It wasn't all over yet - Phoenix knew that. He hadn't actually achieved his objective, when it came down to it, because the death of the alleged Mr. Smith had preempted his plans. So his name hadn't been cleared. So what? After living seven years without his badge, he'd gotten used to the idea of being a pianist and poker player, and just 'Trucy's dad'. Life on a less meaningful stage wasn't so terrible.
He'd also gotten used to living life in fear, considering every word he spoke, hardly letting Trucy out of his sight. Not to mention the strain on his relationship with Miles - who had recently been considering moving back to the States to take a new position, irregardless of Phoenix's changing situation. After seven years in hiding, hardly seeing each other, they both knew they couldn't just fall back together so easily, but it seemed like a good opportunity to give it another try.
In fact, Miles's new position gave Phoenix another chance at his old line of work, as well - after so long had passed, the association seemed to have gotten over their indignation, and were open to the suggestion, given Phoenix's track record before the Zak Gramarye incident. And then, although Phoenix wouldn't have liked to think of anyone's murder as 'convenient', Drew Misham's sudden death put all the loose ends together, ready to be tied up in one giant knot.
He might have been going a little too far with the metaphors, he mused. Things weren't so tidy as all that - less like a tied shoelace and more like a tangled kite string. His life, and the lives of everyone else involved, had been changed drastically. He preferred to keep the lights on when he and Miles were in bed, he had to stop himself from calling Trucy's cell phone constantly, there were days he had to just pour a bottle of slightly old grape juice down the drain because it smelled too much like red wine... But he was going to keep untangling those loose ends, he resolved - he was going to make macrame out of them before he was done.
...Yeah, he was definitely taking the metaphor too far.
The one loose end that attracted the most attention, though, seemed to go on forever. Kristoph had already been tried and convicted for the murder of Shadi Smith, and received a sentence of forty years - a bit less than might have been expected, but it was widely agreed upon at the time of his sentencing that Kristoph was mentally unsound. It had been a random act of violence, the act of an unstable mind, and rehabilitation was a possibility. Even knowing that it wasn't entirely random, Phoenix held out some hope that maybe they were right.
That hope vanished when Kristoph was tried for the murder of Drew Misham, and the attempted murder of Vera. Other incidents came to light of possible forged evidence in high-profile cases, and people who had died or disappeared mysteriously at approximately the same time, or who were otherwise convinced not to talk. Generally the deaths were due to unusual poisons, sometimes in clusters. Rick Taylor's death by atroquinine poisoning was brought up - at roughly the same point in time that the stamp and the nail polish had been given to the Mishams. Everyone could see the pattern that was emerging, not just the jurors. So much for Phoenix's concerns that maybe he could have done something to save Kristoph - things had been worse than he knew, for longer than he'd guessed. He was sickened to think that some of those nights Kristoph had called him and told him he'd be a bit late at the office, something had come up that he had to take care of... this was what he'd been taking care of.
When the sentence was declared, Kristoph stood unfazed at the bench, calmly looking over the gallery just in time to see Phoenix wordlessly excuse himself, and Miles hesitantly stand to go after him.
Phoenix couldn't have offered to be Kristoph's defense even if he'd wanted to, which he hadn't - he wouldn't have been able to take the bar fast enough, not to mention getting the results and the badge before the trial. He had no say whatsoever, which was probably a good thing, because he knew the courts had weighed all the evidence and come to the logical conclusion - even if he wished they hadn't.
Months passed. Life was becoming a little more normal around the Wright Anything Agency, if more hectic than most sane people would have preferred - Apollo had moved in, Ema stopped by from time to time, Klavier was now playing solo shows and kept inviting them, much to Trucy's delight and Apollo's exasperation. Phoenix had an actual bed - he kind of had to, since there weren't enough couches to go around with Apollo staying there. He still wore that hat of his most of the time - he really did feel naked without it - but everyone knew now to tell him to cut it out when he casually scratched his head in a certain place. Miles was still trying to convince Trucy that he was not simply going to join their bizarre excuse for a law firm, but start his own. If Phoenix ever got around to taking the bar again, that is...
Phoenix wasn't sure. He trusted the revamped courtroom procedures more than he'd trusted the old rules, all blacks and whites and no grey areas - the jurist system he and Miles had helped to put in place did make for more logical trials, and brought criminals to justice in a more reliable manner. On the other hand, there were still things he didn't care for about the trial process.
And to be honest, about justice. He wasn't comfortable with justice at all lately - except of course for Apollo, whose constant bewilderment at the more unusual aspects of his new life was an entertaining diversion on a regular basis.
It had been a long time when Phoenix decided he really did need to pay Kristoph one last visit.
The guard showed him to the cell where Kristoph sat alone in his comfortable chair, reading. Looking up to see Phoenix, Kristoph set his book aside, finding a scrap of paper to slip in between the pages. Phoenix wondered why he bothered - in less than twenty-four hours, no one was going to be there to care about a folded page corner or a creased spine. "Well..." Kristoph murmured, reaching up to adjust his glasses. "I expected that I might have a visitor or two tonight, but I didn't expect you. I can't say that I blame you for wanting to release your bitterness while you have the chance - but somehow, it just didn't seem like you."
It isn't. Phoenix almost said it, before he caught himself and kept his mouth closed, his lips a tight, straight line. Instead, he asked, "Did Klavier stop by yet?"
"My brother made a brief appearance, yes," Kristoph replied, folding his hands in his lap. "I expect he'll be back before the night is through."
So either Klavier wasn't dealing well with this, or Kristoph was playing mind games to make sure that he wouldn't. Phoenix made a note to give him a call later and see how he was doing - or better yet, have Apollo call him instead.
"So go ahead," Kristoph offered with a shrug. "It would appear that you have enough reason to be angry with me. If you've come to taunt me with my imminent demise, then you might as well do so."
He seemed too calm for a man who knew his last hours were ticking past. Only on the surface, however - when Phoenix looked closer, he saw a tightness in Kristoph's jaw, the subtle motion of his eyes. This time, he said it. "That's not why I came. It's not the kind of thing I do."
"Even after all I've done to you."
"Because I don't do it to anyone," Phoenix replied. "No matter how much they may deserve it."
Kristoph chuckled darkly. "What I did to you, Phoenix, I did knowingly. I feel no remorse, but for allowing myself to be caught."
"Yeah, I know."
Kristoph looked somewhat puzzled at Phoenix's easy answer. "...I studied you, you realize. I know about Dahlia."
The name still made shivers run up his spine... but something else was mixed with it, as had always been the case. "What does Dahlia have to do with anything?"
"I assure you," Kristoph stated, "that I have no twin - no secret kind-hearted doppelganger to set your mind at ease about the person you loved. There is only one of me, Phoenix, and he was playing you like a puppet all along. Kristoph Gavin, the man you believed you loved, was and is a sociopathic, manipulative murderer."
The thought of Dahlia, and of Iris getting him off the hook for his hopeless earnest love, was the final variable that resolved Phoenix's uncertainty. "I know that too," he said with a nod.
"There will be no revelation, no explanation," Kristoph insisted. "I will not apologize, for I am not sorry, and I will make no excuses, because I have none."
"Then why," Kristoph inquired, "have you come?"
"Because I loved you once," Phoenix said simply. "And it's like I told you years ago - I never learned how to fall out of love."
Kristoph made a quiet scoffing noice, turning his head away. "And they say I'm mad."
"That's exactly why it's still possible."
"What are you talking about?" Kristoph growled, narrowing his eyes. "I knew what I was doing to you, Phoenix."
"Yeah... I talked to the doctors who evaluated you," Phoenix told him, standing his ground, hands still in his pockets. "They said you understand things like compassion, empathy, and love... but only as general concepts. Kind of like an actor playing a death scene - he doesn't have any experience with actually dying, but he knows what happens when someone gets shot through the heart, and can pretend. Even though he doesn't feel any pain at all."
"You were pretty convincing." Phoenix shrugged. "You fooled me for awhile."
"When did you figure it out?"
"A long time ago. Gumshoe showed me the pictures you sent to him to forward to Miles," Phoenix explained, and glanced over to look Kristoph in the eye. "That was the stupidest mistake you ever made, Kristoph. If you hadn't drugged me that night, you still would have gotten your incriminating pictures, and I would have assumed they were taken by the same person who rigged your brother's piano with a camera. I never would have suspected you. Or at least, it would have taken me a lot longer."
"So you have come to taunt me," Kristoph muttered, his expression sour. "I suppose you're happy with the way things turned out. Soon I will be gone, and the world will be a safer place."
"No, actually I'm not happy about this at all," Phoenix admitted. "The sentence may be a just one, but... I would have preferred mercy."
"Is that so...?" Kristoph's growl was harsh. "Feeling a bit guilty?"
Phoenix shook his head. "I know I did what was right. But as I said, I have a hard time letting go."
"Letting go, Wright?!" Kristoph snarled. "You betrayed me!"
Phoenix shook his head. "I defended myself. Defending yourself isn't betrayal, Kristoph. Even if the person you're defending yourself against is someone you care about." Maybe that was something Kristoph had never figured out too, given Phoenix's suspicions. Which brought him to his main objective in coming. "Kristoph... what happened to you, that you wound up unable to feel for other people?"
Kristoph's eyebrows furrowed. "What do you mean?"
"Someone hurt you, didn't they? A long time ago."
Kristoph looked wary. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Phoenix idly fingered the stone in his pocket. He'd almost wondered if he should bring it, or leave it behind and give Kristoph the dignity of whatever facade he chose to put up during his last hours, but he'd changed his mind. "You feel you need to have power over other people, because someone once was able to have power over you."
"Ridiculous," Kristoph stated. "No one has ever been able to take control from me. I have power over others because it is simple. With money, with kindness, with sexual gratification... as you have been made aware," he added with an arrogant smirk. "People are weak, and easy to control. If I can do so, why wouldn't I?"
No psyche-locks. Phoenix sighed. He would probably never know what happened to Kristoph. No, not probably - in less than twenty-four hours, no one would be left who could say with certainty if anything had ever happened at all.
There was just one more question he wanted an answer to before he could leave, and he asked it now. "Kristoph, these last seven years... Did I make you happy?"
"...Happy?" Kristoph stared at him in disbelief. "Happy, Phoenix? I told you - I was using you all along."
Phoenix just nodded again. "But did I make you happy?"
Kristoph burst out laughing incredulously. "You fool, Wright - do you even know what you're asking?"
"Well then," Kristoph stated, still smirking. "In a certain sense, one might say that you did. You were so obedient, so responsive. I enjoyed having a hold on you, and it pleased me that you offered me your body and your heart, year after year after year."
"So I did make you happy?"
"In a word? Yes."
Again, no psyche-locks - which wasn't a surprise when he was being so brutal about what exactly it was that made him happy. Phoenix smiled. "I'm glad."
Kristoph's smirk faltered a little. "Why would you..."
"I believe that you never loved me," Phoenix said, taking a step closer to his chair. "They said you don't know how to love anyone. But if someone made you happy, if you enjoyed having them with you... that's about the closest to being in love that you could get. And I'm glad I could give you that much."
The smirk was gone entirely, replaced by an uncertain expression, as Phoenix knelt beside Kristoph's chair. "...I'm afraid I don't understand."
"I know you don't." And he never would, but Phoenix leaned in and kissed Kristoph anyway - slow and gentle and sweet, just as Kristoph had kissed him the first time.
Kristoph just stared at him when he drew back. Then, abruptly, he laughed, covering his face. "Even now... Even now, you're still under my power. This is fantastic..."
Phoenix smiled and shook his head, getting to his feet again. He couldn't be angry anymore. "I was afraid of you, mostly because I thought you might hurt Trucy... but the only power you have over me now, Kristoph, is the power I gave you a long time ago. And that's the funny thing about love - it's not like any other power in the world, because no one can take it from anyone else. It has to be given - and that means that the person who gives it away is the one who holds the power."
"Sentimental nonsense." Kristoph snorted his derision. "Perhaps you should give up the piano and turn to writing greeting cards."
"Nah..." It didn't matter that Kristoph didn't understand - Phoenix had done what he'd come to do, and he turned to go. "I actually was thinking I might start taking piano lessons. ...I'll be there tomorrow," he added, looking back for a moment.
"To finally do the laughing you wouldn't do to my face?" Kristoph muttered, still laughing helplessly. "Will you perhaps be recording the whole thing with that silly hat of yours?"
Actually, Phoenix suspected it was going to make him sick to his stomach, and he'd probably break down as soon as he was alone, but he knew himself well enough to know it would be worse if he didn't go. "Just to be there for you," he stated. "Even if you can't see me, or understand why, I'll be there. ...Goodbye, Kristoph."
Kristoph didn't reply, except to continue laughing, and Phoenix nodded to the guard at the door.
Miles was waiting with crossed arms and a stoic expression just outside the double-doors that led into the rest of the wing, but Phoenix hesitated there, taking a deep breath and closing his eyes. Over. This was over. Maybe he couldn't really believe it yet - which was why he had to be present tomorrow at the execution, and he probably wouldn't believe it then either. For all that people had told him all his life that he was gullible, that he'd believe anything, there were some things he'd just never been able to make himself believe.
When he opened his eyes again, Miles was still standing there, in exactly the same place. Just waiting for him. "Did you get anything out of him?"
Phoenix shook his head. "I don't think he remembers himself. ...I really wanted to do at least that much for him," he sighed. "And in the name of 'justice for all', for that matter - I wanted to make sure that person couldn't hurt anyone else either."
"You're expecting too much of yourself," Miles observed. "None of this is your responsibility, and you've already given him more than he deserves."
Probably true, but Phoenix shrugged, and gestured vaguely in the direction of the entrance. "I'd been thinking, actually," he said as they walked, "about something you told me a while back..."
"You said that criminals know what they want to do is wrong, but they do it anyway. And that a good citizen sometimes wants to do the wrong thing, but doesn't do it. But you know, it occurred to me - sometimes they have the wrong reason for doing the right thing. Like the only thing that stops them is the thought that they'll be caught, or because they want to look good in front of someone else..."
"I don't see how that could apply to your situation," Miles remarked, "but it doesn't matter - they're still doing the right thing, regardless of the questionable reason."
"That's what I'd been thinking about," Phoenix explained. "Kristoph never loved me, and he did a lot of terrible things to me, but he did some good things for me too. I mean, he helped me out financially, he comforted me when you and I broke up, he paid to remodel my office..."
"After causing you to lose your job, tricking us into breaking up, and formulating a plan to set hidden cameras in your walls."
"Heh, yeah, but still. When he was doing good things for me, even for terrible reasons, he was still doing those good things... right? And he did the good things he did very well."
Miles shook his head, more in fond exasperation than disagreement. "Wright, you're probably the only person in the world who could take that angle on seven years of torment and manipulation. ...You really haven't changed one bit."
"No... I've definitely changed," Phoenix said, after considering. "I'm stronger than I was. That's something he did for me without even knowing he was doing it."
Miles glanced over at him, then glanced downward. "Will you take your hands out of your pockets for a change," he complained, "so that I might hold one?"
Phoenix grinned sheepishly. That was something he hadn't even realized he was doing until Miles pointed it out. Funny - nowadays he was the one who still felt odd and exposed holding hands in public, and Miles was the one who always had to remind him that it was all right.
Come to think of it, Miles had changed too, and Phoenix thought for the better.
Well over a year later, Phoenix was sorting through the videos that had accumulated on Mia's computer during the time he'd been gathering his evidence; Miles had informed him, quite firmly, that Edgeworth and Wright (he'd finally given in under the authority of alphabetization, though Phoenix wondered how he'd justify that when they brought Apollo on board) was going to make use only of computers that ran operating systems less than ten years old. He'd already deleted every video bearing Kristoph's name without looking - he definitely didn't need those for evidence anymore, and he saw the face enough in the dreams that still disturbed his sleep from time to time. Then he was making himself feel better by looking over the ones named after Trucy, rediscovering all the old memories of bright spots in the midst of the darkness, when he found one without any further designation besides her name and a date.
It was one of his earliest videos, for she was still very little in it, in the middle of telling her daddy to watch as she ran off towards the jungle gym at the playground near Kristoph's house, saying she was going to do a trick. The picture bobbed a little as he nodded - then jerked suddenly when Phoenix, who had been expecting her to hang upside down by her knees or something, started in alarm at the shout of 'Presto!' and a sudden gigantic cloud of smoke engulfing the bars, the screams from the children that had been playing on them already.
"You see, Daddy?" she said proudly, striking a pose as the smoke began to clear. "I made all the other kids disappear!"
"..." The Phoenix in the video was speechless, staring at the empty play equipment and the kids who had fled from it, now standing around and gaping, some of them crying.
Suddenly there was a cough, and the camera turned to its source, sitting at his side, just in time to catch Kristoph laughing. Not the mocking way he'd laughed when Phoenix said goodbye, or the hysterical laughter he'd displayed on the witness stand - this was a laugh of honest amusement. "Questionable technique," he remarked, turning to Phoenix with a broad smile, "but you must admit, she got the desired result." And with that, he began to laugh again.
Phoenix watched until the end, until the picture froze on Kristoph's smile, and then watched a little longer. That one, he decided, he would keep.