It's a shame, isn't it?
The voices were mumbled, muffled, spoken from behind hands and between fingers. They were the bubbling of lava, gargling poison on forked tongues. He didn't hear much of them; he didn't want to expose his ears and his mind to such toxicity, such hopelessness.
But there were some words that were repeated, like broken records, and he couldn't help but hear them.
One was his name. Of that he was certain.
The second one was brother.
The third; dead.
When he heard them for the third time, his eyes opened, as if they were under a spell. His retinas were instantly assaulted by stark whiteness, which faded slowly to familiar creams and mellow browns and a pale sunlight that was waving someone goodbye - but not him.
When he looked up, a face blinked back at him.
And the world seemed to clear, all so suddenly, like an enormous fan had been turned on in his head. He took in deep, shaky breaths, like a man dying of thirst would drink water. The face - and the boy attached to it - was, seemingly, sat in a chair beside a bed.
His own bed.
It was almost laughable for him to realise that so late, and he blamed it on the fact that he had spent more nights asleep at his desk or on the sofa than he had in his actual room.
"Luke…?" His voice was crackly, like frozen cling film, and he had to swallow a few times before he could even think to continue. "What are you doing here, my boy? I thought you had gone with Clark."
Luke's concerned expression quickly became confused. His shoulders hunched over, and he spoke in hushed tones, "What are you talking about, Professor? My father hasn't been here."
Things must have gone very, very wrong, because Flora wasn't there and Luke still was-
"Where's… where's Flora?" Layton asked cautiously, his voice thin. Luke looked lost for a moment, and worried, and almost like he was scared that he had missed out on something big. "Luke?"
And it all fell. It collected around his shoulders and still it fell, fell like the tower and Herzen castle and finally the gloomy ceiling of the past London, real London.
It fell like-
Layton found himself staring into space, swallowing, gulping down air and words and nothing-
There was nothing left…
Apart from Luke. Luke, his loyal, supportive number one apprentice (and would always remain number one, if Layton could help it) was still with him and was not on a steam boat voyaging over the Atlantic Ocean with his father, and Layton was not alone.
But Luke's response tore him from all of that.
"Descole's dead. Well, they're assuming so, because they haven't found a body, and they doubt they ever will…" Luke's voice trailed off, and he broke eye contact with Layton. "I don't think even Descole could have survived that, though, if I have to be honest."
Layton's everything stumbled to a halt.
It began with a goodbye, and a hello.
A few weeks after Emmy left, Layton got exactly what he had wanted, deep inside, no matter how much he denied it.
Of course, this excited Luke, but not as much as word of a reincarnated girl or a city of miracles had. In fact, the boy seemed wholly dubious of the content of the letter that Layton received.
An inheritance dispute. Just an inheritance dispute, nothing more, something to wean them off of cursed ruins and theatrical villains and the like.
Layton hadn't noticed anything but rain since their last adventure.
Somewhere along the road to somewhere new, Layton realised that this would be the best thing for them; for him and the boy. The day was bright, with thin wintry clouds icing the sky, and as Layton's beloved automobile trundled through the countryside he thought.
Maybe this was right for him. Something detached, that wouldn't bring back painful memories. The fact that he had never heard of the names Reinhold or St. Mystere reassured him that there would be no long lost family here.
Or so, he hoped.
It ended on a cold night.
The dream, that is.
It was the kind of cold that wrapped you in its very own scarf of ice and pulled it so tight that you were forced to breathe in the crystals, the kind of night that locked doors and drew curtains and left you sitting on a window seat with a blanket and a cup of tea.
Professor Layton was not sat on a window seat with a blanket and a cup of tea.
The first flakes of snow were beginning to swirl around him as he said goodbye to the girl who watched him through the back window of the car, smiling and waving daintily. She was the girl who had kept him company in the long months since Luke had departed, the girl who took away the fact that he would never likely see his good friend again.
Flora was going back to visit St Mystere, and would be gone for a few weeks. Layton was required to remain in London on account of his duties at Gressenheller – lately he had taken many days off - and so after much speculation he agreed to let her go alone.
'I'm a grown up, now, Professor' - as she had always called him - 'you can trust me. I won't get kidnapped, I promise!'
A familiar smile. A giggle that could only belong to Flora in Layton's eyes.
And now she was leaving him on his own.
Granted, he had been alone before he met Emmy and Luke and eventually Flora but a lot of the time, you don't know what you don't have until you've lost it.
"Be safe, Flora."
The car pulled away, and Layton awoke.
"I'm sorry, Professor."
Luke's eyes were round, almost frightened, but comforting at the same time. The boy clearly knew that if Layton was upset, then it was most likely not something petty.
And after years of not doing so (and even longer in his sleep) Layton broke. He regretted it, at the time, but afterwards he would inevitably feel better. He broke about losing Flora and Luke and Claire (his sweet, wonderful Claire) again in his dreams, and about losing Emmy and his brother in reality.
A brother who should have been where he was now.
A brother who should have had the name Hershel Layton.
And a brother who should have felt how he felt now. He didn't know whether he was thankful or bitter about the name swap so many years ago. While he lived a comfortable life with his foster parents in Stansbury, and had met many loyal friends during his lifetime, he had also found himself hurting quite a lot.
But although he felt guilt snag in his chest for even thinking so, he was endlessly happy that he had not ended up like one Jean Descole.
As Luke Triton comforted his mentor, far away a man sat alone in a room. His brick red eyes stared unseeing through the murk.
He had long broken.
But at least he wasn't lost.