When Maui opens his eyes, there’s someone holding his hand.
Which makes waking up way more awkward than it needed to be. Sure, he’s a demigod of many talents, but he’s gotta say that hand-holding isn’t one too often requested.
Then the situation abruptly gets about a hundred times more uncomfortable, because as soon as he opens his eyes this girl decides that his pecs are a good pillow, wrapping her arms around his chest and wow, she’s got a surprisingly strong grip for a mortal. She’s pretty much squeezing his breath out of his lungs, which is impressive, since he’s got a pretty solid pair. Used for anything from hakas to grand story-reenacting. Not a pair like it this side of Lalotai.
“Hey,” he says jovially, trying to prise her off and failing. Good to know he was missed during his millennium off. “Look, kiddo, I know it’s not every day you meet your hero, but you wouldn’t want to make a bad first impression, now would’ya.”
It’s only as the girl sits up that Maui realizes those are tear-tracks around her eyes. Uh, talk about awkward. “That’s such an old joke, Maui,” she laugh-hiccups, grinning even as she rubs her wrist across her eyes.
Maui refrains from rolling his eyes only because this girl is dressed in the trappings of a Chief-to-be. “Little girl,” he replies archly instead of snapping at her, “there should definitely be a couple more titles tacked onto the end of that. Like ‘Demigod of the Wind and Sea’, or ‘Hero to Men’, or ‘O Brave and Valiant Warrior’. Unless, y’know, they’ve got better things to teach little squirts like you nowadays.”
A quick glance around the fale - jeez, which village did he crash-land in this time - shows him that there are a dozen or so elders crowded in a pretty cramped space. That, heh, explains the heat. Knew it couldn’t’ve all been his glorious bod.
“Ha ha,” the girl laughs sarcastically, then scoots toward him. The pole against Maui’s back is the only thing that keeps him from sliding right on out of the fale and over the open water. This village, wherever he is, is creepy. “They’ve definitely got better to teach us.”
Wow, rude. “Guess I’ll just take my coconuts back, then,” he replies, trying his best to keep affront from seeping into his voice. Something must’ve knocked this village silly. Their reverence quota’s just not up to par.
“I’d like to see you try to take them back from my dad,” she says, like Maui’s supposed to know who her father is, and dusts off her skirt as she rises. Then she sticks out her hand, offering to help him up, and that’s going way too far. He hefts himself to his own feet, thanks. Unfortunately the movement sends his skull careening straight toward a dizzy spell.
The girl must have some teleportation ability or something because she’s at his side instantly, one hand supporting his shoulder. “You okay?”
He shakes her off, shooting her the driest look he can muster. Time for him to go. “Just peachy. All right, kiddo, where’s my hook?”
“In my sister’s fale,” she replies.
“Arihi.” Even though he’s desperately out of practice reading mortal facial expressions that’s definitely some sort of worry beneath the cheery front she’s putting up. “Um, Maui, are you doing all right?”
“What have I told you about the titles,” he hisses, preemptively batting away that hand she keeps sending toward his shoulder. He doesn’t need her help.
“Lots of things, namely that they get old after a long while.”
Maui shoots her an unamused glare. “Not funny, girly.” He worked hard on those names, thanks, and he’s not about to let them go soon. “Who do you think you are?”
“No, really,” he says, because - well, come to think of it, she hasn’t introduced herself. Clearly the standards for mortal manners have plummeted in his absence. “Who are you?”
The girl freezes.
Actually, the entire fale freezes - no one so much as breathes. Even the ocean itself seems to still. Yeah, that’s weird - if Maui listens really closely, the waves have definitely stopped sliding up the shore. Huh. Maybe the wind changed direction or something.
“What?” she whispers. His name slips between her lips, and there’s something fragile in her voice that makes his chest ache without really knowing why. “Do you...not know me?”
Stupid tattoo, always trying to get him attached. Maui scoffs. “Look, don’t get offended, kid,” he says, inching away from her, “but I’ve met a bunch of mortals in my lifetime. I’m sure you’ve been a really great hostess, but it’s time for me to head back out there. Y’know, keeping doing the demigodly dos, keep fighting to keep your people safe.” He winks at her, flashes her a thumbs-up, and doesn’t understand why that only makes her eyes shrink further in something uncomfortably akin to terror. “So thanks for your hospitality. Maui, out!”
“Maui, wait - ! ” she cries, reaching for him.
Nah, he’s so out of there, that creepy fale and the girl with a personal space bubble the size of her fingernail. Maui rolls his eyes as he bounds lightly over the paths that wind through their village. Mortals, always thinking they’re someone special .
The island isn’t too big, which Maui’s grateful for. Less fales to root for before he can hightail it outta here. Thing is, he’s got about zero idea who that girl was, much less who her sister was, and even much less where her fale might be.
“Hey,” he pulls someone over at random, a girl with her hair twisted in a simple bun and a coconut half between her teeth, “you know where, uh...” uh, what was her name, “Arivi’s fale is?”
“Maui!” the girl grins, spits out her niu, and punches him square on the shoulder. With the same hand. Disgusting. “Good to see you back on your feet, we missed you at the siva tau yesterday. Being sick is no excuse, we had to call off the whole thing because you weren't there! Uh, why do you need Arihi?”
“I don’t,” he replies, frowning at her reprimand. What siva tau did he miss? Was it for some feast for him or something? Eh, he probably slept too long, his memories are kinda fuzzy. “I just need her fale, point me to it?”
“It’s next to Moana’s,” the girl replies, now frowning with concern. “Maui, are you doing okay -”
“I’m fine,” he snaps, jerking away from her. This whole island is filled with lunatics. “And where is, uh... who was that?”
Just like the girl in the fale, coconut-girl stills. “What do you mean?”
“Look, kid, I don’t have time for stupid questions. Arihi’s fale, where is it?”
“I just told you, next to Moana’s -”
“Assuming I don’t know where that fale is either,” he says, throwing his hands in the air in exasperation. “I need my hook, kiddo, and I can’t do that if you keep giving me vague directions.”
“Maui, you’re acting funny -”
What, so now these mortals know him better than he knows himself? Maui levels her with his least impressed glare, and is a bit put off to realize she looks a lot less uncomfortable than she really should. “Directions,” he grits between his teeth, “now.”
“That way,” the girl replies, mouth hanging kinda open as she stares at him in concern. But the half-flick of her wrist is all the direction he needs to take off. It’s only when her hollered inquiry after his health floats behind him that he remembers that he should’ve at least thanked her.
Eh, oh well. She’ll be dead in forty, fifty years anyway.
And when he flaps away from this island he’s not coming back for a couple of generations. That should be enough time for the crazy to die off.
Maui takes a brief moment to be thankful that mortals don’t use walls. There’s a spattering of fales up this path and it’s not hard to spot the beloved, familiar handle of his hook lying on the ground. Okay, it’s really undignified for someone to have just left his hook lying on the fale like some discarded trinket, but Maui can’t really be mad because with his hands on the hilt he’s invincible.
Behind him, footsteps are hurrying up this path to the fale. Maui rolls his eyes at the impending crowd and slips toward the shore, away from the voices raised in what sounds shockingly like concern. From here he can definitely make a clean getaway.
He flashes his hook, and nothing happens.
For a second, Maui panics. Then he notices the itching on both of his biceps and rolls irritated eyes downward. “Look, I know my manners weren’t the best back there,” he says to the tattoo straining against Maui’s arms, “but I’ve got places to be.”
Mini-Maui shakes his head vigorously, arms crossed in defiance. Maui smirks and switches his hook from one hand to the other before Mini-Maui can scramble across his chest, and in a flash, from his back sprouts -
Maui looks down at his other arm, fully intent on giving his tattoo an earful, to find a tattoo of a girl staring up at him in defiance.
Maui yelps and stumbles backward on the shore. He inadvertently lets go of his hook and it thunks softly into the white sand. Then, peering downward, he paws at his own chest, trying to get a better view of her. Cautiously, like she’s afraid he’ll flap off if she moves off his shoulder, she pushes harder against his shoulder.
“I won’t transform,” he promises.
She doesn’t believe him. Smart girl. Maui shakes his head ruefully at his own predictability and sits on the beach, draping a leg over his hook. At least this way she’ll have a couple seconds’ notice to stop him before he goes for a transformation.
Or at least, so she thinks. He’s the fastest demigod this side of Pulotu, and not even his tattoos can contest that. If he wanted to, he could be out of here in a flash. But he has to admit, he’s pretty curious about this tattoo he picked up while he was sleeping.
What’s weird, though, is the way Mini-Maui watches her. Actually, more than that - the way he kinda hovers behind her, supportively, as she hefts herself onto his shoulder so that he can crane his neck to study her.
He places the face instantly.
“You’re that girl,” he blurts, frowning at her dress. “The one from the fale.”
She nods, and even though she’s made of nothing more than ink there is sadness in her eyes, like she’s upset on his behalf. No, that can’t be right. He probably owes the girl a small favor and wants to make sure he repays it before keeping on keeping on.
(That doesn’t explain the way Mini-Maui stands at her side, like he has always been there and always will be.)
“What’s your name?” He thinks he heard it, but it slips from his memory like sand beneath his fingers.
Not like the question would do much good anyway. Tattoos can’t talk. “Never mind,” he grumbles, shaking his head to dismiss the irrelevant matter. “How did you - why are you on my chest, anyway?”
Mini-Maui starts to move, the inked prow of a boat materializing near Maui’s sternum, before the girl whispers something silent to him. With a considering nod, Mini-Maui concedes, and the boat vanishes. Then, looking up at Maui, the girl and Mini-Maui hold an exaggerated conversation on his chest, their gestures disproportionate to the thoughtful expressions on their faces.
Maui rolls his eyes. “I’m not going back to talk to that girl,” he replies. “I’m curious, yeah, but I’m not that curious.”
Both of his tattoos smack him soundly in the chest.
“You know, violence isn’t going to change my mind.”
Maui reaches for his hook, because he’s done with this dumb islands and these tattoos dead-set on keeping him prisoner, only to find that he can’t move his arm.
Both of them, somehow, have catapulted their way off his chest and are latched physically around his shoulder. The girl’s got her feet dug in the bark of the coconut tree, and that’s gotta be painful against her mortal soles, but it doesn’t look like the pain’s getting to her at all.
“Oh come on!” he explodes, frustrated. He strains against them, but neither Mini-Maui nor the other tiny tattoo relent.
“Fine,” he huffs, “just let me pick it back up.”
Neither of them move. Maui tries once more to reach forward, and can’t even twitch his fingers. Beneath his chin, Mini-Maui releases one hand from his hold on Maui’s bicep to mimic dropping the hook.
“I’m not leaving my hook here, are you nuts?”
Mini-Maui grabs Maui’s shoulder and pulls. Before Maui can react, his own arm hits him in the face.
“Ow! What was that for?”
Both tattoos glare at him with identical looks of exasperation.
“You’re not gonna let me leave, are you.”
Maui groans, because this insane island is the last place he wants to be right now. But...well, he has to admit that he is kinda curious about this new tattoo on his chest. He hasn’t gotten a new one in a thousand years or so, so this girl must be somethin’ special, whoever she is.
Granted, getting the full story will mean a lot of interacting with mortals. Which he’s great at while they’re singing his praises, but as for actual conversations, he’s a lot more rusty.
Whatever. He’ll stay long enough to appease his frustrating miniature-self, and then he’s outta here.
When he meanders back to the village, it seems everyone is out and about. Standing a bit away from the fale tele, Maui can’t help but draw the connection, stronger than ever, between humans and anthills. Seems like every single body - including, he notices, some children, which is really weird because most humans love their kids - is searching for something.
And then someone spots him, and the movement stops. Scarily fast. Like someone had blown a conch shell into everyone’s ears. His name gets yelled and then he gets stared at by dozens and dozens of pairs of eyes.
Realizing he’s been caught, Maui ambles on up to the girl from the fale, who had seemingly been giving orders, letting a proud grin stretch across his face - all this commotion is definitely about him. Heh, humans. So predictable, so easily amazed.
There’s a small crowd around the fale tele, all attention on him. It’s not the typical reverence he gets, though. More like they’re waiting for something spectacular to happen. Which will, of course, he’s the most spectacular thing to happen to this island in millennia.
“Hey,” he says casually.
The girl from the fale opens her mouth like she wants to say something, but a hand on her shoulder stills her. “Greetings, Maui,” says the man standing behind the girl from the fale, his voice deep and soothing. He inclines his head slightly, and the woman at his side does the same. The girl from the fale doesn’t move, which is pretty rude. “I am Chief Tui. This is my wife, Sina, and my daughter, Moana.”
“Cool,” he says, glancing at the amassed crowd. It’s like they’re waiting for something to happen. What, do they want him to pull a haka right here? “Great. Uh, so, why am I here?”
Instantly, murmurings spread throughout the villagers like a ripple from a dropped stone. The eyes of the girl from the fale go wide, like she’s been punched in the gut. Heh. Serves her right for not bowing. Does she even know who he is?
Again, the girl opens her mouth to say something, but her father - Chief Tui - squeezes her shoulder harder.
“You have been recovering on our island several days,” the woman named Sina replies lightly. “For these days, you have been staying as our guest.”
“Mother!” the girl exclaims despite the hand, whirling on her. “A guest -”
“A guest,” Sina responds quietly, with a note of steel in her voice.
“That’s not -”
She subsides angrily. Maui’s pretty sure the girl’s going to give up at that, but she doesn’t. Instead, she turns from her parents to him, and says “Maui, do you...what’s the last thing you remember?”
The lack of titles still rankles at him, but he puts that aside for the moment. “Laying down to take a nap on my island. You know, even heroes gotta sleep sometimes.” He wishes he had a hook to twirl, that’s always a crowd-pleaser.
“On your island?”
“Yeah. You know, the pile of pebbles I got stuck on for a thousand years.” Maui scowls in the general direction of the sky.
He shrugs. “Nope. My head hurts, though, so I guess I got hit. And, I gotta give credit where credit is due, thank you all for patching me back up. Now, I’ve just gotta get back to the whole saving the world business. For which, by the way,” he smirks, “you’re welcome.”
The girl hisses something from between her teeth then asks, almost desperately, “You really...don’t remember?”
“Kid,” he snaps, stepping forward to loom over her, “when I say I don’t know what happened, I mean it. C’mon. Show some respect.”
The girl from the fale is really not as intimidated by his stature as she should be. Actually, she looks more sad than anything. It’s a fleeting expression, just a glimpse of something like despair and wow he’s definitely seeing things.
Then she pulls herself up, shoulders straightening, and it’s like it never happened at all. Like that terrified gaze was a figment of his imagination. And Maui would almost believe it, he really would, except for the trembling tension through the girl’s shoulders, like a string stretched too taut just before it snaps.
“Mother, Father,” she says, and even from the maybe ten words he’s exchanged with her in his life Maui can tell that this formality is unused on her tongue. “I will attend to the ‘ava preparations.”
“Moana, pele ....”
“Maui, Shapeshifter, Demigod of the Wind and Sea, Hero to All. With this ceremony we will welcome you to our island as our guest,” she says like she’s reading from a script, ignoring her mother’s protest entirely.
Her eyes are dead.
He fumbles for words a couple seconds too long, and before he vocalizes any sort of question she turns and leaves. As she goes, the crowd - save the Chief and his wife - dissipates. One girl follows the girl from the fale, calling her name, but the rest appear to no longer have anything to do. A couple halfheartedly pick up their baskets and go back to collecting coconuts, but the frantic energy of earlier is gone.
When Maui tears his eyes from the now-muted activity of the village, he finds both the Chief and his wife staring at him. “Uh,” he says into the silence, feeling decidedly awkward. Right, the tattoo. He’s gotta figure out what happened with that tattoo before his irritating smaller counterpart will let them leave.
He opens his mouth to ask after her, but realizes he doesn’t know her name. “That - that girl, your daughter,” he says fumblingly, “what’s her name?”
Where the Chief’s face slips deeper into neutrality, the woman closes her eyes like he’s hit her in the stomach. “Moana.”
“Moana, Maui. My daughter’s name is Moana.”
He... what? The name doesn’t stick. It slips from his grip like a bowl coated in ‘ava juice, slipperier and slipperier every time he tries to recall it.
“I, uh...one more time?”
She repeats that name, and once more Maui goes to say it instantly, and forgets as soon as his lips part. “Okay,” he says instead, because if he can’t remember when he’s actively trying it can’t be that important. “Uh, can you explain to me why I have -” he lifts his necklace, and abruptly notices one of the sharkteeth are missing, huh that’s weird, “- a tattoo of her?”
The Chief straightens. “It is from -”
“No,” Sina intervenes crisply, taking her husband’s hand in her own as she cuts him off. They exchange a look, laden with meaning Maui can’t understand, and Tui subsides obligingly. Sina turns to him with that same sad smile. “No, we cannot explain your tattoos to you, Maui. You will need to ask her yourself.”
“Why not?” he asks indignantly.
Instead of just telling him the stupid story that they clearly know, Tui gestures behind him. “You will find Moana in her fale,” he replies cryptically, pointing back toward the fale he found his hook in.
“Just tell me what happened!” he demands.
His voice does nothing to deter them. With a respectful nod of his head, Tui says, “It is not our place.”
Together, they turn their backs on him, leaving him a bit shocked. Honestly, does no one on this island have a shred of respect? This is borderline ridiculous.
Fine. He’ll go talk to that dumb girl, but on his own time. First he gets his hook back from the shore.
For a couple of hours Maui stays on the beach with his retrieved hook, still smarting from the sheer rudeness of the Chief and his wife. An hour into his respite, the girl from the fale creeps out of the forest, out of earshot but visible in the light of the setting sun.
She dances. And as she moves with the waves her lips curl into a smile. The girl from the fale takes that laugh, says something, he can see her lips move in merriment, and turns to the side -
To find that she dances alone.
(Though he is far away, though in this dim light he cannot see her face, he can tell how her face crumbles. It hurts him, physically, like a real thing has lodged itself in his chest. He wants it out. He wants her to smile.)
Her dance falters. The rhythm of the waves falls from her feet and she returns to her village without a backward glance.
The girl called Arihi spots Maui before the girl from the fale does. She whispers quiet word to her sister, then gives Maui a dignified nod before gathering up her skirts and exiting the fale.
Maui approaches the girl from the fale - wow, he needs a less lengthy title for her, maybe...princess? she is the daughter of the Chief and all - plopping himself down next to her. For some reason, it feels wrong to be sitting in the middle, like he should be leaning up against the post or something. But that’s ridiculous. He’s never been here before.
Maui feels, very suddenly, like he’s missing something important.
He opens his mouth to say something, some smart remark, and sees abruptly that she’s been crying. Maui exhales uncomfortably, unsure of quite what to do, but the girl from the fale - princess - shakes her head and rubs at her eyes with her wrist.
“Maui,” she acknowledges, and her voice is scratchy.
“Hi,” he says. He’s just gonna pretend her eyes aren’t red and swollen because, logically, he’s like the last person she would want comforting her. Since he probably did something to upset her. Not that he knows what.
Best to just get his answers and go - she’ll feel better once she never has to worry about him again. “I, uh, had a couple questions.”
“Oh, okay.” She twists her hair into a bun in one quick motion, and the movement is so reminiscent of his own that he stares at her for a handful of seconds. “What did you want to know?”
“Uh....” Maui roots around for the proper words, then gives up and shows her his tattoo. “That.”
Recognition lights her face instantly, and though her demeanor is still clouded in misery something of softness enters her gaze. “Ah.”
There’s a long, long pause. Princess isn’t looking at him, she’s looking past him, out toward the waves. But when he follows her gaze there’s nothing but ocean, and he gets the feeling it’s not the sparkle of the water she’s seeing. “The Heart of Te Fiti was restored,” she says eventually.
“By you? ” he asks, and can’t help the disbelief that wriggles its way into her voice.
To the princess’s credit, if she takes offense she doesn’t show it. That small sad smile grows a bit quieter, a bit wistful. “By both of us.”
“Huh.” He doesn’t remember that at all. “So,” he gestures toward her. “You came with me when I put back the Heart.”
For a moment, words form on her tongue, before they dissipate as she shakes her head. “Yeah, I was with you when Te Fiti was restored. Do you remember finding a boat?” she asks quietly.
“Princess, remember when I said I don’t remember anything?” he asks, gesturing sharply toward his own head. “I meant it. That’s not gonna change however many times you ask.”
Princess winces, then hardens that wince into resolve. “Okay, um...well then I guess I’ll explain it to you? I, uh, kinda crashed on your island. You found my boat, and then you...and then I convinced you to restore the Heart of Te Fiti. You agreed eventually. After a lot of cajoling,” she adds ruefully.
“Uh-huh,” he replies skeptically, grabbing a coconut from the corner of her fale and taking a bite.
“Then we got your hook back from Tamatoa,” which Maui figures means he finally beat the dumb crab, “and then we sailed to Te Fiti and put the Heart back.”
There we go. “So I did manage to put the Heart back,” he says, allowing himself a brief moment of self-admiration. That wasn’t something he thought he’d be able to do. Heh. Nice going, Maui. “When’s my feast?” he winks.
“Three years ago.”
“Oh, and I’d better have - wait, what? ” he asks, stopping mid-bite.
“Three years ago,” the girl repeats, glancing down at her hands. “We got back three years ago.”
He sets the coconut down on the ground, letting it balance without spilling milk. “Three years - uh-huh, Princess, that’s not funny.”
“So am I, there’s no way I’ve been out for three years. What was I doing in the meanwhile, lazing around on this island? I get you think you’re special, Princess, but I’m a demigod. I’ve got better things to be doing than hanging out on this crazy island. And besides,” he snorts to himself, “why would I want to stay here? No offense, Chief, but your island? Not unique.”
“You didn’t spend all your time here,” she admits. “You went to Lalotai a lot.”
Okay, so he got caught up on monster-fighting and dropped by here every once in awhile for provisions. Makes sense - they probably love him for returning their little Chief back to them unharmed. Always great to have a tribe of adoring humans on his side.
That mystery settled, Maui takes a second huge bite of his coconut and wipes his mouth on the back of his hand. “So what drew me to this island anyway? Did I get injured near here or something?”
“We were out sailing,” the princess replies carefully, measuring her own words like she would narrow the trickle of coconut juice to a thin stream. Frustration sparks in him, because this girl minces words thinner than the reeds on their beaches.
“What, just me and you?”
“Yeah. Our boat crashed. You hit your head.”
“So I saved your life,” he interprets with an exaggerated roll of his eyes. It’s like it would kill this girl to admit how much of a hero he is - everything’s we, we, we with her. Must be exhausting being so self-absorbed.
“Yes,” she admits freely. For a moment he’s sure she’s going to add more, but she shakes her head at herself. “You did. Don’t you remember? Our boat crashed, and you went under trying to save...trying to save it?”
Maui plants his cheek in his palm, looking at the princess in exasperation. Gods above, the girl is annoying. “Nope,” he replies archly, “Last thing I remember was sleeping on my island. Then I woke up here. Forgive me if I don’t have the details under lock.”
“So you really...don’t remember anything.”
Maui’s ire sparks at the judgment in her tone. Let’s see her get her head smashed, see how well she remembers some insignificant mortal village! “Look, Princess,” he snaps, “I’m not one of your fat pet pigs to be pitied. I came here for answers, not your mock-sympathy! Just tell me what I want to know then I’ll be on my merry way.”
“Maui,” the girl says, and his tone worked wonders because her voice is soothing and that’s not something he wanted to hear, “I’ve already told you most of what we’ve done.”
“Oh!” he adds, because he’s getting frustrated with the sheer amount of we in her stories, “pro tip for storytelling, Princess: give credit where credit is due.”
“What do you mean?”
“You keep using ‘we’.” He takes another bite, viciously satisfied at the crunch. “We both know you’re just a mortal kid. How much could you actually have done, anyway? You’re, what, twelve? So yeah, kiddo - try talking straight for three seconds. You know, think about someone other than yourself for a bit.”
“Oh that’s hilarious, coming from you,” the girl snaps, and he’s almost impressed how fast she loses her temper. “You’re a demigod covered literally in your own feats, I’m not sure how much more self-absorbed you could get!”
“Ah ah ah, but the difference is that I can back them up. The best you can brag is, what, the most babies kissed in a night or something.” Another huge bite. “Me, on the other hand? I pull up islands, Princess. I’ve seen things you could never even imagine. Pulled your coconuts out of the ground, pulled up the sky itself.”
Princess stands suddenly, opening her mouth angrily, and Maui just doesn’t want to hear it. Clearly, being rude won’t shut her up. So instead Maui hefts himself to his feet and upends the rest of his coconut on her head.
He can’t help the snicker that wrenches its way from him. It’s funny, okay? This mortal just standing there, spluttering in outrage. That old trick never fails to ruffle their feathers.
Except he laughed too early, apparently, because Princess isn’t spluttering. Instead, she’s staring at him - and not his eyes, either, his chest. The coconut milk drips from her hair and she’s not even able to be mad at him.
His chest itches briefly, and he looks down.
Mini-Maui and the mini-princess have been watching this whole exchange. And that in itself isn’t abnormal, because he knows at least Mini-Maui is a nosy little nuisance. But Mini-Maui has his arm wrapped around her shoulders, and she is hiding her face in his chest, like she cannot bear to watch this mortal try to reason with him. Like she’s ashamed.
Mini-Maui’s arms around the smaller girl from the fale are gentle. Even as his small tattoo tugs the other one closer, wrapping both arms around her, the movement hardly itches along Maui’s skin.
There’s that ache in his chest again and this time he knows it’s not his tiny tattoo. His bravado fades under the weight of this mortal, this mortal and her grief, and he steps forward. To do what, he doesn’t know, but Maui gets the feeling he stepped wrong.
“Uh, Princess...” he starts, unsure entirely of what to say, but she solves his issue for him.
“Go away,” she says hoarsely, and despite the shaking in her tone there’s a note of flint in it. It’s a command voice, and for the first time Maui suspects that the title of Chief for this girl’s father is honorary only.
“Out ,” she snaps, looking up at him to glare angrily, water still dripping into her face, “get out of my fale, Maui.” Her jaw locks and her glare falters and she adds, quietly, voice cracking, “Please.”
Deja-vu overtakes him. For the briefest, the briefest of seconds he feels his hook in his hand but it’s cracked, glimmering and purple, and this girl is on the verge of tears behind him and he’s making the wrong decision and he knows it he can feel it in the way his heart pounds painfully in a way it has not done since he last looked upon his brothers from afar watching them fade with age but his fury, his fury and his rage and his ire bubbles over and he hisses - he hisses something he cannot remember, words he cannot recall but will never forget; and wings arch from his back and he does not look behind him, flapping off into the night sky -
He leaves. And as he goes, he gets the sense, suddenly, that no piece of wood - no tree, no boat, no hook - is more important than this girl whose name he cannot recall.
The Chief-who-is-not-Chief, Tui, finds him along the beach, explains to him in a quiet undertone that they have prepared for him a fale should he wish to rest. Maui waves a hand absently in his direction, tells him he’ll find it when he gets tired.
It wasn’t hard to find, a couple of hours later when Maui finally decided to look into sleeping. The princess and her father were arguing loud enough to shake the trees. Apparently the girl had wanted to help put up his fale herself. Even though she had demanded (begged) he leave, she would still do this.
The argument had to be moved down to the beach so the village could rest.
Even so late at night, Maui can feel eyes on him as he settles uncomfortably in this strange fale. Still he battles the urge to run - it is awkward here, but he tells himself that his tattoos would stop him from leaving even if he tried.
(That is a lie. Though he does not understand why, he cannot leave this girl. Not until he can apologize, can understand.)
(Not until he knows her name.)
Most of the villagers just look sad, which is definitely odd. Because that means he meant something to them, and that’s just...not right. He dismisses it mostly as lack of practice reading mortals.
But then there are a couple, the younger ones, who look confused, and he knows he’s not mistaking that feeling. He hears one asking why they didn’t get to watch an ailao afi.
(He knows that dance. The young one speaks of their Chief and another performing this dance - a duet, though intended for one, full of blades and fire and trust. Maui does not let himself wonder who that other might be, because he thinks he knows the answer.)
For hours, Maui pretends to sleep. Far better than dealing with these mortals who pretend to care about him.
When the stars are out and the village has retired, Maui sits up.
“Okay guys,” he whispers to his tattoos, trying to rally himself just as he rallies them. “You gotta give me something here.”
The tiny princess nods to Mini-Maui after a brief pause. Then they both turn expectant gazes toward him.
Maui inhales deeply. “Okay, um...the tattoo. Or...you,” he says awkwardly, tapping the girl’s curly hair. Huh. Curly. Might be a good nickname, since she didn’t seem to get along too well with Princess. “How did I get you.”
The Heart of Te Fiti appears on his chest, right over the curly-haired girl’s canoe, and he flinches despite himself. Damned stone. The two tattoos exchange glances, then in deliberate synchronicity, they pick up the Heart, hop on a boat, and sail it to Te Fiti. Then the Heart pulses once, and kinda floats itself to the center of the spiral.
“So I heard, but that’s ridiculous,” he hisses to his tattoos. “She’s, what, twelve? There’s no way she survived Te Fiti.”
Mini-Maui arches an eyebrow at him. Then he gestures at the tiny rendition of Curly in one sharp movement.
Okay, yeah, he has a point. “I know she’s there, but still. That’s impossible.”
Another pointed gesture. The small Curly waves, like he needs reminding she’s there. “You do realize there was a literal lava monster guarding Te Fiti,” he hisses, “and if it was really three years ago then Curly was like eight when we took off.”
Both of them shrug.
“That’s ridiculous. That’s literally ridiculous, no mortal girl would ever sail to find a demigod and help him confront a lava demon. That’s...a suicide mission.”
“You are not being helpful,” he seethes, “these little shrugs are giving me no information - ”
“Uncle Maui?” a voice says inquisitively in the darkness, and Maui is hard-pressed not to scream.
“Who’s there?” he asks, reaching for his hook, and is cut off by a tiny form barreling into his chest.
Small arms wrap around his midsection, and against his torso sounds a tiny giggle. “Uncle Maui!” the voice chirps again, delighted. “Everyone was tellin’ me you were hurt but you’re okay! See look even your tattoos are all right! Hi!”
Maui freezes against the ground, then pushes himself into a sitting position to prise the small girl off of him. A quick glance downward tells him that both his tattoos are beaming, the pressures of earlier apparently forgotten, and the child waves eagerly back.
“Little girl,” he says, because those are some very young eyes blinking innocently up at him, “what are you doing here?”
“I wanted t’ say hi!”
“Um. Okay, you’ve said hi, time to go.”
“But I haven’t heard my story,” the little one pouts. Despite the faint illumination from the stars above, Maui can see her upper lip wobbling. She clambers right back on up his stomach. “I know ‘s passed - past my bedtime an’ I know I’m s’posed to be in bed but I can’t sleep w’thout my story!”
“Yeah!” the girl beams up at him in utter adoration. “You always tell me a story an’ I can’t sleep without one so now you gotta tell me another! Otherwise I’m never gonna be able t’ sleep!”
“I don’t have any stories for you, kiddo - uh, where are your parents, they’re probably missing you -”
“‘s okay,” the girl says cheerily, entirely unconcerned about the fact that she is currently perched atop a demigod in the middle of the night, like this is a regular occurrence. “If they wake up they’ll know where I am. ‘s where I always am.”
“Where you...always are.” The more this girl speaks, the less Maui understands.
“Yeah.” She frowns. “Not recently though ‘cause no one was allowed t’ see you. Moana said you hit your head. I had a hard time sleeping. I had to tell myself my own stories except when Tane made some up for me. He’s a good storyteller. But not ‘s good as you. But now you’re all better so you can tell me stories again!”
“Uh, kid, I don’t think -”
“Fetuilelagi!” whispers another voice.
Maui suppresses the urge to groan. The form that appears from the shadows is another girl, maybe a couple years older than the one - Fetuilelagi - sitting content on his chest.
“La’ei!” the smaller girl shrieks, and grabs onto Maui’s necklace. “La’ei don’t be mad I just wanted t’ see Uncle Maui -”
“I know, Lagi,” says the second girl in a voice shockingly mature for her age, “But you can’t disturb Uncle Maui - I mean, you can’t disturb Maui right now. He’s sleeping.”
“No he’s not! He’s wide awake!”
“Well, he’s trying to go to sleep,” she corrects herself. She steps into the fale, hesitantly, then after a couple seconds of obvious thought dips her head in respect. The gesture looks awkward on her. “Sorry, Unc - sorry, Maui,” she apologizes, then grabs the other girl’s arm. “Lagi, leave Maui alone.”
“No, La’ei! I can’t sleep without my story.”
“I’ll tell you a story,” she cajoles.
“He tells stories better.”
“Hey,” Maui interrupts, and the girl La’ei lets go of her smaller counterpart’s arm. An idea strikes him. “How about this. How about you tell me a story instead.”
Fetuilelagi turns wide eyes on him. “I can’t tell good stories,” she frowns. “Not as good as you.”
“That’s all right. I’m sure I’ll love it.”
“No! I can’t.” The girl frowns, then turns to her friend. “La’ei, you tell it.”
“Okay,” says La’ei slowly. Then, cautiously, like she’s not sure if he’s going to tell her to get off, she perches herself on his leg, shoulder resting against Fetuilelagi’s back. “What story do you want to hear, Un - Maui?”
“How about the story of Te Fiti’s heart?”
Before La’ei can so much as get in a word edgewise, the little Fetuilelagi starts to bounce excitedly on his chest. “Oh! I know this one! This is the one with the lava monster and the ocean and the giant crab and the song! I know I can be happy as a clam, ‘cause I’m a beau’ful baby,” the girl begins to sing, horribly off-key.
“Shh,” La’ei hushes her. “You’re gonna wake everyone up!”
“Oops.” Fetuilelagi shuts her mouth instantly, looking terrified. “Sorry, everyone. Sorry, Uncle Maui.”
“Well...” La’ei begins slowly, obviously thinking hard. “Of course Moana would be much better at telling this story but I’ll tell you what she told me. So first she set out from the island and stole a boat, which we’re not supposed to do because then we might crash without her help. And then she found you and you didn’t want to go with her but she shouted at you until you did. And then you went to go find your hook and she tricked the giant sparkly crab with bio - bioloomsent - bioluminescent sticky stuff and you got your hook back. Then...”
“Sharkhead!” Fetuilelagi intervenes cheerily, starting to bounce again on his chest. “You got a sharkhead!” she giggles, flicking his ear with one small fist. “I saw it once, you did your sharkhead and you scared Moana really bad. All those teeth so close to her nose. She almost screamed,” Fetuilelagi recounts dreamily.
“And then you had to get used to your hook again,” La’ei pinches Fetuilelagi then resumes smoothly before Maui can really process - sharkhead? - “and then once you did that you taught Moana how to sail. Then she sailed you to Te Fiti. And then...well, we don’t really know what happened here.” La’ei turns her head away from him to look at the ground. “Moana always says that you fought Te Ka until she put the heart back in the spiral. But then she sang this song about crossing the horizon to go with it and that doesn’t make sense. Who would she be crossing the horizon to find? She already found you so she had to be talking about someone else. But the only other someone else was Te Ka.” La’ei shakes her head at the mystery. “That’s the story.”
“Ah,” Maui manages.
Fetuilelagi bounces on his chest, and Maui’s grateful that at least she’s light. “That w’s a good story.”
“Thank you, Lagi,” the older girl says, looking genuinely pleased at the compliment. “But come on, now we gotta go. Otherwise Mom’s going to kill me.”
“Awww, but Aunt Arihi’s not gonna be too mad and Uncle Maui just woke up -”
“No. Bedtime,” La’ei commands, dragging the smaller girl off Maui’s chest with an apologetic look in his direction. “Say good night.”
“Fine,” she pouts, then perks right back up with all the resilience of youth. “Okay, good night Uncle Maui!” the small one hollers. After a bit of shushing, La’ei calls a good night of her own, before disappearing into the darkness.
It takes Maui a couple minutes to shake himself out of a stupor. He tries to sort through their story but he can’t because his mind keeps getting stuck on Uncle Maui.
Uncle. That’s...a word for family.
That’s a word for family. Who - why do they call him that? And how is it that - now that he thinks back the whole village, down to the smallest child was looking for him and he assumed they wanted to make sure he was okay because he was a demigod but even in the fale with the broken girl they were upset, every one of them, because -
Because he had forgotten.
Because he had forgotten her, Curly, the girl from the fale. Somehow, it all keeps coming back to her. And what was it that the children had said, Arihi - that was the name of Curly’s sister, Uncle Maui -
Without really thinking about it, Maui pulls himself to his feet. Apparently, according to the girl La’ei’s story, the girl from the fale had not only saved him and his hook from Tamatoa, but restored Te Fiti’s heart as well. But she herself had told him that he restored the Heart -
No she hadn’t. Maui’s footsteps still on the sandy ground. He’d claimed to have restored the Heart - the girl herself had said nothing.
But why didn’t she correct him? Maui sets off again, determined, because that doesn’t make sense. If she was the one who restored the Heart, then she should be taking credit for it. Doesn’t she want his praise? He is a demigod, there’s no better affirmation than that of an immortal. The girl must have a couple screws loose.
And then there was that thing with Te Ka. Not even his little storytellers knew exactly what had happened, only that Curly had sung something and magically fixed their problems.
He continues, undeterred, until he’s right outside her fale. She’s sleeping soundly and Maui doesn’t think he’s ever seen her look anything close to carefree but she does now, as she dreams. Maui wonders what she dreams about.
Maui stills his pace. He has too many questions and not enough sleep - he can’t barge into her fale and demand information.
(He doesn’t want to make her cry again.)
Tomorrow, he will ask. But tonight, he will let her rest.
In his sleep, he stands on the ocean. On a rock hardly the size of himself. Its waves are frantic around his feet, sloshing up to his knees as the sea writhes.
When he glances down, his fishhook is broken.
His beloved hook is tinged with sickly purple, its white blade coated in webbed cracks that tear through the lovingly sharpened edge. Maui feels nothing at the sight; it is a dream. It is not real.
Sizzles erupt around him as a shower of lava trails from the sky, turning sharp and brittle as it slams against the surface of the water. Maui looks up, slowly, to find Te Ka staring at him. In his dream she grins, wide and malicious, and her sharp fingers glint with hateful light as she conjures a fireball to smite him.
Maui feels nothing at the sight. It is a dream. It is not real. Death means nothing more than waking up.
But then Te Ka turns from him, and Maui turns too, to see what has caught her attention. There, across the ocean, toward the spiral of Te Fiti, a curly-haired girl scrambles up the cliff face.
Te Ka’s magic simmers again as she pulls anger, raw hate and fury from her core, coils it into a ball of fire. Maui cannot tear his eyes from the girl - he knows her, he knows her but he does not know her name or how to call her to warn her to jump to save herself –
The fire-slinging demon rears back, in preparation to lease her fireball. This is not a dream, this is real, and Maui feels.
It is not a conscious thought that causes him to draw his hook, nor reason that tells him to glance down at his tattoo (one, one instead of two, there is no canoe over his heart nor a curly-haired girl keeping it safe); it is not conscious thought that launches him off the rock and into the sky.
It is not conscious thought upon which Maui shatters his hook.
(There is nothing of thought that can shatter the power of Te Ka. It is only life and love that can still her hateful touch. So Maui leaps, and he feels, and her power breaks - though only for a moment - under his love of this mortal he has come to hold so dear.)
He finds her the next day on the ocean. For a long while he tarries in the shade of the coconut trees hanging low over the shore, debating furiously with his little tattoos before finally stepping forward to interrupt her dance.
He clears his throat. “Hi.”
The girl startles, dropping instantly from her dance to turn toward him. “Maui,” she replies, face falling carefully neutral. “Did you sleep well?”
“Yeah.” His toes scuff at the sand beneath his feet. “Yeah, great. But that’s not...” This is the time for an apology, Maui, he tells himself. “I, uh...”
“It’s fine,” she says, and the corners of her mouth crease upward in a smile. For a long moment he just stares at her, wondering how she knows what he was going to say.
She drops to the sand below them, and pats a seat next to her. Hesitantly, watching her carefully, Maui lowers himself to the ground.
“This all must be confusing for you,” she says, and her voice is more tired than the hour of the morning dictates.
That, he thinks ruefully, is an understatement. “Yeah.”
Out here, in the light of dawn, the waves move smoothly against the shore. There is little else to hear but the distant cawing of birds far above their heads. The rest of the village has not yet stirred.
The ocean wraps around her ankles gently, he notices as he stares at the waves. It sends small pebbles flying toward his ankle, like the big blue nuisance is annoyed at him.
“I wanted to ask you something,” he says, and knows he’s not imagining the way her face falls. “Not - not that again. I...remember something, and I don’t understand it.”
“Kinda.” One of them was a story. The other, more a vision of sorts. “Two things. You, um, you said you faced Te Ka with me, right?”
“I...had a dream. It was - there was a lot of ocean, and I was standing on a rock, and you - you were climbing a cliff. Te Ka was about to attack you.”
The girl gives no indication that she’s heard him either way, just looks out toward the horizon. “So I attacked Te Ka,” he finishes. “My hook broke. But there’s no way that happened,” he tells himself just as he tells her, laying a hand on his hook, “because I’ve got mine right here. Right?”
Curly neither confirms nor denies his statement. Instead, she asks, “and the second?”
“Look, kid, did that happen or not?” he snaps.
A sharp stone lodges itself in the tender flesh between his toes. Maui winces and hisses a curse at the ocean, removing it and hurling it over the waves.
When he sits back again, she repeats her question calmly. He tries to protest and she looks at him and she just looks so tired, so worn, that he gives up pressing. So he explains, in half-phrases and statements that curve up at the end like questions, the little niggling details that he half-remembers.
When he finishes, she turns toward him to look at him, to really look at him, not look at the horizon like she’d been doing the whole time, and says “I can’t explain that to you.”
That exasperation comes bubbling back up to the surface. “Now you’re just being obstinate. What do you want, an apology?”
“No,” she denies tiredly, then shakes her head. “Anything else, Maui. I will explain anything else. But this I’m not going to tell you about that.”
It takes Curly a long, long time to find her words. Just when he thought she couldn’t get any more tired, her words any more old or sad, she quietly says “I can’t.”
That’s all she says.
“All right, uh....” He mentally reviews the small girl’s story, and picks out something that didn’t make sense to him. “Tamatoa. What happened with him?”
To her surprise, she chuckles. “Well, you wanted your hook back,” she says, gesturing toward it with her free hand. “So you navigated us to Lalotai. You told me to stay with the boat - ‘with the other chicken’,” she quotes him, and he’s a bit shocked to see that her grin only grows wider at the remembrance. Curly’s awful good at taking criticism. “My pet chicken, Heihei, came with us,” she adds as an aside. “Anyway, of course I wasn’t going to let you do all the adventuring alone.”
“Of course. So, what, you jumped into Lalotai?”
“Yep!” she replies cheerily, and he chokes on his own surprise. “You didn’t think I could make it,” she taunts, and elbows him in the side. She packs a surprisingly good hit for a mortal so tiny. “But you did your fancy haka thing, made a couple of stupid jokes, and jumped right on in. Tried to scare me off. I jumped anyway.”
She’s grinning now, full-on and brighter even than the sun poking its head over the horizon. Something in Maui pangs for this sight, like he has only now regained a limb he’d forgotten he’d lost.
“Long story short, I almost got killed a half-dozen times, and then we ran back into each other right outside Tamatoa’s lair. You were all for making me wait outside, you great lump, but then you figured we could use me as bait.”
“Bait?” he repeats incredulously.
“Yep! Dressed me up in the sparkliest cones you could find and stuck me in his cave. I even had this little drum thing too,” she says, growing more and more animated as more of the story spills from her, even miming banging a small drum, “that you told me was to ‘wake up the crab’. I’m still pretty sure that was just to make me look stupid. Then Tamatoa woke up and almost ate me, then right before he did you got your hands on your hook.”
“And then I ripped off another leg?”
“Not quite,” she winces, and laughs at his surprise. “Your hook didn’t work right on the first go. Or the fourth, or the fifth,” she counts on her fingers. “I think you cycled through about six transformations before ending up in your own body. Tamatoa, uh, kinda threw me into a cage of sorts and started...well, he started tossing you around. Took your hook back. It...looked really painful.”
Even though it’s just a memory, the empathetic pain in her eyes is genuine. In that moment, Maui can’t help but stare. “It started getting pretty bad, so I climbed my way out of his cage. Then I covered a barnacle in some of the algae in his cave, the stuff that glows green in the darkness, and used that as a distraction,” she shrugs. “He was about to eat you, then I just waved it in front of him. He thought it was the Heart. All I had to do was pretend to trip and toss it down a ravine and he went right for it, literally tearing up the ground to find it. By the time he realized it was a diversion I’d grabbed your hook off his shell, and, well, we were outta there.”
Maui stares at her in disbelief. “You - you created a small Heart of Te Fiti, convinced Tamatoa - the cleverest scavenger below the benthics - that it was real, and got my hook back while he was digging for it?”
“Huh.” The tale makes him uncomfortable, makes him feel something new. Something like respect.
But what’s even stranger is Curly’s huge grin. The Maui she spoke about, the one she adventured with, he makes her happy.
And, he realizes, watching her beam, he wants to be that Maui again. It’s not a notion he can put to words. It’s just a feeling, something tugging behind his breastbone, that tells him to make her smile.
“Okay,” he says, settling himself more comfortably on the shore. “You said my hook didn’t work, right? What happened after that?”
Turns out, a lot happened after that. From hook-on-oar sparring to wayfinding lessons to shapeshifting practice to long conversations with the ocean, they had apparently kept themselves pretty busy. It isn’t until the Maui and Curly of her narrative near Te Ka that she stops speaking.
She trails off as they enter the dust cloud, then shakes her head as if to dissipate the gray.
“We restored the Heart,” she tells him, and that’s all she says. He debates trying to pry for more details, but dismisses the notion, content instead to watch the waves roll up the shore with her. He’s not sure why this is good, why this is comfortable, but Maui does not want to move.
“I gotta admit,” he says, watching her as she grins nostalgically toward the horizon, “for a curly-haired non-princess, you did pretty good.”
And it seems like he’s just going to keep messing these things up, because her smile instantly vanishes.
Her lips form the words thank you , but she can’t quite force out the air needed to speak them. Instead, she whispers, “You really don’t remember?”
All the heartbreak, all the pain that Maui had almost thought she’d forgotten returns instantly. Worse still, he doesn’t know what he did. What he said, to put that hurt back in her voice.
“No.” Nothing except these infuriating flashes of memory. Just when he thinks he can catch them, they dance further away, leaving behind nothing but a trail of affection, the ghost of a feeling so warm and tangible that it touches all who look upon it.
Maui knows, he knows that he was once a part of it. But he is not the Maui blessed with this gift that he’s chasing after.
This girl was never just a Chief. Never just a Princess, more than her hair and her status. This is a mortal who gave him an island and a home, a love strong enough to push back Te Ka.
Maui hates himself, strongly, this old strange Maui who fit in with these things like slipping another tattoo on his chest. Hates that he cannot be the person that makes this mortal smile brighter than the rising sun.
“You wish I did, though.”
She doesn’t have anything to say to that. It’s an unanswerable question, one for which there is only one response.
It grates at him. For once, for once, he was good enough, and then he went and ruined it all trying to save some stupid boat.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers to the beach and the ocean, but it is the girl who responds.
“Don’t be.” She conjures a smile, somewhere, for him. “You know me. I’m stubborn. And you - you belong here, Maui. I can wait, however long it takes, for you to remember that.”
She’s lying. He doesn’t belong here - her Maui does. But he grins and nods and pretends he believes.
Neither says another word.
It does get a bit easier afterward. The village looks less like they’re going to smite him for looking funny at their Chief. Day in, day out, Maui finds himself more and more able to accept their extended hands.
He finds out that the girl who had spit her coconut and hooked him a good one was named Newea, and the siva tau was a dance she did not know. It was he, Newea told him, that had taught them the steps.
He tries fishing, and the ocean offers him no food. But it is a change of pace, one that he enjoys, to sit and talk with the other fishermen. In his thousand years, Maui had forgotten how humans talk about the smallest things. To his surprise, he enjoys those afternoons with the fishermen; though it should be frustrating, returning empty-handed, they accept him easily.
Of course, declared in full health, Maui gains (regains?) his status as orator, especially among the young ones of Motunui. He finds that they know most of his stories, and most of his embellishments as well - some can recite his stories nearly as well as he can. It is a stretch of his creativity, to find stories that they do not already know, but whether his words are flawless or riddled with contradictions the children listen with awe. He sits in the same place in the fale tele every time; and for each story, the children crowd around him without needing to ask where he will sit, like they have been here before.
One day, a storm looms over the horizon. The Chief calls her people to retreat to the warmth of their fales, to rest with their families. Their supplies are plenty; the risk is not necessary.
Maui finds himself gravitating instinctively toward her fale. He is on the verge of entering, the Chief herself still overseeing the evacuation of the shore, before stopping himself.
He has a fale of his own. He does not need to take hers. He does not know why it feels wrong that he should be anywhere else.
He retreats to his own fale before the Chief can return.
The storm passes, and as it fades the fishermen pull out their nets once more. Maui goes with them.
For several days, he tries to be her Maui, large and boisterous and confident on this island that he cannot convince himself he belongs. She sees through him, and plays along, but they both know it is fake. He stops trying.
Maui does not know why he stays on this island of madness and warmth. All he knows is that he cannot leave.
(Not again, whispers a forgotten voice in the back of his mind, you cannot leave again. Though he does not understand he listens as best he can.)
It is the end of another day. Maui has not seen the Chief since dinner the previous night. It seems like every day she goes without Maui she grows more and more weary. Maui does not know how much longer he can stay.
Maui makes himself useful where he can. Though he’s pretty useless at fishing, he can tell stories - and that’s all the fishermen need, in the end. A good distraction and a good laugh while they wait for the fish to bite.
Maui belongs here, on this island. He knows that now. But his place is not with the fishermen.
(His tattoos seem as though they will never be prised apart. He looks down at his chest absently to find them sitting side-by-side on Moana’s canoe, holding up the sky together, to find Mini-Maui teaching her how to use a lasso. Sometimes he stares. Sometimes he looks away and pretends he did not see.)
Tonight, most of the village has already retired to their beds, but for some reason, Maui stalls. Instead he trains his gaze toward the horizon. And so he stands for several long hours, trying for the hundredth time to imagine Curly’s story. (His story? Their story?)
When he turns back, a fluttering on the breeze catches his eye. A flash of orange within a waterfall.
Maui glances surreptitiously around himself, then steals toward it. Even without a flash of his hook he moves softly, drawn toward that flicker of motion. His feet tread noiselessly around crops of blue-lavender flowers that seem to whisper a greeting into the night air. Beyond the waterfall, Maui finds a gaping cavern.
It is a huge space. The ceiling yawns massive over his head, the walls stretching wide and taut around him, the light of the stars trickling quickly off as he steps further inward. The rocks of the walls and the floor are worn and shiny through centuries of trickling condensation. And in the reflected light of the moon, a small inlet shines with light.
But Maui has eyes for none of that. He approaches the orange cloth, and sees that it is a sail. On the sole boat in this cavern flutters a piece of cloth and an emblem, one he can’t quite make out so he moves toward it. Slowly he creeps around the side. Something about the curve of the craft’s hull niggles at the back of his mind, pushing and prodding. He steps over a boulder, hops lightly down, and sees the spiral of Te Fiti.
There is no warning. In one instant, he is in this cavern; the next he is -
hefting a boat into the air, exclaiming praises to the Gods for they have granted him a –
flapping his hand useless through the water, panic welling as the Kakamora close in on him, looking up in surprise and something of respect as Curly comes flying through the air, chicken in her mouth and oar in both hands –
wiping his hands on the rock as he ascends the mountain, humming a ditty to himself, then peering over the edge to find the mortal off her boat and huffing as she climbs –
hurting and aching but warm as she drags him from Tamatoa, amusement glinting in her eyes as she clicks her locket shut, his hook supporting him on one side and this mortal strong and alive on the other –
grinning, but not the smugness of a smirk, at the novice wayfinder (the student who will become a master) who sails below him, adjusts the oar with ease, so he hops down and says if i were the ocean –
i think i would be looking for a –
and pain, pain as te ka knocks him from the sky, pain as the chosen one looks to him and begs him to stand with her, to fight, pain in his wings as he flies away and pain in his heart, spearing and burning as he flees -
a promise, hastily tossed burning through the night sky plummeting like a falling star never again never again will i leave and a prayer to anyone, to anyone who might listen please Gods let her be alive -
alone on a chipped rock defenseless among the stormy seas –
fight says his mind and fight says his heart and fight says maui –
and for once, all three are in agreement –
against his chest this wayfinder who has voyaged across the seas to save her whole world just as she has saved Maui, the itch of a new tattoo, this mortal who has given him a family -
He gasps for air like he’s drowning.
Motunui is still and silent around him. There is not a word in this cavern, not another soul - but if he listens close enough, in the dead quiet, he thinks he can hear the distant sound of drumming.
“Moana,” he says quietly, voice muted against the walls of the cavern, echoes lost to the rocky walls. “Her name is Moana.”
He repeats her name in a mantra as he runs from the cavern, his hook forgotten on the rocky ground, in search of her. As he tears through the green of Motunui he repeats her name until his tongue burns with it.
As Maui passes through the village, the more he sees the less he understands how he had forgotten - had he really passed that grove so many times and not known it to be the hatching ground of Drumstick’s clutch of a dozen little nuggets? That charred bit of wood on the fale tele, had he not connected it to an ailao afi gone wrong? And the patch of grass over by Arihi’s fale, how had he not remembered the way Fetuilelagi had barreled him over, “defeating” him for the first time?
Maui checks Moana’s fale first. It’s growing dark, and Moana should be preparing herself to rest. Or she would if she were a reasonable Chief - but just like Maui himself, Moana seems to consider herself above mortal needs. At least, ones through which she could be working for her people. Sleep doesn’t come easy to her when there is work to be done.
So it is with little surprise and lots of exasperation that Maui catches sight of Moana’s fale empty. He is tempted to tell Arihi, because this much joy is hard to contain but he doesn’t want to stop so he waves at her briefly as he passes, switching course toward the fale tele.
Sometimes Moana makes the hard surface of the fale tele her bed, and even though she wakes up with a sore back and complaints on her lips it is a habit that neither Maui nor her parents have been able to break her of.
No, there is no sign of the Chief of Motunui in the fale tele, just a half-dozen children and their teenaged siblings practicing a siva tau in the light of the stars. With a flash he remembers that he should be the one teaching them - but he has time to do that later.
Right now there is nothing more important than Moana.
His footsteps hardly slow against the ground as he passes the fale tele, correcting his course for the beach. The inevitable buildup of acid hardly registers in his muscles, and he can’t help a boisterous war-cry of relief and joy as he sprints past the fale tele. The amassed children, his students, turn at the sound. He sees the beginnings of happy grins begin to sprout on their faces because they suspect (how had he forgotten that he is family to them), but he graces them with little more than a half-wave. They will understand, he thinks, that he must first find Moana.
They have understood that all along. So much makes sense, now - the looks of the fishermen when he opted to sail with them instead of their Chief, the restlessness of the younger children of Motunui when he retired early, the half-pitying looks of the adults as he and Moana parted ways once more. All along they understood him, him and Moana, better than he himself could.
When Moana is not in her fale nor the fale tele of her people, Maui can find her on the beach. After a long grueling day, be it negotiating or sailing or leading, Moana takes respite under the stars. Maui darts down a long-tread path toward a strip of Motunui’s beach (their sand, the sand on which she had danced that first day, the moves to a dance he remembers still, a dance built for two, a rhythm that makes his feet ache).
He strides around the last of the trees overhanging the shore, and on the beach dances his wayfinder, content in the calming beating of the ocean.
Maui dashes across the sand and sweeps Moana into his arms.
“Moana,” he tells her, before she can so much as say a word. Her hands, instinctively tightening around his chest, still at the name. “Your name is Moana.”
For a long second she stares, feet dangling off the ground and eyes wide as she gazes at him, and then she laughs. Long and loud and carefree. It’s a beautiful sound, overwhelmed and overjoyed and free, free like Moana was always meant to be, free like she and Maui are together.
“Shellbrains,” she grins, though it is watery and unsteady, “took you long enough.”
“Fishfeet,” he replies just because he can, because he knows her now and remembers, and he cannot believe that for so long he had called her Chief. “Curly - Moana, I...” he rummages briefly for words, the tightening in his chest overwhelming, and decides abruptly that speaking is overrated when there are hugs to be had.
So instead of attempting to express himself, he holds her closer, her cheek squishing against his own. She tries to pull him closer, burying her forehead into his shoulder, and Maui cannot help the sigh of utter contentment that escapes him.
“You remembered me,” she whispers, trembling slightly. From exhaustion or emotion Maui cannot tell, but he guesses the latter. Or some combination of both. “How? What happened?”
He means to answer, he really does. In time he will explain, but for now, he just wants to hold his wayfinder once more.
Finally, when they have both stopped shaking, Maui sets Moana back on the ground. He can’t help the smile on his face nor the glee in his heart.
He sinks onto the sand, unable to keep himself from smiling as he looks out toward the horizon. “It was Te Fiti,” he explains.
She does not miss that it is the same pockmarked patch of sand upon which they have stargazed countless times. Moana shakes her head at herself ruefully, grinning despite a second round of tears, and sits next to him. “Te Fiti, huh?”
“Kind of.” He chuckles to himself. “I found the Cavern of the Ancestors, and then I saw the sail with the, y’know, the insignia, and then...” he shrugs, smiles fondly at her. “I remembered.”
The night air is cool and crisp as he breathes it in, and out. It’s incredible - he can’t comprehend how he’d forgotten this, the way the stars glint over the horizon, Moana’s small shoulders warm against his own.
“So,” he says to the open air, and rests the underside of his arm against the top of Moana’s head, just hard enough to be annoying. The resulting glare is more than worth the trouble. She prods him lightly in the side, then shifts herself until her head rests more comfortably against his shoulder. “I remember us leaving Motunui,” he recounts, “and we were headed straight east. But after the fifth day or so - you had an apu for breakfast, I think, and you were mad because I’d dropped in the water and gotten it all salty - I don’t remember much of anything.”
Moana blows out a puff of air. “Well, turns out that straight east is - was - a giant whirlpool.”
Moana reaches up, pulls her hair into a bandless bun, then drapes it over his shoulder. “Was. We...it was unexpected. We didn’t know what it was, and of course I wanted to investigate.”
“I protested,” he guesses.
“Yeah.” She falls quiet for a long while. When he glances at her, her eyes glint with unspoken pain. But after a few moments, she clears her throat and carries on. “By the time we realized, it was too late.”
“We got sucked in?”
“I did. You...you managed to turn yourself into a hawk in time, and you tried to get me too, but the current was picking up and I didn’t realize that you wanted me to jump for you because I was too busy trying to get the boat out of there.” She grins ruefully. “You, uh...you flapped after me for a bit.”
As Moana speaks, Maui remembers small flashes. Most of all, the noise - the overwhelming tumult of the water, the slamming of the wind against the sail, his own terrified heartbeat as he watched Moana draw closer and closer to the center.
“Then you dived right into it,” she says, and the images fade. “I thought something had hit you, that you’d fallen from the sky.”
That, he remembers. For some reason, he had decided to stop the whirlpool by going toward it, and he remembers Moana’s panicked cries more clearly than anything else.
“You were underwater for a couple of minutes. An eternity. It was all I could do to keep the boat upright. But I couldn’t actually break out of it. It was almost too late, when the entire surface of the ocean rumbled. Waves, huge waves, broke through the surface, the size of mountains.
“It seemed like my entire world was shaking. And then the first peak of a mountain broke the surface, and I realized what had happened.” She lifts her chin to look at him. “You know, I’d never seen you pull up an island before.”
His lips form a soundless oh. Moana laughs wearily at the sight. “You pulled up an island from the bottom of the sea, right where the whirlpool once was. The waves were so great that I capsized, far out to the ocean. It took hours before I could get the boat back upright and onto your island. And...” her voice trails off, and she clears her throat, gaze returning to the stars. “I found you on the beach,” she finishes quietly, not looking at him. “I brought you back to Motunui.”
“Then I woke up.”
Moana nods, and hugs her arms around her chest. Maui can almost remember it - diving into the whirlpool, pulse thundering in his ears, one thought and one thought alone - destroy the whirlpool. Keep Moana safe.
Overwhelmed, Maui lies against the sand, turning his gaze toward the stars. Moana follows, wiggling around to create a little wedge of sand against which she can rest her back. Then she tucks her shoulder against his once more.
Then one thought connects to the other, and Maui looks down at his own chest. “Wait a second,” he realizes, (still wondering, still wondering how could I forget), “my necklace.”
Moana cocks an eyebrow at him, pressing half her face into the sand. “Yeah?”
“I was wondering where one of my little teeth went.” He shakes out the cord in front of her to demonstrate the slight wear where he had apparently torn one from its place around his neck. Funny how, now that he looks at it again, the tooth would have laid right over Mini-Moana and her canoe. “I know you have it, but...where exactly...?”
“It’s in my necklace,” she replies, and clicks open her locket to reveal a tooth. Yep, that’s the one - Maui recognizes it instantly, and the greenish tint around its roots where he’d torn it from the mouth of the blacktip he’d slain.
The exact circumstances of him gifting it to her evade him for now. But Maui’s not too worried. It’ll come back to him with time.
He has already remembered that which is most important, and she is still his, and she waited for three long weeks for him to return. Just as he keeps her over his heart, so she keeps him in hers.
And that will never change.