Fandom: Professor Layton
Prompt: #71: broken
Word Count: 2952 words
Author's Notes: I do not own Professor Layton or his Top Hat of Awesome. This is a (slightly belated) graduation gift for my darling ammchan, who has been very patient with me in waiting. HOPE YOU LIKE IT, LOVELY! ♥ This fic drew some inspiration from a Sherlock fanfic I read...and have subsequently been unable to find again D:
Summary: They were together, and it was perfect. Absolutely perfect. Spoilers for Unwound Future.
When Hershel woke up, Claire was there, as cheerful as ever.
He spared a moment to be grateful that he had gotten dressed before he came downstairs from his bedroom (not that his pajamas were immodest, but it was the principle of the thing - a gentleman most certainly did not greet a lady guest in his pajamas unless extremely special circumstances were involved). And then he simply stood in the doorway and watched her for a time as she bustled around the kitchen in a flurry of clanging pots and cracking eggs.
She had yet to acknowledge his presence, but he knew her well enough to know that she was aware of her audience. If there was a bit more of a flourish to her movements as she sailed effortlessly around his kitchen, then who was he to point it out?
Finally, he spoke up. "Claire?"
Claire turned around, an expression of mock-surprise on her face. "Oh! Good morning, sleepyhead!" she cheered, giving a little wave with the spatula in her hand. "Did you have nice dreams?"
"I did," he said. "Claire, not that I mind, but what brings you to my home at this ungodly hour of the morning?"
"I thought I would surprise you with breakfast," she said. She now used the spatula to gesture towards the frying pan on the stove. Its contents were crackling and snapping loudly as they cooked. If the delicious smell was any indication, there was bacon in there. "Be a dear and make us some tea?"
In spite of the fact that for all he knew, she had broken into his flat to prepare him a surprise breakfast, he had to smile. She had an unpredictable streak in her that he found extremely endearing. "Well, who am I to refuse the request of a beautiful lady?" He made a motion with one hand, as though tipping his hat, and moved across the kitchen to the kettle as she laughed at him.
Breakfast was lovely.
"Don't you have to work today?" he asked as she made herself comfortable on the sofa.
"Don't you?" she teased in reply.
"Ah, the wonders of teaching and the beauty of the summer holiday," Hershel said with a smile. "Do you have an excuse?"
"I have the day off," she said airily. "So I thought I would spend it bothering you. Besides, it's raining, so there's not much to do outside." As if to prove the truth of her statement, there was a distant rumble of thunder outside the window, audible over the falling rain.
"Truly a fate worse than death," he said. He paused halfway to the sofa and frowned at the wall. "What in the world…?" A few steps took him over to the wall, where he ran a hand lightly over a rather sizable crack that had appeared, seemingly overnight, in the wall. It ran from the ceiling halfway down to the floor. "Where did this come from? I know this wasn't here last night."
She shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe the building shifted? It is an older house, after all."
"You might be right. I'll call someone in to look at it first chance I get," he shook his head at the wall before he took a seat beside her. "So what shall it be today?"
He expected her to suggest a walk, or something of that nature. He was surprised when Claire vaulted off the sofa and bounded across the room to the bookcase. She stood there for a moment, one finger tapping thoughtfully at her chin as her eyes dragged over the spines of the volumes neatly arranged there. Finally, she appeared to make a decision, and with one long finger she pulled the chosen book from the shelf and came back across the room. Once comfortably seated on the couch, she passed him the book. "Read to me, Hershel."
Hershel glanced down at the book she had chosen; one eyebrow arched at the selection. "Sherlock Holmes?" he said.
"The Hound of the Baskervilles," she corrected him. "It's my favorite Holmes story."
"I actually knew that. How many times have you read this?"
"Many times. But you've never read it aloud to me. So this time will be a different experience," Claire told him in a matter-of-fact tone. "There are always ways to experience something familiar in a new light." As she spoke, she was busily grabbing a throw pillow and arranging herself on her end of the sofa, propping the pillow up against the arm of the couch and leaning on it, shifting around until she had found a comfortable position. She closed her eyes and waited.
With a smile and an indulgent shake of the head, Hershel opened the book to the first page. "Mr. Sherlock Holmes, who was usually very late in the mornings, save upon those not infrequent occasions when he was up all night, was seated at the breakfast table…"
When he finished reading, she made him some tea and asked him to read another novel. Again, she chose Sherlock Holmes, and again, he was perfectly content to do as she asked. She lay back and let his voice, reading the words of mystery and intrigue and danger, wash over her. By the time he finished reading The Sign of the Four, the sky outside the window was dark and Claire was sound asleep on the sofa. He tucked a blanket around her and left her to sleep.
Hershel Layton awoke the next morning in his own bed. He quickly remembered that he'd had an impromptu houseguest, and so dressed before he went downstairs. Sure enough, Claire was already awake and about, looking no worse for wear having spent a night on the sofa. Again, she was preparing breakfast. Judging by the visible preparations scattered around the counters, he took a guess. "French toast?"
"It sounded good, and you had everything I needed to make it," she said with a ridiculous amount of cheer for this hour of the morning.
He smiled and glanced towards the window. The world outside was still a dismal grey. "The rain hasn't let up, I see?"
"I think it rained all night."
"I suppose that means another day in," Hershel said. "Will you be joining me?"
"If you don't mind company."
Today, Claire was in an artistic mood. Hershel had once teasingly called her a "scientific dreamer," and she had not denied it. While her passions lay with science, she had an artistic side, and was no slouch with a brush. She had been pestering him for some time to let her paint him. Today, he had no escape. She all but tackled him onto the sofa and spent a moment arranging him to her liking, a pose that was comfortable but would make for an interesting portrait.
Thus situated, she quickly grabbed the supplies that she had once stashed there on a whim, set up, and began to work.
For a time, the only soundtrack to her work was the rain against the window.
Then he spoke up. "How much longer?"
"As long as it takes."
"Will this actually look like me, or are you doing some abstract representation…thing?"
"It will look like you. Now sit still."
He managed to keep the smile firmly internal, but he did start wiggling around and changing his pose ever so slightly, earning himself a gentle rebuke and a roll of the eyes from the artist at work. ""Hershel, you're worse than a child sometimes," she laughed out loud at one point when she glanced up to check her model, and found that he was sticking his tongue out at her. "How gentlemanly you are!"
"A gentleman is allowed to have fun once in a while," he said, once again assuming the pose she had chosen for him. Then he frowned again. "What in the…what is that?" Momentarily forgetting that he was supposed to be holding a specific posture, he pointed at the ceiling behind her, in the corner. "Is that a crack?"
Claire glanced over her shoulder in the appointed direction, and her frown mirrored his. "It looks like one…"
He sighed and let his hand fall back to the armrest. "Did the foundation slip somehow?" She didn't reply, and after a moment, he tried again. "Claire?"
She had been staring at the crack in the ceiling with a strange look on her face. When he said her name, she seemed to shake herself from her momentary distraction and returned her focus to what was in front of her. "I'm sorry. I-I suppose it's possible that could have happened." She seemed paler, but she pasted a smile on her face (and perhaps it was just his imagination that her smile was just a bit too bright) and held up her brush. "Shall we finish this?"
That night, he went to bed early.
That night, he noticed another crack, this time in his bedroom - running from the floor near the door and arching halfway across the room.
That night, Claire crawled into his bed.
He was almost asleep, but started awake as the mattress shifted and a warm breath ghosted across his cheek in a whisper that gave away her identify. And then her lips met his in the darkness, and her arms found their way around his neck. They were both clothed, and nothing totally inappropriate happened, but Hershel did find himself getting a bit carried away as she pressed to him and held him close.
It was perfect. Everything was absolutely perfect.
There was no breakfast this morning, no light conversation or teasing remarks. She was standing by the sink, looking out the window. It was as if she knew this conversation was coming.
Outside the rain seemed to be pounding even harder. They were in London, and it did rain frequently, but this didn't seem right, somehow. And the cracks in the walls and the ceiling. Where had they come from? The place certainly wasn't the newest building in the city, but he maintained it well, and it had never shown signs of being in that bad of shape before. Yet in the last few days, it seemed to be falling apart around him.
"Claire…what's going on?" he asked, fighting to keep his voice calm. Something was wrong, everything was wrong, NOTHING WAS WRONG, this was wrong.
This was wrong.
"We haven't left the house in days. You've been wearing the same clothes since that first morning. You've slept here every night, and last night…something's changed," he said. For the first time, he hated his logical mind and his observational skills. He hated knowing what he had really known for days - that something was horribly wrong, and she knew what it was. "What's going on, Claire?"
A chunk of dry wall fell from the ceiling in the kitchen and crashed into the sink, sending a splash of soapy water sloshing over the metal edge. The house was not that old, there was no reason for these mysterious cracks to be forming. They had never been there before.
And while he struggled to find the words and put voice to them, Claire stood there with her hands clasped behind her back. Her eyes were kind, her smile beatific. She was waiting, waiting for him.
Hershel took a deep breath. He looked up at the hole in the wall over the sink, at the rain falling outside the window, at the water splashed on the floor, and back at her. "Claire, it wasn't a dream, was it?" In spite of everything, his voice stayed perfectly steady. "The explosion was real. It really happened."
"Yes, Hershel. It was real." Her expression did not waver. "I knew you'd figure it out sooner or later. You've always been so observant."
With that, it became all too clear, and his next words were blunt.
"…are we dead?"
The world, the house, everything around them burst into flames. It was hot, but they were not burned, even as the fire devoured their surroundings.
Claire shook her head. "You are not dead, Hershel."
He stared at her, unable and unwilling to process what she had not said.
For the first time in this conversation, she moved. She turned to look at the wall, giving him an excellent view of her profile. She began to pace slowly, moving through the engulfing flames like they were nothing more than blades of grass reaching up to pluck at her clothing. She barely even seemed to notice them.
"I died when the lab exploded. It was quick. I felt nothing," she explained. How one could be so serene when describing their own death was beyond Hershel's comprehension. Granted, at this moment, adding one plus one was beyond his comprehension. "The surrounding buildings caught on fire as well. You ran to the scene. You stopped a boy from running into the flats next door, where his parents were. You saved his life."
She reached the end of the kitchen and turned to begin pacing the other way with those same slow, even steps.
"Unfortunately, the fire was out of control. There was a secondary explosion - some fuel tanks in the basement of the flats ignited and exploded. And you saved that boy's life a second time when a large piece of debris came flying at the both of you. He was unharmed. You were not."
Now she stopped and turned to face him again. The flames grew higher, obscuring her body up to the waist.
"You are in a coma, Hershel, in a hospital bed. Now that you're aware of it, you should wake up soon."
He found his voice. "But you…you won't be…"
A shake of the head. "No, I won't."
The flames grew higher, their red-orange fingers scratching at her neck. The fires of the laboratory explosion that had taken her away from him. The fires of the secondary explosion that had nearly killed him as he protected another. The fires that were now to separate them forever. And she didn't even seem to notice them. She simply stood there as they swallowed her, turning the kitchen around them to blackened ruins and ashes.
He felt a pull on the back of his neck. He swatted at it with one hand, and moved quickly around the table. His hands grappled at her face, desperate to hold on somehow, but the tugging sensation intensified. At a loss for what else to do, he kissed her, hard and urgent and god this was not how a gentleman behaved but he really couldn't give a flying leap at this point.
And then he heard her words, in his ears and his mind and his soul. "It's not forever. We'll see each other again. It just might be a while, but we will see each other. I'll wait for you, Hershel." One last press of lips, and he was being dragged away as the flames swallowed her completely.
Claire was gone.
It was so much later, after Bill, after Dmitri, after Clive, that her words came true. They did see each other again.
And after he held her, kissed her, all but begged her not to leave, as she vanished around a corner to go back and face her true death, he found it was his turn.
It's not forever.
We'll see each other again.
Wait for me, please, no matter how long it takes.
Sooner or later, I will come to you.
- Emily Dickinson, "Parting"