Fandom: Professor Layton
Rating: PG (R in later chapters)
Word Count: 2425
Disclaimer: I don't own Professor Layton. Or his top-hat of awesome.
Teaser: Lucas goes to help the Professor with some research. It's a lot like a puzzle, really...
“You’re doing WHAT?” Clark gaped openly from the other side of the table, his grilled cheese sandwich forgotten in his hands, poised halfway to his open mouth.
Lucas met the stunned look with a total deadpan. “You heard me.”
“Let me get this straight. You’re offering to help a prof in a subject you hate do some stuff for a reason you yourself can’t even begin to describe?” Clark asked. When he got no reply, he sighed and lowered his sandwich back to his tray. “It’s official, Luke. You’re crazy.”
“I mean batshit.”
“Off your rocker.”
“I get it!” Lucas snapped, digging his fork into his pasta and twirling it around, watching as the long, thin spaghetti noodles wrapped themselves around his fork. “I don’t know why I did it. But I just felt like I should. I wanted to. And I still kind of want to. Maybe it’ll be interesting. Heh, maybe it’ll help me declare a major. My parents have been freaking out about that.”
“Pfft,” Clark made a sound that reflected exactly what he thought about parents and their tendency to worry and panic over what he viewed to be insignificant things. “There are more important things in life than picking a major your freshman year.”
More important things? That could only mean one thing. “Okay,” Lucas sighed. “What’s her name?”
Clark scanned the room, then pointed to a table on the other side, where three girls were sitting. “The one with the long brown hair in a ponytail.” The girl in question was quite pretty, round faced and blushing. “Her name’s Daisy. She’s in my Environmental Science class.”
“Heh, you always did have an eye.”
“Told you so,” Clark said with the air of one who thinks he knows all. “We need to find you a girl.”
Lucas blanched. He really hadn’t given any thought to the university’s population of the fairer sex, though he was aware that there were some very pretty ones wandering around. First he had been preoccupied with moving in (though having a friend from high school at the same school was a big help), and then starting classes. Add the strange dreams into the mix, along with the fact that he was somehow being drawn to a professor who taught a subject he hated…
Lucas was, to say the least, extremely confused.
“So what are you going to be helping him with?” Clark asked.
“I’m not entirely sure. He said something about research. That was it.”
“Hmm…maybe researching whatever drugs he’s using to make you like his class?”
Lucas had to laugh out loud at that. “Maybe I get to be a human test subject!” But as he shoveled a forkful of noodles into his mouth and chewed, he still had to wonder exactly what he was getting himself into, and why he was doing all of this.
It was evening, several days after the exchange that had let up to this. There had been two more classes with the Professor, and a weekend to boot, and now Lucas was on his way up the stairs in the social studies building. Leighton’s office was on the top floor, of course.
Lucas noticed that the building seemed a lot different in the dark, after the sun went down. During the day, it was alive and filled with people, all bustling around, making noise and talking as they tried to get up and down the stairs and through the narrow hallways with a minimum number of casualties. Now…
Now it was like something out of one of the ghost stories they used to tell during school trips, at the back of the bus after the sun had gone down. Shadows lurked around every corner, and the silence almost seemed louder than the usual noise of the hustle and bustle ever did. For a few brief seconds, he could have actually believed the place to be haunted.
That thought alone was enough to quicken his step, and he finally reached the top floor, where a single light was still glowing through an open door. That was the office, and he paused outside the room proper, opting instead to tap on the doorframe rather than just barge in. The Professor was sitting at the desk, bending over something. He seemed to be studying it quite intently.
At the knock, he looked up, and a wide smile broke on his face. “You came.”
Taking that as an invitation to enter, Lucas stepped past the threshold. “You sound surprised.”
“Would you be offended if I said that I was?”
“Nope!” he set his bag down on an empty chair near the door and walked over to the desk. “So what are you working on? What can I help you with?” He looked at the thing on the desk that the Professor had been so eagerly studying: a piece of parchment, covered in some sort of writing that Lucas had never seen before. “What is that?”
The Professor smiled. “Ancient Mayan runes, my boy. A friend of mine is involved in a dig in South America, and he was good enough to send me this for the purposes of study and translation.”
Lucas was feeling a bit sassy. “I usually just write my shopping list on a three by five card.”
A chuckle. “Very clever. Have a seat.”
Staring at the parchment, Lucas quickly realized that he hadn’t a clue what in the world the thing said, and he said as much after approximately ten seconds of staring at it. “They’re little pictures.”
The Professor smiled. “Perhaps we should look at something else?”
A surprised blink. “There’s other stuff?”
There was a pause as the Professor took a drink from the ever-present mug of tea on the desk beside him, something that was quickly becoming a running joke amongst his students. Then he withdrew a small box from beneath his desk and set it carefully on top of the desk. Upon opening it, Lucas found himself looking at several small somethings, wrapped in paper and cloth.
“Tell me, Lucas,” the Professor said, “do you like puzzles?”
“I guess so,” the student shrugged. “I really never gave it much thought until that first day of class, where we drew the dead dog with the lines on the board. But that was kind of fun.”
“Ah, yes. That puzzle is actually intended to be done on a table with matchsticks, but a quick drawing on the board serves just as well in a classroom setting,” Leighton chuckled. “But if you like puzzles, my boy, then I think you will enjoy this. Put these gloves on, and then help me unwrap these, but be very careful. They’re one of a kind.”
“You trust me with something like this?” Lucas asked incredulously as he obediently shoved his hands into the pair of white rubber gloves he had been handed.
“Is there a reason I should not?”
“Then let us begin.”
Slowly, they unwrapped the items in the box, revealing them to be bits of clay with broken, jagged edges, and something engraved and painted across them. Lucas was already seeing the pattern, and realizing what the Professor had meant when he had called this a puzzle. These pieces were meant to fit together into one big something. What that something was, Lucas was not completely sure, but given that it was thin clay, he thought he might be able to take an educated guess.
“It’s a jar. Or a jug. Or something like that,” he said as the last piece was set on a black mat the Professor had produced and set on the desk between them. “Right?”
“Correct!” Leighton said; he seemed pleased. “The trick now is simply putting it back together.”
“This many pieces?” Lucas said with wide eyes.
“Think of it as a jigsaw puzzle, my boy. A three-dimensional puzzle, and nothing more.”
Somehow, that made it easier to swallow, although he was still terrified that he was going to somehow manage to drop one of the pieces and smash it into millions of shards that would never be put back together. But he kept his hands relatively steady and picked up two pieces, one of which looked like it had a person’s head engraved on it, and the other had a shoulder and an arm. And he carefully laid them next to each other.
“I got the first two!” he said, surprised at how cheerful he felt about it. “Your turn!”
It became almost a game, trying to see who could find the next piece the fastest. And Lucas was realizing a couple of things that he had never known about himself: he had a very good eye for detail, and he really did like puzzles. And judging by the way he was going through this and finding pieces and putting it together, he had the potential to be very good at them.
By the time they had laid the pieces out in a flattened reconstruction, the clock on the wall was chiming to alert them that it was a quarter to midnight. They had been at this for hours, yet the time had gone by as though it had only been minutes.
Lucas sat back in his chair for the first time since they had started, wincing slightly as his back muscles protested being kept upright for as long as they had. “Where in the world did the time go?” he asked. The gloves were quickly stripped from his hands and deposited in the wastebasket beside the desk.
“It’s said to fly when you’re having fun,” Leighton said, also disposing of his gloves. “I do appreciate the help, Lucas. Thank you for coming in. This was quite enjoyable.” He rose and reached for a brown coat and hat hanging neatly on a rack by the door. “But I think we should call it a night.”
Lucas slung his backpack over his shoulder and waited while his professor put on his coat and picked up his own bag. But the student did have to stop and stare at the hat on Leighton’s head. “Professor,” he began slowly, “have you always worn a hat like that?”
Leighton paused with the hat in question halfway to his head, and brought it down to look at it a bit more closely. It was a top hat, brown with a red band around it. “I suppose so. It was a gift a long time ago. I just took to wearing it,” he said, place it on his head.
For a moment, Lucas was silent. Then he said, feeling very odd as he did so, “It suits you.” Realizing just how weird that sounded, he quickly added, “If I tried that on, it would look really stupid.”
A chuckle. “I’ve been told that my tastes are a bit out of the ordinary, yes.” He gestured to the door. “Shall we go? I’m sure you have other studying to do.” They paused outside as Leighton locked the door, and then they began walking down the stairs together.
“I don’t get it,” Lucas said after they’d been walking a few steps.
“Why was that fun? I hate history. Always have. So why the heck did I have fun putting an old dirty jar back together?” he asked. He was now convinced, given the evening and the conversation, that if he ever saw a filthy jar anywhere ever again, he was going to be reminded of puzzles.
Leighton thought a bit before answering. “I would be the first to admit that history can be a bit boring if it’s simply being read out of a textbook, my boy. But as you have seen, there is quite a difference between reading the words on a page that tell you about pottery, and actually holding the pottery in your hands and seeing it for yourself.”
“It’s a lot more interesting like that…” Lucas admitted. They were leaving the building now, walking out into the autumn night. It was starting to cool down just a bit, and there was the barest hint of a breeze. “Well, I guess I’ll see you next time we have class?”
“I’ll look forward to it,” the Professor said.
He had gone a couple of steps towards his dorm when he stopped and turned back. “Professor?”
“Hmm?” Leighton paused, a set of car keys in his hand.
“…could I come and help again sometime?” he asked. What had gotten into him lately?
Another beat. Then a smile. “I’d like that very much, my boy.”
“Awesome. Okay, great!” Lucas said, feeling very foolish. “I’ll see you on Wednesday, then.”
“Goodnight,” the Professor tipped his hat, and was once again walking towards the parking lot.
Lucas hurried back to his dorm, alternating between thinking about the evening he had just spent and pondering over all the homework he still had to do. When he got inside, he took the stairs two at a time and made it back to his room in record time. It was nearing midnight when he walked in.
Not surprisingly, Clark was still awake and sitting at his desk with his laptop open and a book in his lap. He glanced up. “Where the hell have you been?” he asked bluntly.
“I told you. I was going to help the Professor with some stuff.”
“…I don’t even know you anymore,” Clark said, and immediately dodged the pillow that was grabbed from a bed and thrown at him. “Just kidding. Geez. So what did you guys do all night?”
“Put a broken jar back together,” Lucas said. “That’s all.”
“You’d be surprised.”
It took Lucas a bit longer than he had anticipated to finish his other studying, given that he kept thinking about that stupid jar and his time spent sitting in the Professor’s office. But finally, around one-thirty, he closed his book and changed into pajamas. Clark had been out cold for a good hour, so he quietly turned off the light and crawled into bed.
He dreamed again that night, for the first time in days. This time, he dreamed of a child in a blue cap, riding in a car and staring out the window at a passing dragonfly. Beside him was a man, the driver. He could not make out many details of the man in question, save for the fact that the man was wearing a tall brown top hat.
When Lucas awoke the next morning, he felt very rested indeed.