"Hey, can I help you?" he greeted casually, before eyeing your austere attire. He pulled a hand through his hair, removing a worn beanie slowly.
You introduced yourself coolly. He raised an eyebrow, waiting for you to continue.
"I'm from the government. I need to evaluate your... capacity as a father."
His face fell.
"Oh. Uh, come in."
You stepped past him, holding your clipboard to your chest, analyzing your surroundings. It was incredibly messy.
The table was littered with papers of childish drawings, empty paper cups, and half eaten snacks. The shelves were put to no use as books and toys stacked themselves atop themselves on the floor. Odd props were thrown against the wall without care, and you definitely saw a pair of ladies underwear stuck behind the piano.
You looked down at your paper and gave him a 0 for 'cleanliness'. He cleared his throat awkwardly behind you, sniffling.
"If I had known you were coming, I would've cleaned up."
"That's why I don't tell people I'm coming," you said, turning to look at him sternly. "People hide things."
He looked away.
"So, how does this work? Oh – uh, take a seat." He paced over to his stain riddled couch, brushing off a few crumbs and then gestured to it. Your nose wrinkled, but you crossed the room, and sat.
"I judge you based on this guide. If you're unfit to be a parent..." you flipped through your documents, searching for a name, "then Trucy will be placed into custody."
His face paled visibly and he clenched his hands together. "What?"
You watched his movements. "If I decide Trucy will not be safe in your care, I will have her moved as a ward of the state."
"Wait – so all I have to do is pass your quiz?" He laughed nervously. "I've squeezed through worse..."
"It doesn’t work that way."
The silence was unbearable.
"Mr. Wright, have you taken drugs in the past year?"
"Wh – why?" He looked bewildered.
You sighed. "It's a question, Mr. Wright."
A look passed over his face. "... it was once. Before I had Trucy. I got disbarred and – "
You cut him off. "I don't need explanations." You checked off 'yes' under 'recent drug activity'.
"Well, you should be empathetic! You have no idea what I went through." He was seething.
"Careful," you warned, "I can mark you for aggressive temper."
He bit his lip in compliance.
"How many times have you drunk enough alcohol to raise your BAC to 0.8%?"
"I don't know. I lost count."
"What's your annual income?"
"I-I don't know." He looked panicky, clenching his fists together.
"You don't have an income?" You stared at him unbelievingly.
"Trucy... she goes out and does shows. The money she makes varies per show."
"'Shows'." Mr. Wright, she's a minor." You desperately hoped you were misinterpreting.
"Magic shows. At the cafe. Look, you can't take her away from me." His voice cracked. "She's the best thing that's happened to me since I lost everything."
Your heart sank. "Mr. Wright, are you single?"
"Are you currently in a relationship?"
"Mr. Wright, are you..."
You closed your clipboard after what seemed like an hour of slow answers.
"You didn't… pass."
He exhaled loudly. He bent forwards on his knees, and you were afraid he might throw up.
"No. No! Look, I'm a good guy, okay? We're getting by. Ask anybody, I've got lots of help if I need it, Trucy's happy–"
"I can't verify any of that." You interrupted his hysteric rambling so you wouldn’t have to hear it. Opening your clipboard once more, you showed him the page with the mostly negative markings, along with empty space for a signature.
"You have to let me keep her. I'll pass the damn thing, just... please."
You ignored him. "Do you see this, Mr. Wright?"
He was rubbing his knuckles into his eyes. "Phoenix!" you said loudly. He looked up slowly.
"You're single, and without income. I automatically have to forfeit your right as a parent anyways."
"I can make a job. Consulting. Or something."
"You've had a record with substance abuse."
"I'm clean now."
You eyed him warily. "If you don't have somebody to vouch for you – then I can't do anything for you."
His silence was soul shattering. Before you could apologize again, the door slammed open.
"Daddy!" a chirpy girl's voice caught your attention before the bright pink cape. She was holding a scepter, sparkling and shiny. She looked at you. "Who's this?"
He cleared his throat, swiping at his eyes. "Uh, a friend."
You gave him a look, but he shot you an even dirtier one. 'Don't,' he mouthed.
"A lawyer friend?" Trucy walked up to the couch, plopping down beside Phoenix. He put a gentle arm around her. You observed carefully.
"No," you said quickly, dragging your gaze to her clear, blue eyes. "Why do you think that?"
"You're wearing a suit. Daddy used to wear suits when he was a lawyer."
"Oh, this?" You pulled on the sleeve of your blazer. "It's called a pantsuit. Suits for ladies."
"I like it! You look very nice in it." Her beaming grin was heartbreaking when you realized the weight of the papers in your hands.
"Okay, go wash up, Truce. Me and my friend have to talk." Phoenix’s voice was low.
"'Kay, Daddy. Nice meeting you, Miss...?"
You introduced yourself awkwardly. She smiled again before leaving, and guilt loomed over you.
"You see?" Phoenix said sadly. "She's already lost a dad. I don't think she can handle losing another one."
"Yeah. I read the file." You pursed your lips, trying to figure out what to say next.
"All I need is somebody to vouch for me, right?" he leant towards you, a sudden light in his eyes freaking you out.
"It's not that simple. And it's too late."
"You still have to sign the paper. You haven't yet."
You started to understand his past as a lawyer. It reeked from his very being, clung to him like a jasmine flower’s sweet smell.
"No," you admitted.
You were thrown off by the question. Flustering, you looked at your hands. "Um, well–"
"It’s because you still have faith in me. I can show you that I'm a good dad for Truce." He was excited now, standing, and towering over you.
"B-but," you stammered, but he stormed on.
"Who can vouch for me?" he asked, staring you down with the classic cross-examiner's glare. You shifted in your seat uncomfortably.
"They'd have to be registered with the system in some way. They have to be a legal adult, and have a spotless record."
"I know a guy. Miles Edgeworth–"
"–is out of the country. He can't vouch for you because he hasn't been here in the last year."
He looked stunned. "Detective Gumshoe?"
"His record isn't… good enough to qualify. I've done my research." You shook your head. "You don't have any eligible vouchers."
"Well, what's the exception?"
"I went to law school. There's always an exception to laws," he said, impatiently.
"Even if somebody did step up, I might not be able to pass you. You don't even live in a proper house."
"It's an apartment."
"No, it's an office."
His face darkened. "The exception, please."
You sighed, but it was an easy cave once you remembered Trucy's smile. "...a spouse."
"Like, a wife or husband?"
"You have instincts. You know I'm qualified. Your record is spotless and you're registered." He knelt in front of you, balancing on a knee, and it was hard to believe what was happening to you right now.
"Will you marry me?"
You paced around his office space, biting your thumbnail anxiously. He nursed a bruise on his face where you’d pushed him away out of panic.
“Why not?” he demanded, standing up. “You saw me with Trucy. Divorce papers exist!”
“I don’t believe in divorce,” you snapped harshly. You glared at the clipboard in your arms. “Maybe I should just sign the damn thing and get it over with.”
“No!” his yell was hushed, probably as to not panic the young girl just a few rooms away, but his gaze said it all. “Don’t. You can’t rush something like this.”
“No, I can’t.” Your heart was eating itself out, and your stomach lounged around at your feet. “But… I can’t just marry you.”
“I remember you, though. You were one of my clients.”
You swallowed. He’d remembered. “October 5th, 2017,” you said cautiously.
“They thought you killed your brother.”
“Yes. You got me a not-guilty.”
“Then why are you pretending as if you don’t owe me anything?” he asked, taking a step towards you. You stood your ground, letting him come up to you, staring you down.
“I owe you my life,” you admitted. You looked away shamefully. “But I can’t just… drop everything and commit my entire life to you.
He rubbed his chin, which was collecting a rough looking shadow. He looked nothing like the young, bright man you’d remembered; he was worn, weary, and tired. But his eyes remained the same. The same, disturbingly focused gaze that shot down liars and gleamed with intelligence.
You supposed you had a hole in you somewhere, now.
You looked up questioningly.
“How long until you have to sign that off?” He gestured at your clipboard, the ‘REJECTED’ box already ticked off with black pen.
“I have other kids waiting. I have appointments; I have to get it in…” you hesitated. His eyes made your voice waver.
“…Sunday, at the very least. Sunday is when I’ll no longer have an ass, and Sunday 3:01 is when I’ll no longer have a job.” You stared at him. “You can’t make me marry you in that time.”
“Please. Give me a chance. For Trucy. For your brother.” He took your arm, and you tensed, before relaxing your muscle. His face softened and he took his warm hand away. You looked at him, and then at your paper.
“…I guess…” you mumbled, tearing it in half, “I’ll see you on Tuesday.”