Most days that saw Layton ascending the stairs to his office, his arms were either burdened with books, or the ever-effervescent Luke chattered cheerfully at his side. Either way, it had usually seemed that the climb took little time at all. Today, Flora was at his side, sharing amiable silence as they approached the floor his office was situated on.
Luke had... He had unfortunately gone with his family, Layton gently pushed the thought forward. It was where the boy belonged... with his mother and father. He was growing up, and needed their presence in his life. It did the boy a grievous injustice to maintain sorrow for his lack of presence.
Since then, Flora had tried to fill the gaps little Luke had left in the Professor's life. She had struck up quite a rapport with Rosa, the pair often teaming up to ensure the Professor made time for a break now and then, a cup of tea here, dinner at home, sleeping in his own bed rather than on the couch at the office, keeping his mail and papers and files organized, and the office tidy.
Somehow, Layton found himself struggling slightly with the stairs. It was as if every footfall was becoming heavier and harder to make. Aches gnawed and worried at his joints and muscles.
"Professor?" Flora's eyes scanned him as he paused on the staircase, his breathing slightly heavier than usual.
"Oh," Layton sighed. Turning, he steadied himself with a hand on the bannister, and sat down on the steps. Maybe just a couple of minutes of rest would do, he thought.
Ah. Layton smiled apologetically up at Flora, whose eyes had gone wide, her face seeming to have paled in concern for him. "No need to worry, my dear. It seems perhaps I simply haven't quite recovered from our recent adventure."
"Professor..." Flora sat down next to him. "You need to take better care of yourself."
It was true. Her gaze pierced straight through him, as if to read his thoughts, his intentions. It was strange how stern she could become, he mused as he wrapped an arm around her to give her a comforting hug.
"My apologies, Flora. You are right, of course - it does not do for a true gentleman to ruin his health, after all."
He felt Flora nodding as she returned his embrace. Perhaps it would be beneficial to head home at a normal hour for a change, enjoy dinner with the young woman, and - wonder of wonders! - perhaps an early night!
Before all that, however, he had papers to mark, and a couple meetings to attend. With that thought in mind, Layton went to return to his feet - and pain shot through his leg, from his hip, down into his knee and ankle, and without a thought, he gasped loudly, promptly crashing back down to his seat on the step.
"Are you alright?" Flora was kneeling beside him, fussing. "Do you need help?" She offered his hat, which had tumbled off when he had fallen.
"I..." Layton cheek's coloured as he tugged his hat back on. Oh dear, how embarrassing! He tried to smile, to laugh it off, with a sheepish chuckle. "Flora, dear, you know - I think I might, if you please." Far be it from a gentleman to impose upon a lady, but there was no way he was getting up from the steps without help!
Flora smiled, wrapping an arm around his waist, manoeuvring under his arm to support him. Layton rested his free hand on the bannister.
"Ready when you are, Professor," she said.
Moving slowly, carefully, his weight supported by Flora and the rail at the side of the stairs, Layton returned to his feet.
He smiled to Flora, dusting himself down and rearranging his hat. "Thank you. Much appreciated."
Flora, still smiling, just shook her head. "What am I going to do with you, Professor?", was her sole response.
Flora had watched him like a hawk that night, making sure he ate dinner, and ensuring an early night, sternly forbidding him from staying up 'til all hours of the night answering puzzle-related letters. Layton had been mildly taken aback by her fervour, but understanding her reasons and actually being rather touched by the sentiment, he agreed to the young woman's not unreasonable demands that he take care of himself.
Several days had passed since that day and the incident on the stairs, when Layton found himself once again faced with the grumbling, gnawing aches in his joints. It was a cool day, even by London standards, and walking around the campus to attend classes had resulted in damp trouser-legs - which certainly didn't do the aches any favours.
It was while sitting on the stairs that Dean Delmona found him.
"Professor?" Delmona addressed him, his head tilted to one side, sounding concerned.
"Dean Delmona," Layton blinked, looking up. Leaning on the bannister for support, he got to his feet. "I was just on my way to-"
Delmona shook his head, waving off whatever explanation the Professor was planning to give. It was certainly unusual to find him using the stairs for a seat, but not uncommon amongst the staff and students. He smiled, and Layton noticed an amused twinkle in the man's eyes. "Hershel, my boy, fear not - I have no puzzles to pass along today."
"Oh." Came Layton's response.
There was something definitely... off... in the Professor's demeanour, Delmona realized, taking in the younger man's body language. He seemed... tired, somehow... and to be leaning in such a way as to favour his right leg... Hmm.
"Hershel," Delmona said quietly, more gently, "is everything alright?" He knew the young man had recently lost his even younger friend, and of his involvement in that terrible business with Dr. Allen and that time machine contraption. Perhaps he just needed somebody to talk to? Or... "Do you need time away from the university, perhaps?"
Layton's voice betrayed his surprise - Delmona had his moments of perceptiveness. Were his pain and exhaustion really so obvious? "Sir, I'm... I'm fine, but... thank you..."
Something in Delmona's expression indicated he didn't wholly believe that. "If you say so, Professor," he replied.
A couple hours later, a sharp knock came at the Professor's office door, startling him from his focus on a particularly fiendish cryptic crossword. His knee twinged as he got to his feet to answer the door. Dean Delmona smiled up at him as he opened it. He had one hand behind his back, holding something, Layton noticed as he stepped out of the way to allow the older Professor into his office.
"Please, do come in," Layton nodded. "Would you like some tea, sir?"
"Thank you - it's a generous offer, but I'm only here to drop something off," Delmona replied. Bringing his hand around from behind his back, he presented a mahogany cane with a T-shaped handle. It had been engraved and painted at the top with bright colours - a pattern of squares and sections with symbols.
Layton blinked. Was it another puzzle the Dean had been stumped by?
"Hershel, when we spoke earlier, it seemed you might need a little support now and then. In that spirit, I... Well..." He paused and cleared his throat. "This cane belonged to my father, and my father before him, and now, I'm giving it to you."
"I..." Words formed in Layton's throat, and died. It was a very generous gift, and the sentiment was appreciated, but... "Dean Delmona, I must protest. This was a gift from your father to you. Surely I cannot take that away from you..."
Delmona chuckled. "I thought you might say that, but... what is it you say, Hershel, about being a 'true gentleman'...? I believe I can say something along the lines of... 'a true gentleman never refuses a gift given with sincerity'?"
Layton swallowed, his cheeks colouring slightly. It had become a habit for staff members to repeat his gentleman sayings to him when making a point, but he hadn't expected Dean Delmona to make use of them, much less in giving him something.
"Thank you, Dean Delmona. I will treasure it," he said as Delmona passed the walking stick to him.
"See to it that you get plenty use from it, Hershel," Delmona nodded. "There's a young lady who worries about you, you know. You need to start taking care of yourself, rather than charging around like the spring chicken you once were."
This comment caught Layton off-guard and he stammered. "Erm... yes sir." He tugged his hat over his eyes, swapping the cane to his right hand.
"I will see you later, Professor," Delmona smiled.
"Thank you again, sir," Layton nodded.
As the door closed, Layton leaned slightly on the cane, testing its strength. Taking a few steps, he found that yes, it did make at least a little bit of difference in helping him to feel comfortable. Perhaps he could get used to having a walking stick - it was, after all, once considered one of a gentleman's accessories, and one was never to be seen without it.
What was that old saying?
'Speak softly, and carry a stick.'
That was one saying of a gentleman that Layton could certainly abide by.