A/N: The title for this fic, as well as the inspiration (at least in part; as with far too many of my fics and far too much of my life, a lot of it's from RP as well) is from the Nick Drake song of the same title (Island Records, 1972)
Concrit and bitching is, as always, welcomed. I hope you like it!
"Saw it written and I saw it say
Pink moon is on its way
None of you will stand so tall
Pink moon gonna get ye all
And it's a pink moon."
The fire flickers in the dying evening, golden flames against a golden desert sky. His trail stretches out behind him. He makes no effort to cover it; he is the hunter, not the hunted.
He touches the horn at his side, staring into the fire. The smooth shape of it is soothing under his calloused fingertips, but at the same time, it feels dead. Dead, like the land it came from; dead, like Cuthbert who had winded it, laughing, on the slopes of Jericho Hill. Just another piece of shadow, as the husks of machinery were shadows.
The sky is darkening. Over the flat, featureless horizon of the endless plains, a pink moon is rising.
And the dead are walking.
He knows it before he sees them, but still, it strikes him like a blow to the heart. The fire burns steadily, pulsing warmth and light out into the cold desert night, but the gunslinger would scarcely notice if it went out altogether. All his attention is on the steady flow of figures from the west.
His first thought is that this is a glam; some trick of the Crimson, sent to try him and to lead him astray. But even as he thinks it, he knows it for the untruth it is. This is no glamor, no enchantment. These are the dead.
But they do not seem dead. There is Allie, the scars on her face vivid and somehow soft in the pink light of the moon, but nothing to show the passage of his bullets through her, no blood staining her clothes or clotting in her hair. And, walking next to her, Sister Jenna, with that stray curl resting on her forehead, as whole and as hale as she had been in Eluria – and with that same look of sadness in her eyes. And there, Jamie DeCurry, and there, John Norman, and there, his mother, and others he does not recognise but somehow knows; the priest with the cross carved into his forehead, and the skinny, dark-haired young man, and the young boy whose name (Jake, the boy is Jake, he drowns, gunslinger) floats into his mind without a cause, and others, countless others.
Under the light of that pink moon, every friend he's ever sent to the clearing, every unwitting soul he's ever dragged down along with him, every man, woman, and child who's ever died for him, advances on him. But there is no threat in their eyes; no anger. There is only a deep, abiding sadness.
And his eyes are drawn to the front of that crowd – a crowd far larger than any such throng should be, swelling in number as other silent figures walk, run, skip forwards to join them. The boy Jake is running, pushing through the crowds, and he and the dark-haired man are shouting something, but as he stands, lit cigarette falling from between his nerveless fingers, Roland cannot hear.
Doesn't want to hear.
All his attention is taken up by the three not-quite children walking at the front, with their eyes lowered and their shoulders slumped slightly. He knows them at once, and at that recognition, tears sting at those blue bombadier's eyes for the first time.
They slow to a stop, not a foot away, and behind them, the rest of the throng stops, too. Jake and the dark-haired man (Eddie, his mind whispers, with that dream-knowledge that cannot be shaken, his name is Eddie) burst through the line of silent figures, stopping dead, next to the three teenagers.
And then they raise their heads. Cuthbert Allgood, Alain Johns, and lovely Susan, girl at the window.
And he knows.
More than knows. He remembers.
It will be gone when he awakes. That comes as a cold certainty, both a promise and a threat, because now he remembers.
You will lose all that you love, and still the Tower will be closed against you.
And it was. And it will be. And he will climb to the top, to the uppermost room, and find himself back here, because ka is a wheel, and he cannot help but be swept up in the turn of it.
And all of them – these silent multitudes, not dead, dead would be better, but alive and waiting for him to kill them – all of them will die. Again, and again, and again.
Ka like a wind.
The bright moonlight glistening off the tears pricking at his eyes, he falls to his knees. Behind him, the flicker of the fire turns his shadow alive; a hunched, defeated thing, bowed at the feet of the long-dead. Roland himself stays perfectly still, a tableau of regret.
"I cry your pardon," he chokes out, feeling a child again, and, at the same time, feeling older than the world, with all its cares to bear. "I cry your pardon. I forgot the face of my father long ago. Mayhap I never knew it. Gods, I cry your pardon…" He cannot think of anything more to say.
And then gold hair sweeps across his cloistered vision, and there are lips pressing against his, soft lips that he knows well, even after all these years. He looks up, but there is no need to; he knows before he does what he'll see, down to the faint, heartbreaking smile on her face. Her breath is warm on his skin as she pulls back, and she is solidly, undeniably alive.
"Bird and bear and hare and fish," she whispers, stroking slim fingers through his greying hair, and then she is gone.
He staggers forwards, leaning on a warm body that is no longer there, and new hands catch him. And he looks up into Eddie Dean's eyes, and he knows a new level of hopelessness.
"It was a blast," Eddie tells him, his smile almost enough to convince. "A real blast. Wouldn't have missed it for the world."
This time, when he fades, Roland is ready, and he doesn't fall. Others are fading, now, the crowd thinning until there are more shadows than people, long and dark in the pink-tinted moonlight.
"Don't," Jake says after a moment, as Roland begins to stumble back, half-hoping that will stop them from fading, preserve them for a few more precious moments, although every time he looks at them, the knife twists in his heart anew. "Don't. Roland…"
His lips move for a few seconds more, but the sound fades as he does, and Roland cannot tell what he is saying.
There are only the three of them, now; Roland, Cuthbert, and Alain. The three who set out from Gilead decades (centuries?) ago, when there was more to his world than the Tower. The world has moved on, but his has only shrunk; shrunk, shrivelled, and died.
His head slumps forward onto his chest, his shoulders shaking miserably. Not crying. Not yet.
The hand that lifts his chin gently could have belonged to either of them, but it is Cuthbert's eyes he finds himself looking into, no laughter in them now.
"We forgave thee," Cuthbert says, and Roland thinks he hears his friend's voice fading; wants to hold them back; knows he cannot. They are shadows. Nothing more. "We forgave thee before there was a thing to forgive thee for."
"You are our dinh," Alain says quietly, and now Roland knows for sure that their voices are fading. "There is nothing you could do that we would not forgive."
The image that swims before Roland's eyes is terrible in its clarity and worse in its truth; a dim figure in the night, thrown backwards by their shots in his head. He opens his mouth to make some reply, but they are gone.
And it would be better, he thinks, collapsing onto his knees again, if it hurt. It would be easier if they struck him. If that great crowd had fallen upon him and ripped him limb from limb. If there had been anger. If there had been pain.
But what hurts more, tearing him apart as he curls up in the dry dust, crying like a baby, what twists the knife in his heart and will send him hurtling into wakefulness from this dream (forgotten in daytime, forgotten until evening), is worse than anger, worse than pain, worse than guilt. It is the knowledge that he could do it all again – will do it all again – a thousand times, and that whole multitude would bear him no hatred for it. Only love.
The pink moon rises overhead, soft and alluring. And Roland of Gilead lies beneath its steady light, a small black speck in the endless desert of his dreams, ripped apart by forgiveness.