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The Gunslinger's Heart
The gunslinger glanced at the girl across the dying fire while the others slept soundly.
The girl was unsettling; when she stood still, she was fine, as she was when walking and talking. But when she walked and there was no one to occupy her, her head drooped humbly, like a slave girl nodding to her master, her chin nearly planted on her chest. As she sat across from him, face turned into the night, her back lapsed into its old ways, bending gracefully, yet sadly, hunching her into herself; making her into a maiden far too accustomed to protecting her tender belly from attacks.
She sighed softly and the gunslinger noticed that her chest expanded more at her back than at her breast where it should, and he spoke her old name, gently but firmly.
Her back snapped ramrod straight as she heard her old name. Her head whipped ‘round and she looked at him, eyes stretched wide. In only half a second, they calmed and returned to their brooding, droopy-lidded late evening normality, but what he saw before they did startled him deeply.
Her eyes, pale purple where his were pale blue, normally sparkling with humor and life, had flashed nearly white with dread and terror, and Roland realized too late that he’d sounded like the blond-haired lad she’d left back in her where and when. Roland curled his lip at the thought of the boy; five years her senior and a man for the past two-simply by age-he’d beaten the spirit from her a thousand times over, and Roland knew that a broken spirit was harder to mend than the worst broken bone. He knew that one’s will usually fled soon after their spirit died. But he also knew that Roxanne was special. He knew that she still had her will; that it just needed to be coaxed out of hiding and healed up.
He smiled softly at the girl and she blinked at him slowly, like a startled wild animal. He stood, walked around the dying fire, and sat next to her.
“You were slouching, Roxanne.” he murmured simply.
She smiled at him, one corner of her mouth turning up slightly. “You and your posture rules.” mutterred good-naturedly. “They’re allowed to slouch when they sit.” She motioned back at the others, sleeping soundly beneath their blankets and animal hides.
“Because they’re done moving on. Leaving their pasts behind.” he said. “When you get like that, draw into yourself, I can tell your mind has drifted back to him.” He placed his slightly reduced right hand on her shoulder. “You’ll have to let him go if you ever want to be whole again, Roxanne.” The girl had flinched beneath his touch, making him feel bad for something he hadn’t done.
She sighed, beginning to slouch again, and made a visibly conscious effort to keep her back straight. “I know.” she murmured. “It’s just so hard, Roland.” Her eyes danced with worry in the light thrown by the dying embers. “I’ll just be sitting here, taking it all in, and suddenly, a breeze will brush a blanket against my leg, or a bush branch against my arm, and suddenly, he’s there, pressing me down, consuming me again.” Absently, she touched a great pale scar that began above her hairline and traced its way down her temple to curl slightly upwards under her eye. When she saw Roland watching her and realized what she was doing, she lowered her hand and smiled guiltily. But Roland could see that her smile was a fake. That it was hiding a grimace.
He reached out his rough-skinned left hand and lightly traced the scar with two callowsed fingers as he softly whispered, “He did this to you, didn’t he?”
Her violet eyes swam and a single tear rolled down her cheek before Roland gently swept it away. She nodded slowly and looked down into her lap, resting her head against Roland’s large hand.
“It was my fault.” she whispered softly.
Roland’s blue eyes softened; his normally haggard face fell away to reveal its deeply sympathetic near-twin. His eyes shined with their own moisture. How could anyone-especially a man-do such things to someone so beautiful, so deeply, honestly beautiful, and make her believe it was her fault?
He pulled her tight against his broad chest and her eyes opened wide in surprise. He held her there as the first tears he’d cried since his father died slid down his worn face. He whispered in the girl’s ear, ignoring the quiver he found in his words.
“I swear on the face of my father, Roxanne; no one shall harm you while I carry his guns and travel in his name.”
The girl smiled at this-of course he wouldn’t give up the quest for his accursed Tower-and embraced Roland, the rough-skinned yet warm-hearted teddy bear of a gunslinger that she’d come to know and love so much.