Welcome to installment #22 of the Chasing Shadows – Making Amends series. For more information or to read the previous scene, head to this page.
Kecil wanted to meet Mujur’s eyes with pride, but she couldn’t. His gaze trailing over the blemish on her neck did not go unnoticed, no doubt dampening his arousal. What more did she expect? She was the runt… the least valuable in her clan. Unworthy of nothing more than Gemuk’s abuse.
She padded after Mujur, knowing it was best to stamp out any lingering desires. She could offer him nothing… not even the ability to heal when he protected her.
Without going into heat, she had no hope of even attracting him… keeping him by her side through the pasangan bond. Not that she needed a mate. Her lack of ability to bear offspring meant she required no protector. She turned her attention to what was truly important—finding her mother’s killer and ending his life.
First, she had to contend with Mujur’s objectives. He had made it clear. Nothing would interfere with his mission to destroy the penanggalan. The only logical choice was to dedicate herself to facilitating his goal. Stepping in line with him, she matched his pace, several steps to his one.
Mujur glanced her way and gave her hand a light squeeze.
True, he might not find her sexually appealing, but it was nice to have a semblance of friendship for the first time in her life. This was the way clan was meant to be… the way life was before her mother’s death, before Gemuk had completely taken over the village.
“Why were they after you?” she asked.
Mujur slowed, and his brow furrowed. Then as if she’d said nothing, he resumed his quick pace.
“Why did they chase you?” When he didn’t answer, she gave his hand a tug. “They were chasing you—Gemuk and Kusut.”
Mujur’s shoulders tightened ever so slightly. “You know who they are?”
“They’re from my clan.”
He was quiet for so long, Kecil was sure he wouldn’t answer, but then he said, “They think I took something from them.”
Mujur stopped and gave a cryptic stare. “If I could return what they lost, I would.”
“I don’t understand.”
To think Mujur might have taken something from Gemuk or Kusut to warrant a chase seemed inconceivable. Anything worth keeping needed to be eaten before spoilage.
Kecil had heard stories about humans who hoarded anything they set their eyes upon… even land. It made little sense. How did one claim earth when creatures burrowed beneath, crawled upon the surface as they wished?
Silence between Kecil and Mujur grew until at last he said, “I’ve told you what I will. I cannot make amends with them.”
He squeezed his eyes shut and pressed his knuckles into his forehead. A low pain-filled groan sounded deep in his throat. When he dropped his arms and looked at her again, his eyes were haunted. “I’ll give you the choice right here, right now. You can return to your people, and I won’t pursue. I only want you safe. You still have time to catch them.”
Kecil’s heart stuttered at the offer. Even if Mujur released her, she wouldn’t return to Gemuk and face retaliation. “I don’t want to go back.”
“Are you sure?”
She thought of her father, of the years he’d wasted on her. “There is nothing for me there.”
A look of pity fell over Mujur’s face.
Her fingers twitched to cover her birthmark as the layers of insecurities she’d tried all her life to hide peeled away like plantain skin. She stood before Mujur, exposed.
“You don’t have to go,” he said in a soft voice. “For as long as you will allow, I will protect you.”
Kecil’s throat closed in on itself until she was sure she’d suffocate. Mujur shined with compassion, had treated her with care, while her every encounter with Gemuk was harsh.
Her heart ached with each beat as pieces flaked away and crumbled to Mujur’s feet. Please don’t lie to me. Don’t hurt me. With all her spirit, she wanted to believe Mujur, wanted to believe in his goodness, believe Gemuk’s pursuit was unjustified.
Kecil took a deep breath to ease the pressure constricting her throat. “I’ll stay with you.”
Mujur’s shoulders relaxed, and he extended a hand to Kecil. When she took it, the corners of his lips lifted slightly—the first real smile, so different from the earlier ones full of cynicism. It made him… beautiful, embraced her in warmth and took away her fears.
“We need to keep moving,” he said.
“Okay.” Her voice was not her own… soft, wispy, like a butterfly on the wind.
Kecil walked side by side with Mujur and let herself be filled with the sense of belonging. Every step she took became lighter until her spirit soared amongst the birds in the trees.