Notes – So, this is the final chapter! Thank you to anyone who's read this, it's been fun doing my first multi-chaptered story in so many years, even if it was short. This might even be the first multi-chaptered fanfic I've completed. Ironically, in this chapter I don't think there are any spoilers for the third game at all, but if you've read this far then you've probably encountered a few anyway.
He could feel the eyes of the children staring up at him as he walked through the alley. Having people look up at him instead of down on him still felt like a novelty even after so many years. But Luke Triton was an adult now, only just, and puberty had miraculously provided the growth spurt that he'd always wanted as a young boy following the professor around.
Luke had never forgotten about Layton and Flora.
Although sometimes it had been hard to remember them while forging a life on theft and other petty crimes. All the things he did now were things that they would disapprove of, but Luke needed to do them to survive. Those adventures, running around saving London with the professor, felt unreal now – like they were from a different life. In many ways they probably were.
But if there was one thing that Luke had taken out of his lessons from Layton it was how to be resourceful. And he had excelled at that.
He wasn't just pick-pocketing to stay alive anymore, he was good at it. Very good indeed. And all of the children staring up at him knew this. He was that strange boy who spoke with the funny accent but sometimes if they were lucky he would feed them scraps. Part of the reason it had taken Luke so long to raise the money to return to England was because of his bleeding heart, he knew. The other part was because he wanted to face Layton as a man, not as a scruffy young boy. He'd still be scruffy, of course, but being a man seemed to lessen that effect.
These children would be a miss, even if they weren't much company beyond stealing his food and exhausting his finances. If possible he would have taken all of them with him, but it had taken him so long to raise the money for himself even, let alone anyone else. As cruel as it was he was not a superhero, he couldn't help every starving orphan in America. They'd have to fend for themselves when he left.
With laborious progress he made his way down to the docks, busy as always at this time of day. Luke knew exactly which boat to go for, although he couldn't stop himself feeling nervous as he approached.
"Still sellin' tickets, gentlemen?" he asked, swaggering over.
"Push off, kid! We don't have time for urchins like you," one of the men called back.
"Really? Not even if I 'ave this?" Luke replied, waving the money in front of him but keeping tight enough a hold of it so that it couldn't be taken away just yet.
The notes did grab the men's attention, but they weren't ready to give out yet; "Where did scum like you get cash like that? You must have stolen it!"
"If I did, would it mattah t' you? We'll all be outta 'ere in an 'our anyway, no one will know," Luke reasoned.
The men exchanged glances; he could see them silently trying to work it out among themselves. But in situations like this money always wins out.
"I reckon we've got a bit of space left, if you don't cause too much fuss," the main speaker said slowly.
"I 'oped you'd see it that way," said Luke, trying not to grin too much as ticket was exchanged for stolen cash and he was begrudgingly allowed onto the ship.
It wasn't as grand as the Titanic by a long shot, but as long as it floated better it was all Luke could ask for. He stayed near the back as it moved away from the dock, wanting to stay out of the way of the other passengers as much as possible. He could see the looks they were giving him – he didn't belong here. They were middle class and he wasn't even good enough to shovel manure off their roads. How could a boy like him even afford to be on this ship?
Well, not easily. Luke could have told them that. What they thought wasn't important though; the only things that were important were London and the professor and… home.
Settling down, Luke quietly mumbled a 'good night' to his parents, their souls resting in this ocean, before trying to get to sleep.
To say that he slept with one eye open would have been a lie, regardless of what years of living on the street had taught him about how to keep hold of your possessions; he slept quite soundly on the boat. Man was most vulnerable while he slept, but the child-like part of Luke that still wanted to believe in such things told him that perhaps his parents were protecting him for this night.
Whether they were or weren't, Luke got up later on to spend the rest of the journey standing at the front of the ship, waiting for London to appear.
When he caught a glimpse of it on the horizon it was a sight for sore eyes. Here was home! At long last he was back where he belonged. The knot in his stomach grew as he wondered how much it had changed and if he'd even be able to track down his old friends after so long, but he was closer now than he ever had been and he wasn't going to let any doubt stop him.
As the boat docked he made his way through the throng of others leaving, shoved aside by people not wanting to be close to a tramp like him but not caring. Home! Where the sea air smelled better!
…Or he would have liked to have said that, anyway. It certainly had a different smell to it than what the docks of America had, but for the most part it was still over-powered by the scent of fish that merchants were trying to sell to people passing by.
Luke took a moment to admire the stalls and their loud salesmen. One of them was in deep conversation with a woman who had her back to Luke, obviously trying to make her spend as much money as possible.
"You see, I don't feel that this one will do," the woman was saying, "Don't you have anything bigger?"
"I reckon I might…" the man grumbled, not wanting to put all of his gambling chips on the table just yet, "You must be making some big stew if you want more than that though, miss."
"Oh no, this isn't for a stew! It's going into the cake I'm working on," she assured him.
A fish in a cake…?
There was only one person Luke had ever known who thought it was acceptable to bake a fish into a cake.
The girl spun around then clamped her hands against her mouth.
"My word, it can't be! You're… you died!" she gasped.
"Well I came back from the dead t' see you and the professah," he laughed
"He'll be… he'll be… I'm not sure how he'll be actually," Flora stammered, "After so long he's kind of accepted that you were gone…"
"This'll be quite a surprise for 'im then, won't it?" replied Luke, "Can you take me t' see 'im when you're done?"
"I suppose I can, it's not too far out of my way, but I don't actually live with him anymore…" she murmured.
That took him back for a moment, but then he should have known. Flora had grown up now as well as him and he had noticed the flash of gold from her finger when she had covered her mouth.
"So you're engaged?" he asked, changing the subject abruptly.
She flushed slightly, but answered, "Um, yes… I am. He's a little older than me but he's a decent sort and you'd probably like him. H-his name is Harry Hammond."
"Lookin' forward to meetin' 'im," Luke replied, although he was more looking forward to failing at pronouncing the poor man's name – she had to marry someone who had two Hs in his title, didn't she?
"Maybe once you've seen the professor first," said Flora, knowing that seeing him was going to be first on Luke's list of priorities, "Just let me pay for this and I'll take you by his house."
She turned back to the merchant, seeming a lot less fussy than she had done just before about selecting the ideal fish for her cake as she picked up the largest one on offer and paid for it with no fuss.
Then the two of them made it on foot to Layton's home. As they walked Flora tried not to be too repulsed by Luke's appearance, he was a childhood friend after all, but it was hard not to notice the tattered, too short clothing, the skin patched with dirt and the… the smell. It was not at all pleasant. Did Luke notice the smell? He'd never been the cleanest boy in the world but he used to have standards.
And people were looking at them. Over the years Flora had made a name for herself as Layton's daughter. She did have standards and walking around with a scruffy street rat like this wasn't seen as appropriate for an engaged woman such as herself. But surely everyone who knew the professor would recognise his old apprentice? From the looks he was getting that didn't seem to be the case.
On the other hand Luke was completely oblivious to their stares. He'd grown up thinking of people like these as targets carrying the money that he needed, but right now there was only one thing that he needed and it wasn't their pocket change. Staring ahead of them, Luke started to feel almost giddy as they got closer to the house that he knew the professor lived in. Even after all these years it seemed the man still hadn't changed location.
"You're lucky to catch him today, actually," Flora said conversationally, as they walked up the path, "He's taking a day off to catch up on marking. Harry is covering for him at the university."
"Still at Gressen'ellah?" Luke asked.
"Of course," she said, smiling as she knocked on the door before opening it, "Professor? Forgive me for interrupting but I've got a guest who'd like to see you with me."
"Nonsense, my girl, you know that a gentleman would never turn away gues-"
Layton froze in midsentence as he walked out from the study to see who Flora had brought with her.
It was… It couldn't be…!
"'ello, professah," Luke said awkwardly.
The outburst had been unexpected, even for Luke, but not so much as what happened next. Layton darted forward with speed that would have surprised anyone who'd never seen him run from one of Don Paolo's robots, grabbing Luke in a tight hug and… and he was actually sobbing into Luke's shoulder, holding the boy's head close to him.
"You're alive… you're actually alive! Oh my boy, I'm sorry that I ever doubted you…" Layton murmured between the tears.
"It's okay, professah," Luke assured him, pulling away from the grip a little for air, "It's not like you coulda know otherwise and it took me this long t' come back 'ome."
Pulling back to regard him closely, to really see how much he'd grown, Layton said, "You don't mean to tell me that all this time you've been trying to get back here?"
"It wasn't easy I can tell you that," Luke replied.
"So your parents are definitely…?"
"Sorry, professah…" Luke answered, hanging his head.
"There is nothing to be sorry for. You made it back, Luke, and that's good enough. It is… more than I could ever have asked for," said Layton.
Looking from the professor to Flora, Luke admitted, "Um, though I've gotta admit I don't know what t' do now I am 'ere. Really I nevah planned further than meetin' you guys."
"You'll stay with me, of course," Layton firmly told him.
…But professah, what? But professah I don't think you'll like the sort of person I've become and I'm more accustomed to sleeping in an alley? But professah all of your students and guests will just look like targets for me to steal from because that's what I've grown up doing? But professah I'm… not a gentleman.
I've let you down, professah.
He couldn't say any of that, even if it was true.
"No, I'll have no buts," Layton said, cutting into his thoughts, "You are going to march yourself up to the bathroom and get yourself a wash, because I'm very sorry to say this but you certainly need one, then you are going to get yourself changed into some clean clothes while Flora and I clear out the spare room for you."
When faced with demands like that, all Luke could manage to say was, "Yes, professah."
So he took himself upstairs to bathe, while Layton and Flora cleared out a room for him, feeling guilty to be an inconvenience. But as he slid into the water it felt so good… Over his years on the street, Luke had bathed in the dirty waters of the dock, but this was the first real bath he'd had since he'd left London all those years before. His body practically cried out for joy, so much that he just lay there for a long while without making any attempt to wash at all.
After a while he heard Layton leave a change of clothes outside for him and felt that the water was beginning to get cold, so he finished cleaning himself off before getting out and ready.
The clothes were too big for him, though he didn't expect Layton to have anything in his size anyway, but they weren't as baggy on him as they could have been. He had grown quite a bit.
Once dressed, he made his way across the hall to where the other two were boxing up old artefacts in the spare room. Luke knew that this had once been Flora's room, but when she moved out the professor must have just started using it to store fossil samples and other things he'd horded from work in. You could call Layton a lot of things, but a good house cleaner was not among them. Before he'd left it had even been Luke who used to tidy up his office and home for him.
"You don't 'ave t' got t' all this trouble for me," he said weakly.
"It's no trouble at all," Layton promised him fondly.
Almost as if on cue, perhaps looking for an excuse to leave, Flora slapped her face.
"Oh no, silly me! Can you believe that I've left the cake in the oven all this time? I-I was expecting just to go to the docks and back but we have got rather sidetracked. Very sorry but I'm going to have to excuse myself, lest the cake be burned to a lump, see you both again soon," she cried, making her way to the door all the while she was talking.
"Okay then Flora, I'm sure we'll see you next time," Layton called after as she shut the door behind her.
"I thought the fish was for the cake…" Luke mumbled thoughtfully.
Turning back to him, Layton confirmed, "Lately Flora has taken to putting the fish on top of the cakes as decoration instead of baking them inside of it, but I can't help but thinking she might have been excusing herself so we could catch up. Or at least I hope that was the case…"
They were both familiar enough with Flora's cooking to know that either option could be true.
"That 'arry must 'ave a strong stomach," Luke commented.
"I, um, I did warn him about her… inventive cooking before they got engaged," Layton agreed, "Thought it was only fair."
Walking over to take a seat on the bed, Luke commented, "You don't 'ave t' take all your stuff away, really. I know 'ow much you like these things and no offense, professah, but I'm bettah at cleanin' than you."
"Well if that's the case then you haven't done a very good job of keeping yourself clean over the years, my boy," he said light-heartedly.
"You know I'm joking."
"I know you're not!" Luke shot, then laughed himself, "But you are right… I 'aven't be able t'."
"If you don't mind my asking, how have you been getting by for the past few years?" Layton queried, taking a seat next to him.
Here it comes, the bit where Luke knew he had to be honest and the professor would lose all respect for him…
"You won't like it," Luke warned.
"There is very little that could shock me at this point," assured Layton.
Looking him dead in the eyes, Luke began, "I've bin stealin', from rich people. People 'oo can afford it. And I know that doesn't make it right, but it was all I could do and I needed t' and… and…"
The professor held a finger up to Luke's lips.
"Shush now, my boy. I know that it can't have been easy for you. And while I admit that it strays very far from the gentleman's way you were just a child and I see that you had no choice. You did what you had to," Layton comforted.
"Professah… Do you still think I could be a gentleman?" Luke asked weakly.
He wanted to ask if Layton could ever forgive him, but somehow that was hard to get out. This question was easier.
"I think that with the correct guidance you could be as fine a young gentleman that London has ever seen," confirmed Layton.
Only Luke knew that wasn't really true, because no one could ever be quite as fine of a gentleman as the professor was, but it was good enough for him. He hugged Layton once more, feeling like he was a kid again and doing so was still acceptable. If it wasn't then Layton didn't protest.
Layton mouthed something that could have been 'you're welcome' but Luke couldn't quite make it out. Regardless, the two stayed like that in silence, Luke hugging him, for what might have been hours, simply content that they had finally been reunited after all hope had seemed to be lost.
Luke Triton had become independent, perhaps not in the right ways, but with a bit of guidance from his closest friend he would make it back on the right track.
A street urchin could become a gentleman, if Professor Layton showed him how.