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By: Backyard Windchimes

Perspectives (in order): Sophie, Fitz, Biana, Dex, Tam, and Linh

I lay on my bed, staring at the ceiling. I hadn’t moved for days…or at least, it felt that long.

I barely ate whenever Edaline brought me food, and resisted her attempts at affection. It wasn’t fair for me to be comfortable when he was gone. I deserved the pain. It was my fault anyway.

I couldn’t even feel it when my parents curled beside me at night, tucking me in and sleeping by my side. It meant nothing to me. There was just a black hole where he should have been—where he had been.

His humor.

His beautifully messed hair.

His ice blue eyes that could warm or freeze with a glance.

My parents were worried. I knew they were. This time, they didn’t even try to hide it. I was scaring them.

And I was scaring myself too.

My dreams were nightmares of his face, his laugh, his blank eyes as I watched him slip away. His last words to me echoed in my head.

Save me, Foster. You’re my only hope.

Every night, I felt myself sink into the pool of grief that waited just below me, waiting for me to give up and drown.

It should’ve been me, I thought every day without him. I’m the Moonlark. I was made to fix the world. To save everyone. But I failed him and I failed everyone. I DON’T DESERVE TO BE HERE!!

I made the mistake of saying this out loud once, and my parents had hurried to correct me, telling me I was wrong.

Telling me it wasn’t my fault.

Telling me I couldn’t save everyone.

Don’t you think I know that? I wanted to scream. I know that…I know…

I could feel the guilt tearing at me, piece by piece, leaving with a part of my soul every time.

And so the words circled, becoming stronger every second.

It should’ve been me.

***

I kept myself locked in my room, afraid of the damage I would do if I left. I was screaming at anybody who came close, as if that could bring him back.

Bring my best friend back.

I knew Biana needed me, but I was too caught up in my anger to do anything else. I wouldn’t eat, I could barely sleep. Even Mr. Snuggles only brought the reminder of how much he had enjoyed teasing me.

Now I’d give anything to hear him tease me again.

I should’ve saved him, I thought angrily. I should have done SOMETHING!

If only Linh had moved. SHE SHOULD HAVE MOVED OUT OF THE WAY!

I wouldn’t let anyone in. Della had to kick the door open when I wouldn’t allow her through. She wrapped her arms around me and hugged me close, with my father whispering how everything would be alright.

How there was no need to worry.

As if his death was just a minor setback.

And the guilt washed over me.

It should’ve been me.

I was the one with the perfect life. I was the one that went home to two parents that loved me, to a sister that supported me. I was a Vacker, the famous family. I was the golden boy, the one everyone wanted to be.

It wasn’t fair.

He should’ve had this. He needed this. I’ve had a good life. I wouldn’t have minded if it had been me instead. He was my best friend, no matter how many stupid mistakes he made.

He should be able to go home to a family that cared, not me. He should be the one going on with his life, not me.

I remembered the words he mouthed to me behind Sophie’s back:

Take care of her for me.

It should’ve been me, I thought again as tears rolled down my cheeks. It should’ve been me.

***

I could hear Fitz yelling at someone from across the hall. I tried to care, I really did. But I felt nothing.

Not the way Sophie was feeling. Not sinking into anger and grief.

I felt nothing.

No guilt. No sadness. No rage. Just an incredible pain in my chest that made it hard to breathe.

And that hurt more than anything.

So I sat there, wishing I could cry, scream, laugh, anything. I felt like I would never be happy again.

It was like my heart was gone.

I had confessed, he had rejected me. I didn’t know what I should feel, how I should be acting. But whoever was ripping through my chest and squeezing the hole inside, I wished they would get it over with. I would gladly fall asleep for centuries if it meant I could escape the void his loss was trying to suck me into and never release me from.

I ignored anyone that tried to comfort me. They didn’t understand; there was no way they could. To have your hopes crushed, then watch your love die right in front of you, seeing the last bit of betraying happiness at being held by Sophie drain from his eyes.

At first, I felt angry at anyone who dared tell me it would get better. They should be crying. They should be grieving. How dare they just sit there, whispering about how worried they are when my entire world felt like it was crumbling to pieces?

But I said nothing. I let them hold me. I let them whisper.

Because I knew it should’ve been me. He deserved to be able to live, to love. My hopes had been crushed, my fantasies of being together thrown out the window. But he wouldn’t have to go through that. He could be happy with Sophie.

I was the one who had been rejected. I was the one who should’ve laid there, dying from my sacrifice.

It should’ve been me, I thought as Alden pulled me close. So why wasn’t it?

***

I knew my friends were struggling. I had known Keefe for a while, but I had never been best friends with him. In fact, I had always been in competition with him. Sometimes, I wished he would just go away for a few hours so I could be alone with Sophie.

But now that he was gone…

I kept myself busy, helping out in the shop. Yelling at the triplets. Locking myself in my lab for hours working on projects.

But I knew nothing could bring him back.

I’d watched him die. And even as the equations ran through my head, I knew I couldn’t save him.

What good is being a Technopath if you can’t fix the things that were broken?

But now my friends were broken—I was broken—and I knew for sure there was no fix. No elixir to help with the pain. No potion to cure the grief.

Only time, which we didn’t have. The Neverseen were still out there. They were still plotting, scheming, ignoring the life and the happiness they had taken.

Maybe this is what they wanted, I thought as I sat with my back to the wall, my knees pulled up to my chest. To leave us so scattered so that we have no defense.

Well, it was working. For the first few days, I could barely function. The memories tore at me, the guilt of knowing I should have saved himbut I couldn’t.

Because when it comes down to it, I’m a failure. The one with the useless ability. The one they barely need anymore. The one who can be replaced.

But Keefe couldn’t be. Not to Sophie, to Fitz, to anyone.

It should’ve been me, I told the universe for the thousandth time. Why didn’t you take me? We needed him. I don’t really matter, in the grand scheme of things. Everyone else is all caught up in their love web, in their amazing abilities, and where does that leave me?

More alone than I’ve ever been.

So next time you decide to take a life, I thought to the ceiling, take mine. Because Keefe was too important. The rest of them are too important.

Take me instead. Because it should’ve been me.

***

I went around, comforting Linh and everyone else. Making sure they didn’t do anything stupid. Making sure they weren’t tempted to do something I would do.

I ignored the feelings raging on the inside. I had to be strong for Linh, for the rest of them. I couldn’t focus on myself, because in the end, what I felt didn’t matter.

All that mattered was that everyone else was okay.

So I made sure I never stayed still.

And that I was never alone.

Because if I was alone, I would think. Think about what happened. About how I should’ve done something. About how I should’ve stopped him. About how I should have been the one protecting Linh. How much I had let everyone down by standing there while he died.

I was alone in my room when it all came crashing over me. Grief, rage, guilt…everything rushed through me like one of Linh’s tidal waves. I sank to the floor and put my head in my knees.

Everyone thought I hated him. I thought I hated him. But now I knew that wasn’t true.

I was jealous of him.

His humor.

The way he could laugh off anything.

The charm he had that just pulled everyone towards him.

Everything I wish I had.

And now he was gone for good. No magic fix this time. No secret twin ready to come down the steps and tell us he was all right.

It should’ve been me, I thought as I let myself do something I hadn’t allowed in a long time—cry.

My parents had told me I was worthless, a failure, that I was holding Linh back from her full potential.

And I used to argue.

But only a failure would let their friend die.

Only a terrible brother would watch the throwing star as it sped towards my sister’s chest.

If only it had been me. Then Sophie wouldn’t be losing herself bit by bit. Fitz would have his best friend. Biana wouldn’t be broken hearted. Dex wouldn’t be burdened with the thought that he was useless.

And Linh…Linh would get over it. She was strong like that. And when she did, she could really go somewhere with her life. She could get married, go into the Nobility, have a family without the black mark of a Shade and a twin on her reputation.

It should’ve been me, I reminded myself. But it wasn’t. So when I see them next, the Neverseen are gonna be the ones grieving. I’m going to take everything they’ve worked for and rip it out of the ground with my bare hands.

But the nagging voice was still there, reminding me who should really be having this conversation right now.

It should’ve been me.

***

I could tell my brother was struggling. The rest of my friends were grieving. And the part that scared me the most wasn’t Keefe’s sacrifice…

It was how my family was falling apart.

Everyone was isolating themselves. Locking themselves in their rooms, not going out, and not letting anybody in.

It was terrifying to think that my new family could fall apart so fast.

But I had been standing there. I’d watched as he jumped in front of me to save my life. And I had done nothing.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Sophie hated me now. She must blame me for his death. And frankly, I didn’t blame her. Because even I thought it was my fault. And the looks Tam sent me meant he was worried about me…and the only reason he would be worried would be if there was something to be guilty about.

I stayed near my brother, afraid to be alone and afraid of the guilt that simmered just below the surface. What it could do to me.

In Exillium, I had seen several kids go crazy. They regretted what they had done to be banished, and the resentment and anger didn’t help either.

But beyond that, Keefe had been my friend. And while we had never really talked much, he had been like an older brother to me. And to watch his body go limp in Sophie’s arms…it gave me nightmares.

I’d always hated violence, but I had never seen someone die up close. Of course, there were the occasional kids that threw themselves off the cliff in Exillium—I’d always made sure both of us stayed away from those when things got rough. Maybe I had done one thing right.

And there it was—the fact that it was my fault that everything was crashing down. It was because of me that everyone was falling apart. I had been too slow—and now I was too slow to save the people I loved most.

If only it had been me. If only Keefe had been the slow one. Then everyone would be fine. They’d have Keefe to help them get through the challenges of the Neverseen. They could be there for each other, and thrive under the connection that I hadn’t yet established.

A connection that was now broken because of me.

So now I was sitting in a corner, unable to move under the weight pressing at me from all sides. I heard someone come in, but I didn’t dare remove my gaze from the wall.

The wall I had painted blue.

His eyes were blue. The bright, lively blue before the light had drained out.

I felt arms wrap around me, and for every tear that slid down my face, for every sob that wracked my body, four words shouted at me from all directions.

The same words that I knew were going through everyone’s heads.

It should’ve been me.

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