Kenny blinked, startled, sure he had imagined this girl not only saying his name but saying it in the voice of “Lana?!”
Svetlana Rook, Frey’s niece and an old friend of his, pushed her sunglasses up to reveal chocolate brown eyes, an amused expression on his face.
“Still can’t deal with ‘Svet’, eh?”
Too shocked to respond to her teasing, Kenny only replied “What are you doing here?”
“Uncle Frey said it would be nice for you to see me again. I took that to mean you’re depressed.” She placed a hand on his shoulder. “So tell me, Kenner, how can I help you?”
Kenny laughed and shrugged her hand off.
“I’m all right, Lana. I’ve just been thinking about a mission.”
“Mm-hm, Uncle Frey told me about that too. He’s not very subtle, is it?” Before Kenny could protest, Svetlana had snatched his notepad out of his hand and was reading it. “Hm, I don’t like number 1. We could do number 2, though.”
“Lana, I told your uncle I didn’t want a partner,” Kenny said, embarrassed that she thought one of his ideas had been silly and slightly cross that she was interfering. “Plus, you can’t. You’re not a Guardian.”
Svetlana folded her arms.
“Oh, not this again. I’ve told you before - actually, I’ve told everyone half a million times - I am a Guardian. Just a non-official one. I think the key to happiness - and to sanity, actually - is to be both kinds. To guard Order but to contribute to humans’ optimism once in a while. I don’t get why there’s such a huge rift between the two systems.”
“And I don’t know how you can do both. Surely it’s hard to make humans happy and then turn around and do something horrible to them.”
“It’s no harder than always making them miserable, I’m sure.”
“I dunno... it can be easier to know I’ve chosen one path over the other. I just feel like I’d be really confused if I’d chosen what you chose.”
“Fair. So,” she said, handing him back his notepad, “how can we make Joel stand Susanna up?”
Mortified, Kenny said “Shhh!”
Svetlana rolled her eyes.
“Sorry, forgot about the imaginary secret police. What are your plans for the ‘mission’, then, Kenny?”
“I don’t know,” he confessed. “The two of them know who I am.”
“Well, that was careless of you. See, you do need me, Kenner. Has Susanna got a job?”
“She volunteers at the local animal shelter. 8-4, Monday to Friday, I think.”
“Animals! Cool. This should be great fun.”
“Lana, please. We’re breaking a couple of hearts here.”
“Look, just ‘cos you’re an Orderly Guardian, mister, doesn’t mean you can’t be light-hearted sometimes. I refuse to let you be depressive.”
Kenny stood up, putting his notepad in his pocket.
“Fine,” he said calmly. “I’ll go elsewhere and do it.” He started to walk off.
Svetlana caught up.
“Kenner Charleston, just you wait up,” she said crossly. “Do you really prefer being depressive?”
“When I’m on a mission, yes,” he said flatly, not slowing in the slightest.
She caught hold of his arm so that he was forced to stop. He reluctantly looked at her.
“Then you should make someone happy for a change.”
“No, thank you. I don’t fancy being confused in myself.”
“Do you know how ridiculous that sounds? It’s like you’ve forgotten how to be happy at all. Where’s the Kenner Charleston that I /used/ to know? The one who would’ve made a great Guardian of Optimism.”
“I didn’t choose that path, Lana. D’you want me to unfold my wings so you can see the colour? They’re black, not gold. The colour of Duty. Hard and cold but definite. And besides, I am happy sometimes. I was happy when I was about to liberate the girl I’d used to measure Susanna and Joel’s Chaos levels.”
“Oh, whoop-di-doo, that must have been like Bonfire Night!” Lana’s tone was heavily sarcastic. “Celebrations and fireworks. Where’s my glass of wine?”
Kenny turned away from her.
“I don’t know why you bother,” he muttered. “If you find it so incomprehensible that I am what I am, why are you still here?”
“’Cause I’m going to help you, idiot. I’m going to sign up to be a volunteer, make friends with Susanna and find out when this important date with Joel is. Maybe I’ll even help you delay him, using my ...” She tossed her hair: “feminine charm.”
“Joel will know you’re a Guardian, you know?” Kenny pointed out.
“Yeah, but he won’t know which side I’m on, does he? No one knows: sometimes, I walk into a room and everyone stares at me, half wondering if I’m human but half certain that I’m some kind of Guardian.”
“True,” Kenny said moodily.
“Sometimes I pretend it’s because they think I’m beautiful,” Svetlana murmured, sounding distant. “So I don’t feel so awkward.”
Kenny frowned and looked at her.
“You are beautiful, Lana. I’ve always said that. It’s just not me you were meant to be with. I’m an Ice Prince, or whatever character is cold and insensitive.”
“No, you’re not,” she said, looking back at him. “You didn’t choose Duty because you like hurting people, or because you’re just generally apathetic about humans. I know guys like that. You, Kenner... you chose Duty for the reason that they want Guardians to choose Duty: because you want to protect everyone. You realise that it’s hard, but ... in the end, if Chaos is averted, it’s worth it.”
Kenny looked down. He didn’t respond. He didn’t say anything because she was right.
“Can I help you, Kenner?” Svetlana asked softly. “Please?”
“Sure,” he said quietly.
Svetlana hugged him tightly.
“Thank you, Kenner,” she whispered. “I know you don’t return my feelings for you, but this is really important to me. Sometimes I feel like you’re broken and you need exposure to warmth. Warmth from a friend if not something more.”
Kenny hugged her back.
“I’m all right, Svetlana. But I appreciate your concern. And I’m sure you’ll find someone. You’re just too good for the guys you’ve met so far.”
“Never you,” she whispered before drawing away. She smiled. “So what kind of residence did the Council give you? A sprawling mansion?”
Kenner rolled his eyes.
“If only. It’s an unassuming apartment.”
“Show me, show me,” Svetlana said, mimicking a child’s tone.
Kenny led her across town to his flat. He opened the door and Svetlana rushed in.
“Oo, it’s so ... boring!” she exclaimed, winking at him.
Kenny couldn’t help but smile. He shut the door.
“Would you like a drink?”
“D’you have full fat milk?”
“Actually, I’ve only got semi-skimmed. I never drink it plain: it’s just for tea and coffee.”
Svetlana wrinkled up her face.
“Oh, you’re boring. I’ll have a milky, sugary coffee.”
Kenny nodded and went to the kitchen. When he came back with the two drinks (he had made himself a coffee as well), Svetlana was lying on the sofa, rolling around as if to see what the most comfortable position was.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
Svetlana sat up.
“Oh, testing the couch. It’s not the comfiest but it’ll do.”
“Do for what?” Kenny asked, setting the mugs down on the coffee table and sitting in an armchair.
“For a bed, idiot.”
“A bed. I’ve got to sleep somewhere. Uncle Frey didn’t arrange me a flat like he did for you.”
“Oh, yeah, I guess that would be practical. Well, I’ll just change the covers on my bed and you can sleep there.”
“Oh no, I can’t kick you out onto the couch,” Svetlana insisted.
“But you’re not - I’m suggesting it. Don’t worry about it: really. I’ve slept rougher.”
“Well, if you’re sure...”
“I’m sure,” Kenny confirmed.
“Thanks, Kenner,” Svetlana said, smiling. “We’ll get this done together.”
Kenny reached for his coffee and took a sip.
“Well, if two Guardians can’t do it, it looks pretty bad on us, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah, fancy a couple of Guardians not being able to cause some misery.” She winked.
Kenny smiled slightly, mentally thanking Frey for his idea. Svetlana would respect his privacy, even his solitude if he wanted it. To add to that, it had been too long since he’d last seen her.
Late that night, Kenny was awoken by a knocking sound. He sat up and looked around, vaguely disoriented to find himself in the living room rather than the bedroom he had been sleeping in over the past few days, and saw Svetlana standing in the doorway, looking pale and uncertain.
“Lana, something wrong?” he asked, wincing slightly as his voice broke the silence.
“I ... I had the most dreadful dream,” she whispered. “I’m sorry to wake you up but ... it was terrifying. And you were in it, so it’s just a real relief to see you awake and all right.”
“Um... would you like a hug?” Kenny asked, feeling awkward and embarrassed, although sorry for Svetlana who for a few years now had been suffering frightening nightmares.
Svetlana nodded shyly. She approached him carefully, avoiding collisions with pieces of furniture. She seated herself on his lap and hugged him. Kenny felt her trembling slightly. He hugged her back, pulling her close into his body warmth. Svetlana buried her face in his shoulder and took deep breaths. The shivering died down and Kenny felt Svetlana relax. Unexpectedly, her wings unfolded. Black and gold, they had always been spectacular. Kenny watched almost warily as they drew forwards and wrapped around his shoulders.
“Sorry,” Svetlana mumbled. “It’s just such a relief to let them out.”
“Yeah... I know what you mean,” Kenny said hesitantly.
“Least your shoulders won’t be cold now.”
Svetlana, perhaps sensing his discomfort, refolded her wings and Kenny tried not to make his sigh of relief audible.
“Did you find anyone? After ... you know.”
“No, not really...,” Kenny said, feeling awkward because he didn’t know whether Jennifer counter or how Svetlana would react to him potentially have fallen for a human.
Svetlana lifted her head and let go of him.
“I shouldn’t have come, should I?” she asked sadly. “I knew this would happen - I knew I wouldn’t be able to treat you like you were just a friend...”
“No, no,” Kenny said hastily. “It’s all right. You haven’t crossed the line yet.” He looked at the floor. “I met a girl. A girl I couldn’t be with. She doesn’t even know me anymore.”
“Oh, Kenner, don’t be a pessimist. There’s always hope.”
“There’s really not,” Kenny murmured.
“Don’t say that.”
Kenny smiled wryly.
“This mission is to break two people’s hearts, Lana. Not everyone gets to be happy.”
“At least they knew it at all,” she said earnestly. “Love, I mean. I truly believe that happy memories can sustain you when things seem to be going wrong. It’s why I do what I do. Plant a little magic here, sow a little misery there: try to create a balance. What’s sad is when you have to hurt someone who’s only ever been hurt. Then I feel truly guilty.”
Svetlana hugged him again.
“Follow your dreams, Kenny. They’re what make life worth living.”
Kenny decided not to press the argument, to say that he really couldn’t - it would lead to Chaos - and simply hugged her back.
“Anytime,” she whispered. She detached herself from him and after giving him one last smile, drifted serenely out of the room murmuring “Night, Kenner.”