People wanted it so here it is, the prequel to No Goodbyes. This is the account of Lea's year before that fic, but since it's a prequel I've gone ahead and revealed who did the deed at the end. So be warned that if you haven't read No Goodbyes yet, go read it now. Otherwise you'll be spoiled to the bad guy at the end of that fic.
For this I did a bit of research. Not too much, just to see where in Washington I could put an NCIS office (since, oops, there isn't actually an NCIS office in Washington!). I decided on the capital city, since it made sense to me.
If anyone finds any inconsistencies between this and No Goodbyes please let me know. I tried to keep all of the details the same (although I almost forgot to add the will!) but I'm only human, after all.
Since I forgot to put it in the fic, the final fight takes place in Castle Oblivion. A fitting place for things to end, don't you think? I just didn't put it there because Lea would be too preoccupied to notice the pretty where he was, and the fic was from his point of view
I don't own Kingdom Hearts or NCIS. I only wrote this out of some twisted need to torture a guy. No, not really. I just wanted to make people happy Anyway, I'm not gonna be making money off of this, so there.
Also posted on DeviantArt under the same name.
He didn't expect death to be particularly pleasant. It was death, after all. The end of life. He didn't expect fields of flowers and happy endings, not after everything he'd done. What he hadn't expected was the cold. It was a damp cold, permeating the very fiber of his being and settling into his lungs with what was promising to be a nasty cold.
That observation stopped his thoughts for a moment. All he felt was the rain on his face, the source of the deep chill, and hard ground beneath his back. Which didn't make sense, he thought after a moment. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, nevermind the heaviness in his lungs that threatened to rip a cough from his lungs. The last thing he remembered was Sora's face, the Keyblade Master hovering over him in his last moments. He'd given his life so that the Organization could fall…
… hadn't he?
He did cough this time, a deep hack drawn from the very bottom of his lungs and shaking his entire body. He rolled over and rode out the fit, spitting into the ground once it'd subsided to get the excess fluid from his mouth. If this was death, he thought as he gathered his strength to get up, then he really had had the wrong ideas.
After a moment, he finally was able to open his eyes. Green orbs took in dreary grey buildings, darker grey concrete with the occasional puddles from the rain. He staggered to his feet, taking stock of his condition, hanging onto a nearby pipe lest he lose his balance. Black coat, drenched in the rain. Black pants and boots, matching perfectly with the long coat. No shirt, which by this point wasn't surprising. He was still wearing his Organization outfit.
What was surprising was the color of the hair falling into his eyes, heavy from the rain. Instead of red, they were an inky black. That shouldn't be possible, he thought as he began the long process of dragging himself anywhere but here. When he'd become a Nobody his hair had changed, the sign that he wasn't he person he'd been. He had kept the same face and the same eyes, but instead of black hair it'd become flame red, echoing the powers he'd had. It had bothered him, as much as something could bother a person with no heart, but over five years he'd grown to accept it.
The fact that he was surprised caught his attention. He glanced around and spotted lights in the grey gloom, making for them with as much haste as he could will from his aching body. Surprise was an emotion, he thought during the long and torturous trip. He'd only ever felt surprise a few times since his start as a Nobody, and all of those times had involved a certain blonde. For him to feel surprise now, coupled with the changed hair color, made him suspect something that was certainly impossible. He'd died and this was hell, or wherever it was those who weren't supposed to exist went when they died. He certainly couldn't have…
He finally made it to the source of the lights, finding an intersection teaming with traffic. Cars, pedestrians, cyclists, all ignoring the lone figure in black as they went about their business, without regard for their impossibility. All he could do was stand there, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. It was an overwhelming feeling, doubly so after not having felt anything for so long. He hacked again, the force of it driving him to his knees and all he could do was hurt.
He felt a hand on his forehead, a stranger checking his temperature. "Are you all right?" a woman's voice asked, but with the cough rattling his entire torso he couldn't answer. "You're burning up! Do you need me to call someone?"
His head swam, his throat burned. The coughs finally faded, leaving him gasping for air, air that was laden with chemicals he hadn't tasted in five years.
"Where am I?" he croaked, leaning forward to press his heated forehead again the cool concrete beneath his knees. "I have to know, where am I?"
"Olympia, Washington," the woman replied. "I'm calling 911, just stay there, okay?"
A multitude of emotions overwhelmed him, happiness and sadness centered around one impossible fact.
"Have them call NCIS," he managed to get out through the joyous tears clogging his throat. "Tell them..."
He was home.
"… that Special Agent Lea Burns is back."
Lea had been diagnosed with an acute cold that was trying to become pneumonia once he'd made it to the hospital, which meant that he was stuck in bed the next few days. That didn't really bother him, however. He was in a familiar place, so different from the places he'd been in the last few years, and he was relishing every minute of it. Somehow, he couldn't say why it happened, he was whole. He wasn't Axel , number VIII in Organization XIII anymore. He was now human, something that made him incredibly happy and yet disappointed at the same time. He was glad to be home, glad to be away from that hellish Organization searching for the heart he'd desperately wanted again. At the same time…
Lea glared at his hand, where chakrams failed to materialize. Fire refused to come at his call, not even the slightest spark.
He was going to miss being able to do that.
The door opening alerted him to the presence of someone and he dropped his hand to the bed. Someone clothed in a familiar black jacket stepped into the room, pale blue eyes regarding him thoughtfully. Lea recognized the person and grinned in greeting.
"Hey Jack, what's up?"
Jack was a tall fellow, large with muscles but not giant like a body builder, with a sharp face and sharper wit. He took off his black hat, emblazoned with the initials 'NCIS', and stuffed it into his pocket, revealing dusty blonde hair cropped military short. "Lea. Where the hell have you been?"
"Far, far away," Lea quipped dryly, shaking Jack's proffered hand. "Did you miss me?"
The other man snorted, answering sarcastically, "Like a fruit cake." He sobered, pulling a notepad from his pocket. "Seriously. Can you remember what happened?"
Lea could quite clearly. He'd been on his way home after an all-nighter when the darkness had solidified, yellow eyes boring into him. The Neoshadow had apparently decided he was a tasty treat and took his gun before he could react. It had then proceeded to steal his heart, which had hurt. He'd thought he was dying, but then he'd woken up again in Twilight Town, where Xemnas had found him. With pretty words and empty promises Xemnas had lured him in, promising to explain what had happened to him and rectify it. He'd bought it, working for Xemnas for four years until Roxas had come along and made him question just what he was doing.
But he couldn't tell any of that to his old friend. That would get him stuck in the psych ward for sure and he really didn't feel like enduring that. His world didn't know about the war going on even as they spoke, Sora fighting against Xemnas for control of the latter's false Kingdom Hearts. No one would believe him if he tried to tell him, but there wouldn't be a need, Lea was sure. Sora would beat Xemnas and go home.
He grinned sheepishly at Jack. "Sorry man. Last I remember I was walking home from work. That murder-suicide conspiracy at the base? You have to remember that one, we were stuck chasing the vics' dogs for hours."
Jack returned the grin. "Yeah, I remember." He scribbled a few notes in his notepad. "What happened that night?"
Lea thought hard. To Jack it would seem as if he was trying to recall details. In reality he was concocting a believable story. "I was walking home when someone attacked me. They got my gun and whacked me on the head. Next thing I know, I'm waking up five years later in a wicked awesome raincoat." Despite the stigma attached to the Organization coat he really liked it, prompting him to ask, "How mangled is the coat, anyway?"
"Officially I'm not supposed to talk about an open investigation," the blonde cautioned. "Unofficially, the lab got nothing from your coat. The rain washed everything away pretty thoroughly. Why, you want it back?"
Lea grinned. "It's black leather. Who wouldn't want it?"
Jack shook his head. "So, there's nothing else you remember? A face, a smell, nothing to help us find the guy who kidnapped you?"
Lea shook his head. "That's all I got, got it memorized?" The phrase slipped out before he could catch it and he winced. As much of a part of his vocabulary as the words had become, he'd never been quite that cocky before.
"Yeah, yeah. The docs say you'll be out in a few days, so just sit and rest. We have a guard on you in case your captor decides to finish you off so you're safe, don't worry." Jack pocketed the notepad and stood, gripping Lea's shoulder briefly. "I'll be back later, okay?"
The black-haired man nodded. "Okay."
The investigation went on for three months before Lea's boss got fed up with the lack of leads and ordered everyone to take more recent cases. Olympia NCIS's leader was the fatherly figure everyone wanted, but that didn't mean he took any pity on his subordinates.
He was doubly hard on Lea, even though the former Nobody wasn't permitted to return to work. Forgiving Derek Juan might have been, but he was also prudent. He knew that with six years away Lea would need to prove that he was still capable of performing his duties. That meant weapons training, forensics tests. It would be months before Lea would get his badge and gun back, and that was only if he worked hard. Derek wanted his best agent back, and he would push Lea as hard has he could get away with.
Lea, for his part, leapt back into his old life with relish. Sure he didn't have the same powers that he'd had as Axel, but he was still a pretty damn good shot with a gun. Derek let him use the NCIS shooting range as much as he needed and he spent every day there, honing his skills back to his pre-Organization status. When he wasn't at the shooting range he was holed up with textbooks, refreshing his knowledge of forensics and reading up on things that had been invented during his absence.
Every night, however, he would go to an ice cream shop he'd found. It served sea-salt ice cream, the one habit he retained from before his return. He'd sit in a corner by the window and stare out into space, thinking of all the places he'd been and the people he'd miss. Every night he would think about Roxas, and Sora, and wonder. The ice cream tasted slightly different from the Twilight Town kind, but it was enough for him.
It was ten long months after his return before NCIS took him back. Lea was quite glad to get back to work, even if he was stuck with most of the grunt work. He wasn't assigned to any high-profile cases or anything, but he was too happy to be back at work to care.
One thing that he'd taken to was candles. Even if he no longer had his powers, Lea was comforted by the presence of fire. He always had candles lit at home when he was there, the flickering light the main source of illumination in his cramped apartment. Candles were also a part of his normal desk decorations, though he rarely lit them at work. He only lit them when he needed to concentrate, the small flame more calming than his old favorite pastime of video gaming.
It was one such time two weeks after his return to duty. He was poring over the lab results from his current case, comparing it with all of the other evidence and trying to piece it together into some sort of story. He had the candle burning in his peripheral vision, letting the flickering flame lull his thoughts. The clues drifted around his mind like the candle's flame, things coming together in ways that no one else had thought of. If the victim had been poisoned, it had to have been introduced through –
"Burns!" Derek's voice boomed through the otherwise vacant office. Lea jerked, his concentration shattered, as he whirled around to see his boss staring at him with an odd look in his face. He didn't notice that the candle flame flickered with his movement, despite there not being any breeze in the office.
"Yeah, Juan?" he asked idly, inwardly swearing. With his concentration went his incoming epiphany.
"Why on Earth do you have a candle burning?" Derek wanted to know, coming over to poke at the offending thing. "You could start a fire."
"It's to help me think," Lea explained. "The fire is quite calming, I was about to break the case because of it."
"Uh-huh. Blow it out. If you want calming, get a picture of fire." Derek shot him a look and moved off to his desk.
Lea sighed and licked his fingers, then reached for the flame intending to pinch it out. He was poised with his fingers ready when the door slammed, startling him for the second time that day.
To his surprise, the flame followed his fingers.
Lea could only stare at the flame for a minute, disbelieving, a kernel of hope suddenly blossoming. Carefully he cupped his hand, teasing the flame with the fingers of his other hand, willing the flame to do his bidding. It took a moment and he was sure he was about to get burned for his trouble, but the flame reluctantly jumped to the palm of his hand.
He sat there for a good few minutes, staring at the impossibility he was holding. Hesitantly he teased the flames, watching them lick his fingers without so much as marking his skin. This couldn't be possible, he thought, clenching his fist and letting the fire sputter out. He'd tried to make fire since he'd gotten back to no avail. He hadn't, however, tried to simply control fire.
Why hadn't he thought of it before?
That night he had his candles lit in a circle, himself in the middle. It took him a moment to cast his mindset back to before, back to Axel, back to when fire had been an integral part of him. Brow furrowed in concentration, he reached out to one of his candles, mentally commanding it. It responded eagerly, the flame jumping up to him. He had it hover around chest-length for a moment, hand held out to cup it confidently. It felt odd, different from before when the fire came from him. There was more energy drain than before, but that was probably because he was human and not a Nobody.
Experimentally he directed the flame to circle him, a test of his control over it. Spinning around, he watched the flame as it did his bidding, swirling around as he did so. It was a bit haphazard, he found, his control of it less fine-tuned due to his lack of practice. The other flames burned just a bit brighter in response to his energy, eager to jump to his command.
He only played with that one flame that night. His energy was low and he wasn't sure he could control more than one with any certainty. It wouldn't do, he decided, to burn his own house down.
Over the next two months he went to his job every day, cracking cases and chasing bad guys. After his ice cream stop he would return home and practice with his fire. How he'd missed having his loyal companion, the flames eager to have a friend that understood them.
He didn't realize that he was being watched. He had no clue that dark green eyes followed his every move.
Lea didn't really know when he'd decided to record a will. Maybe it had something to do with the arrest gone wrong, him and Jack nearly getting shot before Derek arrived to back them up. His imminent demise had him thinking about death, what would happen to him when he was gone for good.
Whatever the reason Lea was planted in front of his home computer, staring into the webcam at a bit of a loss. Clearing his throat he sighed. "It occurred to me recently that I really need one of these, so here I am. My name is Special Agent Lea Burns, and I work for NCIS. If you guys are watching this you're either snoops or I'm dead. So, here's my last will and testament.
"I don't have any family left, that I'm aware of. If anyone of them show up at my funeral, great, give them a piece of pie for me. I want my belongings to be given to charity, to help the homeless stay warm." He smiled wryly at the camera. "But my leather coat I want given to Jack Ricard. He'd appreciate it, I'm sure. If it's stolen, tough luck dude. I thought of you though, got it memorized?"
He took a deep breath. "Next up is my monetary assets. I don't have much, but what I have left I want split between my immediate coworkers. Jack Ricard, Derek Juan, if they're still alive as well, give my money to them. I won't have much use for it when I'm dead, right?"
He looked down, not able to think of anything else. Chewing his lip he cast his glance on the candle by his desk, an idea suddenly in his head. It was stupid, especially if someone else saw it before he died, but maybe…
Lea rubbed the back of his head. "I know I shouldn't put this in here, everyone's going to think I'm crazy," he said awkwardly. "But I want to say something to Sora. I don't know if you'll ever see this, since no one probably knows who you are, but I just have to tell you. You see," and he glanced back at the candle, strengthening his resolve. "I remember it, Sora. I remember my time in the Organization with Roxas, and I remember eating ice cream with him every day. I still do that, you know, go to a local parlor and eat sea-salt ice cream. And I wanted you to know… I don't regret anything. Now that I have a heart to feel with, I'm grateful to you, Sora and Roxas, for everything." He smiled wanly at the screen, bittersweet emotions caught somewhere in his chest. "Now go beat up Xemnas for me, okay?"
There was nothing more to be said, so he shut off the webcam. Lighting the candle made him feel better and he stared at it for a long, long time.
It was a year since his rebirth. Lea was on his way home, impatiently fiddling with his lighter while Derek lectured him about the importance of not burning things at work. He could feel something in the air, though he couldn't pinpoint exactly what. It felt a bit like it had before he'd been jumped by the Neoshadow so long ago and he was on edge, lighter in his hand and ready to create fire for him at a moment's notice. He had only a fraction of his former strength but it was certainly enough to take care of a rogue Heartless.
"Did you get that?" Derek asked him.
"Yeah, yeah, I got it memorized. The higher ups don't like things burning around all of our precious paperwork." Lea sighed, snapping his lighter open and shut. "Can I go home now?"
Derek glared for a moment, then smiled fondly. "Off with you. And be careful around all those damn candles you like to burn. One day you're going to end up burned."
Lea only laughed. "Fire likes me. Got it memorized?"
With that Lea waved and left. Derek stared after him, bemused. "He certainly likes that phrase, huh?"
The night only got more foreboding the farther on Lea advanced. He didn't live far from NCIS so he chose to walk to and from work, even if the ice cream shop was a bit out of his way. It was dark, midnight having come and gone while he worked on a particularly difficult case. The dark hid many things, giving Lea the creeps most of the time. Tonight it was especially more so, the shadows thick and palpable.
Wait a second. The shadows were moving.
Lea drew out his lighter and watched several Heartless appear before him, Neoshadows and Soldiers. He had his lighter out in milliseconds, the flame snapping to life with a flick of his wrist.
"I knew it was only a matter of time," Lea growled, tossing fire at one of the Neoshadows. It dodged and made straight for him, claws slashing viciously through the air, but he ducked and rolled out of the way, more fire following the Heartless. With a howl it burned, vanishing into mist.
The other Neoshadow teamed up with the two Soldiers, the armored Heartless advancing on him with spinning kicked while the Neoshadow dove at him from above. With a volley of curses on the tip of his tongue he snapped out his gun and fired at the Neoshadow, hitting it spot on. Another wave of fire stopped the Soldiers in their tracks, one of them vanishing under the onslaught. He jumped backwards out of the way as the wounded Neoshadow hit pavement right where he'd been a second ago.
Lea shot it one last time in the head, watching it dissolve into mist. He didn't have time to revel in his victory as the last Soldier went back on the offensive, swiping at him with gauntleted claws. Fire greeted it as Lea caught the blades on his gun inches from his throat.
"Bye," he grinned, willing the fire to burn hotter. His gun started to melt from the heat but with a howl the Soldier followed its friends.
Distastefully the former number VIII looked at his melted gun. "How am I gonna explain this?" he sighed, holstering the weapon again.
Applause shattered the night, prompting the NCIS agent to spin around looking for its source. A familiar black cloak greeted him and he snarled. "The Organization!"
"If that's what you want to believe I won't stop you." It was a familiar voice but for some reason he couldn't place it, nagging at the edge of Lea's memory most annoyingly. "You sound disappointed, Axel. I thought you'd be glad to see your former comrades."
Lea snorted. "I've got a heart now, I don't need them anymore. What do you want from me?" He tried to hide the fact that he was winded, the fire having drained more of his energy than he'd liked. It wasn't something he wanted the strange imposter to know so he did his best to mask it.
"Liar! You're going to make the Organization again, going to make Kingdom Hearts!" The figure sneered, familiar weapons appearing in his hands. "I have to stop you before you cause anymore harm!"
"What?" Lea sputtered, unable to believe the other's words. "I have a heart! What do I need with Kingdom Hearts?" He clenched his fist around his lighter, waiting for the other to make a move.
"I don't know what you'd need with it, but that's all the more reason why you need to be eliminated," the figure said, twirling Axel's chakrams around in a familiar manner. "But let's not fight here. People are on their way and I so don't want our little fight to be interrupted."
Before the NCIS agent could react he was sucked into a puddle of darkness, the Dark Corridor whisking him away. The stranger's laugh echoed in his ears as he landed on a hard surface, the breath knocked out of him. He gasped, rolling to his hands and knees as he struggled to inflate his lungs.
"Pathetic, Axel," the imposter mocked, standing at ease a few feet away. "I can't believe you've been reduced to this."
"I'm human," Lea pointed out wearily, finally gaining the strength to rise once more. His lighter was nearby and he hurried to retrieve it. Turning back to the imposter, his only weapon clenched in his hand, he managed to grin. "Got it memorized?"
He didn't even see the other move, only felt an impact against his chest. The chakram pierced him deeply and he choked, driven to his knees by the pain. Teeth clenched he snapped the lighter open, sending a desperate burst of flame at the other. It was avoided with ease and only served to weaken Lea even more.
"Is that all you've got?" the familiar voice taunted, hiding behind its black hood. "I expected more of a challenge from number VIII in the Organization!"
Ignoring the jab, Lea called forth the last of his strength, an inferno rising around him. He willed everything to burn, nevermind what it was. It was hot enough that even he felt it, sweat tricking down his back. There wasn't enough of his strength left to maintain the flames for very long, and as they flickered and died he dropped to his knees.
The chakram hit him again and he coughed up blood but managed not to fall over. He was dead, he knew it, but he would face it head on.
"This is the end," the stranger said. "Any last words?"
Lea struggled to his feet. What was there to say? He thought of his coworkers, having to mourn him once again. He thought of Sora, and Roxas, and wondered if they'd beaten Xemnas.
There was nothing left to lose. He voiced his last question. "Just tell me this," he wheezed. "Sora… did he win?"
"Xemnas is dead, if that's what you mean. Is that the last thing you wanted to know?" The stranger chuckled. "Strange, but whatever." He advanced on Lea, who hadn't even the strength to stand. "With this, Kingdom Hearts can never be made!"
Lea wanted to close his eyes. It was cowardly, he knew, but he didn't want to face his death. Only one year, he lamented. One year he had to be whole, to know the joy of having a heart again. But he had known, somewhere deep inside him. He had been on borrowed time from the moment he'd retreated from his duel with Roxas.
He faced the stranger with his eyes open, staring unflinchingly at him. A chuckle escaped him as he was hit by the irony. "Lea the human, killed by his Nobody," he whispered. "I wonder what Sora would think."
And then there was nothing.
Riku Replica stared at the man before him, green eyes hard behind his hood. "Good riddance," he spat, dismissing the unfamiliar weapons. "Now to leave you as a warning for the rest."
Fishing through his pockets he withdrew the card he'd stowed, slipping it into Axel's pocket with care. From there it was a simple matter to open the Dark Corridor again and drop the body through it, aiming for the man's world in general but not caring about the exact destination. There was one more loose end for him to tie up, after all.
Axel's apartment was just as he remembered it, candles scattered everywhere. He took care to step around them, his booted feet leaving no scuff marks to betray his presence, and opened the closet with gloved fingers. His target was easy to spot, a mass of black amongst the colorful shirts and ties.
A mad grin adorning his face, Replica withdrew Axel's organization coat. It would serve no one here any purpose, he reasoned, and it was far too dangerous to be left lying around.
Done, Riku Replica faded as if he'd never been. It would only be hours later when Lea's body would be found by a couple out for an early morning stroll in the park, across the country from where he'd been last seen.