They Shoot Phoenixes, Don't They?
By Reid M. Haynes
Disclaimer: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney was created by Shu Takumi, and is the property of CAPCOM, as well as all characters within. I am using them without permission, and I am making no money off of them.
If he had only known the steps, it would've been so simple.
Heck, It was already simple, at least as far as his fourteen-year-old self had figured. All he had to do with ask Peggy Sue for the waltz at the Maximo Junior High retro-50s dance. He knew she liked him, at least a little bit, and everyone else had already come with dates, so there was no competition to worry about. It was time for a stalwart future attorney to poke an accusing finger at his target and say: "Hey, you wanna dance, doncha?"
Too bad he didn't know the first thing about fast dancing.
The next dance the DJ had chosen was not the waltz, but the jitterbug. A high octane jig in where he was completely outclassed by even the average A. V. Club nerd. The awkward teenager has managed to steer Peggy and himself straight into a stepladder at the side of the gym, knocking them both into a tangled heap on the floor. The laughter of his peers rang in his ears, at least before the sirens did, when they got him out on a stretcher.
That night, he had left the dance with a broken leg, and Peggy had left with a new beau, a soccer player from another school who was quick to comfort a fallen maiden. And that had been the end of dance parties for him.
...Until just a few hours ago.
"Nick? Nick! Hey, Earth to Nick!"
Phoenix jerked up from the mire of his memories, and from the plate of burgers he had nearly planted his face into. Maya was currently staring at him with protuberant, black eyes, her mouth half-full of the aforementioned burgers, and the yet-to-be-mentioned french fries sitting on the side. "You still here, Nick?" she asked, leaning closer as if she were a physician examining a patient. "You kinda spaced out for a second there."
The tall young man rubbed a hand up his face and through his spiky brown locks. "I'm fine," he told her, giving his noggin a quick shake as if to confirm to himself he was, in fact, still awake. "Just...old memories, that's all."
Maya groaned and rolled her eyes. "Geez Nick, pull it together!" she scolded him with all the stern authority she could muster, which was really not that much. "We're only two hours into the dance, and you're already halfway gone!" She motioned over to the ladder leaning against the far wall. "You almost tripped over that ladder, too."
"That's a stepladder," Phoenix corrected her, old wounds throbbing as he glared hard at the offending object, almost daring it to "step" into his path once again.
The young lady huffed. "Don't be so discriminatory!" Maya chided him. "Ladders are free to be ladders regardless of race!" As a sudden thought came to her, she gripped her arm and touched her face in contemplation. "Maybe I should start a social justice blog on Tumblr addressing Ladder Discrimination," she wondered, her eyes wandering away from Phoenix for the moment. "I'll call it ''Ladder Shaming Awareness!'"
Maya, you're the only one bothered by "ladder discrimination," Phoenix thought to himself, trying and failing to imagine much readership for Maya's hypothetical blog. "Maybe you should try something more mainstream," he tried instead, hoping to redirect the conversation before it got even more ridiculous.
"Then, how 'bout Happy Happyism?" she suggested, her eyes focusing back on his. "You know, the blue cult? Aren't you a member, Nick? With the blue suit an' all?"
"It's just a suit, not an obsession," he rejoined, frustrated. Privately, he had to admit that his choice in business attire was getting a bit stale. At least, I hope it's not an obsession...
He wasn't wearing his blue suit tonight, though. Rather, Phoenix was clad in a pair of tight blue jeans and a varsity-style letter jacket with a "P" stitched on the left side. Maya, for her part, was dressed the part of a hip, sockhop girl, with a pale pink blouse and a purple, poofed-up circle skirt with the Steel Samurai logo in place of the customary poodle. They were dressed this way for the Gatewater Hotel's annual spring marathon dance, already two hours underway, and already wearing on Phoenix's last nerve.
Naturally, It had all been Pearl's idea. She'd been scheming for the better part of a year to get Phoenix and Maya in some sort of pseudo-romantic encounter, and had latched onto the dance as her best opportunity yet, especially considering the grand prize for 1st Place. Phoenix had tried to politely discourage the idea, but Maya had taken one look at the official autographed Steel Samurai artbook, signed by Will Powers, and was firmly on board, which suited Pearl just fine. "Just think, Mystic Maya and Mr. Nick are going on their first date!" Phoenix had heard Pearl saying to herself as she shoved Maya and Phoenix out the door. "And Mr. Nick has a new jacket. too!"
Does Pearls think I'm going to sweep her Mystic Maya off her feet? If I do, it's probably because I stepped on them and broke her toes.
The buzzer rang out for the dancers to get back on the floor, and Phoenix left behind his musings for the moment and stood up from their table. Maya adjusted her skirts with a burger-smudged hand as she rose up from her seat, grabbing one last bite of burger for the road. Although Burger King was offering catering services for the spectators, most of the other competitors were just having a glass of water, not wanting to fill up while dancing. That didn't stop Maya from ordering a big plate of them, though.
"Aren't you going to get a cramp from all that junk?" Phoenix asked, instinctively offering a gentlemanly arm for Maya to grab onto. "We're going into the faster dances pretty soon."
"It's no biggie." Maya looped her left arm through Phoenix's, and pointed at her gut with her free hand, "Eight stomachs, you know!"
Wasn't it four stomachs before? In spite of himself, Phoenix found himself pondering the many idiosyncrasies of his office assistant. You're the hydra of burger binging, Maya.
They maneuvered towards a clear spot on the floor, brushing by a few of the dancers along the way. Many of the couples here tonight were friends they knew through their work at the Wright and Co. Law Offices. Penny Nichols from Global Studios had found a date (a young man a year younger but a head taller), and even Miles Edgeworth and Franziska Von Karma had entered the competition, their competitive spirits knowing no bounds in the court room or on the dance floor. Dick Gumshoe and Maggey Byrde weren't competitors (thanks to Maggey's accident-prone nature), but were instead judges, patrolling about and ready to help escort the fallen dancers off the battlefield.
Maya cheerily placed an arm around Phoenix's shoulder, smiling up at him with a sparkle in her eye. Phoenix gulped, but quickly placed his fingers around her slender waist, trying to cover up his hesitance. As their hands intertwined, she stepped closer to him so that their bodies were almost, but not quite, touching. "Right, so let's get to it!" the spritely young woman cheered, and started moving into a box step that was surprisingly fluid for a spirit medium from the sticks.
Phoenix fumbled his way through the steps, trying not to look like too much of a lummox in front of his assistant. As they moved across the floor, he stole a nervous glance at the rest of the competitors, as if they were all going to close in and crush the two like an iron maiden. All about them were happy dancers, most of them couples in real life, with plenty of romantic energy to keep them going well into the night. Phoenix could feel himself sweating as if he were sitting at the defense's bench, wilting under Edgeworth's latest objection....only this time, it was he who had the objection.
Go ahead, take your assistant to the marathon dance! Phoenix attacked his former reasoning with the sharpest sword of sarcasm. It's no big deal! She's like a sister to you! It won't be horribly, horribly awkward in any way!
"Nick, gross!" Maya complained, wiping her hand on her clothes as she let go of Phoenix's hand. "Your hands are all clammy!"
"S-Sorry..." he stammered, cleaning off his palms briefly before retaking the woman in his arms. Maya just sighed, and continued her box step, content to take the lead despite the contrast between her small frame and the young man's lanky physique.
It was a big deal, at least to him. Maya may have been close as family, but she was still another pretty girl who had lowered herself for a dance with him. The baubles in her hair seemed to shine brighter in the multicolored lighting of the dance hall. He wasn't sure, but he thought he could smell the scent of shampoo from her hair; it was certainly shiny enough. He had to admit, despite her quirks, Maya Fey was as cute as any girl who was willing to be seen slow-dancing with him.
And just wait until she finds out what a klutz you are on the dance floor...
The thought literally made Phoenix sick to his stomach. His junior high fumbles, his college days, Maya never knew the awkward kid he was growing up; only the passionate defense attorney he presented himself as. In a way, it was a fresh start, but also a fresh chance to blow it again. In this world or any other, he simply had no idea what to do with women, and would always make a mess of it.
So when the music stopped for another two-minute break, he decided: why not make a mess of it now? So he did.
"Gosh, Nick!" Maya's eyes were as wide as dishpans, her nose wrinkling up. "You ralphed all over my burgers! Are you getting sick or something?"
"Just...taking a moment to catch my breath..." As Maya looked on with concern, he coughed and sputtered a few times into the new batch of burgers Maya had somehow conjured up. He had just intended to take a breather for a moment, but his nerves had caught up with him, and he found himself hurling all over the table they were seated at. Great job, Phoenix, he chastised himself. Try making a turnabout with a pool of puke in front of you.
"Hey pal, you don't look so good." The couple turned their head to find Gumshoe and Maggey approaching them, with Gumshoe in the lead. "I'm gettin' you off the floor, okay?"
"No, wait, I'm okay, I'm okay," Phoenix protested, trying his best to wave them off even as he was wiping his mouth free of fluid. "Just...must've eaten something weird tonight."
"We all know Nick doesn't have a diecast stomach," Maya pointed out, handing him a glass of water. "You should see him on Mexican night."
"Mr. Wright, is the dance too much for you?" Maggey asked Phoenix, peering over her small glasses to look him in the face. "I mean, I always have some kind of accident whenever I go dancing, so I never go except as a judge."
For once, the young attorney was completely empathetic to Miss Byrde's klutziness. "Well, it's something like that," he admitted. "This whole thing really isn't working out for us."
"Hey, I'm not that bad, am I?" Maya puffed up her cheeks in indignation.
Phoenix sighed. "No Maya, it's not you," he said in a resigned voice. "It's me."
"Eh?" Maya's eyes widened a bit.
So he told her, and Maggey and Gumshoe, about his past experiences on the dance floor. He told them all about that horrible dance in Junior high with the prettiest girl in school, and the broken leg he had suffered (he left out the part about the stepladder, to respect the sensitivities of pro-stepladder advocates). The other three patiently waited for his story to end, crowding around him like he was a sage storyteller. "So you see, I just can't dance well enough for a marathon," he reasoned with them, in a voice that sounded almost like pleading. "You understand, right?"
Maya suddenly clapped her hands in realization. "Oh, it's Post Traumatic Stress Disorder!" she cried, smiling in triumph. "PTSD! That's what it is, right?"
"H-Huh?" Phoenix gasped, putting down his glass as he struggled to catch the train of Maya's thought.
"Yeah, I read up on it in Pearly's schoolbook," she explained. "Can you believe what they teach to kids in home schooling these days?" Suddenly, Maya's voice became firm, as firm as it ever got anyway, "You can't let this fear run your life!" she continued, grabbing hold of his shoulders. "I won't let you!"
"Hey, wait, I just had a bad junior high experience!" he argued back, his argumentative spirit making a comeback. "I'm not a war veteran!"
"I don't know, Mr. Wright," Maggey piped up, moving over to his side. "Before I was fired, I knew a police officer at work who was going through the same thing. Someone stole his ceramic puppy statue from his desk. He didn't get over it until he found the culprit, a little boy who came in with his dad on Take Your Son to Work Day."
"See, that's how I was when my first gerbil ran off," Gumshoe chimed in, wearing his trademark big grin. "I was pretty sad for a while, but then I remembered to close the cage door when I got a new pet, so I learned a lot from that!"
"Well, I know just the thing for you!" Maya made a small muscle with her arm. "Dr. Maya Fey, at your service! We'll get those PTSD blues right out with a little therapy!"
Before he had the chance to protest, the tiny little woman was already dragging out of the chair and onto his feet. "Maya, I don't think..." he began, staring down at this pink and purple ball of positive energy before him. "Hey, just a second!"
"No buts!" Maya tightened her arm around his, clenching a fist like an angry little chipmunk. "We're going to conquer this fear of yours, Nick! Back to the trenches!"
Phoenix made as if to break away, but soon gave up. No matter what, there was no persuading Maya when she got an idea into her head. Moreover, she was right. It was time to stop running from Peggy Sue, from dancing, from women in general.
As the buzzer rang out again for the dancers, Phoenix turned to the large man standing over him. "Gumshoe, I think we're gonna get back out there," he told Gumshoe, as Maya hung by his side. "I think my stomach's calmed down enough."
The detective relented. "Alright, pal," he said. "But one more time, and you go home."
"Just get a stretcher ready for me," he called out as Maya dragged him back to the center of the dance floor.
The contest was indeed moving on to the faster and harder dances. The next one wasn't the dreaded jitterbug, but it was a very quick polka. Yet Maya confidently got Phoenix and herself ready to go, positioning their hands like an expert dance instructor. "Okay, this'll be real easy!" she said, taking charge of Phoenix's movements. "We'll start out slow, and then pick up speed."
"Well, what do I do?" Phoenix said helplessly, looking to his tiny partner for support.
"Just follow my lead, Nick!" she said, and began the first steps as the music started up once again.
Isn't the guy supposed to lead? Phoenix nevertheless followed Maya's fancy footwork as she bounced them across the floor with the other competitors. True to his nature, he was taken off-guard by the quick steps of this psychic dynamo in a purple skirt. He could barely keep track of his partner's moves and the positions of the other dancers on the floor. But Maya never let them falter, and continued to make quick corrections to his hand placement as they went round and round the dance floor.
As they danced, Phoenix was slowly finding his groove amidst his nervousness. The confident energy of Maya Fey was infectious, and for once, he felt he could trust her to handle everything for the both of them. He started to take control as she gradually relinquished it, and even chanced spinning her around, Maya's skirts fanning out elegantly. And in spite of all his worrying, he felt his trepidation slowly become more and more irrelevant, like a piece of bogus evidence discarded on the first day of trial.
This...this isn't so bad...
"Can you keep up, Nick?" Maya taunted him teasingly, her long black tresses bounding about her head.
"You just watch!" he said, and finally took the lead.
Together, Phoenix and his partner kicked up a storm of dust on the dance floor, dominating the scene with their graceful moves and quick steps. Sensing they had some real livewires on their hands, the other dancers gave them a wide berth, allowing them full rein of the hall. Even Edgeworth was taking notice, peering over Franziska's shoulder at the pair with an incredulous expression on his face. And when the song had ended, they were clutching onto each other and laughing, with bright, open smiles on their faces...
The lights of the dance hall were dimmed down to a mere lucent hint, casting murky shadows across the shining dance floor. The beams refracted through half-empty punch bowls and deflated party balloons, and coated the two dancers on the floor in a haze that radiated around them like moonglow. Phoenix and Maya swayed together in the center of the room, the latter's skirts shuffling about her wobbling legs. Phoenix did his best to keep the young lady on her feet, and offered his moral support as well.
"We lost," he sighed into Maya's hair. "Badly."
"It sucks," Maya affirmed, gripping Phoenix's shoulder weakly.
They never stood a chance against Edgeworth and Franziska. As soon as they requested the Tango for the Challenge dance, the two had left most of their opponents in the dust, like some sort of creepy dancing step-siblings from Hell. Among those forced to quit were Phoenix and Maya, who were shoed off the dance floor along with Penny and her date. Later, after the awards were handed out, all the defeated couples came back onto the floor for a final dance... and somehow, Phoenix and Maya remained on the floor for a little bit after that.
</>Pearls would be squeeing her head off right about now.</i> Phoenix regarded the woman in his arms, fighting the smile that threatened to burst from his lips. i<>But somehow...I don't think I'd mind so much...</i>
"Are you disappointed that you didn't win?" Phoenix teased her, turning Maya in a little spin that sent her skirts sailing. "Edgeworth's taking that Samurai book and all the spoils back to his apartment."
"Oh, well, a little," she answered, twirling back into Phoenix's arms. "But I had fun, so I'm not really sad or anything."
"'Guess Edgeworth's got himself a new artbook for his closet Steel Samurai obsession," he said, as an amused thought came to him. "He'll never live it down, though."
"He really needs to come out of the closet and admit he's a fan!" Maya insisted with a pout. "The Samurai series is better than My Little Pony, anyway."
Coming out of the closet, huh? Phoenix chose this moment to be bold, and say something he had oft thought about ever since Maya came back to his office for that second time. "That reminds me, Maya, do...you want to do something like this again?" he asked, ignoring the butterflies in his stomach as he followed though with his decision.
"You mean, like friends?" she asked, blinking up at him.
"Well, not quite like that," Phoenix chuckled nervously, letting go of Maya's hand to rub the back of his head.
Even Maya Fey could take a hint when you applied it with a sledge-hammer. "Oh...!" The pretty young woman put her hand to her mouth, and averted her gaze for the moment. "Well, I always thought we had more of a brother/sister thing going on..."
Oh crap, I'm a goner. Here it comes! I'm getting friendzoned! ...Wait, I'm always friendzoned. This isn't anything new.
"..but if you don't want to do that anymore, I...I guess we could try 'us' for a little bit," she finished, looking up at him before he had time to contemplate the imminent sexual harassment suit. And, at that moment, Phoenix could finally see her rosy blush shining under the low light of the dance hall.
"You think you want to give it a shot?" he asked, bringing her back into step with their waltz.
"Yeah, I've always liked you, Nick." Maya lip curled up in a grin. "Plus, Pearly was right. You really look good in your fifties stuff."
Phoenix smiled in kind. "And you look great, Maya."
Maya's smile widened, her eyes sparkling with old love and new energy. Taking a quick breath to prepare herself, she stood on tiptoe and kissed Phoenix lightly on the cheek. Not to be outdone, Phoenix leaned over and kissed Maya on the cheek, brushing aside a lock of black hair in order to do so. They stared at each other a moment more, as the dance music faded in preparation for a new track.
"So...how about one more dance?" Phoenix asked her.
"You bet." Maya nodded, re-securing her hold on him.
As the next track started to play, the pair resumed dancing. And this time, Phoenix took the lead from the start. The dance of love was full of stumbles and tangles, and sometimes you trip over a stepladder along the way. But from now on, he felt confident in moving across the floor, now that Maya had shown him the steps.