A/N: Here it is! You’re a single mother out on the town with your kid when you bump into your ex Harry, there’s a complicated history and a secret you hold tight to your chest and everything unravels as your paths collide again.
Chapters Parts: 0.5 / 1 / 2 / 3
“How about a lollipop?” I ask my four year old as we make our way to the underground. It was a sharp winter day, the sky was a clear blue and all the changing colours were hazy under a soft blanket of snow that was starting to coat the street around us. It was an unexpected surprise to see snow in November, one that Julien was over the moon for.
People on the street were dressed in their wool coats, couples holding on to each other and children grabbing the hands of their parents. It was one of those picturesque days that made you want to do cliche outdoorsy things which was exactly what forced me and Julien to ride into central London and find some hot chocolate and a park to enjoy the views.
I was currently debating with my son what it would take to get him to yank the loose tooth in his mouth. It had been ready to pull for weeks but it was his first loose tooth and he was too afraid to let it go.
“A whole pumpkin pie to yourself?” I continue, looking down at his pink cheeks and y/e/c eyes.
“Nuh-uh!” His cheeky smile gives away how much he was enjoying the game.
“You can stay up as late as you want over the weekend?” I bounce back.
“Nuh-uh!” He chirps. “Not that!”
“Hm,” I think out loud. He lets out a giggle and takes off the knitted hat I’d placed on his head before skipping off in front of me. “Julien! You don’t want to catch a cold!”
He stops and waits for me to catch up and I crouch down to smooth his hair back. I pull the hat down over his eyes which sends him into a fit of giggles. I’m too busy laughing that I stand up too quickly and lose my balance, taking a step back to stabilize myself.
“Woah!” Someone grabs my arms and I plant my feet on the ground so I wouldn’t stumble further.
“Are you alright?” Someone else asks.
I turn to thank whoever kept me from falling flat on my butt but my words escape in a white puff of smoke as I look into those sea green eyes.
“Harry,” I say while he says “Y/N” with the same shocked expression.
“Wow,” Harry says, finally removing his hands from my arms. I feel wobbly without it.
“I’ll just be...uh over there,” I look to the other voice, Niall. He smiles at me before removing himself from the awkward situation.
“Julien,” I gasp as I realise I’d lost him in the chaos but I spot him staring into a shop window, his breath making the glass foggy. Niall walks in that direction and after looking back at me for confirmation, I nod to say he was alright to talk to.
“Wow, Y/N...I never thought I’d ever see you after..”
Harry leaves the sentence hanging between us, somehow colder than the snow falling around us.
"London’s a small place,” I knew this day would come, was just hoping it wasn’t for another 10 years. “It’s been a while though.”
“Yeah like four...five years...” Harry combs his hair and the snow melts against his fingers. I glance at Julien to make sure his hat was still on and I’m not surprised to see him laughing with Niall. My worlds, both past and present, were colliding here on this random sidewalk and it was taking everything in me to act so casual.
“How’ve you been?” I struggle to say. I didn’t want to make small talk with Harry-I wanted to grab Julien’s hand instead and walk away. But I force myself to look at Harry--really look. He looked as good as the day I met him, his hair is kept shorter than he used to but it lifts with the wind like it always did.
M’pretty good.” Harry stuffs his hands in his pocket and I resist the urge to fix his scarf so it better covers him from the cold. “It-it’s been good. You? I haven’t heard much about you after we uh...what have you been up to?”
I look at Julien unconsciously and this time Harry follows my gaze.
“Oh-is that-is he yours?” Harry says before I could tell him. His voice sounds odd, like he couldn’t take in enough breath to say it.
“Yeah.” I notice Julien was trying to cover Niall’s boots with snow. “Julien--stop that.”
He looks at me, embarrassed, and I try to squash the guilt. Niall shouts that he’s alright and I turn my attention back to Harry who can’t take his eyes off of Julien.
“He’s a cute kid. How old is he?”
I notice the way Harry tries to sound casual but I can tell he’s guessing Julien’s age and matching it with our timeline.
“Three,” I lie.
Harry wasn’t incorrect in assuming Julien could be his. Maybe it made me the worst mother in the world but Julien was Harry’s and none of them were the wiser.
But it’s not as simple as that.
Many years ago (x) when I’d just graduated high school and went to my first house party, I’d met Niall and although we didn’t “click” immediately we were around enough mutual friends that we’d gotten on well. Fast forward a little over a year and I was invited to his party where I met a tall and very handsome bloke who was an absolute gentleman when I threw back too many shots and passed out in his room. You’d have to be heartless not to be taken by him back then.
We hadn’t remained friends for long; Niall and the rest of our friends were delighted. And I’d remained happily coupled through the rest of my years at uni. The year I graduated Harry and I moved into a flat and we’d found great jobs. But Harry had dreams of being a musician, and he was so talented. I believed in him so we made a plan that he would try his hand at releasing some music and trying to get signed to a label. A year, we gave it, and then he would find a part-time job to be realistic.
Except, the music industry was harsher than either of us realized, and they pushed and pulled Harry around without any results. It strained our relationship, especially when I was working myself raw to support his dream and it felt like he was taking it for granted. Harry turned into someone I couldn’t recognize, the stress and ego made him a man who was nothing like the sweet guy at Niall’s party who slept on the floor so I could stay safe and comfortable after drinking too much.
The day everything ended, we’d said some ugly things to each other. Worst of all, Harry made it clear he wanted nothing to do with me. And with the person he’d become, I didn’t want him around me anymore even though I still loved him. The truth was we weren’t who we used to be.
The only time we talked after that was when Harry came back to the flat for his things, and had a few friends help him take down his studio, and to sign off of the flat. A few days later-my mum had come to visit with roses and one sniff sent me sick to the toilet. My mum suggested a pregnancy test and that was the situation I’d found myself in.
After the way we ended, the last words Harry had said, and the silence after we’d split-I really believed he wanted nothing of me. But as my belly grew, I had something of his. The day Julien was born and placed in my arms with wispy curly hair and a booming wail, it felt too late. I couldn’t tell Harry then, I couldn’t deal with him and raising a kid well.Maybe when Julien was older, I had thought then, I would tell him who his father was.
I glance at Julien who was sticking his tongue out to catch the snowflakes. His hair had slowly turned into a thick mop on his head and his wailing turned into an endless stream of “why’s”. I loved him more every day and tried to push the guilt aside whenever I saw a part of Harry in him. The first time he asked me about his dad was right before he turned four, I’d tried to answer as best as possible.
“Do I have a dad?” He’d asked innocently.
I’d blinked at him, trying hard to keep my emotions in check. “Of course, love.”
“Where is he? Did he die?”
“Not that I...no. No he’s alive and well in London.”
“He’s in London?” Julien’s eyes lit with a hope that was too bright it was dangerous.
“Um,” this was where the lying began. “He was in London. When we loved each other very much and had you. Now...he could be anywhere.”
“Where is he?”
“I...don’t know. Why don’t you finish your dinner!” I felt rotten, I did know. Every New Year’s and Julien’s birthday, I let myself look Harry up. To move on, I couldn’t be obsessive, but I told myself I was keeping tabs on him for Julien’s sake. There wasn’t much in the first couple years but the year Julien turned three Harry released an EP. One of the songs in particular was a big hit. It nearly gave me a heart attack the first time I recognized his voice loud and clear on the radio as I dropped Julien off at daycare. He still wasn’t top-10-charts famous, but his following was increasing every day, and I would even see a few papp shots of him every so often. He was big enough that rumors circulated often enough of which musician or model he was dating, and in a way I was happy he could finally live his dreams but it also made me question if I was just a step on his ascent to fame. And so I lied to Julien when he asked to stop the questions I wasn’t prepared to answer.
“Okay,” he’d picked up a bite and put it in his mouth before asking. “Is he a secret agent?”
“What!” The crushing guilt constricted my lungs and I gulped for breath. “He’s a very handsome man who I met in university and I loved dearly. You have his nose.”
Julien clutches his nose and smiles. “Cool!”
Later on I’d created a better, cleaner story for him and he’d accepted that. But I couldn’t help but wonder when he would want to see his dad. When this exact moment would happen-I would bump into Harry and have to tell him. But...maybe not yet.
“Three? He’s tall for his age.” Harry looks back at me.
“Yup. That’s what my mum says all the time.”
“How’s y/m/n doing?” Harry asks with genuine concern.
“Oh she’s good, spoils the kid too much but she’s happy.”
“I bet. She was always asking for grandchildren passively,” Harry chuckles at the memory.
“Yeah that time she threw us an anniversary dinner and included baby shoes in the gift?”
“Oh my god I forgot about that,” Harry laughs. “Your mum’s pretty cool.”
“Yeah, your family’s alright?”
“Oh yeah. Good as always.”
Our conversation fizzles out again and I stare in frustration at the patch of skin Harry hadn’t covered with his scarf. How did we have all this history and not even carry on a conversation past a few sentences? How could I expect to invite him back into our lives, when we don’t get along like we used to? There was so much between us, good, bad, and ugly. It was like looking at a tangled ball of yarn and figuring out which string to pull.
“Hey Harry, Y/N!” Niall calls.
I turn and am suddenly pelted with a snowball.
“Hey!” I shout and I hear Julien’s giggle as another hits me and the stray snow off the one that hits Harry.
“Do we get them back?” Harry asks.
And that’s how we find ourselves in the middle of the sidewalk scraping the little snow on the ground, having a snowball fight like we were still in college, and there were no big secrets weighing on us. Or me. It was nice, but when Harry picks up Julien as a shield and his face lights up at being that high in the air, something in my chest squeezes and I can’t breathe.
“Okay time out!” I shout, feeling winded. “Uncle or whatever.”
“Aw your mum’s forfeited!” Harry lowers Julien and I go to grab him.
“Mum!” Julien whines but I shake my head.
“I’m too old for this,” I pull him in but his shoulders hunch over in disappointment. “You guys are probably busy too I shouldn’t-”
“No actually,” Niall glances at Harry. “We were just coming out of a lunch meeting, heading home now. Y/N...it’s been a while.”
“Oh, I know,” I look longingly at my old friend. We sort of stopped talking after Harry and I split, I just didn’t want to be around anyone who knew him. And after finding out I was pregnant, I had to cut everyone off. I didn’t want anyone to get wind of who’s baby it was. Niall had left me some voicemails, and I could tell he was hurt by my actions. He even tried to get my sister to convince me to call him. But I had to leave him behind as well.
“Bring it in,” Niall pulls me into a hug and I squeeze him. We used to be friends before Harry, it sucks he was a casualty of our separation. “You should come over, are you busy? We’re heading back to Harry’s flat. We can all catch up like old times.”
I’m about to decline, first of all it was nothing like old times and second of all I can’t even imagine what a mess this could be when Julien tugs on my sleeve.“Please mom? I’ll pull my tooth out if we can!”
“Oh so this is what you decide on?” I turn on him but his sweet little face with the wonky smile makes it hard for me to say no. “Fine!”
“You’ve got a loose tooth?” Harry asks.
“Yeah! My first!” Julien jumps up and down.
“Wow buddy! I remember my first tooth!” Niall ruffles Julien’s hat. “Are you going to yank it with a string?”
“No!” Julien shoutts. “I’m too scared.”
“I’ve been trying to convince him for weeks,” I tell the two. “He’s a stubborn kid.”
“We’ll convince him,” Harry tells me. “Right Julien? We’ll tie the string to the door and yank it really hard!”
I bury my face in my hands as I hear Julien squealing at the visual. This was not going to be an easy day.
Harry lives close, who would have known. We walk the corner into a nicer neighbourhood, even his lobby is fancy, and I wonder just how well he was doing. I wonder if he finally got a better manager, how he convinced his label to release that EP which I still hadn’t listened to. I knew I couldn’t handle it if I did.
Harry’s flat has the basic furnishings, but it’s not very lived in.
“I just moved in a couple months ago,” Harry says as we walk in. “Don’t mind how it looks.”
“It’s nice,” I take in the big brown couch and TV that was twice the size of ours. His kitchen is accessorized in gold, and I eye the fancy coffee machine on the corner of his counter. I see the London Eye from his balcony window, and also notice the dining table is the only thing that looks lived in--it has scraps of paper and notebooks, CDs, and some gadgets I don’t recognize.
“Homework,” Harry says when he notices me looking it over.
“School?” I ask. Was he taking music courses?
“School of life,” Harry’s lip twitches and I can’t help but crack a smile at his lame attempt at a joke. Julien asks him about his guitar leaning against the couch, and he heads over to show him.
It’s heartwarming and hard to watch as Julien falls in love with Harry. Julien is engrossed with Harry’s skills and Niall and I talk for a bit about life.
“Have you got yourself a boyfriend?” Niall asks, both of our eyes are on Harry naming every chord Julien asks.
“Pfft no,” I answer. There had been one guy when Julien was almost one and a half. We’d dated right up until the end of that year, but ultimately he couldn’t be with someone who had a kid. And even though it hurt, I understood. I didn’t want any guy to feel like he had to put up with Jules just to be with me.
“His dad?” Niall asks.
“What about him?” play it cool, play it cool.
“You’re not together?”
I can’t help but laugh, “No Niall, it’s been a while.”
“Don’t worry, I’ve had the worst luck with women these last couple years. I think my last girlfriend put a curse on me.”
“Really, women are witches angle?”
“No, Y/N she was actually into that shit. She had these crystals and she talked about the second moon rising or something. Anyway, I’m telling you I’m cursed.”
“Oh shit,” I look at him and we burst out laughing. Talking to Niall was always a good time, it was playful and easygoing.
Eventually, Julien gets so attached to the boys that he throws himself to the floor when I tell him we had to go home for dinner. Niall and Harry convinces us to stay. I offer to cook dinner and it takes them barely a second to agree--back when Harry and I were going out and we were all friends, cooking for them was a regular thing which they enjoyed just as much as I did.
“You can choose the game,” I hear Niall saying. Soon, the noise of cheering and thumping mixes with the sound of the sizzling skillet. I enjoyed the process of cooking: the sound of the knife hitting the cutting board, and the aroma of food filling the small space had a way of calming me down. Even in this strange kitchen I could feel myself relax. That is until,
“Salad?” Harry materializes next to me and gives me a scare. “Sorry-didn’t mean to scare you!”
“That’s fine,” I focus on the pan. “I was just really focused on this, but go ahead.”
“I think this is the only good thing I know how to make,” Harry jokes.
“And you probably don’t even eat it,” I tease.
“I’ll have you know I’ve acquired a taste for salads if it has the right dressing.”
“And it’s drenched in it?”
“Swimming in it, not quite drenched,” Harry plays along. It tugs at my heart.
“A lot has changed I see,” I continue seriously. “Your palette has definitely matured.”
“Yeah,” Harry suddenly quiets. I take it as a sign to continue adding my ingredient to the pan but he turns to me. “I’ve-well I’d like to believe anyway, I’ve uhm…I’ve matured too.”
“Oh,” I’m glad I’m cooking on high heat because I could only spare him a glance as I focus back on the skillet, moving the ingredients around.
“Mum?” A voice calls out and then it comes closer.
“Yes?” I watch Julien shuffle into the kitchen looking down. I turn the heat down and Harry takes the spoon from me without mention. “What’s wrong?”
Julien slowly unfurls his hand to show his little tooth, he looks scared and I notice the streak of blood on his chin.
“Oh my god!” I hold his arms. “It’s out! The tooth’s out!”
“It’s bleeding!” His voice quivers. I pick him up and pass Niall who apologizes.
“Don’t,” I wave him away. “Don’t worry. Which is the bathroom?”
“Last door on the right!” Harry shouts just as Julien starts to cry. I carry him to the last door on the right and get him to gargle, reassuring him he was okay.
“Does it hurt?” I ask him when I set him on the counter.
“No,” he says quietly. He was just overwhelmed, it usually took a quiet corner and deep breaths to calm him down from this.
“This is exciting!” I rub his arms. “Now you look extra cute with that gap in your smile.”
He slowly looks up and gives me a big smile. It makes me laugh, and I poke his belly until he laughs too. By the time we’re out Harry’s finished what I started and he’s chopping vegetables. Niall hovers nearby and I tell him everything was fine. Julien decided to jump from the couch all on his own.
“This is huge,” I hear Harry tell Julien later as I finish up the dinner. “You’re growing up so fast! When I first met you you had all your teeth and now you have one less.”
“Want to see it?” Julien’s enthusiasm for everything gross returns but Niall and Harry feed into it. They ooh and ahh at the tiny tooth and I have to take it away before Julien accidentally swallowed it or something.
“You ever heard of the tooth fairy?” Niall asks while we eat dinner. Julien barely reaches the table so we end up sitting around the coffee table which must feel special to Julien because he can barely sit still.
“Uh-huh, mum said she gives me money for my teeth.” Julien looks over at me.
“Yeah, so you’ve got to keep the tooth safe under your pillow tonight.”
“Have you seen her?” Julien’s charmed by Niall and his accent, I could tell.
“The fairy that leaves you money?” Harry asks. He looks at me as he continues, “I’ve seen her, she’s pretty beautiful.”
“Will I see her?” Julien continues to ask but the roaring in my ears muffles the conversation as I’m caught in Harry’s stare. What he meant with his words was obvious, I just wasn’t expecting him to say something so bold. Not with all the fucked up history between us, and with the son he didn’t know he had sitting between us. Quite frankly, I still thought to this day Harry didn’t care about me. That maybe he even hated me. I know personally there were moments where I felt as much hate as I did love for him.
“Y/N, how much do you think a tooth like that’s worth?” Niall snaps me out of my thoughts. I glance away from Harry and to Niall, who glances at Harry and makes a face. Harry looks down at his plate.
“Maybe 2 pounds?” I think. “Might even get a fiver if you behave.”
“The conversation drifts and Julien makes his way back to the guitar while the boys wash up. I lean against the soft cushions, watch as Jule’s brows stitch together as he plucks each string and listens to their sounds. He looked so much like his father then, I want to whisk him away before the boys see. In that moment, it was so obvious he was Harry’s son.
Oh god, it hits me again. We were here in Harry’s flat. I was here with his son neither knew. The guilt has been eating away at me today, but there wasn’t a single moment where I could tell him. Truthfully, I didn’t know if I even wanted to. I wanted to keep Julien to myself. Our lives would get so much more messy if I opened that can of worms.
“So, you’ve probably heard Harry on the radio yeah Y/N?” Niall asks as he sits down. Harry sits down on the opposite end of his sectional where Julien strums the guitar. He picks Julien and the guitar up onto the sofa and produces a pick from his pocket.
“I heard him a couple times, that one song of his is popular on the radio-”
“Sign of the times,” Niall pushes Harry from where he sits. “That’s his baby. Harry can you believe we used to be in a band together?”
“Wait you two?” I didn’t know this.
“Yeah in high school, we were in this stupid band and we played school assemblies and stuff. He was the star clearly.”
“Niall’s being humble,” Harry tries to shift the attention. “He had a good sound, and his lyrics were spot on. That’s why I pull him into my meetings sometimes.”
“Did you guys record any of your shows? I need proof of this,” I laugh. “Why have I never known this?”
“We don’t like to talk about it,” Harry says to me directly and there it is again, damn. His eyes lock onto mine and it’s fucking magnetic.
“Have you listened to his album?” Niall continues.
“It’s an EP,” Harry mumbles.
“I haven’t actually, don’t get much time between Julien and work,” I lie.
Harry clears his throat. “You’ve never...listened to anything?” he asks and the vulnerability in his question pokes at my defenses.
“I-I usually listen to whatever’s on the radio,” I don’t know how Niall was sitting so comfortably in this awkward conversation but when I look at him he’s smirking. He loved it, of course. “Like I said, I’m not much for finding new music.”
“Mom listens to Abba all the time,” Julien says without looking up. “We like to dance on the weekend.”
“Right,” I laugh, slightly embarrassed at my son’s confession. “We do enjoy that.”
“Let’s see here,” Harry plucks a few strings on the guitar and Julien looks up in amazement. He was killing me. “This...” he makes eye contact with Niall who laughs and the next thing I know Harry’s strumming to dancing queen. Well it doesn’t sound like dancing queen right away, but when Niall comes in with the oohs and Julien catches on and joins in, Harry launches into the chorus and I pull my knees up, wanting to cover my eyes. But I don’t.
Harry’s voice is rich and controlled, and it’s mesmerizing. I circle my knees with my arms and watch Harry; the contours of his face are highlighted as he comes alive. It was so unfair how handsome he continued to look. When he finishes the chorus, Julien falls to the floor gushing about how awesome that was.
“I can’t believe you guys just did that,” I say. “That was...that was amazing.”
“I played that for you once remember?” Harry says to me directly. “When I bought the electric guitar...”
“I...” I forgot until that moment. But it comes back to me, Harry saving up to buy an electric guitar because he wanted to branch out from his traditional one. It was a few months into his first year trying to make it. I’d come home from work and after dessert that he prepared he took the guitar out and serenaded me. He knew it was my favourite song. “You did, I remember.”
The silence in the room is deafening. Thank god for small children because Julien, completely oblivious, walks up to Harry and hands him back his pick.
“You didn’t need this?”
“Ah, come up here,” he pulls Julien into his lap and places the guitar over them both. He takes Julien’s hand with the pick and strums some chords. Julien squeals and looks at me wide-eyed. I widen my own as he strums out twinkle twinkle little star.
“Oh my god mum did you hear that?” he runs over to me as soon as Harry finishes, sliding down and throwing himself into my arms. “Wasn’t that so good?”
“That was phenomenal,” I hold him tight, inhaling the babyness of him. I realize here and now what he’s missing, seeing him share this passion with his father. I was keeping him from this. This was so fucking unfair. I feel a tear drip down my cheek and I swipe it away on the bank of my hand as Julien wriggles out. I let him go, getting up myself. “We should get home, it’s nearly his bed time.”
“Aww,” Julien whines.
“You’ve got school tomorrow,” I warn him.
“Isn’t he three?” Harry asks and I try to reign in my oh fuck face.
“Preschool,” I lie and I think I do a good job of covering my arse. I pray Julien’s too busy examining the guitar to correct me. “Enrolled him early.”
“Well Julien,” Niall picks him up and holds him upside down while he laughs from the blood rush. “Let’s get your shoes and coat on.”
I know Niall is giving Harry and me room to talk but I don’t want to do this right now. I had so many things to think through, namely how confused it was seeing Harry. It seemed like he had changed, or changed again--back to the guy I knew when I first fell in love. He was kind and gentle with my kid--our kid. He was considerate and welcoming, but another voice in my head tells me he could be putting on an act. That the other Harry was somewhere waiting for me to get comfortable before he showed up.
But it had been nearly five years, a lot has clearly changed. I just don’t know if I trusted Harry, and yet...I had to trust him enough to deliver this news I had been keeping for the last five years. But maybe, I decide then, I could wait a little longer.
“It was nice seeing you,” Harry breaks the silence. “We didn’t get to talk much but...”
“Julien had a lot of fun,” I try to keep the subject off of me. “Thanks for letting him play around with your things.”
“He’s a good kid,” he pauses, I can tell the question is on the tip of his tongue but he swallows it. “Can I-are you um, would you want to see each other again? To...catch up. Properly.”
“I don’t know if that’s the best thing for me right now,” I remember the phrases from therapy, boundaries. That’s what I was putting up right now. “But I’m glad to see you’re doing okay--well, more than okay but...yeah.”
“Yeah,” he hesitates. “I...I couldn’t have done it without you.”
Too little too late, the bitter words pop into my head and i’m surprised with the level of hostility I feel. Even Harry feels the weight of his words, everything they mean, because he stands awkwardly in the middle of his living room with his hands shoved in his pocket.
“I should make sure Julien’s ready,” I turn and walk towards Niall and Julien’s voices. I couldn’t even respond to that, what did he want me to say? Just get over how he treated me, after everything, just because he recognized everything I did for him now? Oh lord, violent waves of emotion threaten to drown me as I say goodbye in a blur and hustle Julien outside and into the closest cab. I needed a drink--but first I needed to put my kid to bed. Today was more eventful than I thought, and I wasn’t sure what I was doing anymore.
When it came down to it, I loved Harry because I couldn’t imagine not loving him. But I didn’t trust him. I didn’t know who he was and five years of no contact hadn’t helped. My only updated were from headlines and occasionally my sister, but I didn’t know what kind of person he’d become. If, and it was a big if, I was going to tell him about Julien I had to make sure he would be a good dad. That he was someone our son could look up to.
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Miracle Mask but make it Genshin<3
(Part of the PL Genshin!AU I’m doing with @daysneezes!!)
Hershel took a small sip of the tea he brewed earlier in the day, his Vision perched securely on the velvet ribbon of his top hat.
"What about this, Professor?"
A letter was suddenly thrust in front of him, obstructing his entire view. Already used to the rather unorthodox way his assistant carried herself, he leaned back to properly assess the piece of paper that now warranted his attention, reading it as she explained its content.
"I‘m afraid this one sounds more like something the adventurers should be handling, Emmy."
He nodded to her, hoping she could see the regret in his smile. It was a rather enticing one, and he could see why it would catch her attention…but alas. He only had so much time to spare for those who required help from his...gifted abilities.
Emmy frowned, sharp eyes scanning over the words that covered the entire page once more before sighing.
"I suppose you‘re right. I‘ll see to it that the Guild is informed of this right away."
"That would be much appreciated. Should they need our further assistance, let them know we would be more than happy to lend it to them."
"But of course!"
The hour passed by in relative silence, both of them consumed by the work cut out before them. Emmy continued going through the rest of the letters he had approved for her to read, and after another bout of discussions, they agreed to divide a lot of them to the hands of the authorities and the Adventurer’s Guild, and kept the less dire ones for whenever Hershel had time to spare.
It was at that moment that Luke finally arrived, stumbling as he opened the door to his office. His leather satchel seems to be filled to the brim, his blue Vision as deep the seas hanging on for dear life on its side.
"Sorry I‘m late, Professor!" he cried, "But I had to help a family of ducks cross the road and the mailman left another batch of letters-"
"Now, now. Calm down, Luke. It‘s quite alright," Hershel chuckled. "Come sit and have tea with me. You look like you've been through quite the ordeal."
With a sheepish smile, the young boy crossed the room and handed the letters to Emmy, whining when he failed to dodge her playfully ruffling his hair.
The next hour passed by again comfortably, and Hershel was in the middle of writing back to one of his colleagues when Emmy‘s voice drew him back to the real world.
Or rather, the name she uttered.
"Professor, does the name Angela Ledore ring any bell?"
Time…stopped, for but a small moment. He inwardly shook his head, willing the memories from almost two decades ago out of his mind.
"Why yes…of course. But where did you hear that name?"
More than a little curious and caught off guard, he blinked as Emmy slowly handed the letter in her hand to him.
"It was on the letter." Something in his expression must have betrayed his inner turmoil, because the young woman continued: "It‘s not quite a name I‘m familiar with, nor is it any of the usual ones who would seek your expertise."
Luke reached in before he could grab the letter, "Oh! Let me," nimbly ripping the envelope with a letter opener and with a bright smile handed its content to him.
It was hard not to smile back at how eager the boy was to lend a helping hand. "Thank you very much, Luke," he said warmly, resting a hand briefly on top of his head before directing his focus to the writing in front of him.
When he finished, Hershel was silent. Wordlessly, he gave the letter to Emmy before walking to his open window, breathing in the fresh morning air to try and calm the anxiety creeping up his back.
I do hope you forgive me after all these years. I don‘t know who else to turn to.
We are in desperate need of your help, Hershel.
"After all these years…." he muttered, gently taking off his hat and gazing at the glowing golden Vision staring back at him. Accusing. Unforgiving. He held back a flinch. Why, Angela?
"…Professor? Is everything alright?"
Ah, how careless of him.
"Everything's fine, Luke," he returned his hat where it belonged and sauntered to where both of them crowded around the enigmatic piece of paper. "My apologies, I didn't mean to make you both worry. It‘s just…she’s an old friend of mine, and the content of her letter worries me."
The frown on Emmy‘s face deepened, but she was not his assistant for nothing, knowing well what to prioritize and when. It was moments like these that he was truly glad to have her here.
"So the Mask of Chaos…"
"What is that?" asked young Luke, wide eyes brimming with curiosity and hunger to know more. But before he could reply, Emmy seemed to have beaten him to it.
"According to Donald Rutledge in his book 'Ancient Histories', the mask bestows great power upon those who wear it. Legend says it was left by one of the old gods as a gift to humanity, but no one has been able to prove its existence thus far."
"Indeed, the allure of omnipotence is as old as the Archons themselves." He couldn‘t quite hide his surprise when he said: "You seem to know quite a lot about the mask, Emmy."
The young woman grinned, the fiery red Vision fashioned into her bowtie twinkled along with her eyes. "Well, I did take a few courses here and there before applying to be your assistant. Jumping in blind into the world of archeology doesn‘t seem like the wisest decision, wouldn't you agree?"
That…made perfect sense. "I see…"
"Did I leave something out, Professor?"
"Oh, no, no. You‘re absolutely correct."
Luke continued to ask more about the Mask, and both he and Emmy alternated in explaining it to him, with Hershel more often than not simply adding useful trivias he still remembered from Randall‘s excited chatter many, many years ago.
An old, familiar pain ached in his heart, something difficult to dismiss, but Hershel was determined to lock it away for the time being, at least until he had his answers from Angela.
"So what is your relationship with Ms. Angela, Professor? Is she one of Professor Layton’s lost loves?" Emmy‘s spirits must have been lifted for her to tease him. It wasn‘t unusual for her to do so after a year of working together, and he had come to welcome it each time, albeit with a wry smile more often than not.
This time, however, he could only shake his head, a heavy weight burdening his chest, memories of night escapades and jovial laughter with a certain redhead lost in the callous hands of time and forced distances.
"Hardly," he replied, hoping he did not sound as contrite as he felt then. "I’ve known her since my school days. Our relationship was…complicated, at best."
Despite his attempt to do otherwise, this effectively dampened Emmy‘s countenance, her head bowing slightly in a show of apology. "I see."
They agreed to set out in a few days, Luke having to ask his parents‘ permission, and Emmy freeing up both her and the Professor‘s schedules for the next few weeks and requesting approval from the Dean.
The guilt he felt at being absent from his students was something he had come to know well, and as usual, he made sure to let them know in advance, helping the substitute lecturer get up to date on his last sessions and materials.
Fontaine University had grown accustomed to its esteemed Professor‘s tendencies to conduct sudden research leaves, and this time it was no different. But the mere mention of the Mask of Chaos certainly helped in speeding up the process.
"We look forward to your findings, Hershel," said Dean Delmona, nodding at him with pride. Hershel tipped his head with a polite curve of his lips.
"I will do my very best, sir," he said. "And I do hope the agreed upon terms of confidentiality will be respected, as per usual."
"Naturally, my dear boy," he laughed, "we know how you operate. Don‘t let us get in your way."
"Many thanks, sir."
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