The Other Side (a companion piece to “Traveling”)
He had looked forward to this journey for so long, some real traveling that didn’t involve any work, didn’t involve any emergencies or anybody needing any help. He had looked forward to being away from home, as much as he loved it, because, when he was home, there was always work waiting for him . . . someplace.
And yet, there was the part he missed. Their dog wasn’t making the journey with them, but was staying with friends. Beds in places where one travels are never the same as one’s bed at home, no matter how nice the traveling accommodations might be. Nor is the food ever quite the same—for better and for worse. Most of all, he missed seeing the light from the home on the other side of the fence. It was ever a warm and cheery light, not simply for the illuminations of the house itself, but for the light of its occupants, who had become more than good friends—they were good family.
As he looked out of the window of his train, watching the world go by, his mind’s eye was drawn back to the fence. It was, he was pretty sure—the changes in time zones kept him on his toes—the time of day when he would meet his Dear One by the fence, when they would say so little and so much all at the same time, talking of their day, of their Eternals, of their dogs and work and dinner and sundry minutiae. Yet, in that seemingly innocuous banter, they were really renewing a timeless bond, a bond which transcended realities and universes and which neither ever realized existed until the met, quite by accident, so long ago yet not very long ago.
Somehow, their little chats kept reality in balance.
He never knew quite how that was possible, except, he suspected, because she was indeed so important to so many worlds, so many people, so many realities. He was, he thought, probably, the only one to call her “Dear One,” but she went by so many other names, and brought light and how and joy and possibility to so very many other people. How he was a help in all of this, bound to his one reality, he never knew, but he was grateful for his time with her, and more grateful that he could be useful. And, right now, he was missing that one bit of home, even though he still felt connected to her.
One thing he most looked forward to was the stop on the trip where they would meet up with their neighbors for a special day. This hadn’t been the reason for the journey, or even part of the original plan, but it was truly a cherry on the sundae of this whole special, relaxing fortnight, as the four of them would just get to visit and have fun together.
Then came her message: some annoying slugs, flush with their own power and their own over-estimation of their importance, had managed to weasel out a way to force her to take a trip she didn’t want to take. It was in her power to say “no”—there were few things not in her power, in one world or another, though more than she cared to ever admit to herself—but her refusal would leave others vulnerable to bigger troubles, and it simply wasn’t in her to allow that. But she would miss their rendezvous. Her Eternal would be there, provided, the traveler mused, that her beloved was not crushed under the weight of all the instructions she had included for making things “perfect.” For the traveler and his love, having their friend there to wave and say “Hi” was more than sufficient.
Still, his Dear One was beating herself up for not being there in person, in part out of disappointment—which he shared—in part out of duty. He wished he could take that latter bit away from her; he kept trying to tell her that there was no “duty” involved, that it wasn’t that way with them (he knew that, were the tables turned, he would feel that duty, feel that he was letting her down, but he didn’t need to deal with that now, so he pushed forward, ignoring the potential double standard). More than anything, he wished he could take the pain away from her, wished he could just hold that for her, at least the part that concerned the two of them. He also had some passing notions of mercilessly and repeatedly impaling slugs on salt-encrusted pitchforks . . . but that was just for fun.
Then came that night on the train, there in the dark, as the other train passed, and their fence . . . How could it be their fence? And yet, how could it be anything else? . . . somehow appeared, and there seemed to be only one window lit in the train that passed, and, ever-so briefly, but in a nanosecond that seemed to stretch out for a week, he saw her, and heard, “Hello, my heart,” and shared a hug.
Then it was over.
But, also, so much was changed. She would go on, and keep people safe and happy, and keep worlds in balance, and they would both find their way back to the fence in time.
But there would be something more. Universes that believed they could keep these two apart were foolish universes. Bigger forces than these slugs had tried and failed before. The moment he lost sight of his Dear One’s train in the night, the thoughts began spinning in his head.
When he and his beloved met up with Dear One’s Eternal, the plotting would begin.
The other side of this missed moment would be something much more . . .