The skies over Radiant Garden blazed blue, pink, and orange with the dawn—beautiful, but far too early for Lea’s taste. He squinted, his arm blindly reaching out for the ringing gummiphone that had roused him. It took three tries before Lea managed to press the green button, and without looking at the screen he rasped, “What?”
The sound of Ienzo’s mild laughter shocked Lea to full alertness. “I’m sorry to have woken you,” Ienzo said. “But Saïx—rather, Isa—reformed overnight. He is still asleep, however I thought you might want to be informed.”
Any unease Lea felt from seeing Ienzo instantly evaporated. Tossing his blanket aside as he sat up, Lea practically shouted, “Is he okay? Where is he?” It wasn’t until Ienzo blushed and averted his eyes that Lea remembered that—despite the winter chill—he’d gone to bed shirtless. Embarrassed, he angled the phone up as Ienzo responded.
“Even examined him, and aside from a few bruises Isa appears to be in good health.” Lea gave a relieved sigh. Saïx took on five keyblade wielders before fading, and Lea feared he’d recomplete with those injuries—if he even recompleted at all. “Aeleus and Dilan moved him into one of the small guest chambers. We have been taking it in turns to watch over him.”
Lea nodded. “We’ll be there as soon as possible.” Biting his lip, he added, “Thanks. For taking care of him and, um… for calling.”
“Of course,” Ienzo replied, before ending the call. His heart racing, Lea set the gummiphone down on his bedside table. Absently, he touched the thin scar over his heart and closed his eyes. Lea concentrated on the excited, warm sensation that swept over him. The habit was one he’d fallen into since the Keyblade Graveyard, where Xemnas had shattered his keyblade into a million little pieces. Lea had summoned it once more, but those memories were hazy, half-formed. Whether it was the heat of battle, the joy of reuniting with Roxas and Xion, or some mystical force beyond his comprehension Lea did not know… but in his heart of hearts he knew he’d never hold Flame Liberator again.
It grieved him, but Lea tried to remain optimistic. He’d gotten the keyblade to find his missing friends, and he’d done that. Honestly, what more could Lea ask for? (He couldn’t be luckier; this was so much more than he deserved.) Instead, Lea found comfort in his heart, how it beat and raced and swelled. Finally, after everything, he was so close to being really, truly whole again. He savored the feeling for a moment longer, then Lea pulled himself out of bed.
“Roxas!” he shouted, the blonde’s bedroom directly across from his. Without waiting for a response, Lea gently knocked on Xion’s door. Sleepy eyes met him a moment later as Xion opened her door. “We gotta get up,” he explained. “We’re going to the castle. I—” Lea’s heart fluttered.
“Isa… he’s come home.”
Lea had been an only child, but he didn’t think he was doing half-bad in his new role as a sort of ‘older brother’ figure. (Or, at least, he felt no guilt over bribing Xion and Roxas with their favorite foods on a semi-regular basis.) An hour after Ienzo called, Lea had gotten his best friends fed and piled under heavy winter clothes before trekking from the humble house Ansem the Wise provided them toward the castle. When the trio reached the front gate, Dilan raised an eyebrow at Lea’s outfit.
“A bit cold for that old thing,” he remarked. Dilan’s winter guard uniform was lined with warm fur and heavy fabrics, and even as Lea made a mental note to ask Ansem if he could get something similar for Roxas and Xion, he shrugged off the older man’s comment.
“Nah, I run hot. Unlike these two,” he said, gesturing at the teens. Hells, he could practically hear Roxas’s teeth chattering. “Could ya let us in, maybe?” Dilan shrugged, but unlocked the gate nonetheless. Lea nodded his thanks before ushering the younger pair inside.
Being inside the castle interior was always a surreal experience for Lea. He’d gone from sneaking in to being an apprentice and then dying within these walls. When Ansem offered them a choice between the castle and a nearby residence, Lea didn’t even give Xion and Roxas the chance to respond. Lea’s nightmares were already bad enough, thank you very much.
Muscle memory guided Lea as he led his friends through the halls, each more elegant than the last. “It’s so beautiful,” Xion said, awed by the grandeur. Lea smiled, proud despite himself. Despite everything, he wanted the kids to like his homeworld. Warts and all.
“Ma was an engineer,” he told them. “Me and Isa spent hours memorizing the maps she brought home. Should be this way,” he added, pointing down another corridor. The main labs, where the apprentices and their Master spent their day.
After a quick word with Aeleus, Lea headed toward the wing where Isa rested. With every step, Lea’s nerves mounted. What if Isa hated him? What if he wanted nothing to do with Lea? Then, at last, there he was: outside Isa’s room. For a long minute, the trio stood there. Silent, but for the tense, shared awareness of who lay beyond the closed door.
The moment ended as Lea stammered, “Just, um… give me a sec?” Roxas looked like he wanted to protest, but Xion took him by the arm and gently tugged him away. The look of understanding she gave Lea was so sincere, Lea couldn’t help the tears that formed. (Was it normal that he’d cried so much lately? He couldn’t remember.)
“We’ll be waiting,” Xion promised him, before leading a still-pouting Roxas down the hall. Lea watched them until they disappeared around a corner, then took a large, bracing breath. You can do this, he told himself. Easy, right? Still, Lea’s gloved hand trembled as he set it against the door, his arms weak as he pushed it open.
There, laid out atop slightly moth-eaten quilts, was Isa. Like Lea, he was still in his Organization getup, but even with his eyes closed Lea could sense that he was at last freed from Xehanort’s influence. Lea crossed the room with slow, reverent steps. The room lacked a chair, so he sat on the edge of Isa’s bed, taking one of Isa’s limp hands into his own. He would wake soon—Lea could feel it.
It had taken Lea weeks, or perhaps months to connect with his heart like this. (Time in the Timeless Forest flowed oddly, to say the least.) Where Kairi’s training focused on learning forms, Lea had to concentrate on the more mystical aspects of wielding a keyblade. Yen Sid was a tactician on par with Xehanort, and pairing Lea with a Princess of Heart had deliberately put Lea on a steep learning curve.
Lea didn’t fool himself into thinking his training was complete, but by the time they’d left for the Keyblade Graveyard he could at least confidently summon his keyblade and cast a handful of spells in addition to fire magic; he had a surprising aptitude for healing spells, of all things. Lea could also feel the small tangle of connections he’d made with his new heart, including one that brightly thrummed back to life as Isa’s stunning teal eyes opened.
It was a moment that stretched on forever as Lea and Isa stared at each other, Somebodies for the first time in a decade. Isa blinked once, then twice, as if he couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing. The blue-haired struggled to sit up, and Lea rushed forward to help him.
“Where… This is not the castle,” Isa said. His voice was confused, the stirrings of panic evident in his tone. “Axel, where—”
“I’m Lea.” It pained him so, so much to hear that name from Isa’s lips. “And you, you’re Isa. You’re recompleted. Whole,” Lea smiled, tears blurring his vision. He blinked rapidly to clear them, and Isa looked utterly spellbound as the water droplets fell onto his leather coat. “Just l-like you wanted, Isa. We’re whole again.”
Isa frowned, confusion evident in his expression as he eyes—his eyes, at last—searched Lea’s. “The battle,” he said, each word slow. Deliberate. “We… fought.”
“We did,” Lea replied, fighting the urge to wince. He hoped Isa was ready to confront all those painful memories. “We stopped Xehanort. He can’t hurt us anymore, Isa. We’re free.”
“I faded. Again.” Isa’s gaze dropped to his hands, still encased in black gloves. They began to tremble, and Lea reached out with his own to steady them. “I— I watched Xemnas attack you, and I did n-nothing.” Isa shook. “I tried to strike you down, I wanted to, to hurt you. Lea—”
To see tears in those perfect teal eyes… Lea couldn’t stand it. Couldn’t stand any of it. They’d been through so much. Lea had watched Isa die, had died himself with Isa’s screams still echoing in his mind. Helpless, he’d watched as Xemnas poisoned Saïx’s mind and body with darkness. When Axel faded and Lea reawoke, he’d been utterly alone. So, so alone. Lea’s resolve hardened. Never again. Nothing will ever hurt him again.
Lea felt a strange sensation in his chest, not unlike the final puzzle piece falling into place or a key sliding into a lock. Odd, but not painful. As soothing as Flame Liberator used to feel. As Lea wondered what was happening, he struggled to listen to Isa’s increasingly self-loathing words.
“—can’t ever be forgiven, and…” Isa’s eyes narrowed. “A-are you… glowing?”
“Huh?” Lea glanced down at his leather-clad chest. “Glowing? Isa, what—”
Tears forgotten, Isa made a frustrated sound as he reached for the zipper on Lea’s coat. Lea tried not to blush as memories of other times Isa (rather, Saïx) similarly undressed him. Yet, as his skin was bared Lea saw what Isa meant: he was glowing. Shocked, Lea tugged one of his gloves off with his teeth, and sure enough, his fingers radiated a soft, pale light.
“Does this happen often?” Isa asked, to which Lea numbly shook his head. He’d never cast light like this, not when he learned to call upon fire as Axel, nor when he first summoned his keyblade as Lea. He should have been worried, but oddly enough the sensation felt good. Warm. Comforting. With his bare hand, Lea reached up and cupped Isa’s face, using his thumb to wipe away his tears. Isa’s breath still hitched, but he’d stopped crying. The glow brightened as Lea realized this, the warmth in his chest building.
For what could have been minutes or hours, the pair sat, holding one another. Eventually, they ended up lying together with Lea on his back and Isa at his side, head resting on Lea’s shoulder. “How are you feeling?” Lea asked. He felt rather than saw Isa’s shrug.
“Not well,” Isa admitted. “The memories are… not kind. But I am better now than I was a short while ago. The rest, we’ll have to wait and see.” Lea nodded. As much as he would have liked Isa to return fully healed, Lea’s own experience showed that it would take time. Hells, Lea still felt like he was on the mend, months after his own recompletion.
“You won’t be alone,” he promised, pressing a soft kiss to Isa’s crown. Isa hmmed in response, before picking at one of the drawstrings on Lea’s coat.
“You still wear this,” Isa remarked. “Why?”
It wasn’t the first time Lea’d been asked, but unlike the time with Kairi in the Timeless Forest Lea felt like he could be honest with Isa. “So I don’t forget,” he said. “It would’ve been easy, y’know? To take off the coat, and just pretend that… that I was good. But that wouldn’t be right, so I kept it. Even told everyone to call me ‘Axel,’ just in case.”
Isa frowned, brow furrowed in deep thought. Lea idly traced the edges of his scar, a habit he’d had as Axel; Saïx never minded, nor did Isa seem to. At last, Isa spoke. “Saïx held on to the past tightly, so tightly it cost him—me. Everything.” Lea felt lips ghost his throat, a barely-there peck. “But I wonder if it would be so terrible to let some things remain in the past. What it would be like to simply… move on with our lives.”
Lea laughed, joy bubbling in his chest. “Well, you don’t have to be so cryptic,” he said, sitting up and offering a hand to Isa. “Let’s get changed, then.”
Lea knocked hesitantly at Master Yen Sid’s door, a far cry from his confident bravado on the eve of that final battle. Then, Lea had been surrounded by enemies-turned-allies-turned-friends. But he’d left Roxas and Xion with Isa back in Radiant Garden, ostensibly for bonding time but in truth also out of trepidation.
Too often, Lea had lost everything just as soon as he’d found happiness. It was enough to give a guy a complex, alright?
“Enter.” Lea pushed open the heavy wooden door, surprised to find the ancient keyblade master with company.
“Ah, little Lea!” Merlin leapt from his chair, uncaring how the ‘little’ redhead towered over him. “It has been far too long, m’boy. Come, come, sit!” With a wave of his wand, the wizard summoned a chair for Lea in front of Yen Sid’s study.
Warily, Lea sat. He felt Yen Sid’s gaze bearing down on him, and it took everything Lea had not to leap out of the chair and put his back to the wall. Trust, he was finding, was difficult for him to give. “I have been expecting you for some time, Lea,” his Master intoned.
“You have?” Lea asked, surprised. Sure, he’d been a Guardian of Light, but Lea more-or-less forced himself into the position. As a Nobody, Axel was decently formidable, but Lea wasn’t anyone’s first choice for the heroes. (How could he be, after all he’d done?)
With a flick of his wrist, the massive tome on Yen Sid’s desk flew open, and the wizard set a weathered hand to one of the ancient pages. “We are fewer now than we once were. Until Sora is found, neither Riku nor Kairi will return. The battle against Xehanort has been won, but I fear that another conflict is stirring on the horizon.”
“I— I know,” Lea admitted. He did a decent job hiding it behind jokes and sarcastic quips, but Lea was a realist. Even with Xehanort defeated, things felt… unfinished. Too many plot holes left unfilled. “You think that has anything to do with what’s been happening with me?”
“Ah, but Lea!” Merlin exclaimed, “You haven’t told us what is happening.” Lea bit back his retort; after all, he was pretty damn sure one if not both of the wizards could read minds.
As he’d been taught, Lea inhaled deeply and grounded himself. He focused on his heart, certain the unruly muscle was the cause of his… predicament. (Lost in concentration, Lea missed the gleeful look Merlin sent Yen Sid, who smiled in return.) “Since Isa returned,” he began. “Well, the thing is… I’ve been glowing. N-not always,” he stammered. “Just, sometimes. Dunno what it’s about, but I know it’s got something to do with my heart.”
“Have you summoned your keyblade since the battle with Xehanort?” Yen Sid asked. The old Master sat back in his chair, index fingers tucked beneath his chin to give the appearance of being deep in thought.
Shaking his head, Lea replied, “No. Xemnas, uh… shattered it in the Keyblade Graveyard. I was able to call it back for a bit but—” Lea sighed. Unconsciously, his hand rested lightly over his heart. “I think I might have lost it for good.”
“One would think you, more than any other, would know that what is lost may once again be found,” Yen Sid said, chastising. Beside Lea, Merlin waved his hands, his exuberance matched by Yen Sid’s dourness.
“Yes, yes!” he shouted. “Lost things never like to be found until you go looking for them. Go on,” he added. “You won’t know unless you try!”
With a practiced gesture, Lea reached out and gripped… something new. A keyblade, but not Flame Liberator. The hilt was simpler, the chakram design faded to a mere three points. Where Lea’s keyblade once boasted a curved blade, this new weapon’s was straight and tipped with a delicate, yet distinctly key-shaped edge. Last, this keyblade shone white, edged with lines of smoldering embers that danced along its length.
Eyes wide, Lea hardly heard Merlin’s boisterous voice. “Oh, marvelous! Simply marvelous, Lea!” Even Yen Sid offered Lea a small—rather smug—smile.
“This… isn’t my keyblade,” Lea said, somewhat numb as he stared at… what are you? he thought. Unlike Flame Liberator, which burned with indignant fury and need—to prove himself, to right all his wrongs, to find his friends again—this keyblade felt less encumbered. If Flame Liberator felt more like Axel than Lea, then this felt like… well, Lea.
“The keyblade answers its master’s call,” Yen Sid replied. “Even a heart clouded by darkness can forge a blade, if only by strength of will. But, to summon the keyblade with an incomplete heart is a rare feat. One that,” he added, “I did not expect from you.”
Lea frowned, about to defend himself (even if he had no idea what Yen Sid meant) when Merlin interrupted. “Now, that’s enough negativity from you! You’ll give the boy a headache with that rubbish.”
“Do not mistake me,” Yen Sid said, glowering at Merlin. “There are many questions left unanswered where Nobodies are concerned. To regrow or recomplete one’s heart is no simple task. It is a process. When you summoned your keyblade and fought Master Xehanort in the Keyblade Graveyard, you did so with an unfinished heart. But no longer, if I am correct.”
Lea lowered the keyblade, but did not dismiss it. “Let me get this straight,” he said. “When I came back, my heart wasn’t all there yet. And, even though I shouldn’t have been able to, I managed to summon a keyblade. How am I doin’ so far?”
“Correct, save for one detail,” Yen Sid replied. “Your heart could not fully return without your companions, yet it was the desire to retrieve them from the dark that gave you the strength to forge a keyblade nevertheless.”
“Roxas and Xion.” Yen Sid nodded. Lea added, “Isa. That’s when… I felt something. That’s when I started this whole firefly routine, too.”
“Your true heart, and not a moment too soon.” Yen Sid lowered his hands so that they folded across his chest. “And, does it have a name?”
Lea exhaled, eyes closing as he concentrated on his heart. Just like Merlin, like Kairi, had taught him. Who are you? he asked it—his heart—and in his hand he felt energetic warmth as his keyblade chimed, brimming with life.
It was past midnight when Lea returned, still somewhat in shock. The house was quiet, so Lea lit a small flame in his hand to guide himself to his bedroom, which he had been sharing with Isa ever since he’d woken. It had not taken them long—less than an hour after slipping under the sheets, in fact—to rekindle their physical relationship. Their Nobodies had shared their bodies with one another as well, which oddly enough reassured Lea. Nothing, not even losing his heart, could ever dampen his desire for Isa.
As Lea crept into the bedroom, Isa moved, squinting at Lea over his shoulder. “What time s’it?” he asked, voice rough from sleep. Not bothering to change into pajamas, Lea eased himself onto the bed and pressed a chaste kiss against Isa’s lips.
“It’s late. Sorry I woke you.”
Isa waved him off, and sat up against the headboard. “I didn’t think you’d return until tomorrow. This is a pleasant surprise.”
Lea smirked as he kissed Isa again. “Maybe I should do this more often then? You’re a lot nicer to me when you’re still half-asleep.”
“I dare you,” Isa replied, wry smirk of his own to match Lea’s. Heavens, but Lea missed this side of Isa: playful and bitingly witty. Another kiss, then his lover pushed Lea back. “How did it go?”
“See for yourself,” Lea said, and with a flick of his wrist Cleansing Fire appeared in his hand. Its soft glow filled the room, the living embers that twirled along the blade causing the shadows to bend and twist as they moved.
Silence, then: “That’s not your keyblade.”
Lea snickered. “Funny, I said the exact same thing.” In hushed tones, he recounted all the ancient wizards had told him. “Guess this is what it should have been all along,” Lea finished, dismissing the keyblade with an extravagant gesture only to be utterly accosted by Isa. His lover grabbed at Lea’s face with both hands, tongue delving deep as he kissed him wetly. Hungrily.
Lea swallowed his own grateful moan, keenly aware that Xion slept just on the other side of the wall. Instead, Lea let Isa guide their kisses as he contented himself by resting his open palms on Isa’s chest. He could feel his lover’s heart pounding in his chest. Gods, but he’d missed that feeling, maybe even more than the reassuring pulse of his own heartbeat.
The swelling emotions threatened tears, and Lea was not in the mood for that. Instead, he slipped his hand further down Isa’s abdomen and into his sleep pants. Chuckling, he remarked, “Someone’s excited.” As Lea touched him, Isa gave a small, pleased sigh.
“I… like seeing it. Your keyblade,” he admitted. “It’s your heart, Lea.” Isa gasped as Lea moved his fingers, then hooked his toned arm around Lea’s shoulder, dragging his lover down for a kiss.
Lea felt his heart swell, and even behind closed eyelids he could see how brightly he shone. With his other hand he eased down Isa’s pants, reveling at his smooth skin. Isa moaned into their kiss as Lea moved faster. Lea pulled back, intent on kissing a line down Isa’s body to taste him when the blue-haired hiked a leg around Lea’s waist and flipped them.
“Isa-ah!” Lea cried, hands instinctively drawn to his lover’s hips as Isa grinded down onto him. “Don’t stop,” he pleaded, breath coming in short, helpless pants.
Isa smirked, a light flush coloring his cheeks. “It would feel better if we removed your clothes,” he teased, picking lightly at the buttons of Lea’s shirt.
“Heh,” Lea laughed, the sound cut off by a choked moan as Isa moved again. “Good idea.” Together, the pair worked to remove the offending garments, hands increasingly desperate as more skin was revealed. At last they came together, bare, nothing separating them.
Isa still straddled Lea, and he looked down at the redhead with open adoration. “You’re glowing,” he murmured, nimble fingers playing over Lea’s naked chest. The light sensation pulled soft, uncontrolled noises from Lea, who thrust up against Isa as the pressure built.
His heart full, and tears in his eyes despite himself, Lea replied, “I’m so happy, Isa.” Their lips met once again, and no more words were said.
Weeks passed, and Lea’s random bouts of glowing continued. Despite Yen Sid’s reassurance that it was nothing to fret about and he’d soon uncover its meaning, Lea was getting impatient. Even Isa, with his indomitable skills of observation and logical reasoning, could not decipher a pattern save one: any mention of Castle Oblivion, or Even or Ienzo, abruptly stopped the glow.
“That’s guilt, I think,” Lea muttered, curled against Isa’s side as the pair tried to decrypt the significance of Lea’s light-up act. Even thinking about Castle Oblivion made Lea’s heart clench and sink. That was Axel at his darkest, when he’d at last succumbed to the futility of being a Nobody. Worse, it was where Axel felt the first stirrings of his regrowing heart—after a decade without emotion, Lea’s first feeling was vicious, sadistic satisfaction. For all his got it memorized shtick, Lea hated how vivid those memories were.
So, he switched topics. “But I still don’t get what causes it.” At first, he’d thought his glowing was Isa-specific, and while Lea certainly did shine brightest and most often with him (in both the literal and figurative sense), both Roxas and Xion had triggered it as well. Xion, like Lea, had terrible nightmares, and given the number of nights Lea spent comforting her Isa teased that he might as well be her personal nightlight. Jokes aside, Xion always slept peacefully when held in Lea’s softly-glowing arms.
Though Lea had convinced Roxas and Xion to settle in Radiant Garden—he still got headaches thinking back to that conversation on certificates and legal documents and where babies come from—the kids still spent their weekends in Twilight Town with their other friends. Roxas even tried to teach Lea to skateboard, with predictable results. Luckily, Xion was also skilled at healing spells to take care of Lea’s many, many gashes and bruises. (For whatever reason, Lea couldn’t manage a halfway-decent healing spell on himself.)
On one such evening, after Lea returned from dropping Roxas and Xion off, he found Isa in the kitchen, staring at a collection of lit candles. The candles were burnt down to different heights and varied in color, from the tallest (gold) to the shortest (white), although Lea noticed the rose-pink candle was also burned rather low.
Lea knew better than to interrupt a Seer’s trance, so he waited quietly until Isa sat back, blinking rapidly. “When did you start scrying again?” he asked, hip cocked against the kitchen doorframe.
“Hello to you, as well,” Isa remarked dryly. He rolled his neck, the snaps and pops of vertebrae cringingly loud. “This is the first I’ve attempted since… reawaking.” Isa pinched out one of the flames, the violet candle. “When you said another conflict may be brewing, I wondered if this might be my path. A new purpose.” His tone hardened as his gaze focused on another fire. “I will not remain here, uselessly fretting as everyone I care about risks their lives for me. For us.”
All seriousness aside, Lea felt himself grin. “I’m always dragging you into trouble, aren’t I?” Lea walked up behind Isa and dug his palms into his boyfriend’s tense shoulder muscles. “Well.” Lea grinned at Isa’s soft moan, as Lea worked the tension out of him. “Don’t hold out on me. What’re we looking at? Munny? A vacation?” Lea bent down and gently nipped Isa’s earlobe. “Some tasteful nudity?”
“With you? Hardly,” Isa smirked. Lea bumped his head against Isa’s, softly. “It’s more impressions than visions. I’m so out of practice, but— ugh, there.” Now it was Lea that smirked as he relaxed a particularly stubborn knot. Lea set his thumb on the sore spot, rubbing circles until Isa nearly melted underneath his touch. “But... it’s good. I am reconnecting with my emotions, at the very least.”
“Why fire, though?” Lea asked. “Should I be flattered?” As children, Isa scryed with water, bones, mirrors, and above all else, the moon. Despite Lea’s fascination with fire, Isa never dabbled with it. Too chaotic, he’d once said. Fire can cleanse, but it can also burn.
Isa idly twirled his fingers around the dancing flames. “The moon no longer holds truths for me,” he confessed. “That is how Xemnas… how Xehanort deceived me. He promised me that all the answers I sought lie in his false Kingdom Hearts.” Isa frowned. “To See you must completely open yourself. But, as Nobodies are empty, I merely invited his essence inside me. I allowed him to corrupt me.”
Lea’s face fell as he watched Isa begin to curl into himself with anguish. Although such episodes had gotten more and more rare since that first spell in the castle, Isa’s memories as Saïx still plagued him. From his bent position, Lea reached one arm across Isa’s chest to pull his lover against him. Isa’s head dropped against Lea’s arm, and the redhead could feel Isa shudder in his grasp.
This time, Lea felt it build. Like a fine mist, the warm sensation swelled from his heart outward. A soft white glow emanated from him, and in response Lea tightened his arm around Isa. He willed the peaceful calm the light carried into Isa, desperate to ease his lover’s sorrow. “Xemnas lied to you,” Lea said. “He manipulated you… all of us. But despite that, despite all the awful things he did to you, you never gave up.” Lea kissed Isa’s temple. “It was all for her. For us. Even for Roxas and Xion.”
Silent, Isa gripped Lea’s arm tightly. Lea understood the wordless thank you. For a moment, the pair held one another, the remaining candles’ light met by Lea’s glow. Then, the flames leapt, bright and blue for a brief second before extinguishing. Isa turned in Lea’s embrace, eyes alight with Sight and realization. “Lea,” he said, voice urgent. “Call your keyblade.”
Without hesitation, Lea did. With one arm still curled around Isa he summoned Cleansing Fire with his other hand. The white keyblade appeared with its usual sly enthusiasm, however instead of smoldering it blazed, fully alight. “So, that’s where it’s coming from,” Lea whispered, awed that he—of all people—was capable of creating something so bright.
Isa nodded, and one candle—red—reignited. “Cleansing Flame,” he murmured. “A healing flame. We should have guessed, healers run in your family after all.”
“Guess I never thought of that,” Lea said. “Mom never talked much about it, and it’s not like Ma was related to any witches.” That, and it was no secret that Lea had always felt more drawn to pyromancies than the healing arts. “But, it’s good, right? I mean, I hurt so many people as Axel… you think maybe this could be my new purpose?”
Isa frowned, and stared into the red candles’ flame. Just as Lea started to feel nervous about the lack of response, Isa nodded. “Yes. But, Lea?” he asked, turning to face his lover. “Don’t forget to heal yourself, as well.”
As children, neither Lea nor Isa had been paid much attention to all the rituals and rites Radiant Garden celebrated throughout the year. Isa, in particular, always bristled at his family’s staunch traditionalism. It’s so old-fashioned, he once complained to Lea after he’d spent an entire night with his grandmother, an augury witch who sold fortunes in Radiant Garden’s marketplace. Likewise, Lea’s grandfather had been a hedge witch and his grandmother a midwife, however his mother had left his ancestral wooded hollow for the city, and didn’t put much effort into the major holidays.
Yet as the nights grew shorter and dew began to appear on fresh buds, Lea and Isa made an unspoken agreement to celebrate the spring equinox. Perhaps it was because they’d both connected to their magical heritage, or their time as Nobodies made them nostalgic for the past… or maybe it was something deeper, a desire for cleansing and healing. Regardless, the pair busied themselves making preparations: buying seeds to plant, deep cleaning, and of course, gathering wood for a bonfire. Isa even surprised Lea by telling him that he wanted to invite Naminé along. “Her Sight is different, but no less real,” he explained. “And I doubt she’s gotten any guidance from anyone in the castle.”
“The more the merrier,” Lea said. “I’m sure Roxas and Xion would be glad to have her there.” He sighed wistfully. “Their first equinox. It should be memorable.”
The afternoon of the vernal equinox, the teenagers helped Lea and Isa pack blankets, food and drink, and other necessities before trekking out to the small wooded grove where Isa’s family used to celebrate the holidays. When they arrived, Lea reached out for Isa’s hand, squeezing it in an expression of wordless comfort and support as the blue-haired took in the sight of tangled weeds and misshapen samplings that covered the old burn site. Quietly, the five spent an hour clearing the space before laying down thick layers of warm blankets and piling the wood. As they settled in, Lea noticed that Isa carried a medium-sized satchel with him; when Lea raised a questioning eyebrow, Isa only shook his head. Later, the gesture implied.
Lea lit the bonfire before the sun set, and in the hazy daze of twilight he helped Roxas and Xion plant the seeds they’d purchased days earlier from the market. “Roxas, put your cranberries over there,” Lea said, pointing to an open thatch. “Those things’ll grow like crazy. Xion, plant those over here, closer to the tree line.” Xion nodded, fingers stained purple from the fresh blackberry seeds she held. Both of their knees were covered in dirt, the rich smell triggering half-forgotten memories from Lea’s childhood.
“Axel, how fast will the plants grow?” Xion asked. “Do you think Kairi and Riku would like it if we sent them berries?”
Lea smiled. “I’m sure they would,” he said, “but you’re gonna have to wait. These aren’t going to have any fruit on them for at least two years, and Roxas’s cranberries won’t produce for another year after that.” Lea held up his own small bag of seeds. “Now, these are gonna be loaded with strawberries by early summer. We’ll use ‘em for the fall harvest wine.”
Roxas, his hands and knees equally dirtied, wandered over. “Can we have some of that?”
Lea cast a quick glance to Isa, who held Naminé’s arm in a steady grip as she pushed the end of a green sprig into the fire. With a dramatic whisper, he replied, “Sure, but don’t tell Isa I said you could.” Both Roxas and Xion grinned delightedly. Lea beamed. (He was nailing the whole ‘older brother’ thing.)
Lea couldn’t remember a more perfect evening. Where Lea and Isa had been raised with these traditions, for the teens everything was new and exciting. While the adults sipped at market-bought dandelion wine, Roxas and Xion danced around the bonfire while Naminé quietly drew in the soil using the burnt-tipped sprig Isa helped her make. Lea kept the bonfire roaring with his own pyromancy well into the night, even after the younger trio collapsed into a cuddle pile amidst the quilts and heavy blankets they’d brought down from the house. Across from them, Lea sat, nestled between Isa’s legs with a heavy blanket curled around them as they quietly watched the fire burn down.
Lea looked up at Isa, who stared intently into the flames. His eyes twinkled with firelight, and Lea nosed under his lover’s chin. “See anything?” he asked. Isa made a soft noise, his gaze still fixed on the fire even as Lea softly kissed his throat.
“Perhaps,” he replied, letting Lea coax him into a kiss. Lea flushed, the heat from the bonfire stoking his Eternal Flames as he remembered how he and Isa used to sneak off together during the equinox, the final few before Radiant Garden fell. Lea’s tongue traced the soft seam of Isa’s lips, a wordless plea that Isa granted with a sigh. Their kiss was languid, unrushed. Lea cradled Isa’s head in his hands, deepening the kiss as he felt Isa lightly grip his sides.
It ended, sooner than Lea wanted. Isa glanced into the flames once more, and for the millionth time Lea wished he could see whatever it was that captivated his lover so intently. “The future must look good,” he joked.
“Not the future,” Isa said, voice soft and distant. “It’s the past. Axel’s past.” Lea felt chills, like he’d been doused in ice water. “I haven’t Seen in so long but… I know Castle Oblivion.” Lea tensed in Isa’s arms. Not that, he thought. Begged. Pleaded. Anything but that.
Isa brought his hands up to Lea’s shoulders, turning him slightly. “Lea, please look at me,” he said, voice kind yet stern. “It’s time we confront this, don’t you think?”
“What’s there to confront?” Lea hissed, keenly aware of the sleeping teens on the far side of the bonfire. “I— Axel was a monster, Isa. I killed people, and I enjoyed it.” Lea tried to curl in on himself, but Isa’s grip was firm. He added, “I know what I did, and it’s unforgivable.”
“And what I did, wasn’t that unforgivable as well?” Isa asked. “It cannot be both, Lea. If you’ve forgiven me, then you must also forgive yourself.”
Lea grit his teeth. “You don’t understand,” he said. “I felt it, Isa. Xemnas lied to us, when he said we didn’t have hearts. What I did at Castle Oblivion? I enjoyed it. Sure, Saïx was jealous, but so what? At least he didn’t get a thrill from knocking off co-workers.”
“Our torturers, you mean?” It was Isa’s turn to cup Lea’s cheek in his hand. “Zexion was a child, but so too were we. Each member of the Organization did terrible things, most of them to each other. It might not be pleasant, but it’s understandable that Axel found enjoyment in exacting revenge.” Isa paused for moment, before quietly adding, “Saïx certainly did.”
“I don’t want to be like that.” Lea glanced down at his hands. The same hands he’d used to order Zexion’s elimination, to enact Vexen’s immolation. “I don’t want to be him.”
“Then why won’t you let him go?” Isa asked, an innocent question that nonetheless stoked Lea’s temper. His boyfriend did not give Lea a chance to respond, adding, “You waited months to give up the coat, and you still encourage others to call you ‘Axel.’ You cannot step foot inside the castle without turning pale as a ghost, and you can’t even cast the simplest healing charms on yourself.” Isa’s thumb stroked over Lea’s cheekbone, where Axel’s charms used to be. “I don’t need Sight to see that you’re hurting. You spend so much time comforting me, surely you know that I want the same for you?”
It was becoming cliché, how Lea cried over almost everything, so it shocked him when Isa told him, “You’ll keep crying until you stop hurting. You have to let him go, Lea. You’re no more Axel than I am Saïx.” Beautiful teal eyes gazed pointedly into Lea’s green, their color proving Isa’s point. Isa grabbed the bag he’d brought earlier. “It’s time. For both of us.”
Stunned, Lea watched as Isa revealed the bag’s contents: their Organization clothes, boots and all. Lea sat up as Isa passed him the stiff leather that had defined him—defined them—for over a decade. Strange, how the material felt stiffer, less forgiving than he remembered.
Isa stood, his own coat bundled in his arms. Lea followed him, and together they faced the fire. “To new beginnings,” Isa said, before tossing it all in. Lea echoed him, quieter, before doing the same. Blindly, he reached out and took Isa’s hand as they watched the material burn. Thick black smoke rose up, almost as dark as the corridors they used to travel, before drifting away into the cool night air. Lea turned to Isa, about to speak when he noticed a small dark object clutched in his lover’s other hand.
“All of it,” Isa said, handing Lea the final piece: Axel’s right-hand glove. Lea flinched as he took it, the sound of his own snapping fingers crisp and sharp in his memories. For a long moment he sat, silent as he committed all its features to memory. The leather had hardened in places, and worn out in others. The material had even started to flake off over the knuckles, and briefly Lea wondered if it was use or the constant exposure to darkness that caused the damage. It was Isa, gently twining his fingers into Lea’s hair, who brought him back. “Let it go.”
Lea inhaled a shaky breath, and whispered “goodbye” before tossing the glove into the fire. Unlike their coats and boots, the glove immediately disappeared; still, Lea bid the flames to burn just a bit brighter, a bit hotter, until he was certain it’d been reduced to ash.
“Do you remember what you said to me, on the morning I awoke?” Isa asked. “You told me that it was over. We cannot forget, but we also cannot remain chained to the past.”
Lea pulled Isa close, so close their noses were almost side-by-side as they gazed into each other’s eyes. “You got it memorized?” he asked, a hint of a smile on his face.
“Someone must, if only to ensure you learn the lesson,” Isa replied. Lea felt like a weight had been lifted off his chest. Objectively, Lea knew that he and Isa had neither fully healed nor fully atoned. Like the seeds he’d planted with Roxas and Xion earlier, both would come in time. But, in that moment Lea let himself… feel forgiven. A soft glow emanated from him, paler than the fire but also much, much warmer.
Isa’s grip on Lea’s hand tightened. With a parting glance over his shoulder, Isa began leading Lea toward the tree line. “Where ya goin’, Isa?” Lea asked, but in his heart of hearts… well, he had a pretty good guess.
The look Isa gave him was downright sinful, and Lea felt his pulse speed up for entirely different reasons. “It’s tradition to celebrate the equinox in the nude,” Isa replied. “Or, don’t you remember?”
Lea laughed, and it was a delirious, happy sound. “Gods, it’s good to be home,” he said as Isa led him further into the woods with naught but his glow to guide them.