Chapter 40: Kevin

Kevin, listen to—

Run!

We—

Come on, go!

Now!

Now!

Maïmoú’s voice was making him delirious. It was unending, the warnings layering and jumbling up his brain. He’d been trying to focus on Nikki’s instructions on escaping the fallout shelter, along with his own footing, his search for Viper, and if he could get a word in-between Maïmoú’s hysterics, not to mention keeping himself from passing out from continuously bumping his broken wing and choking on smoke.

Just like on the Muralha, Maïmoú’s voice was broken. It was like she was drowning. Knowing he couldn’t save her made him feel even worse. As a friend, a father, someone watching a stranger’s house burn from the sidewalk.

They were running now, back towards the coffeehouse, and he could do nothing other than keep up with Nikki’s intuition and Maïmoú’s worry.

Come to the Muralha. It’s the only way…

Why? he thought. What’s going on?

The Muralha…the Muralha…

He didn’t want to tell her that was impossible with a broken wing. He could start running the other way, away from his sister and friends, but he heard it, that sound indiscernible from thunder: the Muralha, cracking to bits. He recognized it from when he’d lost Derek over the ledge, and that feeling of helplessness was coating his veins. He needed to know what Maïmoú was doing and if she was in control of herself. If he were to magic himself up to the Muralha, would he be safe?

Yes! Maïmoú screamed at him. I won’t let you die here. I’m trying…I can’t…

She was holding up the Muralha again, he guessed, but the pressure was finally taking its toll. After hundreds of years, she was finally—

I’m not giving up! she yelled. I’m Maïmoú of Athens. I don’t know what giving up means.

Maïmoú—

Stop it, she interrupted. You’re distracting me. Come to the Muralha already, Kevin.

They were outside the coffeehouse now. Nikki was urgently talking to the group as Vanna held back tears. Marcos was bouncing his baby to distract himself. Zantl was holding their head, overthinking something. Kevin wondered if they were speaking to their own Deities and if they were having the same freakout as he was.

He searched the street for Viper, trying to fly and remembering he couldn’t due to the pain. It was a slap to the face. His instincts to protect his loved ones told him to ignore it. She was probably scared and alone, fearful of this new world in which she’d found herself. He should’ve never let her go.

His feet left the earth. He was hovering without the water, floating without the use of his wings. Just a few inches was all it took before a force lifted him away from Nikki.

He tried calling out for her. They all had their backs to him, as he’d lagged behind during the run. If any of them could’ve helped, it would’ve been her.

But he had no control over his voice. Maïmoú had taken it all away, and he’d become her puppet on tight strings.

Come…here!

Her invisible grip threw him on his heels and skipped him through puddles. He passed through the crowds of families and waterborne looking for a place to rest. They gave him bewildered looks as he came and went. Their faces blurred together. Raeleen did. The nicer buildings turned to graffiti-stained ones. He flew through chain-linked backyards and across emptied riverbeds.

Trapped in his own body, he watched the storm clouds swirl. They looked so menacing—he wouldn’t have been surprised if a tornado struck down.

I’m saving you, I’m saving you, Maïmoú repeated to herself. I’m not losing you. Not again. This won’t be like Hassan and Hadiya. I’m going to save you.

He wanted to ask what’d happened to his and Derek’s past selves, but knowing they’d been dead for generations, he could only assume it wasn’t pleasant. I want you to save yourself, too, he thought back. You deserve to be saved.

She laughed in his mind. You’re probably the last person on the planet who wants that.

Not knowing if he wanted the answer, he asked, You’re not going to die from this, are you?

His foot tripped on a piece of broken asphalt. He tried a different question. You said you’re going to save me, right?

Yes, she answered immediately. I’ll always save you.

Then you’re going to save everyone, aren’t you? My sister’s here. My parents and aunts are here. All my friends, they need to be saved, too.

Maïmoú said nothing.

Maïmoú, Viper’s still here. If you’re saving anyone, it’s gonna be them, right?

The Muralha let out another thundering crack.

Why? she whispered to herself. Why does it always end up like this? Am I still not good enough?

What do you mean?

I do my best, she continued. I’m always here for you, yet whenever it comes to me and your loved ones, you always, always, always…

Her “always” repeated in his head like a drop in a well, leaving what upset her in the heavy air.

Maïmoú? he asked fearfully. Hurting a child’s feelings with your own felt awful, but it was the truth. Between him and his loved ones, how could he choose himself?

His shoulder clipped a corner of brick, then his hip against a parked car. The Muralha was coming in closer.

Hey, Papa, Maïmoú said, if I save all of them, will you like me more? Will you and Mama not hate me?

What’re you talking about? I’m Kevin, and I don’t hate you.

I don’t want you to hate me. I’m doing my best. I don’t have anything left to give you.

She didn’t have to give him anything. He liked her as a person who could change and as a child who desperately needed medication and therapy. A child didn’t have to give anything to an adult.

Although, according to Mom, he, too, was a child.

Maïmoú brought him to a bridge that led into a dead field. It was dilapidated and didn’t look like it could survive a truck’s weight. The stream was barely there, just a bit of green water fit for frogs.

Underneath it, using the shade and little water as comfort, was a curled-up girl, spotted with blue freckles with her cheeks nervously puffed out.

Kevin’s heart skipped. “Viper.”

Whether she was concentrating too hard or had lost her touch, when he mentioned her name, Maïmoú released her powers over him and he fumbled on the ground, feet skipping on land and water, before he fell to his knees above Viper.

Viper shrieked and covered her head, but when she saw it was Kevin, her back fin unfurled. “Kevin,” she gasped.

Still finding his feet, Kevin tripped down the embankment and fell into her, knees getting soaked by stagnant water. She’d been crying. Seeing the tears fall without her being underwater made his stomach curl.

“Oh, Kevin.” Her hands found him. “I’m so sorry. I was with Tokala and lost her. The crowd and sirens were too much. When I came back to, she was gone and there was a man trying to grab at me. He wasn’t bad, but my brain told me he was, so I ran. I kept running and then fell—I didn’t think I’d ever see you again. Are you alright? How’s your wing?”

“It’s okay. I think.”

I can do it, Maïmoú said in his head. I can save them, I can. For Papa and Mama’s sake, I can do anything.

“I think,” he repeated, not remembering if he’d already said that. “What about you?”

“I don’t know. What happened?” she asked. “I was in the bathroom with Tokala. I didn’t know what was happening. I smelled smoke.”

“The Drill exploded. Maïmoú’s doing. They’re evacuating everyone now. Tokala got out.”

Viper sighed in relief. It led to her coughing due to lack of water or the smoke inhalation. The tank top she had on smelled of soot and was hanging limply off her shoulders. Kevin fixed it for her, letting his hands rest over her living, breathing body.

Viper cast a tearful look up to the houses around them, to the skyscrapers disappearing into fog or ash or something else of Maïmoú’s doing. He’d never be able to tell her everything about this world. Cars parked in driveways, palm trees blowing in turbulent wind. Wind itself, not the congested, salty air she was used to. It played with her hair as she took in the new world.

She sniffled, but that didn’t stop new tears from falling.

He brushed them away. He wanted to kiss her again, but he didn’t know all of her boundaries and didn’t want to cross one by mistake. They’d shared two more kisses since their first, half-asleep and in need of physical touch, but did that qualify as a relationship? They hadn’t discussed it. Sometimes friends kissed.

“It’s so much,” she confessed. “I don’t understand any of this, it’s so overwhelming.” She leaned into him, placing her cheek on his. “I don’t understand anything.”

He took her in his arms to warm her up. “That’s okay. I don’t know a lot of things.”

“Are those sirens normal?”

Kevin listened to the ghostly cries of the air raid siren. “No. This’s a…special occasion.”

“The smoke isn’t normal, is it?”

“No.”

“Not the fires, either?”

“No, but sometimes things catch fire. It’s part of nature.”

She frowned at that, then looked to the Muralha. “Is that normal, the sky, the way it’s turning shades? That’s not normal, is it?”

Betwixt the smoldering buildings and panicked commotion of Raeleen, the sunrise, unbothered, was painting the sky in soft oranges and lavenders. The sun was still behind the Muralha, but in an hour or so, they’d be enveloped in warm sunlight.

“Actually, it is,” he told her. “Every morning and evening, the sky puts on a show for us. It can be any color imaginable, even green, sometimes, after a really bad storm.”

“I never knew.” She sniffled. The tears didn’t stop. “It’s not fair,” she whispered. “I never knew.”

“I know,” he said, but he didn’t. He would never understand being kept underground your entire life, to never know a sunrise or sunset, to never get to experience life the way it was intended to be lived. He just had to be there for her. It was the most he’d asked of her, and she’d delivered tenfold.

KEVIN.

Kevin slapped a hand over his mouth. His body shivered. An unexpected tear rolled down his cheek as Maïmoú’s scream ripped apart her throat. Her screams, these earthly quakes ravishing his body, they were her. The lightning, the thunder, the shaking. All of it had been her.

He turned, holding onto Viper for dear life. He should’ve been allowed to have people in his life whom he valued equally. Some he’d just gotten to know, some he’d been with for years. Lifetimes, according to the Gods. Maïmoú, she’d always been there, watching over him, protecting him, and yet still, was he not allowed to live?

He tried to get Viper to stand, but her legs were too weak, and his balance wasn’t stable. They fell back into lily pads.

“Kevin?”

Behind him, something 100,000 times louder continued on his daughter’s screams.

Birds scattered from the Muralha, cawing out for their brothers and sisters to follow. A strong wind brushed over the top and into the valleys of Raeleen.

Over the rooftops, the meadow, and the forest, the Muralha, which had kept watch over them for generations, which had kept them safe, split down the middle and ruptured.

Water, water Kevin had never imagined in such quantities, overflowed and spilled forth into Raeleen. It was an entire wall of cascading blues and whites, roaring like a beast finally unleashed from its cage. It ate the forest in one wave. It swallowed houses, streets, neighborhoods, gone. The raw, natural strength broke the Muralha into large pieces and spat them out like meteors.

Kevin’s mind stopped working. He couldn’t hear Maïmoú anymore. He didn’t know what to do. Where had the sky gone? Where did the sky meet the Earth?

The last thing he saw was a five-story-tall wave crashing through the streets and sweeping everything away in pieces, then Viper as he hugged her.

And then he was gone from the world.

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