"Your heart's a mess

You won't admit to it

It makes no sense

But I'm desperate to connect

And you, you can't live like this."

―Gotye, "Heart's A Mess"

It was always quiet in Yen Sid's tower, and Lea hated it. It was too much like the bleak, echoing halls of Castle Oblivion, where too much had happened too fast and too often. The less he was reminded of that life, he thought, the better it would be, the more easily he would be able to start his new life here.

His life with a heart.

He could feel it thudding away inside him every moment of every day; it never stopped. It had its own moods and cycles, one moment racing like the wind and the next quietly chugging away at the business of keeping him alive. It was incredibly distracting, especially the way it reacted to everything he thought and said and felt.

The feeling, really, was the crux of the whole matter. It was so unlike before, back in the Organization where feelings had been quiet, muted things that were mildly puzzling and best ignored, except when they absolutely couldn't be. There had been a few instances, up on the clock tower, or talking with Saix, or fighting Sora, when the feelings had become so overwhelmingly powerful that they had taken over his mind and run his mouth for him, even acted without asking his brain for permission. But now, now those feelings were always that powerful, always roaring and pounding and screaming away inside of him, thrumming through his limbs with insane force and energy. Some days it was completely unmanageable, especially when he thought about Ro―

Lea shook his head, the spikes of his flame-red hair brushing against the bookshelf behind him. The tower was too quiet, since Sora had left; it was too easy to think in there. Lea sighed and levered himself off of the wall, uncrossing his arms for the first time in almost an hour. The top room of the tower was empty, at this point; everyone was away on their own little missions, whatever they might be, in preparation for the coming clash. Lea's heart stuttered and he resolved not to think too much about that particular conflict, at least until he had gotten used to the strange confusion of emotions that was constantly vying for his attention.

At the base of the tower, things were scarcely any better. It was still too quiet, still too easy to think about things. There were certain ideas, faces, things that were constantly intruding on Lea's thoughts, things that had been shoved aside and discounted before, but which now demanded the attention of his full thought and feeling. Many of them, he didn't want to think about, because every time he did there was a terrible pain in his new heart, like it was trying to wrench itself out of his chest. It was an awful feeling, but it came up with horrible frequency; when he thought about when he'd died, in the World Between with Sora kneeling next him; when he thought about where Isa was and what might happen to him in the course of Xehanort's scheming; when he recalled those evenings on the clock tower with Ro―

Lea shook himself again, making a noise of disgust. "Man, this place is getting to me," he muttered to himself. "I've really gotta get out more."

After a moment of pondering, he opened a swirling gateway to the darkness and stepped through. It was cold in there, something he had never really noticed before, either because he hadn't been capable of feeling that kind of coldness or because he hadn't cared enough to notice. Either way, he made his jaunt through the darkness as brief as he could, and emerged unscathed in Radiant Garden. He looked around at the shops, thinking, gauging his options. The black leather coat, he had decided, would have to go; there was too much attached to it, too much vulnerability inherent in it now that he knew the original purpose of Organization XIII. So he wandered amongst the shops until he found one willing to sell him new clothing, and when he had purchased it he took the coat into a back alley and burned it, a sudden satisfaction filling him as quick and bright as the flames that consumed the dark leather. Just as quickly, the feeling was gone, and he was left with an ashen taste in his mouth.

Lea stepped back out into the streets, adjusting the yellow checked kerchief around his neck. Beneath it was a white shirt, an orange vest, and a plain pair of pants with bright red sneakers that matched his flagrant hair.

"Lea," he said to himself, his own name still sending a thrill of recognition through his new-old heart, "this is how Lea―how I dressed." He looked down at himself, thought for a moment, then snorted. "I look like a moron," he said, not without a certain amount of pride.

He wandered around Radiant Garden for a while, taking in the sights. It was still quite early in the morning, and not many people were out in the streets yet. He considered paying a visit to some of the people he'd encountered over the past few weeks―friends of Sora's―but decided in the end that it could wait until he actually had a reason to be there. Things would just be awkward, otherwise.

After a while, he slowly began to realize that Radiant Garden was not, perhaps, the best place for him to be wandering in his current pensive state of mind. The sights, sounds, and smells were all too familiar and brought back too many memories―ones of the distant past, when he and Isa had been young and naïve; ones of the not-so-distant past, of Sora and the Organization and Ro―

Disgusted, Lea opened another portal to the darkness and strode through. He couldn't let himself think those thoughts; he wouldn't. That thing was over and done with. There was no going back, there was no retrieving what was lost, and he would just have to deal with it and move on, no matter how hard it might be.

It wasn't long after that that Lea found himself sitting atop the clock tower in Twilight Town, looking out at the sunset. It wasn't that he'd wanted to come there; he'd just had nowhere else left to go. Something had piloted him there; habit, perhaps, or maybe instinct. He dared not think it was his fledgeling heart that had guided his steps.

Sunset wore on, and eventually night fell. A chill descended over the sleepy little town, and Lea looked out over it with an emptiness inside him that was more terrible than all the painful and confusing feelings he'd had so far. It was just like those first days, when he'd thought his heart was gone for good and he would never be able to feel anything again.

"This is ridiculous," he said to himself, standing and throwing his head back, hands on his hips. He sighed and looked back down at the town, his expression somber. "Come on, Lea. Since when do you mope? There's got to be better things to do with yourself. Hey, come on, you're even a Keyblade wielder now! There's gotta be something good you can do with that, right?"

The cheeriness of his own voice didn't fool him as it once might have. Thinking that a heart was a troublesome thing after all, Lea wound his way back to Yen Sid's tower through the darkness, almost longing for the days when he hadn't been able to feel anything at all.

Owning a Keyblade, it turned out, was a lot more work than he had been expecting. The Heartless followed him everywhere; they hounded his steps in every corner of every world. Even Yen Sid's tower wasn't safe, as they would swarm the stairs whenever he entered the place. As if that wasn't bad enough, Dusks and other Nobodies would sometimes join the fray―not even the Ways Between were safe anymore. Since he was still not well-versed in the wielding of the Keyblade, he trained with Riku, who was an Official Keyblade Master, but who, it turned out, was absolutely no fun at all.

"This isn't like other weapons," Riku told him, after thrashing him again in a one-on-one match. "You have to wield it from the heart."

"Well excuse me if I'm not too familiar with the feeling," Lea retorted grumpily, picking himself up and dusting off his trousers. "I'm not exactly an expert at this whole 'having a heart' thing." He rubbed the back of his neck. "Jeez, do you have to hit so hard?"

"Xehanort isn't going to pull any punches, and neither will I." Riku said.

Lea rolled his eyes. "Fine, fine." Then, grumbling under his breath, "I think I liked you better when you were a puppet."

"When I was what?" Riku inquired.

"Nothing! Forget it."

The boy smirked at him in a sincerely disconcerting way. "Ready to go again?" he asked playfully. "Or are you still talking off your injuries?"

Lea sighed dramatically. "I should've stayed dead," he lamented, and summoned his Keyblade.

That night, bruised, battered, and exhausted beyond belief, Lea found himself once again at the top of the clock tower in Twilight Town. The sun blazed in his eyes and the air was cold. He briefly considered that buying ice-cream in winter might not have been the best of ideas, but immediately discounted it―buying ice-cream after a long day was always the best of ideas.

Knowing that he was a piece of the light―that he had always been destined to wield the Keyblade―was still difficult for Lea to come to terms with. Certainly, he'd never considered himself to be a bad guy, since all he'd ever wanted was to be whole again, but he'd never expressed too many scruples with his methods for getting to that goal. It might, he reflected, have been his lack of a heart that had made such ruthlessness so natural, and that was a nice excuse, but it didn't hold up under scrutiny. Even when his Nobody had grown a little heart of its own―one that he could feel nestled alongside his new-old one and slowly fusing to it―he'd still been willing to do whatever it took to keep himself (and, to a lesser extent, the few he considered his friends) alive, even if it meant hurting Ro―

He rose abruptly, a huge glob of his ice-cream sliding off the stick and falling to the ground far below. It was time to go home. There was no reason for him to be here, anyway. He ground his teeth, frustrated.

"I'm trying to get away from this stuff," he grumbled to himself. "This place is pretty much made of painful memories." He tossed the rest of his ice-cream away contemptuously and stalked home through the Ways Between.

It was only a few weeks before Riku's other missions became more important than training Lea, so he was handed off to Sora, along with Kairi, to go out and mop up the Heartless wherever they appeared across the worlds, his ability to transport himself and others almost instantly between spaces making him ideal for the job.

He arrived slightly later than the other two, who were talking animatedly.

"―And then," Sora was explaining excitedly, "we met Santa!"

Kairi giggled, hiding her smile behind her hand.

"Oh?" said Lea, sauntering up to them. "And what was the old man like? I've always wondered."

Sora's face fell a little bit. "He was kinda grumpy, actually." he admitted. "But then, I guess I'd be kinda grumpy, too, if Oogie Boogie was harassing me like that."

"Guy's got a schedule." Lea told him. "You have no idea how frustrating it is when somebody won't let you get the job done."

"I guess," Sora answered, "although it was pretty frustrating when you guys from the Organization kept trying to kill me."

"Hey! I keep telling you people, that wasn't me. I just happen to kinda look like the guy, that's all."

"And you have all of his memories," Kairi pointed out impishly.

"And you act just like him," Sora said.

"And you still use the same expressions," Kairi added, and then, both in unison, they leered at him, "got it memorized?" And then burst out laughing.

"Ha ha." Lea droned, fighting down an intense and burning rage that was spilling out from his red-hot coal of a heart. "Didn't we have Heartless to kill or something?"

"Yeah, we do." Sora answered, still smiling to himself. "I think Yen Sid said they were back in Wonderland big-time. We should go there first. I guess we can wing it from there."

Lea sighed, rubbing the back of his head. "Right. Wing it."

"Don't worry, Lea." Kairi reassured him. "Sora's done this a zillion times before. We'll be just fine."

"I'm not worried about getting hurt," Lea grumbled, but he opened the Way Between and led the two of them through without further complaint, mostly because he couldn't formulate any words for the things he was feeling.

It might, he conceded to himself, have been hatred.

Sora and Kairi fought off the Heartless like they'd been doing it all their lives. Lea, on the other hand, found himself constantly struggling to adjust to the new fighting style demanded by the Keyblade. The number of times he almost threw the thing at a Heartless twenty feet away was slightly embarrassing, and the number of times he actually chucked the weapon across the room and had to go chasing after it was downright humiliating, especially since Sora laughed at him every time it happened.

"You'd think you don't have anything better to do!" Lea called to him, as Sora, still laughing, whaled on a Heartless and Lea himself retrieved his Keyblade again.

"Lighten up, Lea," Kairi advised, slashing through the Heartless that were crawling up behind Lea. "It takes some getting used to, for sure."

"Easy for you to say," Lea grumbled, hacking at the nearest Heartless―a huge, armored thing that trundled along ponderously before slamming its entire considerable weight down on its unfortunate opponent. Lea was unfortunate enough to not have yet realized that attacking the creature's armored front was completely useless, and was subsequently hit so hard that he went flying across the room. His head cracked against the wall, and darkness clouded his vision as a ringing filled his ears. He was scarcely able to process the rest of the battle, and by the time he'd staggered to his feet, all the Heartless were dead or had run away.

Sora jogged over to him, wiping sweat from his forehead. "You all right?" he asked.

"I'm fine," Lea snarled, his head still spinning. It felt like there was a huge crack at the back of his head, where his skull was slowly prizing itself apart.

"Are you sure?" Kairi asked as she arrived. "You don't look so good."

In all honesty, Lea felt like he was about to vomit, not to mention the searing pain now spreading over his entire skull. Nonetheless, he waved off their concern. "I'm sure. Forget about it."

"Well, here, have this, anyway." Sora dug through one of his multifarious pockets and handed Lea a small green bottle full of liquid. "It'll fix most small stuff."

Lea sighed, but accepted the bottle, slugging it down in one gulp. The liquid burned, but the pain and dizziness subsided considerably. Lea rubbed the back of his head. "Um, thanks. I guess."

"Don't worry about it. I have about a hundred of 'em."

Raising an eyebrow, Lea asked, "A hundred?"

Sora nodded, with an expression of mild regret. "I can't carry any more than that."

Kairi giggled and punched Sora lightly in the arm. "Why would you ever need any more than that? Silly."

A look passed between the two of them, and Lea's heart cried out in agony. Startled, Lea put a hand to his chest, wondering if he was more injured from the battle than he'd thought. He didn't seem to be bleeding, though, and couldn't feel any broken bones. The feeling subsided quickly, anyway, into a dull ache in his chest. There was no time to examine the feeling, however, since Sora and Kairi were already running off to the next room where the Heartless were doubtless lurking. Resignedly, Lea followed them.

He didn't go to the clock tower that evening, or the next, but the third night he felt such a strong compulsion not to return to Yen Sid's tower with Sora and Kairi that he was willing to go almost anywhere else. Lately he found the two of them completely insufferable, especially when they were together. The pain in his heart when he was around them had grown steadily more frequent as time passed, until it was an almost constant dull ache. By the third day, he would have been willing to go anywhere, do anything, to get that pain to stop, even for a moment. It was only by coincidence that he found himself standing atop the clock tower, the red-gold sunlight pouring down on him from the edge of the world. He hadn't been paying attention to where he was going, and his steps had guided him there seemingly of their own accord.

"Again?" he asked himself, shaking his head. He put a careful hand to his heart and chuckled. "You're not trying to tell me something, are you?"

As he had suspected, his heart did not respond, and he sat and watched the sunset alone and in silence.

Another week passed like this. Whenever Lea was not out on a mission with Sora and Kairi, he was alone, either in his room, running errands, or exploring the worlds. The more time went by, the more his heart pained him, whether it be with sharp, violent pangs of emotion when he was with Sora and Kairi, or a dull, hollow ache when he was not. The feeling, he slowly came to realize, was loneliness, something he'd never experienced before because he'd never, now that he came to think of it, been really alone before. In the time prior to his joining the Organization, Isa had been his constant companion; after that, he'd been around other members almost every hour of every day―Isa had been there, too, or whatever was left of him. In the frenzy of activity surrounding Sora and Riku's Mark of Mastery test, there had been so many people coming and going, and so much to do, that there hadn't been time or space to feel lonely. But all of that was over now, and in the day-to-day grind Lea found that the feeling was expanding to fill every available space.

He tried being around the others more often, but that was both difficult and unproductive. Sora, Riku, and Kairi were such a closely-knit group that trying to enter their circle was about as fruitful as trying to push oneself through solid rock―no matter how hard he tried, he was always on the outside looking in. Donald and Goofy were both childish and mistrustful of him, and far preferred to keep to themselves, the King, or Sora for company. The King was little better, and Lea found himself longing for the days before, when after a tough mission he'd been able to sit up on the clock tower eating ice cream and poking fun at Ro―

He shook those thoughts out of his head, or tried to, despite how often they came up. There was nothing but pain down that line of thinking. He occupied himself with training, and because of the sheer frequency of the need for preoccupation, he began to grow quite proficient with the Keyblade. However, he did so mainly alone; being around others seemed to only intensify the loneliness, and eventually Lea gave up trying. He spent his days alone, and because of that the shine began to wear off of his usually enthusiastic demeanor. He talked less and thought more, and the majority of what he thought about was the one person who was not there, the one person he wished were there, the one person whom he was certainly never going to see again.

He couldn't bring himself to admit it, couldn't even say His name, but Lea missed his one friend from before almost more than he could stand.