Beloved My Cheeseburger
by Lady Norbert
A/N: This is largely crack with a dash of sweetness, and the only thing I can say in my defense is that I had been awake for almost two days straight when I wrote it.
Two things directly inspired this tale. The first was Don Paolo's stubborn insistence in Unwound Future that he only souped up the Laytonmobile for Flora's sake. The second was my friend Jaclyn urging me to write a story in which the real reason for Don Paolo's hatred of Layton was revealed to be a cheeseburger. Acknowledgement must also be extended to my friend Naomi, who suggested Layton's entrance. Also, in case it isn't obvious, this story does contain spoilers for Unwound Future.
This tale contains or mentions the following possible ships: Layton/Claire, Don Paolo/Claire, Don Paolo/Flora, Legal/Flora, Luke/Flora, and Pavel/sewer alligators. Well, sort of.
Flora was not, she reflected, having a very good week.
First, there was that entire matter of the tea and the cucumber sandwiches and being left behind and not getting much in the way of a satisfactory apology. She loved the Professor and Luke wholeheartedly, but they just didn't seem to understand how much she hated to be left. She was always afraid they would go away and never come back.
Then there was the whole "Future Luke" thing. At least once he'd been revealed as Clive it made sense why there seemed to be no "Future Flora" running amok in Future London. The truly embarrassing thing was that she liked the guy - he was cute and clever and gentlemanly. He gave her his arm when they went down the rickety stairs! Regular Luke never gave her his arm! (Though later, she had to acknowledge, he had been terribly chivalrous, what with the rescuing and the being felled by a potted plant in her honor and helping her out of the Laytonmobileplanething. And he'd smiled when he did it, no complaints of icky girl germs this time.) Coming back to the point, she had liked the so-called Future Luke right up until the Professor revealed him as a fake and he'd responded by dragging her out of the restaurant and holding her captive.
That was very ungentlemanly, and she'd made a point of telling him so.
She didn't know how long she'd been in the glass prison, but it felt like hours on end. Then suddenly, there were the Professor and Luke, and she'd never been so happy to see anybody in her life. The argument about leaving her behind was completely forgotten; everything she needed to know was etched in their faces, perfect mirrors of rage at Clive and worry for her. They loved her, after all, and she felt silly for ever having doubted them, and only too eagerly did she fling herself into the Professor's comforting embrace as soon as they puzzled open the lock.
Later, Luke told her how the Professor had refused to listen to anyone, Chelmey or Barton or anybody else who tried to be a voice of reason, tried to tell him not to go because he'd almost certainly be killed. "You know the Professah," he said. "He wasn't having any of it. And neither was I," he added quickly. "Wasn't anything anyone could do to keep us from coming after you."
It was really almost worth it, being kidnapped, just to know for sure how much she meant to them, and she had struggled not to cry as she kissed him for telling her that story.
While Clive was hauled off to prison, and she and Luke attempted to make themselves understand that Celeste wasn't Celeste at all, but the Professor's long-dead beloved Claire who he had never mentioned to them even once but was apparently the reason he wore a top hat almost 24 hours a day, there came the matter of Don Paolo.
Don Paolo, as Flora was brought to understand, had been responsible for the excellent modifications to their beloved Laytonmobile which had saved all their lives. What was odd, however, was his assertion on the matter. When the Professor had attempted to thank him for the good work, he had brushed off the gratitude with a snarl. "Don't get sentimental on me," he'd said, according to Luke. "I'm only doing this for Flora."
"Why would he do anything for me?" she asked, perplexed.
Luke shrugged. "Why'd Clive kidnap you?" he asked by way of a response. "Who knows why these villain types do any of the things they do."
"Clive said he took me for 'insurance,'" she replied. "He wanted to be sure that the Professor would come after him. And he said he wanted there to still be something pretty left in London after he brought it crashing to the ground." In spite of herself, she blushed at the memory, something Luke observed with a frown.
"Well," he said crossly, "maybe Don Paolo's sweet on you too."
This was unlikely. They'd both heard firsthand from the pointy-haired mechanical wizard that he had, just like their beloved Professor, been in love with Claire for all these years. This was ostensibly his reason for helping them - he wanted to know the truth about what had happened to her. Flora had merely shrugged, and let the subject drop.
But yes. All in all, a weird and not very good week. Luke was preparing to leave them - his father got a new job and the family was moving away, far away on a steamship. Australia, he said sadly, about as far from England as possible. She had struggled bravely not to weep as she helped him pack his suitcase, and cooked a special farewell dinner (and really, what was wrong with salmon cake? she had worked very hard to frost it in time!), and kissed him goodbye before the Professor drove him to the pier. Inspector Chelmey and Constable Barton had even come to see him off, which was very sweet of them even if they didn't stay long.
Odd...she would have thought that Barton, at least, might have enjoyed the salmon cake. But they both said something about eating before they came and beat a hasty retreat. So there was not much for Flora to do except wait for the Professor to return. She entered the silent, lonesome house and settled down in the parlor window to read and watch for the Laytonmobile. Not five minutes later, there came a knock at the door, and she opened it to find...
"Don Paolo? What are you doing here?"
"I came to see how you're recovering, dear girl, after your dreadful experience. Layton's not at home, I take it?"
"No, he's taken Luke to the docks to board his ship to Australia."
"Ah yes. I do recall them saying something about the boy moving away. Well, might I do the gentlemanly thing and invite you out for a stroll? The weather's too fine to stay cooped up inside, and I'm sure you'll be back before Layton has the chance to miss you."
Flora hesitated. On the one hand, this man had kidnapped her, left her in a barn, and impersonated her with such frightening accuracy that her own adoptive parent hadn't noticed the difference. Not to mention the crash landing in St. Mystere and how he was personally responsible for the demolition of the tower and thank goodness Bruno had been able to get out of the basement before it all came crashing down.
On the other hand, it was very gentlemanly of him to offer. And he did help rescue her from Clive, indirectly. So she agreed. "Let me just leave a note in case the Professor comes back."
"Oh, I'm sure we won't be gone all that long, my dear."
Something about this seemed odd. There was a funny cast to his normally vaguely purple complexion, and his eyes glinted strangely. Oh well, surely no harm would befall her now, right? So off they went.
Two hours later, when she was tied to a chair in his living room, she mentally berated herself for being so dumb.
The funny thing was that she didn't really know how this had happened. They were walking, and he was telling her about the modifications to the Laytonmobile and reiterating his previous affirmation that he had only gone along with the whole thing for her sake.
"But how is that possible?" she had asked him. "You didn't know Clive was going to kidnap me, did you?"
"No, of course not. I mean, yes, I'd been working for him a little bit here and there, but he didn't mention you at all. I don't think he expected you to be involved - I'm not even sure he knew you existed."
"Well, then," she said, "there's a fallacy in your logic. You can't have done what you did for me, because you couldn't have known I would need to be rescued."
He laughed, false and sharp. "So very clever! Living in the Layton household certainly has had an impact on you, hasn't it?"
Somehow from there they had taken a wrong turn, and he'd realized they were near his dwelling and would she mind very much if they stopped in because he had a book he thought she might like to borrow, and please make yourself comfortable on the chair right here, and don't mind me I'm just plugging in the lamp, and ooops, look at that, you went and got yourself tied up.
"Don Paolo, this isn't fair. Let me go!"
"No. Please, Flora, hear me out. I want you to understand why I hate Layton so very much."
"I already know about Claire, you told me."
"Well, do I have to be tied up in order to hear you?"
"Pretend it's special listening rope."
She sighed. "Fine. Go ahead."
"You know about Claire," he began. "How we were all university students together, how I loved her from a distance, how she didn't seem to actually be aware of my existence. At least Layton knew who I was, even if he had no idea I was in love with his girlfriend. But Claire wasn't the only thing he took from me."
"Dr. Schrader - you know the gentleman, I believe you even visited him after the incident with the Elysian Box."
"He was my mentor too. I was his prized pupil...until the sainted Hershel came along. Then I just didn't seem to be good enough, my inventions could hardly hold a candle to that - that - that archaeologist and his blasted puzzles!"
"He stole your mentor?" Flora looked dubious.
"My mentor... the praise and recognition I deserved," Don Paolo seethed, "and the woman I loved. And then - then! He stole my cheeseburger!"
Silence reigned over the room for a moment or two. Flora idly wondered if her mind was cracking from all of the recent strain. "I'm sorry, he did what?"
"My lunch!" Don Paolo was almost ranting. "I had a gourmet cheeseburger made up in the university cafeteria, just for me. A little treat to reward myself for a job well done, since nobody else felt compelled to offer me any sort of praise or congratulation. Succulent top-choice beef, a slice of perfectly aged cheddar, tomato sliced at the peak of ripeness, a pungent purple onion...oh, it was beautiful, Flora. A culinary masterpiece, a symphony for the senses. It was waiting for me - and then Layton was six places ahead of me in line and he took it!"
"I don't understand." Understatement of the year. "If it was yours, why would the Professor take it? He's not that sort of person."
"Because the idiot working behind the counter was an admirer, and said that if he could solve her bloody Towers of Hanoi-style puzzle he could have my cheeseburger! And he did, of course, because when has there ever been a puzzle that the great Professor Layton couldn't solve, and there he was, walking away with my lunch!" Don Paolo gave a strangled roar of old fury. "It was mine! All of it was mine! And he took it, took everything that ever mattered to me!"
He was obviously disturbed, Flora decided, and she reached over as best she could to awkwardly pat his shoulder. "There, there. I'm sure he's very sorry for having done anything to injure you."
Don Paolo shook his head. "He took everything that ever mattered to me. So now I've taken what matters to him."
"He's lost Claire already, of course. Luke's gone. And now you're here." His expression was almost wistful. "If you'll stay with me, I'll feel completely recompensed for everything he ever took. Even the cheeseburger. You, Flora, will be my little top sirloin of love."
Flora didn't know whether that was a compliment or not and decided she preferred to remain in the dark. "But you don't love me. You love Claire."
"Not anymore. I've moved on. I figure ten years of deep mourning is enough; I'm even considering wearing brighter colors."
"You know as well as I do," she said, gently, "that the Professor will find me. He always does. And then you'll go back to being enemies, just when it seemed like you might someday be friends, and I don't want that to happen. But if you let me go, you can come over for Sunday supper and I'll make you your very own cheeseburger."
He seemed to consider that. "No pickles, right? Because I really hate pickles on my cheeseburger..."
"No pickles," she promised.
"Well...I suppose I could..."
"Uno momento, por favor!"
Don Paolo's hands froze in midair, reaching as they were to undo the knots. They both turned toward the doorway.
"Pavel?" Flora blinked in disbelief. She knew the funny little man had a penchant for getting lost, but this seemed a little extreme even for him.
"Oui, mademoiselle. Excuse me, man with pointy hair and opera cape, but I'd like very much for you to not untie the fraulein, ja?"
"I beg your pardon!" Flora was indignant, while Don Paolo seemed mostly confused. "Why should he not untie me?"
"If you're here, principessa, then the puzzle man will surely come here, and then he will be out of my way as I work on my plan for world conquest." Pavel spoke as if this was perfectly normal.
"World conquest?" she repeated. "You got lost in a sewer in St. Mystere while traveling to Egypt! How are you going to conquer the world when you don't even know where you are at any given moment?"
"All my time getting lost in sewers has enabled me to enslave a large army of alligators."
"I thought that was an urban legend," said Don Paolo with a frown.
"Non! Alligators in every sewer in every country of the world. No one can possibly stop me now, except for your puzzle man."
"I can stop you!" Don Paolo snapped. "I'm greater than Layton! I build flying machines and soup up cars to turn them into gliders! Not to mention I'm extremely handy with latex!" He paused. "That came out wrong."
"I do not fear vous, monsieur. Only the puzzle man." Pavel, despite the gravity of his pronouncements, still somehow managed to look as clueless and lost as ever. "Now I have his surrogate daughter and he will do whatever I demand, si?"
"You don't have his daughter. I have his daughter," Don Paolo corrected. "She's my hostage, I caught her fair and square. You can't have her."
"You were letting her go," Pavel pointed out. "That means she's up for grabs."
"Do I get a say in this?" Flora asked wearily.
"No," the men chorused. She sighed and fell silent again.
"I'm not letting her go. She's mine," Don Paolo declared. "And I'll be the one to decide what to demand from Layton for her safe return." He turned to Flora. "The cheeseburger is still negotiable, right?"
"I suppose so."
"Okay, good. We'll make that the starting point of our negAAAAAAAAAA!"
Apparently, "negAAAAAAAAAA" is the appropriate response to offer when someone drives an oddly shaped car through your living room window. Shattered glass sprayed across the floor, and the front tires left grease stains on the carpet as the familiar vehicle screeched to a halt.
"Paul, really, I thought we'd moved past all this!"
"LAAAAAYTOOOOOOOON! LOOK WHAT YOU DIIIIIIID! I JUST SHAMPOOED THAT CARPET ON TUESDAY!"
"Professor!" Flora cried, trying to wriggle out of her bonds. "How did you find me?"
"Well, Paul's not the only one who knows his way around a vehicular modification," Layton replied pleasantly, extricating himself from the Laytonmobile. "I took the liberty of installing a special tracking device. As soon as I realized you weren't home, and hadn't left a note, I knew something was wrong. A lady is always considerate about such things, unless of course she's being kidnapped. So I activated the tracker, and here we are." He paused, tilting his head to one side.
"You know, Flora, those ropes remind me of a puzzle..."
"Not now, Layton!" said Don Paolo, exasperated. "We have a situation. The king of sewer alligators is trying to kidnap Flora."
"Pavel?" Layton looked at the white-clad explorer and did a double take.
"Why are you trying to kidnap Flora?"
"Because you see, Herr Layton, you are the only one who can thwart my bid for world domination. My sewer alligators are in position and ready to strike on my command."
"I see." Layton frowned, hands in his pockets. "So all those times we ran into you in the various sewers, you weren't lost at all. You were preparing for this moment."
"Well, not at first," Pavel admitted. "But I got lost so often that it just seemed like a good idea."
"Barton!" barked the voice of Inspector Chelmey. "Arrest that - explorer? I want him in custody. Nobody's taking over the world while Scotland Yard is on the watch, not while I'm around."
"Inspector? How did you get in here?" Don Paolo was so surprised he forgot to be annoyed.
"I climbed in through Layton's car window." Chelmey shrugged. "Just another day at the office. Why is the young lady tied up?"
Since Pavel was already being ushered out of the house, Flora spoke up. "Pavel wanted to use me as a pawn in his campaign for world domination. He said the Professor was the only one who could stop him, so he was holding me hostage for his cooperation. Don Paolo was trying to help me when the Professor arrived."
"Is that so? Paul, I apologize. I misjudged you."
"Er...yes. Well. No harm done, except for - well, that." Don Paolo gestured at the Laytonmobile before undoing Flora's bonds.
"Of course. My sincerest apologies - it seemed like brute force might be necessary." Layton held out an arm to Flora, who stumbled into his embrace, relieved. "You have my thanks for your assistance, and of course I shall be happy to pay for the damages I've caused. Are you all right, Flora dear?"
"I'm fine. I think Don Paolo should come to supper on Sunday," she said. "I'd like to make him something special."
"Ah." Layton coughed. "Your meals are always...memorable, dear. But suppose we take our friend out for dinner instead? That way you can enjoy yourself instead of working in the kitchen."
"Oh! Well, if you think that's a better idea...will you join us, Don Paolo?"
"Yes, all right." Don Paolo was trying to appear gruff and unconcerned again. "I can bring you my bills, Layton, for all the repairs and cleaning."
"Understood, Paul, and thank you again."
"Would you just get your car out of my living room so I can assess the damages?"
"Quite. We shall see you promptly at five on Sunday, then. Good day, gentlemen." Layton touched the brim of his hat and steered Flora to the car.
The one good thing about Luke being gone, she reflected, was that she finally got to ride in the front seat. She was quiet all the way home, but once they were inside, she impulsively hugged Layton around the waist.
"I love you, Professor."
Surprised, he chuckled, and patted her on the back. "There, there, my dear. I love you too. Now why don't you go have a bit of a lie in? You've had yourself a very trying day, you must be weary."
"And do try not to be stolen, there's a good girl."
Flora smiled, and shook her head. "No promises."