Dedicated to RenegadeVagabond, ghostgirl45, wakamolez, and all those who waited patiently for further installments of this story. Though circumstances in my life are hinting that I should halt all fanfiction writing for some indeterminable amount of time, I'm still trying to put together what chapters I can during the short bursts of free time I can get. Wish me luck on the rest!
Grumbling and swearing under his breath, Don Paolo set the basket of treats down on the grass to free his hands for pulling on his disguise. Maestro leaned back against a nearby tree, chuckling to himself as he watched the minutes tick down on the face of the rust-stained watch in his hand. They'd enacted their first attempt to do away with Professor Layton earlier in the week, cutting the brakes of his precious car so he'd crash and burn with it. They had done the same with the lawyer that had started the process of changing over his apprentice's papers, but it seemed as if the ginger was already onto them, impossible as it seemed. Instead of taking the sabotaged car home from work, Mr. Riley hopped a bus and called for a lorry to take it in for repair.
Don Paolo had been stumped but Maestro had only gnashed his cigar butt in a fury before declaring his intent to once more 'get Layton for this'. Honestly, Don Paolo couldn't figure how Layton was involved in Riley escaping death when he bungled right into his own rigged car so carelessly.
Except, that wasn't quite a bungle, now was it? Layton had shown up at the house before they could get past that second lock and grab the boy and girl inside. He was supposed to have been with the car, the tracking device they'd planted on it had told them he was a good five miles out. But no, there he was, ruining things again.
At least Maestro had an alternate plan of attack, chuckling like he knew everything that had happened was preordained. The tracker still worked, and it led them here, to this mechanic's workshop, where the old man revealed a basket of cookies and cakes that made Don Paolo want to gag.
"Dress like a sweet old lady and deliver these to the children on the stoop." Maestro told him gruffly, handing the basket off to him and exchanging his spent cigar for a fresh one, "I've laced them with sleeping drops so they won't raise a fuss. Once they're asleep, get the Penford boy. Forget the girl, the boy's more valuable."
"Even being Lenora's son, how is that brat more valuable than an orphaned baroness?" Don Paolo demanded, setting the basket down and searching under his cloak for a suitable old woman disguise. Maestro slowly lowered the lid of his pocket-watch until it clicked into place before turning his hand to show it off to the other man.
"Who do you think created this?" he asked in return, lips pulling back in an ugly smile.
Penford was taking the lead in chatting up the mechanic, eyes bright as they pointed out various parts of the Laytonmobile's engine and inner workings and conversed about the possibilities of improved performance and other modifications. The stuff of science; Layton noticed how the young man lit up about the subject and seemed to withdraw when history was mentioned. Very much the opposite of his younger self, which was another puzzle in and of itself.
Pulling his eyes away from the scene before him -and giving the workshop a quick surveying to be sure nothing else was going on-, Layton flicked his wrist at his side and let the Time-Binder slide into his palm. A tiny click and the lid was open. He let his arm stay at his side, and tilted the watch enough to glance at its face.
Six-thirty, and the face was glowing a soft green color. That didn't seem normal. The first time he'd seen the watch, it was white. The change in color must mean something. More time had passed which meant more events had taken place since he'd last laid eyes on the hands of the watch. What were those events, and why was Luke keeping such a close eye on them?
The only reasoning Layton could come up with was certain events needed to take place in a certain order, and Luke wanted to be on the scene as each event took place. He remembered the young man's words in the car when it was going out of control, how the crash of the Laytonmobile was meant to happen, but the Professor being hurt was not and that was why he was pushed out. That changed the reasoning a little; certain events needed to take place, but some outside force was putting in new events. Luke wanted to be on the scene to ensure the correct events took place and prevent the additional ones.
This was only possible if Luke already knew all the events that were meant to take place and thus the final event that was probably the thirteenth hour of the watch. Something special must happen at that final hour, something that Luke wanted to ensure would happen. Layton found himself wanting to help keep that mystery timeline of events on track. It would just be easier if he knew what the rest of the hours represented.
"Fuel like that would gunk up the pistons, boy." the mechanic said, responding to something Luke had commented on during the Professor's thoughts, "Ye'd need a whole new system of burnin' fuel t' handle something like what yer proposin'."
"Advancements in vehicular technology is something I took an interest in when I was younger." Luke returned with a smile, hands moving animatedly as he talked, "I bet with the experience you and your sons have combined, you could help a certain company make those advancements a reality. I should give you..." He stopped abruptly, eyes wide as a hand lifted to clap over his mouth. The mechanic's eyebrow lifted, waiting for the rest of his words while Layton drifted close to his car, half-feigning interest in how the engine repairs had gone.
A quick flick of his wrist and the pocket-watch sailed silently through the air to slip back into Luke's pocket without even a whisper.
"No, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything. Please forgive me, my thoughts tend to run away with my mouth." Luke finally said apologetically, bringing his hand down and smiling sheepishly, "The possibilities are there, I assure you, but maybe you should try to work on it yourself first? I wouldn't have the skill to make those advancements but I have every confidence that you will."
Maybe he was trying to cover himself, but Layton had already picked up on another clue from Luke's words. He smiled, patting the young man on the shoulder and chuckling at the little jump he gave at the contact. "I'm sure their future will be bright, my boy." he remarked, noting the slight flinch Luke couldn't quite hide, "My good man, you've done a wonderful job repairing my car. You can't even tell she's been in an accident." Layton ran a hand along the hood of the car. The mechanic's sons were already pulling out from underneath, waving a signal to show that the work was complete.
"If that were an accident, then I'm a flippin' fop." the stout man grumbled, digging into his pocket and pulling out a small black box. "Brake's been damaged, accelerator's been tampered with and this thing was stuck under the driver's side." He held it out for Layton to take into his hand, "If I had found it when the Inspector was here..."
"He'd have the grounds to open an investigation, yes." the Professor agreed in a soft, grim tone, "I can't have that happen. There are far too many things that are unknown..."
"That's how he knew where we were!" Luke suddenly gasped, staring at the device in Layton's hand, "But that device doesn't belong here!" His hand dove into his pocket, obviously to grab his watch. "The first time... he came ahead of me before I even unlocked the gate... someone else is setting this up!" he babbled, one hand grabbing his forehead in shock as the other gripped his watch like a safety blanket, "We didn't... I didn't...!"
The mechanic and his sons looked like they wanted to call for help, looking around for a phone. Layton pocketed the device quickly and reached out to steady the heavily-shaken young man. Had something gone wrong with the way he had planned the timeline of events? But Luke already had all the historical data he needed to know these things, both of their memories would have...
No, wait. What if Layton himself withheld the fact that the strange device was found on his car? Young Luke wasn't here to witness it; he was waiting outside with Flora and Hershel.
Unless, Luke meant from his view. If he as Penford and Hershel had never been here from his own initial memories, that meant there was only Flora with him on the stoop, who also had no information, so there was no one to tell him what Layton had pocketed.
No advance warning.
"This is the next event!" Layton breathed in sudden realization. The watch said six-thirty, so maybe it was ticking off the length of time Luke had to ensure an event took place. Something was going to happen, was happening, and the time-traveller was in no shape to do what needed to be done. "Penford! What's happening?" Layton exclaimed, gripping the young man's shoulders, "Tell me so I can help you... ah!"
A sudden searing pain tore through his mind, and he jerked his hands away to clutch at his head, crying out as he dropped to his knees, his top hat falling to the wayside. He felt hot and cold all at once, burning and freezing and so full of pain Layton couldn't think straight at all. What was happening? What was going on?
He fell the rest of the way to the floor and felt his mind split in two, unable to tell if he was screaming or not, if he was even moving or not. It was like being paralyzed and tortured while facing the most difficult puzzle of his life.
Who was he?
And then it was gone, and Layton blinked in surprise as Penford stared up at his face in fright and confusion. The mechanic and his sons had rushed to a nearby phone and looked to them expectantly, waiting for a sign that they should go ahead and dial the emergency number.
"Professor? Are you alright?" Luke questioned in alarm, "Your eyes went out of focus." Layton raised a hand, touching fingers to his forehead as he pulled his thoughts back in order, realizing that he hadn't fallen at all and was still standing on his own two feet.
"Professor... yes, that's right." he murmured a little more surely, "I'm a professor of archaeology." Penford gave him a sharp and suspicious glare.
"Of course you are. What made you think otherwise?" he questioned and Layton shook his head, an uncertain expression on his face. "This doesn't seem right..." Luke waved at the mechanic and his sons, "Don't call anyone! This is strictly a personal matter! Just have the Laytonmobile released from the couplings and ready to leave!" With those three now occupied with another task, he pulled out his watch and checked the time, staring in shock at the now yellow color of its face. "No! What's happened now?"
If things had gone the way they were meant to, Luke would have sensed the new-old memory settling into place of being dragged away from Flora and Hershel in a stupor. But it wasn't there, just another memory, strange and half-formed. The idea of playing a trick on the Professor, swapping places...
"Hershel!" Luke exclaimed in horror, understanding dawning on him and bringing a sense of horrible dread. He dashed off, hoping and praying he was wrong, and left the startled Professor behind as he made for the stoop where Flora and the two young boys had been left.
Only two people were there in the chairs, slumped back and limbs loose.
"Hershel!" the time-traveller cried again, rushing for the little figure clad in brown coat and top hat, his chin resting on the little orange shirt and brown vest he'd picked out for the day. Behind him, Layton finally caught up and inhaled sharply at the lack of a little boy in blue. He looked around sharply, searching the surroundings for a flash of light blue.
"Luke! Luke, where are you?" he called out as the elder Penford slowly lowered the little top hat and tightened his mouth into a grim line.
"Professor." he said, straightening up and turning to catch the other man's attention, "Over here." Layton looked to him, then down at the tiny figure before catching his breath, eyes wide.
Young Luke dozed in his seat, the crumbs of a recently gobbled sugar biscuit still speckling his face and dropping onto the little brown vest that Hershel had worn that day. After a quick examination told the Professor he was only asleep -sedated- and no other harm had come to him, he turned his gaze to the tray of sweets resting on the table nearby, several of the treats already gone. His mouth thinned tightly, putting two and two together, then looked up at Penford, taking in the young man's grim expression.
"He convinced Luke into changing clothes with him." the time-traveller muttered darkly, "I told him not to eat the sweets, but I suppose I should have expected Hershel to ignore such a command when actually faced with the treats. And neither of the Don Paolos bothered to check faces; just grabbed for the identifying clothing. They should be on their way to East End by now." Layton straightened abruptly, whirling about to face the young man.
"Do you mean to say that you were meant to be kidnapped today?" he declared in a mix of shock and anger, "Is this the event you were tracking, Penford? Why didn't you warn me of this? I would have left you and the children at home in safety!" The elder Luke gazed coldly back at him, the Time-Binder gripped lightly in one hand, the other in his pocket in a deceptively casual stance.
"You really don't disappoint when it comes to your deductions, Professor. However, jumping to conclusions is unbecoming of you, don't you suppose?" he returned, eyes narrowing, "There's no point in trying to change the events when you have no idea of the consequences. You're not qualified." He turned sharply, the ends of coat fluttering with the motion. "Obviously you're in no condition to do anything about this, and there's no need for you to come to my rescue if I was never taken. Stay here and watch the two of them. I have to go after Hershel." And without giving Layton a chance to protest, Luke ran for the street, throwing the capsule containing his scooter ahead of himself.
Layton glared after the rapidly disappearing Penford, frustration swirling within him alongside the helpless feeling that he had somehow failed to be of any assistance. At least he'd learned what was supposed to have happened; Luke was to eat the drugged sweets and be kidnapped, prompting the Professor to come to the rescue. How was that of any historical importance? Why was it included in the list of events?
Young Luke mumbled something in his sedated state, catching his attention, and Layton immediately turned back to the boy guiltily. He really wasn't turning out to be much of a father figure, and there was a flash of anger towards his own father for being such a poor example. Kneeling before the boy still dozing in his chair, Layton reflected on just how close he'd been to losing his apprentice. If Hershel hadn't convinced him to change clothes...
And here, the Professor's thoughts came to a halt, realization dawning. When events changed and new memories were formed, they slipped into place in the elders. But this was the first time that an event meant for Luke happened to Hershel instead. Had the episode in the workshop been a result of the switch? Layton's frown tightened a little more, concerned for them all. Time travel was proving to be more dangerous with each of these mysterious hours that passed by.
In retrospect, eating the sweets from a seemingly kind old lady who smelled of smoke had not been the best idea.
Hershel woke slowly to find the distasteful feeling of a cotton-dry mouth and a headache. He kept his eyes closed, however, recognizing that he was no longer where he'd been before. Hands bound behind his back and resting in the backseat of a moving vehicle, it dawned on the young Layton that he'd been abducted after two cupcakes put him to sleep.
From the sound of the voices nearby, Hershel recognized his kidnappers easily; the two bad men that had been after Sir Luke and his younger self. That was strange. If they wanted Luke so badly, why had they kidnapped him instead? Carefully, he cracked one eye open and glanced around. One of the Don Paolos was busy crowing in triumph while the other just grumbled under his breath, puffing away on his cigar. He caught sight of the blue jumper he was wearing, the exchange with Young Luke now coming to mind, and he almost groaned aloud in frustration.
Oh, so that's why he was taken. Did this mean that those old blokes were really trying to kidnap Young Luke? Hershel blinked in realization, his eyes widening. Then Sir Luke knew ahead of time that they were going to try to kidnap his little self! That's why he was told to stay close to Young Luke and keep him safe! It was because he remembered being kidnapped that day, which was today!
Blimey, time travel was tricky!
In any case, Young Luke was safe, so that meant his mentor was too. All that was left was to figure a way out of this mess. And he would do that... as soon as he could stop being bloody scared out of his mind because he'd been kidnapped! A whimper wanted to escape him and Hershel did his very best to hold it in, instead focusing on testing the bonds that held his hands in check. They were strong and snug, with no real room for him to wriggle free. If he turned his head and craned his neck a little, he could peek just a little bit out the window of the car, and all he saw were unfamiliar buildings and the sky, its color growing more orange and gold with the waning hours of the day.
How much time had passed? Would Sir Luke know where he was? Would he ever be found? Hershel found himself feeling homesick and lonely and rather frightened. He shut his eyes and this time could not hold back the little sob that escaped him. What was going to become of him?
One of the men twisted around to glower down at him, cigar clenched in between his teeth, before the expression became more sneer than scowl. He turned to his partner in crime, the one driving, and gloated in that increasingly familiar nasal tone. "So Penford's in our hands at last, eh? The treasures of the Layton Family will all be mine now!" he declared with a barking laugh. The driver grunted almost contrarily.
"Something's not right." the older, scarier-looking man returned, shooting a glare at the younger one, "As things stand, the Time-Binder's not reacting as it should, nor are my memories altering appropriately. I'm pulling aside; check on the boy."
Hershel panicked, squirming in place as the car slowed, then stopped, and the first man turned in his seat and reached out to him. When the hat was snatched off his head, he glared up at his kidnapper as fiercely as he could despite shaking where he lay, then stuck his tongue out at him. Yes, it wasn't very gentlemanly but bugger all, this was the second time Sir Luke counted on him with a mission and he wasn't about to spoil it now!
"It's not the Penford boy!" the younger Don Paolo declared in outrage, "It's that other brat!" The elder twisted in his seat and glared furiously at Hershel, and he shrank back in horror at that look. Something was different in that man's eyes compared to the eyes of his younger self, something was much darker and more inhuman.
This man was the one who didn't care if Sir Luke or his old, stuffy self got hurt or killed. This man was the one to be very afraid of.
"I've no use for this one, but we need him alive to gain access to the boy." he finally growled, "For now, he lives. Throw him out. Time has foiled us today." Both the younger Don Paolo and Hershel stared at the man in stunned disbelief. Was that it? Really? The man glared more fiercely and Hershel wished he had more room to shrink away further; he really was a horrifying sight and the boy halfway wondered if he'd just soiled himself. "Did I not make myself clear?" he hissed, "This boy is key to gaining us what we both want, and he can't do that if he's with us or if he's dead. Throw him out!"
Before either of them really knew what was happening, the car door opened and the younger Don Paolo punted him onto the sidewalk, still bound in cord and now bruised and smarting from the rough treatment, the blue hat tossed after him and landing haphazardly beside him. The scarier man just watched coldly, smoking in thick puffs that he blew into streams of pungent smoke, like Hershel was little more than a bedraggled stray kitten he was leaving to wither in the cold London streets.
"Your time will come, Layton." he muttered, and grinned with evil teeth stained yellow from age and tobacco, "Then you'll be right for fearing me." And then the motor roared back on and they vanished, racing down the street with hardly a glance back.
The streets were mostly empty here -Hershel noticed once his shock and fear receded- and cobbled though they were, they also stank of sewage and filth, dustbins spilling over and littering the alleys between buildings. How was he to get back to the little brownstone house from here? Where was he?
Hershel managed to get to his feet, thankful that at least his ankles weren't bound. It wasn't safe to stay in one place too long, he learned that from his time with the Gutter Valley Boys. Leave a mark for other Boys to know what happened, and then move, always move. Moving made it harder for the law to track you, to catch you. But in this case, the 'law' was Sir Luke, and his mentor needed to find him easily. First, though, the cord.
Right away, Hershel thought of the easiest way to get free; cut the cord. But he had no pocketknife on hand, and the idea of using anything sharp from the rubbish around him made him cringe. So what else did he have? He tested the bindings once more, trying to trace the pattern the cord took in tying his hands together. It felt like they had just crossed his wrists over one another and then looped the cord over them several times.
"Oh, is that all they did?" Hershel muttered under his breath in exasperation. Well, if that was the case, then the solution was simple. He twisted one wrist to try opening a little space and slip his other hand through. It hurt at first and he bit his lip to try to ignore it as he tugged carefully, slowly, testing the limits of the little bit of free space he'd managed to create. Just as his twisted hand started to grow numb, his other came through with a scraping of cord against bare, delicate flesh and Hershel immediately brought both hands around, sucking and licking at the injury of that hand as he curled the other closer to him protectively, wincing at the rush of blood going back into circulation.
It wasn't pretty, but it was done, and the unbroken loop of cord lay forgotten on the sidewalk as Hershel began walking in the opposite direction the car had been moving. After all, it stood to reason that if the car was going down the road, then going up would lead him back to Sir Luke and the other Professor Layton, that stuffy gent.