Kepa felt a sudden stab of pain shoot through his chest. Panic rose as he felt another as something slammed into his chest. Were more bullets ripping through his body? Again, he felt something smash against his chest. Was Donny standing over him, emptying his gun into Kepa’s mangled body?
He opened his eyes. Maite was kneeling beside him, slamming her fists into his chest.
“You bastard!” she screamed. “How could you do that to me?”
Kepa took a moment to reorient himself. He was laying on the floor of the Noriega, but in its older abandoned state. Donny was nowhere to be seen. He smiled to himself. It had worked! They were back home.
Maite slammed another fist into his chest.
“Ow!” he cried. “Would you stop hitting me?” He looked up to see tears flowing down Maite’s cheeks.
Maite slumped away, nearly collapsing to the floor as she sobbed. “How could you?” she whispered.
“What did I do?” asked Kepa as he sat up, his chest on fire, though he couldn’t tell if it was Maite pounding on him or Donny’s bullet he was feeling. Instinctively he reached up to feel his chest. There was no hole. “I just wanted to get out of there as fast as possible and I didn’t see any other way.”
“But sacrificing yourself like that?” cried Maite as she looked at him, her vision blurry with tears. “What if you were wrong, and that wasn’t the zatia? Or it didn’t work the way we thought it should? You would have died! Why take the chance?”
“It worked, didn’t it?” said Kepa with a weak smile.
“But you couldn’t be sure it would!” screamed Maite. “Do you know what it was like, seeing you die? Feeling your body jerk as that bullet hit you?”
“But it didn’t really happen, right? The time bubble popped and we’re back where we should be.”
“It did happen, at least for me! For a brief moment, I thought I’d lost you.”
Kepa reached up, but couldn’t bring himself to touch Maite. He let his arm fall to his side.
“I’m sorry,” was all he could manage to say, his words barely audible over Maite’s sobs.
Maite looked at him again. “I love you, Kepa. And I can’t imagine going through all of this with anyone else but you. But if you are going to be so reckless, I don’t think I can do this at all. I can’t watch you die a thousand different ways. Even if, in some way, it isn’t real. To me, it is. I saw, I felt, you die. Wasn’t it real for you too?”
Kepa thought again about the bullet tearing through his chest and exploding his heart. The pain had been unbearable. Any other time, his life would have ended and he wouldn’t have to relive that pain, but here and now, he remembered every detail. He realized that his dreams might never be the same again.
He nodded. “Bai, it was real for me too.” His hand reached for his chest, where he had felt the bullet enter his body. “I thought it would all disappear when the time bubble popped, but I forgot that our memories of it don’t.”
“We really experienced what happened in the bubble, even after it pops. Our memories don’t get wiped out. Somehow, the magic of the zatia keeps the bubble alive inside of us, in our memories.”
Kepa looked up at Maite. “I never meant to hurt you.”
Maite sighed, her cheeks still wet but her voice stronger. “I know.”
“And, I love you too,” added Kepa.
Maite threw her arms around him as her lips found his.
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