"A dreamer of pictures, I run in the night/ They see us together, chasing the moonlight/ My cinnamon girl."
Energy filled the courtroom as the trial of Quercus Alba would soon begin. Franziska had arrived early so she could find a good seat at the front of the gallery, in a location that would allow her to see all the terror and anguish on Alba's face when he succumbed to the triumph of the law. She could feel her heartbeat quickening in anticipation, because in a few minutes Miles Edgeworth would appear to bring Alba to his doom. Facing Miles across the courtroom not too long ago had been an exciting challenge, but she had never watched him from the sidelines like this. Miles may have been a fool in many ways, but when he stood at the prosecutor's bench, she had learned that he was anything but.
"This spot taken?"
She looked up into the familiar face of Shi-Long Lang. With his hands in his pockets and a smirk on his face, he was the picture of an insufferable fool. But despite his horrid fashion sense and his annoying habit of calling her "sis", he had proven himself to be a competent ally during their investigation of the smuggling ring. She supposed far worse people could have asked.
"You may sit," she said tersely, and he settled onto the bench next to her. It was a little disconcerting to see him alone, without that secretary woman constantly by his side. Anyone who had dared to cross Franziska like that would have gotten a much crueler fate than a few lashes of her whip. She almost pitied the man. She turned away from Lang and smoothed her skirt, then settled her hands over the whip on her lap. For a few minutes, they said nothing to each other, as more people began to fill the seats in the courtroom. Franziska's hands clenched when several particularly loud spectators moved behind her, some even clutching snot-nosed brats. Court was no place for children, excepting herself at that age, of course. But then, she had never exactly been a normal child. Prodigies did not have the luxury of ignorance.
Lang said something, but she couldn't hear him over the noise. He leaned in closer, and said in her ear, "It's a media circus out there."
A masculine scent accosted her nose at his close proximity, and she frowned in disapproval. "I cannot say I'm surprised," she said. "Those useless reporters fawn over criminals, but completely neglect the enforcers of justice who catch them in the first place!"
He sat back and grinned. "Angry that you were passed over for an interview, sis?" The loud people found a seat that was farther away, so she could hear him normally again.
Her hands pulled her whip taut between them. "Of course not!" she sniffed. "I have more pride than that!" Although, it was true that she would have liked to have more acknowledgment of her particular genius and her value to the case. Lang got most of the media's questions, attention-seeking philistine as he was. The reporters wanted Miles's opinion too, but he usually made an excuse to leave rather than talk to them.
To her surprise, Lang's smug smile faded and he dipped his head in humility. "Everyone on my team is an important asset, regardless of how much media attention they get." He gave her a meaningful look, then changed the subject.
"I hope Mr. Edgeworth isn't all bark and no bite in the courtroom," he said, glancing thoughtfully at the currently empty prosecutor's bench. "He's not bad at the whole investigating biz, but he wouldn't have gotten my trust so fast if you hadn't already earned my respect, sis."
It was her turn to smirk, and she waved her finger at him. "You would do well to remember that I am also a prosecutor, Agent Lang." Having the respect of one of the top agents in Interpol was nothing to turn up her nose at, even if he was infuriating at times.
Looking at the lines of his profile, she couldn't quite read the emotion on his face. "I haven't forgotten, Ms. von Karma," he said, turning his gaze back to her.
She had no time to answer, because at that moment the judge took his seat. It was the same old man who appeared to handle most of the high profile trials in this district of Los Angeles. Lang and his foolish opinion of prosecutors could wait, because she was not going to miss even a second of this trial. Miles Edgeworth and the defense attorney for Alba appeared shortly after the judge, moving to their respective areas and looking over the court record. The bailiff led Alba himself in, and Franziska noted that his arrogance had withered, leaving a defeated husk of a man.
She and Lang watched in silence as the trial unfolded. Since Alba had already confessed in front of law enforcement at the embassy, it was a relatively short affair. She frowned as Larry Butz, the King of Fools, took to the witness stand to testify about Alba's activities, tarnishing the perfection of the courtroom once again. The only other witness was the woman formerly known as Shih-na. Franziska noticed Lang tense up beside her as his previous subordinate talked of Alba's orders for her, this time under her real name.
The judge barely needed time to consider before giving Alba a guilty verdict. Franziska smiled as the trial reached its inevitable conclusion.
"We got him!" Lang muttered under his breath, a fiery look in his eyes. Franziska realized that he'd been tense during the entire trial, and only just allowed himself to relax. She had felt much the same.
"No criminal can escape from Justice," Franziska remarked. "The arm of the law will reach out and squash any man or woman who dares to challenge it! Quercus Alba's demise was only a matter of time."
Lang leaned his head back and laughed, long and heartily. "We can both agree on that!" He slipped his hands into his pockets as they both stood. "Hey, listen, I have some things I'd still like to discuss with you. Do you have time to meet over lunch? I've worked up an appetite."
She had expected he might want to discuss matters further, and they talked business over lunch once before. Besides, her stomach had started to growl during the trial. The courtroom clock showed two hours past noon, so a late lunch would have to suffice. She mentally reviewed her schedule before nodding.
"I have an hour or two to spare, I suppose," Franziska said. "But I hope you have a place in mind, Agent Lang. I do not need to waste time running all over the city."
He winked. "How do you feel about trying some Zheng Fa cuisine, Ms. von Karma? There's a restaurant only a few blocks from here."
"Feeling" had nothing to do with it, Franziska thought. She either wanted to eat it or she didn't. "That would be fine," she replied. "However, I want to speak with my little brother before we leave."
Lang's smile grew wider. "I want to congratulate Mr. Prosecutor myself, actually."
They didn't find Miles in the lobby, so they decided to look for him in his office. As Franziska and Lang approached, she could hear loud, excited voices through the open door.
"What is all of this foolish racket?" Franziska asked, entering the room first. Miles gave her an apologetic look, and Kay and Scruffy stopped shouting in celebration when they heard her voice.
"I would like to speak privately with Ms. von Karma and Agent Lang," Miles told his two eager "assistants." His crossed arms and stern expression told them that he would accept no argument.
"C'mon, Gummy!" Kay said, grabbing the detective by the arm. "We can share a Swiss roll!" Franziska sighed as they closed the door behind them. The company that her brother kept around himself continued to perplex her. He was like a magnet for fools.
"Good job out there," Lang said. He extended his hand, and Miles shook it, unable to keep the surprise from showing on his face. "Lang Zi says: 'He who cannot admit wrong is not fit for carrion.'"
Lang apparently had a proverb memorized for every occasion. He and Miles continued to talk, so Franziska cracked her whip in the air, pleased at the way they jumped. They would think twice next time they failed to acknowledge her!
"Miles Edgeworth!" she said, once she had his undivided attention. "Now is not the time to get complacent!" She extended a hand toward him. "You still have a long way to go before you attain perfection. Though you performed adequately as my subordinate." She hoped he realized her generosity in giving him a compliment.
His mouth quirked into a wry smile. "Thank you, Franziska," he said, and then looked between her and Lang. "I'm about to make tea. Would you care to have any?"
Lang shook his head, indicating Franziska with a wave of his hand. "No can do, Mr. Prosecutor. Me and Ms. von Karma have a lunch date. That okay with you, 'little bro?'"
Franziska had to admit that Lang throwing Edgeworth off balance amused her, though she absolutely did not appreciate Lang's insinuation.
She knew better than to try to hit him with her whip, though she cracked it anyway from annoyance. "Agent Lang! How dare you give anyone the wrong impression of our association?" Her irritation increased as she felt her cheeks grow warm. Von Karmas did not allow themselves to feel so plebeian an emotion as embarrassment.
He laughed and held out his hands to placate her. "Chill, sis. I was just joking." He lifted a hand to Miles in farewell. "We really do have to discuss some business, Mr. Edgeworth. If you find yourself needing Interpol's help in the future, you have my card."
Miles bowed elegantly. "Of course. And you have mine." Franziska told Miles she would return to his office later, and she and Lang left the courthouse. They managed to dodge the questions of the reporters outside (though Franziska was somewhat pleased that many of them were directed at her), and turned in the direction of the restaurant that Lang had mentioned earlier.
The early afternoon crowd was thick, and Franziska found herself wishing she could clear the way with her whip, which currently rested in her purse. Lang must have noticed the way she clutched the fabric of her sleeves in discomfort, because he asked, "What's wrong, sis? You don't like crowds?"
She found herself shaking her head, even though she hated to admit weakness. There was no use in pretending if he could tell, anyway. "I do not like American cities," she said, glaring in front of her. "They are noisy and polluted and covered in filth."
"So is every city in the world, even in Germany, I'll bet," he replied lightly. He walked with an easy slouch. "It must be something else."
She glared at him for sullying the name of her native country, but added, "And I do not usually have to walk. In the past I've had that scruffy detective drive me wherever I needed to go, or paid for a taxi." A teenager on rollerblades passed too close to her elbow for comfort, and she edged closer to Lang.
"Don't you stay in a hotel near the courthouse when you're here?" Lang asked, and this close beside him she became keenly aware of her inadequate height. She suddenly thought of the frustration she felt when she first became a prosecutor and everyone insisted on treating her like a child. The day she had turned sixteen she had bought herself a pair of high heels.
"No," she said, without looking at him. "The von Karma estate is outside of the city, in a suburban gated community. My father bought it many years ago since he spent so much time here. It is currently under my name, and I reside there when I'm in America."
Lang gave her an uncomfortably searching look, then his mouth quirked with amusement. "I can hold your hand if you're worried we'll get separated."
She felt a twitch beginning at the corner of her eye. If only she had her whip in hand, he would regret those words. "I am perfectly," she said tightly, "fine."
They continued to walk, silence only broken by the click of her heels on the pavement. Franziska found herself remembering the summers she had spent at the American house as a child, even though she had begun to leave those days behind her. She felt relieved when Lang pointed out the restaurant, Zheng Fa letters blazing red on the awning.
"Our destination," he said, and she followed him inside. He bowed to the hostess in the customary Zheng Fa way and indicated the two of them. The hostess recognized his nationality and talked to him in their language.
"She's asking if we want to sit outside or in here," he told Franziska.
"I'd prefer to sit inside," she said, even though the day was rather warm. He looked somewhat disappointed, but answered the hostess in English. They were seated next to a window, and the waitress quickly arrived to take their drink order. At least they were speedy and efficient here, Franziska noted. She ordered a water with lemon, and stared as Lang asked for orange juice. He spoke in English, even when the staff insisted on addressing him in his native language. Probably to be polite since Franziska couldn't understand it.
"That is absolutely disgusting," she said, when the drinks arrived. Lang took a sip and licked his lips.
"I find it brings out the flavor of my favorite meal," he said, giving her a toothy smile. "There is beauty in complementation, even if at first two things don't appear to belong together, as Lang Zi famously stated."
Franziska bit her lip to keep herself from replying that she had never heard such a supposedly famous proverb, and she doubted Lang Zi would stoop to drinking orange juice during a business lunch.
She looked over her menu, scanning past the Zheng Fa names to the English descriptions beside every item. During her travels, she had eaten food from many countries, and yet she was not very familiar with Zheng Fa cuisine. She frowned thoughtfully, considering which selection would give her the best quality for its price.
When the waitress returned, Lang indicated for Franziska to order first.
The waitress said something to Lang in Zheng Fa, and he translated. "She asked if our order is on one check."
"Well then, tell her they're separate," Franziska replied, waving her hand. He should not need to ask such an obvious question.
"Ms. von Karma, let me pay," he said, and touched his fingers together earnestly. "To make up for accusing you earlier at the embassy."
"Agent Lang," she said with annoyance. He may have been the first person ever to offer, but it still went against her principles. "Did I not say quite clearly that you were forgiven? I am capable of paying for myself."
He sighed, not quite reassured, but told the waitress that they wanted separate checks.
Franziska had decided on a pork, rice, and vegetable combination with accompanying soup. After Lang had ordered (using the Zheng Fa name, breaking his courtesy of speaking in English), he placed his elbows against the table and leaned forward.
"It's quite the coincidence that two prosecutors connected to Manfred von Karma worked with me on this case," he said, his eyes searching hers. She didn't look away. "Wouldn't you agree?"
She clasped her hands tightly in her lap. "What is your point, Agent Lang?" she snapped. "I do not believe you are a man who makes baseless accusations." At least in the embassy he had a method to his madness, when he pointed to her as the suspect.
"Don't get the wrong idea," he said quickly. "I'm not accusing you of anything, sis. But I looked carefully into your background as well as Mr. Edgeworth's before we worked together, and that stood out to me."
She crossed her arms, breathing deeply to reign in her growing sense of irritation. She'd begun to have more control over her anger in recent months, after some soul-searching on her part, though she still did not like where this conversation was heading. Talk of her father delved into unpleasantness that she really did not want to dwell on. Franziska had learned long ago that unacceptable feelings could be controlled if she locked them away deep in her mind and forgot them.
"I am honored to belong to the von Karma name," she said, staring down at the table. "Being a von Karma means striving toward perfection in every way. I cannot accept any less for myself, or for Miles." She had talked about it so many times that the words no longer gave her the same reassurance as they once had.
"That's not an easy goal to achieve," Lang said quietly.
"I may be a von Karma," Franziska continued, speaking more firmly, "but I follow this path for myself, not for my father or anyone else. I will make my own way, under no one's merits but mine."
"Regardless of my opinion of Manfred von Karma," Lang replied, shrugging, "I can at least respect your dedication to your family name." He placed a hand over his heart, as if to demonstrate the sincerity of his words. "After all, I've spent my entire career trying to bring honor back to the house of Lang."
Franziska nodded. "Surely your name will be all over the news. Anyone who doubts a Lang after this must certainly be a fool."
He gave her a lopsided smile. "That's my hope, anyway. Finding all the counterfeit money in my country will help. But I don't know if one success will remove a whole century of ridicule."
She placed her palm roughly against the table. "Why is it all your responsibility, in the first place? Must you carry the entire weight of your family on your back?"
He smiled, then looked out of the window at the people walking by, his expression thoughtful. "I'm the oldest of four siblings, and I have cousins and other relatives," he explained. Then he smiled. "But I'm the only one who's stubborn enough to go into law enforcement."
For some reason, learning that Lang had four younger siblings made Franziska feel keenly aware of her youth, though she had not thought of herself in that way for a long time.
"In truth, Miles is like my older brother," she said, ignoring Lang's smirk. "We grew up together. I also have an elder sister, though she left the house while I was still very young." Thinking of her sister brought back painful memories. There had been many more arguments in those days, because the eldest von Karma daughter never agreed with their father's philosophy. Franziska hadn't talked to her sister in years, though she still received a card every Christmas containing a photo of her sister's family.
"So you and Mr. Edgeworth were close?" Lang asked, regarding her with interest.
She had never really considered it before. "It wasn't as simple as that," she said slowly, and then frowned. "I don't believe my personal business is the subject of this meeting, Agent Lang."
He bowed his head. "I get ya, sis."
The arrival of their food brought a welcome distraction. Lang had gotten some kind of eggplant dish, and Franziska once again stared in surprise.
"I assumed you were fond of meat," she said, "with all that foolish wolf talk."
Lang startled her by laughing so loudly that several other patrons looked to see where all the noise was coming from. She noted with irritation that he even wiped a tear from his eye.
"I can see why you'd get that impression," he replied, after he'd calmed down. "The wolf has strong spiritual meaning for me. But I'm a Buddhist, and I'd rather not eat meat. This is faux fur on my jacket, by the way." He took a long gulp of orange juice to wash down his first bite.
"Of course," Franziska muttered, picking up her chopsticks. She had never quite gotten the hang of using them.
"Here, sis, hold 'em like this," Lang said, demonstrating for her. She copied the position of his fingers and tried to pick up a bit of pork. "That's better," Lang said with approval.
A few minutes went by as they both savored their food. Franziska's choice was quite good. The subtle flavor of the sauce appealed to her palate.
Franziska decided she would not let the real matter of their rendezvous go unsaid any longer. "Was there a reason you asked me to lunch other than to inquire into my relationship with Miles?" she asked, after dabbing her mouth with a napkin.
Lang nodded, swallowing his food before speaking. "Actually, I have a favor to ask of you, Ms. von Karma."
"A favor?" She leveled a suspicious glare at him.
"Heh, don't look at me like that," he said with amusement. "I want you to head the prosecution against Alba in Cohdopia."
She blinked. "Indeed, it would be a great honor to do so," she said, not admitting that she had secretly wished for it. "But I had assumed Interpol would rather a Cohdopian handle that trial."
Lang shook his head. "I don't trust just any prosecutor," he said. "I admit that when we first met, I doubted you." He put up a hand before she could make a retort. "I kept a close eye on you, because of your history as a prosecutor and because of your last name. But why do you think I started calling you 'sis?'"
"An annoying Zheng Fa custom, or simply to condescend to me, I supposed," Franziska replied. She had decided it was easier to just let him continue to call her that, because no amount of correcting or threatening him seemed to matter.
He at least had the grace to look sheepish. "I think Lang Zi can explain it better than me. 'Trust every member of your pack, for only then can it grow as strong as the bond of blood kin.'"
She said harshly, "You are a foolish man, Shi-Long Lang!" He jumped at her sudden outburst. She twisted the cloth napkin into a ball so she wouldn't slam the table. "You took a bullet for that reason, for a woman who betrayed you! Do you not see that you will only get more hurt in the end?"
Lang leaned forward, hand clenched into a fist on the table. "That's the price I'm willing to pay, if it means I can trust others with my back!" He searched her eyes with his gaze and lowered his voice. "Please, don't disappoint me, Ms. von Karma. I accepted you as a member of my team. I don't think I can handle any more betrayal of my trust."
"I can assure you," Franziska said, with all the patience she could manage, "that you have no reason to fear. If you want to foolishly think of me as a part of your little family, then you may do as you wish."
Lang leaned back into a more relaxed posture. "You're a lot like me, you know." He pointed at her for emphasis. "You catch the scent of crime and you never stop hunting it, never backing down from a fight. That's a quality I respect, prosecutor or not. I want you to lead the prosecution against Alba in Cohdopia because you appreciate the value of evidence." He chuckled. "But don't get me wrong: you and me are equals, even if you're younger than me. I don't really think of you as my little sister. I already have one of those, and one is more than enough for me!"
He looked at her steadily, as if expecting her to realize the weight of his words. She had the odd sensation of being unbalanced, though she couldn't explain why.
She drew herself up straight in her seat. "Agent Lang, I shall go to Cohdopia and crush Alba under the heel of perfect evidence!"
"That's the spirit," Lang said, grinning proudly. "Besides, I already let it slip to Mr. Prosecutor that you were going to head the case. Too bad I won't be there to see it! I have to finish things up here and then go back to Zheng Fa."
They finished the rest of their meal without much conversation, and both paid when the check arrived-Lang with cash and Franziska with a credit card.
"We should head to the courthouse," Lang said, as they left the restaurant. "My agents are probably wondering where I ran off to."
"Yes, and I have other matters to attend to," Franziska replied.
They walked in silence once again, though this time it was a comfortable one. Franziska thought over her conversation with Lang, and she had the impression that Lang did the same. He continued to perplex her. When they had first met, she'd been quite annoyed by his attitude. He constantly second-guessed her, and made sure she had evidence to back up every assertion. Once, he'd said during a particularly heated argument that he didn't need a von Karma to forge evidence for him, he was perfectly capable of solving the case on his own! But he was the only person to ever stop her whip in its tracks, which infuriated her even further.
Lang had pushed her in ways no one else except Miles could manage, and he followed her investigative methods every step of the way. Clearly there was a brain underneath that ridiculous hairstyle, as much as she had been reluctant to admit it. By the time they'd both followed the smuggling ring to the embassy in America, they had learned to respect each other. After all, they had a similar work ethic, as he'd pointed out during lunch. His courage and loyalty were admirable qualities, as foolish as she might find him at times. But he got under her skin in other ways, too. She felt as if he slowly chipped away at the cold, professional wall she'd built around herself. He wasn't intimidated by her, and she showed a side of herself to him that she hid from everyone, even Miles. The realization wasn't a pleasant one, and yet she did not mind talking to Lang. There seemed to be no logical explanation for her reaction. Perhaps her brother's foolishness was contagious.
As they reached the steps to the courthouse, Lang touched her arm lightly, stopping her.
"You'll let me know how the trial against Alba goes in Cohdopia, right?" he asked.
Franziska placed a hand on her hip, giving him her best haughty smile. "Of course," she said. "I will inform you of my success personally."
He stepped back and laughed. "I wouldn't have it any other way, sis. And if Interpol should ever need your assistance-"
"You can rest assured that my phone line will be open. I hope we will work together again, Agent Lang."
"I'll look forward to it, Ms. von Karma." In that moment, his eyes were impossibly dark.