“I could stop you.”
I don’t look over from tossing my visa and a fake ID into a bag, make sure I have my worst clothing on. “You could. There won’t be many people there.”
“Jay is going to follow you,” the wandering magician says softly.
There are things that loom large in the world, and then there are those that should but don’t. Hidden things. Secret things. Magician things, but others as well. Jay is eleven. He is also from far, far Outside the universe and could, on a very bad day, likely unmake the entire universe. I try not to think too hard about that. About what it costs to travel with him, about how much we try to protect him from. Innocent is armour, but not always. Not always. Sometimes I think it’s a chain as well. “I know.”
The magician nods. “Even the fae might not be able to hide the result of Jay being at a rally, Charlie.”
I look at him. “Do you want them to?”
He smiles. There is almost nothing of a magician in his smile, and I have some idea in that moment of what it costs him to do nothing. “I have no idea anymore. A magician’s power is small things, subtle workings. Jay is far much more. If I go, I would shift events when I should not. Need. Desire. Will.” He falls silent for a moment, staring off into some memory I know nothing of. “I will keep Outsiders and monsters from feeding off of events, from making things worse.”
“They can always be worse.” It would sound like a cliché, if it wasn’t him saying it.
“The town isn’t that big. The protest won’t be that big,” I say, to myself as much as the magician.
“I know. Keep Jay safe.”
I nod and head outside, and he is beside me a moment later, saying he feels bindings and knows I’m doing an adventure and that of course means a Jay can help.
“Charlie?” he says after I don’t reply.
“It’s not that kind of adventure, Jay.”
“There are lots of adventures that feel like something else,” Jay says firmly.
“Like when food pretends it’s not food and!” I almost smile, but Jay stops me with a sudden, hard hug. “And going to places with lots of messy bindings is a dangerous adventure but that’s important too!”
“It is. You have to promise not to fix any of them.”
“That’s going to be really hard,” he whispers.
“I know. But sometimes being present without being jaysome is as important as being jaysome,” I say.
Jay blinks, scratches his head. “I think you went postjaysome, Charlie?”
I laugh, soft, surprised. “Maybe I did. Come?”
He nods, and walks beside me. The world stops. Even Jay stops, which I didn’t thin could be done.
The entity before me is tall and pale, young and ancient. “There are few incidents that draw me to a place in person,” it says.
I shudder. I’ve seen this entity once become. Seen more of it. “You’re Time.”
“Winter, if you like. Among other names.” Winter’s voice is soft, kind because Time can afford to be kind. “Trying to get Jay to be not jaysome in this way has drawn me here.” Winter embodies Time, making this Power perhaps as old as the universe. It sounds unsure for a moment. “Even I have no idea what to make of this.”
“A memento?” The words slip out. I’m always sarcastic when I’m terrified.
“Perhaps. A moment, seen and known. A time.” Winter laughs, and the sounds reminds me a little of Jay. “A time stamp, by Time. A moment known and preserved. This is very dangerous.”
“And very brave,” he says, to Jay, who grins. The rest of the world is frozen, but Jay is free of it and beaming proudly.
“I am really good at being brave,” he boasts. “Also, stopping me tickled you know!”
“Ah. Of course it did.” And the Power of the universe is gone, and time moves again as if nothing dared impede it.
I shiver, but Jay is holding my hand. Waiting. To learn how to witness without casting any judgement. I only hope I can somehow teach him what we both need to learn.