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Exploring New Worlds

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Isa didn't think he'd ever make it to this part of his life. He remembers telling his mom that he would grow up one day and be famous and rich, have a big house, and he’d buy her an entire acre of land for a flower garden. Look where those dreams got him. He’s got an apartment now. It’s tiny. Just him, a kitchenette, a small and empty bookshelf. There were no possessions that were his. He hardly remembers how it happened; waking up alive was such a shock to his senses that everything passed by in a haze as he settled into his new life. He didn’t think he’d make it out alive.

Is he an adult? He must be something like 25 years old now, but he feels like a 17 year old internally. His heart leaps and soars and crashes with all of these relearned emotions. Nobodies felt nothing. Xemnas would never let them forget that. As a Nobody, with no heart, they didn’t feel a single thing. How could they? They didn’t exist, not really.

But somehow, Isa was still here. He had a heart now and it sits like a fucking brick on his diaphragm. It pokes him in the ribs when he thinks too hard on what he used to know, what he used to feel.

Lea.

Gods, that was the worst thing about it. His heart had been so closely intertwined with Lea’s when they died the first time that it hurt to be alive here again without him. The space in between was emotionless, completely void of feeling, but now on the other side, it hurt. Isa knew Lea wasn’t here, but he wished he was. Never hearing his laugh or asking his advice on what feelings he had felt like the pain from a phantom limb. Lea is his best friend. Well. Was his best friend. Isa doesn’t think they’re exactly on great terms anymore, after all the shit they did in the organization. He knows Lea is living close by too, also in Twilight Town, he sees Roxas and Xion out his window often enough, and he knows deep down Lea would never live without being close to his friends. His... new best friends.

It’s fine. Totally good. Lea could do as he pleased. So could Isa. In fact, Isa will go do something now. Something fun. Something new. He could live without Lea. He’s a human now, he’s whole, and he and his merry little heart will go out.

He doesn’t look in the mirror as he leaves his house. He just goes, jacket zipped up to his chin.

 

The library is where he ends up. Having never been here before, he’s sort of hesitant to go in, even if the softly glowing letters spelling out Twilight Town Public Library seem inviting. The stone steps lead up to a pair of wide glass doors. He hesitates, just at the top.

Isa curses softly to himself. He’s fought and won endless battles. He used to control the darkness. A public library should be easy. Heart rapidly beating against his chest- what a stupid thing, a heart- he opens the library doors and walks in.

It’s cool inside, refreshing after the midday heat. It’s big inside, the soft sounds of people talking muffled and quiet.

“Hello!” A lady says from behind a help desk. She waves him over. “I haven’t seen you before. Is this your first time at the library?”

“Yes.” Isa says. He can’t stop staring at her alarmingly orange hair, cut neatly into a bob.

“That’s great! We’re happy to have you. My name is Hana and I work here at the help desk. What sort of books do you like?”

Isa panics. “It’s been… quite some time since I’ve read anything.”

“That’s fine. Let me tell you what we have then!” Hana leans forward on her desk and gestures with her arm. “Over there is the kids section. That’s the movie section, we also have CD’s and video games. There’s the non-fiction reference section, if you wanted to do research on history or public figures!” Hana glances at him to gauge his reaction. “On the spinners are romance paperbacks, and finally we have the young adult books and plain ol’ adult books. I’m sure you’ll find something you like!” 

“Thank you.” Isa says. So many books. He remembers staring at a book as a Nobody and feeling nothing. He hopes that is different now.

“To check anything out and take home, you’ll need a library card!” Hana says, clapping her hands together. “They’re free to sign up for and you can check out books for up to three weeks!”

Something shifts inside him, some jagged piece moving away from the edge of his ribs. “Okay,” he says. Hana’s face lights up in excitement. 

Hana very politely and efficiently signs him up for a library card. He’s impressed. She must pull in every single citizen that wanders in and makes them a part of the library system.

“Here you go! We’re very pleased to have you. If you ever find a book that you want isn’t here, let me know, and I’ll see what we can do to get it!” She offers him the plastic card.

“Thank you,” Isa says, taking it. It’s a plain white card with a drawing of the clock tower and the moon behind it.  Isa likes it, his heart expanding at the little drawing of the moon. 

“Of course! Happy to help! If there’s anything else you need, I’ll be here, but don’t be afraid to ask the other kind folk at the other help desks.” She says, sending him off with another wide smile.

He tucks his card into his pocket. Truthfully, he wants to see if the children’s section has any books he read as a child or ones his mother read to him, but he’s painfully aware of how terrifying he can look. He’s taller than most folk, as well as scarred. He’ll live with the scar on his face his whole life, but if he can avoid spooking anymore children, he’ll do his best to not. Not to mention the resting bitch face he seems to have.

The adult book section will have to do for now. 

A large glass window spans the majority of the back wall, letting the sunshine in, lighting the shelves up with a warm glow. It highlights the spine of every book. It’s quiet back here, in a way he’s had a hard time finding since he came back to life whole. It’s quiet, but not empty. It doesn’t leave room for his thoughts to start playing cat and mouse around his head before leading to the inevitable destruction of his mood and day. It’s peaceful. He thinks it is, at least. Naming emotions or feelings still feels vaguely like throwing a dart at a dart board while blindfolded. Isa never really knows what’s going on.

What book should he pick? He wasn’t lying to Hana when he said it had been a while since he’s read anything. Action and adventure probably won’t make him happy anymore, but what would? His footsteps are near silent as he wanders deeper into the book stacks. As a teenager, he liked reading science books full of politics and reason. Filling his head with big words and bigger ideas was the goal. Now, he thinks maybe he wants something a bit less grand. Something that is easy to read.

Isa picks a book off of the shelf at random. Abandoned, reads the title. Isa puts it back. He moves a couple of stacks over and picks another one. The Tale of Kerplit. Isa doesn’t know what the hell Kerplit is. He flips through the pages, stares critically at the author photograph, and then decides this book sucks, but how long can he stand here and look at books? Is there some sort of time limit to stand here? When does it become loitering?

Hana would probably have the answer for that. Isa needs to leave, though, he can feel it like a grip around his ribs. He should take this weird book about kerplits and go home. Palms sweating, he walks as calmly as he can back to the front and he checks his book out with his brand new library card. Hana isn't the one to check his book out, but she waves cheerfully as he leaves.

 

That night, at home, Isa reads a few chapters into the book and wonders why the hell he even picked it up in the first place. He certainly has strong feelings about it, but most of them are familiar- disgust and disappointment. Kerplit is a man who is also an idiot, who sets off on a quest, and the quest is full of absolutely nothing. He slaps the book shut, leaves it on his living room table, and goes to bed.

 

“Oh, you’re back!” Hana chirps the next morning as Isa walks into the library. 

“Hello.” he says. He holds up his book. He came to return it immediately. Kerplit the adventurer can just die already.

“How was your reading?”

“Honestly, awful,” he admits. “I don’t know what else to read though.”

“I’m sure you’ll find something!” Hana says. “The return drop box is over there, to your left.” She points and Isa slides the book into the rectangular metal slot, ready to never see the cover again. Goodbye, Kerplit. 

Just as he turns around to walk back into the library, he sees a familiar shock of red hair out of the corner of his eye. Lea? No, it can’t be. At the library? Lea doesn’t read. He just doesn’t.

Except, apparently, he does.

“Isa?” Lea finally spots him. “Is that you?” Isa feels like he dunked his head into a bucket of cold water. He turns to face them.

“Saix?” Roxas says, a bit quieter. 

“Hello.” Isa says. Lea is clearly excited to see him, eyebrows raised, a smile tugging at the side of his mouth. Isa tries not to let his heart leap into a pool of hope too much.

“It is Saix,” says Xion, who Isa hadn’t seen. She’s taller than he remembers. Her wide open face and curious eyes are like walking directly into a fire pit. He’s got the sweats. When Isa looks away from Xion’s face, Lea is angry. Isa doesn’t have to think that hard to know why. The way Isa treated him, the way he treated Xion when they were nobodies was unforgivable. It’s exactly why Isa hadn’t reached out to his best friend yet. He knew better.

“You read?” Roxas says.

“Of course I do.”

“Huh.” Roxas and Xion share a look.

“What sort of things do you like to read?” Xion asks.

“Nerd shit, undoubtedly.” Lea says bitterly, rolling his eyes. He won’t look at Isa.

“Honestly, I don’t know anymore. It’s been a while.” Isa says honestly. 

Roxas bumps his shoulder against Xion’s. “We can show you some of our favorites!” He offers. He’s smiling, but Isa can see right through it. Roxas was one to be feared. There was a reason he made such a fierce member of the Organization. Under his smile was a threat- mess with his friends and you’ll regret it. Isa does regret it, but if this is Roxas giving him a second chance, he’ll take it.

“Okay,” Isa says. Xion smiles and Isa doesn't know why. It’s odd.

“So,” Roxas says, leading the way into the library. “Here’s the deal. We like to read a lot of graphic novels and comics.”

“Axel won’t admit it, but he likes reading them too.” Xion teases. Lea scoffs in protest.

“They’re good books! Graphic novels tell such good stories. After all, you have to fit all that imagery in there and still tell a coherent story.”

“Nerd.” Xion says. 

“Shove off.” Roxas says, grinning. “You’re the one who reads those fluffy romance novels.”

“Oh, like you don’t read every single one when I finish them.” Xion crosses her arms, but can’t stay serious for long. She giggles and Roxas smiles at her. 

They’re clearly best friends. His heart aches for his own best friend, who’s standing closer than he has been in what feels like years, but Lea's heart has never been so far away from Isa. 

Roxas and Xion both recommend a book to read. Isa takes them out of politeness, secretly grateful that he finally can see the young adult section without scaring anyone. They chatter amongst themselves, quiet in the big library, pulling out books and telling jokes and dramatically reading book previews to each other.

Isa sneaks a glance at Lea. It’s strange hearing the name Axel after all this time. Even stranger is hearing the name Saix. The name Saix feels like fire ants crawling up his spine. It’s a reminder of his not-so-distant past.

Lea looks up from the book he has in his hands. His eyes narrow the slightest bit, and he waits, as if expecting Isa to jump him. Isa looks away. He wants to go home.

“Axel?” Xion says.

“What's up, kiddo?” He says easily.

“Did you get what you wanted?” She asks. She’s carrying a few books in a stack.

“Yeah.” Lea says. He snaps the book he was reading shut and waves it, grinning at Xion. “Ready to go?”

“Yup,” Roxas chimes in. He slides another book onto Xion’s stack and then takes the whole thing from her, effortlessly carrying it.

Xion smiles and clasps her hands together at her chest. “Thank you!” 

“Can you get these on your library card, Xion?” Roxas asks. She nods and pulls out her wallet which unsurprisingly is on a silver chain, just like Roxas’s. Isa notices her library card is identical to his own.

Lea levels a look at Isa. “You didn’t get all you wanted.” He says.

“No,” Isa admits. Even now, Lea can read him like an open book. “I wanted to see if they had books about astronomy.” Lea rolls his eyes so hard Isa thinks they might fall right out of his damn head. 

“Course you did.” He says. He turns around and disappears into the book stacks. Xion and Roxas quickly follow. Isa supposes he’s got no choice but to tag along as well.

Lea’s hair seems impossibly long. Isa knows his has gotten longer too, but Lea’s is almost to his shoulder blades, even with as far as his hair sticks out horizontally. Isa has been too long without him.

The group stops abruptly. Lea pulls a book off the shelf. “Here. Try this one.” Lea says, handing Isa a book with an illustration of the moon on the cover. “I know you’ll like it.” Xion peers out from somewhere behind Isa’s arm to look at the book.

“I want to get a book about the stars too! There’s so much I don’t know,” Xion says, eagerly darting to the bookshelf labelled Science.

Isa stares the cover. He feels as though he might break if someone were to bump into him. “I should go.” He says quietly. He adds the moon book to his pile. “Thanks for the books,” He says, directed to Roxas and Xion. Isa looks at Lea one more time, but it’s hopeless. He isn’t looking back. 

“Oh, okay! See you around!” Xion says, waving.

“Later,” says Roxas.

Isa leaves as quickly as he can.

 

Stacking his library books on his tiny bedside shelf makes him feel good for one whole minute. The minute passes and then he feels sorry for himself. The hell kind of a person was he? Getting the sweats from seeing his best friend in the library. He used to be so fearless. He used to be so strong and unwavering.

Now, all his heart wants is to know if Xion really forgave him, or if she was being nice for Lea's sake. Would Lea ask that of her?

Things feel so confused now. His emotions are unsorted and unorganized and Isa doesn’t even know where to begin to make things right again.

 

The park on a Saturday afternoon turns out to be the perfect place to sit and read a graphic novel. He started with Roxas’s suggested book first because Roxas’s book was a slice of life sort of story. Isa didn’t really understand the art style, it was jagged and sharp, but the story so far had been compelling. It was the story of a girl who had moved to a new town and had to make a new life at a new school. It felt awfully mundane. Isa liked how calm it was to read it. 

In the park there were people of all ages who were enjoying the day. Little kids toddled around on short legs. Teenagers listened to music while laying on picnic blankets. The sun shone in an ever-twilight color. 

Getting used to the sun being unmoving had taken some time. You could spend all day at the park and never know how much time had passed. That’s what the clock was for, Isa mused, for chiming out the hours to make sure there was still order in Twilight Town.

The clock had finished chiming four’o’clock when Xion comes skating into view. Decked out in long pants, knee pads, wrist guards, and a helmet, she zooms down the sidewalk way too quickly for her own good, yelling all the way. She hits the bump where the grass meets the pavement and goes flying into a flower bed.

Isa sits upright, book totally forgotten. Is she okay? What the hell is she doing on a skateboard like that? Just as he’s about to stand up and go check on her, Roxas comes running after her. 

“Xion!” he calls. “Are you okay?”

Isa’s heart thumps painfully. Is she okay? His feet make the choice before he can even process it. He’s at her side before he knows it, kneeling down in the flowers beside Roxas. His heart is stuck in his throat.

“I’m okay… I think.” She groans, sitting up.

“Saix, did you see what happened?” Roxas looks up at Isa with a concerned face. His hand is tight on Xion's knee. Her pants are clearly a borrowed pair of Roxas’s. They have huge pockets up and down her legs.

“She hit the grass and fell off her skateboard.”

Xion brushes a few stray flower petals off of her shirt and fixes her crooked helmet. “I’m okay. I’m only a little scraped up.”

Roxas leaps to his feet. “Saix, help her out of there. I’m going to get some water.” And then he’s off running again, sneakers tapping away on the pavement. Isa hesitates only a moment before helping Xion to her feet, holding her gently by the elbow.

“Now, what possessed you to try and skateboard into a daisy patch?” He asks, trying for a playful tone as they step out of the flowers. He’s pretty sure he doesn’t do it quite right.

“Roxas is teaching me how to skateboard. As you can tell, I still have a lot to learn.” she laughs weakly. “That really hurt…” She winces, testing her weight on her feet.

“Do you need to sit down?”

Xion wobbles dangerously. “Maybe.”

“Alright.” Isa helps her to sit on the grass. He’s done this a thousand times before. Isa was resident caretaker when he was a teenager. His mother used to call him Nurse Nancy as he patched Lea up from his adventurous scrapes. Xion is much smaller than Lea and feels incredibly fragile in Isa’s hands. “Does your head hurt? Anything bleeding?”

“My head feels okay…” Xion holds up one of her arms and peers at her elbow. She sucks in air through her teeth. “Oops,” She says. There’s a little smear of blood across her forearm. “I guess I am bleeding.” Her face darkens, expression defeated.

“That’s alright, it’s only a scratch. You didn’t break anything, right?”

She sniffs wetly. “No.” Isa nods and stands to fetch her skateboard from where it had skittered away in the fall. It’s black and white with bold spiked designs printed on it.

“And here’s your skateboard. All is well.” He sets it down beside her, wheels facing up.

“I guess.” She allows. Her bangs are hanging in her face. Isa wishes he knew what to say, how to make things okay again.

“Falling down once doesn’t mean it’s the end of your skateboarding career,” Isa says. Xion looks up at him with watery blue eyes. “It’s about confidence. If you let one fall stop you, how will you learn?”

Xion wipes at her eye with her fingers. It's an awkward movement, her wrists held in place by her wrist guards. “You sound like Roxas.”

“Perhaps he’s telling the truth.”

“I’ve been falling a lot.” Xion mutters. Her hands fist in the grass, pulling out a few grass blades.

“I personally consider skateboards to be hazards with wheels, so of course you’re falling. I’m sure Roxas fell down a thousand times before he got the hang of it.”

“Nah,” She laughs weakly. “I think he was born on a skateboard. I’ve never seen him fall down ever.”

“You should put Axel on a skateboard. He’d fall down for sure.”

Xion covers her mouth as she giggles. “That’s not very nice.” she says, but she’s smiling.

Isa indulges in a tiny grin. “It’s true. His skills lay more with having his feet firmly on the ground.”

Xion wipes her face again. “He talks about you, you know? I think… I think he misses you but is afraid to admit it.”

What? “Oh?”

“Yeah. Axel’s always been so friendly, I always wondered where he could have learned to be that way. I don’t think he’s ever forgotten about what you two had.”

“No,” Isa looks away, feeling a little choked, “I don’t think he would.”

“I don’t really know a lot about what you two were like before, but I hope maybe you can be like that again. You know, friends.” Xion sounds so honest and hopeful; its nothing like what Isa has been thinking since the day he came back to life. Isa is a little dazed. Friends.

“Xion!” Roxas comes jogging up to the two of them, face pink with exertion. “I got some water,” he pants, hands on his knees. “And some bandaids. Are you okay?”

“I’m okay,” she says, but Isa shakes his head.

“Can I see the bandages?” He holds his hand out and Roxas gives them to him. Isa very gently takes Xion’s small hand in his and extends her arm, ripping open a bandaid to cover the scrape that was bleeding. It’ll heal within a few days. He tells Xion as much, and she looks at the bandaid, smiling softly.

“Thank you, Saix.” 

Isa clears his throat. “It’s no problem. Be more careful from now on.”

Xion nods. Her enthusiasm reminds Isa of Lea; that unshakeable cheer definitely came from him. “I will!” 

“That was a pretty nasty fall,” Roxas says, sitting down on Xion’s other side. He passes her the water bottle. “But I’m totally giving you points for style.” He holds two big thumbs up and grins at her.

Xion laughs. She shoves his shoulder playfully. “Maybe next time you should crash into some foliage, see how it feels.” 

“I don’t need to! I just watched you do it, isn’t that enough?”

“No!” Xion protests, waving her hands around. They laugh and everything is okay, peace finally returned to the skating world. Isa should go. He stands.

Xion catches his hand. He turns, surprised. “Thank you,” she squeezes his hand gently. His heart constricts, for a moment, then he mirrors her smile.

 

Isa fears he may never outgrow the nightmares. Tonight’s particular torture is fast paced, quick flashes of things he understands, followed by things he was confused by. Axel’s boots click loudly against the floor. Lea’s baby face smiling at him, kindly, with fondness. Lea, the other day, in the library knocking over an entire bookshelf in rage, destroying entire bookstacks.

Xemnas’s voice calmly tells him: You feel nothing. You are nothing. Pitiful. You must pay your dues. Vexen’s voice is the undercurrent, whispering the chemicals running through his brain, through his heart. Adrenaline. Norepinephrine . Dopanime. Melatonin.  

Isa sees himself, reaching out, hair much shorter, young face scratched and bleeding. He’s so scared. He’s so scared and no one will help him. Not his best friend. Where is Lea? Where did he go? Here one second and gone the next, Xion is screaming in pain, Roxas yelling in anger and they’re all furious with him. He did it. He’s guilty. He should be left alone-

Isa wakes up cold, sweating, and crying. He chokes on a sob. His heart is racing, thumping painfully against his ribs, and oh gods , he aches. He’s still terrified, his hands shaking with fear, and he can’t rid the feeling of having done something wrong. He must pay his dues.

Sitting up, he untangles himself from his twisted blankets and stumbles to the bathroom. The overhead light is painfully bright and jarring. He kneels in the shower and turns the knobs, letting cold water rush over him until his breathing is somewhat normal again.

He misses Lea. He has no one else. Xemnas is long since defeated. It’s not like he wants to see Xemnas, but that was the only other connection he had besides Lea in all the years Isa spent as a nobody. Lea is mad at him.

Isa cries for a very, very long time.

He doesn’t manage to get much more sleep after that. He barely dries his hair and only partially remembers to drink some water. He lays in bed, curtains shut against the eternal sunset, and hopes the day can pass him by. Isa can exist here and just stare into space. It’s not like he has any responsibilities anymore. He used to be second in command to a fearful group with a tangible goal… but now he’s only responsible for himself. Wonderful job he’s doing at that, anyway.

Isa doesn’t even get the gift of peace. Shortly after the clock chimes at him through the window to tell him that it's nearly midday, someone starts banging at his door.

“Yo!” He calls. Isa could recognize that voice anywhere. His blood runs ice cold. “Isa. Are you there? Hey, Isa.” Lea keeps banging at the door. He won’t go away, Isa knows, so he shuffles to sit in a sitting position. He sits like that, bracing himself, his hair hanging in his face in messy waves. He misses Lea so much it hurts. How can he face his best friend when he’s still so sore? “Isa!”

Isa gets out of bed. One step at a time, he makes it to the front door. He unlocks the door’s rattling chain and opens it. Lea almost falls over from where he was leaning on the door.

“Isa! Isa?” Lea says, excitement quickly giving way to concern. “Are you okay? God, you look awful. What's going on?” His voice is softer than ever. Isa wants to cry again, wants to let his head fall on Lea’s shoulder, wants to feel better.

“Did you need something?” Isa says, voice as level as he can make it. He holds onto the door tightly with his hand, hoping it will hold him up, keep him on his feet. Maybe it'll keep the urge to lean into Lea at bay as well.

“Isa-”

“Lea. Did you need something.”

Lea blinks at him, trying to decide whether this is a battle he should fight or not. “I wanted to ask, uh, me and Roxas and Xion are going to go out today, and… we wanted to invite you.”

“No, thank you.” Isa tries to close the door, but Lea smacks his hand against the door before he can close it.

“Isa, are you sick?” Lea’s eyes are pinched with concern. It would be easy to say yes, and ask Lea to hug him… but Isa didn't think he deserved it.

“Goodbye.” Isa closes the door again, leaving Lea standing at his front step.

 

“Dude, go in!”

There are voices out his window. They're quiet voices, whispering harshly to each other.

“No, what if he’s sitting there? I don’t want to break into his house, Xion. He'd kill me in one shot.”

“It’s breaking in because we care! Just go in! If you don’t, I will.”

Fine, fine. You have to be quiet then."

There's no sound after that. Isa's drifting steadily to a more awake state, pretty sure he might have to fend off two tiny home invaders.

"Here?" Roxas's soft voice drifts down the hall from the kitchen. There's a faint rustling.

"Perfect. I hope he likes it." Xion whispers back. "We should go." There's the sound of footsteps, the front door closing, and then silence.

Isa comes out after he’s sure they’ve gone. He can't imagine what they could have possibly done. He shuffles to the kitchen, only to find a bag on his table with a card that says Feel Better perched on top. In the bag is a bottle of cold medicine, a box of tissues, and a box of tea, the kind that's already in easy to use tea bags. Underneath that is a smaller lunch box with a single sea salt ice cream, nestled in a layer of ice packs.

"Oh," Isa breathes. He picks it up, unwrapping it from its clear packaging. It's already sort of soft and melted. He'd have to be an idiot to not know Lea bought these all the time for Roxas and Xion when they were in the Organization. He probably still does. Isa had once caught Lea once with 3 popsicles, waiting for Roxas and Xion to come back and Isa had teased him for it. They hadn't come back then, of course, but that wasn't the point. The point was this get well soon bag has Lea written all over it. Roxas and Xion may have been the ones to put it in his house, but It was totally Lea’s style. 

Isa stands at the table and eats the whole thing. It’s salty but sweet, and every bit as delicious as Isa remembers it being the first time he tried it, back when he and Lea were barely 15. It's comforting. The cool temperature of the treat is soothing to him.

When he goes back to bed, he's able to sleep quietly again.

 

A week passes as Isa tries to get a grip on reality. He frequents the library and takes book recommendations from Hana, who seems to have a taste for murder mysteries. He sits in the park and tries to teach himself the different kinds of trees. 

Isa misses the moon. He misses the darkness, the kind where the pavement is still warm from the sunny day, and the sun’s slipping away behind the trees; not the soul sucking, body destroying darkness. One afternoon he tries to open a portal to the darkness. It doesn’t work, needless to say, and Isa doesn’t try again, too unhappy with the feeling like he was grasping at thin air. That’s not the darkness he misses anyway.

For being a human with a heart now, Isa doesn’t think he feels as much as he should. His heart is working at 30% capacity. It only likes to sink low in his chest and hide somewhere behind his spleen. Being 15 years old had been so fun, so wonderful, so happy. It also had been horrible and awkward, but at least Isa had felt those things. The whole range of emotions.

Now, he looks in the mirror and feels nothing, really. What is he missing? What piece of the puzzle doesn’t he have yet? It’s hard to tell. He doesn’t know anymore.

 

Xion visits him one afternoon out of nowhere. She’s smiling as he opens the door, a large black tote bag on one shoulder and her skateboard tucked under her arm, a helmet decorated with stickers dangling from her fingers.

“Hi!” She says, like they’re friends who see each other every Sunday. “Can I come in? I got you something!”

“What is it?” Isa asks, raising an eyebrow at her.

She smiles wider. “You have to let me in to see. Oh! Can you tell? I rode here! On my skateboard! I didn’t even fall once, Saix.”

“That’s great,” He says. She looks at him, waiting patiently, and he decides he can allow her in this once. He steps aside, and she breezes past him, skirt swishing as she strides into the kitchen.

“I’m really getting the hang of the whole skateboarding thing. Roxas and Axel say I’m doing really good!” She carefully props her skateboard up against the wall. “What you said, I’ve been keeping it in mind.”

“What I said?”

“Yeah, about confidence! I find that if I stay focused and really go for it, skateboarding is a lot easier! Of course, I still wear a lot of protective gear. I don’t want to break anything. Axel would be heartbroken,” Xion laughs. “Do you want to see what I have for you? I’ve been working on it for some time now.”

Isa walks to the kitchen table, pulling out a chair and sitting down. Having someone in his apartment is odd and sort of uncomfortable. Xion sits down across from him and starts rustling in her bag for something. Of all the people to randomly visit him, he’s privately glad its her.

Xion’s hands still, coming to rest on top of her bag. Her face is pensive. “When I first was whole again, my own person, things were… difficult, as you can imagine. I didn’t know who I was, I didn’t know where I belonged. I was very happy to be reunited with Roxas and Axel, but there were still so many things I didn’t have answers to.” She looks up at him and he finds it hard to look away. “What part of me was actually me? How much did I reflect of other people… like Sora, or Roxas, or Kairi? How could I become… Xion? What made me myself? It was hard for a while until I decided to start throwing things at the wall to see what stuck.” That’s definitely a line she picked up from Lea, Isa notes, looking at Xion’s small hands neatly folded on the bag. “Some things didn’t work, but some really helped a lot! And I wanted to share it with you.” Xion reaches into the bag and pulls out a rectangle covered in dark blue fabric. It’s only a few feet wide and about a foot tall. She sets it on the table and slides it closer to him. “I call mine a memory board. You put things that you like on it. I even brought you some pictures to get started! Look, here’s one of me and Roxas. This one is of me and Roxas and Axel, and here’s one I took of a really cool building when I visited another world.” She sets photos on top of the board, facing Isa. They can’t be more than a few inches tall,  and they're all a vintage style of photograph, with the long white strip at the bottom. The picture of the building is the interior of a church with tall stained glass windows. The one of her and Roxas is incredibly blurry, but their big joyful smiles are unmistakable. Lea’s smiling face peers up at him from the photo of all of them, and Isa doesn’t know this Lea, doesn’t know this person. Isa’s brow furrows.

“You’re giving me your photos?” He touches the edge of one with his fingertip.

“Yeah! I thought they’d make you happy. I tried to pick ones I thought you’d like. Axel told me to pick this one, and Roxas told me to pick this one.” She pulls out two more pictures. Roxas’s recommendation is one of Roxas and Xion in front of the train station, bending over a skateboard. It’s a candid photo, taken from far back, Roxas’s mouth open as he tells Xion something, and Xion’s face focused as she listens intently. Axel’s photo is of the moon. It looks black and white, the moon a clear cut crescent in the dark sky. Isa pulls his finger away and clenches his fists in his lap under the table. “Do you… do you like them?” Xion asks.

A whirl of emotions swell in his chest. He does like them, but at the same time, it feels like a hundred steps backwards. Here’s Lea, who he misses the most, but it’s not his Lea. It’s Axel, the man he never knew, the man who betrayed him, who he betrayed in return. But… seeing his face, it’s calming somehow, comforting. Lea clearly still remembers Isa's interests with crystal clarity.
He doesn’t want to disappoint Xion. “I do,” he says, smiling slightly. “How do I display them?”

“Oh that’s easy! You use these little pushpins. The board is actually cork board, so you just…" She pins a picture to it, poking carefully around the edges of the picture, holding it in place without actually putting a hole in it. "Like that! There's a wire on the back so you can hang it up on your wall. You can put whatever you want on it! I also got this little basket attachment to go on the bottom. It can hold things that can't go on the board!"

Isa swallows. Nevermind that it's totally not his style. Nevermind that he'd never thought of doing something like this. That isn't what matters. "Xion… Why are you doing this? For me?"

Xion's smile falters. "If no one shows you kindness first, how will you learn what it’s like? Holding a grudge hurts the both of us. I mean, you are trying to be better, aren't you?"

Isa finds he doesn't know what to say. "I'm not Saix anymore," he tries.

Xion nods. "I know,"

"I don't know how to be not-Saix. I don't know…" Xion’s voice rings in his head. I didn't know who I was. I didn't know where I belonged. Isa understands now. To know that this sweet girl had been through the pain he’s in makes him incredibly sorrowful.

"Besides," Xion says, looking back at Isa. "Axel cares a whole lot about you. I'm doing this just as much for him as either one of us. I think he needs you."

"I need him, too."

"I know." Xion takes a deep breath and sits back. "I’ve got a message from Roxas. He says if you mess up again, like if you really mess it up like you did before, he won't give you another chance. I… sort of agree, but I have faith in you. To be honest, he remembers more than I do about you from back then, but he- we all want better for you."

"Xion, I… I don't know what to say.”

“That’s okay.” Xion shoots him an understanding smile. “Just keep trying, that’s all anyone can ask of you. Do you want me to help hang this up for you?”

 

Xion leaves almost a half hour later. She gives him this quiet smile and squeezes his arm gently before collecting her things and riding away on her skateboard. She almost looks confident, riding down the street, arms out for balance.

Isa, honestly, thinks he be in shock.

Kindness. What a rare gem in his life. He used to know kindness. Isa had a good childhood, right up to the point where he died and was brought back to life as some sort of puppet for a questionably evil man. But kindness, now, from the person he least expected it from? His heart feels full, his cup runs over, and yet, his heart feels bigger than ever before. Xion carved out a space in his heart to try again. To be kind. He looks at the memory board and thinks- thank god for Xion, friend of all, the sweetest person he knows.

 

Lea knocks on his door early one afternoon as Isa is putting on his coat to leave. He had intended to go to the library, but one look at Lea’s face lets him know he probably shouldn’t count on that anymore.

“Hey,” Lea says. 

“Hello.”

“The fair’s in town this weekend. Me and the trouble twins were going to go tonight, but I wanted to invite you as well.”

Isa regards him. His heart leaps and jumps and rattles around in his chest. Isa ignores it. “Yes, okay.”

“Really?” Lea’s calm exterior melts into tentative excitement. “You mean it? It’s so cool, they’ll have the big ferris wheel, and I don’t wanna ride it but Roxas does and-”

Lea pauses. Isa realizes he's smiling. Most people wouldn't even notice it, but Lea has been able to pick up on his moods since they were children.

“I’m uh. Looking forward to spending some time with you,” Lea tries. Isa is internally screaming. Lea’s puppy dog face feels like putting Isa’s heart through the dry cleaners and then ironing it flat.

“I think we are due for some time, aren’t we.”

“Yeah! Yeah. I’ll see you then, yeah? Okay. Uh, I’ll send Xion over to walk you to- well, I guess I could come and get you- we meet at this little cafe, okay?”

“Okay.”

“It’s really cute. I can pay for your drink.” 

“Alright.”

“See you, uh. Isa.” 

“See you, Lea.” Isa says, not fighting the urge to smile wider. It feels like being born again, for real this time, because Lea smiled at him. That means there’s hope, right? That they begin again? Maybe Xion was right. Maybe they can be friends.

Lea waves and walks away, a noticeable spring in his step.

Isa can’t stop the fluttering of his excited heart all afternoon. He doesn’t end up going to the library but, he finds he doesn’t care that much, way too focused on how excited he is.

What does one wear to a local fair? He imagines casual clothes, but it’s not like he has many clothes that other people would deem casual. What would he feel comfortable in? His jacket, he thinks, studying himself in the mirror. He likes his jacket. He hasn’t seen another quite like it and it makes him feel unique. Isa smiles at himself, tentatively, hoping this tiny sliver of confidence doesn’t slip away.

 

Lea, Roxas, and Xion come to collect Isa just before dinner time. They head to a cafe to get drinks before they go. Isa can feel the tension between the group; excitement, nervousness, a little awkward air. It’s fine. Isa is polite. He keeps his hands to himself. He thanks Lea when he buys Isa a drink. He holds his heart in an iron grip.

Xion and Roxas continue to get on like a house on fire. It’s charming, to see Roxas smile and laugh at something Xion said, only to make Xion grin with flustered pride. Lea only fans the flames, teasing them and laughing at their jokes, making it crystal clear how well they know each other. Through their struggles, they’ve come out the other end stronger and closer than ever. Isa tries not to think about how he came out weaker and the most lonely he’s ever been.

He appreciates the noise, anyway, and Xion shoots him a kind smile every now and then. Lea looks like he still has trouble looking Isa directly in the face.

After they finish their drinks, Lea leaves a large tip on the table and they all stand together, making their way back into downtown. Isa still half expects it to be darker outside after all the time they spent in there, but it’s still a warm twilight.

“Who wants to go on the ferris wheel with me later?” Roxas asks. 

“I will!” Xion raises her hand and waves it. “I want to take pictures from the top. I bet you can see the whole city!”

“You probably can,” Lea muses.

Xion skips a bit and smiles up at Lea. “I want to!” 

“Sure, kiddo. You and Roxas can go.”

“You don’t want to go on the ferris wheel?”

“Nope. I don’t really do trapped-in-metal-box stuff.”

“Oh good. I thought you were going to say you were afraid of heights, and I was going to call your bluff.” Roxas says.

“Hey! I could be!”

Roxas shakes his head. “Axel, you sat with us on top of the clock tower all the damn time. There’s no way you’re afraid of heights!” Isa laughs quietly, enjoying the way Lea blushes in embarrassment. 

"I could be!" Lea protests. "Maybe the clock tower is the only cool place we could hang out! I would have dealt with it for you guys."

Xion pats his arm. "That's sweet, but I don't think you would have. We would have found somewhere else."

Lea grumbles. Isa bites back a smile. “Hey, don’t you encourage her.” Lea says, pointing an accusatory finger in Isa’s direction.

“I’m not.”

“You so are! I can see it in your face, you’re a filthy liar.”

“Excuse me!” Isa says, sounding as serious as he can when Lea’s staring at him with wide eyes like an owl.

“Hey, play nice.” Xion chides, swatting Lea’s side. “I won’t have you two fighting.”

“What? We were playing nice,” Lea pouts. Roxas laughs, leading Isa to believe Roxas understands them more than he previously thought.

“Hey, do you guys wanna buy some tickets? I saved up extra munny to play games!” Roxas says. The night begins with a flurry of yellow tickets and a long string of games that were definitely rigged in every way possible. Losing doesn’t bother Isa, especially when Xion claps and cheers even if he misses his shot or completely fails his throw. She’s so excitable and bubbly.

Isa can’t frankly believe she exists. 

Nor can he believe Lea exists. He’s so damn tall, and so damn red haired, and he draws the eye of everyone he walks past. Lea remains unbothered. He plays games and laughs and goofs off and Isa loves him so much. He wants to be better. He wants them to be friends again. Xion said there might be a chance, right?

“Hey,” Xion says quietly, at Isa's side. “We were going to go to the ferris wheel next. Did you want to come with?” She had won a prize a few booths back, a small toy that was shaped vaguely like a dog. It was hardly bigger than her own hand, but she was cradling it to her chest carefully. Isa looks up to see Roxas and Lea chatting animatedly about something. He looks back to Xion.

“No, thank you.”

“Okay!” Xion says easily. “Roxas! It’s ferris wheel time!”

Roxas whoops, throwing a fist in the air. “Sweet! Let’s go! Oh wait- what will you two do?”

Isa sighs, suddenly put on the spot.

“We’ll figure it out, don’t you worry about us. Go get in line!” Lea pushes his two friends towards the ferris wheel line, which wrapped halfway around the park. Waiting for them would be a tremendous waste of time. Xion and Roxas waved goodbye, and then it was just Lea and Isa.

It was awkward. The air was thick with what was unsaid, years of it, all finally pressing in on the two of them, no longer held off by Xion's positivity or Roxas's attitude. Restlessly, they began walking. Lights flashed and games beeped and people talked and laughed.

Beside him, Lea was silent.

Isa wasn't sure where to start. He knows he should fix this, somehow, to mend the bond, but there was so much in his head it was hard to pick a starting point.

They walk into the shadow of a large building with a tall sign. It’s a quiet relief for Isa, because now it feels like nighttime, now it feels dark. He sighs thankfully.

"Lea-"

"Isa, I-"

They speak at the same time. Lea looks at him, wide eyed, but he continues before Isa can.

"I'm sorry." Lea says.

"What?"

"I've been a real dick lately. I was angry at you, but you're certainly going through it right now, aren't you? It's not fair to you to have me ignoring you when you probably really need a friend."

Isa blinks rapidly. "I don't think it's entirely undeserved."

"Yeah, but how shitty is that?" Lea sticks his hands out in front of him. "I'm a good friend. Or, you know, was. I just, I'm sorry." Lea shakes his head. "I don't think I forgive you entirely for how you acted before, but… We're best friends, aren't we? We can get through this."

Isa's heart pounds against his ribs. "You still think… That we're best friends?"

Lea scoffs, turning his face away. "Yeah," he says quietly. "Of course we are."

"I thought you hated me."

"Well, I sure was angry at you! You treated Xion like shit- you gave her a weird complex about identity- you treated Roxas like shit, and you definitely treated me like shit. You couldn't accept the fact that I made new friends because you were off being a dick. But being a Nobody is hard. I grew a heart again, you know? I overcame that hollowness. I don't think you did." His voice lifts like it’s a question.

"No." Isa says quietly. "I haven't."

"Being hollow like that makes it hard to rationalize. But I know Xion’s been hanging out with you. Roxas told me how you patched her up that day in the park and that tells me enough. Isa, I want to be there for you. I know you. I can see you’re hurting. I want you to know you’re not alone in this feeling. We all came back, one way or another, from being Nobodies. It’s really frickin’ hard.” Lea says, shrugging.

Isa swallows thickly. His eyes sting with tears. It’s almost a good feeling, to know his heart is responding accordingly to his pain, to his emotion, to feel sadness and to know what it is. 

“It is difficult.” Isa says. “I’ve had the worst days of my life. I feel like it never ends.” He wipes his face with the back of his hands. He tries to ignore the tiny voice in the back of his brain that sounds a lot like Xemnas that is calling him weak for crying. Lea’s face is tumultuous. 

Before Isa knows what’s happening, Lea’s embracing him, wrapping him in a hug so tight Isa can hardly breathe. 

“Lea-”

“The bad days do end. It gets easier once your heart balances out. I’m so sorry, Isa, I didn’t know how bad you were hurting. I’ll be here for you from now on, I promise. It gets better.”

Isa trembles, tears slipping down his face. He leans into the hug. The pressure of Lea’s arms around him is comforting, like some small, hidden away piece of him finally is being taken care of, and his heart grows quiet. “I’m sorry too.”

“What for?”

“For everything. For how I treated you and Roxas and Xion. For getting us in trouble in the first place. I don’t know what got ahold of me, I-” Isa takes a shaky breath. “I missed you. I didn’t know how to say. I was jealous.”

“I know.”

“I wanted to reach out to you, but I didn’t know how.”

“Isa.” Lea says, and Isa snaps his mouth shut and presses his forehead to Lea’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.” Lea holds onto him tighter. “Isa, we’ll figure it out. I love you, alright? Me and Roxas and Xion- we’ll help you.”

“I love you too.” Isa whispers. 

“Just trust me. I know all the ways to mend a brand new heart. It starts with ice cream-” Isa can’t help the laugh that bubbles up from inside him. He laughs, the sound clear and refreshing, breaking his sadness into pieces.  Lea grins, encouraged by his reaction. “Yeah! Ice cream, and books, and coffee, and-”

“The road to emotional wellness cannot be paved with material items.”

“Uh, it totally can, as long as I’m paying. Besides, I’ll be right there with you drinking coffee! It’s fun and socializing then, which totally counts.”

“Okay.” Isa says. He wants to stand here all night. He finally feels safe. But Lea can’t hug him that long.

Except it seems, he can. Lea doesn’t let go and neither does Isa. He feels like a battery that’s finally been plugged in to charge. He feels better and more comforted every minute they stand there, hidden away from everyone else, in their own private corner of the world. Lea is taller than him by the smallest amount, and it’s nice to feel like someone is protecting him.

Eventually, Isa leans back, just a little. Lea looks at him, worry in his eyes and a soft smile on his face. His face looks so smooth and young without the teardrop tattoos.

“Good to see you again, Isa.”

“Good to see you, Lea.”

Isa smiles, relieved. A new chapter of life has opened up for him, and it starts with the face of his best friend, Lea.