Page 109 of Forever My Saint

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We’re surrounded by an eerie silence as we take in the bedlam around us. There is so much destruction, so much death. Now that the smoke has cleared, I can see what we created—this is hell on earth. Men are strewn throughout the land, either dead or crawling for help.

Pavel lies feet away, unmoving.

The sight has me scanning frantically until it halts on something I don’t understand.

Max cradles a limp body, drawing her toward his chest as he cries. My mind goes into self-preservation mode because that is the only way I can process this.

“No!” he howls, cradling the person he holds like she is the most precious thing in the world.

Her familiar long dark hair stabs a hole straight through me, and I clutch my middle, afraid the earth is about to swallow me whole.

Saint doesn’t comfort me. Instead, I watch as he staggers over to a large barren tree where a body lays underneath. He drops to his knees with his head bowed as he surrenders in defeat.

My brain is telling me that the bodies belong to people I knew, people I was supposed to protect. But the fact they are deathly motionless alerts me to my failure.

“No,” I whimper, unsteady on my feet as I attempt to stop the world from tipping on its axis. But it doesn’t stop. It never will.

Zoey, Ingrid, and Sara are…dead because of me. I failed them. They knew this was dangerous, but if it wasn’t for me, for my inexplicable urge to see Alek and to avenge Saint, then they would still be alive. Saint reaches out and brushes over Zoey’s hair, a broken sob leaving him.

“I just, I just wanted to make it better,” I whisper aloud, shaking my head at the carnage in front of me. But I haven’t.

Something burns inside me, and the harder I try to escape it, the hotter it burns. I don’t know what it is, but something threatens to choke me.

Astra and Oscar are dead, but I’m not relieved. I thought I would be, but I can’t help but feel like the final piece of this puzzle is missing. My attention bounces sluggishly among the people around me, but I always seem to come back to one person.

Aleksei Popov.

I didn’t understand why it was so important to come back here. Why the heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach wouldn’t go away. There was something I needed to do by coming here. I didn’t know what that was…but now…I do.

I’m to blame for all of this, but so is Alek. Our culpability is shared. If only he had spoken up and stopped Astra, Zoey would be alive. And Saint wouldn’t be burdened with this tragic grief forever. I never understood why I didn’t hate Alek when I should have, and it’s all because of this moment.

Every single action has led to this.

My weary body cries in defeat as I lean forward and grab a lone gun. Alek walks over, tattered and torn, but smiles. “You don’t need that. We won,” he gloats, which flicks my switch to drive.

There are no winners here.

With the heavy metal in my steady hand, it’s an extension of my body as I aim. Utter confusion swarms Alek, but he continues walking toward me.

He’s always so smug and so presumptuous. It’s time I showed him who I really am. It’s time I showed myself too.

“Get on your knees.” My voice cuts through the static, setting the stage for things to come.

Alek continues to stroll until I cock the gun slowly. He suddenly pauses, tilting his head in confusion.

“I said…get on your knees,” I repeat, dangerously slow.

Alek deliberately raises his hands in surrender when he realizes I’m serious. “???????, what are you doing?”

“What was always destined,” I reply calmly.

“I’m sorry they’re dead. I truly am,” he says, hands still raised, but it’s too late for apologies. They won’t bring back Zoey, Ingrid, or Sara. “I’m sorry your life means more to me than theirs. I’m selfish, but I don’t make apologies for the decisions I’ve made.”

Flinching at his candidness, I get my head in the game. “This entire time, I never understood what I…felt”—I swallow down my admission—“for you. I should have hated you. Despised you for what you did. But I didn’t. I could never work out why that was.”

A wave of relief washes over Alek. It’s short-lived.

“But now I realize hating you would be hypocritical because I always knew what I had to do. I thought by coming here, I was saving you, but in reality, I was saving me. I’m broken,” I confess, shaking the heartache away. “And the only way to heal…is by making you pay. So, once again, I ask you, get down on yourfuckingknees.”