Jennifer was falling, tumbling into the icy embrace of a pitch black abyss. Kenner couldn’t bear to watch her go, to let her fall, to let her pass out of this world in which he could see and touch and hear her: he couldn’t live with the thought of her going where he could not follow. He reached out to touch her, if only for one last time, their hands connected ... and Jennifer’s descent ceased: they hovered in the air, kept aloft by Kenner’s beating wings. Lightning cracked like a whip. Thunder rolled ominously.
“A storm of Chaos,” Kenner whispered. And yet, even as he spoke those words, even as he acknowledged the danger that he and Jennifer were making the world face, he pulled her closer and held her tightly.
“Kenner, I’m scared,” she whispered.
“I know,” he said softly. “Don’t be.” He stroked her hair with the hand that wasn’t holding onto her like a lifeline.
“I think you should let go...”
Oh, Jen, how are you so amazing?
The next lightning flash was bright blue and spanned the sky so extensively that it was as though the heavens had ripped.
“No,” Kenner said. “I think I should hold you.”
“Kenner... the world... We could only last a moment if you don’t save it.”
“We couldn’t last at all if I let you go!” he pointed out, anguished.
“Kenner,” Jennifer whispered, closing her eyes and resting her head on his shoulder. His wings hummed, warming even as they beat rhythmically, trying to fight the storm with their inexorable calm, trying with their steady conviction to open the door on a plane beyond this one where Kenner and Jennifer’s love would not be Chaotic. “D for Duty. O for Order. Didn’t you make promises to other people?”
“Hush,” he said, wishing Jennifer would be selfish, just this once, and allow him to delude himself; wishing she would speak words of love and of optimism in that beautiful voice of hers, despite the storm around them.
“I’d rather die than watch the world burn before its time,” she whispered.
“You don’t know what you’re saying!” Kenner cried. An invisible choir began singing the Duty chant but he ignored it. “Jen, don’t you love me?!”
“I do,” she whispered. “Of course I do. But if you love me back, you’ll protect the human race, so other people can feel what we’ve felt. If you love me back, you’ll let me make a sacrifice for the world I was blessed to find you in. Let go of me, Kenner...”
T for the tears to kill the fires...
“T for the tears to kill the fires,” Jennifer repeated.
“I love you,” Kenner said, stubbornly ignoring her request, a request which broke his heart.
“Y for the yawning chasm braved: only you can do this, Kenny. Only you.”
“I’m not letting go.”
“Please,” she whispered. “Please don’t make me watch the world burn.”
“I can’t let you go! Don’t you see that? Would you really have me kill my heart?!”
“Would you really have me kill the world?”
Kenner held her tightly and kissed her head.
“I will never forget you, Jen. Never. You’re so brave. So awfully, terribly brave.”
Jennifer kissed his shoulder.
“I love you, Kenner. Thank you.”
As darkness gathered all around, Kenner closed his eyes and let go of Jennifer. Then he opened them and watched as she fell, smiling even in the face of her doom: he watched so as to try to engrave the image of her in her memory but cried even as he did, the tears blurring his vision; he watched her fall as light returned to the world, Chaos averted, Order restored...
Kenny awoke to find himself crying and to find Svetlana’s arms around him: and she was crying too.
“Oh, Kenner,” she wept, not seeming to have noticed he was up; “Kenner, wake up, Jen’s fine; it’s all fine.”
“Lana,” he said, with some difficulty. He noticed a vague shimmery haze being emitted from her wings. “Lana!” he said, alarmed. “Your wings!”
Lana looked at him in the darkness, her face strewn with tears.
“Kenner, I don’t care about my wings; are you all right?”
Kenny tried to stop crying but found that he couldn’t.
“I... I had to let her die, Lana... To save the world. Why did I have to dream that? I ... I love her... and I ... She fell... She fell and I watched.” He pulled Lana into a tight embrace and cried harder.
Lana seemed to be having more success as her crying relented somewhat.
“I was ... so scared for you. You were saying her name, in such a wretched, anguished voice. I just wanted you to forget her. I wanted you to forget her, Kenny. She’s tearing your heart to pieces!”
Kenny’s tears were coming more slowly now too. He let go of Svetlana and ran a hand through his matted hair.
“That’s not her fault, Lana. She just cares about the world not falling to Chaos. She cares about what I used to care about.”
“You still do, Kenner,” Lana whispered. “Else you wouldn’t have let her go.”
“If it had been my choice, I wouldn’t have. But she didn’t want to watch the world burn and I didn’t want to plague her with guilt. I could never hurt her, Lana: not ever. If it had been up to me, I’d have held her close and tried to keep her away from the flames. Maybe I should hang up my wings.”
“Kenner, you’re too young to retire... And what would you do for the rest of your life? You know being a Guardian of Order is the only way you feel fulfilled.”
“But all I care about now is Jennifer. All I can think about is her. When I go to bed, I have to stop myself teleporting to her house; I actually have to activate a Neutralising feather. I want her to know how I feel again... If I didn’t think she’d make me make her forget, over and over again, I would do it. I can’t stand the thought of never being with her. Oh, Lana, what do I do?”
Svetlana now hugged him.
“Live for Order, like you did before.”
“But what if Order means hurting her? What if Order means her dying? Even if it’s not me responsible, I can’t bear the idea. Order means nothing until Jennifer gets an Immunity feather.”
“Then live for me, dammit!” Svetlana cried. “I know you love Jennifer, Kenner, but I love you! And it really kills me to see you like this! To see you crying in your sleep, to feel that your wings are ice cold! I held you, Kenner, even as you burnt my wings in your distress, and I would do that again for you - a thousand times if necessary. Please, Kenner, don’t stop being what you are.”
Kenny was speechless. Svetlana had held him even while he had burnt her wings. Wingburn was agonising...
“Do they hurt?” he asked stupidly.
“It’s like a thousand knives digging into my back,” she whispered.
Kenner gently pushed her away and reached for his bedside table where there was a pot of the salve Frey had given him when he had had to receive Wingburn as a punishment. He felt painfully guilty for doing that to Svetlana. She hadn’t done anything wrong.
He turned on the bedside lamp and winced at the streaks of ash he saw across her wings, black on the gold feathers, white on the black ones.
“Lie down, Lana,” he ordered.
Lana lay down on her front, wincing.
“This is going to sting but they’ll feel better afterwards,” he told her, dipping his finger in the salve.
Lana closed her eyes, bracing herself.
“Actually, it’s better if you just relax,” he told her. He put the pot down on his duvet and reached out to pat her shoulder. Lana’s muscles relaxed.
“Can you live for me, Kenner? If not for Order?” she whispered.
“I can try,” he said softly, unwilling to make a promise he couldn’t keep. He began to apply the salve. Lana moaned softly in pain.
“Thank you for holding me,” he told her. “That was really brave of you.”
“Anytime,” she whispered.
With the hand that wasn’t applying salve, Kenny stroked her shoulder.
“I’m sorry for what I put you through.”
“You’d do it for Jennifer,” she murmured. “Wouldn’t you?”
“Yes,” Kenny said unwaveringly. “That’s what love does to you. It’s dangerous.”
“But beautiful,” Svetlana whispered. “Undeniably beautiful, even through the pain.”
Kenny thought about the few moments in the dream during which he had held Jennifer against him.
“Yes,” he said, so softly that he wondered if Svetlana could hear him. “That too.”