“Oh, aren’t we going back to my house?” I asked, surprised.
“Hey, Jennifer,” said Svetlana, standing up from where she had been sitting reading a magazine on the sofa. “I heard what you did. Well done!”
“Thanks. I just met your uncle. He said you might keep in touch with me after this.”
“Well, I’m certainly willing to.”
Kenner walked into his bedroom and returned with a feather on a string: the one, I realised belatedly, that he had given to me while I had been his informant.
“This, I think, is a suitable reward.”
“But ... doesn’t it create a bond between us...?” I asked, remembering Joel’s excitement at the thought that Kenny was taking risks.
“Hmm, Lana, could I have one of feathers. A gold one, please.” Looking at me, he explained “Lana can’t channel magic because she has both black and gold feathers, so one of hers should have a neutralising effect on mine.”
“Oh, yeah, that would work,” Svetlana said, smiling. She reached behind her and plucked a beautiful golden feather out of thin air.
“Now I’m going to be doubly captivated,” I thought out loud.
Kenny chuckled, collecting the feather from Svetlana and tying it onto the string. He touched the feathers to each other and there was a green spark. Kenny handed me the makeshift necklace.
“But not bonded to me, which is the main thing.”
I put it around my neck, smiling.
“Thanks, Kenny. It’s been great knowing you.”
Impulsively I hugged him.
“I wish you were human,” I told him quietly. Distantly I heard Svetlana leave the room. It made the situation somewhat ... intense. I wondered why we should especially need privacy...
And then Kenny kissed my hair.
“I do too,” he whispered.
I swallowed, simultaneously sensitised and paralysed by the brush of his lips in my hair.
“Kenny, that’s forbidden,” I whispered.
“I know,” Kenny whispered back. “But I had to do it once.”
I stepped back and looked up into his eyes. They watched me and ... startlingly, wonderfully, I got the sense that he thought I was beautiful.
“You love me,” I said, feeling as though I was falling.
“Yes,” he said without hesitation.
“That’s ... that’s why it’s dangerous for me to see you,” I said unsteadily.
I lowered my gaze.
“Kenny, I don’t want you to get into trouble.”
“If that was the one and only time, I won’t,” he assured me.
I turned from him and went to sit on the sofa.
“I don’t think you should’ve done that,” I said softly, laying my head back and closing my eyes, taking slow breaths to calm my racing heart.
“I ... I’m sorry if it upset you,” Kenny said, sounding anguished. “I just ... didn’t want to say goodbye without letting you know how I feel. I know there’s nothing to be done about it, I know you want to avoid Chaos as much as I do... but it somehow felt important. Like ... if I hadn’t done it, I could never be happy.”
“Kenny, I think I like you too,” I whispered.
Suddenly I felt his arms around me.
“Don’t open your eyes,” he told me. I kept them shut but hugged him back, resting my head on his shoulder. “6.4,” he whispered. “We’ve just got to keep it at 6.4.”
“I don’t know,” Kenny whispered. “But the longer we do, the longer we can stay like this.”
“Kenny, I’ve got to get back for lunch... And ... the longer we stay like this, the ... the further I’ll fall,” I whispered. A tear came to my eye. “Don’t put me in the situation Joel put Susie in. Please don’t.”
What felt like a feather brushed across my cheek, wiping my tear away and Kenny let go of me, stepping away.
I opened my eyes and saw his wings extended: as black as jet but diffracting the light into rainbows at various points, making them the most beautiful sight I had ever seen.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, turning away and walking to a window, his wings curling and disappearing.
I forced myself to look away from him and took steadying breaths, closing my eyes again.
“Is there really no hope for us?” I asked, scared of the answer even as I spoke the question.
“Not that I know of,” Kenny said numbly.
I took a deep breath, steeling myself for what I was about to say.
“Then I’d like you to mind-wipe me, Kenny. Please.”
Kenny turned to me looking distraught.
“What? You want to forget?!”
“Yes,” I said unwaveringly. “And I think you know that’s the best thing for us too.”
“Jen, don’t make me do that; please don’t make me do that,” Kenny begged, looking like he wanted to cry. I didn’t blame him: I was almost in tears myself.
“T for the tears to kill the fires,” I choked.
“But I’ve braved the yawning chasm! Surely it doesn’t get worse than that? Oh, please, Jen, please.”
“You’re undertaking a rescue,” I whispered. “You’re rescuing me from misery and so much pain.”
“By sending you into ignorance of my feelings for you?”
“By returning me to innocence.”
“No, I won’t do it,” Kenny said, turning away, facing the window again like an angry child.
I swallowed, closing my eyes and wincing.
“Then you don’t really love me.”
I opened my eyes to see a defeated-looking Kenny sit down beside me on the couch.
“You know what to do,” he said. And the emphasis was very much on the word ‘you’. It was me demanding this of him, it wasn’t something that he himself wanted to do at all: it was my fault his heart was probably tearing into pieces right now. I felt atrocious for my flagrant use of emotional blackmail and that I didn’t even deserve the relief I was going to get from the guilt by letting Kenny take my memories.
I offered him my hand.
“I’m going to have to do a memory change, as well,” he said flatly. “So you have a reason for finding yourself on the sofa.” It was like he was trying to put me off by saying those words, and yet at the same time his tone belied that impression: it was despondent, but resolved.
He took my hand.
“I could make you mine, Jen,” he whispered. “I could make you forget everything you know except that we belong together. You wouldn’t give a damn about Chaos.”
I looked into his eyes.
“I don’t doubt it.”
“Will I, Jen? Tell me to and I would - I swear I would.”
“But then I wouldn’t be me, and you wouldn’t be you, and the whole relationship would be fake: a cheap imitation of something real and true and special -”
“Something you won’t remember once I’ve done this, Jen!” Kenny interrupted, nearly shouting in his pain.
I looked down.
“You asked ‘Will you?’, Kenny. You asked me and I know why. Because you won’t.” I looked up into his tortured blue eyes. “You won’t, Kenny, because you’re a Guardian of Order and I think you’re amazing for that. Don’t you dare sacrifice your principles for me. If you do that, I’ll lose all my respect for you. And that’s a heck of a lot of respect.” I swallowed. “I love you, and if you like, you can always remember me telling you this: that I do love you. But we can’t be together and you know it. So let’s just get this over and done with. Take my memories before you do something you’ll regret.”
Kenny looked away from me. He seemed to be shuddering.
“Jen, I can’t; I’m not strong enough...”
“Yes, you are,” I insisted. More softly I said “I believe in you, Kenny.”
Kenny looked up and our eyes connected.
“Jen, you won’t remember this but you are the single most amazing girl I have ever met. If things had been different, I’d have been the best boyfriend in the world. You don’t know how much this is killing me, Jen; I don’t know if I’ll ever recover...”
“You will,” I told him. “You will because you’ll know you rescued me. You’ll know that I’ll be happier than I ever could’ve been living in the knowledge that I couldn’t be with you. You will because ... I think I’m rescuing you too.” I put my free hand on his chest and Kenny swallowed.
“I love you,” he whispered, as a familiar warmth spread into my mind, which was being gently forced into distraction.
“I'm sorry,” I managed to say, before the daze took over completely.