He was young, barely having earned his guns, when he first met the Man in Black.
The first time Roland laid eyes on Walter was the first time he saw color.
He saw the green of the trees, the brown of the soil, and the splash of red blood across the stones at the river's edge.
And then he saw Walter's eyes.
He didn't have a name for the color of them then, the blue so deep and flecked with green and gold, endless as the magic at the man's fingertips, but he found they were the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
He knew the moment Walter, trying to weave his magic over Roland, as he had the other two Gunslingers who had traveled with him, realized the world was different.
The sorcerer stopped, blinking in surprise, and let out a startled sound, staring at Roland as though seeing him for the first time. He seemed surprised and confused and, if Roland dared think it, hopeful.
"You're my soulmate?"
Walter voice was musical but not in a pleasant way. Even now the man was trying to weave his control over Roland but the Gunslinger shook it off, fingers tightening around the butt of his gun. Magic had never worked on him the way it did on others. Not even the Shine. He saw the surprise dance through those eyes, those beautiful eyes that would forever haunt him, seconds before he lifted his gun, firing blinding as he ran.
He heard Walter calling after him but he didn't stop running.
* * * * *
It would be years before he and Walter met face to face again and, when they did, it was after Roland had tangled with a nasty demon which had tried to rip his guts from his abdomen. He'd managed to overpower the beast and put a bullet through its horrid skull. He had hobbled away from the grove of trees and to a secluded place where he had begun treating his wounds as best he could when he felt it in the air.
The metallic tang of sorcery.
He drew his gun, hissing sharply as he pulled open the barely closed wounds, taking aim in the direction he felt the magic and saw him.
"That looks like it hurts, Roland."
Of course he knew his name.
"How did you find me," Roland hissed, thumbing back the hammer, silently repeating the creed, feeling Walter's magic coil and claw at him but shaking it off.
"I could kiss it better," Walter purred as he sauntered closer, coat billowing around his lean form.
"And I could put a bullet in your skull."
Walter hummed thoughtfully, close enough that his fingers danced over the barrel of his gun, those eyes sparkling in the flickering dance of the fire light and Roland felt a shiver roll down his spine as those thin, yet surprisingly strong, fingers curled against his wrist.
"Here," Walter purred, eyes half hooded, peering at Roland in the queerest way. "Let me kiss it better."
And then the sorcerer's head duck, lips pressing butterfly soft to the edges of the wounds, making Roland hiss and twitch, finger tightening on the trigger, the barrel aimed at Walter's temple but he hesitated. Gan help him, but he hesitated.
When Walter lifted his head, pale lips stained crimson with Roland's blood, he smiled and rubbed his fingers over the soft skin of Roland's wrist.
"We are tied, you and I," he said softly, eyes flashing with his magic. "Fated to do this dance for eternity."
Roland snarled sharply.
"No," he spat and, to his surprise, squeezed the trigger but Walter vanished, the only trace of him having been there at all was his mocking laugh on the breeze.
And Roland's now healed wounds.
* * * * *
Over the next several years their paths crossed time and time again and, every time, Roland found the strength to either walk away or drive Walter from him. He wanted no part in what the sorcerer planned. He was a Gunslinger. Sworn to defend the Tower. He would do his duty. No matter who his soulmate happened to be.
He was surprised one afternoon when he walked into an old, run down saloon and found people cowering, staring with wide, frightened eyes at the darkly dressed man in the corner.
Roland's jaw clenched.
Walter sat, the corpse of man beside him, his arm stuffed up a wound in the corpse's chest, somehow pulling things to make the body's jaw move and a horrific garble of a voice pass dry and decaying lips.
"Walter," he growled out, hands resting on his guns, and that vibrant gaze, filled with dark mirth, snapped to him.
He watched Walter study him for a moment, gaze swinging lazily from the Gunslinger to the corpse and back again.
"Let’s be honest," Walter drawled with a near manic grin on his face, his magic wafting through the air like smoke from a candle. "This isn’t the worst thing you’ve caught me doing."
Sadly, Roland had to admit, the sorcerer was right.
With a grunt, Roland crossed the room and grabbed a bottle of whiskey from the bar, tossing a few coin down, before turning and stomping right back out of the saloon.
He was in no mood to deal with his soulmate's insanity today.
* * * * *
Roland hung from his wrists against a cold, stone wall, silently cursing his luck.
He had run afoul of some Can-toi who, with the aid of a demon, had managed to overpower him. The beating he had taken was a blur of pain and blood and the snarls of the Can-toi and demon. The Can-toi had drug him here, wherever here was, and chained him up. One, when he'd thrown an insult at it, had snarled and stuck again, blade like claws sinking into the vulnerable flesh of his belly.
He had been left alone after that.
Injured and bleeding.
He had not once dreamed of dying this way.
And he had dreamed of his death often.
He heard a commotion and was barely able to lift his head but, when he did, vision swimming, he saw a familiar pair of blue eyes.
They were filled with rage.
He could taste it on the air like ash from a flame, could feel it dance over his skin like a bolt of lightning. For the first time in a long time he wanted to reach out to his soulmate. He was dying. He wanted to give in and bask in the strange, eerie light that was Walter as he took his final breaths. Just once he wanted to be an ordinary man, held by the one person in all worlds that fate had chosen for him.
But, it seemed, Gan, or rather Walter, had other plans.
Walter's deceptively strong fingers pressed to his wound and, like before, he felt the strange slid of magic over his skin. Wet and warm and sticky like oil.
He was able to breath easier and he grunted when the chains around his wrists sprang away and he slumped back against the wall, sliding down to sit on the floor, watching Walter turn, the rage rolling off of him like ocean waves crashing against the beach.
There was a sickening crunch and a howl of pain even as Walter spoke, voice quiet yet hard, venom and ice dripping from every word.
"I said to bring Roland to me," the sorcerer said, another snap sounding as his fingers twitched and the Can-toi he was torturing howled in agony. "I did not say KILL him."
The Can-toi whimpered, clawing at the dirt, blood spilling from between its lips.
"Stop breathing," Walter snapped, his magic stealing away the Can-toi's ability to breath.
The sorcerer then turned, crouching down, fingers running over the cuts and bruises on Roland's face.
"Oh, my wild Gunslinger," Walter cooed. "This is what happens when you try to fight fate."
Roland grunted, spitting out a gob of blood and saliva, giving Walter a cold look.
"Fuck fate," he grumbled. "And fuck you too, Walter."
* * * * *
Roland had known, when he and Jake saved the Tower, that it would not be the end.
Not of their adventures, their journey to protect the Tower, nor the end of Walter.
The color had not faded from Roland's world as it should have once his soulmate was dead and he knew it meant Walter still lived.
He and Jake travelled together for months before Walter made himself known again.
He and Jake had stopped in a small, unnamed town in the northern reaches of Mid-World, for supplies and some food, when, in the dimly lit saloon they had stopped in for a meal, a man made advances towards Jake. Advances that set Roland's teeth on edge. Jake, calm and quiet with strangers, told the man, polite as could be, to leave him alone, that he was not interested and shuffled closer to Roland. The Gunslinger's hand had dropped, slowly, careful not to be seen, to the gun on his hip.
The man huffed and looked at Roland, sizing him up, before grinning in a way that made Roland's skin crawl and Jake press closer to his friend even as the little billy-bumbler that Jake had found and saved some weeks earlier, leapt up into the boy's lap, growling as it glared sharply at the man.
"If he's yours," the man said, still grinning. "I'll give ya two coin if he sucks me cock. Five if I get to fuck his..."
All of a sudden the man's words choked off and he began clawing at his throat, eyes bulging as he struggled to breathe, lips turning a faint shade of blue.
People hurriedly shuffled away. They all glanced from the strangers at the table to the man they knew all too well, none brave enough to interfere. It was in that moment that Roland knew his soulmate had entered the saloon or, perhaps, had been there all along.
The sound of footsteps echoed in the otherwise silent space and Roland glanced from the choking man to the darkly dressed figure that prowled forward.
It was Walter, he knew it was, even if that pale face was different and he was shorter and younger, much younger than Roland had ever seen him, the Gunslinger knew. There was no mistaking the taste of the sorcerer's magic in the air or those eyes.
"That is my An-Tet's chosen son you insult," Walter purred in a voice both strange and familiar to Roland as he walked around the still choking man, turning so his back was to the Gunslinger, hands behind him, bracing against the table. "You should have cried off when you had the chance, you disgraceful harrier."
Roland's fingers tightened around the butt of his gun, watching as Walter lifted his hand. He should have stopped the sorcerer. The stranger was a piece of filth, true enough, but nothing had transpired that could not be forgotten. And yet he sat, still and silent, watching.
Walter hummed softly, almost sweetly, and Oy growled in response.
"Go outside," the sorcerer growled out. "To the pig pen across the way and then cut your cock off and feed it to the pigs. Watch them eat it and then climb in and let them eat you alive."
The man nodded, eyes strangely blank, and did as commanded.
Roland growled as he rose to his feet, hand on Jake's shoulder, keeping the boy in his seat.
"Walter," he grunted and the sorcerer turned, grinning that familiar manic grin that looked out of place on such a young, almost beautiful, face. Roland felt Jake stiffen beneath his hand but the boy remained quiet, watching, waiting for Roland's command.
"Oh, don't even try and start, Roland," Walter said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "I know I'm evil and all that jazz, dearest, but even I have standards."
Roland grunted again.
"Leave," the Gunslinger said firmly. "Now."
Walter batted his eyelashes.
Another grunt from the Gunslinger before he drew his gun, levelling it at the sorcerer's chest.
"You want a repeat of what happened on Keystone Earth?"
Walter's grin dipped, only slightly, barely noticeable, but Roland knew the sorcerer well enough to see it.
With a soft hum, Walter snatched a piece of carrot from Roland's plate, moving slowly away from the table and towards the door. Roland did not take his gun off the man for a second. At the door the sorcerer paused, tipping his head in Roland's direction, grinning again.
"Until next time, old friend."
And then Walter was gone.
Roland released a low breath, holstering his gun, before taking his seat again. He felt rather than heard Jake's grunt.
"Freaking sorcerers," the boy grumbled, tucking back into his food, and Roland grinned slightly, nodding his agreement as he reached for his drink.
A drink he nearly choked on when Jake suddenly asked a question he had not been expecting.
"What does An-Tet mean?"