Lea didn’t like to sleep anymore. When he was with the Organization he didn’t have much to worry about. Not that he could worry. Napping was a way to pass the time and sleeping was just routine of a past life. Being whole again meant that he was exposed to all the wiles of a real person and, when he slept, he found dreaming to be the most invasive.
And nightmares weren’t something a Nobody experienced.
The first night he woke up in a sweat; aching and unable to breathe.
The heart in his chest raced. The blood coursing through his body pounded loudly through every vessel. The world spun as he looked around to see he was still in his bed, still in Radiant Garden, and still alone.
He sat up and grounded his feet on the cold stone of the room. He gasped desperately, trying to alleviate the feeling of suffocation.
It wasn’t real. Dreams aren’t real.
But it had been real at one point. The feeling of darkness closing in, the heat of your heart being ripped from your being, the pierce of your soul taking form as a Nobody. He was remembering it like it had just happened. He could hear Isa’s screams for him ringing in his ears as he tried to gain himself. The nightmare echoed in his head over and over as he moved to get out of his room and out in the open. Grabbing his coat, Lea bounded down the staircase and out into the air of the night, feeling the coolness break onto him like a wave of relief.
Merlin had arranged for him and Kairi to stay with Leon and the others in between trips to the Secret Forest. The house was tucked into a quaint neighbourhood of residents, nestled at the bottom of a hill looking up towards the castle. Radiant Garden had changed immensely since he had lived there. Any family he had once known had since left and remnants of his past life there were left unrecognizable by the war they had raged on the town as Organization XIII.
Lea found himself in the courtyard behind the house. A few props were still left out from sparring the day before and, without much thought, he summoned his Keyblade and found himself face to face with a dummy. Who would it be this time? He had focused his energy on a myriad of opponents: Xemnas, Xehanort, Saix… even coming face to face with himself, or rather Axel , who, he had found, had become his greatest demon.
It was no surprise to him that it was his past that haunted him the most.
Rage boiled within him and it grounded Lea as he began to spar with the lifeless figure in front of him. The heat of battle consumed him as he landed hit after hit. He tried to empty his mind with each assault as waves of fear and guilt crested within him. Did this Keyblade really make him any more different than the bloodlust assassin he had become? Was he really cut out to keep his promises to save his friends? How many more had to die by his hand?
He wasn’t sure if it was the lack of sleep or the lightheadedness of relentlessly wailing on the dummy that overtook him, but as he held his Keyblade up, he saw Roxas instead of the dummy - an opponent he never wished to face again. Memory was cruel, Lea knew that all too well, and this one dissipated with a final blow, sending the dummy collapsing broken to the ground.
Lea staggered back, breathing hitched, as he looked down at the broken figure. Releasing his Keyblade, he sat down on the bench nearby to catch his breath, He lulled his head back and closed his eyes. His ears were ringing.
I need to know, Axel. Please… Who am I?
Roxas’ words were clear to him as he sat alone in the quiet of the night. If he was honest, Roxas invaded his thoughts almost more than the nightmares. It hadn’t just been ice cream up at the clock tower; every moment together had pulled him out of the hell he had come to know in the Organization. It consumed him to think that he wasn’t able to bring his friend back and more so that he was part of the reason he was gone in the first place.
"You’re my best friend,” he muttered to himself.
Best friends are supposed to be honest with each other! Who am I, Axel?
“I don’t know anymore, Roxas.” He could feel the swell in the back of his throat. His face was wet; maybe of sweat, maybe of tears. He wasn’t sure anymore. His eyes were heavy.
“Just come home.”
The next morning, Lea awakened to Leon nudging him gently as he slept on the bench.
Lea grumbled, looked up at Leon, and put a hand to his head.
“I was up late practicing. Ain’t no rest for the wicked, you know.” Lea sat up and laced a hand through his hair. The courtyard bench wasn’t exactly as comfortable as his bed, but at least he got some sleep.
“Uh huh. Well,” Leon paused as if to consider pressing the issue. “Breakfast is ready. I can’t vouch for Cid’s cooking, but I know Yuffie can make a good omelette. And you look like you could use a pick-me-up.”
“Thanks.” Lea averted his gaze for a second. He had known Squall, or Leon, back when growing up in Radiant Garden, and it was a wonder now, to him, how such a snot-nosed, grumpy kid had become so self-assured and paternal . He’d have to ask him about that sometime.
Leon looked him over again before saying, “are you okay?”
“You bet, chief,” he reassured him. Lea stretched. Sleeping on the bench was not going to become a habit.
“You seem anxious.”
Lea huffed. Anxious? Was that what this was? He figured this wake-up-turned-interrogation wasn’t going to alleviate the tightness in his chest any more than the beating he gave the dummy that now lay on the training tarmac. “Yeah, well. Wouldn’t you be?”
Leon crossed his arms at Lea’s obvious edge but stayed stoic and smiled. “I know things are tough right now. It can’t be easy sitting on the sidelines while your friends are out there waiting.” Leon paused, reflectively. “Just keep training.”
They both looked out at the courtyard without much more to say. Leon shrugged before making his way back inside.
Lea would definitely need to find a better way to keep the nightmares at bay.
The nightmares would continue.
And when Lea was finally able to bring everyone back, the nightmares would only get worse.
Roxas took note of how Axel, no, Lea, looked far more wearied than he had remembered him. He had spent his first few days alive keeping a close eye on his friend, hoping to catch a flicker of his once fiery demeanour but only caught Lea’s gaping eyes keeping an even closer eye on him. He had tried to talk to him. Most of their conversations were strained with apologies or teary-eyed hugs, but the fatigue that overflowed from Lea spoke bounds to Roxas. Something was wrong.
Yen Sid was quick to come to them to tell them he was making all the final arrangements to get them set up in Twilight Town. Roxas was beyond excited to be going back to a place of such warmth and familiarity. His friends were there, Xion would be there, Axel-- Lea would be there. Everything was almost as it should be.
That night, Roxas’ mind was racing as the thought of a life of normalcy, trips to the beach, and endless amounts of sea-salt ice cream. He smiled into his pillow as he tried to quell his racing heart. Damn his whole heart for not letting him rest .
From his room, he heard a door slam shut from outside. Restless as he was, he propped himself up from his bed to peer over the ledge and out the window. Down below he could see the illuminated light of Lea with his Keyblade thrashing around in the dark.
His breath was quick to fog up the window.
Roxas climbed out of his bed, grabbing his coat and shoes as he hurried quietly down the staircase and out into the courtyard. Lea was working relentlessly against a dummy out from practice. The force the towering man put into each swing was enough to put Roxas on edge. He clenched his fist instinctively as if to summon his own Keyblade but resisted.
“Axel?” Roxas speaks softly, reaching out a hand to his shoulder.
Lea turned quickly, startled, holding the Keyblade firm in his hand and now hot at the throat of his friend in front of him. The flame of his Keyblade illuminated their features. Roxas searched his face for the soft, weary green eyes and dark bags that hindered them, but the look Lea gave him was detached and feral and darkened eyes narrowed as they bore into Roxas’.
“Jesus, Axel! It’s me. It’s Roxas.” Roxas looked from Lea to the Keyblade and back at Lea, and slowly reached out to place a hand on his chest.
The wild look in Lea’s eyes wavered; his Keyblade collapsed to the ground and disappeared.
“Axel…” Roxas said again, to reassure.
Fear struck Lea’s eyes in a way Roxas had never seen in a person before, raw and bloodshot, and Roxas knew he had come to face all his ghosts and all his demons tonight. Lea raised his hands to his face as he collapsed into Roxas and they both fell to their knees. Roxas wrapped himself around the weakened man as audible sobs began to shake his frail frame.
Time sat still as they sat there. Lea nestled his head into the crook of Roxas’ neck; Roxas gently rocked them both, soothing Lea as he sobbed into him.
“Please don’t leave."
Roxas had since forgotten about ice cream and beach days.
Lea’s voice was broken.
“You said no one would miss you.”
Those words had been louder than the cries that drowned out the still night.
“I missed you.”
At this, Lea sat up out of Roxas’ care and looked out towards the courtyard. His hair was damp and askew and Roxas wanted desperately to brush it from out of his face. Lea did this himself, rubbed his eyes with his palms before finally resting his face in his hands.
“I just can’t get over it,” he shook his head in defeat. More hair fell in front of his face. “I never thought, in a million years, that I would be the one with a next life. I didn’t know what to do with myself when I woke up in that lab and you weren’t there.” Lea had opened his hands in his lap and bore holes into them.
Roxas sat still.
Lea continued. “When I sleep, I see everything I did, everything I was. I relive you leaving over and over and over again. When I’m awake, I can hardly focus. I’m scared. All the time.” He paused to try and regain himself. With his voice near broken, he said, “I just don’t know what I would do if I ever lost you again.”
Roxas didn’t hesitate.
“Axel, I’m not going anywhere.”
Something in Lea boiled; a sense of panic filled him. “But you don’t know that.” His heart raced. “ Sora’s gone and I never thought that guy could give up…”
Roxas cut him off. “He didn’t give up! And I’m not giving up.” Roxas reached out hesitantly, deciding to put a hand over Lea’s. “You have been strong for so long.” He paused and spoke softly, “ it’s my turn. ” Lea gathered Roxas wasn’t just speaking for him.
Lea looked at their hands, turned his over, and laced their fingers together. Leaning into Roxas again he whispered, “ Promise? ”
Roxas rested his head upon Lea’s. “Promise.”
They sat like that for a while until Roxas untangled himself from Lea, got to his feet, put his hand out and said, “let’s get you to bed.”
For the first time in months, Lea couldn’t think of a better idea.
Roxas had a firm grip of Lea’s hand as they quietly made their way back into the house and up the stairs to Lea’s room. There was silence between them as Roxas helped Lea remove his coat and slip back into bed. Roxas slid off his shoes and hung up his coat before shuffling under the covers beside him. He had expected some protest, but Lea tucked himself under Roxas’ arm as soon as he was settled and rested his head on his chest.
Roxas was happy for the darkness as a soft blush spread across his face.
“Welcome home,” Lea mumbled into his chest. Roxas hummed back as he watched Lea’s head rise and fall with each breath. He pushed back red hair that had fallen into Lea’s face, running fingers slowly through the surprisingly soft strands. Soon, the hiccups in Lea’s breath would steady into the light sighs of sleep, putting Roxas at ease to drift off as well.
And no nightmares would find them that night.