Chapter Title: Safety and Danger
Fandom: Professor Layton
Word Count: 4,310
Disclaimer: I do not own Layton or his Top Hat of Awesome.
Summary: First chapter can be found here. Everything is about to come to a head. In more ways than one.
That was it.
That was the last straw.
After the doctor and the police had left, they had helped the Professor to hang a sheet across the window. It was a temporary fix, to be sure, but it would at least offer a barrier between them and the outside world. Layton had sent the two children to bed with explicit instructions to lock their doors. That was an order that Luke was all too happy to obey; he had been doing that here since night one.
Not that he thought the Professor or Flora were any danger to him. But he just…felt safer like that.
But what had happened tonight was the breaking point. It had decided him on something he had quietly been debating over since he had inadvertently heard the exchange between Inspector Chelmey and Professor Layton the other day.
Alone in the room, behind the safety of a locked door, he quickly changed into pajamas, but he did not go to bed. He was exhausted, but sleep was going to have to wait a bit longer. It wasn’t like he had anywhere to be in the morning. There were preparations to be made.
Luke didn’t have much at the moment. And most everything he had now came from the Professor’s kindness, or small things he had found here and there that seemed familiar, and he had just sort of adopted them. But perhaps in doing this, he was actually repaying the man’s generosity. It was certainly going to save him some trouble in the long run.
Were he to step back and really look at the situation, Luke probably would have realized that he was not thinking clearly. But at the right time and under certain circumstances, even the most most rational of minds can fall prey to the most insane of plans, and find those plans to be perfectly logical. And that was what was happening now.
He had some work to do, and to his mind, he had precious little time in which to do it.
…for the Professor’s sake.
Another late night at work, Layton reflected wryly. It seemed like he was spending nights like this more and more frequently, burning the midnight oil to keep up. Just because he was trying to deal with a lot of personal matters at the moment did not mean that the work stopped.
A glance at the clock proved that it was going on one in the morning. He was tired, working in his shirtsleeves, with his beloved hat tossed (carefully) on the sofa in the room. But he was almost done, just a bit more before he could go upstairs and get some well-earned rest.
But it was late, and he was tired, and so his mind was trying to run off on every possible tangent, none of which involved work and the finishing thereof. But for the most part, he kept thinking about what had happened two days before: the large stone flying through the front window.
He’d called in a favor to an old friend, gotten some strings pulled, and gotten the window replaced the day following the incident. It made him feel a good deal safer to have the window there, though the incident had proven that having the glass there was a dubious safety at best.
Still, he was grateful for it right now, as he could hear the first faint patter of rain falling outside. It picked up quickly into a full-out storm. What a night. What a week. What a world, sometimes it seemed.
While he had done his best to keep his outward appearance as close to normal as possible, inwardly he was seething, almost cursing whoever it was that had committed the act of vandalism. And it was not because of the window, nor was it because of the cost.
It was because of the effect the incident had had on Luke.
Flora had been a bit sullen for a bit the morning after, but she had a resilient streak in her when the situation called for it, and she had bounced back to her normal self quickly. The cut on her face would heal, and there had been no further unpleasantness; thus, the incident was placed from her mind for the moment in favor of other things.
But Luke had reverted, practically back to the state he had been in upon his initial arrival. He was silent, withdrawn, nervous. He jumped at shadows, and feared the dark. It was as though in that single instant, with the shattering of that window, all of the progress that had been made with him over all the days he had been there was undone.
It infuriated Layton in a way that precious few things ever had.
With a sigh, he gave up on the work. It was not going to get done tonight. He was too tired, too distracted to give the matter at hand the attention it needed. Best to just put it aside and go to bed. A good night’s rest usually did wonders to clear his head; he would attack this again in the morning.
As he was shuffling papers around and ordering things to be returned to come the morning, he heard a sound just outside the door of his study: the distinct squeak of a certain floorboard in the corridor.
Layton froze and listened. He swore he could hear the faintest of footsteps out there.
Given what had happened to the window, the Professor was already on edge. And now he was hearing sounds. If there was someone in the house right now, he could only assume that they were not friendly. And he had two children upstairs to protect. He would only let someone harm them if that person had to step over his lifeless body to do it.
He grabbed a poker from the fire place. It would suffice well enough as a makeshift weapon, should it come to that. And he crept out into the hallway, taking care to avoid the noisy floorboard. He could hear faint movement in the kitchen; the door to that room was slightly ajar. And it sounded like whoever was in there was…opening the back door?
Tightening his hold on his weapon, Layton took a deep breath and flung the door open.
There was, indeed, someone in the dark room. That someone was standing beside the back door, which was indeed open to the night and the rain. And that someone let out a startled gasp and whipped around to stare at Layton with wide eyes.
For a moment, no one moved.
Then Layton felt the tension flood out of his shoulders in relief, feeling a bit silly at getting all worked up over nothing. He tilted his head to the side and regarded the other person curiously. “Luke? What are you doing, my boy?” Perhaps he was just tired, but it wasn’t until after he asked the question that he noticed a few odd facts about the scenario in front of him.
Luke was not dressed for bed. In fact, he was fully clothed, even wearing a hat. And he had a bag tucked under his arm, the strap hanging from one shoulder; it looked like the messenger bag he had usually carried with him when they had traveled. Layton had found one in the boy’s room after Luke had left, and just didn’t have the heart to get rid of it. So it had stayed tucked away in the closet. The bag looked to have plenty in it.
And the young man was standing beside an open door at night, having actually tried to sneak out there while Layton was in his office. All of these points added up to something being very, very wrong.
The bag slid from Luke’s shoulder and dropped to the ground beside him. He took a step back, towards the door and the world beyond it. And Layton realized what was going on a split second before the young man moved further. “Luke, wait—“
But Luke had already turned, and was tearing out of the house into the rain.
There was a loud clatter as the poker fell from Layton’s hand and hit the floor, but the Professor barely heard it. He was already starting to run, sparing a moment of thanks to whoever was up there that he was still wearing his shoes. At the same time, that little analytical corner of his mind that seemed to take note of everything, no matter how bad the situation, wondered if a lack of shoes would have stopped him from sprinting out there into the wet and the dark.
Almost immediately he noticed something about Luke that he had not had occasion to realize before: in tandem with getting taller, the young man had gotten faster. Much faster. Those long legs were serving him well. Coupled with the fact that he did have a slight head start and the fact that the rain was coming down in sheets, Luke had a surprising advantage.
The thought that he might not catch up to Luke, that the kid could actually get away and vanish possibly for good, made Layton grit his teeth and press harder. He could barely see through eyes clouded by darkness and rain, but he kept his eyes on that speck of blue and white ahead.
“Luke, STOP!” he called after the chase had gone on for a block or so. Try as he might, he wasn’t as young a man as he had once been, and dogged determination could only match the energy of youth for a time before the body ceased to match the spirit.
To his amazement, Luke did as he was told. He stopped and whipped around. The glow of a streetlight across the road caught the young man’s features, highlighting the desperate glare being directed towards his pursuer. “Why are you following me??”
Layton jogged a bit further before he stopped, keeping enough distance between himself and his former apprentice to be safe. He again thought back to Luke’s mindset upon his arrival here, what he had privately thought of as “wild animal shyness.” And like a wild animal, if he felt cornered or threatened, it was possible that he could run again, or even lash out.
After taking a very short moment to suck in a few gasping breaths (good heavens, his throat was burning), he drew himself up to his full height and calmly replied to the query with a question of his own. “Why are you running away?”
“That’s none of your concern,” Luke said, the very picture of defiance. But there was a very slight tremble in his voice to betray that he was as frightened as a stag in the hyena’s den.
“I’m afraid it is my concern, my boy—“
“STOP CALLING ME THAT!” Luke exploded. His hands clenched into fists at his sides.
Luke shook his head and took a step back. “Leave me alone. I need to g-go…”
Aha. That stutter. It spoke volumes. “The only place you need to go, Luke, is home.” It seemed fairly reasonable to him. He needed to get Luke calmed down, find out where this madness had come from and alleviate it, and then take him back to the safety of home. But Luke’s next words froze him colder than the rain ever could.
“I don’t have a home.”
It took Layton a second to recover from that. “Luke—“
But Luke wasn’t waiting for any platitudes. “I heard what the Inspector said to you about me. I’m trouble. That’s all I am. I’m trouble to all of you.” He wrapped his arms around himself. “Can’t do anything to help or anything. I shouldn’t even be here. J-just making a mess…”
Somewhere in the semi-coherent babbling, Layton was certain that he had finally picked out the root of the disturbance: Chelmey’s offhanded comment regarding Luke being a burden. Luke had believed it, in spite of Layton’s own words denouncing it as false. It had been quite some time since that conversation had taken place. If Luke had been thinking about it all this time…
Well, doubts and fears did have a tendency to grow and fester like nasty little weeds when left to stew.
“Luke, perhaps you didn’t hear what I said to Chelmey, but I will tell you what I told him, and that was that he was dead wrong,” Layton said calmly. Be the eye of the storm, both literal and figurative. “You are not, nor have you ever been, any sort of a burden or trouble to me.”
“I don’t believe you,” Luke shot back, though less forceful this time.
“Why not? Do I have a reason to lie to you?”
This time, no reply. Just rain falling.
Now Layton decided to take a risk; he started walking very slowly towards the young man. Luke did not move, thankfully, though he watched every step the man took. “I think it’s time we went back. We can talk this out somewhere a bit warmer.” It was cold out, and they were both soaked through. There was nothing to be gained by standing out here for any further length of time.
“I just…” Luke’s shoulders hunched and he shook his head, finally dropping his eyes. His voice cracked painfully on the words; he seemed to be nearing his breaking point. “Professor, I want to go home…”
Layton quickened his steps, stopping when he was merely an arm’s length away, close enough to reach out and touch or grab if need be. “Then why don’t we?”
He tensed in surprise when Luke took a step forward and leaned against him, pressing his forehead against the Professor’s wet shirt. “I don’t even know where home is. Or if anyone’s going to be there waiting for me…” His voice cracked again, and Layton wondered if maybe the young man was crying.
He really didn’t blame him if he was.
But he needed to say and do something. Luke seemed willing to listen now. “There is a home open to you, though. I know that perhaps it isn’t your home, per se, but until we can get you back where you’re supposed to be, maybe it can suffice as a substitute?”
A sniffle, then a harsh, muffled voice that indicated that yes, Luke was crying. “I ran…because I d-didn’t want to be t-trouble for you and Flora after y-you were so k-kind to me…” It ended in a hiccup. Again, Layton found himself wondering how he would react if his memories, his past, and his very self were stolen from him. And he couldn’t bring himself to truly imagine that he would fare much better.
Layton immediately wrapped his arms around the shivering figure in a tight hug. “You aren’t. Flora would probably be upset that you’d even thought such a thing.” He felt some of the tension leave him when one of Luke’s hands grip the back of his shirt. It seemed that Luke was done running for tonight. “Come on, let’s go back before we catch cold.”
“Okay…” Luke nodded. “Okay…”
It was then that Layton’s spine went ramrod straight. Muscles tensed, his heart rate jumped, and the hairs on the back of his neck would have stood straight up if they weren’t soaked, and therefore plastered to his skin. His eyes slid from side to side, surveying the scenery around them.
He was being watched.
…no, that was incorrect. They were being watched.
Layton glanced back down at the young man leaning against him. Was it the same person responsible for the incident with the window? Because if it was, they were not a friend. And Layton had a hunch that whoever was responsible was also somehow related to Luke’s mysterious appearance here.
Which meant that they were potentially in danger.
He grabbed Luke’s arm and started walking. “Luke, we’re going home.”
There was no time for manners or explanations, and it reflected in the harsh snap of that last word. He was not tolerating arguments or resistance. Every moment they stayed out there was more dangerous than the last; that’s what the Professor’s instincts were telling him, and he had long since learned to trust his gut and let it guide him during uncertain moments.
It seemed that Luke realized that whatever was spurring the Professor’s movements, it was serious, and so he did not resist or protest. He merely followed, and quickly. They were walking as fast as was possible without breaking out into an all-out run. And in short order, they reached the back door of the brownstone that housed Layton’s home and office.
The Professor shoved Luke in ahead of him before hurrying in himself, closing the door behind him and locking it. He stared at it for a moment, trying to catch his breath.
“P-Professor?” Luke finally spoke up. “What’s going on?”
“Luke,” Layton said in that same curt voice, “take your bag and go upstairs to your room. Go to bed. Make sure you lock your door. I’ll explain tomorrow.” He would apologize for his brusque orders at the same time, probably over breakfast, but right now he needed to make certain that the children were safe, and that took priority over all else.
Again, Luke seemed to understand that now was not the time to argue. There was a rustle and a thunk as the fallen messenger bag was recovered from the floor, and then soft footsteps as Luke made his way from the kitchen towards the stairs. Layton cast one last look at the back door before he turned to follow. On the way, he checked the windows and the front door; all were securely locked, although experience had now shown that a locked window did not necessarily mean safety.
Still, it was better than nothing.
Satisfied, Layton followed Luke up the stairs, and remained in the hallway until he heard the click of a lock signal that Luke was safely shut in for the night. He also paused to carefully make sure that Flora’s door was similarly closed before going to his own room and seeking his own bed.
It was quite some time before sleep took him that night.
It wasn’t that Layton wanted to get away from the children; he loved them both as dearly as if they were his own flesh and blood. It was more that he just wanted some fresh air and some time to think. Hence, he had declined Flora’s invitation to accompany him to the store, and gone alone.
But in the back of his mind, he was still a bit worried. It had been three nights since Luke’s escape attempt, and while their conversation and Luke’s subsequent return to the home had actually seemed to do a great deal of good for the boy, the uneasy feeling of that night had not left Layton yet.
For his part, Luke had seemed a good deal happier since that confrontation. Perhaps being aware that the Professor was serious when he said that he cared and that his home was Luke’s home had helped. He was acting more like the person he had been, much to Flora’s delight.
Still, Layton remembered that awful feeling, the sensation that someone was watching him. And worse was the fact that in the passing days, the feeling had not gone away. If anything, it was getting worse. When he walked outside or passed by the window, the hair on the back of his neck stood at attention and reminded him that something was not right in the world.
It was for that reason in particular, along with several other smaller reasons, that Layton had left Flora was explicit instructions to lock the door after he left. She was not to open it to anyone they did not know or trust. The warning was probably unnecessary, as she was a smart girl, but she listened and nodded and agreed. She understood.
With the grocery basket tucked safely under his arm, Layton made his way through the darkened streets of London. Truth be told, he was in no great hurry to get home just yet. The night air was warm and pleasant, as summer nights often were, and oddly enough, the feeling of being watched had vanished. He had not felt it at all today, not even when he left the house on this errand. It was a relief, though he was not so naïve as to think that this was the end of it.
Things frequently had a tendency to get a bit calmer before the true storm set in.
Still, he did have a lot to think about. And most of it, at the moment, centered around Luke.
Luke’s parents were on their way to retrieve him, Chelmey had said. And it sounded like they were eager to see him again. It was a good thing, Layton knew, that Luke could and would be reunited with his family soon. He would be going back where he was supposed to be.
Although the Professor couldn’t quite shake off what Chelmey had told him during one of their earliest discussions on the matter at hand: that Luke had not been settling well into his new home, and it had been coming out in the form of troublemaking, some of it quite serious.
What was it about his new home that was making Luke behave like that? And was there anything he could do to help the young man? Those were two important questions for him to puzzle over, and it went without saying that Professor Layton had always enjoyed puzzling things. But with this puzzle, he was not entirely certain that any answers he could come up with would be satisfactory.
…and if he were being completely honest with himself, he would admit that he enjoyed having Luke back in his care and back in his company. He had missed his young apprentice. In spite of the problems that had plagued them since his return, having both children in the house again and making noise and doing those strange age-appropriate things felt very happy, and oddly nostalgic.
He chuckled to himself, laughing at his own private joke. He was woolgathering again, and doting like a grandfather on two children that were not his by blood. Did this mean that he was getting old? Flora would have a field day with that idea, and Luke would probably find it amusing.
Although in retrospect, that was the boy who had once looked absolutely horrified when someone had made the comment that Layton was getting older; apparently, the idea that the Professor would eventually grow old and die had not occurred to him. The minds of children worked in such odd ways.
Ah, but it was getting late. He should get home. He was rather glad he had decided to walk tonight instead of drive. The air had done wonders to clear his head and let him think things out.
As he walked up the front steps, he glanced towards the front window. The light was on; they must still be up. Perhaps some sort of a snack or treat would be in order before he sent them off to bed. After they helped put the groceries away, of course.
He had just withdrawn his key and was reaching it towards the lock when the door opened in front of him. One of them must have seen him coming and opened the door to him. He pushed it open the rest of the way and stepped past it, shifting to adjust the basket under his arm. “Hello—”
Layton heard Luke’s voice: “Professor, look out!”
There was a thunder of footsteps.
And then something smashed into the side of his head.
The last thing Layton remembered as he hit the ground was hearing the sound of breaking eggs and thudding footsteps and Flora’s scream. After that, he knew nothing.
PS. And with this, we reach the end of what I had written for the PLFM on LJ. After this chapter, everything that's written will be new stuff, leading up to the ending I've had sitting in the back of my head since I started this fic XD Hope you enjoyed the new chapter, and thanks for reading!