to hunt him down.
He was sitting off on his own, picking through his lunch carefully.
"Oh, dude, it's totally cool," Larry said, shrugging and pretending not to be as hurt as he obviously was. "You and Edgey are like brothers now, whatever. Good ol' Larry can tell when he's not wanted."
"No - " Phoenix protested, shaking his head.
"No, you guys go all quiet when I come around..."
"No, Miles just...He just doesn't talk anymore." Phoenix shrugged. "I don't know what it is, but he just doesn't talk anymore."
"Oh." Larry seemed considerably cheered by Miles' depression. "Well, what about you? You seem really down, too."
"Really?" Phoenix shook it off. "Well, I'm not. So come back. We miss you."
"Yeah?" Larry asked.
Phoenix just barely managed not to glare at Larry. "Enough."
"Well, that's good enough for me," Larry beamed. "Larry Butz, saving the day, cheering everyone up! If I were a superhero, that'd totally be my superhero power. I'd - "
"Hey, did you ever read the Alice books? Wonderland and stuff?" Phoenix interrupted before Larry could get too into it.
Larry shook his head. "Saw the movies."
"Yeah, me too." Phoenix shook his head. "Anyway, come back, we want you around."
"I would too," Larry beamed, and when they got back he tried to talk to Miles. It was one-sided, naturally, but at least Miles set his book aside and looked as though he was hearing what Larry was saying.
"Totally my superhero power," he gloated later.
Things were better for a while. Then they were worse. Then Miles went back into his room and closed the door and was quiet once again.
What spring Los Angeles ever saw came in the form of drier weather and allergies. As it turned out, Miles suffered something awful; the other kids relaxed around him, just a little, because somehow he got less frightening and remote when he wasn't able to pronounce his ms and ns. His grades got better, but he still didn't talk.
Phoenix finished The Hunting of the Snark and didn't get any of it, so he moved onto Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (and dutifully reported back to the librarian to tell her that he thought it was totally awesome, way better than his teevee and his Nintendo). He wondered what Miles saw in the books - if he saw himself as Alice, trapped in some weird place where nobody and nothing made sense.
"Are you doing okay?" Phoenix asked him as they walked to school one morning.
"I think I killed my father," was Miles' response.
"Oh," said Phoenix.
He knew there was probably something better to say to that.
Miles buried himself in his book all that day and went into his room all that evening and Phoenix wanted to go to his parents but couldn't bring himself to so in the end, for the first time, he intruded upon Miles' privacy and knocked on the door and when there was no response let himself in. Miles was lying on his back, staring up at the ceiling. Phoenix sat and waited.
"I think I killed my father," he finally said, almost sleepily.
"I don't think you did," said Phoenix.
"Because I'm..." Miles trailed off.
"You loved your dad." Phoenix swallowed against a sudden lump in his throat. "You'd never do something like that."
Miles was quiet for a while. Phoenix looked over to see that his eyes were closed, but his lips were trembling and his face was turned to the side. "I think I killed him," he said, his voice thick. "It was my fault. It was all my fault."
"No." Phoenix shook his head.
"And now I'm here," he said, and Phoenix saw that he'd started crying in earnest, "and you're all so - so nice, but I'm here, and it's my fault that Dad's dead and what if..." He took a deep, hitching breath. "What if you..."
When Miles trailed off, Phoenix shook his head. He didn't know what to say. He didn't have anything to say. There was nothing to say, so he just sat while Miles cried, cried for hours until he fell asleep and Phoenix just sat there and wondered what he could say.
He'd fallen asleep against the wall, sitting up, and he was sore and Miles was gone. Phoenix felt a sick rush of panic in the pit of his stomach, but when he rushed downstairs Miles was sitting, reading a book, his face noticeably puffy only if you were looking for it. Miles didn't acknowledge him, and Phoenix didn't say anything.
His dad was in the kitchen, making bread with an almost frantic focus.
"What's wrong?" Phoenix asked.
"Oh," his dad said with a fake smile, "nothing."
Phoenix looked at him. "Where's Mom?"
Beside him, Miles looked up suddenly, sharply.
"I'm not sure," his dad said. His voice was higher than usual, and he didn't look at Phoenix. "She was taking that red-eye back from Washington, coming back from that conference, but I haven't heard from her, so."
"She didn't call?" Miles spoke with such rapidity (such panic?) that they both looked over at him.
Dad seemed strangely soothed by his rare display of emotion. "Yeah. I'm sure it's okay. I'm sure it's fine."
But Miles shook his head. His eyes were wide and his jaw clenched. "No," he said, and shook his head. "It's...It's not going to be..." Then he shook his head again.
Dad smiled uncertainly and turned back to his bread. Phoenix looked at Miles, and Miles looked back at him, and there was a weird, wild look in Miles' eyes. Phoenix felt like he was on the edge of understanding.
"Come watch TV with me," Phoenix said, and plopped himself in front of the television and turned it on. Reluctantly, Miles set his book aside and sat down beside Phoenix, watched the television with only half an eye and paced restlessly to the door every commercial break.
"Calm down," Phoenix said at lunchtime, when Miles kept looking at the phone.
Early afternoon and there was still no call, and Miles' hands were clenched into fists. Dad was about to call the police. Even Frances was visibly nervous, even though he made fun of anyone who expressed any sort of anxiety.
"Don't be so dumb," he said to Miles, and Miles glared at him so coldly that he mumbled an apology and said to Phoenix, "Tell him I didn't mean it."
It was six o'clock when they heard a car in the driveway. They all gathered around to watch Mom come in, her bag over one shoulder, as she said, "I'm - I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, my phone ran out of, of battery and I forgot my charger and my plane was delayed so I couldn't call - "
Dad went and took her bag from her, covering her face with kisses. Phoenix went and hugged her around the waist, and Frances rolled his eyes and said, "We were kinda worried," but hugged her nevertheless.
Miles hung back. But when Mom smiled at him and said, hesitantly, "I'm sorry if I made you worry," he took one step forward, then another then closed the distance between them and hugged her as hard as he could. She smiled and stroked his hair.
"Sometimes a Snark is a Snark," Phoenix said to him that evening. Miles looked over at him, startled, but then, for the first time in a long time, smiled.
Later, he went into his room and closed the door. He emerged an hour later with his book and joined the rest of them, reading as they watched TV. Every once in a while he'd look up, then back down again.
When Amy went into his room, his clothes were neatly folded in his dresser, and his suitcase had been packed away.