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Time Enough

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Time sighed and picked up his third-smallest burin. “You should wear your reading glasses,” he said, deepening the crow’s feet at the corner of the man’s eyes. “Then you wouldn’t have to squint to see the computer screen.” He put down the third-smallest burin and picked up the second-smallest.

He enjoyed working on hands. They were nearly as expressive as faces. Working carefully, he added fine, tiny lines around the man’s knuckles. “That harsh soap at the station dries out your skin,” he muttered as he worked. “I know it’s important to disinfect, especially after being exposed to blood, but if you would just moisturize-” The hand turned under his own and snapped around his wrist like a trap closing. His second-smallest burin fell to the floor with a clatter.

He stared at the fingers enclosing his wrist. It was a firm pressure, not quite painful, but implacable. Most of the contact was muffled by his sleeve, except where the side of the man’s hand touched the back of Time’s hand directly, warm skin against his.

Lifting his eyes, he stared into a dark, startled gaze.

“Who are you? Where am I?” demanded the man.

“I am-” He often spoke to the people he worked on, scolding or admonishing them, praising or encouraging them. They never answered. They certainly didn’t ask anything.

He didn’t know what to say.

“I am Time,” he said at last.

“What?” The man was frowning. His eyes darted around the workroom, then came to rest steadily on Time’s face once more.

He couldn’t stop time for the man while his hand remained around his wrist. “You must let me go.”

The man’s fingers tightened. “Why?”

“You should not have awakened. I must-”

“Awakened? Did you drug me?” The man’s voice was sharp.

“No.” He tugged against the hold, but could not break it. This was ridiculous. He was a god, not a mortal to be so easily bound. Yet he could not take the man out of time as long as he was touching him. “Release me and I will return you.”

“Return me where?”

“To your home. To where you belong.”

“Not until you tell me why you brought me here.”

Well, that was very clear, at least. The pressure around his wrist was making it hard to think. The strip of skin against his was even more distracting. Time stared down at the hand keeping him bound. “I brought you here to age you.”

“To age me?” The man sounded confused. Time tore his eyes from his wrist and looked into the man’s face once more.

It was overwhelming, to be looked at directly. To be seen.

“Is that a threat?” asked the man, brows furrowed.

“It is the truth.” Time glanced at his tools. The man followed his gaze, and his frown deepened.

“Not exactly a normal torture setup,” he muttered.

“Torture?” exclaimed Time, affronted. “Don’t blame me if you use your body too harshly.”

The man’s eyes flicked from the tools to Time’s face and back. “What, exactly, do you use those tools for?”

“I told you,” Time said. “To age you.”

“How?”

Again, Time wasn’t sure how to answer. Perhaps a demonstration? He could add one more tiny wrinkle to the crow’s feet. The man would earn it soon anyway.

The man was holding his right wrist, but Time could, and did, use either hand to work. Slowly, he picked up the very smallest of his tools with his left hand.

The man’s eyes tracked his movements. When Time moved it toward his face, he leaned back. “No.”

“You cannot escape Time,” Time said resignedly.

The man laughed harshly. “You’re not putting that anywhere near my eyes.”

“I will eventually.” Time considered, then leaned down to touch the tiny burin to the back of the man’s thumb where it gripped his right wrist. The grip tightened as the man tensed, and his other hand came up to catch Time’s left wrist. Time stilled in his grasp. His attempt to demonstrate had only made the situation worse. “You asked how I age you. If you want me to show you, you’ll need to release me.”

“So you can drive that needle right into my hand? No way.”

Where had the man gotten such ideas? “Then we are at an impasse,” said Time.

The man looked at him a little wildly. “Why did you bring me here?”

Was the man deaf? “To age you,” said Time once more.

“That makes no sense!”

Time sighed. “I’m sorry, I’ve never had to explain this to anyone before. No one’s ever woken up.”

The man tensed. “No one’s ever woken up? That sure sounds like a threat to me.”

Shaking his head, Time said, “You must sleep eventually.” Whereas he could wait forever.

There was no answer. The man was examining his face closely, eyes narrow. Without warning, he shoved Time away from him, hard. Time stumbled off his platform as the man leapt down and whirled around to face him.

It took Time a moment to realize he was free. He snapped his fingers.

The man froze mid-movement, his face contorted in a snarl as he reached for Time. With a sigh of relief, Time picked up his second-smallest burin and his very smallest burin and tucked them back into their proper places. Then he considered the man.

There was nothing to be done about the fact that he was standing rather than sitting, but at least he’d been alone when Time had pulled him into his studio. Carefully, Time waved a hand over the man’s forehead. He couldn’t erase the memory, but he could dull it, soften it, as though it had been a dream or something that had happened long ago.

With a snap of Time’s fingers, the man awoke back at the station, next to his desk. The lights were mostly off, since he’d stayed late to file his report. He blinked and looked around, frowning. After a long moment, he sat back down in his chair, staring blankly at his screen.

Time sighed with relief.