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while we tell of yuletide treasure





Fandom: Stephen King - The Dark Tower series


Written for: Speranza in the Yuletide 2003 Challenge

by Mattador

Eddie had never held a steady relationship, except with the skag. The skag and Henry- but that wasn't the kind of relationship he was talking about, and anyway, nothing having to do with Henry Dean could really be considered steady. Henry was about as unsteady as it got.

But there was a kind of romance in heroin, or at least he'd always thought so. They said that you could lose yourself in romance. That you relied on it, depended on it like food, like water, like air. Apart from what you loved you never felt yourself, felt your best- without it, you were less. That was the skag. That was it in spades.

Like romance, it made demands on your time- and certainly it was all but fucking impossible to have another intimate, meaningful relationship while you were with the needle. There was more depth and connection in that penetration than in any fuck- at least, and fuck Eddie had ever had.

But he'd broken up with heroin, if you carried the metaphor a little further. Whether he'd dumped the bitch or she'd left him was immaterial- they weren't together no more. He'd never get that particular chemistry back again. He was alone, except for the gunslinger, raving and spasming as he burned with fever, the Keflex methodically driving infection from him- but slowly, maybe to slowly. Maybe slowly enough that he'd die, one of these nights, and Eddie would be alone again, left with nothing but his own infection, one that ran red along synapses instead of veins, and that made him burn as surely. It was as though without the skag he was becoming hollow, eaten from the inside out by his own fever, until pain and madness made everything


Roland was talking again, voice barely audible over the whush of the waves gliding in and out along the shore, depositing their monstrous, inquisitive cargoes. He was speaking, as usual, to some numb fuck named Cuthbert- though he'd address his words to Eddie when Eddie stood near enough, it was obvious that the conversation was one-sided, and meant for whoever he saw standing in Eddie's place, whatever figment was conjured up by his fever-dreams. "Thought I'd lost you," he said, indistinctly, voice husky with emotion, cracked with thirst- the fever had seemingly baked all moisture from him. "The Gulch. all the blood."

Eddie knelt down next to him, wearily, fishing out the Keflex from the gunslinger's bag- he refused to think of it as a purse. This was the usual routine, for the last three nights, as he'd begun to settle back into himself once more. Both their delusions had faded, somewhat- the gunslinger was calmer, though his pale eyes still saw something other than what was there, and Eddie had not so much as caressed the sandalwood of the gunslinger's revolver since yesterday. It didn't look quite as tempting. Not quite.

"Yeah," he said, palming three of the pills, "All the goddamned blood. I know. But they didn't get me, Roland old buddy, so you can relax- and take your medicine like a good boy." This part was always a chore- twice now, he'd had to force the pills into him, hold the man down while he crammed them into his mouth and pushing on his throat to make him swallow. He had the idea that if the gunslinger wasn't a delusional, malnourished scarecrow, he wouldn't be winning the fights, not a chance- might not even be surviving them. Straddling Roland and half-choking him to death didn't seem like bad ideas, maybe, but it wasn't his idea of happy fun times. And the gunslinger had thought, that first time, that he'd been sitting astride him for other reasons entirely.

This time, at least, Roland seemed to have retained some fragmentary memory of what this was all about. He dry-swallowed the pills without question. "I'm weak," he rasped. "Too weak to stand. It would have been kinder to shoot me. Cuthbert, gods damn it-"

"No," Eddie said flatly, familiar with the routine. "I'm not going to leave you here. We'll-"

"The Tower," Roland cut him off, eyes blazing. "We're not getting any closer to it lying here. Maybe further-"

"We'll be right back after your fucking Tower soon enough," Eddie said, irritable now. "Just as soon as you're up again. Relax. Jesus, you'd think no-one ever taught you patience."

Roland settled back down. "You know me better than that, Bert. If anything, I fear I wait too well. You've seen that- and warned me of it, enough times."

"I'm not going anyfuckingwhere without you," Eddie said, conversationally- he was never sure how much of this Roland heard and how much was being replayed, unspooling off of some memory or hallucination. "Not least of all because I haven't a fucking clue where to go, except that I hope to Hell it's away from this beach and the Crawdads of the Black Lagoon over there."

"I'm going to die here," the gunslinger said resignedly. "Aren't I, Bert? I'm not getting any stronger. I know you won't or can't leave now. But when- if I die, you have to go on. No crying off." His mood had shifted, suddenly, into an uncharacteristic melancholy. Not a sadness, exactly, but a heaviness of spirit- however old Roland might be, his eyes were too old for him, whatever mood he was in. The blue had been washed out as paint was washed out, Eddie thought, from too many years of harsh sunlight, too many things that he'd seen- like this Gulch, this place where Cuthbert had probably died.

"You won't die," he said, wondering how certain of that he was. Wondering at this new change in moods. "You won't, though I wonder now and again why I don't just let you, apart from the fact that I'll probably end up as lobster food without you, sooner or later." He paused, thoughtfully, and Roland did the same, not looking at him. Was he lucid again, now? Did he know where he was? Or, as was more likely, what he said had struck a nerve. He wondered just what Roland had done to this Cuthbert, and how Cuthbert wound up dead in this Gulch.

No. He knew why he didn't let Roland die, all right- why he didn't take that big shooting iron and put him out of his misery, as he half wanted to each morning when the ache and the nausea hit him again, and he woke up remembering where he was. "Have you ever heard of Stockholm syndrome, Roland old buddy?" he asked, rhetorically. "No? I didn't think so. But that's why we're both still kicking. Because people who get shanghaied tend to develop attachments to their kidnappers, and-"

"Shut up," Roland said, eyes boring holes into Eddie, and he pushed himself up laboriously from the sand, bringing his face close. "You had your choice, and you made it. If you regret it..."

He let out a long, rattling breath that almost became a cough halfway through, and Eddie felt the heat of it. A moment later the gunslinger's left hand had gripped his shoulder, and rough, dry lips were pressed to his in what began as one of the least romantic kisses in a long line of unromantic encounters.

What kept it from being so, as insistence and surprise managed to prise his jaw apart at the gunslinger's efforts, as a tongue explored his mouth, mechanically finding all the tender spots within it and mapping Eddie's reactions to each one, was that it was meant sincerely. He was used to placating kisses, to false gestures of affection made before climbing into bed or after climbing out, and this was nothing like those. It was intended for someone else, and more than that, intended to shut them up, to stop a complaint, but there was more heat behind it than feverfire and delirium could account for.

So he kissed back, pushed Roland back down into the sand and pretended that the heat radiating from him wasn't unhealthy, that all the noises he heard were of pleasure and not of pain- pretended this was a beach in the Bahamas.

But he didn't pretend he was with someone else, because no-one else had given him a kiss like this that wasn't meant as a lie. It became something else as it went on, something ungentle and unclear, lucidity coming only in flashes of pain between other, more important moments, between noises or collisions of skin against skin, and the heat grew.

Later it was night-time, and he was exhausted. The gunslinger was lucid once again- lucid, and forgetful, and that wearied him as well.

The next day, their long walk down the beach began. It would have been the least meaningful, the most unwanted of any number of superficially similar walks that had ranged from Coney Island, mostly, to a few by the Battery, or by some other now-distant shore.

It would have been, but.

There was more to this than delirium.


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