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Time Waits for No Man (or Woman)

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When you first meet him, he rolls his eyes, groaning at the idea of “another troublesome youth”. He wanders aimlessly through his halls, trying to look busy as he attempts to shake you off his tail. He calls his butler, Wilkins, several times, threatening to have him remove you, but he never quite brings himself to do it. You stick around longer than he’d planned.

When you first make a horrendous “time” pun, he glares at you. You laugh and smile at him, and he pretends to ignore you. You linger a bit in his parlor, perusing his collection as he reclines into his beloved chair. You ask about several strange objects, playing a secret game of Hot and Cold as you search for the topics he seems to favor.

When you first catch him off guard, you get real close, close enough to see the glorious and complex arrangement of colors in his glowing irises. You watch his pupils widen and soak up the light, and his eyelids rise to reveal more of his dazzling eyes to you. You poke his shoulder and tease him, and he backs up, brushing off his uniform, as well as your “horrible jokes”.

When you first catch him talking to himself, you follow him down a few twists and turns of the castle. He seems to be holding a one-sided conversation over the nature of one “dunderhead” or another, griping over an invite to have tea. When his pitch changes and he mimics someone you’ve never met, you laugh, giving away your presence and making him jump.

When you first convince him to take a ten-minute break, you lay yourself on his lounge seat as he relaxes in his armchair. You dare him to finish the first chapter of a book you picked up for him, a copy of “A Tale of Two Coats,” and he begrudgingly accepts the challenge. You both sit in silence for several ticks, you enjoying the warmth of the room and the feel of the cushions. They smell vaguely of roses.

When you first fight with him, you notice how striking his eyes are on the pale sheen of his skin, like an ethereal glow on a plane of snow. He advances upon your retreating figure, reminding you of who he is, of what he is, of how far more important his affairs are than your trifle concerns. You go silent, your eyes hard as tears escape them, and he halts. He bites his lip, but you turn briskly and return from whence you came.

When you first wake under the sunlight, missing the odd, echoing sound of his castle, you almost resent the chaotic noise outside your home. You walk through town, greet your friends and acquaintances, but nothing looks or feels or sounds the same; the sound especially bothers your mind, a mind grown fond of the methodical occurrences of the castle of clocks. You miss the ticks of his body.

When you first hear the knocking on the door, you expect a neighbor. You find one, of sorts. He’s holding your favorite flower, frozen in its prime, and he admits that the castle is almost too orderly without you. The seconds miss you, and Wilkins thought your puns were entertaining. When your answer has yet to come, he admits that sometimes Time would never slow down when he should.

When you first embrace him, arms over his shoulders and around his neck, he freezes, startled. You ask him if he could try, at least, to slow down, now and again. His hands caress your body, your head, running over your precious figure as he nods slightly. He whispers, “I suppose the world won’t miss a moment or two of me.”

When you first kiss his cheek, you think you might have broken him. He looks at you strangely, as if you were an entirely different creature from a moment ago. He asks you what that was for, and you just smile and shrug before doing it again. Okay, maybe that actually broke him. You should call Wilkins.

When you first make him laugh, the pun is about ducks. Yes, ducks. You’re not sure how you came up with it so quickly, but the moment was calling desperately for a nefarious prank on words. When you let loose your masterpiece of verbal trickery, he snorts, covering his mouth and his growing smile. A moment later, he’s looking away as you approach him to investigate, trying to stifle quiet laughter.

When he first holds you close, you went just too near to the endless fall for comfort. He’s walking you around the castle, enjoying idle chatter, when your foot lands precariously on the edge of the path, not entirely on solid ground. Your eyes widen, body tense as you feel the sudden change, and you flinch. He reacts in an instant, pulling you away from the void and against his body. It takes several moments for him to let you go.

When you first kiss him, you’re both in the parlor. He’s nearly finished the book, and you go to his side to watch his expression as he reaches the end. His apathetic response makes you distraught, and you bicker briefly over the quality of the story. When you ask what could possibly surprise him, he suggests “a girl too headstrong for her own good.” You smirk, thanking the universe for your impeccable Timing (pun intended), and lean in for the kill. He seems completely frozen as you pull away, wearing a satisfied smile, and return to the lounge.

When he first kisses you, he hesitates, his hand on your cheek before you’re about to return to your home for a spell. He makes a roundabout way of saying that he’ll await your return with bated breath, and Wilkins rolls his eyes. That’s when he kisses your lips, catching your breath and making the butler look away in embarrassment. Time pulls away, only glancing at your eyes as he wishes you another goodbye. You peck his lips before turning briskly toward your home.

When he first sees your name by chance as he passes it by in the hall of Underlandians Living, he feels his clock skip a beat. He realizes the finality of your life, the inevitable end of your smile, the last chances of hearing your laugh quickly approaching. He continues his work, stiff and mechanical, as his gears continue to turn diligently.

When he first sees you with a black eye and a broken arm, he feels fury and dread making his clock go slightly erratic. He demands to know who hurt you, but you reassure him that it was a simple cart accident in the town square. You make a point to only let him see you from your good side, but he catches on fast. He kisses your temple and sits you in his lap in the parlor as he reads another of your books.

When he first notices the way you linger when you touch him, the way your face gets heated when you kiss him for too long, he wonders if he could ever satisfy you in every way you crave. As he waits for you to return to the castle, removing his uniform, undressing down to his bare “skin” and exposed gears. He looks at himself in the mirror, wondering, for the first time, just how attractive he really is. What a ridiculous concept for Time.

When you first touch the gears in his neck, he shivers, biting his lip. You explore every inch of his body until he’s practically shaking under yours with your bold and unhindered touch. His breath quickens when you ask him to do the same, but he barely hesitates before he does absolutely everything you ask. He revels in your smile, in your sound, there isn’t anything he wouldn’t dare do to you, should you ask.

When he first hears of this “Baker Tom,” you see Time jealous for the first time. He asks questions in a passive, uninterested way, but when you give vague answers, you catch his tense expression. You laugh it off and convince him that he’s just a man with a fondness for ladies with large cabooses, and he concurs that your caboose is, in fact, quite sizeable. He squeezes it to prove his point, making you laugh and slap his chest.

When you first hide away in his castle for an entire month, he gives you a little gift each day, leaving it at the door of the parlor for you. You requested that he give you space in the morning, after that awful muck-up with that brutish baker. When you finally manage to talk to him about the matter of the baker’s sudden possessiveness and inappropriate curiosity into your private life, he’s a hair’s breadth away from keeping that baker in the same second of burning his hands for the rest of his life. You simply thank him for letting you have two homes; one in your hometown, and one in his castle. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

When he first finds a gray hair on your head, the light in his eyes seems to dim, and he doesn’t seem to hear what you’re saying for a few moments. You catch it, point it out, but he quickly brushes it off as nothing. What could have possibly made Time himself slow down?

When he first notices your aches and pains, how you don’t walk with the same spring in your step, he feels his chest growing heavy. He dreads the coming day when he’d have to do his job despite all his urges and instincts.

When he first hears you say “I hope you never forget me,” he nearly cries. He could never forget you. He could never forget someone who had the power to stop Time in his tracks with utter ease. He holds you gently, delicately, as if too much force would speed your clock.

When he first hears the toll of your bell, he halts in the middle of his work. Seconds pass, concerned and confused. They poke his legs and nudge his ankles until he spurs into action, heading for the hall of the Underlandians Living with almost hysteric urgency. He knows exactly where your clock is; he finds it with ease. You’re lying at home, surrounded by friends, wishing for him.

When he first sees you lying there, the life still burning in your eyes, he almost falls to his knees. He brings himself to your bedside before he does so, and he takes your frail hand, holding it to his lips. Your friends give you Time to yourself, leaving your bedroom with teary eyes. He holds your hand so firmly, yet gently. He doesn’t bother to hide the tears rolling down his pale cheeks as he meets your eyes.

When he first feels the serious temptation of stopping his clock for good, you knock him back into his senses. You make another pun so awful that he can’t help but make another vaguely irked noise in response. You remind him of who he is, of what he is, and of how far more important his affairs are than such trifle concerns. He feels like he’s going to break.

When he first hears you ask him to stop your clock as he holds you, he wants to embrace you like this forever. He could do it. He would do it. But you want peace. You want to sleep forever in his castle, safe and never alone. You say your goodbyes and kiss his cheek one last time. He wishes you a good night, and the sweetest dreams, as he shuts your clock forever.

When he finally hears your breath leave your body, when he finally feels the last beat of your heart in your chest, he pockets your clock and leaves you for your close friends to tend to the rest.

When he finally speaks to Wilkins, to anyone, again, his voice is quiet, a bit raspy, and strained. His mannerisms are subdued, and he goes about his work with a mechanically faithful sort of punctuality. He never misses a beat; he never slows down.

When he finally returns to attend the funeral, he’s wearing his full uniform, in all his regality and stoicism, and he only allows himself to shed a tear long after the ceremony is over and you are completely and utterly gone.

When he finally smiles again, years in the future, he thinks of you.