Sometimes, despite all my planning, I get thrown a curveball. One of DC2's founders, David Charlton, is a HUGE Hawkman fan, and one of his projects on the site is outlaying a solid history for the character, free of all the continuity hiccups that plague him in the DCU proper. To that end, David would slip references of Carter's past lives into stories, both to give the idea more depth and to utilize minor DC characters (like the Golden Gladiator and Silent Knight). This was all well and good until the time he wrote in a story that Khufu had also been reincarnated as Tom Hawkins AKA Tomahawk, the Revolutionary War hero. I was thrown for a loop on that one, because in DCU history, Tomahawk lived to a ripe old age out West and fathered two boys, one of whom would carry on his name as Hawk, Son of Tomahawk. Quite a change from the established line of "Khufu and Chay-Ara meet, fall in love, get killed not long afterward, then start all over again." I wrote David a note mentioning this, along with reminding him that Hawk was on my list of characters to use in WWQ. I certainly didn't want to make David retract what he'd already stated, but we had to figure out a way to have our cake and eat it too. Luckily, the solution presented itself almost immediately, and even added a new layer to my then-unwritten Windrunner origin. Call it a happy accident. I hope you enjoy it.

Disclaimer: All characters in this story are owned by DC Comics.

Continuity: This story takes place before the second chapter of my "Inherit the Wind" fic, and originally appeared on the DC2 fanficiton site as part of Weird Western Spectacular #1. For a link, please click on my homepage under my profile.

THE CIRCLE UNBROKEN

1838:

Spring was coming soon. There were no visible signs yet, but it could be felt within the snowy woodland: a yearning for green shoots and new growth, for sweet blossoms and the even sweeter fruits that followed. At least that's what Hawk said as he and Chris Maxwell made their way up the slope. Since his arrival in Echo Valley over two months ago, Chris had learned to tolerate this sort of talk from Hawk, but always measured it against his practical knowledge of the world, in order to divine some real meaning from it. In turn, Hawk tolerated Chris's instinctive reaction to cling to everything white and his constant questioning of anything that deviated from it. The older man was hopeful that something might still slip through, however, and just kept on presenting Chris with new ways of looking at things. Hence today's talk of spring and the eagerness of the trees for it.

"Oh, now this one here...she can't wait," Hawk said, laying a hand upon the trunk of an ancient-looking oak. "She'll be an early-bloomer, for sure."

Chris looked the tree up and down. "I don't see how it's any different from the rest."

"That's because you're relying on these too much." He splayed two fingers into a 'V' and tapped them beneath his eyes. "You've got to look at the world with your heart more."

"Uh-huh." The disbelief in the young man's voice was plain, and not uncommon for him. "Is this supposed to be related to the trick that keeps the valley hidden?"

"It's not a trick, it's...well, actually, it is sort of a trick," Hawk replied, "and yes, it is related. Most folks rely too much on their eyes and ears and such, and the magic that's been cast over the valley messes with that. It makes them see what we want 'em to see, which is a big, ugly, uninviting hellhole full of rocks instead of all this glory." He spread his arms wide to indicate the forest around them.

"And that ceremony your uncle did with me...what? Makes me immune to that magic?"

"Oh, not at all. Reckon if you squinted hard enough, you'd see the same illusion you saw when you first got here. We just taught your heart how to ignore it." Hawk pointed a finger at him. "Which is a pretty big deal, mind you. The only other white man we've ever given that privilege to was your father, God rest his soul."

"It was given to your father as well."

"Beg pardon?"

Chris now pointed a finger of his own. "Your father was Tom Hawkins - a white man - and from what I've heard, he lived here in Echo Valley for quite a few years, but he also ventured out of it on many occasions. Now, either you guys had to constantly lead him in and out of the valley by hand because nobody 'taught his heart', as you like to put it, or somebody did 'teach' him and he did just fine on his own. Or maybe," the young man continued with a smug smile, "I just caught you putting your foot in your mouth regarding all this 'blessings of the valley' nonsense."

Hawk gazed at him in silence for a good long time. When he did speak again, it was rather low. "Follow me," was all he said, and began to move up the slope once more. After a moment, Chris did follow, trying his best to keep up as the angle of the slope steepened. After a while, the trees began to thin, until they reached a clear spot in the woodland - in the middle of it stood a pair of wooden markers poking out of the snow. As Chris walked into the clearing, he saw that one of them was a simple cross, while the other appeared to be a short staff decorated with feathers and beads strung on rawhide thongs. Hawk knelt in front of the markers, speaking quietly in the Indian dialect used by the residents of Echo Valley, then got up and turned his head to look at Chris, who was standing a respectful distance away. "Well? Y'all gonna come over here to meet my folks or not?" Hawk asked in English.

His head bowed slightly, Chris approached the markers, and Hawk looked at them again and said, "This here's Jim Crandall's boy, Chris Maxwell. Took a good long while, but he finally got here, just like Jim wanted." He patted Chris on the shoulder. "Thought I'd bring him up here so y'all could listen in while I tell him 'bout the two of ya, maybe give me a nudge if'n I get something wrong." Hawk then stepped away from the markers and towards an old log laying on the ground. Dusting the snow off, he said, "Dad used to bring me and Small Eagle up here when we were kids, tell us stories 'bout him fighting in the Revolution and such. He could've done it anywhere, but I reckon he liked the view up here best." Hawk gestured back the way they'd come, and Chris turned to see the whole of Echo Valley spread out just beyond the trees, the lake at its center sparkling in the midday sun. "When he passed on, we decided this'd be a nice place to lay his old bones down."

"It's gorgeous," Chris replied, then glanced back at the markers. "But I thought Indians didn't bury their dead."

"Depends on the tribe. Normally, the people of Echo Valley don't, but Dad still considered himself a Christian, and he made damn sure we understood that when he felt his time coming. As for Mom...well, she said just in case their souls couldn't be together in the next life, at least their bodies from the old one could be."

"'The next life'? You mean Heaven, or this some Indian belief?"

In answer, Hawk settled down on the log and patted the spot next to him. "You thought you caught me in a lie earlier," Hawk said as Chris sat beside him, "when we were talking about the blessings of the valley. You assumed that, since I didn't include my father in the same group as you and Jim, we either didn't give him the blessing or it's all bull. Truth is...my father never needed the blessing."

"So it is bull, then," Chris countered.

"Nope, just complicated." Hawk's eyes wandered back to the markers as he said, "What do you think happens to your soul after you die?"

Chris opened his mouth, then immediately shut it. In all their talks, they'd never spoken on such a serious matter before, and he wasn't sure how to proceed. After a moment, he replied, "According to the Church, you are judged before the Lord, and depending how you lived your life, you either ascend to Heaven or are cast down into Hell."

"I didn't ask what the Church believed, I asked what you believe." When Chris stayed silent, Hawk looked him over and said, "In your mind, it amounts to the same thing doesn't it? You've never thought about it much past what's written down in the Bible or preached upon the pulpit." Hawk gave an absentminded nod. "That's okay. Dad was the same way for the first half of his life. He had no reason to question it 'til then."

A long pause passed between them, then Chris asked, "What happened to make him question it?"

Hawk smiled. "His destiny caught up with him, same as always."


1799:

The old man groaned as he pushed aside the furs covering him. His joints were stiff this morning, which meant rain was on the way. Perhaps not today, but soon. He'd have to put up the lean-to, or perhaps find a cave to make shelter in until it passed by. There was no sense of urgency within him to do either thing, just an instinctual thought that dry was better than wet. He'd ceased caring about what happened to himself long ago, and instinct was the only thing that kept him going. He staggered to his feet and gathered up some leaves laying nearby to rekindle the campfire with - summer was gone for sure now, and the mornings had a chill to them that his old bones didn't like. As the fire sputtered back to life, he ate some berries he'd collected the day before, the juice from them dribbling from the corners of his mouth and staining his unkempt gray beard. His hair was gray as well, a dirty, matted affair that spilled out from underneath the coonskin cap he wore. Perhaps if there were someone else around to see him, the old man might have done something about his appearance, but since he hadn't laid eyes on another soul in at least four years, he didn't see much point in it.

After the berries were gone, the old man rolled up the furs he used for blankets, doused the fire, and set off across the land. He had no destination in mind, he simply walked in whatever direction he happened to be facing after he'd slipped his pack onto his shoulders. Today it was north, so north was the way he went. He would walk until midday, then find a place to set up camp and, depending on his surroundings, either lay out snares in the underbrush or toss a line into the water in order to catch supper. Some days he caught nothing, and went hungry, and other days he caught enough that he could eat for days without worry. Because of the sporadic nature of this, he didn't weigh much, and his buckskin clothes hung on his frail-looking body. Had there been anyone around to observe the old man, they would probably be amazed that he had the stamina to hike all day. But the old man had always been like that, from the time he was a boy: he had a remarkable inner strength that kept him going, day after day, rain or snow or shine. He seemed incapable of burning himself out.

But damned if he hadn't been trying to do so for the past eighteen years.

As the sun climbed higher in the cloud-covered sky, the old man crossed a grassy plain, through which a small creek ran. It was about knee-deep, so not too difficult to cross, but before he did, he paused to fill his waterskins. While he was doing so, the clouds parted enough to let the sunlight caress the surface of the water, which reflected it in flashes of silver that danced across the old man's tanned face. The beauty of it managed to pierce his persistent melancholy, and he actually felt a smile forming upon his lips. He ran the tips of his fingers across the water, sending ripples through the flashes and bending them into new shapes. Strangely enough, one of the shapes looked like a figure standing upon the other bank of the creek. That was impossible, of course, there was no one...

"Thomas."

The old man's head whipped up. There was someone standing on the other bank, someone whose form seemed to flash and ripple like the sunlight upon the water. The old man rubbed his eyes, sure it was an illusion, but when he looked again, it was still there. Instinctively, he slipped his flintlock off his shoulder and pointed it at the figure, even though it wasn't loaded - he'd run out of gunpowder around the same time he'd seen his last human being. The action did help him focus his mind a bit more on what stood before him: though the specific features were indistinct due to the brilliance, the figure appeared to be female.

"Thomas, I've missed you so much."

His face paled, and slowly, he lowered the useless gun. "Bess?" he said, his voice cracking as he spoke aloud for the first time in years. "It can't be..."

The figure began to approach him, her feet hovering inches above the water as she crossed the creek. The old man scrambled backwards at the sight of this, terrified, yet unable to take his eyes off the figure. When she knelt down in front of him, he cowered and brought his arms up over his face. "Don't be afraid, Thomas," the figure whispered. "You know I'd never hurt you."

"Can't be," he answered, still cowering. "You can't be Bess. She..she's dead...you're dead." He felt sick saying those words, but it was the truth: Bess Lynn - the legendary Miss Liberty - had been murdered by Lord Shilling in an act of horrific savagery. It had happened just a few months after Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, rendering the defeat of the British forces a certain thing. Shilling couldn't bear the thought of it, and took his rage out upon the one person who meant the most to his hated enemy, Tom Hawkins. He managed to capture Miss Liberty, and did unspeakable things to her until Hawkins came to her rescue. The two men fought, each wounding the other greatly, but it was Hawkins who landed the final blow, ending Shilling's madness forever. Unfortunately, this victory came too late for Bess, and she died in the bloodied arms of her beloved, who somehow managed to survive his own wounds, but could no longer find any reason to live. In his grief, Hawkins abandoned both civilization and his name in favor of an anonymous, wandering existence in the wilds beyond the Appalachians, far from anything that could evoke even the tiniest memory of her...until now. "Please, don't haunt me like this. Either leave me be or let me die." He raised his head slightly. "Is...is that why you're here? Can I finally die, so we can be together again?"

"Death isn't the way," she said, shaking her head so that each glowing strand of her hair danced about her. "Death is what pulls us apart, and life draws us back together. It draws us now, just as it always has." She reached out a hand towards his face, passing it tantalizingly close to his skin but never actually touching him. "I've been waiting for you, for all these years, and now the time has come for us to be reunited."

"But how? If death isn't the way to be with you, then how..."

"You have to find me, Thomas." She stood up, a pair of wings unfolding from her back. "Climb the mountain, and reclaim what you left behind. Only then can we be together again." With that, the figure took off into the sky, and as he watched, it changed from a glowing woman to a shining-white hawk, screeching as it arced far over his head and flew away.

"Bess," the old man whispered, and climbed to his feet. He could still see the hawk flying in the distance, towards the vague outline of a mountain range. He stared in that direction for quite a while, wondering if perhaps this simply meant that his mind had finally, irrevocably snapped. But what if it hadn't? What if Bess, against all logic, really was waiting for him?

For the first time in years, he stood up straight, his eyes filled with a look of purpose. "I'm coming, Bess!" Tom Hawkins called out, and began wading across the creek.


The mountains lay to the northwest, and he kept his eyes fixed upon them as he made his way across the land. He refused to stop for food, instead gnawing on some jerky from his pack as he plodded along. Even when the sun went down, he kept on walking, the thought of seeing Bess again growing in his mind like a fever. Sometimes he would cast his eyes up towards the heavens, and there he would catch a glimpse of the shimmering hawk circling high above him, standing out like a beacon both day and night.

Two, three, four days passed, and the mountains grew in his vision. His legs shook with fatigue as he walked, and he could feel blisters forming on his feet, but he didn't stop. Even when the rain he'd felt in his bones finally let loose and threatened to stop him in his tracks, he slogged through it until the skies became clear again. On and on he went, though fields of long grass and groves of ancient trees, across high and low plains, never deviating from his course for the slightest moment. During this whole time, he saw no one, not even a hint that the lands he passed through had even been seen by human eyes before - during his self-imposed exile, this sort of environment had been what he'd desired, but now, that lack of humanity seemed a bad sign. How could Bess possibly be out here, at what seemed like the end of the Earth?

On the evening of the fourth day, he had entered the mountains proper. The peaks seemed so very high, but it didn't deter him in the least, he merely set his jaw and moved slowly upward, clamoring over any rocks that happened to be in his way. By the time the sun had fully set, his hands had begun to bleed, and his arms were trembling as badly as his legs...but the hawk was still there, always perched upon a rock further above him.

As the sun rose on the morning of the fifth day, he reached the mountain's plateau. It stretched out in a crescent shape, broad and flat, and Tom crawled on his hands and knees until he reached the center of it, then collapsed in a heap. "Bess," he croaked, his face turned toward the sky. "I'm here, Bess...where are you?"

The hawk flew into his field of view, shrieking as it passed above him, then fell like a stone and disappeared beyond the edge of the plateau. He watched all this in confusion, then the meaning sank in. "No...no further. Too much..." But even as the words left his mouth, he was dragging himself towards the edge, his teeth gritted against the pain in his body. When he reached it, he was surprised to see a rocky path just below him, and even more surprising was what lay even further below: a vast, green valley ringed with dense forest, and at its center was a lake filled with water so clear that, despite his distance from it, he could actually see the bottom. Numerous tipis were scattered all about the valley, and as the sunlight began to brush gently over this idyllic landscape, he saw natives emerging from them. Bess is down there with them, he told himself. Find her...you have to go find her.

Had he been physically able, he would have run like mad down the path, but as every step had become a labor, he had to proceed at an agonizingly-slow pace. He'd managed to get his legs under him again, though he was unsure how long his vertical position would last. Step by step, he staggered like a drunkard down the path - by the time he reached the valley floor and emerged from the woodland, the sun was almost directly overhead, and all the people of the valley were going about their business. He saw women sewing hides, men crafting new arrows, children playing by the edge of the lake...but no Bess. There were no whites at all in this place, save for himself. Undaunted, he headed straight into the encampment, calling her name. At first, the Indians paid him no mind, but the further in he got, the more they began to stop and stare. A few cried out, but none touched him, no matter how close he passed by - not until he reached what Tom perceived as the heart of the encampment did two of them dare to block his path. Both appeared to be men of authority, with one of them carrying a thin staff that suggested a symbol of office. The staff-bearer spoke to Tom, gesturing back towards the path into the valley, but Tom couldn't understand the words. He almost could, like the meaning was buried deep within him, too deep for his mind to reach. As the Indian spoke, Tom's eyes wandered to the staff itself, looking it up and down as he swayed in place from exhaustion.

Then, without warning, a bizarre urge overtook Tom's mind, and he snatched the staff out of the Indian's hand - the other Indian reached out to snatch it back, but the former staff-bearer held him at bay. Tom ignored all this as he ran his hands over the staff, part of him seeming to remember the feel of the wood between his hands. Carefully wrapped around the top end of the staff was a length of sinew, which he took hold of and unraveled, pulling it a few times to test its strength. He then upended the staff and, amid gasps from many standing around him, bent it until he could affix the loose end of the sinew to the opposite point, restoring the staff to its proper status as a bow. Throughout the process, Tom's mind felt like it had detached from his body, as if someone had gently pushed it aside in order to guide his hands from within. The feeling increased as he raised the bow high above his head and turned to face the natives behind him. Words he didn't recognize came out of his mouth, though he spoke them with such conviction that the Indians began to drop to their knees, some shedding tears as they did so.

Tom repeated the words twice more, until everyone was kneeling, and a feeling of satisfaction came over him, like he'd just accomplished a long-standing goal. He then turned back to the two Indians who'd confronted him - they were kneeling as well, their heads bowed - and laid the bow on the ground before them. The moment his fingers left the wood, Tom felt in control of himself again. Unfortunately, he also felt the full weight of his exhaustion slam into his body, and he collapsed to the ground, immediately slipping into unconsciousness.


He didn't know how long he was out, only that it was the most restful sleep he'd ever experienced. He had no dreams, just a feeling of tranquility that ebbed and flowed over him like a tide. When consciousness began to return, it was gentle, without the least hint of fear or confusion. As he laid there with his eyes still closed, he could hear a low murmur, then he felt the tip of a finger brushing over his chest. Tom opened his eyes then, and saw one of the Indians who'd confronted him earlier sitting next to him, dipping a white-stained finger into a small clay pot and running it over Tom's skin as he chanted. The Indian paid no mind that Tom was now awake, and continued on with his work as Tom looked about him: he was laying inside one of the tipis, and he could see that his flintlock and other possessions had been placed nearby. Tom knew how to speak some Indian tongues, though none of them sounded like what he'd heard these natives saying before. Can't hurt to try a few, he thought, and said in Algonquian, "Can you understand me? Do you know these words?" The Indian tilted his head slightly, but didn't reply. He switched to another dialect and said, "Please, if you understand me at all..."

The Indian laid his stained hand over Tom's mouth, speaking to him in that familiar-but-unfamiliar language, then got up and walked over to the tipi's flap. Wiping away the paint that had been smeared across his face, Tom sat up and was about to ask the Indian not to leave, when he realized that he was now clean-shaven. "What the..." he muttered, and his hand continued upwards into his hair, which had gone from a tangled mess to perfectly straight and clean. Blinking in surprise, he looked down at himself: all he had on was his buckskin breeches, and his bare chest was covered with designs, the largest one being a bird with its wings spread wide.

"It is a hawk. Your spirit animal," a voice said in Algonquian, and Tom looked up to see the Indian he thought of as the staff-bearer step into the tipi. The bow was in his hands, and he laid it next to Tom as he sat down nearby. "Star Falling at Dawn thought its presence might help your soul feel more at home in your new body," he said, nodding towards the Indian who still stood by the flap.

"This body is anything but new," Tom replied, then nodded towards the other Indian as well. "Could you thank him for me? For taking care of me?" The staff-bearer relayed the message, and Star Falling at Dawn bowed his head in respect and left the tipi. After he was gone, Tom asked, "He does not speak Algonquian, or have I just fallen that far out of practice?"

"Sadly, we have let many of our ancestors' tongues fall quiet, in favor of our new, shared language," the staff-bearer said. "I only know how to speak this one so well because you know how." Tom frowned at that, and the Indian went on, "I am Grey Elk, chief of the Valley of Echoes, and like many of my predecessors, I have the gift of seeing beyond this world, which can reveal to me what is hidden in the hearts and minds of others. That is how I know you truly do carry the soul of Strong Bow within you, even though you now bear the warrior name of Tomahawk."

Tom gaped at him. "How did you know my..." he started to say, then shook his head. "I must have been talking in my sleep, but why..."

"You said nothing aloud," Grey Elk interrupted. "As I said, I have the gift, and it showed me that the tragedy you suffered in your past life has resurfaced in this one. Then and now, your beloved was taken from you by your greatest enemy, and you wandered the land in your grief...but unlike before, your beloved has been returned to you in this life."

Grey Elk's words made Tom feel faint - how could this strange Indian in the middle of nowhere know so much about him? But when he reached the end, Tom's eyes grew wide. "Bess? You mean she's really..." he said in English, then grabbed hold of Grey Elk and switched back to Algonquian, "Is she really here, in this village? What I saw was real?"

"Of course it was. Seventeen summers ago, on the day my daughter was born, I had a vision that within her dwelled the soul of Moon Fawn, the lost love of Strong Bow, and that Strong Bow himself would not be far behind. We knew that you had promised upon your deathbed to return one day, and had left ways for you to prove yourself to us," he said, gesturing towards the bow, "but no one expected you to wear the face of the white tribe when you did so."

Seventeen years...and it had been eighteen since Bess died. But it didn't make sense to him, this talk of old souls in new bodies. That didn't do anything to quash his hopes, however. "Let me see her," Tom said. "If she is here...if her soul is here, then I have to see for myself. I have to know."

"She is, and you will." Grey Elk stood and held out a hand to help Tom to his feet - he still ached, but not as much as before - and the two of them exited the tipi. Outside, it seemed as if the entire village was waiting for them, and Grey Elk raised his hands and spoke to them in their own language, which Tom now realized was a blend of many different ones. He could pick out some Algonquian words, and also some from other dialects that he wasn't as familiar with. As the chief spoke to his people, Tom's eyes scanned the crowd, then, without thinking about it, he started to move forward, until he was walking amongst them. As before, none touched him or barred his path, though now they looked upon him with awe instead of fear. Tom looked upon them as well, searching their faces for some glimmer of Bess, but finding none. A sense of frustration started to come over him, but that was quickly squeezed out by something else: a sense that he was looking for her the wrong way.

He closed his eyes and continued to walk, guided by nothing but whim. After a while, he raised his hands and reached out in front of him, his eyes still closed. His palms touched something, and he followed the curve of it, until the image of a face formed in his mind: a beautiful face with a warm, inviting smile and kind eyes. His hands slipped into locks of hair as soft as silk, then down a graceful neck and across strong yet smooth shoulders. Bess, he thought. Oh my Lord, this is Bess. After all these years...

Opening his eyes, he saw an Indian woman with raven-black hair and chestnut eyes...nothing like the Bess he knew and loved so long ago, but his heart still beat heavily at the sight of her. She was young, oh so young, and he'd grown so old, yet he knew in his soul that she was the one, just as he'd known when they'd first met on the battlefield over two decades ago. "Moon Fawn," he whispered, the words coming out of his mouth not in English or Algonquian, but in some long-forgotten language, unspoken since a warrior named Strong Bow passed from this world. "It has been so long since I have truly seen you."

"And I have seen you many times in my dreams," she replied in the same language, reaching up to touch his face now. "I have felt your sorrow, and now I feel your joy...our joy, for now we are together again." She stood on her tiptoes and gave him a kiss that was so sweet, so wonderful, that Tom swept her up in a passionate embrace, while all around them the natives whooped and sang praises. There would be many celebrations after that, for days on end, but none of them could ever hold a candle to this one shining moment, this breathless second of bliss brought on by lovers reunited.


1838:

"Before he died and Wise Owl became shaman," Hawk said to Chris, "Star Falling at Dawn helped Dad and Mom recover some memories from their old lives. From what they could tell, the two of them had been going through this for a couple thousand years: being born, growing up, finding each other, then dying terribly and having to start the whole mess over again, but not remembering a lick of it. Star Falling at Dawn said they had a curse hanging over them...didn't know why, but he knew it wasn't something he had the power to break. From the looks of things, though, it could be bent a little." Hawk waved his hand about, indicating the land around them. "The shamans Strong Bow gathered 'round him sowed a right powerful magic all through this valley, and it's from one of them shamans that my mother is descended - Strong Bow refused to take a wife, y'see, and didn't have no kids, so he hand-picked somebody to succeed him. Now, maybe he only brought all that magic together in one spot and put one of its users in charge in order to keep his people safe...or maybe he also did it so that his soul and that of his beloved would have a place where they could find each other again, and live out their days in peace instead of being ripped apart like always." The older man shrugged, saying, "However it came about, the important thing is they were reunited, and got to spend close to thirty years together here in Echo Valley, 'til Dad's heart started to give out and he passed on at the ripe old age of eighty-four. Mom joined him a couple years later, just went all peaceful-like in her sleep. She wasn't even sick...I reckon she just missed him, and figured it was time to get the ball rolling again."

They sat in silence for a while, then Chris said, "So, do you really believe in all that? This notion that your parents lived as other people hundreds of years ago?"

"Why wouldn't I?"

"Because it...well, it's just..." He pressed his lips together in a thin line and shook his head, refusing to say what was on his mind.

"It's the lack of physical proof, ain't it? All you have is my word that this is true, and that's only based on my own parents saying that it's true." Chris didn't answer, but Hawk nodded anyways, saying, "That's fine. It is a helluva thing to believe, and I didn't expect you to buy it all the first time you heard it...but if you'd seen my parents when they were alive, then that would've been all the proof you'd ever need. Because in all my travels, I've never seen two people that completed each other as much as they did, and I believe with all my heart that it's because they'd gone through so many lives together, their souls constantly reaching out to find each other again and again." He let out a sigh then, his gaze going back to the grave markers. "And even after this little miracle here, they're gonna have to do it again."

Despite his disbelief over the whole situation, Chris was surprised by what Hawk said. "How do you know this wasn't the end of it? If they died peacefully instead of tragically, then shouldn't that..."

"What? Break the curse? I think that's what they hoped too, but the night after Dad died, Small Eagle had a vision, just like my grandfather had when Mom was born. He saw Dad alive, many years from now, still following his warrior nature and his spirit animal - the hawk - still watching over him. He didn't see Mom, but if Dad was going to be dragged back to the land of the living, then she probably would be too." Hawk stood up, knocking snow off his trousers, and walked over to the markers, saying, "We don't know when this is going to happen, but Small Eagle says it'll be somewhere in America, he's sure of that. Maybe I'll get lucky and run into them out on the trail one day."

"But...but they wouldn't know who you are...would they?"

"Probably not, but even though I ain't got the touch as strong as Small Eagle, I like to think that I've got it good enough to recognize them if I see them." Hawk turned back to Chris, who was still sitting on the log, and smiled at him. "Y'know, the way you said that, you almost sounded like you do believe me."

A blush came to Chris's cheeks, and he quickly said, "I don't." Then in a more sedate tone, he added, "You just told the story so convincingly, I sort of...got swept up in it."

"Uh-huh." Still smiling, Hawk started to walk back down the slope. "Come on, son, let's head on home. It's getting close to suppertime."

Chris got up to follow, then paused at the grave markers once Hawk was a good distance away. "I don't mean any disrespect to you or your family, Mr. Hawkins," he said quietly, "but I hope what your son said isn't true. Because if it is true, then who's to say my own parents aren't going through the same thing as you and your wife? Or that we all don't go through it?" The young man sighed. "I want to believe in Heaven, and in eternal rest, and in the notion that I'll finally be able to meet my mother and father when I die myself...and I want to believe that the two of you are at peace instead of cursed, because no one should have to suffer like that. Is that such a bad thing to believe in?"

He fell silent, as if expecting an answer, and none came, so he turned to follow Hawk back down into the valley, not noticing the tiny hint of green beginning to push its way out of the tree branches that hung over his head.

THE END