In his final moments, Jack does not wish for more time.
He wants it, certainly, more sunrises slowly banishing the shadows of night, more sunsets gilding all of Refuge. More moments, days, years watching June grow into the amazing young woman he knows she’ll be, the one he knows she’s already on her way to becoming.
But Jack also knows he cannot have it. He is already falling, the small cup already out of reach and too far to be any help.
For of course Jack knows what the cup does, even if he can’t quite remember when or how or where he got it. Much like he cannot for the life (and death) of him recall the name or the face of the red-robed stranger who had walked into Refuge, side by side with him and June years ago.
But Jack knows that the cup is capable of turning back time, reversing the path of the clock atop Istus’s temple. Because he’s used it.
At first, when he’d first discovered it, Jack had been giddy. A way to reverse the gravest mistakes of his life? Surely that would be nothing short of miraculous.
So he’d gone back. Back to the day that his wife, June’s mother, had disappeared. He had left the market with June early, earlier than he had the first time, to reach home before his wife had walked over the threshold for the last time with her bag in hand.
She was still packing when Jack arrived home, holding June, tired from toddling, yellow dress dusty from tumbles in the dirt. Jack had been sure he could convince his wife to stay, by showing up, by caring, by reminding her of June, by showing that, really, nothing was too late.
She had screamed. June had cried. The new past, new present, and new future dissolved before him. It had been too late long before the moment he’d thought to try.
When he returned to the present, his present, the false life fading like a dream, like tears into the wooden floor at his feet, Jack was not alone.
A woman, with long white hair and eyes like opals, stood before him. She had been holding knitting needles, and despite her eyes squarely on Jack, her hands worked steadily. Her yarn was in a satchel, and he didn’t know where her work ended.
Jack did know who this was though.
“You see why that does not work then?” Istus asked, her voice soft.
“Ma’am, my Lady, I-” Jack cut himself off. He had meddled in time and fate and the natural order of things. Somehow that had slipped his mind with the sudden elation of having the opportunity to fix everything.
“You did,” she acknowledged. “Which was, actually, the most likely path. And you continued on that path back to this moment.”
“...Oh.” Jack said.
Istus laughed, not unkindly. “I think the lesson was harsher than any punishment. So. You won’t try anything like that again?”
“No.” Jack breathed, and immediately the voice of the cup was loud in his ears, voicing its protest. They both heard it.
“Uh-oh spaghetti-os.” Istus said, frowning. “That is a problem.” She hummed a moment, while the cup grew louder, seeming to hum along with Istus in Jack’s hands.
“What if... my Lady, what if, I, I used it? For small things. Close things. Right after they’d happened. Would that... that wouldn’t interfere with fate, right? And it would... well, it would appease this.” He held up the cup.
After a moment, Istus had nodded slowly. “I think... fate would be amenable to that.”
So Jack had ignored the temptation, or at least the greatest temptations, offered by the cup. He did use it, for small things, or at least small enough things. Most of them to do with June. His daughter wandering off a moment and getting too close to a rattler? He’d reached out and caught her arm moments before she’d taken off like a bird in flight. June slipping at the top of the stairs and tumbling down? He’d called her away from them for a moment, to help him look for the glasses on top of his head. June’s horse startling and throwing her? He’d quickly gotten her off the animal before Cassidy’s explosion had startled it.
But he’s helped out the town, too, of course. It’s his job, and Jack is just a good person. He has helped them all, Ren with the Davy Lamp, Redford and Luca with repairs at Istus’s temple, Paloma with baking, Cassidy with the mines. Both with the cup and without.
Jack thinks Paloma is the only one who might know.
Jack thinks that what he’s doing is enough to satisfy the cup.
Jack is wrong. On both counts.
Isaak, who he’d trusted just as much as he’d trusted anyone in the town, goes with him into the mine. Him and June. Him and June and the cup.
Because of course he has the cup. What if something happened to June?
Something happens to Jack instead.
Isaak pushes him. Jack falls.
Jack is falling. June is screaming. The cup is gone.
So Jack does not wish for more time. Time, like June, like the cup, like the edge of the mine shaft, is out of reach, and he’s had so, so much more of it to begin with, a thousand instants to protect his daughter and Refuge and keep them all safe.
What he does wish for, is a way to keep June safe, one last time.
And perhaps it’s his own magic, perhaps it’s the cup, perhaps it’s Istus herself lending him one last chance to find the right path. But Jack is able to do one last thing for his daughter.
The bones of the earth spring forth to create a guardian, and a flycatcher, a flash of red flying through the dark not unlike the stranger, collides with the red, red clay. Armor to protect, a halberd to defend both spring forth from nothingness. And to bind all this together? Love, and a single word, the last Jack ever utters.
As she watches her father fall, June wishes for anything and everything. A chance to turn back the clock; to make time stop altogether; to save her father; to protect herself; to have never come down here; to have come down here without Isaak; to have come with Ren or Paloma or Cassidy; to have never come to Refuge; to have never seen that cup soaring through the air as her father falls, down, down, down into the dark where June cannot see.
Isaak is distracted, momentarily, as the very earth itself rises and takes shape. And June takes a few shaky steps forward, reaching out still for her father. Her father, who has caught her and kept her from falling so many times. June reaches out as though she could catch him in return.
June catches the cup instead, the sound of small hands catching metal far quieter than the ringing sound the cup would make clattering to the ground. Words, quiet as the sound of her catching the cup, whisper immediately in her young mind. The cup isn’t unkind, but it is persistent, and it wants to be wanted, and it will have what it wants. Just as June will have what she wants.
Golden light wells up in the cup and spills over in rivulets almost like the thread Istus knits in those stories Redford and Luca sometimes tell her. Light quickly pools at June’s feet before rising around her, seeming to set her yellow dress glowing gold. Time seems to slow. No, it does slow, as clay takes shape and bird takes wing, as her father shouts her silly nickname, the one she’d been protesting only hours before that perhaps she was starting to outgrow. “Junebug.”
But only perhaps. Perhaps she ought to stay Junebug a while longer. And with the echo of her father’s voice still resounding through June’s shield, both wrapping around her like a blanket, with June’s hands clenched tightly around the cup that looks so much bigger in her small hands, time slows to a stop.
Far from June at the edge of Refuge and not so far from June in the mine, a bubble, nearly the same as June’s own, rises. After all, June wants to protect herself, yes, but her father would protect Refuge as well. And so June does, shielding the town that has become her home, from every external threat imaginable. One threat remains sealed inside, while a threat even worse remains sealed inside with June.
This bubble that she encloses Refuge with is not exactly the same as her own. Time still passes in Refuge, for the moment at least, for as long as the town stands and June’s remaining family lives. But June. June had wanted to protect herself from the progression of time, and so she does. June waits in that moment, in that same breath and heartbeat, in that moment where her father is still falling and his voice is still echoing endlessly in her sphere and where there might just be a possibility that she could fix all this and save him.
June waits in that last moment that she is still Junebug.
June’s bubble pops. The cup is gone. Time moves onward again, and that last moment is gone, the echoes long since faded. Time always keeps moving forward though, as June well knows now. And seven years -or perhaps only fifteen minutes- later, Refuge’s bubble pops. Fresh air tastes like relief.
Refuge was saved, by June and by Roswell and by three strangers, and now it is free. Now June is free.
And now June and Roswell and Refuge all have more time.