Part 5 of 7
As his parents drew away from him in disappointment, Kenny was his only comfort. Even his grandmother cared more about being devastated than about comforting Cody. But as his family ignored him, Kenny was there for him. He cheered Cody up with his antics and comforted him with his singing.
Going back to his old school wasn’t fun, but Kenny could be with him then as well. The ever-present warmth on his shoulder gave him the strength to ignore the teasing and bullying from his classmates. Kenny was his only friend.
But Kenny wasn’t only a comfort to him; He was the only reason his family didn’t give up on him entirely. He might not be magical himself, but a phoenix still bonded with him. That must mean he was extra special, right? That’s what his mother said at least.
His father’s eyes shone with a mad fervour. “That’s right, no phoenix has ever bonded with someone without magic before, you must be destined for greatness.” Cody had to refrain from pointing out Kenny didn’t know that when they bonded, it would only get him into trouble. The next time grandmother came over, she carried with her a whole stack of books filled with legends about phoenixes and their chosen companions.
Cody avoided his family whenever he could. Their false cheer was a thin veil for the disappointment and anger still close to the surface. He hated it. Sometimes he thought it would be better if they were honest about it, but then they might have thrown him out of the house…
But he couldn’t avoid them as much as he wanted. Expelled from the Young Presenters Academy, he was forced to spend much more time at home than the last four years. He spent as much time away from the house as he could, but his old non-magical school had much shorter days than he was used to at the academy. He did as much extra studying as he could, asking his teachers questions and asking for extra assignments, but every evening he had to return home to their strained smiles.
When it was time to choose what career he would want in the future, what education he would follow, he didn’t have to think long. He would become a potioneer, the most magical career a non-magical could have and also the most intense. You didn’t need magic to mix ingredients, magical or otherwise, but it did take a lot of knowledge about those ingredients and the magic within them. In that, Cody had a leg up over his fellow aspiring potioneers because of his years at the Young Presenters Academy.
It was a great relief that the intense course work often kept him locked up in his room studying, away from his parents. Year after year their false cheer devolved into something more like actual delusion. While he’d hoped to gain a little bit of approval from his family at his chosen career, what he got wasn’t like anything he wished.
Their behaviour bordered on hero-worship, but not for Cody, not really. It was always about his bond with Kenny. How he was ‘destined for greatness’, ‘the only non-magical to ever bond with a phoenix’, ‘the pride of the family’. It was never about his hard work, about his school, his career.
And that’s where he was now. Almost eighteen, halfway through the process of becoming a licensed potioneer, the hopes and dreams of his family resting on his shoulders, and his world falling to pieces where he stood. Kenny burned again two weeks ago, just like he’d done every year. And just like every year, he’d lost another feather. But this time, Cody couldn’t ignore the truth any longer, for where last month a red feather had been, now grew a green one.
As Cody’s emotions continued to roil, Kenny’s worry only increased. He sat on his bed, Kenny perched on his desk a few metres away. A soft worried croon finally made Cody lift his head from his hands. Unwillingly, his eyes drifted to the flash of green between red. Cody averted his eyes and stood up, suddenly too restless to keep still. He paced to the end of the room, where he stopped at the door.
“Kenny,” he said, turning around to look at his familiar. Kenny looked up at him with worried amber eyes. Cody swallowed, looked out the window. “Be completely honest with me.” He hated having to ask his familiar to be honest with him. That was supposed to be a given. He looked Kenny in the eyes, needing to see the emotions he could feel through their bond swirl in their depths. “You aren’t a phoenix, are you?”
Kenny’s eyes filled with fire. Panic replaced his worry. He cried out, shaking his head in denial. In instinct, Cody stepped towards him and reached out his hand to calm him down, but halfway there dropped it. Kenny’s eyes followed his hand in despair. “Don’t lie to me.” He didn’t know how his voice sounded, but judging by the way Kenny’s eyes snapped up to Cody, it probably wasn’t pleasant. The fire in his eyes dimmed, the usual bright amber looked disturbingly dull. The panic faded, replaced by cold empty despair. He didn’t deny it.
Cold spread through Cody, reaching all the way to his soul. Kenny wasn’t a phoenix. What was he then? The fire in the hearth their bond had created simmered low, almost extinguished. If Kenny wasn’t a phoenix, then why was his magic like fire?
He looked away from Kenny’s dull eyes, pulled his mind away from the dying fire. But he couldn’t pull away from Kenny’s emotions. They hurt him as much as they did Kenny, that was the fate of those bonded through magic. They would always feel the same emotions, the same pain. Kenny would be feeling Cody’s hurt at his betrayal as well.
The emotions coming from Kenny were familiar. Disturbingly familiar. It was the same way Cody had felt when he discovered he wasn’t a wizard. When he thought Kenny would leave him for it.
Kenny hadn’t left.
Would Cody send him away now? He hadn’t thought that far ahead. The pain of Kenny’s lies had clouded his mind. All he wanted to know was the truth, but now that he knew it, what would he do with it?
He didn’t want to send Kenny away.
He didn’t want to break their bond. Didn’t want to lose the fire burning in his soul. Didn’t want to lose his friend. Kenny had stayed by his side and never once judged him for not being a wizard, something not even his parents managed.
Tears burned in his eyes. Kenny’s pain mingled with his own. He was drowning in despair. The certainty in Kenny’s mind was almost more heartbreaking than his lies. He believed Cody would send him away now. Back then, Cody thought he wouldn’t wish his own misery on his worst enemy, least of all Kenny. He ached to pull him into his arms and comfort him, but he refrained. He first needed to explain.
“I need you to understand.” His voice was hoarse. He turned his back to Kenny, not wanting to look at the red feathers he’d always loved so much. “It’s not that you aren’t a phoenix, I don’t care about that.” He paced to the other side of the room again, turned around, his gaze pierced Kenny to the spot. “I care that you lied to me.”
Ten years Kenny had kept the truth from him, and he might have continued if it weren’t for the feather. Kenny’s guilt flooded through their bond, adding to the misery already there. Would he have ever known? Would Kenny have continued to lie to him indefinitely if he could have? What else didn’t he know about his friend?
Did he know him at all?
Their bond flickered with the intensity of their emotions. The fire dancing between them was almost palpable in the air. The fire, the magic he once thought was his, the magic believed to be Kenny’s just yesterday… Even with the betrayal and lies, Cody didn’t ever want that fire to go away.
“I don’t want to lose you.” He reached out, touched the small green feather. It was soft, softer than any of Kenny’s feathers had ever felt. “The real you.”
With a flutter of wings, Kenny launched himself at Cody. Cody fell backwards with the bird in his arms. Incredible relief flooded through their bond. Cody hugged Kenny to his chest tightly. A sob escaped him. He closed his eyes tightly, not wanting to look at the fake feathers covering his friend.
He wished they would all go away.
As soon as the thought entered his mind, the fire flared back up in the hearth. Kenny’s determination flooded through him. Cody’s eyes shot open and locked with Kenny’s. They weren’t dull anymore. The flames were back and brighter than he’d ever seen them before. In a flash, they spread out and consumed Kenny whole. Cody sat paralysed on the floor, the thought of throwing the flaming bird out of his arms didn’t even cross his mind. His mind was completely focused inward, where the fire inside him flared like it never had before.
It felt like he was the one burning. The fire flowed through his veins, consumed his soul. He felt or saw nothing else. And then, it was over. The fire sputtered out and died. It was gone, not even a light simmer was left in the hearth. The hearth itself was gone.
Panic flooded through him. His eyes focused on the ashes in his hands. Where had the magic gone? Where was their bond? A reassuring calm quieted his panic. Coming from the bond that felt different, but was familiar enough to be recognisable. He felt tiny claws scratch over his fingers. A little beak popped out of the top of the ashes. It cheeped. Stumpy wings fluttered, dispersing the ashes into the air, immediately causing the little chick to sneeze and fall over.
Cody laughed. He righted him back up and brushed the remaining ash out of his baby fuzz. Pink fuzz. Kenny’s fiery red and orange was replaced by a bright pink interspersed with patches of green at the edges of his wings and tail. Cody’s smile at finally seeing the real Kenny was laced with bitterness. He could feel their bond. It was no longer fiery, but purely magical. There was no other way to describe it. The flames were gone, but a glittering magical quality remained. Just now he’d thought he never wanted the fire to go away, but this magic, this pure honest magic was even better.
How he’d never noticed the layer of illusion over the fire he didn’t know, but it was glaringly obvious to him now.
Kenny blinked his eyes open. There too, the fire had died, but they were no less bright for it. With the yellow of the flames gone, the amber had changed into a deep almost pink colour. His eyes glittered like crystals on a cave wall.
Cody had to wipe tears from his eyes to continue looking. This was the real Kenny, his best friend, his familiar. Not a phoenix, but that didn’t matter, just like it didn’t matter that he wasn’t a wizard. They were still together, and that was all that mattered.