The Small Things
It had been several weeks since Hershel Layton's last "adventure," if one could call it that, and he was trying his best for things to get back to normal.
Some semblance of normalcy was really what he'd needed at the moment. An outpouring of condolences had come from his fellow staff as well as a large majority of the students at Gressenheller University. At first, it had only served to draw more attention to the ordeal, but he did appreciate the effort. He'd been asked if he needed time off—No, he'd insisted, he couldn't just retreat from his job any more than he already had just for some personal vacation. It would be quite unprofessional.
Instead, his office had been swamped with cards from his students and the other archeology professors, and Dean Delmona and Flora frequently came to visit him during his office hours. Layton had fallen into the routine of collecting a few cards that had been hanging on his door only for Flora to help him organize them, followed by sharing a cup of tea with the dean and mulling over a puzzle or two.
The routine was a small yet comforting thing, and Layton put quite a high amount of value on it.
Fortunately, while the many news reports covering Clive's attack on London had mentioned that the professor was involved, none of them had yet mentioned Claire's death—or rather, perhaps departure was a better word. She'd actually died ten years ago, after all, and her leaving hadn't been a direct part of Clive's revenge plot, after all. So while all his associates knew that he had gone through some rather grave events, they all assumed that Layton was either hung up on the fact that he couldn't truly "save" Clive or that he was simply experiencing stress over having been in so many life-threatening situations in such a short time.
Both of those assumptions had some degree of truth to them, honestly. But he'd immediately gone back to work, immediately continued lecturing, and had managed to keep up a semblance of his normal, genial personality. No matter how many times he lectured, there was always some fascinating new thing he would realize about his subject matter, and that was certainly something to hang onto. Watching his students furiously jot down notes, having them ask him questions—those were other small things that helped him cope.
Just teaching again helped Layton take his mind off recent events. Besides, Claire wouldn't want him to dwell, he knew. She'd been the one to drill his gentleman persona into him, after all, and gentlemen didn't grieve. At least, Layton liked to think they didn't.
Still, there were occasional moments where he wanted to let himself be upset, to let his mind wander and think about what he could have done differently. After he would answer questions from students who'd scampered up to his desk after class, after Dean Delmona solved his puzzles and Flora left the campus to return home, Layton would be left alone in his office with his thoughts. But no matter how much he wished otherwise, he knew it was impossible to prevent Claire from returning to her death. And he'd certainly cried enough that evening to make any more tears nearly impossible.
He would then always take a slow sip of tea, turn to a student's homework, and start reading to take his mind away from Claire. Another small coping mechanism, he mused. Layton had never been one for making a big deal of his suffering, so perhaps these minor comforts really were for the best.
Luke's near-constant letters were another help, when student papers weren't a priority and he had the time to write the long replies he so thoroughly enjoyed. The fact that the boy was adjusting so well to his new school and classmates was quite the motivation for Layton to keep pressing on as well.
He couldn't deny that there were times when he really had to try to distract himself, even when he wasn't alone and thinking too much, though.
"Hey, Professor, sir—"
Over a month after Layton had started to settle into his normal routine, a young woman in his Intro to Archaeology class has rushed by his desk after lecture was over, her assigned paper dangling dangerously from her notebook. Her hurry was fairly understandable, as Layton had unfortunately scheduled one of his advanced lectures for immediately after his intro class.
"Do you mind if I come by your office later? I've been having a bit of trouble getting my paper organized."
"It's not a problem, my dear." He smiled as he took a sip of his ever-present cup of tea. "This next lecture is my last one for today, so feel free to come by any time afterwards."
"Oh, thank you—" A large smile of relief spread over Mira's face as she adjusted her glasses.
"Hey, Mira!" Rosetta rolled her eyes as she walked into the room, taking her usual seat near the front. "You're not even an archeology major—so don't waste Mr. Layton's time—"
Mira sighed in response. "I still want to do well in here, you know. Anyway, thank you, Professor—I need to get to my next class."
Layton watched her bicker with Rosetta on her way out; the two, despite being near-opposites, were apparently quite good friends. Another small detail that amused him, really. His students were such a diverse bunch that their interactions were quite the diversion from more depressing thoughts.
And, true to her word, Mira arrived in his office almost promptly after his advanced lecture was over. The tall, brunette woman was constantly early to everything, and her punctuality was one of many details that Layton had added to his routine of normalcy. As an art student, she was also near-constantly covered in her media, from bits of clay to large stains of glaze, and that day was no exception.
"I'm sorry, Professor Layton," she said quickly, pulling her paper out of her notebook. "I had to mix a new glaze today and accidentally got some on my paper, but it cleaned up pretty well…"
It would have been barely noticeable had she not said anything, to be honest. The glaze had been fairly light in color, and while it was quite noticeable on her clothes, she'd apparently tended to her paper almost instantly—there were some slight wrinkles where the glaze had left the paper damp.
"It's still quite legible, Mira," he assured her as he started reading.
Naturally, she had chosen to discuss the usage of ceramics in ancient times, merging her major quite well into a class she'd merely taken as an elective. While she did seem to jump around a bit in time periods, that was the paper's only real issue—it wasn't quite as disorganized as she seemed to think it was. He neatly jotted down a few notes in her margins as he continued reading.
As he neared the end of her paper, Layton's eyes darted up to Mira to begin discussing it, but she'd gotten up from her seat and was idly flitting about the room. Not the he necessarily minded students looking around his office—it often led to interesting conversations over some of the artifacts he'd been allowed to save from digs, after all. However, her eyes had seemed to settle on a photo on his desk.
"Hey, Professor. Who's this woman here? She's very pretty… Do you think she'd mind sitting for a photo for me? It's just an intro class, so it wouldn't be anything complicated—"
Layton stood up sharply, and there was a long pause as he held up the photo Mira had been examining. It was one taken of Claire shortly after they'd started dating, one with a great deal of sentimentality attached to it. He'd left it in his office even after he'd lost her the second time for that very reason, yet Mira had (very unintentionally, he had to remind himself) drug up one of his own, often-dwelled-upon thoughts. Claire wasn't around, and simply couldn't be—he couldn't just call her up and ask her if she could model for one of his students.
Quietly, Layton set the photo back on his desk, face-down. Mira blinked, and then an apologetic, surprised look rapidly covered her face. She quite obviously realized that she'd accidentally brought up something that the professor didn't want to discuss.
"Oh, I'm sorry—I just—"
"It's nothing for you to worry about, my dear."
He forced a smile. Mira sank down awkwardly into her original seat, and there was a short silence. Layton then attempted to salvage the situation by carefully opening a box under his desk, gently removing the old, clay jar shards it contained and laying them on the table. Still somewhat confused, Mira watched him carefully.
"Mira, you have an emphasis in pottery, don't you?"
"Yes…" she answered hesitantly. But I still need a model for my photography class fortunately went unsaid—she was quite tactful.
"Then would you mind helping me assemble these jar shards? This is something received from a colleague a few weeks ago."
Mira's eyes widened. "You'd let me do that? Handle something that important? Is that really okay?"
"Of course. You may have heard I have quite the fondness for puzzles—feel free to think of it that way if it helps—"
She simply nodded, likely having heard from Rosetta. Most of the shards were fairly large, and it didn't take her long to identify the ones that were parts of either the rim or the base. The two of them then tackled the middle pieces, examining them from various angles as Mira assembled them.
Mira had quite the natural aptitude for anything ceramic-related, it seemed, as it took them a surprisingly short amount of time to properly piece the vase together. It did wobble slightly, as there had been a few tiny fragments of it that had been unrecoverable, but otherwise the pieces fit together nearly perfectly.
"That's amazing!" Mira exclaimed, jumping up suddenly and cheering. She promptly blushed at the sudden departure from her usual demeanor. "Oh, sorry, Professor. I could have bumped the table…"
Layton couldn't help chuckling—Mira's excitement was quite contagious. He slowly lifted the jar, which was slightly larger than he'd expected now that it was assembled. Mira watched curiously as he examined it.
"So, after handling it, what can you tell me about this jar that could relate to your paper?" he prompted.
Mira reached towards him, and Layton obligingly handed it over. After a few moments of inspecting it herself, she answered.
"It reminds me of ancient Greek pottery. Unfortunately, it was obviously buried and broken before it was glazed, so I couldn't use it to tell you anything about their surface preferences. However…"
Before Layton could blink, Mira raised the jar to her mouth, and her tongue quickly darted to the clay's surface. He felt both his eyebrows rise suddenly, and she answered his question before he could ask it.
"It tastes like an earthenware clay, Professor," she concluded. "And a fairly absorptive one, at that. It would take glaze easily, so I'm assuming this was a mixture of clay that the potter was quite familiar with using and did intend to glaze."
Mira seemed quite aware of his surprise, and she laughed as she delicately handed the jar back to him. His eyes darted from her to the jar, eyebrows still raised.
"How did you—"
"Think of it as a puzzle!" she cut him off with an unusually gleeful tone to her voice. "Any good potter could tell you all sorts of things about a clay from the way it tastes, and if I couldn't figure out those kinds of riddles, I'd be a very poor ceramics student indeed."
And so it was on quite the high note that she left his office. Layton slowly lifted the photo of Claire back up as Mira's footsteps echoed out in the hallway, his eyes lingering on it for quite some time.
He then set it back down, right side up, with a small smile on his face. Claire would be perfectly happy with him right then, he thought. He could have sent Mira out of his office after she'd asked him about the picture, and he could have sat there dwelling on Claire and letting his thoughts get out of hand.
But treating the jar as a puzzle, using such a simple thing as a distraction, had been quite a good diversion indeed. Mira had quite clearly been having fun as well, and Layton genuinely enjoyed having a good time with his students.
His eyes then darted towards his window, and his smile broadened. Yes, it had really been quite a small, simplistic activity indeed, but putting the jar back together had quite nicely fallen into his coping routine. It had been little more than a distraction, but it had been quite the pleasant distraction.
You're doing well, Hershel, Layton could imagine her saying. You're letting yourself get better—slowly, yes, but you are. That's what a gentleman does.