He had never really understood how people messed with the flow of time. Luxord could do it, and apparently Xehanort could, too, but Lea had always suspected that anyone who would screw with time had to be evil. Think of the potential to unravel the fabric of the cosmos, after all!
It certainly came as a surprise, then, to learn that Merlin of all people had the capability as well. Not only was he seemingly going senile (Lea'd had to bite the corners of his mouth to keep from laughing when the old man lost his glasses in his beard), but he was mentor to King Arthur and arguably one of the most powerful mages of all time. Lea wouldn't have believed it if it hadn't been Yen Sid telling him. Merlin seemed a bit too ridiculous, in his opinion, but Lea of all people could appreciate someone whose appearance belied the power beneath it.
He was getting a bit tired of the training already, though.
"Can't we just fast-forward to the part where I don't suck at this?" he complained, thrusting his hand out for the seventeenth time and willing that stupid spiky Keyblade to come to his fingers. It had come of its own accord that day in the tower, just in time to let him bask in the disbelief of his new comrades, but it had defied him ever since.
Typical. He supposed a Keyblade should suit its master, after all, and Lea was little if not a troublemaker always looking for the opportune moment to give someone a hard time. Hell, he was surprised he'd been told he had the potential at all! Sure, he had a shiny new heart and all (or a shiny old one, but who was counting, right?), but he'd been all but consumed by his own darkness for a time there. Castle Oblivion had really marked some of his darkest days, and he acknowledged that--he'd never told Roxas the truth about what had happened in that whitewashed castle, never admitted to his friend that he was a murderer... How could a Keyblade come to the hand of a killer?
"You're doing it again," came Merlin's chastising voice, and Lea snapped his head up.
The old wizard wagged a finger at him from where he stood on the opposite side of the room in the space that defied time. He approached him, finger still wagging, and Lea inanely found himself wondering how Merlin didn't trip over that beard of his.
"You're thinking too hard about it," he said, and Lea made a face.
"So what am I supposed to do?" he asked, shaking his head. "It isn't like it just shows up all willy-nilly. That'd be no good anyway--imagine if it did that at the dinner table."
Merlin just gave him a wry look. "There is a certain sort of stragety--ah, er, strategy--to summoning a weapon, Lea," he said, twirling his beard around one hand, a fidget Lea had noticed him indulging often recently. "You have no trouble summoning your other weapons, correct?"
Lea snapped both arms out and called up his chakrams easily, the spiked wheels whorling into the space against his palms. He closed his fingers around the crossguards and hooked one over his shoulder, slumping a bit. He made no comment, figuring the demonstration was response enough.
Merlin 'hmm'ed to himself and turned to walk past him.
"It seems to me, then," he said, "that your issue is not with the summoning of a weapon, but with the summoning of this particular weapon."
Lea rolled his eyes while the old wizard's back was turned. "Thank you, Captain Obvious," he grumbled, dismissing his chakrams in a puff of smoke and heat.
"Perhaps all you need is the right stimulus," he said, and Lea turned to look at him.
"Stimulus?" This wasn't going to involve shock-therapy, was it? He'd gotten more than enough of that from Larxene.
"You've been trying so hard," Merlin said, reaching for a door that Lea swore hadn't been there a moment ago, "but you've been working on your own."
"Well, it ain't like I've got a partner anymore," he blurted before he thought better of it. The words were bitter, distasteful, tumbling clumsily from his mouth like he couldn't stand them on his tongue.
Everything had happened so quickly that he hadn't really had a chance to stop and think on it all. Maybe it was better that way. Those few times he'd paused to wonder what had happened to Roxas that new old heart of his had just seized up almost painfully. It was eerie, he mused, the way he'd "felt" that same crushing sensation that night Roxas had left the Organization. Maybe it was true they'd had hearts all along, maybe it was true he'd somehow grown himself another... maybe he would never know for certain. All he knew now was he couldn't make excuses anymore. He had a heart and now he had to deal with the feelings that came with it, uncomfortable though they might have been.
Roxas was gone. His best friend was gone, and there was nothing he could do about it. And it vexed him.
Lea didn't resent Sora for what had happened, really--he didn't have to know Sora well to know that the kid wouldn't have chosen to cause someone not to exist for his sake. He wasn't sorry he'd saved the kid's ass, and he certainly wasn't sorry he'd promised to help Riku look after him, either. He had a feeling it was going to take all of them working together to make sure Xehanort didn't get what he wanted.
Lea would have been lying though, to say that he wouldn't have given up that heart in... well, a heartbeat, if it would have brought Roxas back. There had been a time when it was all he'd wanted, when the thought of having a heart again was the only thing that made the missions worth it. Roxas had trumped all of that, and he still couldn't believe the kid was gone, even if there were times he could swear he saw Roxas' expressions behind Sora's eyes sometimes.
It was eerie, like seeing a ghost, and then Lea shivered at the very idea of referring to Roxas that way.
He snapped out of his morose musings when he realized Merlin was still talking.
"Huh, what?" He shook his head and turned to face him where he stood with his hand on the doorknob. "Sorry, I faded out for a minute there."
Merlin sighed long-sufferingly and turned the doorknob.
"I think it would behoove you to have someone to train with," he said, "so I've arranged to combine your training sessions with my other pupil."
"Other pupil?" Jeez, how many Keyblade wielders were there?
"I believe you two have met, actually," Merlin said, and Lea glanced up in time to see a familiar figure step through the door.
"Ah--!" He made a wordless noise of alarm and took a step back, then jabbed a finger at the figure in the doorway. "W-wait are you kidding? I can't train with--"
"Ah!" It seemed Merlin hadn't informed Kairi of her new sparring partner's identity beforehand either. She jabbed a finger back at him and glowered. "I can't train with him!"
... Well that was just rude.
"Merlin, I really don't think this'll work," Lea said, shaking his head, and Kairi folded her arms over her chest.
"I thought I'd heard you were here and had a Keyblade," she said, shaking her head incredulously, "but I thought Riku was pulling my leg."
He scoffed and folded his arms indignantly. "Well, surprise surprise, Princess!"
"I can't train with a kidnapper," she grumbled toward Merlin, gesturing at Lea, and Lea bristled visibly.
"Hey, I tried to get you to come willingly," he said, and she crinkled her nose at him.
"Yeah, and then you kidnapped me."
"Yeah, and then you bit me!"
"All right, all right, settle down, children," Merlin said, holding his hands up and then closing the door. "You've both been chosen to wield Keyblades, so there's no reason for you to bicker between yourselves. You're supposed to be on the same team."
Kairi didn't look entirely convinced, and Lea gave a gusty sigh. All right, all right, he was an adult, right? He could do this.
"Okay, fine, the old man's got a point," he said quietly, averting his eyes and then looking back at Kairi, who was still regarding him with suspicion. He had to figure she didn't know what had happened to him, that the only reason he was here at all was because he'd given up everything to aid Sora. He had a feeling she wouldn't be wearing that wary scrutinizing face if she knew. Well, he wasn't going to just play his trump card yet. But he did owe her one thing, and he couldn't hide behind the idea that his heart wouldn't be in it anymore. "Look, I'm sorry, okay?" He sort of flapped his arms helplessly at his sides. "I know it prolly doesn't mean anything to you, but I was doing what I thought needed to be done."
Kairi's expression softened a little, though the suspicion remained. They had had a bit of a conversation in the corridors between worlds that day he'd taken her from Twilight Town. He had thought they'd reached some kind of understanding... but he supposed being taken by Saïx had sort of put a strain on that. He didn't know how badly he might have treated her, didn't know what she might have gone through in the castle. It really didn't come as any surprise she was wary.
But he needed to learn to wield a Keyblade, and if having a sparring partner was the only way to do it, well, then... so be it. There wasn't a lot Lea swallowed his pride for, but maybe this was one of those things.
He took a few steps forward to close the distance between them and stuck one hand out.
"I promise not to kidnap you anymore," he said, venturing a hesitant grin, and Kairi regarded the offered hand a moment.
Then she lifted her bright blue eyes to him and squinted, as if searching his gaze for something sinister. Apparently she found nothing, because she deigned to close her small hand around his and shake it firmly--she had a sturdier handshake than he'd expected--before releasing it and pointing her finger at him again.
"I still don't trust you," she said, though there was no real malice in her voice, "but... if you're here, then Master Yen Sid does. And... apparently Riku and Sora do." She lowered her eyes, her fingers closing around the little sphere pendant on the necklace she wore, and she was quiet a moment before lifting her head again. "So I'll trust them, so I guess we can work together," she said, "but you're going to have to earn my trust; I'm not just gonna give it to you."
Lea chuckled. "Fair enough," he said. "Show me what you've got."
She brushed past him, her stride confident and her shoulders thrown back--she really was a princess, even if so far as he knew her blood was no bluer than his. And as he watched her turn on her heel and face him, a flowery Keyblade shimmering into her grip, he suddenly felt a little inadequate. He was a good ten years her senior and yet she'd obviously picked this up without any trouble. Lea struggled a moment with the humbling idea that it really shouldn't have been so easy to win the trust or respect of a princess. No easier than, say, wielding a Keyblade.
Granted, if someone had told Lea once upon a time that he would ever have the opportunity to do just that, he wasn't sure he would have believed them.