Somewhat of a crossover with the Dark Tower series, though there is no tower in this story, no gunslinger, no man in black. Jake Chambers once told Roland 'There are other worlds than these'. It seemed fitting that in some version of reality, Olivia and Peter might make a stop in Mid-World along the way.
Peter misses the window, never crosses back over, and finally finds Olivia. She does her best to bring them both home. Neither of them had even considered that there were other worlds than theirs.
They break into the lab, steal enough Coretexiphan so she could shoot up once, and made a run for Boston. As they lay down together in the tank, arms around each other, Peter closes his eyes. He opens them again and they're lying tangled in the middle of a dusty track of road, dirt sticking to their wet clothes and skin. Her fingers are clenched and they dig into him painfully. He'll find a double phalanx of bruises along his back later.
Boston is gone. Everything is gone. Olivia turns to him, eyes wide and panic-filled. The road stretches before them and behind them, rutted and overgrown with weeds. To either side, dry hardscrabble land as far as the eye can see. Peter turns west along the road and feels pulled, like a needle on a compass. He grabs Olivia's hand and starts walking. It's as good an option as any at the moment.
The farmhouse waits, squat and stubborn on the horizon. It's the only part of the homestead still standing after god-knows-how-long, and the elements haven't been kind to it. It greets them with a gap-toothed grin of broken windows and wind-silvered wood, and they find themselves unwilling to cross the last hundred paces in the deep purple twilight. It's not any one thing in particular; there's no distinct sign that says 'keep out' in bold flashing letters, just some atavistic, long suppressed instinct. That early warning, base-of-your-skull tingle prey gets just before a predator attacks.
Some things are better saved for the light of the day.
They spend the night in the dooryard spooned together against the cold. They've nothing with which to spark a fire, nothing to use as shelter. The farmhouse appears sinister through the lens of midnight's imagination. They'd escaped with only the clothes on their backs; in Olivia's case, only the thin prison gown and a pair of canvas loafers. Peter tries his best to wrap himself around her as she shivers hard enough to make her muscles ache in the flat pre-dawn light.
Morning finds them miserable; cold and aching, hungry and lost. A pair of errant children who've wandered too far from home. Peter feels the itch to keep moving, but Olivia wants to stay put. She's still spooked from yesterday's jump. Terrified of becoming more lost.
First order of the day is figuring out where they are. They find the ghost of a foundation - a rectangular impression where the scrub is drier and paler. From the size, it was probably the barn. A pump stands nearby with a dented billycan hanging from it by a twist of wire. It shrieks its protest when Peter tries the handle, but the mechanism still moves. The can is empty, so there's no way to prime it.
They stick close together - so close that they keep bumping against each other as they circle the house. The sun clears the horizon and keeps climbing with a vengeance. Sweat beads along Peter's hairline and it's only mid-morning. They're going to need to find water soon.
Olivia's the first one to cross the threshold. She's always been fearless that way. It scares the crap out of him. Inside, the farmhouse is in better shape than first appearances would lead, though not by much. Wide plank floor worn smooth by generations of feet are now twisted and cracked by the dry climate. Olivia turns her head sharply and Peter picks it up a second later. The sharp needles-spilled-across-linoleum of scurrying feet from above and below raises gooseflesh and tells them they are not truly alone. The smell of dust over top of something more pungent and sickly sends the warning that they are trespassing. Get what they need and get out. Outside, a lazy breeze picks up and the house settles and sighs. It's not a comfortable sound.
The floor plan is simple: a wide open room with a pot-bellied stove as the centerpiece, stairs down to a cellar on their right, and on the left a smaller room. Bedroom by the looks of it. Olivia chooses left. The door had fallen off its hinges at some point, and now makes for a serviceable bridge across the jagged hole in the floorboards. Peter closes his eyes as Olivia steps across without hesitation. He's going to have to watch out for her, because she's so intent on finding a solution to their displacement that she won't bother watching out for herself.
She looks at him impatiently from across the gulf. He has no choice but to follow her.
As if he ever did.
The floor groans under his weight.
The bedroom reminds him of one of those mystery stories, the ones about the locked rooms where the person disappears without a trace. The bed is still made, though the quilt is ragged and stained by god-knows-what's been living here and burrowing in the mattress. A stack of books and a pair of wire-framed glasses lie neatly caked with dark field grit on the bedside table. The breeze catches the broken window pane and sighs through the room. It's getting warmer in here and the scent from the things in the walls is cloying.
No other furniture except for a stout wooden trunk at the foot of the bed. Peter wants to shout a warning not to touch it, but Olivia's already got the lid open. By the looks of the stack of folded clothing inside, somebody had been packing for a trip that was never taken.
"It's like the world here has just moved on," he says. Olivia gives him a funny look; a quirk of the head and a scrunch of her brows, like she's feeling out the words.
She shrugs. "Maybe it has." She shuts the trunk's lid, gives it a bit of a shove, and says "We should open this up outside." They haul it carefully across the makeshift bridge and leave it by the front door.
"Basement," she orders and doesn't wait to see if Peter will follow.
It's cooler underground, but that doesn't lessen the feeling that the house is pressing in on them. Shelves of dusty sealer jars line two walls, though whatever is in them is probably long past its best-before date. Peter wishes for a flashlight to cut through the shadows, but there's enough light filtering through the cracks in the floorboards that he can see the dirt floor has been well oiled. At the far end of the cellar, a stone wall, waist height, sections off the room.
The cistern is half-full, though he can't make out the condition of the water. Peter dips a hand it. It's warmer than it should be. "Do you think you can- "
"No," she cuts him off. Apparently it's not even going to be up for discussion. He can't imagine how she'd even be able to cross over from down here anyhow, not with the feeling that the whole place is just watching them and waiting for their guard to slip. He has to ask though. They need some sort of a plan because they can't stay here forever.
At least there's water to prime the pump. Peter decides that, barring a tornado, he's not going back in the house again. Olivia tells him not to tempt fate. She doesn't even try to cushion it with a smile.
They get the pump working. The water that spills forth is cold and clear. "We should probably test-" Peter turns, looks up in time to see her swallow deeply from the billycan, water running in rivulets down her neck, and drip from her chin. Her throat works in a way that makes his belly warm and tight. He's unable to look away. "Or we can just drink it and see what happens. That works too."
She only smiles and hands him the can. Wipes the water from her lips with the back of her hand. The hot wind feels cool against his flushed skin. There's some sort of enchantment here, Peter thinks, or maybe it's always been Olivia who's had him under her spell.
The travelling trunk turns out to be a gold mine. They drag it to the shrinking patch of shade in front of the house. Convection currents stir the breeze again, dry heat full of the chirrup chirrup of insects in the grass. Peter brushes the sweat off his forehead with the back of his arm.
Olivia pulls a simple housedress out of the trunk, shakes it out, gives it a once-over. She shucks the tattered prison dress with little concern for modesty and slips the faded blue gingham one over her head. It's not in much better shape. As she buttons the bodice, Peter sees something settle in her; a determination she's been missing since they landed. A little piece of Olivia reclaimed.
She lifts the rest of the clothes out of the way. "Let's see what else we have here." A fine bristled brush set, comb and carved hand mirror, face powder long dried up and crumbling. A bible - thinner than Peter remembers them to be. A pair of riding gloves. A pill box hat and veil of the most practical design. All the various and sundry items the lady of the house would need for a trip. "Bingo," Olivia says triumphantly as she pulls the guns from between the coarse woolen blankets at the bottom of the trunk.
The guns are large and heavy. Worn-smooth sandalwood grips that look big, even in Olivia's strong hands. Not your standard issue travelling pistols. One of these things doesn't belong here. One of these things just isn't the same.
They smell of gun oil and leather. Cordite. She tips out the barrel on one, then the other. Empty. Clean. Obviously well-cared for and just waiting for an experienced hand to wield it. Olivia lifts the shell-laden gun belts from the trunk. "Now we're getting somewhere."
He's not sure he's ever heard that particular note in her voice; a satisfied undertone that rings sour in his ears. This is not the Olivia he dismissed in that hospital room a lifetime ago. Walnernate's changed her, but he's only one of the men whose hands have molded Olivia Dunham into the woman what she's become.
'The weapon she's become' his mind supplies. He's afraid to ask her what happened before he found her.
They dine on scraps of charred gopher that night. Peter makes the fire out of twisted hanks of grass lit with a solar flare captured in the beveled edge of the hand mirror and feeds it sage brush to make it grow. Something tells him to leave the house alone, even though there's more than enough wood there to shelter them.
The smoke makes him feel light-headed, like Walter's been smoking up in the car with the windows rolled up again. He can't stop himself from staring at her through the brume as the flames jump and lick. As her tongue darts along her lips in the wake of a greasy bite of meat, he finally drags his eyes away. Up to the sky where clouds skitter across the moon.
She'd caught him anyhow. "What?" It comes out as a drawl, a dry hint of amusement.
"Did you see that?" he asks, and he's all but forgotten how she looked in the firelight. She turns and follows where he's pointing, frowns. Edges closer so they're nearly cheek to cheek. He hears her slight gasp as she sees it too.
"It's like they skip," she says and he nods. "The clouds. Like there's a line there. They just get dragged sideways for a second when they cross it." She turns so their noses are almost touching in the dark. "What is that?"
"Damned if I know. Must be something up there."
"Yeah, but what kind of something?" She squints, but the moon is covered now and the sky is flat and dark. She sits back but doesn't move away. "You know what's sad? After everything we've seen, that," she points to the vague spot where he'd last seen the clouds snag, "barely registers on the weirdness scale."
"Now that is sad. I bet Walter would have a theory."
She twitches at his name. Peter reaches out. She stops him with a hand up and an excuse quick on her lips.
"Livia," he says gently. "We've got time."
She lets out a small huff. "Lots of it, apparently."
He throws another hank of grass on the fire.
Day follows night, follows day, and so on, and so on.
They explore. An hour or three by foot in each direction because they can only carry so much water with them and it's got to be well over a hundred here by mid-day. There is nothing out there but rolling prairie. Olivia wears one of the gun belts slung low across her hips, the revolver settled in the front gunslinger style with a cross-draw. Her loose hair blows in the afternoon breeze and kisses her sun-freckled cheeks. She gets these soft creases near her eyes when she squints off into the distance, trying to see what's beyond the horizon like some lonesome hero in a Saturday afternoon Western show.
It blows all his childhood Cowboys and Indians fantasies right out of the water.
She gives him the second revolver to carry. This is new, her surrendering of control. She's doubting her ability to protect them. It scares him more than not having a clue about where they are.
Olivia catches him staring again. This time the sun is setting and their shadows stretch long behind them. Her head is tilted to the side and she's listening to something that's just beyond the range of his hearing. As her palm rests on the butt of the revolver and Peter watches her fingertips lazily stroke the smooth wood like she's caressing a lover. She must catch him swallow because she brings her eyes to meet his and they crinkle in a hint of a smile like she knows the effect she's having on him.
"Do you hear that?" She whispers.
Peter closes his eyes and lets the end of the day wash over him. Her hearing has always been more acute, but he listens anyhow for what she's found hidden between the susurrus of the breeze and the chirrup of insects. There's a soft hiss that he's always associated with the desert… grains of sand rolling across hardpan, the glasslike scree of quartz rubbing quartz. But that's not what's got her attention.
Finally, "I don't hear it." He feels her hand on his. She tugs him a few paces past the banked embers of their campfire, over the dirt road. Closer to the farmhouse.
"There," she whispers. "Can you hear it now?"
And he does. It's faint - oh so very faint, but it's there. The far-off wail of a siren. The thrum of tires on asphalt…voices shouting… the screech of brakes as a bus pulls up to the curb. All very urban.
All very out of place.
Olivia's watching him. "It must be softer here, like Reiden Lake or all those other places they've tried to open doors."
"How did we not hear this before? We've been here what… three days?"
"Seven," she says. "I wasn't listening for it until yesterday."
"Right. Tuesday was prairie dog night. Wednesday was leftover prairie dog night. How could I forget?" Peter's not sure what worries him more: the unnoted slippage of time, or that she hadn't thought to mention the sound.
Olivia ignores him. "It gets louder when you get closer to the house." She turns and Peter follows her. Like he always does.
She's got one foot on the porch and her eyes are getting that glassy look they do when Walter's conspired with her over some cocktail of hallucinogens. He startles her with a hand on her arm. She pulls the gun on him so fast he doesn't have time to duck. Her speed is uncanny. The hammer clicks back.
The tip of the barrel wavers, inches from his nose. He raises his hands, slowly, and pushes the barrel to one side. He exhales slowly as she lowers the gun. He doesn't miss how her hand tremors.
"God Peter, don't do that."
"Don't do what?" He shouts because he can't hear himself over his own pounding heart. "Stop you from wandering into a haunted house in the middle of the night?"
She tries to deflect. "It's not the middle of the night."
"Well there's a distinct lack of daylight at the moment. Close enough in my books." His pulse throbs in his ears. "What were you thinking?"
"I don't know." She holsters the gun and runs a hand through her hair. The ebb of adrenaline leaves her breathless and twitchy. "I don't know, okay? It was like… like something was pulling at me… calling me on." She takes a quick step back from the porch, then another two, repulsed. "I just thought if I got a little closer to the sound I might be able to cross over. I almost left you behind Peter." Her face is a pale smudge in the gloom but he can read the horror there clear enough. "Oh god, I almost left you behind."
Not 'I almost shot you.'
It's the most reaction he's seen from her since they escaped – the most alive she's been, and despite almost eating a bullet, all he feels is relief. "But you didn't Livia. You're still here. I'm still here. We're good." He reaches out again and touches her shoulder. She lets him fold her to him. He ignores the goose bumps on her bare arms. "We're good."
"Do you hear it now?" He feels her lips move against his chest.
He shakes his head. "No."
Peter still doesn't sleep that night.
Day follows night. Lather, rinse, repeat.
The silver shell dances across his knuckles in the firelight. Over. Dip. Over. Dip. Over. Dip. Over, into his palm and back up again. Over. Dip. "What?" She drags her heavy-lidded eyes away from his hand. "Did you say something Peter?"
"Nope." He palms the bullet. Olivia blinks up at him and frowns. "Just passing the time. Nothing good on television tonight. Why?"
She hums something of a dismissal at him and pokes at the fire.
"You were staring," he says. She ducks her face away from him. In the brassy firelight, he can't tell if she's blushing.
"You've been staring at me."
"I always stare at you." It slips out before he can censor himself.
She wears a hint of a smile. "You're usually more subtle about it."
Something eases inside him. "So are you." This time he knows she's blushing. He watches as she chews her lip. He's not intending to push her, but there's that whole question of the kiss. A door had been opened, an invitation sent, and now he's curious if the offer still stands. "What? You think just because I don't have your amazing powers of perception that I don't notice these things?"
She smirks and changes the subject. "You were trying to hypnotize me."
"Olivia, I can't do anything to you that you don't want me to do."
She stiffens. The fire pops and sputters. She tosses a few more sage branches on top, and then slides herself out of the curling of smoke. Closer to him. "No they can't," she finally says.
He could press, but he doesn't because she'll just shut down. This is Olivia, after all. She'll keep it close, internalize until her subconscious sorts it all out, and put on a brave face in the process. Why mess with what works?
Except it doesn't, really, and they both know that.
Peter slings an arm over her shoulders and presses his lips to her temple. "No they can't."
They need to talk about moving on, Peter decides. The midday sun beats down on the back of his neck and there's no breeze yet to offer relief. He counts the days now in dog-eared bible pages he doesn't actually read. Nineteen as of this morning. It must be a different version from the one his mother had because he's already up to the expulsion from the garden. He needs to go find Olivia and convince her that there's nothing more for them here. There's no way he's planning on sticking around here until the Second Coming.
He estimates that the days are getting shorter, though the Timex on his wrist stopped sometime between their escape and last week. So much for taking a licking and keepin' on tickin'. The warranty probably doesn't cover trans-universal travel anyhow.
Thunderheads have been building on the horizon all morning, but so far the air is still. The insects don't sound quite so shrill. He can feel a change coming in the way the land around them seems to have gone quiet. He wants to be ahead of it.
And speaking of Olivia… Peter's already circled the yard twice. She's nowhere to be found.
There aren't many places to hide out here. She hasn't been gone long enough that he wouldn't be able to pick her out as the lone shape on an empty plain. Unless she's stumbled into a wash, or run into something less benign than a gopher and gotten hurt. His pulse quickens. He hasn't the faintest idea which direction she might have gone.
He calls her name. A gunshot answers back.
Peter finds her on the other side of the farmhouse, feet planted wide apart, two-handing the revolver, and blowing glass jars of preserves off the front porch railing from thirty paces. Her lips are curled back in a feral snarl and her cheeks are wet and shiny. Each time she pulls the trigger, Peter sees her mouth move, lips twisting around the names Bell after one shot, Walter on the next. He's not sure what's finally triggered it, but whatever has been boiling just below the surface has finally spilled over.
The contents of the broken jars leave an ichorous stain where they run down the wood of the weathered porch.
He counts five shots before she sees him. She turns away, ignores him on the sixth, and on the seventh the hammer falls on an empty chamber. Olivia lets fly a guttural stream of curses that raises the hair on his neck. Peter's torn between waiting to catch the pieces and scared to be near her when she finally breaks. He hands her his loaded revolver and steps back out of her way.
She empties all six chambers, then lets the gun fall from her fingers with a soft thump to the dry grass. One jar stands alone on the railing. She turns away, wipes her face with the back of her hand. Peter can see her shoulders hitch and shake. He's glad he didn't run.
He takes a step towards her but she stiffens. She's not ready for his sympathy yet and he understands the need once the bandage has been ripped clean to poke and prod at the raw flesh beneath. One must appreciate the wound in order to let it heal clean.
Peter stubs his toe into the dirt and kicks up a palm-sized rock. He tosses it from one hand to the other, gets a feel for its weight then lets it fly.
The last jar shatters.
He's standing near the road with his hands in his pockets when her arms snake around him from behind. She presses her face into his back, between his shoulder blades and mouths the words 'thank you' into his flesh.
Peter doesn't ask what for. He's not sure she even knows. He hasn't done anything for her, really. Hasn't mended any hurts, and she won't let him be her forum for her pain. His attempt at rescuing her has fallen far short; it's always been she who has saved him, and even then, usually from himself.
But if what she needs is for him to accept her gratitude, then he can do that for her. He puts his hands over hers and they stand there together breathing. Listening.
The thunderheads have crept closer. He can smell moisture in the air now. The faintest of breezes makes the grass whisper and sigh. The sun is smudged dark by the first wisps of cloud.
And then he feels her lips upon the reddened skin of his neck, cool as the rain that has yet to fall. He closes his eyes and tips his head back, prepared to let her take whatever she needs.
Time is what she'd needed. It's the only thing they've had in abundance and she's taken all that she could. It's time to move on and let the wheel turn.
Her fingers trace the curve of his ear, slip down and brush through the thick stubble on his cheek. Peter leans in, kisses her palm in offering, and turns so he can see amusement curve the corners of her mouth as she's really seeing him here for the first time.
The one thing he's never expected Olivia to be is shy. He's not disappointed. Thunder rolls behind him, barrels across the plain like a freight train. As the air draws still, she crushes her lips to his, pulls her body to hers, kisses him like he's her lifeline.
Peter does his best to repay her in kind.
They stumble a bit at first; there is no blueprint to follow, no bigger plan in the works, simply two bodies following instincts for which they were biologically predisposed. The desire to feel skin on skin, mouths on necks, tongues on lips. Communion of the most essential kind. Thunder growls again, so much closer this time. A thought flickers through his mind, interrupting his baser brain functions, and Peter pauses. Stills. He shouldn't be thinking of his father at a time like this, but some stray memory has sparked a connection.
The wind picks up, no longer delicately dancing on their heated skin, and just underneath, he hears it. The hum and whine of civilization. He wants to ask Olivia if she hears it too, but now is definitely not the time. She's leaving butterfly soft kisses down his throat and his chest, each one matching a shirt button she's just unclasped, each one leaving him more and more undone. His hands still their wandering, and she finally pulls back, hesitates, expecting rejection.
Suddenly, the wind drops. Olivia starts to pull away, but he's got his fingers along her face, stroking her cheeks and he holds her close. The sky is dark and turbulent above them. Peter presses his forehead to hers, feels her pulse racing against his fingers. Or maybe it's his. There is only one thing clear to him right now. "Olivia," he says, then kisses her slowly. Deeply. "When it's time, think of home."
He doesn't wait to see if she understands. The world exhales and the sky opens up. Fat raindrop leave dollar-sized splotches on her faded dress and slick their way down the back of his neck. His hands tangle in her hair. Her fingers work his belt buckle loose and the revolver slumps to the ground at his feet. And because Peter is a gentleman and Olivia likes to be in control, when he finally sinks them to the muddy ground, he pulls her on top and holds her fast with his hands on her hips under the blue gingham dress.
When Olivia sighs Peter feels himself unravel at his very core.
Peter opens his eyes. It's raining. A gentle mist that runs off Olivia's hair and drips into his eyes.
The sound of cars is muffled but still wonderfully there. Her turns his head and sees lush green trees. A grin splits his face. "Olivia you did it." He laughs and it comes out as a puff of fog that hangs between them.
A small chuckle. "Yeah, I guess we did." She shivers and he can feel it all the way through her. She kisses the water from his chin.
"No Olivia." He reaches up and brushes a strand of hair off her cheek, tucks it behind her ear. "You did it. You brought us home."
She shifts so sharply it's painful. He winces and grabs her waist as she looks around. They're lying on the grass in the park by the river. He watches her expression slip from heavy-lidded satisfaction to outright horror when she realizes that they're sprawled not ten feet from her favorite bench.
She tries to pull away and stand. "Peter-"
He tightens his fingers into the fabric of her dress. "Wait Livia," he grunts. She finally looks at him. Takes everything in and processes. A faint blush pinks her ears. She looks around, but it's evening and it's raining and cold, and they're alone.
"How did you know it would work?" she breathes. Steam rises from her soaked dress.
"Something Walter said once." And when she quirks her head, he adds, "There was something about that place. The barrier between the worlds was thin. All that was missing… all you needed to open a door was a strong emotional response." He loosens his grip so he can stroke her cheek. "But he was wrong. It wasn't fear at all." He pulls her down and brushes his lips to hers.
Olivia doesn't ask because she already knows.
It's love. It always has been.