1:35 Nothing To Forgive

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Maru set out from camp, headed for the tidal pool to do some fishing while Kaila watched the children. Turning his face up to the spring sun, he relished the warmth. Winter had definitely lost its hold over the island. As he crossed the Community Center, he saw Lilith was there with her brood. The sun was raining down sparks into her strawberry hair. From the looks of it, she’d be having another baby soon.

Ayala was giggling, Lilith laughing with her. When Ayala saw Maru, she ran forward a few steps and waved at him. “Hiii,” she warbled, smiling up at him with big violet eyes. He couldn’t help but return the little girl’s infectious smile, and waved back at her.  Even Lilith gave him a smile and a small wave, sort of surprising him. Behind her, Carrick watched almost shyly, and Maru saw just how much he looked like Shane. Although he’s got Lilith’s beautiful green eyes.

 

 

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Maru stopped short as he approached the tidal pool. Shane, ugh. Changing course, he walked along the beach behind the village, to go fishing at the lagoon instead.

 

 

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When he walked back into camp several hours later, twilight was quickly falling. Kaila looked up from nursing Rhea, smiling at him. “Good fishing at the tidal pool?” she asked him.

He dropped his catches into a bucket to be cleaned, then moved to warm his hands over the fire. “I went to the lagoon instead, but yes–it was good fishing.”

“The lagoon’s a lot farther than the tidal pool,” Kaila wondered.

“Shane was at the tidal pool. So I went to the lagoon.”

“You still haven’t forgiven Shane.” She put Rhea down, and Rhea promptly toddled after her sister.

 

 

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“There’s nothing to forgive. I’m happy. He’s happy. We’re all happy.” He helped pull her up out of the rocking chair and wrapped one arm around her. “And how’s the baby?” he asked, running his other hand over her belly.

“Quiet today—for once.” She smiled, but seemed contemplative. “Let me see what you’ve brought back. It will be nice to have a fresh meal.” She pulled away, and started stirring up the fire in preparation for dinner.

 

 

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After their meal, Maru sat by the fire, watching Bronwyn and Rhea play–or was it argue? Either way, it was cute. Vague memories of his own childhood drifted loosely through his mind. He started at Kaila’s touch on his shoulder, then ran his hand up her arm and pulled her down into his lap.

“What were you thinking about?” she asked him, framing his face with her hands.

“Nothing,” he pulled her face to him and kissed her. Wrapping her arms around his neck, she returned the kiss and hugged him, then moved to sit next to him. The crackling fire warmed her just as much as the man at her side and the sound of her children playing. She regarded Maru, who was staring absently into the fire.

“You need to make things right with Shane,” she said suddenly.

Maru grunted, tossing a twig into the fire.

“You’re still angry at him. Why?”

“I’m not… it’s just…” his words drifted off. He sounded slightly defensive.  “I’m happy,” he said firmly, reaching out to catch her hand.

Kaila held up her hand. “I know you’re happy. That’s not what I asked.” Although it feels good to hear him say it, and know he means it. Kaila had made her apologies to Lilith long ago, and Lilith had said her piece to Maru. But Maru had, all this time, been unwilling to face his cousin, and the undertone of anger was still there. Even now. Just seeing Shane today had soured his mood, she could tell.

He looked at her upraised hand, then back to her face. “What, then?”

“It’s been 8 years. You don’t know what really happened or if Shane even did anything to wrong you. You need to talk to him.”

Maru grumped. “Why should I? He hasn’t talked to me.”

“Perhaps because you avoid even fishing on the same beach with him?”

Huffing out a breath, Maru looked back into the fire, avoiding her gaze and hopefully the subject.

 

 

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Kaila let the subject drop, leaving Maru by the fire as she got the girls ready for bed. Dustin was already snoring in his sleeping roll.

Picking up the sleeping Rhea, Kaila went to kiss Maru goodnight. “I need to get some rest, I’m going to bed.”

“I’ll be there in a while,” he said as she dropped a quick kiss on his shoulder.

“Take your time,” she said, and disappeared into their tent.

He threw another twig into the flames, and huffed again at the knowing tone in her voice. The downside of mating a witch, he half-heartedly complained inwardly. She knows everything, she’s always right, and there’s no escaping it. He smiled a little to himself.

Has it really been 8 years? Probably closer to 9. Bronwyn’s been in school for a few years now. Lilith’s son, too. Gods, it’s really been that long. 

Anger washed over him again. Of course Kaila was right.

When Maru had begun to think of a future with a wife and children, he’d automatically assumed the woman should be Lilith since they were BFFs. But she hadn’t been in love with him. And the fact that he kept turning to Kaila should have been his first clue that maybe Lilith wasn’t what he was looking for after all. It had been stupid and idiotic to try and push Lilith into a relationship with him just because that’s how it he thought it should be. It was truly a shame that he’d wrecked their lifelong friendship. He still missed that.

Yes, he was angry. Mostly at himself for mucking up the entire situation, but Shane…he shook his head, brow furrowed. Shane should have just stayed out of it. Damn him. The last few times the cousins had been face to face had not been pleasant.

 

 

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“She’s cute. Are you ever going to make a move on her?”

“Maybe. What’s it to you?”

“Maybe nothing. I dunno. I haven’t talked to her a lot, but maybe…”

“Dude. Don’t even.”

Maru was thinking of how to approach Lilith about taking their relationship to another level. Shane’s comments had goaded him into bungling that all up by trying to kiss her out of the blue, which didn’t go over too smoothly.

 

 

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Then there was the argument the night before Shane sailed for France, hot on Lilith’s heels. Shane claimed to not even know Lilith had left the island, but Maru had gone crazy at the thought of them being alone together so far away. It seemed obvious that Shane was following Lilith to France.

“You know what Maru? You’ve got some issues. Lilith isn’t your possession,” Shane had said. “I’ve been totally respectful of your friendship with her–for years, and I didn’t have to be, and maybe I didn’t want to be.”

Maybe he didn’t want to be. That was the part that really made Maru crazy. He’d lost his cool–in front of plenty of witnesses, and had looked like a fool for doing so. He felt certain Shane had been after Lilith all along. And what did I do? I went and slept with Kaila, making certain to complicate the situation as much as I possibly could. Ugh, I’m an idiot.

He heard Kaila mumble in her sleep in the tent behind him, and smiled again. Well, maybe not a total idiot. Kaila is my heart.

 

 

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The last confrontation had been the day after Shane returned to Ouroboros Isle.

“How could you do this to her!” Shane shouted, grabbing a fistful of Maru’s shirt and shoving him hard.

“Now it’s my turn to tell you, and you listen very carefully. I respected your relationship with Lilith for YEARS. You ordered me away from her when you didn’t even have a reason to. And now you’ve been doing….this?” Shane’s hand flicked toward Kaila. Her eyes sparked dangerously. “You hurt her. Don’t make the mistake of doing that again, Maru. Stay away from her.”

“She didn’t want me,” Maru whispered brokenly. “She didn’t want me.”

And that was the truth of it. She’d ended their relationship when Maru asked her to move into his camp. He’d run straight for Kaila, hurt and broken. And Kaila made everything better. She always had. When Lilith was gone, and Maru was beside himself thinking of Shane and Lilith together in France without him, Kaila’s understanding had been…comforting. She listened, and Kaila wanted him.

But why was Shane the one to pick up the pieces, hm? He’d chased after her to France, doing gods knows what. No doubt Shane told her all about their argument the night before Shane left for France, making Maru look bad.

 

 

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Lilith had been distant when she returned from Champs Les Sims.

“Maru…” she pulled back, and his already nervous face collapsed.

“You don’t want to. You don’t want me. I knew it.”

Maru, it’s too soon. I agreed to give this a try, to give us a try. Becoming mates wasn’t something we talked about. And honestly? I don’t know if I feel the same way you do.”

He seemed to be fighting within himself but remained silent.

“Maru, I love you, you’ve been my best friend, you know me so well. But maybe you deserve better…” she laid her hand on his arm and he jerked it away.

She was saying no, not just to living with him, but…to everything. She didn’t want him. It all came back to Shane, that had to be it.

The fact that Maru later understood he’d wrongly and ruinously betrayed Lilith was beside the point. The fact that he’d built a life with Kaila and loved her was beside the point. Lilith hadn’t wanted him, and Shane was there to pick up the pieces. For that, he’d never forgiven Shane.

 

 

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Kaila’s right. It all happened so fast. I don’t really know
what happened, other than my own wrongdoings. And the fact is, I did cheat on Lilith. Maybe I just wanted to hate Shane because I hated myself for being such a fuck up. All his life, Maru had known that he was going to marry Lilith, make babies, and have a big camp. But now, it was Shane giving Lilith babies and who had a big camp. Untangling it all was a mess, but it came down to the simple fact that he hated knowing he’d lost Lilith because of his own stupidity and that another man, his own cousin, had gotten what Maru thought was supposed to be his.

It just made him mad.

The jangled, disjointed thoughts finally dropped out of his head, leaving him still.

He suddenly stood and dumped the sand over the fire, stamping out any errant embers, and then turned toward the tent he shared with Kaila. Right now all he wanted was to feel her against him, and to sleep, and think nothing more about any of this shit.

 

 

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The next morning, Maru’s mind still incessantly refused to give him any respite. He’d had a dream of a memory, of when he and Lilith were children. She’d told him she didn’t want to marry him. He’d made her cry and then he ran away.  Years later, it seemed they had only repeated the process on a more grandiose and complicated scale.

Ok. I let Lilith go long ago. I know I was wrong to cheat on her, but that’s all water under the bridge. I’m a happily married man now. It boils down to, Shane had no right to Lilith. He shouldn’t have gone to France after her. She was my girlfriend. And why had Shane been so angry when he returned to Ouroboros? Shouldn’t Shane have thanked him for practically pushing Lilith into his arms?

 

 

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It was time to have it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. Observing the village, Maru noted that Shane loaded up some tools and headed into the woods at the edge of his lot. From the hammering and sawing sounds he heard a short while later, a big project was in the works.

“Kai?” I’m going out for awhile, do you need anything before I go?”

Kaila’s face looked up out of the tent at him, her blue eyes steady, unreadable stones in her face. She knows. “Think before you speak. And shake hands.”

Maru rolled his eyes. How does she do that?

 

 

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Slowly, Maru walked toward the sound of hammering, chopping, and men’s laughter. Shane and Daniel were working on what appeared to be another shelter. As he approached, Daniel saw him. Cutting his eyes back at Shane, Daniel inclined his head toward Maru.

Shane turned toward him, his face smoothing into a mask.

“Shane.”

“Maru.”

His cousin had grown older, but, he supposed, so had he. “Where’s Lilith?”

Shane’s eyes darkened. “Why do you ask?” he said in a neutral voice.

Maru glanced at the axe in Shane’s hand. Noticing Maru’s glance, Shane remembered the tool in his hand, and dropped in onto some wood planks. “Why do you ask?” he repeated again.

“I…I came to talk to you. Alone.” He turned his eyes to Daniel, who was watching closely.

“Shane, I think I’ll run back down to check on the women and kids. I’ll be back in a bit.” With another veiled but curious look at Shane and Maru, Daniel departed.

 

 

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Shane hadn’t moved, and was still watching him, so Maru took a few steps forward, holding his hands open.

“What do you need to talk to me about now, after all these years?” Shane’s voice held a razor edge.

Maru stopped a few paces from him, trying to choose his words. “About Lilith.”

“You mean, Lilith, my wife, the mother of my children?” His eyes were hard.

“Ah, yes. About then. About what happened.”

“Then speak. But tread carefully, cousin, when you talk of my family.”

Maru bit his tongue, wanting to say something angry and provocative, but that wasn’t what he came here to do. “Look, I came to you because it’s been so long. I know I fucked up and made mistakes. I know that.”

“Yes, we all know that. We’re all happy now. What’s to say?” Shane said.

Maru smiled faintly, hearing his very words echoed from the night before.

 

 

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Maru sat down on a tree stump, but Shane remained standing. Looking up at him, Maru continued. “I want to explain some things, and ask you for some answers. I want to put this behind us.”

Shane’s shoulders seemed to relax. He leaned on a stump across from Maru, waiting.

Maru wasn’t sure what the best starting point was, so he went with what came to his mind first. “Were you…did you…try to take Lilith from me? Is that why you went to France?”

Shane’s eyebrows raised, and he looked like he might laugh for a moment. “No, cousin, the thought never crossed my mind. She was your best friend—your girlfriend, at the time. I wasn’t waiting in the wings, stirring trouble and waiting for your royal fuck up, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“But…France?”

“I told you that night on the beach. I didn’t even know she was gone. Nor had I even talked to her much before that point. I decided to sail for France for winter stores and to bring back some plants, to start a garden with.”

“So you really didn’t…”

“—No, I didn’t. I was never after your girl. She was—is—beautiful, but she was with you. I didn’t seek her out.”

Maru digested that. “And in France–?”

“And in France, I ran into her at the nectary. Yes, we talked, spent time together exploring Champs Les Sims.”

“Did you tell her about—“ Maru paused.  “Our argument?”

“No Maru, I didn’t tell her what a jackass you’d been the night before I left. We were there as two familiar faces in a strange land, and yes it was enjoyable getting to know her. But she was with you. I respected that. Nor was she unfaithful. Unlike you.”

Maru exhaled, realizing he’d been holding his breath. So he really didn’t try and seduce her.

 

 

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Maru looked down, twisting his feet in the grass, and ran a hand through his shaggy hair. “I guess I thought of her as mine. Since we were kids, everyone always said she and I would grow up and get married.”

“Yes, I remember,” Shane said with distaste.

“I just thought that’s the way it was supposed to be. But she didn’t love me. Not like that. I tried to make her love me.”

“And Kaila?” Shane raised an eyebrow.

“I was sleeping with Kaila before Lilith said she would give me a chance. I didn’t know it then, but Kaila got pregnant. And when Lilith agreed, I was so happy for those months, I thought…” his words trailed off. “But when she went to France, I started sleeping with Kaila again. So yes, I admit it, I betrayed Lilith. I didn’t tell her, but I tried to make it up to her in a dozen other ways when she got back. But she was different when she came back to Ouroborus. I asked her to move to my camp, and she said no. She was trying to break up with me. It hurt.”

Shane’s eyes softened for the slimmest of moments. “I’m sure it did.” It would’ve hurt me too.

“And so…and so I went to Kaila.”

“So you never told Lilith you betrayed her, and ran straight to Kaila, carried her into her tent to fuck her, right in front of Lilith and half the village. You left it for her to figure out what you’d done. Is that about right?”

Maru hung his head. “Something like that.”

“Not ‘something like that’. Exactly that.”

“Yes.” He paused, still looking at the ground. Looking back up and meeting Shane’s eyes, he said, “But you came to my camp the next day…why?”

 

 

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“Because you wronged her, the woman you expected would be your wife! Leaving her to figure that out for herself, since you weren’t man enough to own up to it. Can you imagine how that felt for her? To have her best friend betray her, and everyone knew it but her?”

“But…why you?”

“Because in France, I became friends with Lilith, and as a friend I cared what happened to her. Because after your irrational and unfounded accusations and warning me away from her, to find out what you’d done to her…I couldn’t believe you’d do something so stupid. Because she didn’t deserve what you’d done to her. Because I fell in love with her in France. ”

“So you did want her!”

“I wanted her to be happy, and she was with you. When she left Champs Les Sims, my last thought was that you’d better take care of her. Then I come home and find out not only were you not taking care of her, you were banging another woman and humiliated her in front of the village. And because her supposed best friend was an ass, yes, I wanted her to be ok. It wasn’t for me. It was for her.”

“You love her.”

“Now, and then.  I didn’t seduce her or take her away from you. I didn’t drag her straight into my tent. I thought more of her than that. I didn’t even tell her how I felt until much later. You lost her through your own stupidity. She wasn’t a possession for anyone to lose or take, at any rate. What happened between she and I, happened after what happened between you and her. And all these years, I’ve never betrayed her.  Nor will I ever.”

Silence fell between them as Shane let his words sink in. Maru picked at a blade of grass.

“Do you love your family, Maru?”

“With all my heart. I know that I made a complete mess of the situation, but I’m where I’m supposed to be now. And I’m happy.”

“And Lilith?”

Maru sighed. “I missed her for a long time. I miss her still. She was my closest friend. My lover. I did love her in my way. But she wasn’t meant for me. Kaila was.”

More silence. “Shane, I owe you an apology for thinking so ill of you all these years. I’m glad you’re taking care of her. I’m glad she’s happy with you.”

It was Shane’s turn to sigh. “I wish you had come to me sooner.”

“I couldn’t. I hated you. I hated you for thinking…” Maru shook his head. “I’m sorry. I was wrong.”

 

 

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Shane’s eyes bored into him for a few long moments, then suddenly he stood and reached out a hand to Maru. Standing, Maru clasped Shane’s outstretched hand, and shook it.

The two men regarded each other. Maru felt drained, his mind tired, his heart relieved. “Thank you for talking to me.”

He half turned to leave.

“Maru?”

Maru turned back to Shane.

“Don’t ever upset my wife again.”

Suddenly Maru grinned. “Don’t worry. I have my own wife to worry about not upsetting. And mine’s a witch!”

Shane returned the smile finally. “See you around…cousin.”

Maru walked slowly through the village, and up the stairs of the Community Center. He took a seat at the bar and ordered a drink, his mind strangely empty. Gauging Maru’s mood, Joel wordlessly poured a double and slid it across to bar to him. Maru downed half of it in one gulp, grimacing as it burned down his throat.

 

 

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“I’ll have what he’s having.”

Maru and Joel both turned at the sound of the girlish voice. She dropped her suitcase in a corner and strode to the bar. She seemed tightly contained, and quietly bold at the same time.

“A drink that strong might knock a little thing like you over,” Joel said. His white teeth flashed in his face as he eyed her up and down. “Are you sure you can handle it?”

“Look, it’s been a long trip and I’m thirsty. And besides, I’ll never know unless I try, will I?”

“Fair enough.” Joel pulled another glass from under the bar.

She took the empty seat at the bar, across from Maru. Maru was staring into his drink. Giving him a brief sideways glance, she turned her attention back to the tall, dark bartender.

“And who might you be?” Joel asked her. His fingers brushed hers as he handed her the drink.

“Layla. Layla Sixkiller.”

 

 

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After tidying their work area, Shane left Daniel’s new camp and walked home slowly through the dusk. Lilith jumped up from the fire and came to him. “Daniel said—“

“Yes, Maru came to talk. To get somethings off his chest and clear up some misunderstandings. We shook hands.”

Relief washed across her face as she hugged him.

He tipped her chin up, running his lips across hers tenderly. “It’s all good.”

“Daddy! Daddy come read to me!” He looked down into Ayala’s sweet face, tugging on his pants with her chubby little arm. He leaned down to pick her up, kissing her button nose.

“I think we can read your book, darlin’, if you want.”

“Yay!” she crowed. Lilith smiled at them as they settled on the ground and Shane began reading to their daughter.

 

 

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 I should note, Layla is only visiting the island for now.  If you read the Sixkillers, then you know Layla is attempting to spread her wings, leaving behind Anthony and the town where she grew up. She has a destination in mind, but made a few stops along the way.

Oh, and the shelter Shane and Daniel are building will be Daniel and Daniela’s new home. They have long outgrown their small camp! Their new camp is on the back outskirts of the village, in a stand of trees near the beach on the other side of the lagoon behind Shane and Lilith’s camp. Let’s hope Daniel doesn’t use the privacy to make even more babies.