It starts off slowly enough; Luke starts to complain of headaches occasionally, and sleeps more than he used to. Nobody notices it, though, not really. Staring at puzzles late into the night will give anyone headaches, and Luke's a teenager. They all sleep all the time, it's only to be expected.
When Luke collapses at school, they notice.
The doctors can't tell them anything, not without more tests, so Luke's parents tell him that while they have to do more tests just to be sure, the doctors suspect he was just dehydrated, so he should drink more. Layton is told, too, although he hears the full story.
He doesn't want to lie to Luke, but he does want to lie to himself, and the two help one another.
Luke starts consistently falling asleep in lessons, to the point that the teachers start to notice, even when his friends try to hide it to help him out. It's only when he starts getting in trouble that his parents find out, and their first suggestion is that he get more sleep by coming home straight after school, rather than going to Layton's every day.
Luke shouts and cries and argues until he throws up, then collapses into Clark's arms and has to be carried up to bed.
They don't suggest time away from Layton again.
It's several weeks after the first trip to the doctor that Luke's taken in to the hospital for further testing. Poked and prodded, blood, heartbeat, scans. It takes longer to complete the tests than expected - Luke struggles to stay awake and answer questions, and invariably needs either help walking or to actually be carried from place to place.
He doesn't complain though, despite it all. Just lets the doctors work, except for the moment where he tugs on Clark's sleeve and asks in a barely-there whisper, "Can you make the professah come 'ere? It 'urts, I want 'im..."
Layton doesn't even manage to hang up after he's called, just throwing the phone down as soon as he's told that Luke wants him.
He's reasonably certain he commits several traffic violations in his haste to get to the hospital, but when he gets there and sees Luke's face light up at the sight of him, it's worth it. Once the tests are done Luke reaches up for Layton to hold him, curling up in Layton's lap when they return to the waiting room. They remain that way when Luke's parents are called back in by the doctor, and if perhaps Layton's eyes are a little damp as he watches the hallway for their return, well he simply makes sure that Luke doesn't see.
When they do return though, the expressions on their faces say everything, and hiding his emotions from Luke at that point becomes the hardest thing Layton has ever done.
They don't tell Luke, but they don't need to, really. He might be a child, but he's not stupid, and the fact that he can barely stay awake for more than a couple of hours at a time has hardly escaped his notice.
He asks if he can stay with Layton, and nobody can say no to him.
School becomes something out of the question within days of Luke staying at Layton's, and nobody tries to pretend otherwise. Layton doesn't have any days off left this month, but he tells the university that should they attempt to have him work for this period, he'll simply quit. He doesn't expect to be paid for the time away, and he's happy to return to reduced pay, but he can't work now.
Not while Luke's still here, for as long as he holds on.
Luke's parents try to encourage him to come home, but Luke is adamant that he wants to stay with Layton. Layton doesn't quite know whether to be glad that Luke cares so much, or terrified at the implications of Luke staying with him to the end.
When he's awake, Luke asks for puzzles, and Layton complies every time. They're easy puzzles, though, puzzles Luke has seen before, and as the days pass they get easier and easier, Layton unable to cope with watching the way Luke struggles with them when he would have solved them in a heartbeat before. Part of him still almost expects Luke to chastise him for providing such simple puzzles, but Luke struggles with them as if they're the most complex riddles he's ever seen.
It's not lack of ability so much as Luke clearly having trouble focusing on them at length, and though he's watching his apprentice exhaust himself on the simplest of problems, Layton can't say no when he asks for more.
Life becomes nothing more than caring for Luke. When Luke is awake, Layton gives him puzzles and tries to coax him into eating and drinking. When he's asleep, Layton has a chance to leave his side, although he still prefers to do so as little as possible. Showering and tidying require him leaving Luke alone for a while, but reading, eating and the short naps that Layton is getting by on now are all completed in the chair beside Luke's bed.
Luke doesn't seem to be in pain now, at least, not like the splitting headaches which characterised the beginning of this, but it's exhausting for them both nonetheless. Whenever the exhaustion starts to get to Layton he can do nothing but berate himself, though. He's not the sick one, and Luke wants him there. If he can't stomach a little exhaustion for Luke, he doesn't deserve to call himself a gentleman.
He stays by Luke even when Luke's parents come, although for the sake of allowing them some time with their son he does attempt to use the time for those things he must do away from Luke.
Luke is hanging on, for the moment, with no real change, but they all know it won't last. It's only a matter of time, and despite his desperation to stay strong, Layton isn't sure how much longer he can take of this, of waiting for the inevitable to come.
Layton doesn't know how long Luke has been with him before things take a turn for the worse, only that it hasn't been long. None of this has taken long, and none of it has been fair.
When things do turn, though, Layton is woken from a broken nap at Luke's bedside by Luke whimpering in his sleep. Layton's awake in a snap, but Luke's harder to wake, and as he's trying to wake him it occurs to Layton that, in retrospect, while Luke hasn't been sleeping more over the past couple of days, he's been taking longer to wake. As if sleep is the beginning, and day by day it's getting harder to pull back from the brink.
Once he has Luke awake the struggle is to keep him that way long enough to find out what's wrong with him. A fever, Layton can feel that much without Luke's input, but soon enough he can add to it that Luke's in pain, and when he asks for further clarification as to where hurts, he gets only 'everywhere' in response. He's clearly distressed, though, and much as the analytical part of Layton's mind wants to press Luke for more information, in some vain hope it might be something unrelated to everything else, something that Layton can deal with, the logical and the compassionate parts of his mind know that this is the beginning of the end, that pushing Luke would be cruel at this point because there's nothing that any of them can do.
Instead, Layton calls Luke's parents, calls the doctor, all while holding Luke on his lap and trying to hide how much every little whimper and pained noise of Luke's hurts him, because he has no right to be in pain while Luke needs him.
Once his parents arrive Luke is given up to them, much as Layton wishes he could be the one to hold Luke still. Luke is the closest he has ever had to a son, the closest he ever will have to a son, and to see him like this only cements Layton's certainty that he'll never have children of his own. Even if he thought he could find somebody by now, he could never replace Luke, and watching Luke's parents he knows that he could never be so strong as to go through this a second time, with a child of his own.
If Hershel Layton ever believed in a God, he doesn't even want to believe in a God who would take Luke away from his parents so early in his life, would take any child away from their parents while they were still a child. He focuses on that thought to mask the pain, because anger is easier to hide than agony, because he has to stay strong for both Luke and Luke's parents.
The doctor arrives not long after Luke's parents, and confirms all their fears. There's always hope, of course, anyone can have some kind of miracle turnaround, but there's a point where hope turns to idiocy and denial. Hope at this time would be long beyond that point.
Layton turns his head despite himself, unable to look at Luke now. He wants to be close, to offer comfort, he dearly does, but he suspects that when Luke dies a part of himself will go with him. If he sees it happen, he's scared that part will be all of him, and he owes it to Luke to live on alone. Luke wouldn't want to see the Professor giving up, and if that means a solitary moment of weakness before the end then Layton hopes at least that Luke would never begrudge him that.
He still knows the moment that it happens, though, a soft exhale coupled with two sharp inhales and something in Layton ibreaks/i, he has to excuse himself and practically runs out of the room, not wanting (not iwilling/i) to let them see him broken. See him cry.
He doesn't emerge until they've gone, the fact that they leave without a word to him evidence, in part, he suspects, of how well Clark knows him and knows that he cannot speak, cannot see them, certainly cannot see Luke, what remains of the boy he knows (knew) and loves (loved).
He can't go to the funeral, either, and he's grateful that Clark understands, so there's never an invitation that he would have to refuse.