Which one does this mark, now?
Time frowns and tilts his head, brushing the tip of his burin feather-light around the woman’s laughing mouth. The angle is a little odd, her head thrown back, but he adjusts his wrist and adds another delicate branching of fine lines before straightening up to inspect his work.
“I tried to warn you not to stay up so late drinking,” he sighs and steps off his platform, maneuvering carefully around the woman’s raised hand and the small glass she holds. Its liquor is gone, the rim painted with a vibrant smear of red lipstick.
She can’t hear him, of course, but he continues, “Even when you’ve had a hard day at work, it’s important to stay properly hydrated throughout the night.” He replaces his burin on the table and stands back.
How many has it been again? Time isn’t sure—as much as he tries with his clocks and his calendars and his notebooks, keeping count of things has always been a struggle. It’s such a human disposition, as inconsequential to him as it is significant to them. But he knows, with certainty, that there have been many so far.
Enough to capture his attention, anyhow.
Placing his hands on his hips, he leans forward to look at the glass for a long moment. A faint dust scatters across its clear surface, catching the light of his workroom in dizzying sparks of color that cast opal shadows on his sleeve when he finally reaches out.
“I don’t know who you are,” Time says as he curls his fingers above the glass, “But mortals don’t need your help wearing down their vessels.” He lets his influence spill out past his fingertips, black smoke engulfing the glass in a rippling veil and when it dissipates, the dust has vanished. Once he’s satisfied that no trace of it remains, he straightens and turns his attention back to the woman, still frozen on the stool in her laughter.
Time folds his hands behind his back and makes a slow circle around the platform, carefully looking her up and down until—ahh, yes, there it is.
“Are you trying to trick me?” he asks, his question filling the empty room even as the corners of his mouth curve up. “A little godling whose name I don’t know?” Time scoffs, although he’s unable to stop his smile as he waves his hand over the small of the woman’s back in a sweeping trail of smoke. While he isn’t sure of the count, he knows he’s seen similar handprints in similar places on several mortals, hidden from their eyes but clear to his own. An intimate touch to the back, or the hip, or the—
Time flushes as he remembers, and quickly flicks his wrist.
His magic unfurls in a gasp of dark and stardust, which ghosts along the last remnants of another god’s touch and the surrounding air shivers. When Time pulls away again, he pauses. Something odd tugs at his chest, and he rests a flat palm over his breastbone.
Is he imagining things? Before, he’d been almost pleased to find these lingering marks on his mortal charges. But that can’t be right, nor can it be right to feel unhappy to be rid of them. After all, their effects can be complex and unexpected—devastating, even—when applied with so little care.
Is he falling under another god’s influence? No, surely not. Only those more powerful than himself could pull him under their thrall, and Time is certain that he knows all of their names.
Perhaps he’s been cooped up in the tower for a bit too long?
Squaring his shoulders, he looks at the mortal woman and smooths out his rumpled expression. Raises a hand, and snaps his fingers. She disappears immediately, returned to the bar from which he’d borrowed her, and he stares at the empty stool left on his platform before blinking quickly and turning on his heel.
Time crosses with purpose to an ornate chest tucked under one of the tower windows and sighs, “I know I’ve been counting somewhere.” He cards through various leaflets of loose paper cast about its surface, filled with meticulous diagrams of timekeeping automata and astrolabes—project notes that he hasn’t yet put in their proper place.
His searching fingers collide suddenly with something hard and small, knocking it out from under a half-written glossary and to the floor with a loud clatter and he freezes. Looking down, Time smiles when he catches sight of a glint near the toe of his shoe.
“So that’s where you were,” he says as he bends down to pick the spectacles up off the floor. Slipping them on, he brings a finger to the round rims and traces the delicate frames with quiet reverence—he can no longer remember where he’d acquired them, but he knows that he likes them. While they do nothing for his sight, they add a pressure and weight around his eyes that he finds...pleasant.
Time shakes his head. “Not what I was looking for,” he reminds himself, and rearranges the scattered papers into a tidy stack. When he opens the first drawer of the chest, he pushes aside a large cartography atlas and makes a pleased noise as he reaches forward.
The notebook is leather bound, the animal hide soft with wear. It fits in the palm of his hand, making it easy to handle but difficult to find if he can’t recall where he’d put it last. (It'd been a gift from his brother, however, and although Time suspects it to have been a prank at his expense, he can’t find it in himself to throw it away.)
His fingers make quick work of the wrapped binding and once it’s fallen away, he turns around. Propping himself on the edge of the chest, he begins flipping through the pages, scanning his own handwriting with a careful eye. It doesn’t take long to find what he’s looking for.
However, the list is shorter than he’d expected. Time blinks at it in surprise, then reaches over to fetch an inkwell and pen before adding the newest name. He pauses thoughtfully after finishing the final stroke.
...Now, how long has it been since he’d last left his workroom?
Time looks up from his notebook, to the glowing tower clockface and the round window at its center. The city below is shrouded in the quiet dark of night, gently lit in a haze of yellow lights and obscuring most of the stars above. He can still see the moon, though, a sharp cleave of illumination that hangs near the top pane of his curving window.
The workroom, of course, is silent other than the ticking of his clocks.
He does have a tendency to get wrapped up in his work—perhaps stepping out to meet the new godling will be a refreshing change of pace.
It’s loud. Music thumps through the floorboards and up into the soles of his shoes, into his bones. Strobing lights pulse out across the entirety of the otherwise dark venue, acid-bright and flashing with color and his eyes hurt. The only sound that rises above the music is a roar of intermingling voices, culminating in a head-rush of noise that Time can’t possibly interpret.
He clamps his hands over his ears and stays to the side of the bar where the lights are lowest.
The list had led him here. After carefully rechecking the names, he’d realized that he had pulled each of them from a single metropolitan area. Even better, the incidents had occurred over the span of a single month within their tidy, linear timeline—it’d been wonderfully convenient. And so, relieved that he wouldn’t have to visit any of the others to make an inquiry, Time had stepped out of his tower to begin his investigations.
He hadn’t minded the quiet places. The cocktail lounges swathed in warm tones and rich woods, the empty dive bars that stank of cigarette smoke and moldy posters...
These clubs, though—Time is lost. And if he wants to find the godling, he can’t simply wave a hand and stop everything. It is a temptation, though.
“What can I get for you?” the bartender’s voice cuts through his thoughts and the din of the venue, and Time glances up. He lowers his hands and folds them in his lap.
“Ah—Orange juice, please.”
She raises an eyebrow at him, but just says, “Do you want to open a tab?”
“No, thank you.” He hands over a few bills, and when she turns away after sliding him a glass, he takes a slow breath.
“You know,” says a voice from over his shoulder, “It’s a little weird to order juice at a club. Don’t tell me you’re just here chaperoning?” The man is already sliding into a seat next to him, setting an empty tumbler down on the bar. A cherry stem hangs from his full, grinning mouth and the eyes that turn to him are sharp and bright.
“—No,” Time says, looking at him. At a glance, he suspects to have finally baited what he’s been searching for, but he will have to touch to confirm. He considers reaching out without pretense, but if he’s wrong, the consequences would most likely be...annoying.
Instead, he says, “I’m here to look for someone.”
The sharp eyes on him flicker with interest, and Time can’t help but think of fox faces as that smile widens, full of mischief. “Oh? Too nervous to drink while you wait for your date?”
The various issues raised by that question make Time pause. “Not at all. Rather, I think there’s been a misunderstanding,” he says, inclining his head thoughtfully. “Someone is making trouble for me at work, so I’m just here to discuss the matter.”
“Work!” the man exclaims, as if personally affronted. He glances away just long enough to flag down the bartender before turning back to scold him, wagging a finger, “This is the last place you should be thinking about work, brother! How about I buy you a drink? What do you like?”
“I have a drink, but thank you,” Time says, smiling as he lifts his glass to his lips and takes a sip. The citrus is pleasant on his tongue, but somehow not as pleasant as the man's unrestrained laugh, or the amused crescents of his eyes shining back at him with delight.
“Fair enough,” he says easily, and flicks his cherry stem into the empty tumbler. Then he half turns in his seat so that he can prop an elbow up on the bar, lounging sideways to give Time his full attention. “So what’d the guy do at work to piss you off so much?”
Time gives a huff of laughter and lowers his orange juice to his lap, fingers threading to cradle the bottom of the glass. “It isn’t that I’m angry, but I did want to have a face-to-face with the novice responsible for overworking me. Wouldn’t you?”
“Is that how it is?” the man grins, “Alright, I can see why you’d come all the way here to track down some hotshot newbie.” He glances briefly away again as the bartender sets another tumbler down next to his arm, and nods his appreciation before picking up his new glass. “It’s a damn shame to bring work here, though. You should try to enjoy yourself a little—seriously, I can see how tense your shoulders are from here.”
Time frowns, shifting in his seat as he becomes suddenly too aware of how he’s sitting, how the line of his spine straightens out uncomfortably. “I suspect he’s here still working, so I’m afraid I can’t, or I’d only be creating more trouble for myself.”
The man’s mouth forms a surprised circle. “You don’t strike me as the type to work for a club.”
“Oh, I don’t,” Time says, an odd sort of satisfaction unfurling in his belly at the bewildered look on the man’s face. When he doesn’t elaborate, the man gives a startled laugh.
“A gorgeous stranger and a man of mystery,” he says, leaning forward, “I like that! But I still think you should try enjoying the atmosphere while you’re here. If you don't like the booze, there’s always the dance floor.” He shrugs and takes a drink, and Time blinks at him innocently.
“Is that an invitation?”
That fox-sly grin widens. “Would you like it to be?” he asks, and leans toward him like it’s the most natural thing in the world, brushing the back of his hand against Time's—warmth and electricity—and Time knows. Flecks of prismatic light dance out from the contact that have nothing to do with the strobing flashes above, and he raises his hand, snapping his fingers.
The deafening silence that follows leaves his ears ringing, every motion in the club freezing to perfect stillness.
The man, however, whips his head from side to side as he looks around. “I—”
“You,” Time scowls, standing up. “I thought so. You’re the novice putting mortals in my workshop with your mark.”
The man recovers quickly, his shocked expression smoothing into self-assured composure as he leans further against the bar, spreading himself out like a lazy cat that’s found the perfect sunlit window to bask in. His red-blushed lips curve into an infuriating smile. “So you’re the self-appointed envoy I’ve been warned about—Time, isn’t it? No one told me you’d be such a beauty!”
Time steadfastly ignores him. “You know my name, but I don’t know yours,” he says evenly.
For some reason, the man’s smile dims, and every instinct has Time bracing—he’s forgotten others before, or worse, met them out of sync with his own timeline—but the man just says, “You can call me Allure. Everyone else does, now.” He raises his glass as if in toast, and Time realizes he’s still holding his own, so he sets it down on the bar with a sigh.
“Allure. Yes, I should’ve guessed.” Stepping back again, he frowns. “While I can’t fault you for following your nature, I advise you to be more sparing with your direct influence. A god’s lingering touch on a mortal can have...unexpected consequences.”
That makes Allure’s eyebrows shoot up, all his amusement washing away to astute concern with impressive speed. “No one said anything about that when I—” he pauses, making a face, then continues, “—stepped into my role.”
No, of course they didn’t. Closing his eyes, Time resists the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Fate should have briefed you, or appointed someone to do so, but if I’m honest... My brother has a rather hands-off approach. I apologize on his behalf—”
Allure shakes his head, waving his free hand to stop him. “Don’t worry about it, I get the feeling most of us are supposed to just figure this out on our own. But I sure as hell don’t want to be hurting people because of rookie mistakes—that’s really why you’re mad, right? Not because some novice is overworking you?”
Time blinks. “I—Well, yes, admittedly.” Off-balanced by that simple sincerity, he feels suddenly very odd standing before the seated Allure. So he clears his throat, sits down again. “If you’re amenable, I can serve as your guide until you’ve grown more accustomed to your role. Of course, if you’d rather someone else, I can make the arrangements with Fate.”
Allure sets his glass down with a loud clatter. “And why would I want anyone else?” he asks, the look in his eyes going sharp in a way that makes Time certain he’s heard something. All the more baffling that he wouldn’t want a different advisor.
“Most eventually find my presence unpalatable,” he says simply. “It’s in my nature to pass through lives without order or arrangement, which I understand can be rather troubling. That’s why it’s no issue if you’d prefer a more appealing guide.”
To his surprise, Allure just scoffs. “Trouble me all you want! I can guarantee it’ll be my pleasure.” He sits up, leaning forward to stick out his hand with a toothy grin. “Shall we call it a deal, then? I promise to be a very good student.”
Shocked, Time looks down at the offered hand—calloused at the fingertips and blunted at the nails—before slowly reaching out and taking it.
"Close your eyes," he says.
Allure raises an eyebrow, and Time blinks at him expectantly, watching his flash of skepticism soften to mild curiosity as Allure gives a half-shrug and lounges back against the park bench. “I’m glad I’ve graduated from all the reading material, but what exactly is today’s lesson?”
Time's gaze drops to their knees, now bumping against each other—it’s an odd thing, to be touched so casually. “I believe I only gave you one set of foundational notes to memorize,” he says, distracted.
“Right,” Allure laughs, drawing his attention back up, “It was very thorough, thank you.”
Time smiles and looks away, even though Allure can’t see him.
It’s summer here, the heat near-overwhelming and the sky impossibly blue. He ignores the scream of cicadas, the bead of sweat tracking down his temple, the close proximity of Allure sitting next to him, and says, “You’re welcome—now concentrate, please. We’re going to work on your ambient influence today.”
“It’s all about instinct, right? I’ll be sure to impress you with how quickly I catch on,” Allure says with a dazzling grin that carves handsome wrinkles around his eyes. It seems somehow familiar, and not for the first time, he wonders if they’ve met before—but Allure has yet to say anything, and Time is afraid to ask.
“You may have some difficulty at first,” he warns. “Since you were originally mortal, you should expect a bit of a learning curve.”
Allure gives an explosive sigh as he lets his head fall back dramatically, his legs kicking out one over the other. “Born gods must really have it easy, huh? Meanwhile here I am, learning the basics like some greenhorn undergrad. At least my professor’s hot.”
As with all of Allure’s casual flirtations—an uncomfortable if not confusing part of his nature—Time ignores him even as his ears redden in the summer swelter. “All joking aside,” he says, and glances off as Allure cracks an eye open with an obstinate frown, “We simply have different obstacles than ascendants like yourself. But despite our differences, I’m confident I can be a proper guide. Eyes closed, please.”
Allure is smiling again, and he does as he’s asked, getting comfortable. “Believe me, I have no doubt in your teaching aptitude. So what am I concentrating on?”
“Your role is one that revolves around attraction,” Time says, turning to look out across the park’s sprawling pond. In the midday sun, only a few souls brave the thick blanket of humidity—meandering down the walkways, huddling for picnics in the shade, crossing the pond’s bridge toward the shaved ice vendors. He’d taken deliberate care to select a time and place that would have only a limited number of people around, since it would be undoubtedly easier for Allure to first focus on the desires of a few rather than the desires of the many.
He continues, “Although it can expand as your understanding of it grows, for now we’ll focus on temptation and enticement, since that’s where your experience lies. Mortal needs pour out from their core, and that’s what you can read in order to extend your influence.”
“Hmm,” Allure hums thoughtfully, “So that’ll help me sense what they want, but how do I influence them without touch?”
“That’s a later lesson,” Time says with a smile, unable to hide it when Allure opens his eyes again with a pout and the beginnings of a protest on his lips. He holds up a hand to quiet him. “First, we work on your intuition. Once you can sense need and desire, we’ll move on to putting it to form. Now, eyes—”
“—Closed?” Allure interrupts, smug. Time levels him with a wry stare until Allure's eyes are squeezing shut, wrinkled with laughter. “Alright, done,” he wheezes out, “What’s next?”
Sighing, Time continues on with the lesson and the rest of the day is spent in studious practice at the park. It’s entirely possible that they didn’t need to remain for so long, as Allure’s intuition proved to be impressively keen and he did in fact catch on rather quickly. But practice always makes better, so Time felt no need to part too soon, and Allure never complained outside of banter. He had an easy presence and sharp mind that he seemed generously content—if not eager—to share.
It’d been...pleasant. Extremely so.
They fall into an easy routine after that—Time makes an appointment, they spend the better of a day together for each lesson despite Allure’s clear aptitudes, and the next meeting arrangement is made. When he’s alone in his workshop, Time finds his thoughts starting to drift, either reminiscing fondly or looking forward to the next lesson.
“I know it would be irresponsible,” he says one night to his brother, “But I have the strangest compulsion to walk into each lesson in immediate succession. Do you think I’m being affected by his influence?”
Fate just laughs at him from his lazy sprawl across the engraving platform’s steps.
“Why don’t you just meet with him outside of work? You clearly want to.”
Time looks up from his astrolabe prototype with a disapproving frown. “I don’t,” he says. “Why would I? I’m just—helping him acclimate to his role.” The explanation feels thin even on his own tongue, and he glances away as Fate stops scrolling through his mobile phone to level him with an unimpressed stare.
“I don’t know why you bother lying,” he drawls.
Time breathes in slowly, focuses on the cold weight of metal in his hands. The rhythmic ticking of his clocks. “The work is what’s important.”
He shifts over as Fate comes to sit next to him, relaxing when his brother rests his head on his shoulder. Instead of arguing, he just watches Time work for a while longer before pulling up one of his games on his phone. They spend the rest of the night in companionable silence, although Time can’t help but consider Fate’s words with a dreadful sense of want.
The leaves are beginning to turn, summer’s oppressive heat lifting gradually to brisk mornings and crisp nights. Time keeps his hands curled around his cup of tea, head turned to watch the passers-by that come and go outside of the wide café window, content and warm in his corner seat. The sun had set hours ago, and each face that passes is lit in the halo of streetlights that line the busy walkway.
Time sits up when the one that he’s looking for appears out of his periphery, smiling as Allure stops in front of the window and taps at it with a toothy grin. I’ll be right there, he mouths through the glass, and Time nods, watching him turn and head for the entrance. A little bell above the door rings as he opens it, and again when he quickly swings it shut behind him.
“Have you been waiting long?” Allure asks once he’s at his table, slightly out of breath. His hair is a little more than artfully tussled, and Time wonders if he’d been running earlier.
He sets down his cup. “Not at all,” he says, and glances back at the menu board over his shoulder. “Do you want to order something before we start?”
“What, here? No, I'll get something to drink later.” Allure shifts his weight to one foot, lips pursing as he looks down at Time with one eyebrow raised. “Are you sure you still want to go? Last time it didn’t really seem like your kind of gig.”
Pushing back his chair, Time gets up and removes his glasses, folds them with care and tucks them into his breast pocket. “It’s essentially your natural habitat,” he says mildly, “So I think it stands to reason we practice there at some point.”
Allure laughs, “Why does it sound like a dig when you put it like that?”
“Don’t read too much into it,” Time says, smiling back at him. That just makes Allure wheeze out another laugh, shaking his head as they make their way out of the café and back into the night air.
“You look different without the glasses,” Allure says as he slides his hands into his pockets. They walk shoulder-to-shoulder, arms brushing, a warm distraction. For all of Allure’s casual touches—constant and unabashed—Time still hasn’t managed to acclimate.
Stealing a sideways glance, he says, “Do I?”
Allure gives an affirmative hum. “I always wondered why you wore them, since it isn’t like you need them to see?”
“I don’t, but—” he frowns, unsure, “Is it strange?”
“A little,” Allure laughs, “But you have your reasons, right?”
Time studies the pavement beneath their feet as they walk, the weight of his glasses suddenly heavy in his pocket. “I suppose,” he says. “It’s difficult to understand humans when you’ve never been one. Not all of us bother taking form, but I just wanted to try...getting closer. I don’t know why, but the glasses seem to help.”
Allure glances at him, going soft around the eyes. “You seem pretty human to me.”
“High praise,” Time says, smiling as a tide of warmth threatens to upend him, his cheeks—his skin—burning from it. It really is no small thing, but he doesn’t have the words to say as much.
“Do you miss it?” he asks instead, curiosity getting the better of him.
Allure gives him an odd look, as if he’s somehow seeing him for the very first time. “Being human?”
When Time nods, Allure glances away again. His eyes flick toward his boots, and then he shifts one hand to the pocket of his torn jeans, digging around a moment before producing a wrinkled box and lighter. “Not all of us remember what it was like,” he says.
“But you do,” Time offers, watching the graceful movements of his hands as he lights up. His own itch to stop him, as if he’s still mortal, but that’s rather the point—he isn’t. So Time stops himself.
After taking a short drag, Allure lowers his cigarette and exhales a plume of smoke. “Yeah. I even remember my name, not that it really matters now. I’m not that guy anymore, don’t have his life—not that I ever expected I’d become this,” he laughs.
It isn’t a bitter sound, not by any means, but there’s something sad about the way his eyelashes draw down, casting sharp shadows against his cheeks. Again, Time doesn’t know what to say. He hesitates, then reaches out and brushes his fingers against Allure’s elbow. When Allure looks at him, he swallows quickly and drops his hand.
“I’m sorry,” Time says, “I shouldn’t have asked.”
Allure’s in the middle of another drag, and he makes a face before he breathes the smoke out his nose in a huff. “Don’t be—I’m glad you did,” and he smiles, something softer than Time is used to seeing in the sharp relief of his sly features. It doesn’t seem like a lie, but...
There’s something about the way that Allure looks at him.
Have we met before? he wants to ask, and opens his mouth. Closes it again when he can’t get the words out. Allure must see something unpleasant in his expression, because he frowns and removes the cigarette from his lips, giving it a gentle tap.
“Oh, I forgot to check—does this bother you?”
Time blinks for an uncomprehending moment. “I—Ah, no, not particularly. I’m used to it, since my brother is fond of them.”
Allure’s eyebrows go up, and he laughs, “Really? What kind of brands does he like?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t know,” Time says, pausing as they pass by a large group rounding the corner. They both have to step off the curb to avoid any collisions.
Once back on the walkway, it becomes clear that the club entrance is in sight—signaled by the long line wrapping around half the block. They draw no attention as they come to the front, slipping easily past bouncers and patrons alike as they cross the threshold and into the wash of music and noise within.
Immediately, the bassline throbs up through the floor and into his knees, ricocheting further through the bottom of his ribcage before settling at the hollow of his throat. Time stiffens, sticking close to Allure as he’s guided by a warm hand at the small of his back through the crowd.
“Mind if I get a drink?” Allure calls over the din, “It’s kind of part of the routine.”
Time barely hears him. He tries not to lean into the hand at his back. “No—Yes—It’s fine,” he manages.
Allure grins at him, and they continue their trek to the bar area. Time gets a water, not that he particularly needs it—gods don’t get thirsty—and Allure gets one of the specialty highballs that he says these mixologists are known for. He looks excited, in his element, surveying the crowd with a marksman’s keen eyes and a confident smile that curls the corners of his mouth.
He looks—beautiful. Time grips his glass, breathes in slow. “I’m only here to help facilitate, tonight,” he says. “Please go ahead at your own pace.”
Allure glances back at him, nearly glowing with enthusiasm. “This is the best final exam ever!”
“That will largely depend on how you do,” Time says with a soft huff of laughter. Allure’s expression sours, and he waves a dismissive hand at him.
“Don’t pretend to have so little faith in me—you know I’ll do brilliantly.” He flashes a toothy grin, and Time sighs, only a little annoyed that he’s right.
Sitting back, he gets comfortable with his glass of water and contents himself with watching Allure work. It’s a sight, the way he lounges against the bar and crosses one leg, ankle over knee, taking up as much space as he pleases while he turns a finger lazily in the air. It’s just a small come-hither motion, a hook baiting, and his influence twines opalescent around his fingertip like spun silk.
It isn’t a surprise that Allure works the room so well. He’s taken soundly to all of his lessons, with his sharp mind and intuitive skills. Anyone should be proud of his progress, and yet...
Time’s stomach is a pit of dread. Once the lessons have finished, Allure will have no more reason to continue their meetings. He wonders just when he’d grown so accustomed to this comfortable familiarity, but more so, he wonders when it will end—as all things do.
After a while, Allure turns to look at him expectantly. “Good?” he asks, all earnest fervor.
For the barest of moments, Time considers a selfish lie. But as soon as the thought rises, it turns to ash in a blaze of terrible guilt and shame, and he nearly loses his breath. Time blinks quickly. “Good,” he echoes, and swallows thickly. “Yes, well done.” The smile he forces feels unnatural, and some strange instinct in him has his fingers itching to put his glasses back on. He doesn’t move as Allure jerks forward in his seat, slapping the surface of the bar with a triumphant laugh.
“Perfect! Hey, let’s celebrate for all our hard work—mine as a brilliant student, and yours as an even more brilliant teacher,” he says generously, already sliding out of his chair and onto his feet. He turns to Time and holds out his hand, which Time stares down at with a sense of déjà vu. Bewildered, Time just looks back up at Allure.
Allure wriggles his fingers, still waiting as he says, “Yeah, it’s what people do after a job well done. Come on, dance with me.”
“Oh—No, I don’t...” he trails off, panic drowning the rest of the noise around him as his focus narrows on Allure’s outstretched hand. It could be as simple as snapping his fingers. He could run.
But Allure is looking at him with that smile, saying, “Trust me, it’ll be fun!”
“I don’t know how,” Time says helplessly.
Allure’s smile just widens. “I’ll teach you.”
It isn’t really a choice. Not when it’s an opportunity to stay close to Allure, to touch him, at least for a little while longer. Time’s hand slides tentatively into Allure’s open palm, and he goes still again as those calloused fingers curl in a gentle grip. He hardly feels himself stand up, and all the noise falls away to meaningless static as Allure leads him to the dance floor.
Perhaps it’s a problem that he can no longer hear the music.
But—it isn’t, really. Not when Allure’s hands settle on his hips and begin to guide him to some mystifying rhythm, not when Allure’s leaning into him to offer pieces of advice and the rough whiskers along his jaw brush against his ear.
Time is aware enough to discern that he isn’t particularly good, but it doesn’t matter. He stumbles, and Allure catches him, and they break into laughter, grinning back at each other as they spin around and move together. Everything else is forgotten, and it’s just the two of them, dancing.
By the time he realizes he’s out of breath, sweat is dripping down his temple, and Allure is slowing their pace to an easy sway.
“Hey, let’s take a break,” Allure says, breath hot on the shell of his ear. Time gives a sharp nod and turns to walk in a dizzy haze off the dance floor, his head wonderfully light, and he doesn’t bother to confirm Allure is following when he can still feel his hands at his waist. When they reach the bar, he drops into a seat and looks around for his glass of water. He finds it a little further than he remembers setting it down earlier, but grabs it while Allure flags down the bartender for a new drink.
He drains the rest of his water in a thirsty gulp that burns his throat. For some reason, his elbow slips off the bar when he tries to set the glass back down, and it clatters a little, although the sound is largely muffled by the thunderous music and nearby chatter. His brows furrow, and suddenly Allure is there, gripping his shoulder.
“Hey, you okay? Is it getting too hot in here or something?”
Time lists toward him, some strange gravitational pull drawing him but—it’s not that strange, is it. That’s how Allure has always been. “It's a little warm,” he admits, lips pressing as he looks down to tug at the collar of his shirt.
Allure, meanwhile, has incomprehensibly picked up his empty glass and stuck his nose in it. “Did you drink this?”
Blinking hard, Time struggles to ignore the way the noise of the club seems to curl in his ears. “Yes?” he tries, hoping that’s the right answer.
But Allure frowns at him, and his heart sinks. “I’m sorry—should I not have?”
“Well,” Allure pauses, and his expression shifts, and he sets down the glass with a sigh that might have been a laugh. “I probably should’ve briefed you that we’re supposed to get new drinks whenever we walk away from the bar. But don’t worry about it, I think you just...” he trails off, and Time narrows his eyes at him, hoping that will help sharpen his blurry figure in the dark.
“I did...what?” he asks, thoroughly puzzled.
This time, Allure does laugh. He shoves a hand into his jacket pocket and produces a worn leather wallet. “I think you might’ve grabbed some booze by mistake,” he grins as he retrieves a few bills and sets them on the bar. “We’ll finish our dance another night, so for now, let’s head on out of here. I’ll make sure you get home alright.”
Time's breath catches and he leans forward. “We’re going to come again?” he asks, desperate hope squeezing his chest as he reaches out to grip Allure’s wrist like an anchor.
Allure inclines his head, glances down and says, “I thought we would—unless you didn’t want to?”
Shaking his head, Time nearly slides out of his chair, but Allure’s hands find his elbows and he hardly registers getting to his feet as he leans forward again. “No, no of course I want to,” he says, giddy with relief, “I’m just—happy. That you do, too.”
“What, you think I wouldn’t?” Allure laughs, “In what life would that ever happen?” He steps to his side and wraps an arm around his waist, steadying him through the tossing beats of the music from the floorboards, and Time sinks against him.
“I don’t know,” he says. When Allure begins walking, he falls in step, although it’s difficult with Allure so close beside him, the line of his body pressing against his own in a distracting wave of heat. He stumbles more than once before they’ve made their way into the fresh night air, leaving the building behind to swallow up the yawning roar of voices and music.
Time presses his hands to his ears at the odd sensation of sudden quiet.
“Okay, I know I said that I’d get you home, but where exactly do you live?” Allure asks, stepping away but staying close. He moves his supportive arm, lifting it to press his palm between his shoulder blades. Time lowers his hands and glances toward the street.
“Oh, are we going to the tower?”
Yes, that makes sense. That’s home. Before Allure can answer, Time waves a hand in an ink-black trail of smoke unfurling, and it billows out in a glittering cradle that he draws them both into. It only takes a single step, and then they’re surrounded by the walls of his workshop and the familiar ticking of his clocks.
His knees buckle immediately, and then, darkness.
“Some things never change.”
A familiar voice, fond and quiet. Fingers carding through his hair. His brother.
Time tries to open his eyes, but his lids are far too heavy, the hand petting him far too comfortable to move away from. He burrows further into Fate’s lap and gives a soft sigh, content.
“I wasn’t sure he’d still react like that,” murmurs another voice. “I didn’t actually think gods would.”
His brother laughs. “An interesting anomaly. Usually it’s the ascendants who retain their human-like responses to stimuli.”
A thoughtful hum, and the gentlest brush of fingers against his cheek.
He nearly sinks beneath the waves again, slowly drifting until Fate says, “But he won’t remember you. Not in the way you want him to.”
The words seem somehow heavy, but any meaning is lost on him as Time slips back under. Remember, he tries to tell himself, because he knows that it’s at least very important.
The next time he surfaces, it’s to the sound of pages turning. The old, musty scent of an aging book. He manages to blink his eyes open, and when he does, a shadow looms over him.
Fate pokes at his forehead. “Hey, welcome back to the world of the waking!”
Narrowing his eyes, Time groans and sits up slowly, running his hands through his hair. It feels thoroughly mussed. “What...”
Fate looks at him with a sly little smile. “You don’t remember how you got here?” he asks.
Time blinks quickly, frowning. Something prickles at him just beyond his reach, although he knows it’s important.
Fate shuts his book with a clap and sets it aside, not bothering as usual to keep his place. “Time?”
Time grasps onto the last shreds of a distant dream, hand wandering to his breast pocket where he can still feel the outline of his glasses. Delicate frames, round and—
All the breath leaves his lungs and he drops his hand away, turning to his brother. That most familiar face, cast in the soft glow of his workshop, and for a moment in the light, he looks awash in a halo of silver.
“I—” Time’s eyes widen, “I remember.”
Fate’s expression freezes, and then it shutters as he leans back and rests his palm flat over the cover of his book. His mouth closes in a thin line, but Time shakes his head, moves to press his hand over Fate’s. Threads their fingers, and holds on tight.
“You let me forget our promise. Did you know? Whether or not I’d...”
Fate looks away, then sighs. “There are some things I can see, and some things I can’t.”
Squeezing his hand, Time frowns. “I won’t forget again. But—”
“—You made two promises that day,” Fate finishes for him, and Time nods. His brother turns his hand, holds on a moment longer before releasing him and motioning toward the city that sits framed by the clocktower’s moon-round window. Dawn is just beginning to break, softest lilacs and corals painting across the glowing horizon. “He didn’t leave that long ago,” Fate says.
Time presses his lips together, glancing back at his brother. But Fate waves him off. “Go on, I’ll be here when you get back,” he huffs, and snatches his book back up again.
After hesitating for only another moment longer, Time rises onto unsteady legs and presses his hand to his chest again. His heart is in his throat, every inch of his skin clammy and hot. He leaves his glasses in his pocket, waves his hand and nearly falls into the mouth of the portal that sends him stumbling back out onto the street into the crisp morning air. Each of his limbs is numb. He turns, tracking every movement out of his periphery, his quick breath a thin cloud on every exhale until he catches sense of that familiar warmth—like electricity—from just around the corner.
Time runs. He doesn’t feel his feet hit the ground, doesn’t notice the cold whipping at his cheeks. He passes the café with its bell above the door, the sleepy club without its line wrapping around the block. The entrance to the park opens up in the path under the soles of his shoes and he runs until he sees broad shoulders, a leather jacket. The slow, lazy drift of cigarette smoke.
Allure turns to him before he even catches up, expression flickering with recognition and an easy smile.
“You—” Time gasps, finally coming to a stop.
Allure’s eyebrows climb up, and he laughs. “What, did you miss me that much?”
His heart clenches, and Time reaches out, grips at the wide collar of his jacket. “Yes,” he breathes, watching carefully as Allure’s smile fades to hopeful yearning.
“I remember,” Time says. “Who you were. Your name was—”