The new island is broad-shouldered, and its arms spread east and west along its long, sloping front. It’s no Te Fiti, but it’ll do. Her little cousins like to find pieces of driftwood and baskets big enough to sit in and then surf the grassy incline all the way down to shore, which makes for about one minute of adrenaline at full-speed. She tried it once and has to admit that it's pretty thrilling, and she has had some thrills in her time, okay.
But the kids don't find that nearly as exciting as they do Maui--Maui, who only lets the village kids see him when he feels like it and gives them piggyback rides by the dozen. Half the time, though, he's off "reestablishing his awesomeness" on other shores.
But when he's not doing either of those things, he’s sneaking around their island as a bat or a sea snake or a mongoose. At least, she thinks he is. She can never be sure because he's been "expanding his repertoire," and unless she antagonizes him or does something embarrassing that makes him laugh, he does a pretty good job pretending to be a regular animal.
Every now and then, though, he stops being sly about it and just keeps her company by following her around, once in the form of an actual puppy. (He'd had to explain what a puppy was, though. At first, she'd assumed he was some kind of hairy piglet.)
And then, one day, there is a butterfly.
She’s busy beating the dust out of an old woven rug, trying not to breathe in the grime she’s made airborne. When she stops to wipe the sweat off her forehead, a bright red butterfly lands on her nose and makes her feel all special. It flaps its wings gently and she crosses her eyes to get a good look at the beautiful swirling patterns on its wings. When it flutters away, she can’t help but chase after it. She sprints through the underbrush, ducking branches and hopping over stones until she’s followed it to the other end of the island. Then she’s standing atop the cliff-face of the leeward side, feeling extremely silly when that little flash of red does nothing more extraordinary than land on a flower and then, eventually, float away on the breeze.
And then the rainy season comes and the coconuts aren't as plentiful as hoped and Moana maps the stars in her mind, as a daily ritual, as a lucky charm against needing it. Because as much as she relishes her own seaworthiness and an excuse to make use of it, it would be nice for her people to be able to sit still for a year. But then the dry season arrives with a truly pitiful harvest and the next thing she knows, she is leaning over to test the dark waters, and her people's boats flank her as the night sky stretches into the endless expanse of their own hopefulness.
Her fingers linger in the water: sampling the current, the temperature, and something she is tempted to label as the intent of the ocean. She's just about to pull her hand out when a streak of midnight whistles by, and then slows to swim parallel to her boat. It's right under her fingers when she realizes that it's a stingray. Not a glowing or in any way an omniscient one. Just--a stingray. One that crossed time and space to arrive here, just to be by her hand. To be touched. By her.
She lowers her hand to run gentle fingers over its sleek black back, the barest velvet under the tips of her fingers. She does it again, the softness of it almost unbelievable. The moment she pulls her hand from the water, the stingray races away, hurtling out into the waters that are becoming more and more familiar to her all the time.
The new new island is wonderfully round and its water is a lighter shade of blue, the coconuts more plentiful.
She's examining one of the tiny, unfamiliar white flowers that litter their new home when a voice comes from behind her, saying: "Nice Island you got here, master wayfinder."
She turns and ogles. She’d become used to seeing him as a series of animals, but not… not as a man.
He's just so big. She can't get used to it; can never not notice it. When she first saw him on that horrible little stone island, it was the first thing she noticed: a mountain of a man, blocking out the sky, lifting a boat like it was a basket of feathers.
And here he is again, hook thrown over one shoulder and hair up in a bun. Heihei caws at Maui in recognition and then goes back to pecking at the ground, looking for a rock to swallow. “Hey, chickie,” Maui says, leaning down to get a better look at the rooster. Then Pua waddles out of the trees and Maui says, “Oh wow, I bet you’re glad to be a real sidekick again, huh?” Pua falls back on his butt and sneezes. “That’s a yes.”
Maui must think that Pua’s got the right idea because he does the same thing, sitting back in the grass and reclining comfortably as Moana follows him down. She crosses her legs, gathers her patience, and plucks a long blade of grass to tear apart as she says, “Soooo… we’re just going to pretend that we haven’t seen each other since Te Fiti?”
“Huh?” Maui answers, shifting his hook to let it rest in his lap.
There is a conspicuous rustling from the wall of green behind them and then the village kids come streaming in between the coconut trees, each carrying their dinner. When they spot Maui, they start hooting and hollering and asking him for piggyback rides.
One of the eldest girls, Lani, hands Moana a bowl of roasted chicken cutlet and spiced taro.
“Finally! Some chicken,” Maui says with relish, rubbing his hands together and clearly expecting someone to hand him a bowl next.
The kids glance between each other guiltily, none of them wanting to give up their bowls. “Sorry, Maui. We didn’t know you were coming…”
Moana watches skeptically as Maui smiles and shrugs, saying, “Hey, it’s okay, kids. You couldn’t have known.” Then he gasps and says, "Is that a fish with wings?" as he points dramatically at the shoreline. The kids all hug their bowls to their chests as they turn to see for themselves.
Moana nods to herself with pride. They're learning.
Maui makes a lunge for Lani’s bowl, anyway, but she dances back twice as fast. “It’s not even worth trying. My tattoo’s gonna be a mako shark,” she informs him, sticking her tongue out at him.
Inevitably, Maui starts flexing, making the ink stamped over his back ripple and catapulting Mini Maui out of his nap. “So you wanna talk tats, huh?”
“There’s no need to brag,” Moana cuts him off, sure that he’s about to sing a song about how great he is or something.
“There is always a need to brag. Not that it’s bragging when you’re as awesome as this guy,” he jerks a thumb at himself, even as he sinks back down to the ground, a bit deflated. And then he mutters, “Uppity pet mortal.”
The kids all ooooh because they know Maui’s in trouble when Moana sets her bowl down. They’re right, of course, and she spends the rest of the evening whooping his ass into the sunset.
He leaves her gifts, every now and then.
She'll come back from a long day of pretending to weave baskets while gossiping with her aunts, and there will be a bundle of cloth on her bed--in shades and textures she's never seen before. A fuzzy pale yellow, a deep rough-textured orange, and a shimmering black, rippling with all of the psychedelic colors of Lalotai. Everyone's begged her to share, so there have been some particularly beautiful skirts scattered throughout the village this spring, but she's kept the bolt of silky blue cloth for herself. It's a strange shade: an energetic blue that's light, but not pale. She can't look at it without thinking of Maui's power surging through the veins carved into his hook. She still can't decide what to make of it.
Or she'll be wayfinding when she feels the lightest gust of air against her side, and when she looks down there's a sleek little knife--a curved, hook-like blade jutting out of a smooth wooden handle--tucked into her outer skirt when it certainly hadn’t been there before.
And then, one night, she drops her head heavily onto her pillow, only for it to knock into something tough that makes a dull clack! against her skull. She jerks her head back, moaning, "Why me?" When the ache abates, she looks down and immediately spots the culprit: an oyster shell resting dead center on her pillow. Oh no. She brings her face right up to it and drags her hand along the earthy tones of the shell, her nails catching on its seam. It makes creaking, scraping noises as she slowly prizes it open. Inside is the biggest pearl she has ever seen. This has to stop, she thinks as she holds the pearl up to her eye and imagines the headdress she could make out of it.
It's too bad that Maui hasn't been by in human form for weeks now. Honestly, it's a shame. Because there's something that they should really talk about.
Not a day after she receives that ridiculous pearl, she's gathering driftwood on the shore when she spots a crab in a gorgeous conch shell scurrying from the waves and ambling straight towards her in a decidedly un-crablike fashion. So she crouches down a little further to talk to him as he scuttles just a foot from her. A tiny pair of eyes peek out at her, and she smiles gently, saying, "Hey, Maui. I really love these presents I've been finding all over the place. Are they... are they from you?"
That is not the question she wants to ask, but even a simple query like that makes the eyes disappear into the flaring and tapering blush of the conch--delicate, nigh impenetrable. Sensing that she's losing her audience, Moana quickly clarifies, "I just ask because they mean a lot to me, and you mean a lot to me--" Even the legs of the crab retreat into the shell now and as it falls to the sand with a plop, she is suddenly burning to the brim with anger.
"Well, fine then! Be a big baby about it!" With that, she grabs the conch and chucks it into the ocean as far as she can throw it.
Between his visits to the village kids and the suspiciously fancy gifts, everybody seems to know about the thing between her and Maui. Whatever it is. Apparently her family approves, in that her mom told her to "bring him home for dinner when he's ready to get serious" and her dad just muttered something along the lines of "it's not like she could marry any higher."
But getting married involves talking, so really, the joke's on him.
There had been blood, there had been tears. But it was done: her tattoo was as permanent and well-inked as anyone could ask it to be. And it's as obvious as daylight that it's Maui's hook. Right down her sternum, curving over one breast. The tip of it hooked right into the skin above her heart. Sappy, she knows, but she thinks it looks nice. It juts out of her top at all times, so it had better look nice.
Two weeks after the inking, it’s almost healed and it’s definitely ready to handle exposure to the sun. So she bursts out of her hut, ready to take on the world.
An iguana falls out of a nearby tree at the sight of her tattoo.
But at the present moment, Moana is done speaking to animals that aren't actually animals, so she keeps walking, smiling at the thought of him falling on his face for once. She was rather tired of it, herself.
When it comes right down to it, it's up to her to confront him. She knows that. And at the heart of it all is the same conundrum they got snarled in the first time: does she dare to think that she's special? Special to him? If she declares that she is, there's every chance that he'll deny it on principle, just because he can. (He's a trickster, after all, which sometimes looks a lot like being a coward.)
But she didn't get this far by humoring other people's state of denial. And she definitely didn't get this far by denying herself things that she really, really wants.
So the next time he dares to approach her in human form, this conversation is happening. Because, heavens above, it has to happen sometime.
There are the sounds of the night-filled ocean, as ambient as the spoken word, making her feel alive just by sitting next to it. For all that, she's fallen into a reflective mood, holding her old oar over her knees. She traces Maui’s carved signature with her index finger, thinking only of its permanence as her red feathered top flutters in the breeze.
Her mood must be obvious because when Maui walks out of the trees unannounced, he simply sits next to her, the log groaning under their combined weight.
Twenty heartbeats pass in silence, and then Mini Maui thwacks him on the shoulder. Maui snarls down at his own chest, “Do not start with me, you’ve always had a crush on her--”
He splays his hands, gaping at his own pectoral in outrage. “No, you don’t get a vote! What kind of logic is that!”
And then something completely unexpected happens. A second dark little stick-figure with long curly hair peeks from over Maui’s shoulder. And from Moana’s gaping mouth comes the words, “What the...” Mini Moana waves at her in a silent hello. She’s--she’s adorable.
Moana scoots right up against Maui’s side, her oar and her hesitance left by the wayside in her haste to get a good look at herself. Mini Moana puts a hand over her mouth to cover a fit of giggles, likely at Moana’s silly expression. Still, she flits over to Maui’s stomach and, at precisely the same moment, she and Moana reach towards each other. She ends up with a hand pressed over his ink-stamped stomach, feeling nothing but his warm skin and the impression that Mini Moana is a little disappointed, too. Maybe, with a little effort… Mini Moana could come visit her skin sometime?
She looks up to ask Maui--the enormous, real one--and finds him looking down at her with dark eyes, glittering in the starlight. “I love her,” Moana tells him seriously.
“She has that effect on people,” he says, his voice hoarse.
Moana licks her lips nervously, feeling her chance arrive. “Maui,” she tells him firmly. “I think we should talk about our relationship.”
“Uhhh, what relationship?” he says, the creases on his forehead exaggerated by his deep frown.
“You know, the relationship where you leave me amazing presents and play with the village children and all of their parents talk about us getting married.” Her hand falls away from him, quickly enough that she can see Mini Moana nodding her head in vicious agreement.
“See! She gets it!”
Maui looks down at his stomach and makes to flick Mini Moana off to somewhere less visible, but he can’t seem to bring himself to do it. Mini Moana stands there with her fists on her hips and beats her chest once, proudly. “Gods, what a role model,” Moana breathes, weirdly jealous of Mini Moana’s power over him.
He harrumphs and tosses his hair, making the motley collection of teeth strung on his necklace clack in the quiet night. She scratches behind her beaded anklet with the toe of her other foot and asks, “So, are you ready talk about us, now?”
“There is no us,” Maui says, hefting his hook between them, as if to protect himself. Moana doesn’t let it hurt her, at least this time, because she can’t afford to get sidetracked. Instead, she rests a hand on the bend of his hook, her nails tracing the edge of the turtle carved there. Just to see what will happen, she bats her eyelashes at him--not comically, but blinking slowly once as she caresses the hook.
“You sure?” she asks him as he watches her with a dazed expression that she’s pretty sure means he’s getting lost in her eyes.
Maui shakes himself suddenly, as if trying to rid himself of a mirage. He lets his hook sink back into the sand where neither of them can use it against each other, and he says, “Yep, I’m sure.”
Irritated now, she doggedly pursues the answer she’s looking for. “Then why are you always following me around as an animal?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he defends, crossing his arms. Mini Maui chooses that moment to transform into a butterfly and flutter over Mini Moana’s head, who is helpless not to give chase all over Maui’s torso.
“It was you!” she cries, pointing a finger at his chest.
“IT WASN’T ME.”
“I KNEW IT.”
“UGH,” Maui shouts in disgust at everything, and flops flat onto his back; apparently giving up on, well, everything--even as the butterfly hunt continues all over his arms.
Moana weighs her options and eventually decides to lay down next to him on the grass. “It’s… it’s okay, you know. That you were watching.”
They stare up at the night sky together, until Moana fills the silence again. “It embarrasses me, too, how much I care about you.” He finally turns his head to look at her, so she goes on, “I know it’s hard. But… it doesn’t have to be.”
“You sure about that?” he asks.
“Yes. I’m sure.”
He lifts his eyebrows at her and begins to smile mischievously again, asking, “Oh yeah? How?”
And this--she knows this moment. The world had stopped around her once: the sea flattening and the wheel of stars slowing on its axis. The dead had risen. The world had ceased to draw breath. This is another one of those moments.
"Maui," she says. She is Moana of Motunui. He will board her boat. "I want you. Do you want me?"
Her draws a deep breath and slumps further down on the ground, if possible. He never emotes halfway, does he? "I shouldn't," Maui says to the grass.
"But do you?"
"Yeahhh," he admits. She doesn’t declare victory; she doesn’t shout I knew it--in spite of the fact that she had, indeed, known it. She just shifts closer to him until her chest is against his, their necklaces in danger of tangling together. Between the fingers she curves over his bicep, she can see Mini Maui and Mini Moana staring up at her, awestruck.
She leans into him to brush her lips against his ear and ask him, full of daring, “What are you going to do about it?”
It figures that a challenge like that is what finally convinces him rest one huge hand over back and pull her even closer. Close enough to kiss, close enough to feel his hair feathering over her cheek as their breath twines together and their lips meet once, twice, three times.
It cannot be overstated that he has an enormous mouth, so it takes a little work for them to figure out how to kiss best, how to make each other’s breath come short and their skirts rustle as they try to get comfortable on the ground.
Between one kiss and the next, it occurs to her to ask, “We’re, mmmmm, kind of out in the open here? Let’s go to my boat.”
“To your boat!” Maui booms, and they retreat to make out in peace, kicking up sand along the way until they reached the leafy forest floor. It takes no time at all for them to arrive at her landlocked boat, moored between two ancient coconut trees.
It’s all him, she thinks. He’s responsible for the sky, the breeze, the grass, the ground, the coconuts, and the swooping in her belly as they lay down together in this, the most memorable of boats. He’s a furnace, but really, she should have guessed that sometime before his heat washed down her front and his warm hand cupped the back of her head to guide her back into a kiss. It’s easier like this: him on his back with her on top of him as their lips slip together and her brain fizzles out. Like this, her breasts are pressed up against him and her nails scrabble against the boat boards when he licks into her mouth and chuckles at the noises she makes. It’s fun, is the thing. It’s fun and it feels good and it feels right and wow, they could have been doing this for months now.
When her neck starts to ache from the angle, he rolls them onto their sides and doesn’t bother to stop kissing her. Her midriff is tingling from where their stomachs are pressed together, and their armbands brush as she wraps one arm around him to keep him just this close. She’s pretty sure her crown of flowers has been knocked off completely at this point, but she can’t bring herself to mind. Instead, she puts her energy into throwing a leg over his hip and kissing him back until the sky begins to lighten with a pre-dawn paleness. It’s there, resting in the boat that Te Fiti had given back to her, that they ultimately find themselves rubbing their noses against each other’s--too sleepy to kiss, now.
It is it’s own kind of pleasure to lie here, where Maui’s arms are more than big enough to encompass all of her. At the moment, it’s not hard to imagine that they pulled the sky up on their own.
As the stars wink out one by one, he brushes his fingers over the uppermost curve of her tattoo in way that makes things happen inside her. They are never going to leave this boat. Well, they will eventually--especially if he’s ever going to introduce himself to her parents. And then she laughs aloud as she realizes, "You're gonna meet my parents!"
"Aw, don't be like that," he says, throwing an arm over his eyes.
"You're gonna meet my parents, you're gonna meet my parents!" she sing-songs, poking him in the gut in tune with each word.
“Cut it out,” he groans.
Egged on by his despair, she shouts, “What am I talking about? You can meet them right now!” She jumps up and jogs one pace away before that gigantic hook fits itself around her waist and heaves her back against Maui.
“It can wait. All of it can wait.” And well, it’s not like she can disagree. Looks like she’s hooked.