AN: Here we have the fifth and final part to this fic. I hope you enjoy it, and very much appreciate everyone who has read and/or dropped me a comment. I don't own Professor Layton. Thanks for reading, all! Much love!
Luke had opted to come alone this time, for various reasons. Last time had been an unmitigated disaster, and he had managed to pull his family into that disaster. He had panicked, and he had run away, and by the time he came to his senses, he had been too embarrassed to go home. So he wandered around for a while, eventually coming to sit down on a bench near the river. It was so cold, and the snow was falling more and more heavily, but he was still nervous about going home.
No, not nervous.
If he was completely honest with himself, he would be willing to admit that he was afraid to go home. And even he didn't exactly know why. He knew perfectly well that he wouldn't be turned away, even considering his rather moody behavior over the last few days. But…
There were still a lot of things that he didn't understand. He had read his mother's letter. He had asked questions of everyone he could find who would know anything, and he knew a great deal of the truth. But there were a few questions he wanted to ask that could only be answered by one person.
And that person was buried beneath the gravestone in front of him.
Luke knelt in the snow. The weather was starting to warm as winter faded and spring made its way into the world; the snow would melt away soon. In the meantime, it was wet enough to soak through his pantlegs, but he ignored the cold wetness on his knees and reached out to brush a few stray flakes of snow away from the smooth, engraved stone.
Next time, he decided suddenly, he would bring the Professor and Flora with him. Luke was certain that they would be willing, and Flora had told him that they had come and introduced themselves to her during that first awful visit, after he had left. If she could see him now, she would probably be happy to know that he had a family like them now. At least, he hoped so.
He choked up for a moment, and it took him several seconds to find his voice, but he was proud when it only shook slightly as he said, "Hello, Mother. I'm back." He even felt a shaky smile cross his face.
The sun peeked out from behind the clouds for the first time that day. It would be spring soon.
Flora's prediction proved uncannily accurate: Luke was bedridden with a dreadful fever for a full two days after that fateful, frigid afternoon in the cemetery. It was nothing terribly serious, but he felt awful, and slept constantly before he was finally well enough to get out of bed.
For Layton, it all brought back memories of nursing the young man as a child through a fever or a bout of the flu. Still, he said nothing to that effect. He merely kept his smile in place and tended to his sick apprentice with that practiced hand.
It wasn't until after Luke was on his feet again that they found themselves face to face in Layton's study, where all of this had started in the first place. The scene started off in a manner that was almost eerily familiar: Luke walked into the study, hesitated, then strolled to the chair on the other side of Layton's desk. The professor himself was standing behind the desk, rather than sitting at it.
"How are you feeling?" Layton asked. "You still look a little pale."
"I'm all right," Luke said with a wave of his hand. "But…I wanted to talk to you. I have some questions."
"Of course." This was expected, Layton reminded himself. He picked up a book from the desk for the sole purpose of having something to do with his hands. "What would you like to know?"
There was a pause before Luke spoke again. "…why did you keep me?"
That wasn't quite the question Layton had been expecting to be the first one off the boy's lips, but it was a fair question nonetheless. And truth be told, it was a decision that he himself had given some serious consideration to, both at the time he had made the choice (for all the obvious reasons), and at later dates, after time had gone by and the boy under his care had started to grow and mature and become the young man that Luke now was.
He returned the book to the desk and walked around it to lean on it, tapping his chin in a thoughtful gesture that was all too familiar. In a way, it was a bit comforting. Familiarity was something that they could both cling to when the rest of their neatly ordered little world had gone down-side up.
"…I'll give you the rational answer first, Luke. I warn you that it may sound a bit cold, but it's not the only factor I considered. So please hear me out," Layton said after a moment spent trying to collect his thoughts and decide on the best way to proceed.
Luke nodded, sinking into the chair without a word.
"When it happened…well, I took you inside and I read the letter from your mother. You know what it said," Layton began. "She asked me to take care of you. And a gentleman—"
"Never refuses the reasonable request of a lady," Luke intoned with the bored air of one who has heard such a statement a thousand times. He actually cracked a small smile at that, and for a moment he was the normal teenaged boy, the same young man that he had always had been.
"She had her reasons for asking this of me, and it wasn't as though I lacked anything needed to support you. Save, perhaps, experience," he also found a small smile making its way to his lips as he recalled how lost he felt that first night. It had prompted a visit to his landlady for assistance. "I was fortunate enough to have a friend who knew plenty about children. She was quite the teacher."
Luke nodded but did not speak, holding to his promise to hear everything his mentor had to say.
"And somewhat related to that was that…" he sighed. "The idea of turning you over to a home somewhere or placing you in an orphanage…well, it did occur to me. For perhaps a second or two. And then I rocked you to sleep, and knew that there was no way I could hand you over to anyone else, especially to a place like that. I know some of them are fine establishments, but…no. I wouldn't do that."
Another nod. Overall, Luke's expression was mask-like, but there was a speculation in his eyes.
"Also…" Layton looked down. He was actually a bit embarrassed to admit this, even after so much time had passed. "…Luke, at the time, I was giving consideration to marriage for a very simple reason: I…well, I was lonely." He turned his head to the side, though not fast enough to avoid seeing Luke's eyes widen at the admission. "The house seemed far too quiet some nights."
For the first time, Luke spoke. "Professor…"
"I wondered what it would be like to have children. A family. And then lo and behold, a child falls into my lap," he looked up towards the ceiling now, not daring to look directly at his apprentice. "I am a man of science, Luke. I believe in reason, not fate or chance or coincidence or whatever you will call it. You know this. But…well, you landed in my life at the time I needed you most, whether I realized it or not."
"…when I was little, I asked you a question," Luke said. There was a soft rustle accompanied by a creak, indicating that he had stood up. "I asked if you were my father. Why did you say no?"
…that was certainly not a question that the professor had expected. "Because I'm not—"
"Why not?" Luke cut him off in a surprisingly harsh voice.
"What?" his head snapped down to gape at his apprentice.
Luke was staring at him angrily, intently. His hands were clenched into white-knuckled fists at his sides. "In what sense are you not?" And now it was his turn to look away. "M-maybe your definition is just different than mine…" He dropped his gaze, his hair obscuring his eyes. But there was no hiding the fact that he was shaking.
Layton pushed off from his desk to stand upright. "Luke?" The father statement was giving him pause and making him think, and he felt like he was dangerously close to breaking. Ever since taking that gigantic leap into the unknown, he had always resolved to deal with things as they happened and take everything day by day. With so many things happening at once now…
"I have only one other question, Professor," Luke said in a strained voice. "Please answer honestly."
"Go on," Layton said, hoping desperately that he sounded more encouragingly and less apprehensive.
Luke seemed to struggle with himself for a moment. He opened his mouth and closed it again several times. Then he took a very deep breath and asked a single question. Four words in a quiet whisper that stopped the good professor in his tracks.
"…do you love me?"
The entire world stopped, frozen completely.
Then Layton moved. He was already in motion before he realized that he was doing it, or even knew what he was doing. His hands gripped Luke's shoulders and pulled him forward against him, barely even hearing Luke's noise of surprise—
And then he was hugging his apprentice like his life depended on it. No, not merely his apprentice…
"P-Professor?" Luke said, his voice muffled as his face was pressed into Layton's jacket. He wasn't struggling or pushing away; his tone sounded curious, bewildered by such an overt display from someone who so prided himself on having the reserve of a gentleman.
Layton could barely get the words out, but they needed to be said. His self-control had broken, and his emotions were finally telling him what he had always told himself he was not ready to acknowledge. He had just been afraid to acknowledge it, to be honest. But if he didn't do it now, what he could lose…so he swallowed hard and let the words come out.
"What father…doesn't love his son?"
There. He said it.
What happened next was in Luke's hands.
He felt the young man stiffen, and for a moment he was sure that everything had been destroyed.
…and then Luke was clinging to him in return, clutching his jacket in fists so tight that the wrinkles would probably never come out. A shudder ran through his body, and he murmured something into Layton's shoulder. The word was muffled, and not completely intelligible.
It might have been the word 'father.'
But Layton wasn't sure.
As the emotions and the stress and the exhaustion and heartbreak of the last few days finally came crashing down on both of them, the mask of composure that Luke had so desperately clung to through it all shattered and fell to pieces.
And Hershel Layton held his adoptive son close, in a way he hadn't since the young man was a baby, while Luke finally wept.