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Don’t forget the s-shape!

Eddie woke up with a start. He'd been home, with Henry, dreaming about that damn key, the key that almost cost Jake his life when Eddie screwed up. He breathed in the night, watching the remains of the ember ashes gray and flicker and listened to the breathing of the others. Suze's light wisps of breath were the closest, of course, he could feel them on the back of his neck, tiny little pinpricks of warmth that reassured him that he wasn't bad, that Henry wasn't here — Fuck you, Henry, you bastard! — and that the boy had made it safe and sound and was even growing up.

Jake's breathing was next. A harder sound, through his open mouth, almost snoring. Eddie smiled a little. Oy was curled up against Jake's body, talking in his sleep "'Ake, 'Ake, 'Ake, 'Ake," and Jake was spooning him much in the same way that he and Suze did.

And then there was Roland, the last of their ka-tet. Jake concentrated hard on hearing him. Hearing him breathing or moving or even existing. He blocked out the consciousness that came as being ka-tet and listened with his ears. A childish part of him giggled and laughed — I don't hear with my mind, I hear with my ears, I don't jerk off with my mind, I jerk off with my hand, I don't fuck with my mind, I fuck with my cock, he who fucks with his mind has no father — but he ignored that too.


Roland was like that. Really fucking quiet. But Eddie knew he was there, lurking around somewhere. Maybe even, if they were lucky because ol’ Roland buddy was getting old, sleeping. And they were on their own again, just themselves — and Mia — as they headed to their next destination on the Beam. Eddie had a sinking feeling it was Las Vegas and there was something really bad going down there.

Damnit, seeing the future was what Roland was supposed to be good at.

And where the hell were they going to end up? Where was the Tower? And what would happen when we got there –

The Alhambra, the Prince is Dead! Dead! No, not in the Black House, not Jack, not dead! The Queen and the Prince and the King, all dead!

– and they examined the Dark Tower to find out what was wrong and simply couldn't fix it? What if there was nothing wrong in the first place? What if the Walking Man got them first?

Eddie blinked and started easing himself away from Suze. She murmured something and reached her hand out for him but didn't wake up. He leaned over and kissed her forehead softly before standing up. Jake and Oy slept on but Roland wasn't in the circle of light provided by the fire.

Who the fuck was the Walking Man?

There – to the left!

Eddie twisted fast, one hand going to the butt of his gun. It was half out of the holster before he registered the figure as Roland. His blue eyes were gleaming in the dark and he gestured Eddie closer, where they could talk without disturbing Jake or Suze.

Or even worse, Mia. Night was her time. Her and the chap.

It gave Eddie the willies. Like the first time the heroin ran out and he was left shivering in a dark room, crying, and needing a score, willing to do almost anything for a score. Henry called him a faggot for it.

He moved over to where Roland was sitting up against a tree and plopped down next to him. Plop. Plop. Plop. Like fucking rain.

Maybe Roland wasn't the only one who was going to lose his mind temporarily on this trip. He just hoped his own trip 'round the bend was for an equally good cause as Roland's. Face it, Eddie, you're fucked, Henry's voice whispered in the back of his head.

Well and good, thanks. He grinned and gazed over Suze's sleeping form. And fucking well in return.

"You're thinking," Roland observed in that laconic, easy way of his. As if each small self-evident piece of information was a revelation about the Dark Tower, the altar all their lives were going to be sacrificed on.

"I never stop, Roland, my mind's a giant roller coaster of never-ending fun!" He sobered at Roland's flat look. "Yes."

"About Mia?" The big man nodded toward Suze.

"You could say that."

"I believe I just did, Eddie."

He laughed. Roland did that to him a lot. "It's an expression."

"I see." And then Roland was silent. Eddie enjoyed the moment, the smell of the trees, and his ka-tet. He watched Suze stir in her sleep. Or maybe it was Mia. It was getting near feeding time for the chap.

And there went those willies again.

"Do you think this will be worth it?" Roland still didn't say anything; just watched Eddie as if he sensed Eddie had more to stay. And to his surprise, he did. "All this Steve McQueen 'Mister, we deal in lead' shit. The Dark Tower. If we make it there, do you really think we can change things? Is our ka-tet strong enough to fix whatever's broken and making the whole fucking world ‘go tharn’?"

"I only follow the Beam, Eddie, and my ka."

"Fuck ka."

It was a moment before Roland replied dryly, "I doubt ka makes a very warm bed partner."

Eddie stared at Roland, taking in the bright blue eyes and the craggy lines on his face and the way his hat rode low on his head. Fuck Steve McQueen, fuck John Wayne. Roland is all that shit. Roland is the white hat. The fucking white hat and we're along for the ride. His ka is strong and his ka-tet is strong and together we can do anything. "I think what we have here is a failure to communicate," Eddie quoted before he burst into laughter.

"We do when you howl like that and wake us up, sugar," a female voice added. Eddie heard the way the consonants rolled out and the richness of the voice and knew it was Suze, his wife. But there was a little bit of Detta Holmes and even more Mia. Mia seemed to be growing there every day. Eddie could tell by the way she looked at Roland through slanted eyes and black eyelashes, half-lusting, half-angry. Mia knew what she was about. She knew Roland was the strongest one of them all, the one most likely to birth her chap and raise him to be a strong man.

Or the one most likely to shoot the bastard demon-spawn right out of Mia's womb. In some deep recesses of his mind, Eddie almost thought the baby would be Henry reborn. Now that would be a major set of chuckles, wink wink, nudge nudge, banana-heels. Baby Henry, come back to him, half-demon, all motherfucker, the gunslinger to end all fucking gunslingers, one little bright shining brother-and-son ka-tet.

Fuck ka.

"Sorry, Suze. I didn't mean to wake you."

She made her way over to them easily, the muscles in her arms working hard, and rested her back against the tree, one knee touching Eddie and the other touching Roland. "If we make it to the Dark Tower, we can fix it."

"All things serve the Beam."

Eddie looked over at Roland. "You're wrong."

Roland stared back levelly. "No, I'm not."

"We ain't serving the Beam, Roland. Just like we ain't serving you. We go because we want and because even the Beam serves the Dark Tower, the heart of all worlds, the heart of all people and the heart of destiny, no matter how much men try and fuck it up." Eddie's voice had a surprising ring of authority that bothered even himself.

"How do you know that?" Suze placed one hand on his thigh. Eddie noticed the other reaching for Roland's hand and wasn't jealous. They were ka-tet. Ka and ka-tet and something more than destiny bound the three of them – no, five — together, something that even managed to bind destiny to its will.

"I don't know." He kissed her soundly on the curve of her chin, just under her lush lower lip. "I just do. Something bad's going to happen. Something really bad." His lips quirked up. "Maybe we're going to meet Elvis. Maybe he's back from the dead and that's who the Walking Man is."

Roland nodded slowly. "I don't know of who you speak, Eddie, but I trust your instinct. We ride with death and we, as you said, deal with lead."

"I haven't forgotten the face of my father," Suze said dreamily. Her hand lifted off his knee and touched her stomach. Now he felt jealous, acidic pricks in his stomach. Her hand was still tightly laced with Roland's.

No one said a word but Eddie could almost hear Roland thinking as he looked at his fingers wrapped gingerly around Susannah's, I have, I have forgotten the face of my father as he told me 'I have known for two years,'.

"No, you haven't, Roland," Eddie contradicted him. "You haven't, I haven't, this whole little ka-tet practically shines with the face of our fathers. Except maybe for Oy because I don't really want to think about what's shiny on his daddy." Suze and Roland both grinned, though Roland's expression held a trace of sadness. "We wouldn't have made it this far if we'd continued to forget the faces of our fathers." Eddie closed his eyes and felt the wood bark against the back of his head and hair. Mr.-fucking-Gray, Jonesy. Watch out.

Eddie's head hurt. He wished his brain would shut the fuck up and let him sleep. Maybe that's what the Dark Tower would do. Let him get a good night's sleep with his wife, after a nice dinner and making love to Elvis. Henry Dean always made love to Elvis. Eddie's first time had been to Do The Clam. The girl had squealed along with the song, singing the words from Don't Be Cruel, and Eddie had almost come on her thigh when he'd touched her breast. What a fucking waste.

When the Dark Tower's fixed and Walkin' Man Elvis Prestley is back in his grave, we can all rest.

He took his wife's free hand in his own and squeezed, tight, before he felt around for Roland and Suze's joined ones, adding his to the collection. The original ka-tet. Cuthbert, Alain and Roland. Cuthbert, Alain, Roland and Susan. Was Jake Susan in the same way Alain was Susannah and Eddie Cuthbert? Was he destined to go up in flames like Roland's old lost love?

Fuck ka. Fuck ka. Fucking worse than any fucking very white White scored right before a ball game with Henry fucking Dean.

"Stop it."

Eddie opened his eyes. Now Jake was awake. He giggled at the rhyme. I's so cool, I rhyme on the street with the beat, anytime for a dime! "Stop what, kid? We're just sitting."

"You're thinking too hard, Eddie, you're keeping us up."

"Tell that to the brain pan, Jake!"

"'Ake!" Oy echoed, pushing himself out of Jake's arms and trotting over to Eddie, sniffing him and drawing back, slowly, as if he was afraid.

Eddie jumped up. "I feel like there's someone trying to download my brain. And I don't even know what a fucking download is!" He started pacing back and forth, shooting a glance at Roland and Suze's joined hands. No, he wasn't jealous. She was his wife. He was the dinh of his an-tet and Eddie was with him everywhere and every time and the sneetches were made for a game the whole world's tharn and that's it that's it it's spidey-spidey-sense tingling, man, sharp-dressed man in blue suede shoes and E.T. can't phone home because E.T. explodes and infects people and fuck!

He stopped, rubbing his forehead and pushing it all away, back to his brain where the muttering could continue and he could fucking think. "So this is what it's like to go nutso, huh, ol’ buddy, ol’ pal?" he kept his voice conversational as he looked at Roland.

"Yes," was the simple answer.

"I think it's the baby."

Suze's hand went to her stomach and she looked at Jake. "What?"

"I think it's the baby." Jake was stroking Oy. The Billy Bumbler had gone back to him and sat at Jake's feet, closing his eyes. "I feel it too, Eddie."

"You're the closest to Susannah, Eddie. And to Mia."

"Not if Mia's got any say in it," Eddie muttered.

"What are you saying, Eddie?" Roland redirected with a silencing gesture to the others.

And then he knew and the voices stopped. "The Walking Man took over Las Vegas. They called it Captain Tripps, or the Superflu. It was man-made, only in the sense that we designed it, but God, or ka, or the Dark Tower, the fucking Tower, set it free. All things serve the Dark Tower, Roland, and not the Beam. He took over Vegas and they even bombed him and he couldn't die. He was here, many times, in many names." Eddie felt something on his face, his upper lip, and reached up to wipe the blood off of his nosebleed. "John and Peter and Roland knew him as Flagg the sorcerer, Flagg the poisoner, Flagg the flatterer. Glen Bateman called him Randall Flagg. He likes the name Flagg, it amuses him that it keeps coming up. Anubis, Astoroth. Death. The Devil." Eddie ignored the flash of pain in his head, like a spike to the temple and kept going because the voice would come back if he didn't tell them. "He's only born sometimes, usually he just takes flesh and forges it, it's easier. But this time, this time, he wants our ka."

Both of Suze's hands were on her belly now and she had an arrested expression on her face. "It's not –?"

"Yes. It is." And his voice was deep, the voice of the Turtle, but the Turtle can't help us now because he choked on his own vomit ages ago before everything moved on, suckers! It was a voice of ages ago, before dreams died and the Talisman was taken and the last of the princes, the last few true good ones died or forgot and Flagg escaped out of his prison and went back to doing what he did best. Before the Dark Tower broke. "And he will be born. After that, choices will be made that affect your quest, Susannah Dean. It is your song you sing and that song reaches the Dark Tower. What you sing will either save you and the world or doom you. Remember that, Roland of Gilead, son of Steven, lover of Susan. Remember that you had a part to play as dinh but this is not it. It is Susannah's song now." They were all staring at him. The voice of the Beam, of the Turtle, but the Turtle was at the end of the line and they wanted to be in the middle, the middle of all the Worlds. "Ka and Char. That is inevitable." And then Eddie had control of his brain and mouth again. "Shit." He swiped at his nose again and ignored the looks the other four members of his ka-tet were giving him. "Hey, don't ask me, I'm just the messenger." He went back to his place by the fire, across from Jake, and laid down. "I'm going to sleep."

"Edward Dean!"

He sighed. "I can't, Suze, so sounding like my mother isn't gonna do any good. I can't. I don't know what it means."

"It means we'd better be careful," Jake said. "And that Susannah is important."

Eddie had a sinking feeling that it all meant you couldn't fix death with more death and destruction with more destruction. But if Suze was giving birth to the fucking anti-Christ, what the hell were they supposed to do? "Let's just try and sleep and we'll figure it out in the morning." He closed his eyes, feeling wrung out.

"As you wish, Eddie." He listened to Roland helping Suze back over to him and felt both their hands on his arm as she got herself settled.

And then he thought:

Maybe the answer is more simple than we expect.

But it could wait until dawn.