"Hostage to Fortune"
As his name was spoken from a great distance, Hawk stirred. The universe's weight was suddenly off his chest, and he could breath again. He opened his eyes to Buck's worried face. "Ari?" He sat up.
"Wilma got to him fast. He's unconscious. The bleeding's stopped. He's lost a lot of blood."
"What?" Hawk shook his head groggily.
"I shot the cat as it jumped at you. Its body fell on you. I'd hate to have met that monster in his prime. Tiber raises big kitties. Old and skinny, that mountain lion weighs 200 pounds."
"More." Hawk stood and wobbled toward Wilma and Ari.
Cautiously watching his bandaged side, Wilma sat by the boy with his head in her lap.
Reaching them, Hawk paled at the blood-soaked clothing and the bloody ground. His brother had lost a great deal of blood.
Kneeling and calming himself, he placed his hands on the pressure points at Ari's jaws as Tiber had taught him. By concentrating, he could assess Ari's physical condition through their mutual telepathic resonance as brothers. "The boy is weak almost to death." He lifted Ari and rose. "Wilma, bedding, please."
She walked back into the canyon and removed the sleeping bag from Ari's pack then spread the bedding out.
After setting his brother down and covering him, Hawk got up again. "I will help Buck. He is still at that mountain lion. His ankle is useless."
With a nod, Wilma began to spread out Buck's bedding next to Ari.
Hawk practically carried Buck back into the canyon and lay him beside Ari.
Kneeling by the unconscious boy, Hawk touched him his pale cheek. "Why, Ari? Why did you risk yourself so?"
"Because he's a fool,” Buck said angrily. “You treat him like dirt, but he loves you. That's hard for someone like you to understand, but it's the truth. Do you remember what love is, Hawk? The Hawk I knew before the nova understood, but he died a long time ago."
A muscle in Hawk's jaw twitched, but he said evenly, "I act for the best, Captain Rogers."
"I seriously doubt that."
"Be silent. I must concentrate. I will share my physical strength with him as he has done with me. I will force what healing I can.
“This healing link is one bond of brotherhood that you cannot achieve with all your noble words. He is my blood. I will give him my life strength. He will not die. The universe will not cheat me of this one tiny victory."
Buck patted his friend's bowed shoulders. "I'm sorry, Hawk. It's just that I love the boy too."
"Do not touch me. I must concentrate." Hawk lay down beside Ari and pulled him gently into his arms. Placing his hands above Ari's heart and against his jaw line, Hawk began to share his own life force with his brother.
Buck studied the two avians fearfully. They looked as if they slept, but he knew they both fought valiantly against death.
"The waiting is the worst part," Wilma said softly and knelt at his feet with tape for his swollen ankle.
Buck forced his gaze toward her. "You've gone through this before. I'd forgotten."
"Yes, when Ari saved Hawk's life on One's planet. I still shudder when I think how I nearly lost all of you. The boy's courage and strength saved us then. Hawk's will save the boy now." She began to tape his ankle.
"Hawk would save the boy, but would this stranger?"
"Hawk loves him no matter how he's acted these past months. You should see that now. He never really hurt Ari. He's ignored him and been distant, but he's never been actually cruel. There are ways he could have cut Ari to the quick. He could have thrown Ari's human blood like an insult. Or Ari's telepathic gifts. Ari feels like a freak because of them.
“He would have killed you if you'd tried to stop him from offering himself to that mountain lion. That's the old Hawk. He loves the boy, and he's facing death again to prove it now.”
"I bow to a woman's wisdom, as always. I thought I was the only one to see through Hawk's masquerade. I wonder if he's suffering from a broken heart?"
Wilma sat down beside him. "I wanted to punch you when you said those things about Tiber."
Buck smiled. "Jealous?"
"A bit, but mainly angry. Considering the strict moral laws of Hawk's people, those were extremely ugly things you insinuated about her and Hawk. I thought you were getting back at Tiber for refusing your advances. I've never seen you follow a woman around like a lost puppy before. Usually they follow you."
Buck shifted uncomfortably. Sometimes, Wilma saw too damn much with that woman’s wisdom of hers. "I was merely being grateful for her medical help. I wanted to thank her.
"I was baiting Hawk earlier. Trying to get some response out of him and break that shell he's in. It worked. Tiber's a sensitive subject. He almost went for me when I besmirched her honor.
"The danger with baiting a hawk is, if you're not careful, you'll get talon marks on your unblemished face." With her fingers, she traced the line of his healed scars, then said, "I'd better go back to the canyon's entrance. There may be other predators out there. I’ll vaporize the carcass so it won’t attract them. Call me if you need anything or if Hawk wakes."
After an hour Hawk stirred, opening his eyes, "The boy will live. I will live," then fell into a deep, natural sleep, his arms wrapped tightly around his brother.
His strength renewed, Hawk awoke at dawn the next morning and studied his sleeping companions. Wilma was in a sleeping bag on the other side of Buck. Above them Wind flew in aerial patrol, guarding them.
The boy curled against him like a puppy.
Smiling softly, Hawk caressed Ari's face. He could sense vitality and healing energy surging through his brother who would heal swiftly now.
He would leave soon, but not quite yet. He wanted to share a few last moments with his brother.
As Hawk kissed Ari's head and hugged him, Buck's soft laugh broke the morning stillness. "I see how much you hate your little brother."
"The ground is damp. I fear shock."
"Sure, and my grandfather was a canary."
No longer attempting to hide behind his assumed coldness, Hawk said with his old humor, "Now is not the time to brag about ancestors," then he grew solemn again. "I will leave soon to find Tiber. Wind and I will go."
"I'm sorry I can't come with you."
"And I." Hawk moved Ari next to Buck. "Keep him warm with your body heat. I truly fear shock. Telepaths are vulnerable to that when they are injured. Physical contact helps." He covered them both with Ari’s blankets. "If I am not back in a day, return to the Searcher. Ari should have medical aid.”
He rested his hand on Buck’s. “Always take care of our little brother."
"I'm honored,Hawk. I'll take good care of him." As Hawk tried to stand up, Buck grasped his arm and held it. "You're not planning to come back, are you?"
"No, if she is dead, I will die with her."
"Do you love her that much?"
"No, it is because I do not love her.
“In the months I was here, Tiber and I became close friends. She helped me through the pain and the grief. I do not remember a time in those months when I did not wake in agony and despair to find her there comforting me and taking away the pain with her cool hands. Her wise words of experience saved my sanity when I was torn with my grief.
“She lost her mate and their unborn child through violence and nearly lost her soul when she sought revenge. She has gone beyond the loss and anger as I have not, and she understands as no one else has.
“In that last week before we sought the Searcher, we went into that valley where she lies dying. It was a happy time for us both, I had finally come to some terms with your deaths. I was willing to learn to live again.
“She told me that she loved me, and that she would joyfully become my mate and bear my children."
Hawk turned his face away. "I had to tell her that I did not love her, that I had no love left to give. That half my heart was buried with Koori, and that the other half had burned with you and Ari in the nova. She was mortified, her pride is as great as my own. She swore that she would always be my friend, and that she would never speak of her feelings again. She was true to her word."
"But why die for this? Love isn't something that can be turned on or off. You're not to blame because you don't love her."
"I am to blame that she dies. I thought I could save Ari from death by not loving him, by making him hate me, but I was wrong. She dies, he nearly dies, for love of me. I cannot bear this fate anymore. "
"What are you talking about?"
"The universe pattern of my life. All I love or who love me die. My parents, my people, Koori, Tiber, and soon Ari. It is inexorable. Ari will die because he loves me. I intend to die before that happens, to defeat the universe in that one thing. If I die, Ari will live. I will break the pattern. I will destroy no more lives."
"But, that's insane. The universe isn't like that. Just because you've lost so many times doesn't mean the universe has something against you. Hell, that's paranoid."
Hawk smiled sadly. "How like all humans you are. Humans are but children, seeing things as children see them. If an idea is not yours, it is wrong or insane. My people are 300,000 years older than yours. We had an ancient culture and space travel before you left your caves. Your people have not even gotten over the childhood diseases of self-destruction. How can you claim to know the universe better than we? I am the last of a race a thousand times older than yours."
"You may be right about humans. We are children. But don't forget that sometimes children see things more clearly than their elders. Ask Ari. He'll tell you what's important here. He loves you. He needs you. Don't leave him. He won't thank you for the extra years of life if he has to spend them without you."
"I am his guardian. I choose for the best."
"It takes courage to live and love in the face of death. Maybe that's your problem. You've lost that courage. You're just using the universe as a scapegoat. To hell with all that dead philosophy you've been spouting. You've just lost your nerve."
"You may be right, my friend. All the better to end it now." Hawk stood up, slung his pack onto his shoulders, and began to walk away.
"I'll take good care of our brother, Hawk. I swear."
The noon sun shone hot overhead by the time Hawk reached the high valley. Gasping for breath, he pulled himself up the last rocks of the sheer climb and lay exhausted. Wind settled beside him and pecked gently at his hand. "I know, Cousin. I will go to Tiber soon. Let me catch my breath and find my courage first. I must be strong for her sake."
He gazed into the sky. "In all my years on Throm the sky seemed somehow wrong. I thought it was because I could not fly as my ancestors. Now I see it was the wrong sky, for it was not the Earth sky of my blood. This second Earth is the right sky for my people." He sighed. "Maybe Ari will bring others of our race here one day. Maybe his children will play in these mountains. I wish I could live to see that.”
He stood up. "Come, Cousin. I regain my courage, and already it leaves me. Take me to Tiber. At least I will not let her die alone. It is the only thing I have left to give her."
Following Wind, he walked through the large valley. Around him birds sang in the hardwoods, and the tall, cascading waterfall at the end of the valley whispered in the distance. He came to their old campsite near the southern wall of the valley and the mountain river. The landslide covered a large portion of the area. His gaze darting around, he started following the edge of the slide.
The eagle landed in front of him, scratched, and gently unearthed a strand of chestnut hair.
With a cry of despair, he knelt and began to brush the soil and small rocks away with his fingers until he’s uncovered her head and neck.
He touched her throat with two fingers. Only a faint flutter of pulse, but she was still alive.
"You will not die like this, Tiber. I will take you into the light. The grave is for the dead, not the living."
Pulling rocks away from her still form, he worked desperately to free her. The landslide had fallen as she slept, he guessed, for she lay in a sleeping bag. Her lower body was covered completely in rock and soil, her upper body only partially covered.
He unearthed a small tree which had shielded her lower body from the larger rocks.
After an hour of exhausting work, he had disinterred her. Whispering a prayer to his god and hers, he opened the sleeping bag. She wore a long tee shirt that was now brown with dirt. Her body was mottled with vicious bruises. He took out the emergency medical kit Goodfellow had prepared for him and attached diagnostic sensors to her throat and above her left heart then studied the readings.
Both legs were broken below the knees. He splinted them and covered her with a blanket then studied the readings again. Her life readings were fading as he watched.
Why was she so close to death? With her enormous alien vitality, four days of exposure, broken legs, and the rock slide should not have hurt her so. Could she have some kind of internal injury the human med-monitor didn’t recognize?
He took her right hand in his. The bracelet on her wrist shifted, and a red flashing light flared.
With a human swear word, he lifted her and carried her toward the open area and the river. Months before, she had told him about her race’s violent allergy to a very rare metal. Prolonged exposure brought death so she wore the bracelet warning device at all times.
Hawk laughed bitterly at the irony. The side of a mountain had not killed her, but a few tiny pebbles were.
By the time he reached the river and her hovercraft, the light had stopped flashing. He knelt and deposited her gently onto the grass under a tree.
With his fingers he carefully sifted the dirt from her cap of chestnut hair. The texture of her hair fascinated him.
He returned to where he had left his pack and retrieved it, then dampened a cloth at the river and cleaned off her face and body. One of Ari's tunics that had ended up in his pack became her new nightgown.
As he tucked her into his sleeping bag, he shed dirt all over his tidy patient. With a grunt of disgust, he shook his head then strode to the river, washed himself, and changed clothes.
When he knelt beside her again, Tiber opened her eyes. "Hello, little Lark. Have you any songs for me today?"
"Only my death song." She held out her hand to him. "I knew you would hear me and come."
Clasping her hand in his, Hawk lowered his eyes in shame. "Only Ari heard you. Forgive me."
"You came anyway. I didn't want to die alone. I fought to stay alive until you came."
"I am here. We will sing your death song together."
"No, please, no. I thought you had chosen life before you left this world." She started as if having a disturbing thought. "Is Ari still alive?"
"Yes, he lives. I wish him to live a long life. That is why I choose death."
"The ancient curse that you told me of, you truly believe it is yours?"
"I was a fool to believe otherwise. I thought, when I saw Ari and Buck again, that I had been wrong, but now I realize that it was not yet their time. But their times will come too soon if I do not act. Ari was nearly killed yesterday. I saved him as you taught me. Thank you for that."
"And if something like that happens again, and you are not there to act?"
"It is a question I cannot answer. It is best I die."
"May I read your heart? May I relive the moments in your life that have led you to this choice?"
As his answer, Hawk lowered his head and lifted her hands to his temples.
She smiled softly, stroking his feathers. "I do good work. You were so afraid the adult feathers would not return after the nova burns, that you'd have an infant's down for the rest of your life. See, I was right. I wish you'd believe me in other things.
"Look into my eyes. I will go only where you wish me to go. In return, my heart and memories are open to you. Learn as I learn."
"I trust you."
Her fingers cool against his temples, he felt himself pulled into a river of memories.
Eternities later, Hawk awakened to find himself against her, his head resting on her shoulder.
Caressing his cheek, she asked, "Are you all right?"
Dizzy with sensations, memories, and thoughts, he sat up. He had never realized how alien she was and yet how alike they were. "It is not terrible to die."
"No. It is not terrible to die. Death I do not regret, only my lost chances at life."
Odd flashes of her memory touched him. "How old are you?"
"In human years, 573. I was born in Buck’s century on Earth. My people live over 2000 years so I am younger than you in years' ratio. My people have traveled the universe over half a million years."
"I am a child."
"We are all children. When we grow up, the universe ends. It is the way."
Shyness touched Hawk. "What did you find in me?"
"Nothing of which to be ashamed. My heart chose well."
"My heart is blind, my friend." Hawk smiled then, as a shudder of pain passed through her, leaned forward anxiously. "Is it time?"
"No, I will stay a bit longer. I have things I wish to say." She held out her arms. "Would you please hold me? I'm cold." The lie fooled neither of them, but he sat down cross-legged and brought her onto his lap, her head against his chest.
With a sigh of satisfaction, she nestled against him. "That's much better. Death is not so alone like this." She paused. "Hawk, I discovered what you truly want, and I cannot give it."