Author's Note: This will be a multi-chaptered story speculating on the changes that might happen if, on his next quest when he has the guns and the Horn of Eld, Roland saved Jake under the mountains in Book I of the Dark Tower series: The Gunslinger. I am not re-writing The Dark Tower novels: I don't have the time or the talent for that, but this alternate universe will span all seven books and include all our major characters. Constant Readers of the Dark Tower series will be able to identify the books/scenes that I'm borrowing/changing, but if you haven't read the Dark Tower series, these stories will not make much sense. But hey, if you want to keep reading, it's a free country.
FYI – Not Stephen King.
And, since I'm listening to Neil Young …
Chapter I: Out of the Black
Hundreds of years, it had been, since he'd felt it.
Since Jericho hill, where his best friend and ka-mate had fallen. Cuthbert, who'd ridden down the hill to his death laughing and blowing the horn of Eld with his bloody lips.
Still the boy clung to the trestle with one small white hand and the man in black's voice echoed above the rush of water leagues below them.
"Then I shall leave you."
Ka-shume. The breaking of a tet.
He felt the roar build in his chest, the overpowering desire to abandon the dangling boy; He saw the column of the Dark Tower etched on his mind's eye and knew he was going to rush towards Walter and abandon the boy to his death and his own soul to eternal damnation.
Could it be worth it? Could anything be worth it?
Roland felt worlds tremble about his head.
"Help me. Help me, Roland."
The Tower in his mind's eye vanished like a wisp of smoke and he saw 'Bert – Cuthbert, blowing the horn Roland now wore on his hip. Sounding his final battle cry. Ka-Shume. The loss of the last member of his lost tet – Bert the last person he had loved, centuries ago. Until this boy.
Moving with the eerie, innate speed he had always possessed, the gunslinger knelt on the wooden crossties, smelling the rotten wood and rusted, rank metal. Clamped his hands with bruising strength around the boy – around Jake's – forearms, pulling him up roughly into his own arms. As he lifted the boy away from death he heard a great, harmonic cry of triumph. The voice of the White, that which he hadn't heard in centuries. Had never thought to hear again.
As Jake's arms closed around his neck, gripping like hoops of steel, the gunslinger looked up at the dark figure in the doorway, relishing the look of abject shock he saw there. For the first time, there was no mockery – no glee – in the creature's expression.
The man in black had run out of tricks.
Standing up slowly, balancing carefully with the extra weight of Jake in his arms, Roland shouted at the specter, his words gaining volume with every echo, until it seemed the very stones and water carried his voice and spoke with him.
"YOU LIE WITH EVERY WORD! I'll not sell my soul or betray those I love to the likes of you. I will catch you, phantom – ka will see to that. And when I do, you shall meet your reckoning, and answer to my hand."
The dark figure whirled and vanished like foul smoke. Roland leapt the gap in the trestle with one powerful jump, the boy clinging to him in a death grip, arms about his neck, legs about his waist, head buried in the gunslinger's shoulder.
Finally his boots touched stone and he pulled himself out of the blackness, blinking like a newborn child at the glorious light. He stumbled up in to the gap in the mountains, boots sending up puffs of white dust.
The feeling of Ka-shume was ebbing. Carried away with the stench of decay under the mountains.
Staggering, Roland lowered himself to the ground, his back against a large stone. The breath of a fresh breeze seemed to do what the light could not, and the boy raised his head slowly from the gunslinger's shoulder, eyes wet and wide and wonder struck.
Blue eyes stared in disbelief at the place around them. Then those eyes, which had assessed the gunslinger so coolly outside the way station, fixed on Roland's own.
"I thought-" the boy swallowed, pale cheeks and wounded eyes saying it clearly enough; the boy expected to have reached the clearing by now. " I believed … you w-were" -- lips firmed, voice controlled -- "I believed that you were going to let me fall."
He slipped one of his killer's hands across the boy's soft, unscarred cheek. The feeling of ka-shume was gone. But the call of the White – that he still heard. Aye, he heard it very well.
"For a moment, I believed I would, too." He felt Jake tense against him, placed his other hand on the boy's slim shoulder. Gods, he was so small!
"At being good, I've always been a little too slow." A small, bitter smile bloomed at the corner of his mouth. Thinking of Susan. Alain. David. His mother, Gabrielle. Scores of others. "And I'll always bear watching." He held the boy's eyes and Jake watched him solemnly, not wincing despite the painful pressure the gunslinger was bearing on his shoulder.
"But I'd not lose you, Jake. No matter how many worlds there are."
He could feel the boy's tears against his rough palms as he held Jake's face in his hands, knew his own tears were falling into the boy's dusty blonde hair. For long moments they simply clung to each other, feeling the radiance of their new ka.
Finally the boy raised his head, wiped the last tears from his cheeks, and smiled. Smiled for the first time in weeks.
"You brought us out of the darkness." Jake held the gunslinger's right hand between his own small ones. "You brought us both out of the darkness. This …"
The boy – Jake – trailed off, eyes staring far away, looking at something Roland couldn't see. Something given to him by The Touch, mayhap. Then Jake looked at him again, and Roland could see the wonder in his eyes.
"Roland … this changes everything."
More Authors Notes: This entire story was written before The Gunslinger Born comic series had completed the first arc with Susan, so references to that medium will be few and/or nonexistent. On that topic: I'm not calling Aileen a Mary Sue/self insertion by Robin Furth – yet.
Because Roland saving Jake's life is the pivotal moment in this story that changes the outcome of the series, there's a lot more Jake and Roland in this story than Eddie or Susannah, although they *are* in later chapters and in their familiar roles.