AN: Written for a prompt on a drabble request post I did over on the Layton LJ community. I hope I don't sound like I'm bragging, but I am rather proud of this story, and I hold it as one of the best things I have written in a long time. So I sincerely hope that you enjoy it. This will be the first part of four. I don't own Professor Layton. It is the property of Level-5. Thanks for reading, all! Much love!
Hershel Layton was in a rather sour mood.
This was actually a fairly unusual occurrence. Most who knew the good professor would have described him fairly consistently as an even-tempered man, calm and relatively good-natured. He was rarely cross or bad-humored. But at the moment he was just that.
He sighed and gave up trying to focus on the puzzle sitting on his desk. It was a lost cause; he couldn't concentrate. His mental facilities were elsewhere. He kept thinking about his earlier conversation with his landlady. Agatha was a good woman, honest and hard-working, but she could be a bit nosy on occasion, and sometimes felt that everyone in the world was entitled to her opinion, free of charge.
Today's conversation had started pleasantly enough, discussing a new tenant in one of her apartments, and a case he had recently solved that had made the papers.
…and then she had asked him when he was going to settle down with a nice girl and start a family and all that.
As he usually did when this topic came up, he tried to play it down and change the subject, but today she was not to be deterred. She kept insisting that he was already in his mid-twenties, and there was so little time! He was such a nice man, and he deserved a happy home life and a family, she insisted.
He had thanked her and found a polite excuse to absent himself from the conversation. But it had left a very sour taste in his mouth, as it usually did.
Really, he didn't think he was that old. And while he had to agree that a family would be nice, and he was certainly fond of children, it just had not happened for him yet. That did not mean he was past his expiration date. Perhaps someday. But for now, it was no one's business but his own.
As a roll of thunder sounded outside, he stood up and sighed. The puzzle was not going to be solved tonight. His focus was shot. It just was not his night, it seemed.
Sleep. He needed a good night's rest to clear both his head and his mood, and he would face all of this tomorrow morning when he was better equipped to handle it all.
He stretched his arms over his head and left his office, heading towards the stairs that led up to his living quarters. In spite of his mild irritation at his landlady's assertion that he should be a husband and father by now, he couldn't quite keep himself from wondering how different the place would have been if there were the sounds of children filtering through the upstairs, asking for a drink of water or a bedtime story…
Another crack of thunder. Now his unbidden thoughts of children turned to the sounds of panic at the impending storm.
Ah well. Perhaps in time.
He was halfway up the stairs when he heard a different sound. For a moment his exhaustion-befuddled mind thought it was merely more thunder, but when he heard it again in quick succession, he realized that it was a knock on the door.
A glance at the clock proved that it was quite late, and a look out the window told him that it had been dark for quite some time, as there was no light left from the sunset. He'd had late-night visitors to plead his help before, but it was not a common occurrence.
Hershel walked back down the stairs and hit the switch that turned on the lamp over the porch; he fumbled with the lock for a moment before he was able to open the door.
He saw a figure standing several meters away from the door, just beyond the reach of the light. He was able to make out enough to tell that the form was a woman; the way the beige coat hung around curves gave that much away. But he couldn't make out any other distinguishing features. The facial features were completely hidden in the darkness. And she seemed to be backing away from him and the door, one slow step at a time.
"Miss, is everything—" he started to call out to her, reaching with one hand. Perhaps she was hurt, or in need of some help. Or…
A noise at his feet drew his attention, and he glanced down. There, sitting on his front porch, was a small basket with a pale blue blanket tucked into it. And there was something moving beneath the blanket.
It clicked suddenly, and his eyes shot back up to the woman. "Miss, please—"
"I'm sorry!" she sobbed before she turned and fled into the darkness. Her light colored coat was the last thing to disappear, swallowed by the night.
Layton was fully prepared to give chase (despite the fact that he was wearing neither shoes nor coat against the cool night air), but he stopped short when he heard a soft cry from the basket at his feet, beneath the blanket.
He knelt carefully; his hands shook only slightly as he reached out and lifted the blanket, already fairly certain that he knew what he was going to see.
…and he was right.
There was a baby in the basket.
The infant was awake, and crying softly, tugging at the blanket with tiny fists. Hershel assumed that the child was a boy, given that both its clothes and the blanket were a similar shade of light blue.
…was that woman…
…had she just…
…oh good heavens.
The cries grew louder. Now at a complete loss, he reached into the basket and carefully gathered the child up and stood with the baby in his arms. Remembering something he had been told when meeting a friend's newborn, he took care to support the baby's head.
"Shh…there, there," he said softly. Some unknown instinct told him to try rocking the baby. "It's all right…" He glanced up into the darkness into which the woman—this child's mother, if his guess was right—had last been visible. He saw nothing.
Somehow, he was fairly sure that she wasn't going to be coming back.
He stood there in the glow of his porch lamp, holding the whimpering infant, and looking out into the night.
And it was starting to rain.
Luke stared straight ahead, his eyes focused on nothing at all. When he had asked his mentor if the Professor knew anything of his parents, he had seemed so delighted to hear that Layton did, indeed, know something of them.
He just looked blank.
Layton had recited the story with his eyes closed, unable to bring himself to see the look on his apprentice's face when he told him the truth of how he had been orphaned.
Now he looked directly at Luke, his own expression somber. "You are sixteen years old, Luke. I think you are old enough to know the truth." He paused, then closed his eyes again. He just couldn't bring himself to keep looking at Luke's face when he looked like that. "…I'm sorry, Luke."