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Birth By Sleep Reloaded

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Author’s Note: Hey, so, I took a lot of creative liberty with this. This is going to be a very long fanfiction that updates daily or every other day. It starts off as a funny slice-of-life, but then the drama and action picks up in later chapters. Enjoy!

One calm afternoon, Master Eraqus was sweeping the floor of the palace in which he lived. All of a sudden, he stopped. He looked to his left. He looked to his right. He threw the broom on the floor. With a frown, he asked himself, “Why am I doing this? Yen Sid has a student to do all of his chores. Xehanort does too. I’ll get a few students of my own.”

He immediately went to his office and opened up his laptop. He logged onto the Keyblade Master’s Guild website and posted an opening to accept three students under his wing. Leaning back in his swivel chair, he nodded to himself. “Yes, yes, this is definitely a good idea.” Right as he said that, the back legs of the chair rolled too far, and Master Eraqus fell backwards and bonked his head. “Dammit!” he swore. “Stupid chair.”

A few days later, five hopeful teenage students showed up at his doorstep. He took each of them inside to the throne room. Upon a stage he paced back and forth, lecturing them. “Hello, chosen young ones. I am Master Eraqus, Guardian of the Land of Departure. My entire life has been devoted to following the path of the keyblade. I am glad to see that you answered that same call. It is a unique and special gift to be able to wield its power. Yet, even fewer still are able to bear the Mark of Mastery. You are standing in the same room that will one day be used to carry out your mastery exam.” He paused dramatically. The students were focused on his words.

He continued, “Though five of you answered, only three of you may earn the chance to study under me, a keyblade master. I shall put you through a series of harsh trials to determine which of you is worthy.”

One young man raised his hand. He seemed like a pretty dorky kid. He had thick glasses and dark brown hair in the shape of a bowl cut. He wore an orange argyle sweater vest that was tucked into his high-waisted khaki trousers. “Excuse me, um, is the Mark of Mastery a physical mark? Like the one you have on your cheek?”

“No. And that’s a dumb question.”

“Let me ask a follow up,” continued the hopeful student. “So, what’s the job market looking like for a keyblade master nowadays? Are we talking six figures?”

Since the Master had always made a living by investing in the stock market and collecting disability checks, he didn’t quite know. Therefore, he answered, “Nothing is guaranteed in life, but I can tell you from my own experience that this life is full of adventure, responsibility and fulfilment.”

“Final question. Does being a keyblade master look good on a medical school application?”

Eraqus snapped his fingers. “Enough! Be gone!”

“But—”

“Do not let the door hit you on the way out.”

So that kid left.

Eraqus told the remaining four candidates, “The rest of you, please introduce yourselves.”

The first candidate was a brown-skinned, silver-haired, and red-eyed young man who seemed to be a no-nonsense type. He wore a white tank-top underneath a black leather jacket. His pants were black, his shoes were black, and he wore red fingerless gloves. “I’m Jerome of the house of Skyview,” he answered. “I have sixteen years of age. I come from a war-torn world called Ivalice. I journeyed here to become a keyblade master and fulfill my destiny.”

Next was a beautiful, blue-haired, blue-eyed, fair-skinned girl. She wore thigh-high boots, short black volleyball shorts, and a midriff navy-blue, tube top shirt. She seemed to radiate an aura of confidence and grace. “I’m Aqua. I’m fifteen. I believe that there is a greater purpose to my life, so I want to use the keyblade to do good in the worlds.”

But Master wasn’t paying attention to her words. “Hot damn, Aqua,” Master blurted out. Luckily, Eraqus wasn’t the only one who said that. Standing beside Aqua was a dude in a tight black shirt and grey cargo pants. His brown, spikey hair was held back in a ponytail. He was covering his gaping mouth and raising his eyebrows as he ogled her. “Hot damn, Aqua!” he had exclaimed at the same time.

Aqua took a step back, and rolled her eyes at the guy beside her.  “Do you like what you see, creep?” she asked sarcastically.

“Like it? Whoa, girl, take me to McRonalds cuz ba-duh-duh-duh-duh, I’m loving it.”

She burst into laughter so hard that she doubled over and grabbed her belly. “Wow, that was the worst pick up line I have ever heard in my life!”

Master, feeling very, very, very ashamed that he himself had initially reacted in the same way, and also very, very, very relieved that she hadn’t noticed, said, “Focus, you two.”

The young man, blushing, faced Master and bowed his head. “Sorry about that. My name is Terra Smith. I come from Traverse Town. I’m seventeen. My dream is to become a keyblade master.”

Master Eraqus rolled his eyes. Finally, he turned to the last potential student. This guy was wearing a varsity football jacket and blue jeans. His hair was spiky and blonde. His eyes were light blue. And he was chewing bubblegum. “I’m Notus.” He blew a bubble and popped it.  “Notus Johnson. Seventeen years old. I’m from Twilight Town. I want to become a keyblade master so that I can travel throughout the worlds and search for my little brother.” Notus smiled. “I know he’s out there somewhere. His light is faint but it calls to me.”

Master nodded. “All very noble reasons. Welcome, all of you, to the Land of Departure.” He paced back and forth. “The keyblade is a powerful weapon. There are many styles to fighting with it. Yet the basics remain the same. Wielding a keyblade is very similar to wielding a broom. Starting from this building, and moving toward the student bedrooms and then toward my office, show me your skills with a broom. I want the area spotless. The brooms are over by the back wall. I shall be monitoring your progress.”

The students looked at each other, confused. “This is a test!” Master shouted. So the students raced to get their brooms. With lightning speed, they swept the entire palace clean. Eraqus clapped his hands. “Interesting. It seems that all of you are capable of working together as a team. But, being a keyblade master also involves individual discipline and the ability to follow instructions. Accordingly, I will give each of you a task to complete. Right now you are in the Palace. This will be your home if you pass my tests. Further down the mountain is a busy town, filled with many people who reside in the light. The light that we keyblade wielders aim to protect. First of all, I have a task for you, Terra.”

Terra stood at attention. “Yes Master!”

Master handed a list to him. “Go to the store and pick up those items on the list. Jerome, I’ll need you to take this paper work to city hall.” Master handed Jerome a binder filled with papers. “Aqua, go retrieve a package for me at the post office. And Notus, you’ll need to declutter my office.”

Jerome raised an eyebrow. “Um, wait, why are we doing chores?”

The Master began to walk away, saying, “Patience young one. Your questions will be answered. Now, each of you, off to your tasks. Notus, follow me.” So Notus followed Master. Jerome turned to Terra and Aqua, asking, “Is this guy legitimate?”

Aqua replied, “I looked him up. He’s definitely certified by the board—although his certification is set to expire next month.” She took the paperwork from Jerome. “I bet these papers are the renewal forms.” Glancing through the first few pages, she nodded. “Yup. I thought so. Hahaha.”

But Jerome didn’t find it quite so funny. “So he is making us do chores?”

Terra mumbled, “And she’s smart too. Damn, she’s got the whole package.”

Aqua playfully nudged Terra with her elbow. “Easy there, lover boy. Keep your thoughts to yourself.” To Jerome, she concluded, “This guy’s definitely the real deal. So cheer up. Let’s get these simple little tasks done.” With that, she left to find the post office. Jerome sighed. Terra covered his face with his hands while saying, “Wow, this girl is amazing.”

Jerome rolled his eyes and mumbled, “Wow, this idiot isn’t serious,” as he left to do his chore.

Chapter Text

Now, you may think that Master Eraqus is wrong to seek students solely for the sake of doing his chores, but actually, his heart is in the right place. Master Eraqus is honestly willing to teach the ways of the keyblade to these bright-eyed students for free (well, in exchange for the household labor). For comparison, let’s consider what his colleagues were doing to their pupils.

Yen Sid had been preparing to conduct an ancient magic ritual to increase his magical prowess, so that he could challenge the current Archwizard to a battle to the death. The winner of that battle would claim the title of Archwizard of Magic. It was a title full of prestige. On top of being editor in chief of Wizard Weekly Magazine, the Archwizard had access to the ancient catacombs that possessed the scrolls of the secrets of magic. Plus, the Archwizard got the best parking spots at sorcery conventions.

For these reasons, Yen Sid was preparing to win or die. The ritual he was to perform tonight required him to focus on the moon, and siphon its light. In order to do this, he needed to form a psychic link with it. He had spent a year praying to the moon. Tonight was the final night, the night of power transfer. Any slight disturbance in concentration would make the ritual fail, and he couldn’t attempt it again for another ten years.

As per tradition, Yen Sid poured sacred oil on his head, sat in an alchemist circle that he had drawn with pixie dust and moonstones, and drank a bottle of Pokémon tears. Right before as mumbled the words to begin the process, there was a knock on his door.

“Um, Master?” said the stupid apprentice he had taken under his wing about a year ago.

“I thought I told you not to bother me tonight, Mickey,” replied Yen Sid.

Mickey opened the door and walked in. “U-u-um, Master, I, um, so I was drawing water from the well, a-a-and, well, I needed help so I tried the thing with the brooms…”

“What!? Again?”

“Yeah. They’re flooding the lair. And I was wondering, how is drawing water from a well supposed to help me with wizard training anyway? I feel like I’ve been doing nothing but chores and odd jobs around here. When do I start learning magic?”

Mickey’s suspicion was right, as Yen Sid never intended to teach the mouse magic. He simply wanted a housekeeper to cook and clean while he undertook the year-long ritual. Yen Sid was planning to dump the mouse tomorrow after he attained the power of the moon. Accordingly, Yen Sid said, “We shall talk about that tomorrow, Mickey. I have an important ritual to complete.”

“Um, okay, but um, the flooding is going to rise so…”

“You know what, Mickey, why don’t you go fix the situation yourself? I trust you.” Of course this was a lie. Yen Sid needed to get rid of the mouse and finish the ritual before the effects of the Pokémon tears ran out.

“Master, maybe I’m not cut out to be a wizard. I don’t think I’m good at this.”

Yen Sid groaned. “Mickey, I have urgent matters to attend to! Be gone!”

Dejected, Mickey turned to leave out of the door. Unfortunately, the water had risen into Yen Sid’s study. It flooded the room, swept the sorcerer and his apprentice off of their feet, and washed away the alchemist circle.

With a mighty wave of his hands, Yen Sid cleared out the water, while shouting, “Mickey you stupid, useless rodent!” He yanked Mickey by the collar of his robes and shouted at him, “Can’t you do even the simplest of tasks?”

From the open window in his study, Yen Sid saw that the night sky was suddenly flooded with the brilliance of the moon. Telepathically, he heard her say, “Yen Sid, Master of Magic, seeker of the title of Archwizard. Is this how you treat your student? The one who admires you? Endeavors to be like you?”

Turning around, Yen Sid shouted to the moon, “No, no, do not think that I am a cruel master! I am only harsh on this mouse in order to train him! I adore my student! He means the world to me!”

But the moon was not listening to any of that nonsense. “Lies! I cannot lend my power to a man with darkness in his heart. Perhaps if you learn to release your darkness, I shall hear your plea again. Farewell.” And with that, the moon’s brightness returned to normal.

Mickey, of course, wasn’t able to hear the moon. And upon hearing his master’s sudden outburst, he was a bit shaken, but nonetheless encouraged, by those words. “Gee, thanks Master. Haha. By the way,” he held up his hand, and a key-shaped blade appeared in it, “this thing showed up in my hand the other day. Do you know what it is?”

Yen Sid’s eyes widened. “Is that a keyblade? Did the keyblade choose you? Why?”

“Haha, I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking you.” Mickey smiled. Yen Sid sighed.

Chapter Text

Xehanort paced back and forth, watching his young, keyblade-wielding student practice his confirmed combos on the trees in the forest in which they were training. “Ventus!” shouted Xehanort, “Give in to the darkness in your heart! Give in to it!”

Ventus, panting heavily, fell to his knees. “Master, I can’t go on.” He fell face down.

“Ventus! Useless! Get up!” shouted Xehanort. But Ven was knocked out. Xehanort shook his head. “Pathetic. Unbearably pathetic.” Nonetheless, Xehanort picked up his student and carried him, piggy-back style, inside the lair, to a bedroom to rest. Afterwards, Xehanort prepared dinner for the both of them. Neither student or master had eaten or slept during their three-day training exercise in the woods behind their hidden abode. This non-stop, intense training was merely a small step in Xehanort’s grand plan to obtain the chi-blade, and unlock Kingdom Hearts.

So far, the plan was unfolding smoothly, because Ven always tried his best to appease his master. Even during the harshest of training, he never complained. In fact, the boy respected Xehanort as if the latter was his father.

Well, technically Master Xehanort was the boy’s “father”. Xehanort knew that his plan to form the chi-blade would most likely (a 75 percent chance) kill the vessel. Accordingly, he needed to find a disposable person to use. So he had sought out and adopted the most wretched little boy that he could find. “Yes, yes, this one shall do,” Xehanort had said back then.

Although the Master’s intentions were evil, Xehanort paid a lot of attention to Ven. They spent each day training, chatting, and doing chores. The 11-year old Ventus saw his master as a stern father figure who only wanted the best for him.

Poor kid didn’t know how mistaken he was.

Eventually, when Ven awoke from his slumber, his entire body felt like it was weighed down by chains. Even lifting his head caused so much pain. It felt like someone had stabbed each and every muscle in his body with a white hot needle. He found the strength to stand up, though.

After a warm shower, Ventus went to the kitchen to see that Xehanort had laid out dinner for him. Chicken noodle soup. Ven ate alone, because Master had already finished eating. After dinner, Ven cleaned up and went upstairs to Xehanort’s private study. He knocked on the door. “Master?”

“Come in, Ventus,” replied Xehanort.

Ventus entered the study. Xehanort, an avid writer, was busy writing something in one of his many journals. Ven asked, “What are you writing?”

“None of your business, boy.”

“Oh. I see. Well, um, thanks for dinner.”

“Of course. We shall wake up bright and early tomorrow to continue your training.”

“Thanks Master,” replied Ven. He left.

Chapter Text

So now that we know that Yen Sid honestly didn’t give a rat’s ass about his student, and Xehanort is planning to probably kill his, we can return to the slightly dishonest, but comparatively much better Master Eraqus. It was the same day. Eraqus was sitting outside, sipping lemonade and reading Keyblade Weekly Magazine. Because he hadn’t ever trained a student before, he was behind on the latest trends in Keyblading. “Oh, melding commands? Interesting.” Eraqus realized that he had quite a lot to learn…

Meanwhile, Notus was cleaning out Master Eraqus’s office. There were a lot of old boxes stacked up everywhere. Books and balled-up paper littered the floor. Cobwebs hung in the corners. Everything was dusty. Notus was coughing as he dusted the bookshelves.

Jerome stood second in line at the city hall. The guy who was first was arguing about the re-zoning of a piece of land near his neighborhood. The guy was very angry. Like, very, very angry. His nostrils were flaring and the veins in his forehead were tense against his skin. He was shouting, “I don’t get it! I’m a citizen here! I pay my taxes! I deserve to make some decisions around here! You can’t let ‘em build a potion factory next to my home! Tell them to move it!”

The poor secretary lady was trying to calm him down. “Listen, sir, if you have a complaint, you need to file it with the board of commissioners—”

“NO! I’m not moving from this spot until they move the damn potion factory! You hear me?”

Jerome sighed.

Aqua picked up Master Eraqus’s package from the post office with no problem. And for some reason, Terra had followed her. While walking outside, she said, “I wonder what it is,” and began to open it.

Terra spoke up, “Um… you shouldn’t open other people’s packages Aqua.”

“Then he shouldn’t have told me to pick it up.” Inside the package was a new pair of nice shoes. Like, really, really nice shoes. They were white, trimmed in silver and gold, and decorated with the design of a kingdom key. Aqua exclaimed, “Whoa! These are Nike Keys! These cost 17300 munny each!”

Terra repeated, “Each?”

“Yeah! Per shoe!”

“Why would anyone buy a single shoe?”

Terra watched in surprise as Aqua removed her boots, and tried on Master Eraqus’s shoes. Smiling, she asked him, “How do I look?”

“Like a thief.”

“I’ll put them back. He’ll never know.” She kicked up her leg to admire the shoes. “Master has small feet.” She started walking. “Terra, aren’t you supposed to go grocery shopping? Let’s go together.”

So they went shopping. Master had enclosed some money into the shopping list. While Terra grabbed the foodstuff that Master had requested, Aqua looked at some other things. “Terra, they have sea salt ice cream.” She tossed ten individually wrapped bars into the shopping cart.

“Um, that’s not on the list Aqua.”

“Forget about the list.” She opened up one of the packets of ice cream and started eating it.

“Um, you can’t eat that in the store, Aqua.”

She pointed the ice cream at his face. “Who’s going to stop me?”

Terra blushed. Apparently, not him.

After grabbing all the things on the list, the two went to the checkout line. The cashier was one of the friendly types that talks about the purchases while ringing them up. She said, “Someone likes ice cream.”

“Yup,” Terra politely said.

“Organic milk? That’s cool. What’s the difference between this and normal milk?”

“No clue.”

“Lots of pasta. You two must love pasta.”

Aqua, with a fake smile, intervened. “Hey, can you like, shut up?”

That honestly hurt the cashier’s feelings. Like, really, really hurt. She quietly finished ringing up their goods. Leaving the store, Terra watched as Aqua ate another ice cream bar. Aqua was the type that ate ice cream by biting a chunk off and letting it melt in her mouth. “Yum,” she said. “My mom would be freaking out if she saw me eating this much.” Turning to Terra, she said, “So, what brings you here? To be a keyblade master?”

Terra replied, “It’s always been my dream.”

“Really? Why?”

“My dad trained to be a keyblade master, but gave it all up to have a family. When I was little, he told me all about it, and what it means to earn the Mark of Mastery. Since then, I’ve dreamt about becoming ‘Master Terra’. I can imagine the adventure of exploring the various worlds, protecting the light, and being a hero. I know that’s what my heart wants.”

“So your dad is okay with you becoming a student of the keyblade arts?”

Terra nodded. “Yeah. He was really proud of me.”

Aqua started eating her third pack of ice cream. “I wish my mom was like that.” She brushed her bangs away from her face. “She doesn’t want me to be a keyblade master. So we kept arguing. And I told her that I’m going to do what I want. So here I am.”

Terra winced. “Did you run away from home?”

“Depends on your definition of running away.” She put the rest of the ice cream in her mouth.

“Does your mother know where you are?”

Aqua shrugged. “I dunno. And I don’t care.”

“Are you sure that you don’t care?” Terra interrogated.

Aqua rolled her eyes. “Come on, Terra, I thought you were cool.” By now, the two of them had returned to the courtyard, in front of the stairs that led up to Master Eraqus’s palace. “Oh, hold up, let me change my shoes.” She leaned against Terra while she took off the Master’s Nike Keys, and wore her own thigh-high boots. “By the way, let’s not tell Master about the shoes, or my situation, okay?” She smiled at him.

Her charm won him over. “Okay, sure,” replied Terra. The two returned inside to see Notus sitting on the floor, surrounded by a team of paramedics. Notus was breathing deeply into an oxygen mask attached to his face. The Master was speaking to one of the medics, saying, “He was dusting my office, and started a fit of coughing.”

“How much dust was in there?” asked the medic.

Meanwhile, Jerome was still at the city hall, waiting in line behind the angry guy.

Chapter Text

Aqua and Terra prepared dinner while Master went to the hospital with Notus.

Actually, Terra was doing most of the work. He was chopping and washing veggies and slicing the meat into thin strips. Aqua kept him company. “Poor Notus,” she said. “I hope he’s okay.”

“Yeah, I hope he’s fine,” said Terra.

“But Terra, if he’s fine, then you’re out.”

“What?”

“Master wasn’t going to pick you as his student.”

“Huh? How do you know that?”

Aqua chuckled, but she didn’t respond. Terra scowled. He returned to his cooking. The spicy smell of the broth simmering prompted Aqua to say, “It smells good.”

“Thanks. We’re having hotpot tonight.”

“Yum. Let’s eat.”

“Shouldn’t we wait for the others?”

“Nope.”

So the two started eating. About ten minutes later, Jerome returned. “Ugh, I had the worst time with this paperwork stuff—oh, something smells good.”

Aqua winked. “Thanks, it’s a family recipe.”

Terra added, “My family recipe. I cooked.”

“Yeah, he did,” she admitted with a giggle. “Grab a seat.” She patted a chair beside her. “You’ll love it.”

So Jerome joined the dinner. Aqua asked, “So, what’s your deal Jerome? Why are you here?”

Jerome swallowed a bite of his food. “I come from a long, proud line of keyblade masters. My grandfather, my grandfather’s father, my grandfather’s father’s father. We were all masters. Unfortunately, my father succumbed to the darkness in his heart and failed to gain the Mark of Mastery. He became a villain, joining with the dark forces of evil that cause so much chaos in my world. Such a fate should have befallen me, had my mother not run away from my father. She hid in a small village in the countryside and raised me in the light, knowing that one day, I must master the keyblade and fight my father to the death.”

Aqua’s jaw dropped.

Terra exclaimed, “What the hell? You have to kill your own father?”

Jerome nodded.

The students were silent for a while.

That’s when Master Eraqus arrived. He seemed really guilty. “Poor kid,” he mumbled to himself. “But I’m glad that I didn’t try cleaning that mess myself.” Upon seeing his three students eating dinner, he cleared his throat and said, “Hello everyone. Notus will be fine. Unfortunately, he has decided not to join us a student here.”

Everyone raised their eyebrows in suspicion. Master awkwardly joined the three of them for dinner. “So, how did the chores—I mean training go?”

Aqua replied, “Your package was opened when I got it. You might want to talk to the post office about that.”

“Shopping was easy,” replied Terra.

“Some man was irate about the rezoning of the city, so he made quite the commotion at city hall,” Jerome replied.

The Master, with a mouthful of beansprouts, said, “Did that rezoning measure pass? That is terrible. I would be angry too.”

Jerome raised an eyebrow again. “Okay… Well, uh, when do we start our training?”

The Master shrugged. “Tomorrow afternoon? Maybe around noon?”

Terra answered, “Sounds good to me.”

Jerome frowned at Master. “Isn’t there some sort of agenda? Don’t you want to test our skills?”

Master checked his watch. “It’s too late now, so let’s do all of that tomorrow.” He slurped up some noodles. “This is some good hotpot. Who made this?”

Aqua said, “Me and Terra.”

“Mostly me,” Terra corrected.

The Master nodded. “Good! A plus! Keep this up and I see a Mark of Mastery in your future.”

Jerome frowned. With gravity in his voice, he asked, “You’re not serious, right?”

Master Eraqus shook his head. “Of course not. I’m joking.”

“Should a keyblade master be joking like that?”

“Why are you asking so many questions? That is disrespectful Jerome.”

Jerome, lowered his head and grumbled. “Is this guy really a keyblade master?”

Terra reached over and ruffled Jerome’s hair. “Cheer up, Jerome. Let’s celebrate the fact that we’re now students of Master Eraqus.”

Jerome slapped Terra’s hand away. “Don’t touch me! What’s wrong with you?”

Master Eraqus said, “Careful, careful! Don’t spill the broth!”

Aqua laughed. Her laughter caught their attention. In between bouts of giggles, she said, “This is fun.” Terra laughed as well. Master chuckled. Jerome rolled his eyes, but his lips betrayed him with a smile.

Chapter Text

Jerome, Aqua and Terra each got their own bedroom. They were able to unpack their stuff, shower and get a good night’s sleep. The next day, the three of them met in the training grounds at the mountain summit at noon.

Master Eraqus wasn’t there yet.

So to kill some time, the students inspected the equipment. Among other things, there were giant rings that they could spin by whacking them with a keyblade. Then Jerome decided to do some stretching in the middle of the training field. He was dressed in a red headband, a white t-shirt with the sleeves cut off, and baggy jogging pants. Aqua sat along the edge of a cliff on the far side of the training field. Today she was wearing black athletic leggings and an oversized t-shirt. Terra was sitting beside her. His brunette hair was loose and spiky. He wore a black t-shirt that read “Hug Me Daddy” and dark brown basketball shorts.

Aqua quietly stared at the clear afternoon sky. Terra tried to start conversation. “He has a lot of equipment.”

“Yup,” she curtly replied.

Terra didn’t take the hint. “It’s going to be an interesting day. I wonder what he’s going to teach us.”

“We’ll see as soon as he gets here.”

“He’s running late isn’t he? Do you think Master forgot? Or maybe he’s testing us? Maybe he wants to see if we’ll start practicing on our own.”

Aqua stood up, turned around, and shouted, “Hey, Jerry! Terra said that he could beat you in a one-on-one sparring match.”

Terra’s eyes widened. “What?!”

Jerome smirked. “Oh really?” Jerome summoned his keyblade, the Metal Chocobo keyblade. He took a fighting stance. “I’ve trained with my mother. Come at me.”

Terra fussed, “I’m not trying to pick a fight, Aqua.”

She said, “He called you a Mommy’s boy!”

“So what if I am?” retorted a blushing Jerome. “I shall show you the strength of the house of Skyview!”

Terra, utterly confused, glared at Aqua while summoning his keyblade, Earthshaker. “What is your problem?”

She patted him on the back. “Go fight a good fight lover boy.” She pushed him toward Jerome. Jerome grabbed Terra and smacked him on the forehead with the butt of his keyblade. Terra stumbled backward. “Ow!” Terra yelled.

Jerome dropped down and used his legs to sweep Terra off of his feet. Terra fell back and donked his head. “Argh!” Terra grunted.

“Too easy,” Jerome taunted.

Aqua walked toward Jerome as she summoned her keyblade, Rainfall. “My turn.” He put up his guard and attempted to circle Aqua. She rushed him. Clang! Clang! Clang! The two parried each other’s attacks. Aqua tried to kick Jerome in the knee. Jerome back-flipped out of the way. With each blow he evaded. Upward slash. Cartwheel. Thrust. Dodge roll.

When he thought he saw an opening, he threw his blade in a strike raid. Aqua caught it. Using both his blade and hers, she attacked. Jerome fell to his knees.

Aqua tossed his keyblade back to him. “Good job,” she said.

“Wow,” Terra mumbled.

“Wow,” Jerome mumbled.

“Wow,” Master mumbled as he approached them. 

“I bet you thought I was just a pretty face,” she said to her peers as she tossed her keyblade in the air and caught it. “Well you’re wrong.” She pointed her keyblade to Master. “And you’re late.”

Master Eraqus cleared his throat. He had forgot to set his alarm clock and had been asleep until just a few minutes ago. So he lied, “I had some business to attend to this morning. I am glad to see you students are eager to learn.” The Master summoned his own keyblade, Master’s Defender. He held it up toward the sky. “Okay, so, what is the first rule of wielding a keyblade?” he asked.

Jerome answered, “Never give into the darkness.”

Master responded, “Well, that’s very, very, very important, yes, but I mean the first fundamental rule.”

Terra answered, “Being chosen by the keyblade is a great responsibility.”

Master’s eyes widened. “Yes. Very good, Terra. I didn’t expect that sort of answer from you.”

Terra narrowed his eyes. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Master continued, "The keyblade is a very powerful weapon. It enables the wielder to utilize magic, open dimensions, and protect the light of the worlds. With its power, your bodies will grow stronger. You can accomplish amazing feats. But, as Jerome said, if you give into the darkness in your heart, the keyblade can become a force for evil." He sighed. "Two of my closest friends have succumb to the darkness. Luckily I was able to save one of them. As your master, I will strive my hardest to prevent my students from the same fate. So, shall we begin our training?"

The three of them nodded.

“Alright then,” Master said. “First we shall learn aero magic. This utilizes the strength of the wind. Point your keyblade at your target. Focus your mind on the movement of the air around you. Can you feel it? The gentle breeze? Your steady breath? Once you can feel at one with your surroundings, cast the spell. Aero!” Wind whipped around Master. His clothing fluttered, and a whirlwind rose above him and dissipated outward. “Understood?”

The students nodded.

“Shall we practice, then? Jerome, why don’t you start first?”

“I have never tried this spell before, so please be patient with me.” Jerome closed his eyes. He took a deep breath. He exhaled. The Springtime air carried the faintly sweet smell of flowers. It danced over his skin, tickled his neck, and cooled his cheeks. Jerome opened his eyes. “Aero!”  He produced a slight draft that tossed his silver hair around. It quickly fizzled out. He scowled.

Master said, “That’s fine for a first attempt Jerome. Perhaps it would be better to relax. Allow the magic to happen, rather than willing it to happen.”

“I see.”

“Terra, why don’t you try next.”

“Sure,” Terra said. He swung his keyblade haphazardly. “Aero!” The whirlwind he whipped up blew his clothes about and caused him to stumble backwards.

Master’s eyes widened. “Well, would you look at that! I didn’t expect you to get it right on your first try.”

Terra scowled. “Do you think I’m stupid or something?”

Eraqus turned to Aqua. “Your turn, Aqua.”

She raised her keyblade in the air. “Aero,” she said. The wind she created knocked both Jerome and Terra down. Master was quite impressed.

“A bit too strong, but good job, Aqua. All of you, follow me.” He led them away from the training field, and toward his office. He opened the door and then opened the window. “I want you all to practice your aero magic here. Make sure to clear out all of the dust in this room. Once that is done, declutter all the stuff. Books go in the bookshelf, magic items go in that treasure chest, and anything else goes in this box in the corner here.” He pointed to each object as he explained. Finally, he handed each of them a face mask. “Careful not to breathe in the dust. Come get me when you’re finished. I’ll be on the porch.”

With that Master Eraqus left. Jerome groaned and rubbed his temples. Terra put on his facemask. “The sooner we get this done,” Terra said, “the sooner we move on to the next lesson.”

“This isn’t a lesson! This is a chore!” Jerome fussed as he punched the wall. A cloud of dust rose into the air, causing Jerome to cough. Aqua put on her mask. Then she forced Jerome to wear his own mask, while chiding him, “Do you want to end up in the hospital too?”

Raising her keyblade, she shouted, “Aero!” Unfortunately, she whipped up a whirlwind so strong that all the clutter in the office whipped around. Aqua got hit in the face by a dictionary, Jerome dodged a ream of printer paper, and a sharp pen lodged itself into the wall, two centimeters away from Terra’s face.

Aqua winced in pain. “Oooouch. Okay, so maybe I should learn to tone that down a little.”

“You just made it worse,” Jerome complained. The room was a sandstorm of dust particles. They could barely see.

“Poor Notus was breathing this in,” Terra commented.

Aqua frowned. “I can fix this.” She raised her keyblade again. “Aero!” Yet again, she caused a tornado inside the room. The desk lifted up and started spinning. A computer monitor flew toward Jerome, who ducked out of the way. A pair of scissors lodged into the wall between Terra’s legs. Aqua dodged a printer, which slammed through the wall and landed in the hallway.

Aqua winced. “Oops.”

Master Eraqus had heard the noise. He ran back to the office. “What’s going on?” He saw the mess. “Are you three alright?”

Terra nodded. “I think so.”

Jerome yelled at Aqua, “If it didn’t work the first time, why would it work the second time? Are you stupid?”

“I wasn’t trying to make the wind so strong the second time! It was an accident!”

“Calm down you two,” said the Master. “Fighting amongst yourselves won’t help you finish the task at hand. Try it again. This time I’ll stay and observe.” He put on a face mask as well. “Alright, hop to it.”

Aqua nudged Jerome. “Yeah, hop to it.”

With a roll of his eyes, Jerome held his keyblade out in front of him, planted his feet firmly on the ground, took a deep breath and focused.

“If we were in a battle, I would have hit you by now.”

“Shut up Aqua, I’m trying to focus.”

“Who is going to let you focus when you’re in the middle of a fight?”

“We aren’t fighting right now! We’re doing chores!”

Master Eraqus interrupted, “This is training.”

“No, this is a chore,” Jerome retorted. “We’re cleaning your office.”

“Which also happens to be a perfect training exercise,” insisted Master Eraqus.

Jerome, frustrated, shouted, “Forget it! Just let me focus!” He then thrust his keyblade upward. “Aero!”

Nothing happened.

“Aero!” he shouted again.

Nothing.

“Aero!”

Yet again, nothing. Jerome, his cheeks reddening, turned away and leaned his head against the wall. Terra patted him on the back. He smacked Terra’s hand away. Aqua giggled. Then Terra said, “My turn.” He waved his keyblade. “Aero!” He cleared the dust out of the room.

Master Eraqus clapped. “Wow, I’m surprised Terra. Good job.”

“Surprised? Did you not think I could do it?”

“Once you three finish cleaning the office, we will practice fighting for the rest of the day,” Master Eraqus instructed as he left. The students sighed.

Chapter Text

Later that day Master Eraqus was watching the three students practice their keyblade strokes. They swung their blades, practicing combos using the spinning rings. “Aqua, good form,” Master Eraqus noted. “You look graceful. Jerome, your movements are flowing well. Good. Terra, you’re really slow. Speed it up.”

With a heaving sigh, Terra complained, “I’m going as fast as I can.”

Master shook his head. “You look like you’re having a hard time swinging your keyblade. Loosen up. Don’t put so much strength into each stroke.”

Terra nodded. “Yes Master.”

Master checked his watch. “You know what, that’s enough practice for right now. I have another task for you three to complete. Since you three decided to destroy the wall of my office, you will be heading to the hardware store to buy supplies and fix it.” He handed Aqua an envelope. “There’s some munny in that. Use it to buy what you need.”

Jerome rolled his eyes. “Another chore.”

“While this seems like a chore,” Master retorted, “it is actually a team building activity. By becoming good friends, all of you can encourage each other in your quest for keyblade mastery.”

“Bonding over chores. Great.” Jerome complained.

So the three of them went to the hardware store. Browsing through the aisles filled with power saws, plaster and plywood, Aqua asked, “Who knows how to fix a wall?”

Jerome shrugged. “Not me.”

Terra answered, “I do.”

Aqua teased, “What you lack in keyblade skill, you make up for in handiness.”

Terra frowned at her. He marched away. Aqua winced. “Oops. I think I pissed him off.”

“Congratulations,” Jerome sarcastically said.

“I didn’t mean to upset him. I was teasing him.”

“Is that why you came here? To be a tease? Are you even serious about this training, Aqua?”

Aqua crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Why would I be here if I wasn’t serious? I could be a million other places.”

With a snide chuckle, Jerome said, “Maybe those million other places would be better suited for you.”

Aqua shot him a dirty look. She walked away in the opposite direction.

Thus, Jerome was alone in the hardware store.

He put his hands in his pockets.

He looked around.

He stood there for a few minutes. An employee walked by and asked, “Do you need any help young man?”

Jerome quickly shook his head and walked away. He told himself, “I guess I should catch up with Terra.” He found Terra looking at patches of drywall on the shelf. Jerome stood quietly next to him for a while. After five minutes passed, he spoke up. “Need some help?”

Terra shook his head. “Nope.”

Silence. Another five minutes passed by. Finally, Terra selected a pack of drywall. He then went the next aisle to look for furring strips and a power drill. Finally, he selected some joint tape and plaster compound. He carried all that in a basket as the two walked to the checkout line. While waiting, Terra seemed really tense. He had a faraway look in his eyes, his brows were slightly furrowed, and his lips were tightly pressed together.

“What’s wrong with you?” Jerome asked.

“She thinks I’m pathetic.”

“Who? Aqua?”

“Yeah.”

Jerome patted Terra on the back, “No, Terra, she didn’t mean it.”

Terra’s face lit up. “Seriously?”

“Yeah, she was just teasing you,” Jerome answered.

“Oh.” Terra exhaled in relief. “That’s great.”

“Why do you even care what she thinks?”

“If she thinks that I’m dumb, then I don’t have a chance with her.”

“So you like her?”

“Yeah. She’s so awesome.”

“Are you here to master the keyblade or are you here to flirt with Aqua?”

“To master the keyblade of course!” Terra told him, with a determined grin. “But if I can steal Aqua’s heart along the way, then that’s good too.” 

“You are so stupid.”

“You are so arrogant,” Terra replied with a frown.

Soon the two were next in line. As the old man cashier rang up the items, Terra turned to Jerome. “The munny?”

“I don’t have it. Aqua does,” replied Jerome.

“Where is she?”

“I don’t know.”

Terra sighed. To the cashier, he said, “We’ll be right back. Can you just skip us really quick?”

The cashier grumbled something about youngsters and their nonsense as Terra and Jerome left to find Aqua. They searched around the store. Terra started calling her name. “Aqua! Aqua!”

Jerome rolled his eyes and complained, “Stop yelling in the middle of the store.”

“How else are we supposed to find her?” He crossed his arms in front of his chest. “I should have asked for her phone number. Then I could call her.”

Jerome took a moment to rethink the situation. “Do you think she left with the money?”

“Left where?” Terra asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe she went to go buy something for herself.”

Terra shook his head. “Nah. She wouldn’t do that.”

“Then where could she have gone?”

“I don’t know!”

“Master is such a bad judge of character,” Jerome said as he shook his head. “He picked an idiot and a thief.”

Terra shoved him. “Why are you such a jerk?”

Jerome shoved Terra. “I’m not a jerk. I’m the only serious one here.”

“Well then, go be serious somewhere else!”

Jerome groaned and marched toward the store’s entrance. “This whole situation is bullshit,” he grumbled to himself as he emerged from the hardware store. “I’m here to become a keyblade master, not a carpenter!”

“Do you ever stop complaining?” asked a familiar voice. It was Aqua. She was leaning against the outside wall of the store.

Jerome lost his cool. “What are you doing out here? We were searching all over for you!”

Aqua lost her cool too. “You told me to go away! So I did! What else do you want, you jerk?”

“But you have the money! How the hell are we supposed to buy the stuff?”

Aqua blushed. She hit herself on the forehead. “Oh, my bad.” She shook her head. “I was so angry that I didn’t even think about that.” She handed the munny envelope to him. “Here.”

Snatching it from her hand, he asked, “Did you take any?”

Aqua shoved him. “What the hell?! You don’t trust me?”

“Of course not. You’re a deceitful little punk who uses her charm to get what she wants. I’m sure that you’re accustomed to being spoiled. Well I’m not going to spoil you. I’m here for one purpose and one purpose only: to become a keyblade master.”

Aqua got so angry that her face turned red. “You piece of…!” She started to sniffle. She burst into tears. And she stood there, crying. Of course, Jerome didn’t expect this. Caught off guard, he looked around, as if to find someone to ask for help. The few people that he did see either gave him dirty looks, or whispered among themselves. Panicking, Jerome asked, “Why are you crying?”

“You don’t know what I’ve given up to be here! You don’t know how much I want this! You aren’t the only one who is serious! I know that you have a difficult path ahead of you, but that doesn’t give you the right to be a jerk!”

Jerome didn’t answer. He simply gawked at Aqua until she stopped crying. She sniffled, wiped her face and marched back inside. Jerome followed her. They met up with Terra, and the three of them bought the supplies.

Silently, they walked up the mountain, to return to Master Eraqus’s palace. Halfway through their journey, Aqua said, “Hey, Terra, sorry about teasing you. I thought it was funny. I didn’t mean it.”

Terra replied, “No problem. I overreacted I think.”

“I don’t ever want to upset you, Terra, because we are FRIENDS and FRIENDS do not upset FRIENDS or make FRIENDS cry by saying terrible things to them,” she emphasized.

“I didn’t cry,” Terra insisted.

Aqua glared at Jerome. “Good, because I would be a total JERK if I made you cry over something really stupid and did not even have the decency to apologize.”

“You aren’t a jerk Aqua!”

Jerome stepped in to say, “She’s talking about me.” He scratched the back of his head as he awkwardly apologized, “Sorry for what I said to you.”

Terra jumped in, “What did you say to her?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Jerome retorted, “Because what I’m saying now is that I’m sorry. I’m sorry for being a jerk today. Although I didn’t come here to make FRIENDS,” he looked to Aqua as he emphasized that, “I guess that from now on, I’ll try to be a better FRIEND, to the both of you.”

“Good,” Aqua said, still pouting.

Terra wrapped an arm around Jerome’s shoulder. “Good.”

In the end, they fixed the wall together.

 

Chapter Text

For the next month, Aqua, Terra and Jerome trained under Master Eraqus. Their days usually consisted of a couple of hours of practice, followed by a battery of chores. On this particular day, they were on the training field at the summit. Master Eraqus handed each of his students a piece of armor—a shoulder plate. He said, “Today marks the end of the first month as students in my care. I’m proud of what you three have accomplished so far.”

Jerome mumbled, “What have we accomplished so far?”

Master Eraqus completely ignored him. “I believe you three are all ready for the next step. Armor. Wielding a keyblade while wearing armor is much more difficult than wielding it in your typical, comfortable, loose, revealing clothing.” He paused to look to Aqua. Today she was dressed in a blue tank top and black short shorts. She noticed his gaze. She cringed, took a step back, and tried to avoid eye contact.

Master Eraqus returned to his senses and continued, “So it is important to practice in the armor.” He affixed the shoulder plate to the sleeve of his jacket. Dramatically, he raised one hand. Then he slammed the it on the piece of armor. With a flash of light, he was magically wrapped in polished bronze armor. He said, “It can protect you from the darkness in between worlds. It is flexible, lightweight and strong.”

He demonstrated an attack combo for them. It involved jumping in to the air, doing three aerial somersaults, dropping down, rolling forward, slashing the keyblade, and finishing with a burst of firaga magic. “Alright students, activate your armor and perform that combo.”

So they each affixed the shoulder plate on top of their clothing and pounded it. Terra’s armor was a golden and iron-red suit. Aqua’s was a cobalt-blue and silver. Jerome’s armor was black and chromium silver, with a hint of gold.

Immediately, Aqua and Jerome fell to the ground. Aqua exclaimed, “This is so heavy!” Struggling to his knees, Jerome said, “I feel like I’m being tackled by a bear!”

Terra raised his hands and kicked his feet. “It’s not too heavy for me.”

Master Eraqus, still in his own armor, mentioned, “As you practice, it shall feel lighter.” With a chuckle, he continued, “Terra is always surprising me with his abilities. I suppose I should have expected this, though, as he is the strongest in terms of brute strength. That’s the only talent he has.”

Terra glared at the master and asked, “Why are you always belittling me?”

Eraqus ignored him of course. Aqua cried out, “I can’t move!” So Terra pulled her up to a standing position. Once he released her, she buckled under the weight of her armor and fell face down.

“You okay Aqua?” Terra asked.

She weakly answered, “No. I’m just gonna lie here for a sec.”

So Terra instead offered his assistance to Jerome, who shouted, “No! I don’t need your help!”

Jerome struggled to rise to his feet. He stood up straight for a moment, but then he fell forward, sprawled out on the ground. He grunted under the weight of the armor. Master Eraqus and Terra stared at Jerome. Terra asked, “Are you okay Jerry?”

Jerome did not respond. Terra turned to Master Eraqus. Master Eraqus said, “Well, then Terra, since you are the only one capable of moving at the moment, you should repeat my movements.”

Terra nodded. He tried to jumped into the air, but it was more like a hop. The weight of the armor pulled him down quickly. Startled, Terra looked at his master. Eraqus said, “Keep practicing. Even if you must practice jumping in the armor all day, then that’s what you’ll do.”

Terra sighed. He started jumping in place. Meanwhile, Jerome managed to pull himself to his knees. “GRRRRRRRAAAAAH!” He cried out in agony as he rose to his feet. Two seconds later, he collapsed yet again.

Aqua whimpered, “I seriously can’t move.” The three students struggled for about an hour, before Eraqus got tired of watching them. He decided, “Since no one can copy my movements, then we’ll stop training with the armor. We’ll go back to the basics and do strength training.”

Terra nodded and pounded his shoulder plate to release the armor. Jerome struggled to press the shoulder plate to release his own armor, and Master had to release Aqua’s armor for her. Once free, the latter two exhaled with relief.

Eraqus said, “Alright, so, the first activity for strength training is mowing the grass across the entire training field.”

Jerome groaned. “Are you kidding me? That’s just another chore!”

“No, this is strength training.”

“Mowing the lawn is strength training?” Jerome repeated. “How so, Master?”

“Well, um, the stamina that is required to upkeep the landscaping of this entire place is the strength building part of the process. So when you have finished the task, you will see your strength greatly improved, Jerome. So stop asking questions and complete the task you have been given.” Master Eraqus pointed all the way to the courtyard and further down the mountain. “All of it. Everything must be mowed. Weeds must be pulled and fallen branches and bramble removed.”

Jerome leaned his head backward, brushed his bangs out of his face, and sighed. Terra nodded. Aqua pouted.

“I shall be monitoring your progress,” said the Master, as he walked away.

Chapter Text

Soon enough, two months had passed since the youngsters first became Eraqus’s students. Today they were able to take a break from training, because Eraqus had a dentist’s appointment. Each went on about their own business; Jerome decided to practice by himself, Aqua decided to go shopping, and Terra decided to tag along with her.

The two went to the local mall. It was a large building, filled with thirty-three stores, a food court and a movie theater. Aqua, dressed in a dark blue denim mini-dress and Terra, dressed in a black shirt that said, “Daddy’s Little Boy” and dark brown pants, walked side-by-side.

“This is a nice mall,” Aqua remarked. “I came here to just look around. Do you need something in particular?” Aqua asked.

“Uh…” Terra hesitated. “No. I just wanted to hang out with you, honestly.”

“I know,” she told him with a wink. “It’s super obvious that you like me.”

Terra blushed. “Uh…”

Aqua giggled. “You’re so bad with girls.”

Terra ruffled the hair on the back of his head. “Yeah. Um… Do you like me?”

“Are we in 7th grade, Terra?” Aqua asked with a laugh. Yet he patiently waited for her response. That’s when she realized that he was serious. She told him, “Let’s just be friends first, okay?”

Terra sighed. “That’s cool.”

“What? Did you expect love at first sight?”

“Yeah…”

“That’s so naïve.” She reached up and poked his cheek. “You’re so adorable.” She chuckled. Her peripheral vision locked onto a boutique called, Yaaas Gurl Slay She pointed to it. “Let’s check out that store.”

So the two entered inside. The shelves were stocked with the latest in young adult fashion. A sales associate who was standing a few feet away called out, “Hey girl, if you need any help just holla.”

Aqua nodded. She began to peruse the merchandise in the store. Terra stood a few steps back, so as to not be overbearing. He watched as she picked out a black, lacy camisole. “This is cute,” she said. She also picked out a cutoff jean jacket. “No, no, I’m overdoing it with the denim lately…”

She put both back. After about thirty minutes of browsing, she picked out a pair of athletic shorts and a loose t-shirt that said “Don’t Kiss Me.” Turning to Terra, she asked, “What do you think?”

“I think you look good in anything,” he replied.

 “You are so sweet that it’s annoying. I’m gonna go try it on.” And she left to the changing room. Terra wondered aloud, “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

“A little bit of both,” said the sales associate as she walked by.

When Aqua emerged, she was wearing the outfit. She showed it off to Terra. “What do you think? And be honest.”

Terra honestly said, “I think it suits you.”

Aqua raised her eyebrows, suspiciously, “Okay then.”

So she changed back into her own clothes. She decided to buy it. The cashier rung up her items and Aqua handed over her credit card. The cashier swiped it. “Um, it says it’s declined.” Aqua’s eyes widened, “Try it again.”

The cashier swiped again. “Still declined.”

“Shit,” Aqua mumbled. She handed a different card to the cashier. “Try this one.”

The cashier did. “Nope. Declined.”

Aqua groaned. She handed another card to the cashier. “Try this one then.”

The cashier swiped it. “Girl, it still says declined.”

“Oh my God…” Aqua mumbled. Then she forced a smile, said, “Nevermind,” and briskly walked out of the store. The cashier said, “Wait, girl, don’t forget your cards!”

“Just keep ‘em! Thanks girl!” Aqua yelled out as she left the store.

The cashier lady looked to Terra. “Um, so, you gonna take her cards or what?”

Terra said, “Yeah. And I’ll pay.” So he bought the outfit for Aqua, grabbed her credit cards and left to find her. After a brief search, he found Aqua on a bench sitting outside, in front of the mall. She was texting on her phone. He sat down beside her, keeping quiet as she frantically tapped on the screen of her phone. She rubbed her forehead, obviously frustrated. “Oh my God. This can’t be happening…”

“What’s going on?” Terra asked.

“My Mom!” she yelled. “She actually cut off my credit cards!”

“Is it because you ran away from home?”

Aqua nodded. “She hadn’t cut them off since I left, so I didn’t think she’d seriously do it.” She showed her phone to Terra. “Look what she said.”

Terra took the phone. Aqua had texted, What did you do to my cards? Her mom had responded, So you’re finally replying to my texts? Aqua had then texted, My cards?

Aqua come home. Texted her mother.

My cards? Aqua repeated.

You’ve been gone for two months. I get it. You’re mad. Come home.

My cards?

Your brother is really worried. At least call him.

Aqua hadn’t replied to that. Curious, Terra scrolled backwards through her text conversations. He read a month’s worth of Aqua’s mother’s messages—all without a response from Aqua. Wincing, he said, “Aqua, your mother seems like she’s really worried. She’s texting you stuff like, ‘Stop ignoring my calls,’ ‘Answer your phone,’ ‘Where are you?’ ‘Aqua, stop being stupid.’ ‘Come home.’”

Aqua shook her head, “She’s pretending to care.”

Terra pointed to a specific text message and read it aloud, “Here she says, ‘Aqua, come home. You shouldn’t be worrying me and Rio like this.’”

Aqua shook her head. “She’s trying to mess with my mind.”

“I think she’s really worried.”

“No she’s not, Terra! She can track the credit cards. She can track my phone. She can find me if she wants. But she doesn’t want to look for me. She wants me to come crying back home to her. She wants me to feel like I’m useless without her.”

Terra lowered his eyes. “That’s not right. A mother can’t do that to her child.”

“Well mine can. She doesn’t care whether I’m safe or not. She only cares that I meet my social obligations.” She snatched her phone from Terra. “I’m supposed to be at a stupid debutant ball next week, and then there’s a charity beauty pageant next month and then there’s a wedding for a family friend’s son at the end of the year. That’s why she wants me home.”

Suddenly, Aqua’s phone rang.

Her mom was calling.

She rejected the call.

Terra scowled at her.

“Don’t look at me like that,” Aqua demanded, because the severe disappointment on Terra’s face triggered a strong urge to cry. So she ran as fast as she could away from Terra.

Obviously, Terra couldn’t chase her. That would look really weird. So he sat there for a while and wondered how a daughter’s relationship with her mother could deteriorate to such a sad situation. Upon gathering his thoughts, he walked home. On the way up the stairs in the courtyard, Terra passed by Jerome. Jerry was sweating, and had a towel around his neck, as if he had been working out. He asked, “Did you go shopping, Terra?” He pointed to the bag in Terra’s hand. Terra had forgotten that he had bought the outfit for Aqua.

“Yeah, it’s for Aqua,” Terra admitted. “Have you seen her?”

“I saw her run by here a while ago. Literally, she was running, full speed. I wonder if she was training.”

Terra shrugged. He made his way toward Aqua’s room. Knocking on the door, he said, “Aqua, it’s me.”

“Go away,” she demanded.

“I have a present,” he said.

Aqua was silent. Then the door opened. “What are you talking about?”

He handed the bag to her. “The clothes.”

She frowned. Then she started crying. “I hate nice guys.”

“Um…”

“You probably came from a nice family, huh? A simple, loving family. You probably had a dad that worked hard to be the breadwinner, and a mom that could hold a job while still taking care of the kids. And I bet you and your family had dinner together every night and talked about your day and laughed and smiled.” She wiped her face. “I bet your dad took off days from work to watch your sports tournaments and I bet your mom kissed you and tucked you into bed each night. I bet you want nothing more than to make your parents proud, and I’m sure that they support you in everything that you do, huh?”

Terra was startled. She was exactly right. “Um…”

“And you’re so awkward. I bet you’re an only child.”

Right again. He blushed. Aqua laughed. “You’re so ridiculous,” she said. “I’m the opposite.” She sat down on the floor outside of her room, cuddling Terra’s present against her chest. Terra sat beside her. She explained, “I guess everything was fine until Dad died, when I was ten. That’s when Mom completely changed. She took over the family business, and she suddenly had all these strict expectations for me and my older brother. She sent him boarding school. I stayed home with her.”

Aqua ran her hands through her hair, “She was always critical of me. She would say things like, ‘Aqua, you need to be more lady-like,’ ‘Aqua, your hair is ugly,’ ‘Aqua, if you gain any more weight, you’ll break your legs,’ ‘Aqua, stop socializing with people beneath your social class,’ ‘Rebel against me all you want, Aqua, but I’ll be right in the end.’”

Pulling her knees to her chest, Aqua trembled as she fought back tears. “She had my whole life planned out for me. She knew what high school I would attend, what friends I would make, what clothes I would wear. But I didn’t want that. And if there was one thing that I learned from my father, it was his catchphrase, ‘Do everything you do with love and passion.’ I didn’t want to live her life. I wanted to live mine.”

She held out her hand, and summoned her keyblade, “And the only thing that I was ever passionate about is the keyblade. I remember seeing the excitement on my Dad’s face the first time I ever summoned it. He told me that I could use this power to do some sort of good in the world. So that became my dream. I trained myself with this keyblade because I thought that one day, I could use it to do something amazing.” She waved her hand and it disappeared.

Closing her eyes, Aqua leaned her head back against the wall, “But that wasn’t in Mom’s plan. She hated the keyblade. She hated the idea that she couldn’t control me. And I know that if I talk to her, she’ll try to drag me away from this. So I can’t talk to her...” She opened her eyes and gazed at Terra. “I thought long and hard before making the decision to run away. I was terrified at first, really.” She rested her head against her knees, poked Terra’s cheek, and smiled. “But then I met you, and you made me laugh with your stupid pick up line.” She mocked his voice, “Like it? Take me to McRonalds, cuz I’m loving it.” She laughed. In her normal voice, she concluded, “You’re so nice to me. Thank you for that.”

“Y-you’re welcome,” stammered Terra. His face turned red, and he didn’t know what else to say. So the two were silent. Aqua spoke up. “I guess I’m glad she cut off the credit cards. I don’t know why I thought I could still use my family’s munny even though I ran away…” She wiped her face again. “I guess I’ll have to find a part time job or something if I want to go shopping. Which is good. I need to earn my own munny for once.”

Terra said, “That’s a positive way to look at it. But what happens if your mom comes here to take you back?”

Aqua shrugged. “Hopefully I’ll have enough strength to break free from her grasp once and for all. Right?”

Terra nodded. “Right.”

Aqua smiled. “Thank you.” She hugged him. He returned the hug.

Jerome walked by. He noticed the hugging. He rolled his eyes. Then he went to his own room.

Chapter Text

The students were gathered in the throne room, standing at attention before their Master.

“For today’s training,” Master Eraqus said, “you will be helping me to clean out my attics.”

The three students rolled their eyes. Jerome complained, “That’s not training. It’s a chore.”

Master Eraqus tried to deny it. “No, this is training. I’m training you to, um, decipher between treasure and junk because… the essence of being a keyblade master is… um…”

They glared at him.

“Alright, I admit it. This one is just a chore. I’m looking for something and I know I put it in one of the attics here somewhere. So I’ll need you to bring down boxes so that I can sort through them. After that, you can sweep and dust the attics to clean them out. Finally, you’ll return the unimportant things there.”

Thus, Aqua, Jerome and Terra found themselves cleaning out one of the many attics in Master Eraqus’s palace. There were boxes upon boxes of random junk, piled high into each nook and cranny.

“This guy’s a hoarder,” Terra said.

“Ugh, I hate these chores,” Jerome complained. “But I’d be less averse to doing them if he was honest and called them chores. We’re not idiots.”

Aqua called out, “Hey, guys, look at this.” Terra and Jerome walked over to see that Aqua was holding a picture of Master Eraqus and a really pretty woman, smiling at each other all lovey-dovey. “Looks like Master had a girlfriend back in the day.” She put the picture in her item inventory. “I’m keeping that.”

Terra chastised her, “You can’t do that.”

“I think I can,” she rebelliously replied.

Jerome nodded. “You know what, I agree with Aqua for once. There’s probably a few things of value in here that Master doesn’t necessarily need.” He opened one of the boxes. Inside was a ton of Yu-Gee-Oh Duel Monsters cards. “Why does he have an entire box of…?” Jerome closed the box.

Aqua opened a different box. It was filled with painting supplies. Canvases, oil paint, water colors, tempuras, acrylics, paint thinner, paint brushes, palates. “Looks like Master used to be an artist.”

Jerome opened another box. This one had some really retro-looking clothes. Bell-bottom jeans, tie-dye shirts, leather vests. He pulled out a pair of black, leather biking gloves, bearing a symbol of a Kingdom Key. “Nice!” He put them on.

Aqua opened up a different box. It held a plushy of pig-lady with blonde hair. “Oh my gosh! It’s a Mizz Piggy doll! So cute!”

Jerome opened up a box that had a brand new, old-timey polaroid camera and film. “Mine.”

Terra intervened, “Okay, you two are literally stealing.”

“He probably doesn’t care about any of this stuff,” Aqua said as she opened another box. “Ew underwear.” She closed it. “Nasty.”

Jerome opened a box that had a few blankets in it. “I could use these. My room gets cold at night.”

Aqua opened one that was full of children’s toys. “Do you think Master had a family once?” She pulled out one of those play-fight robot sets.

Jerome opened one full of board games. “Are either of you interested in these? He has Battleships, Monopolize, CandiLand, Clues, SorryNotSorry, Command Board, and Connect Five.”

Aqua opened one box that had a bunch of hardware supplies. She frowned. “Terra, this one is full stuff that we could have used to fix the wall that one time.”

Jerome opened a box that was full of nice shoes. Like really, really nice. Designer loafers, name-brand sneakers, custom-made hiking boots. “What are theeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeese?” He exclaimed. “Look at all these shoes!”

Aqua gaped at them. “Yes! He’s my shoe size!”

As Jerome and Aqua rummaged through the shoes, Terra succumbed to their peer pressure and opened a box. His eyes widened, as it was filled with nothing but hentai manga and dirty magazines. He said nothing as he closed the box, picked it up, ran downstairs, and stashed it in his room.

He returned to see Aqua wearing Master’s Nike Keys shoes. She was complaining, “He didn’t even wear them! He told me to pick them up and then he put them in the attic!”

Jerome was wearing a pair of Nike Keys: Oblivion. The shoes were black and silver, and adorned with the image of an Oblivion Keyblade. “A bit tight, but I can manage.”

Terra couldn’t believe it. “Jerome, this is so unlike you.”

“These shoes are 17600 munny.”

“Each,” Aqua added.

“That is waaaaaay too expensive,” Terra exclaimed. “But anyway, we need to finish the task at hand.”

“Okay, just one more.” Aqua reached over and opened a small box. It was full of notebooks. “These look like his old journals.” She picked one up and opened it. She began to read, “Year XXOO. Month XX. Day OO. Sometimes I wonder if I’m good enough to become a keyblade master. Xe… Xhe…Xheha?” She stumbled over pronouncing the name. “Xehanort is much better than me at everything. Sometimes I feel jealousy in my heart. But I know I shouldn’t. I should only be encouraged to become stronger! I will become stronger than Xehanort. I will earn the Mark of Mastery. Mark my words.” Aqua giggled. “Young Master Eraqus sounds like a knucklehead.” 

Jerome nodded. “He sounds pathetic.”

Terra sympathized. “Aw, give him a break.”

Aqua continued reading, “In other news, I think I’m making progress with Trisha.” Aqua paused. “Trisha?” she repeated. “Does that mean…?” She seemed puzzled for a moment. But then she shook her head and kept reading, “Today, I asked her on a date and she laughed at me. But she didn’t say no. So that’s good. I don’t know if she’s playing hard to get or if she seriously doesn’t like me. Love is so confusing. I guess I shouldn’t be so focused on her, but every time I see her, my heart skips a beat. Being a keyblade master is my goal, but if I can also win over Trisha, then I’ll be extremely happy.”

Terra cooed, “AAAAWWW! Master had a crush back in the day.”

Jerome looked at Terra. Then he looked at Aqua. “It sounds familiar…”

Aqua closed the notebook and put it away in her item inventory. “Interesting.” She stood up. “Okay, so, yeah, let’s finish this chore.”

“This chore wasn’t so bad,” Jerome said. “I feel like we learned a lot about Master today.”

In the end, Master Eraqus never found what he was looking for. He grumbled to himself, “I know I put it somewhere in the attic.” Aqua and Jerome felt guilty, fearing that he was looking for one of the things that they stole. Ironically, Terra felt no guilt whatsoever.

Chapter Text

On the training grounds on the summit, Master Eraqus said, “Today, we’ll be learning to use keyblade gliders. Who here knows what a keyblade glider is?”

Terra raised his hand. “It’s when you throw your keyblade like a boomerang and it comes back to you.”

Master Eraqus nodded. “Now that is an answer I expect from you, Terra.”

Terra smiled.

Master Eraqus continued, “That is completely wrong.”

Terra frowned.

“A keyblade glider is a vehicle that is made by transforming your keyblade. The process is very simple. Picture the image of a vehicle in your mind.” He summoned his keyblade. “Imagine it as you toss your keyblade into the air.” He tossed his keyblade into the air.

It returned in the shape of a flying lawn chair.

He jumped and sat on it. Soaring high into the sky, Master Eraqus disappeared among the clouds. Jerome, dreadfully confused, turned to Aqua and asked, “What sort of vehicle was that?”

Aqua, equally confused, answered, “That wasn’t a vehicle, right?”

“Yeah,” Jerome agreed. “When I think of a vehicle, I think of a car or a motorbike or a scooter. That was just a chair. Right?”

“Yeah. So… I don’t understand…”

Terra though, was upset about something else. “I wasn’t completely wrong! He threw the keyblade and it came back to him!”

Master’s flying lawn chair glider returned to the ground. He hopped off of it, and poofed it back into a keyblade. “Any questions?”

Jerome asked, “What were you picturing to create that?”

“It doesn’t matter what I was picturing. Think of a vehicle of your own, Jerome.”

“But that wasn’t a vehicle…”

“Jerome, why don’t you try first to summon a keyblade glider?”

The young man was still puzzled. “Okay?” He took a step forward. He tossed his keyblade into the air.

It returned in the shape of a flying lawn chair.

He jumped onto it. Jerome looked to Master Eraqus. Master Eraqus frowned at Jerome. So Jerome explained, “I couldn’t stop wondering what this thing was, so I guess I made my keyblade into it.”

“Well then... Aqua, you’re next,” said Master. Aqua hesitated. She took a step forward and tossed her keyblade into the air.

It returned in the shape of a flying lawn chair.

She jumped onto it. Aqua looked to Master Eraqus. Master Eraqus frowned at Aqua. She said, “Me too. I’m really confused as to what this is supposed to be.”

“Okay, then,” Master Eraqus said. “Next, Terra. And feel free to be a little more creative. You don’t need to mimic my vehicle.”

“It’s not a vehicle,” Jerome grumbled.

Terra took a step forward. He tossed his keyblade into the air.

It returned in the shape of a bigger version of his keyblade. He jumped onto it and rode it like a surfboard. Terra smiled smugly at Master Eraqus, and repeated, “I threw my keyblade like a boomerang and it came back to me.”

Master Eraqus rubbed his temples in frustration. “Well, since you three lack the creativity necessary to create your own keyblade gliders, we shall try a different approach. I have a lot of laundry that needs washing, drying, ironing and folding or hanging. You can spend the next few hours doing that while you think of creative vehicles.”

“After every training session, we end up doing chores,” complained Jerome.

“Hop to it,” Master said, while clapping his hands.

Chapter Text

Master had jury duty today, so training was canceled. As usual, Jerome was training on his own. In the training field, he practiced guarding technique, using one of those machines that automatically shoots baseballs. He had just finished a round of this, when he heard someone approach him. “You hungry?” Terra asked as he wrapped an arm around Jerome’s shoulders.

Jerome wiped the sweat off of his brow and shook his head. “No. I’m busy.”

“But I know that you haven’t had lunch yet. You’ve been here all morning.”

“I’m fine,” he insisted. As if to argue otherwise, Jerome’s stomach growled. Terra chuckled, so Jerome admitted, “Okay, maybe I am a bit hungry. But I can’t allow myself to eat until I’ve mastered—”

Terra squeezed his arm around Jerome’s neck. “Let’s go to McRonalds.”

“McRonalds?”

“Yup.”

“Why?”

“I’m in the mood for a burger. Maybe some fries.” Terra smiled. “My treat. Come on.”

“Oh fine,” Jerome agreed.

So the two walked to the center of town, where there was a busy shopping center that attracted a huge crowd. One particular street had several fast food restaurants. The savory smells hung in the air, causing Jerome’s stomach to growl louder. Terra said, “Whoa you really were hungry, weren’t you? How did you expect to practice on an empty stomach?”

Jerome groaned. “I can survive a little hunger, Terra.”

“I can’t,” Terra told him. “If I’m hungry, I need to eat. My mom always says to never to do something important on an empty stomach.”

With a sad smile, Jerome agreed, “My mom always said that too. I sort of miss her. But I can’t go home until I’m ready to fulfil my destiny.”

“Don’t talk about destiny or training today. Take a break Jerome. You need it."

The boys walked through the automatic door of the McRonalds. They were pummeled by the smell of fries. “Hello, welcome to McRonalds!” said one of the cashiers. To Jerome’s surprise, that cashier was Aqua. And to Aqua’s surprise, the typically calm and collected Jerome shouted, “AQUA GOT A JOB?!”

Terra burst into laughter. Aqua forced a smile and asked, “How can I help you?”

Jerome ran up to the counter. “When did you start working here?”

“Please refrain from personal conversation while I’m on the clock, Jerry. May I interest you in some black pepper fries?”

Terra approached the counter. “Um, uhh, uhhhhhhh, let’s see…uh… lemme get… lemme get a number five.”

Aqua was so annoyed. “Coming right up. And for you, sir?”

Jerome’s jaw dropped. “Are you… being polite?”

Aqua leaned forward and whispered, “Do you want me to be mean? Because I can be mean.”

Terra said, “He’ll have a number five, as well.”

“That’ll be 675 munny,” she said. Terra paid. The two sat down at a booth. Jerome ran his hands through his silver hair. “She got a job? What?”

Terra leaned back and asked, “Why are you so shaken?”

“First of all, she always tries to skip out on doing chores at home,” he told Terra.

“Not true.”

“Master told her to wash the dishes last night, but I saw you doing it.”

“She asked me for help.”                                                  

“No, she uses your kindness for her benefit. And also, how can she find the time to have a job? When does she practice? Is she serious about becoming a keyblade master?”

Terra shrugged. “I know she’s serious. She wouldn’t be training if she wasn’t serious. None of us would be, right?”

Jerome shook his head. “And why does she need to work? Does she not have money or something?”

Terra shrugged. “Ask her, not me.”

“Did you already know she worked here?”

“Yup. She asked me to help her apply. She’s been working here for a while now. I try to visit her during her shift sometimes. She acts like she doesn’t like it, but I think she likes it.”

Jerome laughed at Terra. “You’re really working hard, huh?”

“Working hard?”

“To win her over.”

Terra’s cheeks felt hot. “No I’m not,”

“Yes you are. You’re working too hard.” Jerome shook his head. “Be careful. She’s not going to fall in love with you just because you’re a nice guy.”

“I’m not helping her because I want her to love me,” argued a blushing Terra. “I’m helping her because friends help friends.”

“Alright, but don’t be surprised when she doesn’t return the favor. She doesn’t owe you anything.”

“I don’t expect anything in return!” declared Terra.

“Okay, whatever,” Jerome mumbled, while leaning back and outstretching his arms. “Thanks for treating me to lunch, by the way.”

“You’re welcome.”

That’s when Aqua brought their order to their table. She asked, “Terra, why do you keep coming here? And this time you brought Jerry too? Are you kidding me?”

Terra teased her, “You know you like my company.”

She rolled her eyes. “Jerk.” But she smiled. To Jerome, she said, “I’m just doing this for some spare cash. Don’t judge me.”

“No judgement here,” Jerome told her as he took a sip of his drink. “I’ll judge you on the practice field when I beat you in combat.”

Aqua rolled her eyes again, said, “I’m off in half an hour. Wait for me,” and returned to her workstation.

Once Aqua was done for the day, the three of them walked home together. She complained, “My stupid lazy co-workers make me do all the work! They go in the back and take smoke breaks all the time. Cigarettes are bad for their health, yet they get at least forty-five minutes in smoke breaks each shift.” She yawned. “I hope they choke on those cigarettes.”

Jerome said, “That’s mean Aqua. I don’t say that about you when you don’t do your chores at home.”

She sighed. “You’re right. This is such a humbling experience, doing so much work for so little money. But it’s good. It builds character. And it forces me to be nice. So this is a good thing.” Under her breath, she added, “At least that’s what I tell myself to stay sane.”

Terra ruffled Jerome’s hair. “Actually, Aqua, I think he’s proud of you. It’s tough balancing training and work and he respects that.”

“Don’t put words in my mouth,” retorted Jerome.

“Do you want me to put something else in your mouth?” Terra joked.

Jerome responded sarcastically, “Sure. Then I’ll return the favor.”

Aqua laughed. She said, “You two could be brothers. Jerry’s the mean one and Terra’s the nice one.” She kept laughing. “I’m glad I came here. I’m glad I’ve been able to learn how to use the keyblade, and I’m glad that I’ve been able to make friends like you two. I’m really happy.”

“Me too,” said Terra.

“Whatever,” said Jerome, who couldn’t help but smile.

Chapter Text

One day, Aqua, Terra and Jerome gathered in the practice field for training. The Master carried a dodge ball. “So the goal of this afternoon’s training is to practice your lock-on technique. I have with me, a ball. I’m going to throw it into the air, and the three of you will hit it with your keyblades to prevent it from falling. You three need to get a 1000-hit combo or you’ll have to wax all of the floors.”

Jerome complained, “Ugh, these chores are endless.”

“It’s not a chore. It’s another form of training.”

“Training what, Master?”

“Um, it’s training your… um… Well the stroke of the mop is similar to the… um…”

Aqua interrupted, “Master we all know that you’re making us do chores.”

“Yeah,” Terra added. “Please stop making these ridiculous explanations.”

Master Eraqus scowled at his students. “Let’s change that to a 2000-hit combo.” He threw the ball into the air. Aqua jumped into the air to hit it. She shouted, “Jerome!”

“Got it,” Jerome yelled as he ran toward the ball, jumped, did an aerial summersault, and spiked the ball down towards, “Terra!”

Terra batted the ball upwards with all his strength. Unfortunately, he popped it. The remnants of the ball clung onto his keyblade. “Oops,” he muttered.

Master complained, “You three are always breaking my stuff. Hold on, I have another ball somewhere.” So Master left to get another one. Meanwhile, Aqua nudged Terra. “Looks like you’re too strong for your own good, Terra.”

Terra flexed his arms. “I work out.”

Aqua giggled. Jerome sighed. “Can you two save the flirting until after practice?” he pleaded.

In reply, Aqua approached Jerome and nestled her head against his chest. “Aw, are you feeling left out, Jerry?” He gently pushed her away, and hoped that he wasn’t blushing. “Stop playing around, Aqua.”

“Let’s go to the movies later tonight. You, me and Terra. I just got paid, so it’ll be my treat.”

“Movies? Nah, I’m going to practice on my own later tonight.”

“But Jerry, you work too hard! I know you want to become a master as soon as possible, but you shouldn’t overwork yourself.”

Jerome shook his head. “No thanks.”

Aqua pouted. “Aw. Okay. I guess no movies then.”

Finally, Master returned with another dodgeball. “Okay you three, let’s try this again. But if you break this ball, that’s it. You’re waxing the floors.”

After an hour or so of training, and another couple hours of waxing all the floors in the building, and another hour to cook and eat dinner, the three were free for the rest of the evening. Jerome walked toward the training field, keyblade in hand, ready to put in another few hours of work. To his surprise, Aqua and Terra were already there.

“Terra? Aqua?” Jerome called out, “what are you two doing here? I thought you were going to the movies.”

Aqua threw her keyblade at him. He blocked it. The keyblade flew back into her hand. “Do you listen when I speak? I said we weren’t going. So, here we are.” She winked at him. “We’re going to do what you want to do. But next time, you need to do what we want to do.”

Jerome couldn’t help but smile. “Fine then.” He assumed a fighting stance. “Let’s practice.”

Aqua pushed Terra onto the field. “This one needs all the help he can get.” Terra glared at her. She smiled at him. He blushed. He turned to Jerome, “Let’s do this then.”

Jerome mumbled, “Damn, she’s got him whipped already.” And Jerry promised himself that he would never fall so head-over-heels in love with a girl, that she would be able to control him like that. Anyway, Jerome charged at Terra, who stood his ground and blocked Jerome’s attack. The recoil knocked Jerome back two meters.

“…” Jerome’s jaw dropped. “Wh-wh-what?”

Terra smirked. “Are you surprised?”

Lowering his keyblade, Jerome nodded. He was quiet. So Aqua said, “Keep fighting. Winner gets a kiss!”

Terra’s entire face lit up with glee. He shouted, “Then I’m definitely going to win this!” He rushed toward Jerome. But, Terra was still slow, so Jerome was able to dodge. He reversed and smashed Terra on the back with his keyblade. Terra fell forward into a forward somersault and jumped into the air. He slammed his blade on the ground, barely missing Jerome. The tremor caused by the attacked caused Jerome to stumble. Quickly, he dodged out of the way of Terra’s next attack. “Thunder!” Jerome shouted. Thunder struck Terra. But Terra shook it off. He rushed toward Jerome.

The two exchanged blows. Clang! Clang! Clang! Clang!

Jerome was impressed! Terra had improved…

But did that mean Jerome was still on the same level? Had Jerome not improved at all? Clang! Clang! Clang!

Why was he here if he wasn’t improving? Why was he training day and night, endlessly?

Clang!

Jerome had a destiny to fulfil! Why was he losing to Terra?

Clang!

Terra knocked Jerome’s keyblade out of his hand. Panting, on his knees, Jerome was silent. Terra, however was thrilled. “A kiss for the winner?” he said.

“You didn’t win yet,” Aqua said, drawing her keyblade. “You still have to fight me.”

Terra slumped forward in disappointment. “What? No fair!”

Aqua ran toward him and starting fighting. Jerome sat up and watched. Aqua moved with such grace. She spun around, twirling her keyblade as if it was an extension of herself. “Fire!” she said, throwing fireballs at Terra. He blocked it and retorted, “Aero!” to push her back.

Jerome realized that these two had grown leaps and bounds in the several months that they had been here. And it evoked jealousy in his heart. Clutching his chest, he took a deep breath and tried to battle those negative emotions welling up within him.

That’s when Aqua slashed Terra on the back with her keyblade. He tumbled in the dirt and laid face down. Aqua, still in fighting stance, taunted him, “Had enough?”

Terra groaned.

“That makes me the winner,” Aqua said.

From a distance, the three could hear clapping. They were surprised to see none other than Master Eraqus approach them. “I see that you three are training together. Very good. Consistent training is the key to success.” He drew his own keyblade. “Would you care to fight me, Aqua?”

“Sure,” she replied.

The two assumed fighting stances. They circled each other. Aqua moved first. She swung her keyblade at Master. He backflipped out of the way. She too, jumped backward. Keeping her guard up, she once again started to circle the Master, but he stood in place.

She ran toward him. He parried her strike. With a single combo, he laid her out on the floor.

“Ow,” she grumbled.

Master Eraqus said, “Remember Aqua, though you are talented, you still have much to learn before you become a master.”

She sat up. “Of course.” With a smirk on his face, Master Eraqus helped Aqua stand up. “Now, what was this about a kiss for the winner?”

Aqua, startled, took a giant step backward. She looked to Terra and Jerome. Terra’s face was cringed in disgust. Jerome, too, raised an eyebrow as well. Master Eraqus cleared his throat. “A joke. I’m joking,” he said.

Aqua didn’t seem to believe him. She backed away further and stood beside Terra. Therefore, Master changed the subject, “So, everyone is making very good progress. I believe that within three years’ time, each of you will be ready to take the mark of mastery exam.”

“T-three years?” Jerome stuttered.

Master Eraqus nodded, saying, “Mastering the keyblade is a long journey.”

Jerome ran his hands through his silver hair and began pacing in a circle. “I feel like I haven’t learned anything! I practice and practice and practice, yet I’m the weakest student.”

Master Eraqus laughed at that notion. “No, my weakest student is definitely Terra.”

“I don’t understand why you hate me,” mumbled Terra, who was offended. Like, really, really offended.

“Didn’t you just see me lose to Terra?” Jerome asked.

“No,” the Master said. “What I saw was you giving up halfway through the battle, because you were surprised by Terra’s improvement. Yes, Terra has grown very much, and frankly I am shocked as well. Yet I am proud of him for that. And I am proud for the strides that you have made, Jerome.”

“What strides?”

“It is said that we are blind to our own greatness.”  Master’s gaze intensified on Jerome. “Jerome, you must have confidence in yourself and your own growth. Comparison is the enemy of improvement. If you must compare yourself to someone, compare yourself to the Jerome that first arrived here six months ago. Was that Jerome capable of such quick movements, rapid thinking, magic, endurance and stamina? Six months ago could you have relied on team members to help you train? Six months ago, were you this unsure of yourself?”

Jerome kept silent.

Master shook his head. “Listen, if you tell yourself that you have not improved, then you speak those words into truth. You will lose your confidence and undo all of the progress you have made. I can see that your heart is struggling. I hope you win the overcome the darkness building up inside you.”

Jerome lowered his head, and clenched his hand into a fist. “No, I can’t have darkness in my heart...” He marched away. Aqua turned to follow him, but Master Eraqus placed a hand on her shoulder to hold her back. “No,” he said, “allow him some time to meditate.”

Aqua quickly took his hand off of her shoulder, clung to Terra, and said, “Terra, you still want to go to the movies?”

“Sure,” Terra replied, quickly guiding her away.

Master Eraqus mumbled, “I was just joking about the kiss…”

Chapter Text

As part of her chores to do for this day, Aqua went to the post office to pick up Master’s mail. On the way back, she complained, “You think he’d have a mailbox at his place.” She flipped through the envelopes addressed to her master. “Bill, bill, bill, disability check? Ooo. Bill. Letter from a pen pal? Xe… Xhe… Xehanort? That’s such a weird name.” She opened it and glanced over it. “Oh, this is one of Master’s keyblade master friends.” She put the letter back in the envelope. She arrived home, made her way to Master Eraqus’s office and handed him the mail.

“Mail call,” she said.

“Thank you,” he told her.

She walked away quickly, so that he wouldn’t notice that she had opened one of his letters. Master himself then flipped through his mail. “Bill, bill, bill, disability check, bill, a letter from Xehanort? Why is it open?” He frowned. “Ever since Aqua started picking up my mail, something is always open…” Master hit himself on the forehead because he realized, “She might be opening my mail. I need to confront her about that.” Nonetheless, he read the letter from Xehanort.

Eraqus,

A long time ago, I lent you a book by the name of A Pure Heart: The Search for Hearts Full of Light, by Master Yen Sid. I need it back. Deliver it promptly to me.

--Master Xehanort

“He always has been impersonal and frank,” Eraqus complained. Regardless, he looked through his bookshelves until he found the book. “It is a good thing that my students organized my office, or else I would never have found this book.” Out of curiosity, Eraqus browsed through it. It was a thick book, heavy with text, and dotted with a few images. Eraqus read aloud, “Everyone has darkness in their hearts, save for the purest of hearts. Everyone has light in their hearts, save for the darkest of hearts. There must be balance, for a heart full of light is as dangerous as a heart full of darkness. For if they come together to battle, a keyblade of unspeakable evil could be forged.”

Eraqus stared at the book. “Is this fool dabbling in these foolish experiments again?” Sitting down, he took a pen from his desk and began writing a letter in reply.

Master Xehanort,

My dear friend, here is the book as you requested. However, I must wonder, for what purpose do you need this book? The content of its pages are quite interesting.

Also, I must ask, how are you faring with that student of yours? I am sure that he is flourishing under your guidance. I have taken three students under my own wing. Perhaps eventually we could meet to have a joint training session. I foresee that such an endeavor would benefit all parties involved.

I hope you are taking care of yourself. Please do not give into the darkness that once overwhelmed your heart. I too, struggle with darkness, but as a Master of the keyblade, I strive to never give in to it. Still, sometimes my heart is challenged. For instance, one of my students is a beautiful young lady. Sometimes I catch myself admiring her beauty in a way a master should never do to his student. Furthermore, a way that no grown man should a young girl. The other day, she was teasing her fellow students, saying that whoever won a sparring match would receive a kiss from her. Foolishly, I jumped into the battle, hoping to be the winner of that kiss.

Hearts are led astray so quickly, Xehanort. Yet, I will never forgive myself if I hurt one of my precious students. And that is how I control my own darkness. All that being said, I await your prompt response.

--Respectfully, Master Eraqus

He signed and sealed the letter in an envelope, and taped it to the book. Then he walked down the hall, toward the living room area. There he saw Aqua and Terra sitting on the sofa, watching television. “Aqua,” he said, “I need you to deliver something for me.”

“Again?” she whined, as she stood up. Suddenly, Master remembered that she had a tendency to open his mail. So he changed his mind. “Actually, no, maybe Terra should…” And Master remembered that Terra was pretty much Aqua’s henchman. “You know what, I’ll find Jerome.” Jerome was the only one he could trust right now.

He found Jerome in the practice field, working on his confirmed combos. “Jerome!” Master called out.

“Yes!” Jerome said.

“I have a task for you.”

“Another chore?” he grumbled.

“No, no, it is not a chore,” Eraqus lied. “It is a test of your inner strength and integrity. I am sharing some crucial information with a colleague of mine. I want you to deliver this book to the post office without looking at the letter attached to it. Do you understand?”

“What sort of crucial information?”

“That is none your concern, Jerome.” Master handed the book to his student.

“Is it information about gaining power?”

Master Eraqus frowned. “Stop asking questions, Jerome. Do as you are told.”

“So it is?” exclaimed a wide-eyed, Jerome. “No. You can’t give me such a dangerous task.”

“Yes I can. I trust in you.”

Master Eraqus walked away. Jerome read the title of the book aloud, “A Pure Heart: The Search for Hearts Full of Light.” Confused, the young man mumbled, “What is this?” He flipped through the pages of the book, and happened to stop on a page with a picture of an elegant keyblade. Jerome read aloud, “The chi-blade is the most powerful keyblade of all. Its power can unlock Kingdom Hearts, the heart of all worlds—indeed the heart of the universe. It is a source of ultimate wisdom and power…”

Jerome froze. Turning the book over, he stared at the letter attached to it. “What did Master Eraqus write in this letter? Is it about this Kingdom Hearts?” Jerome closed his eyes. “Master, what sort of training is this? You’re tempting me with this sort of knowledge… is it because you sensed darkness in my heart?”

Jerome knelt down and thought about it. “Master expects me to make this delivery without opening the letter. I can’t let Master down… But he has let me down! I haven’t grown stronger! I can’t go back to Ivalice and defeat my father! And what if Master isn’t even capable of teaching me? Maybe I need the information in this letter.” He clutched the book to his chest. “But what if it is all a trick? Surely he wouldn’t seriously put such dangerous information in my hands. For all I know, this could just be a letter to his friend. And this is probably a chore. And he’s probably laughing at me in his office.” He pouted. “That thought makes me want to open it and read his business…”

Jerome sat silently for a while, gazing at the letter attached to the book. “Am I the only one serious about training to earn the Mark of Mastery? Aqua and Terra are inside watching television and I’m here struggling. But maybe… maybe they are able to take time to relax because they have more natural talent than I do. They learn quicker than me and so they need to put in less work. So maybe Master wants me to open this. Maybe he’s giving me the key to catching up to their level.” He leaned back onto the grass and shouted, “But he told me not to open it!”

The young man purposely hit himself on the forehead with the book. “Stop overthinking this Jerome!” He demanded of himself. “Take it to the post office!” So Jerome stood up and forced his legs to carry the book to the post office. Against his better judgement, he handed it to the post office clerk. And, full of regret, he returned home.

Emotionally exhausted, he couldn’t find the strength to continue training. Instead, he went to the living room and sat down on the reclining arm chair. His fellow students were still sitting on the sofa, watching television. Terra was sprawled out horizontally, resting his head in Aqua’s lap. He had a bowl of popcorn on his chest that both he and Aqua were sharing.

Jerome looked at the television. It showed a man holding another man at gunpoint. The man with the gun said, “This is what you get for killing my wife,” and pulled the trigger.

“What are you watching?” Jerome asked.

Terra responded, “Death Vendetta Vengeance 2. There’s a movie marathon today so they’re showing all five movies in a row.”

“This one is the best in my opinion,” Aqua said as she ate a handful of popcorn.

Jerome raised an eyebrow. “So this is how you two decided to waste your day?”

They nodded. Terra added, “Sometimes you need to waste a day to remind yourself of how precious each day is.”

Jerome stared at Terra. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, sometimes you don’t notice how much time is in a day until you’ve sat around for the entirety of it, you know?”

Lowering his head, and closing his eyes, Jerome thought about it. “So you waste time to learn how to appreciate it, huh?”

Before he knew it, Jerome fell asleep.

He awoke in a dark, empty place. “Hello?” he called out. “Hello?” He heard laughter. He turned around. “Hello?” He saw them. Aqua, Terra and Master Eraqus. They were laughing at him. “Pathetic. He’s so pathetic,” said Aqua.

“You’re my weakest student,” said Master Eraqus.

“You’ll never fulfil your destiny,” Terra said.

Jerome started to tremble. They walked closer to him. “Jerry is pathetic,” said Aqua.

“Weakest. Weakest,” said Master Eraqus.

“Destiny,” said Terra.

Jerome was too terrified to run. They grabbed him and began to smother him with a dark essence.

Jerome awoke with a start. The television was still running, but Aqua and Terra were both asleep. Jerome looked up at the clock. It was 3am. He stood up and sighed. He said to himself, “I’ll give it another six months…”

Chapter Text

“Master, you have mail,” said Ventus as he entered Master Xehanort’s study.

“Good, good,” said Xehanort. He took the book from Ven. “Ah, Eraqus was prompt in his delivery. Interesting. That man is as unorganized as the sun is bright.” He noticed the letter attached to the book. “He wrote me back?” Xehanort handed the letter to Ven. “Read it to me, Ventus.”

Ven did as he was told. Xehanort smirked. “Interesting… Three students?” He emitted a malicious chortle. “See, boy, how easily weak hearts are led astray? Many a man stronger than that fool Eraqus have been led astray by women. A woman is a man’s downfall. They are terrible, disgusting, vile creatures. They care only for themselves and nothing more. Don’t ever forget that.”

“Yes Master,” Ven said, as he internalized his master’s misogyny.

“Also, remember, it is good to know people that are easy to control. Take, for instance, this fool Eraqus. He is a very forgiving person. He believes that I am his friend. He will do anything I ask without hesitation. Even though his suspicion told him to question my motives with this book, he still delivered it. Take note, my boy. It is better to let someone believe in the idea of you, rather than let them know the real you.”

“Yes Master,” replied Ven. “But, does that mean that you aren’t his friend?”

“We are colleagues, acquaintances, sure,” answered Xehanort. “But I have no friends. And neither shall you. I only have purpose. And so do you, Ventus.”

“I see,” Ven said. “And what is that purpose, Master?”

“You shall see soon enough,” Xehanort told him. “Very soon indeed.”

Chapter Text

Another six months had passed for Master Eraqus and his three students.

During practice today, Aqua did a combo in which she spun around like a ballerina. Terra’s jaw dropped. “Whoa,” he mumbled. Master Eraqus did the same thing. Jerome rolled his eyes. When she finished, Aqua asked, “How was that, Master?”

Master Eraqus cleared his throat. “Very good. Jerome, you’re next. Show me a move that you’ve been working on.”

Jerome nodded. He took a step back. He swung his keyblade several times, threw it above him, jumped up to catch it, and shot several fireballs below, before descending to the ground with a finishing strike. “Great,” Master told him. “Terra?”

Terra swung his blade, used magnera magic, and then finished with a final blow.

“Wonderful,” said Master. “Each of you have a unique style of fighting. Keep in mind that your style is what works best for your technique, personality and skill level.”

“Right,” they all said.

The sun was setting behind them. So Master said, “That is enough for the day. Who’s turn is it to make dinner?”

Jerome and Terra pointed to Aqua. Aqua raised her hand. “Me. I hope you guys like macaroni and cheese.”

So the four of them walked back to the palace. Terra asked Aqua, “So, do you need help with dinner?”

“No, Terra, I think I can handle it.”

“Well if you need anything, just ask.”

“Okay.” She seemed a little annoyed. When they returned to the palace, Jerome and Terra went to their rooms. Master was heading toward his office, but Aqua stopped him. She said, “Hey, Master, I have a problem.”

Eraqus was startled by that. For a very brief moment, he was too afraid to ask for more information, because he thought she might say something about his own behavior. Still, he asked, “What is it, Aqua?”

“It’s Terra.”

Eraqus exhaled with relief. Aqua kept talking, “He’s really nice and all, but he’s kind of clingy. I just need him to back off a little, but I don’t know how to say that without hurting his feelings.”

“Honesty is the best policy. Why don’t you tell him the way you told me?”

“He looks at me with those puppy dog eyes and I feel bad.” Her cheeks were slightly flushed. Master, slightly confused, asked, “Are you two together?”

“What do you mean?”

“Are you two a couple?”

“No.”

“Does he know that?”

She stopped to think. “He should.” She looked up to Master. “Why? Did you think we were a couple?”

“Or something like that,” he admitted.

“Oh. Wow.” Silence ensued as Aqua thought about something. Master suggested, “Maybe it’s best if you set firm boundaries with Terra, because I don’t think he knows that he’s being overbearing.”

“Yeah…”

“Is something else bothering you, Aqua?”

“I hope he doesn’t think that I’m serious about him. That would be terrible. I see both Terra and Jerry as my friends. In fact, I feel like we’re a family. And I don’t want to ruin that.”

“Aqua, you are allowed to feel however you want to feel. As long as you’re honest, I am sure Terra will understand.”

Aqua nodded. “Okay. Thanks Master.”

“You’re welcome.”

She walked away. He grumbled, “If only I were forty years younger.” Then he hit himself on the forehead. “No, stop it Eraqus,” he demanded of himself. “The spring of youth for you has turned into the winter of solitude.” So he went to his office and sat down in his chair. He happened to notice that he had circled tomorrow’s date on a calendar that he kept on his desk. “Oh, would you look at that? Tomorrow will mark a year since they’ve become my students. Perhaps I should surprise them with a cake or go out for sushi.” Leaning back in his chair, he placed his hands behind his head. “All three of them have improved so greatly in so little time. I really am proud of them.”

Suddenly, there was a knock on his door. “Come in,” Eraqus said.

Terra entered. He wore a faraway look on his face, as if he were deep in contemplation.

“Hello Terra. Is something wrong?”

He nodded. “Master, I have a problem.”

“What is it Terra? Come have a seat.” He pointed to a chair on the opposite side of his desk. Terra sat, took a deep breath, looked his master right in the eyes and said, “Master… I-I think I’m in love.”

Eraqus’ eyes tripled in size. That was NOT what he expected. “Why are you telling me?” Eraqus exclaimed.

“It’s Aqua,” Terra continued. “I… I have these feelings for her. Like, really, really strong feelings. And I don’t know what my next step is.”

“I can’t… I don’t… What do you want me to say?”

“Haven’t you ever been in love, Master?”

Eraqus remembered back in his youth when he had fallen in love with a young woman named Trisha. He still remembered those soft blue eyes of hers, those golden-blonde locks of hair, that gentle pink-lipped smile. Unfortunately, she was the one that got away, because he had valued his quest for keyblade mastery above her. “Yes,” Eraqus said solemnly. A single, solitary tear rolled down his cheek. “Trisha…” he mumbled.

“I don’t think she’s as serious about me as I am about her,” Terra admitted.

Since Aqua had literally told Eraqus exactly that, ten minutes ago, Eraqus nodded his head.

“Why are you nodding? Do you think she’s not serious about me?” And he looked at Eraqus with that adorable puppy face that Aqua had just mentioned. Eraqus realized that Terra had really pretty eyelashes. But, that was beside the point. Eraqus told his student, “I am nodding because, yes, it is unfortunate if you seriously love her and she doesn’t reciprocate. But that isn’t your choice to make. That’s hers.”

“I need to know how she feels. Should I… confess to her?”

Eraqus shook his head. “Aren’t you two just friends?”

“I think we’re more than friends, but I want more than whatever it is that we have now.”

Why am I playing matchmaker? Eraqus wondered. Well, maybe I can kill two birds with one stone. “Listen, youth is a time to make difficult choices. Either you can be focused on love or you can be focused on your dreams. It is your dream to become a keyblade master, right?”

Terra nodded. “Yes, but—”

“Choose for yourself, Terra, will you follow the path that brought you here in the first place, or shall you get side-tracked and forget your dream?”

Terra sighed. “Are you saying that I shouldn’t be bothering Aqua with these emotions that I’m feeling?”

“What do you think, Terra?”

Terra nodded. “You’re right. She came here to master the keyblade too. We share the same dream.” He smiled. “And then when we both fulfil our dreams, then, maybe, we can fall in love.” Terra stood up. “I need to focus. Thank you, Master.” And he left.

Eraqus exhaled with relief. “That went well. I think…” He leaned back in his chair. “Do I regret the choice I made about Trisha? I wonder where she is now.” After a few more minutes, there was another knock on his door. Not again, he thought as he groaned. Nonetheless, he called out, “Come in.”

This time, it was Jerome. He marched in with an air of determination, as if he was ready to command an army. “Master, I have a problem.”

“Yes, what is it Jerome? Have a seat. Let’s talk.”

Jerome sat down, clenched his fist, and pounded Master’s desk. “I can’t handle this feeling anymore.”

“Are you in love with Aqua too?”

The confusion on Jerome’s face made Master Eraqus regret saying that. Jerome responded, “N-no. Where did that question come from?”

“What feeling is it that you cannot handle then?”

“Discouragement. I feel like I am not making progress with my skills.”

“Oh, seriously?”

Jerome nodded. “I’m not at the level that I want to be. No matter how much I train, how hard I work…” He closed his eyes. “That day that you told me to deliver that book without looking at your letter, I did as you said. But now I’m asking you as your student, please tell me the secret to growing stronger quickly!”

Eraqus realized that his lies had come back to haunt him. “No, Jerome, you are mistaken.”

Jerome chuckled ironically. “So never was any such knowledge, was there?”

Master narrowed his eyes. He avoided the question, “You have been training and learning so much. You have improved greatly.”

The teenager slammed his hands on Eraqus’s desk. “Then I want to take the Mark of Mastery exam!”

“No, you’re not ready.”

He kept banging on the desk. “I need to see for myself that I’ve improved!”

“You have, Jerome. I have seen you grow from a youth with untapped potential to a youth who can harness that power for good. Your movements are faster, your reflexes are sharp, your magic skill is increasing. You only need to gain confidence and control your darkness. Then you can continue on your path to mastery.”

Jerome was so angry that his face was flushing and his nostrils were flaring. The negative emotions that had been wallowing in his heart for six months began to overwhelm him. Jerome stood up and declared, “This has been a pointless waste of my life! I’m not going to be your little errand boy anymore! I’ve had enough of this!”

Eraqus stood up. “What do you mean?”

“I’m packing my stuff and I’m leaving! None of you are serious about mastering the keyblade!”

“Jerome, stop. Calm down. I assure you that I do care about your training. You are my student and I want nothing more than for you to achieve your dream.”

“Yeah right,” Jerome retorted. “All you care about is smiling at Aqua and having us do your chores.”

“That is not true. I care about all of you.”

Jerome, with tears in his eyes, shook his head. “I’m done with this!”

Silence.

Eraqus said, “Very well then.”

Jerome’s lips trembled. He marched away. Master did not run after him. Instead, he sat down at his desk and sighed. “Maybe this is for the best.”

So Jerome furiously cleared out his room, packing his stuff in preparation to leave. With a huge exhale, he sat on his bed and looked at a picture that he, Aqua and Terra had taken earlier this year. It was after they had fixed the wall in Master’s office together. They were all smiling. He put the picture in his bag.

Then there was a knock on his door. “Dinner’s ready,” Aqua said, peeking her head inside the room. She noticed that Jerome had his stuff packed up. Curiously, she asked, “Are you doing some cleaning?”

“No I’m leaving,” he said.

“Are you going to the summit to train?” she complained. “You’d better eat dinner first.”

“No, Aqua, I’m seriously leaving. As in, I don’t want to be Eraqus’ student anymore.”

Aqua seemed puzzled. “What do you mean?”

“I’m better off training by myself.”

“Okay…?” She turned around and shouted, “TERRA! TERRA! COME TO JERRY’S ROOM!” 

Quickly, Terra barged into the room. “What, what?” he called out.

Aqua pointed to Jerome, “He said he’s leaving.”

Terra complained, “Are you going to the summit to train right now? At least eat dinner first.”

Jerome laughed. He doubled over and laughed so hard that a few tears escaped his eyes. “No, you idiot.” He wiped his tears with the back of his hand and sat down on his bed. “Aqua said the same thing.” He sniffled. “I don’t want to be Master’s student anymore.” With a sad smile, he said, “I feel like I don’t measure up to you two.”

Terra shook his head and sat down beside Jerome. “Measure up to us? What are you talking about? When you did that amazing combo attack during training today, I felt so jealous of you! I’m always trying to surpass you.”

“But I never see you training.”

Aqua admitted, “I train by myself in the middle of the night. That’s how I taught myself back when I lived at home. My mom didn’t want me to learn to use the keyblade, so I had to hide it. So I guess I’m used to training when no one else can see it.”

Terra said, “I’m a morning person. I do my training before everyone else wakes up.”

Jerome stared at them. “Oh…”

“Why didn’t you just tell us that you felt this way?” Aqua asked.

“How could I? You two are obviously all lovey-dovey and I’m the third wheel.”

Aqua shouted, “Not true! That’s not true at all!”

Terra felt slightly offended by that.

She kept talking, “Terra is my friend. And you’re my friend!” Aqua placed her hand over her chest. “In fact, we’re sort of like a weird family. You and Terra are the older brothers that are opposites and don’t get along. Terra spoils me because he’s too nice, and you nag me because if you don’t, then I’ll never grow up to be responsible. And we’re all working hard alongside Master Eraqus-- who’s sort of like a creepy grandpa-- so that we can become keyblade masters. That’s how I see it.” Tears welled up in her eyes. “So don’t go Jerry! You belong here, with us.”

Jerome shook his head. “I’ve made my decision guys.” He smiled. “I’m really happy I got to know you two.”

Aqua glared at him. “I’m serious. If you leave right now, I’ll hate you. Seriously.”

He shrugged. “Well, then it’s a sad goodbye.” He walked past her and out of the door.

Aqua, stunned, blinked a few times. She then quietly sat on Jerome’s bed. A few tears rolled down her cheeks. “Fine.”

Terra, however, followed Jerome, while shouting, “No, Jerry don’t go!”

Jerome kept walking. Terra reached out and caught the tail of his shirt. Jerome stopped. He turned around and met Terra’s eyes. “It’s okay, Terra. I’ll find my own way. But I’ll never give into the darkness. I promise.” He offered his hand to Terra. “Promise me, too, that you’ll never give in.”

A heaving sigh escaped Terra’s lips. Terra shook Jerome’s hand, and pulled him into a hug. “Deal. Take care of yourself man.”

“You too,” responded Jerome. “And take care of Aqua.” He laughed. “You two would make a good couple.”

Terra nodded and smiled. Jerome let go.

So Terra watched as his friend walked down the grand stairs toward the courtyard. Master Eraqus was there, waiting. “So then this is goodbye, then, Jerome?”

Jerome nodded. “This is goodbye, Master.”

Master Eraqus patted Jerome on the back. “I know that you shall fulfil your destiny. You are a talented keyblade wielder. I wish you the best of luck. Goodbye.”

Jerome nodded. He raised his keyblade to open up a portal. He pressed the button to activate his armor. He tossed his blade in the air to activate his keyblade glider— something that resembled lawn chair. And he rode it into the space between worlds.

Terra waved goodbye. Master said, “He really was a strong student,” and returned inside.

Chapter Text

Aqua and Terra were sweeping the throne room the morning after Jerome’s departure. The two were silent for a while.

“It’s really quiet without Jerry’s complaints,” Terra mentioned.

Aqua did not reply.

“Don’t be too sad. I’m still here. I’m not going anywhere.”

She shrugged. Terra stopped sweeping as he pondered the possibility of confessing his feelings for her. “Seriously, though, Aqua, I’ll never leave you because I—”

Master Eraqus walked in right at that moment to cut Terra off. “Hello students.”

“Hello Master,” Aqua replied.

“Hello,” said Terra.

“Today is a bittersweet day, as if marks exactly one year since you’ve become my students…” He sighed. “Let’s talk for a moment.”

They nodded, and set their brooms down.

“No, no, keep sweeping,” Eraqus instructed. “You can sweep and talk.”

Terra and Aqua scowled at him. But they kept sweeping the floor. He sat on one of the chairs in the throne room and asked, “Do you think that my lessons are moving at a fast enough pace for you two?”

“Yes,” Terra responded.

Aqua nodded. “Mmmhmm.”

“Is there anything I could do better as a master?”

Aqua said, “Stop being creepy.”

Terra said, “Stop insulting me.”

In unison, they both said, “And stop with all the damn chores.”

Eraqus leaned forward and rubbed his forefingers against his beard. “So you two really have no qualms against me or my teaching style? I see.”

“Stop ignoring things that you don’t like,” Aqua demanded.

Terra said, “Actually, there’s a lot of flaws with Master. From his lazy bum lifestyle to his useless explanation of keyblade skills. Sometimes I wonder how he became a keyblade master.”

“Sometimes I wonder how he lived before he had students,” Aqua mentioned.

“This place was dump, remember?”

“Yeah it was a health hazard.”

“He probably ate convenience store food every night.”

“And never picked up his mail.”

“And watched a lot of hent...” Terra paused and cleared his throat. “And watched a lot of movies.”

Eraqus continued to ignore their complaints. “Well if there’s no criticism of me, I would like to say that I very much appreciate you two as my students. I feel as if you two have helped me grow in wisdom as much as I have helped you grow in skill. Anyway, I don’t know if it would be too soon to celebrate our year together, since Jerome left last night.”

Aqua shook her head. “It’s not too soon. I’ve already forgotten about that guy.”

Terra, befuddled, turned to her and said, “You were really upset last night.”

“Was I?” Aqua asked, playing dumb. “No, I don’t think I was.”

“Yes you were. You cried.”

“Hmm? No I didn’t.”

Terra glared at her. “Yes you did, Aqua. You were really upset at him for leaving so suddenly.”

Master, however, decided to ignore Terra. “Good. Well then if no one is too upset, why don’t we go out for sushi?”

Terra’s jaw dropped. “Master, I just said that Aqua was upset.”

Aqua nodded. “Sushi sounds fun. You like sushi, right Terra?”

Terra gaped at them.

But nonetheless, Terra accompanied Aqua and Master to get sushi at a fancy sushi place. “It’s good,” he said as he chomped on some makizushi. “But I still feel weird about celebrating right now. If feels as if we’re celebrating that Jerry left.”

“Who?” Aqua asked.

Terra sighed. “Aqua, don’t pretend like you’ve forgotten about him. I know you’re upset, but it’s better to deal with bad emotions face-to-face rather than to suppress them.”

Master Eraqus nodded as he ate some tamogo. “Terra is right. It is better to embrace your emotions than to lock them away.”

Aqua turned to Master Eraqus and said, “I’m not locking away any emotions. If anyone is locking away emotions, I think it’s Master.”

Master Eraqus, startled by those words, turned to Terra and said, “Then again, Aqua doesn’t need a lecture from you, Terra. I’m sure that there are some emotions that even you have locked away.”

Terra blushed. He said, “Fine. I’ll admit it. I’m sad about Jerry leaving, too, but I’m trying to be strong for Aqua. I got especially sad when Aqua made that analogy that we’re like family. Why wouldn’t I be upset that someone who was very close to me left because he was jealous of me? I feel like I should have noticed. I feel like I could have helped him. I feel like I could have prevented it. And that’s what hurts the most. I’m going to miss arguing with him and training with him and trying to make him smile.”

Terra paused to smile. “But I’ll never forget him, because the amount of good times outweighs the bad, ten-fold. And every time I think of Jerry, I’ll smile and laugh. And I’ll send good thoughts his way. And I’ll hope that he reaches his dreams and fulfills his destiny. And that’s what friendship is.”

Master said, “Wow, that was a very eloquent speech, Terra. You really do surprise me with bits of wisdom from time to time.”

“Why do you say these things to me?” Terra grumbled.

Aqua emitted a sigh. “You’re right, Terra,” she told him. “I am upset. And I do feel sort of guilty for not being able to make him stay. But mostly, I’m upset that I didn’t even say goodbye. I can’t believe I told him that I’d hate him forever. That was so childish.”

“It’s okay Aqua. He doesn’t seriously think that you’ll hate him.”

She lowered her head and groaned. “But why did I say that?”

“I think you seriously began to consider us as family because of the relationship you have with yours right now. Plus, it was all of a sudden. Maybe your initial reaction was to get really angry. Now that you’re calm, you’re thinking straight.”

“I guess…” She exhaled. “I wish I could re-do that whole situation.”

“It’s okay to feel like that, but don’t dwell on it too much. You can’t change what happened. And in the end, it’ll all be okay. Okay?”

Aqua smiled. “Okay. Thanks Terra.”

“No problem. You can always talk to me.”

She nodded.

Master Eraqus smiled. He truly was proud of both of his students. Also, the sushi was really good.

A few weeks later, Aqua and Terra were fighting on the training grounds on the summit. Aqua jumped backwards, did a series cartwheels all around him, and consistently dodged all of his attacks right in time. Terra kept lunging toward her, slamming his keyblade with all his might.

Master said, “Terra, you’re too slow. And Aqua, I know you’re very acrobatic, but try attacking.”

Aqua replied, “I can’t. He doesn’t have an opening.” She jumped out of the way of an attack. “And if he hits me, it’s gonna hurt.”

Terra suggested, “If you stop moving so much, I’ll go easy on you.” He slashed his keyblade at her. She rolled out of the way. “Oh really? I don’t think you know how to be gentle.” Terra swung his blade. She jumped over him and said, “All you have is power. No technique.”

“I have a few tricks up my sleeve,” he said as he rushed her. She tried to parry his strike, but he was too powerful. She fell over. Pointing his keyblade at her face, he said, “I win.”

“Ugh, fine,” she said. He helped her up.

Master Eraqus shook his head and remarked, “Terra, you really need to work on your speed. And Aqua, instead of looking for openings, make an opening.”

“Understood,” the students responded.

“Good. Now, fight again.”

They assumed battle stances. While they battled each other again, Master Eraqus thought about how much faster Terra moved compared to his first day of training. He thought about how much stronger Aqua had become. Time passed by so quickly. In a matter of years, the two would achieve their mark of mastery and leave him.

And then he wouldn’t have anyone to do the chores.

“That would be terrible,” he mumbled, because he had gotten quite used to this sort of life. “I need another student… perhaps a young boy. Heaven knows I can barely control myself around young girls.” He sighed. “When did I become like this? Or is it just Aqua that tempts me so?”

Aqua cast blizzaga magic to freeze Terra’s keyblade. Coated in ice, it was twice as heavy, so Terra struggled to lift it. She ran toward him, spun around, and smacked his back with her keyblade. Terra fell down. “Grah!” he grunted.

“I win!” Aqua shouted. “Right Master?”

Eraqus hadn’t been paying attention. “Hmm? Yes, yes, nice move Aqua.”

“You weren’t paying attention, were you?”

“Once more,” Eraqus told them.

They both groaned.

That evening, Aqua and Terra were preparing chocobo soup together. He was chopping the meat. She was chopping the veggies. Terra was quiet. His gaze seemed faraway. His shoulders were tense and his lips slightly pouted.

Aqua stopped chopping. “You okay?” she asked.

“Hmm? Yeah, I’m fine.”

“No you’re not,” she said while chopping some carrots. “You seem upset.”

“I’m fine.”

“Don’t hide things from me. Tell me why you’re upset. I want to help.”

“Well I’m sort of homesick. It’s been a while since I’ve seen my family.”

“Oh.”

They continued chopping.

Aqua suddenly stopped and suggested, “Why don’t you go see them?”

“Huh?”

“Go see your family, Terra,” she told him. “Why not?”

“I guess I could take a few days off and go home.” He put the meat in the soup pot. Then he started adding spices. “Yeah. I should talk to Master about it.”

“Yeah. But you’ll come back here, right? Don’t leave me alone with Master Pervert for too long.”

“Of course I’ll come back,” Terra told her with a chuckle.

“Good. Because I’ll miss you.” She smiled at him. Her entire face seemed to glow with an angelic aura. Terra thought that she looked so cute. 

He gently placed a kiss on her lips.

Her eyes widened. She took a step back.

His eyes widened. He took a step back.

They stared at each other.

Aqua laughed awkwardly, and continued chopping the vegetables. Terra touched his lips. “S-s-sorry. I completely misread the atmosphere.”

“Hmm? What do you mean?” asked Aqua.

“I shouldn’t have kissed you. Sorry.”

“What? What are you talking about?” Aqua said, trying to laugh it off. “That didn’t happen.”

“Aqua, for real, I’m sorry.”

“Haha…” She finished chopping the veggies. “The meat smells good.”

“Don’t do that thing where you ignore it.”

“Tell me when to add the vegetables.”

“Aqua, I’m serious.”

She stared at the soup.

“I really like you Aqua…” Terra admitted. “And I want to know how you feel about me.”

She continued to stare at the soup. But he could see that she was trembling.

“This doesn’t need to be awkward Aqua….”

“I’m going to add the veggies,” she said.

He sighed.

As a result, dinner time was super awkward. Master Eraqus ate his food while saying, “This is good.”

“It’s a family recipe,” Aqua said. She looked to Terra. Terra was quiet, forlorn, staring tensely at his soup. She kept talking, “Terra’s family recipe.”

Terra still said nothing. Aqua rambled on, “His mom is a really good cook. She’s the one that taught him to cook. Haha, Terra would make a great housewife.”

Terra kept quiet. Master Eraqus noticed. “Is something wrong Terra?”

The young man looked up from his soup. He glanced at Aqua. Then he admitted, “I’m homesick.”

Master Eraqus replied, “Oh, then you should go home for a little while.”

“That sounds like a good idea. I’ll go tomorrow.”

Master Eraqus concluded, “Good. I’m glad that’s settled then. It’s annoying to see you sulking. You look stupid.”

Terra opened his mouth, as if to make a rude reply, but he decided against it.

Chapter Text

Early the next morning, Master and Aqua watched from atop the stairs as Terra stood in the courtyard. He activated his keyblade armor. Standing tall, he pointed his keyblade into the air to open up a portal. With a mighty hurl, he pitched his keyblade into the air. It returned to him in the shape of a motorbike. He hopped on, and rode off into the space between realms. Aqua exhaled with relief.

Master Eraqus placed a hand on Aqua’s shoulder. “I suppose it’ll be just us for a little while.”

Aqua took a giant step backward. “Yes, that’s true. I’m going to go… do... something…” And she hurried off.

Master Eraqus, with a single tear in his eye, and a severe face, said to himself, “She knows that I’m a pervert sensei.” He shook his head. “No. I must prove to my student that I am a man of integrity. Because I am.”

A cold wind suddenly blew.

“Or I once was…”

Later that day, Aqua and Master Eraqus were in the throne room, practicing their battle skills. Aqua back-flipped away as Master Eraqus swung his keyblade. “Very good Aqua. But, can you dodge this?” He shot fire magic at her as he shouted out, “Fireragaragaraga!”

Aqua quickly ran out of the way, while shouting, “That’s not even a form of fire magic!” Today she was wearing an oversized T-shirt and shorts. Unfortunately, the back of her shirt caught on fire. “Eek!” she shouted as she stopped, dropped and rolled. Once she was not on fire, she sat up and gave Master the evil eye. “You did that on purpose.”

“We’re sparring, aren’t we Aqua?” he told her as he offered her a hand. “And as your master, I cannot go too easy on you.”

Aqua refused to take his hand. She stood up, dusted herself off and said, “Now my shirt is ruined.” So she took it off. Of course, she was wearing a sports bra underneath.

Yet, Master Eraqus stared at her. She noticed, and stared at him. She put on the charred shirt once again. “I’ll go change,” she said.

The Master quickly said, “Actually, that’s enough training for today. Why don’t you take the rest of the day off?”

She nodded, “Yes,” and quickly walked away.

Suddenly free for the rest of the day, Aqua decided to pick up a shift at McRonalds. (Yes, she still worked there, because their hours were incredibly flexible.) It started as a regular shift, with the typical indecisive customers, the picky eaters, and the rude people.

Aqua had just finished dealing with a man that was super angry at the rate of inflation. “A single burger for 500 munny?” he had said, “You’ve gotta be kidding me!” Of course she smiled her customer service smile throughout the whole ordeal. Just as she was thinking that she couldn’t handle another rude customer, she heard a familiar voice call her name.

“Aqua?” He was a tall young man, in his early twenties. He had fair skin, and his short, blonde, wavy hair was brushed backwards, out of his face. His eyes were blue. His frame was slender, and he wore a black formal business suit.

“Yes, that’s my name,” Aqua said, pointing to her name tag. “What can I get for you, sir?”

“You cut your hair! Why did you cut your beautiful hair? It was so long!” He reached out to touch her face.

She dodged his hand, and repeated, “What can I get for you, sir?”

“I almost didn’t recognize you! Why are you here?”

“Would you like to place an order?”

“Is this what you’ve been doing since you left home?”

Aqua clenched her hands into fists. “May I interest you in some black pepper fries?”

“Aqua, I can’t believe it. I haven’t seen you in over a year.” Tears formed in his eyes. “Why are you acting like this?”

“Sir if you are having trouble deciding, please step out of line and allow someone else to order first.”

He shook his head. “You’re still as stubborn as ever, huh Sis? Okay then, I’ll play along. I’ll have a grilled chocobo sandwhich combo meal, with iced sweet tea.”

“Coming right up sir.”

Several minutes later, Aqua brought the food to the table where he was sitting. Then she sat down across from him. “What do you want, Rio?”

He took a sip of his sweet tea. “Call me Big Bro, like you used too.” He chuckled and tried to mock the voice of a little girl. “Big Bro, take me to the movies! Big Bro, can I sleep in your bed? Big Bro, take me to boarding school with you! I don’t want you to leave me!” He smiled.

“Shut up Rio,” she emphasized.

“That’s no way to treat me,” he reached out to ruffle her hair. “I’ve missed you Aqua. I was really worried about you. Like, really, really worried.”

She shrugged. “Lies.”

“I’m serious! I know we’ve drifted apart since we were little kids, but how could I not be worried when my beloved little sister suddenly runs away from home? I didn’t know if you were safe! But I knew you were smart and tough so I hoped that you were able to take care of yourself. I’ve just been hoping for the best for a long while, Aqua. You honestly don’t know how happy I am to finally see you.”

She faced the table to avoid meeting his gaze. “I don’t have all day. Tell me why you’re here.”

He sighed. “We’ve just finished construction on the new potion factory here, so I came for the final inspection and ribbon cutting ceremony.”

“Oh. Business as usual, I see.” She stood up to leave. He quickly seized her hand and pulled her toward him. With an irritated look, he asked, “Aqua, you need to come home.”

“No.” Her eyes were alight with obstinacy.

“What are you even doing here? Why are you working menial labor? You’re a proud member of the D’Vitae family. Don’t you feel ashamed?”

She snatched her hand away and sat down again. “I don’t associate myself with that family anymore.”

He pounded the table with both hands and yelled, “Don’t say that!” His outburst attracted the attention of some other McRonalds customers. Rio took a moment to calm himself. Then he spoke in a normal tone of voice. “You need to come home.”

“Why now? You could have taken me home a long time ago.”

“No I couldn’t. At first, I didn’t even know that you ran away. And when Mother finally told me, I wanted to go look for you. But Mother forbade it. She didn’t want to cause an uproar or let anyone know that you went missing. She told me that you would get tired of being a runaway after a few months, and come back. When you didn’t, she told me to forget about you. She burned all of your things and cleared out your room. She’s trying to erase you from her heart. I’ve been trying to help her cope, but… Aqua, you really should come home, before every memory of you that she has fades away.”

Aqua tried to shrug the news away. “I’m never going home. So she can forget me. And you can too.” Yet her voice and body were shaking.

“I’ll never forget my sister,” he told her as he reached out to stroke her cheek. “And I want us to be a family again.” 

“You don’t mean that,” Aqua grumbled as she avoided eye contact with her brother. “I should get back to work.”

“I do mean it, Sis! I don’t know what you’re trying to prove, but it’s pointless. Stop being ridiculous and come home. I’ll forgive you. And even if Mother doesn’t forgive you, I’ll take care of you.”

She crossed her arms. “I can take care of myself.”

“Don’t be silly,” Rio said as he fiddled with the straw of his drink. “You’re coming with me as soon as I finish this meal.”

Aqua started to breathe quickly. “No. I’m happy here.”

Rio took a bite of his burger. A brief silence followed as he chewed and swallowed. “I’ll give you until tomorrow, then. Meet us at the ribbon cutting ceremony. Mom will be there too, and we will all,” he emphasized, “be leaving shortly afterwards, so do be there on time.”

He ate some more of his black pepper fries. Aqua shook her head. She sprung up from her seat and rushed toward the front door. Her manager yelled, “Aqua? Where are you going?”

“I’m taking my smoke break!” she shouted. She left the restaurant. Rio frowned as he took another bite of his burger.

Eventually, Aqua needed to return to work. Luckily Rio had left. But he hadn’t even bothered to throw his trash away. Aqua rolled her eyes as she cleaned up the table where he had been sitting. She saw that he had left a note. It said, “Aqua, you and I both know that you need to come home. XOXO Rio D.V.”

She crumpled it up.

Chapter Text

Upon finishing work, Aqua returned home to Master Eraqus’s Palace, where she locked herself up in her room and laid down on her bed. With a huge sigh, she stared upward at her ceiling. After half an hour of quiet contemplation, she sat up, took out her phone and opened up her PhotoChat app. PhotoChat allowed the user to send pictures and brief videos along with a short caption to anyone that was their friend on the app. (Basically it’s their universe’s version of SnapChat.)

Aqua checked to see if Terra had sent anything. He had. She tapped the screen of her phone to scroll through the pictures of Terra back at his parent’s house. There was a picture of his mother cooking lunch, with the caption, “Nothing beats Mom’s omurice.” She was a short woman, especially compared to Terra. She wore a pale pink komon kimono. She had a bronzed complexion, and her light brown hair was pulled back into a bun. Her thin eyes were bright blue and she had the prettiest eyelashes that Aqua had ever seen. “That’s where he gets it from,” Aqua said to herself.

The next picture was of Terra playing chess with his dad. Terra’s father was a tall, brown-skinned man who wore his long black hair pulled back into a single braid. The older man had a muscular frame, just like Terra. He had a short beard, which he rubbed intensely. His dark brown eyes were fixed on the chess board. Terra’s dad was dressed in a simple black t-shirt that said, “My Son Bought this for Me,” and khaki brown cargo shorts.

In the same picture, Terra wore a grey t-shirt that said, “Daddy’s Little Angel,” and navy blue basketball shorts. The caption said, “Mom took a picture of me beating Dad at chess.” But Aqua could tell, just by a quick glance at the chess board, that Terra was about to lose.

The next picture was a group selfie of Terra and some of his old friends. It said, “Me and the crew, reunited.” The final picture was a selfie of Terra holding a cute little Labrador Retriever puppy. The caption for that one said, “My parents adopted a puppy.” Of course he added a dog emoji.

“Aw he looks just like that puppy,” Aqua said to herself. For a while, she admired the picture. “I think I want a puppy too.” With a smile, she stood up and said, “I guess I’ll get dinner started then. Maybe I’ll make omurice…”

Later that evening, Aqua and Master Eraqus sat at the dining table, quietly eating dinner. “Good job Aqua,” he told her. “It’s good.”

“Thanks,” she replied.

“So, what did you do today?”

“I went to work,” she answered.

“Work?”

“Yeah.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean I went to work. What else could I possibly mean?”

Master Eraqus seemed very puzzled. “Work? Where do you work?”

Aqua was taken aback by that question. “I work at McRonalds. I’ve been working at McRonalds for a while now.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. You didn’t know?”

“You didn’t tell me.”

“I didn’t?”

“No.”

“Oh. Yeah. I work at McRonalds.”

“Why?”

“Because I want munny,” she told him, as if that was an obvious answer.

“Yes. Of course.” He didn’t pry further.

The two were silent for a while. Then Master Eraqus said, “Just to let you know, Aqua, if you ever feel homesick, feel free to take a few days off as well. As long as someone is here to do the chores, I’m fine with it.”

Aqua scowled. “Alright then.”

Eraqus continued, “Also, we will start our training later than usual tomorrow, because I must attend a ribbon-cutting event for the new potion factory that was built recently. As guardian of this world, I should show my face at these sort of events.” Aqua’s she looked like she wanted to say something, but she didn’t. Master Eraqus noticed. So he asked, “Would you like to come along, Aqua?”

She tensed, as if he had said something inappropriate. Accordingly, Master Eraqus thought that he had said something inappropriate. And he racked his brain to find any sort of reason as to why Aqua would be so offended by that simple question. Only one explanation popped up into his mind. So he quickly corrected himself, “Of course this is not like a date or any of that sort of thing. We are strictly master and student.”

That comment left Aqua speechless, because she hadn’t even slightly considered the possibility that her Master was asking her on a date. Her initial negative reaction was due to the fact that her brother and mother would be at that ribbon cutting ceremony. However, because Master had brought it up, she began to think that he had intended to ask her on a date. “Wait what? A date?” she repeated.

“Unless you want it to be a date,” he replied, a bit too eagerly.

Now Aqua felt really awkward. Like, really, really awkward. And she resorted to her default defense mechanism. “Terra is the one who taught me to make omurice. Haha, I’d be useless if not for him.”

Master Eraqus took the hint, and allowed the topic of conversation to change course. “Yes, Terra is quite a fine cook.”

Interestingly, the following day, Aqua did accompany Master Eraqus to the ribbon-cutting ceremony. She decided that it was finally time to tie up the loose ends with her family.

It was an outdoor ceremony. Several rows of chairs were lined up in the lawn in front of the new D’Vitae Potion Factory in the industrial section of the town. A giant blue ribbon was tied between the door frames of the building and a massive bunch of flower arrangements were placed on either side. A microphone stand was connected to speakers, located a few feet away. Ushers, dressed in formal suits, were guiding people to their seats.

“Fancy,” Aqua muttered when they arrived. She and Eraqus were seated in the front row, just a short distance away from the microphone stand. Master wore his usual getup, but Aqua wore black jeans, a black shirt, and a blue cardigan tied around her waist. She felt incredibly nervous, and as a result, her body was noticeably trembling.

Of course, Master Eraqus noticed, but he debated whether or not to ask her why she looked so nervous. He silently thought, Maybe she thinks that this is a date, so she’s nervous. But it’s not a date. It’s just a master and his student attending a social event together. She should have no reason to be nervous. Am I making her nervous? What sort of master am I if I’m making her nervous? These thoughts, in turn, caused Eraqus to be nervous. And he, too, started shaking from his nervousness.

Aqua noticed that Master Eraqus was trembling, but she thought that he was trembling because he was nervous because he thought that he was on a date with her. This, on top of the initial nervousness that she felt about the confrontation that she would have with her mother and her brother, caused her to feel nauseous. Her face lost color and she started to breathe rapidly.

Upon seeing the amount of distress that Aqua was in, Master Eraqus also felt sick to his stomach. His face flushed red, and his head started to hurt. He desperately wanted to console her. So he turned to her and said, “Don’t worry. Just relax.”

And that was probably the worst thing that he could have said to her, because, in her mind, those words served as a confirmation that he thought that this was a date. And she was seriously appalled at the idea of being on a date with Master Eraqus. So she stood up and said, “Excuse me,” because she felt like she was seriously going to throw up. 

As he watched Aqua scurry away, Master Eraqus fought back the urge to cry manly tears of deep regret, for he feared that he had just traumatized this sixteen-year-old girl.

Needless to say, this miscommunication was stressful for the both of them.

Aqua found herself standing on the sidewalk a short walk away from the potion factory. She tried to take a few deep breaths to calm herself. Then she paced back and forth as she pondered her situation. She covered her face. “This day can’t get any worse.”

It was in that exact moment of despair that Aqua’s cell phone beeped. Eager to distract herself from her thoughts, she looked at her phone messages. Terra had sent her a picture of his parents’ puppy asleep on the floor. The little thing was lying on its back with its tongue hanging out of its mouth and legs stretched out. The caption was, “Do you think Master will let us adopt a puppy?”

Maybe it was because Aqua really needed this sudden burst of positivity that she burst into a fit of laughter. She replied to his message, “We already have one.” And she smiled at the picture while thinking aloud, “Terra is such a puppy. But he’s an earnest puppy that chases after his dreams wholeheartedly.”

Suddenly, she had an epiphany. “Terra and I share the same dream. And I want to reach that dream alongside him. So if that means defying Mom and Rio, then that’s what I’m going to do.” A wave of relief flooded over her. Standing up, she held her head high and shouted, “I’m going to follow my dream because it’s my life and I can do whatever I want!”

Some startled random passer-bys did a double take at her. But she didn’t care. She felt a sudden burst of energy. A proud smile formed across her lips as she placed both hands over her heart. “I won’t let anyone control me. I don’t belong to anyone. I’m Aqua D’Vitae and I’m going to forge a destiny of my own. Though the darkness of uncertainty lurks around the future, I’ll follow the path illuminated by the bright light of my dreams.” She glanced at her phone. “Thanks Terra.”

She noticed that Terra had replied to her message, saying, “What do you mean? Did you adopt a puppy?!”

She chuckled and replied, “Just kidding.”

Chapter Text

Aqua returned to her seat beside Master Eraqus in a much more composed manner. Master was quite surprised that her entire aura had completely changed. But he didn’t want to ask her about it, for fear of provoking something else that would upset her. Silently, he thought, Maybe I was overthinking this whole situation. Yeah, I’m being ridiculous. So he calmed down right in time for the ribbon cutting ceremony to begin.

Aqua’s older brother arrived with an entourage of investors, town officials and building managers. They gathered in front of the building. Local journalists took photos and a TV crew began to film the event. Rio stood in front of the mic and tapped it. He blew into it. “Is this thing on?” he asked.

Yes, the microphone was definitely working fine. But Rio continued to say, “Testing, testing, one, two, three. Hello? I’m not sure that this is on. Can someone come check this microphone?”

One of the business partners said, “I think it’s on Mr. D’Vitae.”

“Oh, is it? Hello?” Rio tapped the mic once more. “Oh, yes, I think it’s on. Thanks.” He cleared his throat and adjusted his tie. “Hello, and welcome citizens of the Land of Departure. My name is Mogorio D’Vitae, Vice President of the D’Vitae Group. We specialize in the manufacture and distribution of battle supplies, such as potions, orbs, magic recipes, and et cetera. You can find our top quality items everywhere, from your local moogle shop to your high end weaponry retailers. Not only do we care about the quality and affordability of our products, but we care about the work environment and career satisfaction of all of our employees. In fact, my late father—bless his departed soul—always said this one phrase…”

“Do everything you do with love and passion,” he said aloud, as Aqua mumbled the same thing under her breath.

Rio wasn’t finished talking, “He said that if our employees weren’t happy working for us, then no matter the profit margin, we’ve failed as a business. He said that a business is a living thing, and that all living things must contribute to the ecosystem in some way. For D’Vitae industries, that means providing high-quality items, as well as job opportunities, and philanthropic events. Here to speak a little more about D’Vitae industry’s philanthropy, I’ll give the microphone to my mother. Please give a round of applause for the President and CEO of D’Vitae industries, Patrisha D’Vitae.”

Master Eraqus nearly jumped out of his seat. “T-trisha?” he repeated.

Trisha D’Vitae was a tall woman, and that was only accentuated by the very high black high-heels that she was wearing. Her hair was long, platinum blonde, and wavy. She pinned it back into an Audrey Hepburn style updo. She wore a navy blue skirt suit, a necklace of pearls and a giant sapphire ring on her left ring finger. Her earrings were diamond studs. Her eyes were blue, her lips were red and her makeup was flawless.

“Good morning everyone,” she began. She scoped out the audience. Her eyes met with Master Eraqus’s eyes. She chuckled smugly. Then her eyes met with Aqua’s. Her composure dropped. “A-aqua?”

Aqua made a slightly embarrassed face and tried to turn away. Trisha too, slightly blushed. She cleared her throat. She continued her speech. “As my son said, at D’Vitae industries, we pride ourselves on giving back to the community. We understand that the community provides both the workforce and revenue that keeps our company alive. We exist because of you. So of course we love to thank the community.”

Aqua stopped paying attention. She began to practice in her mind how she would tell her brother that she wasn’t going to come home with them. And she also started to practice show she would tell Master Eraqus that the woman that he had been in love with years ago was her mother.

She had realized this a couple of months after becoming Eraqus’s student. The day that she, Terra and Jerome were cleaning out the attic, Aqua had found a picture of Master Eraqus with a woman who looked very similar to her mother. Finding this as a quirky coincidence, Aqua wanted to keep the picture. Then she had read Master’s journal. What were the chances that the woman who looked like her mother would also have the same name as her mother? She had taken the journal from the attic and kept reading it. That is how Aqua found out that, long ago, her mother had been a keyblade apprentice alongside Master Eraqus and whoever that weird Xehanort fellow was. But Aqua had kept that information to herself.

The ribbon cutting ceremony concluded with Rio snipping the ribbon to the entrance of the factory. There was a round of polite applause. Rio said, “Thank you, once again, for celebrating the opening of this new factory with us. Please, enjoy some hors d'oeuvres,” as he gestured to a row of tables that had been set up with light refreshments.

So the crowd headed toward the food. Rio shot a glare at Aqua. Aqua shot a glare at him and remained in her seat. Eraqus stood up. He approached Miss D’Vitae. “Trisha, hello,” he said.

She completely ignored him, turned to Rio and said, “Rio we need to be in Agrabah for our partnership meeting within the next hour.”

Rio said, “Don’t worry Mother, I’ve arranged for transportation.”

“Shall we be off then?”

“Aren’t we forgetting something?”

Trisha looked around. “Hmm? Not that I can think of.”

Rio pointed to Aqua. “My sister. Your daughter.”

The woman puckered her lips and tapped her chin. “A daughter? I don’t have a daughter.”

Aqua hadn’t expected those words to hurt so much. Rio, equally hurt, said to his mother, “Mother, stop being ridiculous!” He turned to Aqua. “And Aqua, you must stop being ridiculous as well! We’re leaving. Let’s go.”

Eraqus turned to Aqua and exclaimed, “She’s your mother?”

Trisha, very much alarmed, turned to him and said, “Wait, how do you know Aqua?”

Eraqus answered, “I’m training her to become a keyblade master. She’s my student.”

Trisha was absolutely appalled. “What?” She shook her head. “You? You’re useless! You couldn’t teach a fly to fly.”

“Yet I’m the one with the Mark of Mastery,” he retorted.

Trisha shot him a murderous look. To Rio, she said, “We’re going to be late for our meeting if we don’t hurry up.”

Rio seized Aqua’s hand. “I’m not leaving without Aqua.”

Aqua ripped away from his grasp. “But I’m not going with you.”

Rio grabbed her hand once more. “No! You are coming home right now! Enough of this nonsense!” 

She pulled away once more. “Stop it! Let me go! You’re not my mother!” She pointed to her mother. “She is! And she doesn’t want me!”

Trisha rolled her eyes. “If I had a daughter, she wouldn’t be consorting with old men. For all I care, this little bitch can rot wherever she wants.”

Aqua bit her bottom lip. He breathed as if she was about to cry. “Mom…”

“This is absolutely fucking ridiculous!” Rio shouted. The frustration in his voice was audible. “I can’t take this anymore!” He blinked back tears. “Am I the only one who cares about this family? Dad wouldn’t have wanted this!” He reached for Aqua’s hand again. She jumped back and drew her keyblade. She assumed a fighting stance as she declared, “Touch me again and I’ll fight you!”

Now they were officially causing a scene. And the publicity-minded members of the D’Vitae family realized that they probably should not be handling their private business in front of their newly inaugurated potion factory. Accordingly, they gave in. Trisha asked, “Eraqus, do you still live in that palace in the mountains?”

Eraqus nodded. Mrs. D’Vitae glanced at her watch. She then took out her cellphone and made a call. “Hi, Jessica, can you go ahead and cancel our 11 o’clock with Arish in Agrabah? Something came up at the potion factory ribbon cutting ceremony and our hands are tied at the moment. Mmmh. Yeah. Thanks.” She hung up. Then she snapped her fingers at Eraqus. “Let’s go.”

Chapter Text

The older D’Vitaes and Master Eraqus sat in a living room at his palace. Aqua made tea and brought it in. Trisha said, “Student? You’re more like a slave Aqua.”

Aqua glared at her mother.

“Don’t make that face. It looks ugly. And you can’t afford to look any uglier.” The woman shook her head in disbelief. “You used to be so pretty. You’ve really let yourself deteriorate. The face. The clothes. The terrible haircut. Have you been cutting it yourself? Sweetie if you can’t even afford a decent haircut, are you really living like a human being? And your skin used to be so white. Now it’s all sunburnt and splotchy. And you’ve put on weight, haven’t you? If you returned home, no one would recognize you. You might as well stay here.”

Aqua covered her mouth with her hands to keep from screaming expletives. Master Eraqus jumped in to her defense. “How rude!” he declared. “If you came here just to spout insults, you can leave.”

Trisha scoffed. “And you, can’t you afford a maid? This place is a dump. I wouldn’t even let my dog sleep here.”

Rio commented, “Is this how my precious little sister has been living for the past year? I’m going to cry. I’m seriously going to cry.” He started crying. “I wanted to come find you, but Mother didn’t let me. She sabotaged any effort I made. And you’ve been suffering here in this pig sty with this weird old man. I’m so sorry.”

“See why I ran away from them?” Aqua told Master Eraqus.

Eraqus jumped out of his seat. “You’re a runaway?!”

“You didn’t know?!” she asked him, genuinely shocked (although she never told him).

Aqua’s mother commented, “Eraqus is as dumb as a bag a bricks. He wouldn’t know something even if you told him.”

Aqua saw this as an opportunity. She asked, “Mom, how do you know my master?”

“Don’t call him your master,” Trisha demanded. “He doesn’t deserve the title.” She giggled in ironic laughter. “Why are you even living like this? Stop being stupid. Come home and I’ll forgive you for this little act of rebellion. I’ll find some way to explain it. And I’ll fix you up all nice and pretty again.” Her laughter died down into a desperate plea. She was struggling not to cry. “And we’ll forget this ever happened? Okay? You’ll go back to high school and be the most elegant and respected girl. You’ll go to college to study law and politics and graduate sigma cum laude.” Trisha’s voice was trembling. So was her entire body. Her eyes were wild and watery. “You’ll go on to become a powerful politician and business woman and expand our company’s influence all over the worlds. You’ll marry a nice respectable man and have a nice respectable family. And you’ll be happy. That’s the plan, right?”

“No,” Aqua told her. “I want to be a keyblade master so—”

“No you don’t!” Trisha interrupted. “You just want to piss me off! And you want to piss me off because you don’t understand that everything I do is for your best interest!”

Aqua shot back, “Everything you do is so that you can live vicariously through me! You had my whole life planned out! I don’t want that life! So I chose my own, because only I know what’s best for me!”

“No you don’t,” replied her mother, dismissively. “You’re only sixteen! You don’t know anything! I’m the only one who knows what is best for you.” She reached out to touch Aqua. “You can’t survive without me.”

“But I’ve been living on my own for over a year. I can take care of myself.”

Viciously, Trisha retorted, “Are you really taking care of yourself? You really are stupid if you don’t realize what a wretched state you’re in.”

Aqua told her mother, “I’m not in a wretched state. In fact, I’m happy. I’m very happy that I’m learning to become a keyblade master. I’m happy that I can follow my dream.”

“Then you can stay here and rot. I’m not going to drag you back home because, frankly, I don’t want a daughter that is disgusting, disobedient and disrespectful. If you aren’t going to do what I say, then stay here. I don’t care. I’ll forget about you. You’ll be nothing more than a name I faintly remember. And I’m completely fine with that.”

Rio jumped in, shouting, “Mom, this is insane! She’s your daughter!”

Again, Aqua hadn’t expected her mother’s words to hurt her so badly. “I don’t want that Mom. I want you to understand that—”

Trisha was firm. “No. If you want my approval of this sort of lifestyle, you won’t get it.”

So Aqua decided to use the last resort. “Mom, didn’t you study to become a keyblade master here once?”

Trisha made an intense leer of disgust toward Eraqus. “What did you tell her?”

He said, “I told her nothing. I didn’t even know that she was your daughter.” He looked at Aqua. “Although now that you are side-by-side, I see the resemblance. She’s your spitting image, Trisha.” He gasped because he realized that was probably the reason why he was so attracted to Aqua.

Rio asked, “Mother, what does she mean?”

“Nothing.”

Aqua explained, “Mom trained to be a keyblade master alongside Master Eraqus when she was my age. In this very world. In this very same place.”

Trisha pounded the table in front of her. “I worked harder than this fool in front of me! I was a prodigy! Master said so! Yet he didn’t award me with the Mark of Mastery! He gave it to Eraqus, and then Xehanort instead! Neither of them deserved it! I did!”

Eraqus said, “Trisha, how could you be a keyblade master when you bear so much darkness inside your heart? Back then the darkness was small, but now I see that the darkness has grown. It is so thick that it prevents you from loving your own daughter. How can a person like you use the keyblade for good?”

She stood up and pointed to Eraqus. She was livid. Her face was red. Her fingertips were trembling. She was crying. “Don’t lecture me, you lazy, useless buffoon! You’re a liar! You said you loved me! So why didn’t you leave with me? Why did you stay here?”

Eraqus calmly looked her in the eyes and answered, “I made my choice, Trisha.”

Trisha pointed to herself and, her chest shuddering with sobs, told Aqua, “After the fifth time I took the Mark of Mastery Exam and failed, I gave up. I hated the keyblade! I hated my master and Xehanort and this entire world! The only person I loved was this idiot! Yet when I told him that I wanted to have nothing more to do with this sort of life, he told me to go on without him.” She shook her head so fast that her hair fell out of its updo. “He would rather stay here alone, in this sorry excuse for a castle, than be with me.” She forced a prideful smile. “Well the joke is on you, Eraqus! I became a successful career woman. And the company that I’ve helped to create will long outlive me! What have you done?”

Eraqus answered, “I’ve been happy.”

Trisha’s skin turned ghostly white. Stunned, she sat down and looked straight ahead. She kept quiet.

A heavy silence choked everyone in the room.

After a long moment, Trisha took a deep breath, turned to Aqua, and said, “You’re going to end up just like me if you keep going down this path. I know what’s best for you, Aqua. Believe it or not, I want you to be happy.”

Aqua shook her head. “I won’t repeat your mistakes, Mom. I’m definitely going to earn the Mark of Mastery.”

“No you aren’t,” her mother told her. “You’re going to fail, and then you’re going to feel empty. You’re going to realize that you’ve wasted your youth chasing ridiculous dreams.”

Aqua shook her head. “Mom you didn’t waste your youth.” She clasped her mother’s hands in her hands. “And you eventually fulfilled your dream, right? In his journal, Master wrote that you said you wanted to use the power of the keyblade to give back to those in need. You may not have become a keyblade master, but you’re achieving that dream with the charity work that you do. Doesn’t that count for something? And remember how much Dad loved you?”

Rio piped in, “Bless his departed soul.”

Aqua concluded, “Even though he’s in heaven, I’m sure Dad still loves you. And I love you. And Rio loves you. So forget about how this lazy, useless guy,” Aqua pointed to Eraqus, “broke your heart all those years ago. You’ve made a family that loves you. And you were happy, right?”

Trisha sniffled. “Yes. But now everything is ruined. Your dad’s gone, you ran away, and Rio hates me…”

Rio piped in, “I don’t hate you, Mother. I was mad that you weren’t searching for Aqua, and that you were acting like the victim. But I don’t hate you. I just want to fix our family. That’s all I want.”

Aqua added, “And we can fix our family. Believe it or not, I want you to be happy Mom.” Aqua hugged her mother.

Trisha returned the embrace for a long while. Finally, she slid out of Aqua’s arms, took Aqua’s hand and pleaded, “Aqua, please, I’m begging you. Give this up and come home.”

Aqua bit her lower lip. She took a deep breath, and exhaled. She slowly shook her head. “Sorry Mom,” she answered. “I’m staying here.”

“Okay then,” Trisha said. Letting go of Aqua’s hand, she stood up and dusted herself off. “You’re dead to me.”

Those words tore Aqua apart. It hurt so much that she dropped to her knees. Meanwhile, Trisha fixed her hair and said, “Come on Rio, let’s go.”

Rio glared at his mother. “Even though I don’t want her to live like this, I want my sister to be happy. I’m willing to make compromise because I don’t want to split up the family. Dad wouldn’t have wanted to split up the family. We are family, Mother. So please don’t say that to her.”

Trisha smiled at him. “Then you’re dead to me too. Goodbye.” And, with the click-clack sound of high-heeled shoes, she strutted away.

Rio grabbed at his chest, as if she had physically shot him with her words.

However, a serene silence filled the room this time, as if the heaviness marched away to the beat of the high-heels.

“I’m so sorry Rio,” Aqua apologized.

Rio shook his head. “It’s been a long time coming. I’ve been arguing with her for over a year because I wanted to find you and she didn’t want me to find you.” He chuckled. “To think that we met up at McRonalds. Destiny is weird, huh? Haha…”

Aqua could tell that he was forcing himself to be brave. She knew that their mother’s rejection had devastated him. So she hugged him. “What are you going to do?” she asked.

He returned the hug, and said, “I’ll give Mother some space. Maybe in time she’ll calm down…” He sighed. “Aqua, I’m serious when I say that I missed you. I’m serious when I say that I was worried. Why didn’t you tell me where you were?”

“I was afraid you’d try to drag me back. You always were a mama’s boy. You do anything she says.” She squeezed him tightly. “I’m actually shocked that you stood up for me. I’m really happy that you stood up for me.”

He released her and ruffled her hair. “That’s because I love you, Sis. Nothing will ever change that. So don’t ever run away from me again, okay?”

She nodded. “Okay.”

Rio stroked her cheek. “Are you seriously fine here?”

She nodded. “I promise that I’m happy and safe. I want to stay.”

Rio glanced at Master Eraqus. “You sure?”

Aqua nodded. “I’m positive.”

“Alright, well, I guess I’m okay with that,” he said. “But I haven’t seen you in so long! I want to know all about what you’ve been doing, so let’s have some brother-sister bonding time. First, I’m taking you to a spa. Then we’ll go shopping for clothes. Then we’ll-”

“Rio. You don’t need to spoil me.”

“Yes I do.” He pressed his forehead against her forehead. “So we’re going tomorrow.”

“Okay.” She smiled.

“Good.” He hugged her again. “Bye Sis.”

“Bye.”

With that, Rio left.

Now that the ordeal was over, Aqua took a huge deep breath. Upon exhaling, she turned to Master Eraqus and said, “Sorry about that.”

He asked, “You took my old journal? I was looking for it.”

Aqua changed the subject. “Thank you for being supportive of me,” she said.

“You’re welcome. But seriously, Aqua, did you read my old journal?”

Aqua gave him a puppy dog look, and replied, “You asked me out on a date. So who is the real criminal here?”

“I-i-it wasn’t a date, Aqua. It was simply a master and student attending a social event together.” He cleared his throat. “Anyway, please return my journal to me at once.”

“Of course.” 

Chapter Text

Terra came back a few days later.

“Hello!” he called out as he walked into the throne room. “I’m back!”

“Wait wait wait!” Aqua cried out. She was wearing an apron and her hair was pushed back by a bonnet. In her hand was a mop and beside her was a mop bucket. “Make sure your shoes I clean. I just mopped there.”

Terra checked his shoes. “I’m good. Why are you mopping? Is it one of Master’s training things?”

“No, this is punishment for taking his journal and reading it. As well as for not telling him that I was a runaway.”

Terra raised an eyebrow. “He finally found out?”

“Yup. So he made me deep clean the entire palace.” She chuckled. “It’s spotless.” 

“How’d he figure it out?”

She shrugged. “Guess Master is smarter than I thought.” She smiled at Terra. He smiled at her. Then she blushed and continued to mop. Terra blushed as well. He looked around. He scratched the back of his head. He began to say something. “Hey Aqua, about that kiss that we did before I left… Um… well…”

“I don’t have an answer yet,” she told him.

“Huh?”

“I don’t exactly know what this feeling for you in my heart is. Is it rivalry? Admiration? Friendship? Love? I don’t know. But what I do know is that I want to work hard to become a keyblade master alongside you. So let’s work hard to reach our dreams. The both of us. And when we do, I’ll have an answer. Are you okay with that?”

He nodded. “Yeah. Yeah I am.”

Chapter Text

“Master, I can’t,” Ventus said as he backed away from the hoard of humanoid, yet, cockroach-like creatures encroaching toward him. He trembled with fear. “I’m scared! This is scary!”

“Fight those heartless, boy,” demanded Master Xehanort, who was standing a short distance behind Ven. “Fight them with the power of the darkness in your heart! Imagine everything that you hate, you despise, you detest! Let it fill you up completely!”

Two were in an arid, abandoned place. Dusty mountains loomed in the distance. All around them, the remnants of the keyblades of fallen warriors marked their graves. Ven started crying, “I can’t! I’m scared!” The boy kept backing away, until he bumped into his master. The old man’s scowl of deep disappointment caused Ven to feel ashamed of his terror.

But why wouldn’t Ven be scared of the uncanny shadow-like creatures that moved spasmodically? They were terrifying. And there were so many of them. They were like creatures from his nightmares. Perhaps this was a nightmare.

Xehanort began to walk away. “Either you fight them, or I leave you here alone to die.”

“Master, don’t go,” cried Ven. Tears streamed along his face. “No! Don’t leave me!” He tried to follow Xehanort, but one of the heartless grabbed his right leg and pinned Ven down. In vain, he reached out to Xehanort. “Master!” he shouted. More heartless grabbed onto him. He felt himself suffocating. “MASTER!” Ven shouted.

He was overrun.

Ventus later awoke in his bedroom. Silently, he stared at the ceiling. Earlier that year, he had been cleaning out Master Xehanort’s study, and had found some multicolored LED lights. Ven had hung them up along his ceiling. At night, he would turn them on and fall asleep to what he pretended was artificial stars. They were twinkling right now. He sat up. “So… was it… a nightmare?”

He got out of bed. He was wearing his training clothes. That meant, “It wasn’t a nightmare.” Fearfully, he walked to Master Xehanort’s study. He knocked on the door.

“Come in,” answered the Master. Ven entered into the room and remained silent. So Xehanort asked, “Why are you disturbing me?”

“I-I-I came to apologize,” Ven said.

“To apologize for weakness is a useless gesture. The only apology that I’ll accept is for you to grow stronger.”

“I understand,” Ventus said. He lowered his eyes.

“Do you truly understand, Ventus? Do you truly understand how badly you have failed? Do you truly understand how disappointed I am?”

The boy shook with terror. “I’m sorry Master.”

“Useless. You are useless, Ventus.”

Ven’s face felt burning hot. The pressure built up in his eyes as he forced back tears. His hands were clenched into fists and his eyes focused on the floor. His voice cracked. “I want to be useful Master. I know I have a purpose. Help me fulfil that purpose.”

Xehanort smirked. “Very well then, boy. You must learn to use the darkness in your heart. You have plenty of it. Anger. Despair. Fear. So much fear, Ventus. What do you fear most?”

Ventus started to hyperventilate. He feared loneliness. Abandonment. He couldn’t bear the thought of being cast away, like trash left to rot in a landfill. He was so terrified that he was dumbstruck. He couldn’t answer. So Xehanort summoned his own keyblade. He pressed it against Ven’s chest. “Think of all pain you have suffered. Think of your worst nightmares. Let those emotions consume you.

Ventus dropped to his knees. He mumbled. “I’m scared. Don’t leave me.” Tears rolled down his cheeks. “Why did you leave me? Why? I was so scared. I’m always so scared.”

“And allow me to unlock the darkness in your heart,” Xehanort concluded. An evil grin spread across his face as the tip of his keyblade began to glow. “Aaaaaaaaaaah!” Ven screamed in pain. There was a brilliant flash of light, followed by the sharp sound of glass shattering.

Ven fell sideways. He writhed and twitched, as if having a seizure. Meanwhile, a dark orb of essence gathered at the tip of Xehanort’s keyblade. The orb condensed to the size of a gumball, before imploding with a burst of dark energy. Quickly, it molded itself into the shape of a simple heartless. It scuttled along the walls, as if desperately looking for something.

After emitting one last shout of pain, Ven stopped moving.

The heartless scuttled toward Ven’s body and began to encircle it. It’s beady yellow eyes stared into Ven’s blue eyes, and watched the life drain out of them.

Xehanort lowered his keyblade. “Now, I wait.”

A few days later, Xehanort grimaced in disgust at the empty shell of his student, Ventus. Xehanort had taken the boy to the boy’s room and laid him on the bed. He had hoped that Ventus would wake up, but Ven’s blue eyes remained dull and lifeless. He was comatose. “Pitiful,” said the old man. “What shall I do with this useless thing now? I guess I’ll dispose of it. Otherwise it’ll rot here.”

So he bundled up Ventus in a bunch of blankets and used the lanes between to walk to a random place, far away from his lair, so that no one could trace the body back to him. He arrived in a random little quiet island. He set the boy down on a palm tree. Although Xehanort was not a sentimental man, he observed a moment of silence for the boy. Looking up into the nighttime sky, he saw a meteor shower.

Perhaps the heavens, too, were crying about the tragedy that had befallen this wretched child. And the faintest bit of light sprung up in Xehanort’s heart as he, for just the briefest millisecond, felt a twinge of pity. “Poor child,” he muttered, as he prepared to leave.

Perhaps the heavens had mercy on the boy, because he suddenly sat up. “Huh?” Ventus mumbled. Xehanort, pleasantly surprised, grinned an evil grin.

So the old man carried Ventus back to his lair. Upon setting Ventus down on his bed to rest once more, Xehanort was met with another surprise. The simple heartless that had sprung from Ventus now had taken a humanoid form. A jet-black haired, red-eyed boy with the same facial features as Ventus. Yet, his personality was still like that of a heartless, as his eyes darted around, and he shook with a paranoid sort of energy. His hands wouldn’t stop fidgeting. Every little sound caught this new boy’s attention. It was as if he was learning to process all the sensory information in the world at once.

Xehanort spoke to him. “Hello there.”

The boy repeated, “Hello there.” He wore only an oversized black t-shirt. He kept tugging at it, as if the concept of clothes frightened him.

“I am Master Xehanort.”

“I am Master Xehanort,” the boy repeated.

Xehanort gently placed a hand on the boy’s head. “No, no, I shall can you… Vanitus.”

Vanitus repeated, “Vanitus.”

“Yes, yes,” said Master Xehanort.

Vanitus repeated, “Yes.”

Chapter Text

Ventus may have woken up, but he wasn’t entirely there. His eyes, still dull, seemed to stare at nothing in particular. He could barely speak, and he didn’t seem to remember anything. Xehanort had to feed him and bathe him and dress him. And he also had to do the same for the newborn Vanitus. But at least Ventus was quiet. Vanitas kept asking questions.

The three of them where in Xehanort’s study. The Master sat at his desk, writing something. Ventus was sitting quietly on a chair, beside the window. Vanitas was walking around the room, rapidly, looking at bookshelves, peeking through windows, flipping light switches, and generally being annoying. “Who is this?” Vanitas asked, pointing to Ven. When Xehanort didn’t answer, Vanitas asked again. “Who is this? Who is this? Who is this? Who is this?”

“That is Ventus,” Xehanort answered, hoping to placate the boy.

“Ventus?” Vanitas repeated. “Ventus. Ventus. Ventus. Ventus. Ventus.”

“Quiet,” Xehanort demanded.

“Quiet. Quiet. Quiet,” said Vanitas.

Xehanort pointed to Ven. “Quiet. Like him. No noise.”

Vanitas pointed to Ven and questioned, “Ventus?”

Xehanort nodded. “Ventus is quiet.”

“Ventus is quiet…” Vanitas then stopped talking.

Master Xehanort was pleased. Now that stage one of his plan was complete, all he needed to do was continue to train Ventus and Vanitas so that they could one day fight to forge the chi-blade. The old man stood up from his desk. He grunted because a sudden wave of pain shot through his body. Xehanort leaned forward, a hand on his desk to steady himself, and a hand on his chest to calm his throbbing heart.

Vanitas noticed. “Master Xehanort?”

“No worries, Vanitas,” the man said as he grabbed a potion from his desk drawer. He drank it all in one gulp, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “This body is getting old. I need a new one. That is all.”

Vanitas seemed concerned. Master Xehanort frowned. Concern, empathy, those were traits of light. No, no, that wouldn’t do. Vanitas had to be a being of pure darkness. So Xehanort threw the potion bottle at Vanitas. It smashed against the wall behind the boy, who had barely dodged it by scuttling away quickly. “Fear. Anger. Hatred. That is all you must know,” declared the master. “You have a purpose, Vanitas, and you will fulfil that purpose.”

“Purpose?” Vanitas repeated.

“Yes.” And Xehanort walked to his own room to go lie down.

Suddenly bored, Vanitas decided to walk around the lair. He went to the kitchen. He went to the living room. He went to Ven’s room. He went to his own room. He tried to go to Master’s room, but it was locked. He returned to Xehanort’s study. Ven still sat in the same spot, quietly. “Ventus,” said Vanitas.

No reply.

“Ventus. Ventus. Ventus. Ventus. Ventus. Ventus. Ventus. Ventus. Ventus. Ventus. Ventus. Ventus. Ventus. Ventus. Ventus. Ventus. Ventus. Ventus. Ventus. Ventus. Ventus. Ventus. Ventus. Ventus.”

No reply.

So Vanitas took Ven’s hand and placed it on his own chest. “Vanitas,” he said.

This seemed to awake Ven from his stupor, slightly. “Vanitas?”

“Yes.”

Ven slightly smiled.

Vanitas was thrilled.

After a few days, Vanitas was able to speak full sentences, and Ven could walk and mumble words. So Xehanort decided to start training Vanitas as a keyblade wielder. The three went into the woods behind their lair to begin the training. Ven sat on a tree stump, watching nothing in particular, while Xehanort drew his blade. “Can you do this, Vanitas?”

Vanitas got close so that he could observe Xehanort’s keyblade. Then, holding out his hand, he summoned is own keyblade.

“Excellent,” said the thrilled Xehanort. “Now, fight me.”

“Why?”

“Do not ask questions, boy. Do as you are told.”

Vanitas ignored Xehanort and examined his own keyblade. It was red and black. It felt smooth to the touch. “Keyblade,” Vanitas said. “Is this the keyblade?”

“Yes.”

Vanitas grabbed at his head with his free hand. “Why is it so familiar?”

“Can you fight with it, Vanitas?”

“Yes.”

“Fight me.”

So Vanitas ran toward Master Xehanort. He swung his blade. The Master jumped over the student’s head and slashed him on the back. “ARRRRGH!” Vanitas shrieked as he fell forward. He squirmed, because that was the first time he had ever felt physical pain. He did not quite understand the sharp, bitter sensation, and it brought tears to his eyes. Xehanort told him, “Embrace the pain, Vanitas. You are a creature of darkness and you will only ever know pain.”

Curling up into a ball, Vanitas, wide-eyed, began to hyperventilate. “Pain?”

“Get up! Defend yourself, or you shall only know more pain.”

Paralyzed by fear, Vanitas remained on the ground. So Xehanort stomped on his side, right in the crevice between his ribs and hip. “Gaaaah!” Vanitas grunted.

“Get up, useless boy! Fight me!” The master kept stomping on Vanitas. As his body writhed, Vanitas cried out, “Ventus! Help me!”

Ven remained seated on his little tree stump in the corner.

“Ventus?” repeated the little boy made of darkness. “Ventus? Ventus!”

No reply from Ven. Xehanort brought his foot down upon Vanitas’s head, knocking the boy unconscious. “Idiot. Did you think that fool would help you? He can’t even help himself.”

When Vanitas awoke, he found himself laying on the bed in his room. He felt a deep, burning sense of betrayal that churned his stomach. The feeling was so intense that he actually rolled off of the bed and threw up. On his knees, retching, he started to feel some more new emotions. He was angry. Livid. Infuriated. Sad. Miserable. Lonely. Hopeless. These feelings bubbled up until Vanitas felt that he would burst.

He seriously felt like he would explode. Perhaps it was another round of vomiting. So he closed his eyes. When he opened his eyes again, Vanitas was still in one piece. Yet, some strange creature stood beside him. It seemed very familiar. Like a creature from a terrible dream. It had a triangular head and jagged antennae, and pointed arms and legs with no hands and feet. It glared at Vanitas with glowing, red eyes.

With a scream, Vanitas sat up and backed away. Then he remembered that he was in physical pain. He screamed again. The weird little creature seemed to laugh at him. And that angered the boy so much that he pulled out his keyblade and slashed it.

It disappeared. But Vanitas only got angrier. And in the blink of an eye, two more appeared. So he hit them both. This time, four more appeared. So he struck those down. And the cycle continued. All throughout the night, he struck down those disgusting creatures. And all night long they respawned in larger and larger numbers.

By the time the sun rose, Vanitas had curled up into a corner of his room, rocking himself back and forth and mumbling to himself, “What’s happening? What’s happening?” The bedroom was filled to the brim with these creatures that he had somehow created. They scuttled about, jerking and bobbing their bodies unpredictably, mocking him. Vanitas was sure that they were sent to torment him. “Why? Why?” he kept mumbling.

Fortunately, Master Xehanort soon entered the room. And in the instant that he did, the terrible creatures vanished. Vanitas, wide-eyed, froze in shock. Master Xehanort saw only Vanitas, cowering in a corner, and the pile of vomit on the floor near the boy’s bed. “Disgusting,” the old man said. “Get up, child. Come clean your mess.”

Vanitas obeyed. Although his body hurt, he was glad to be rid of the creatures. Once he had cleaned up his room, Xehanort tried to lead the boy to the woods again. And Vanitas got so scared that he started to weep, and scream, “No! No!”

Xehanort smacked Vanitas on the back of the head. “Don’t you dare disrespect me, boy. You shall train and you shall become stronger. Do you understand?”

“No! No!” he tried to run away, but Xehanort beat him down with his keyblade. Again, Vanitas fell unconscious until that night. And when he awoke, he was surrounded by the army of creatures. All of their red eyes fixed onto him. But this time, they didn’t seem to be mocking him. They seemed to be anticipating something. Vanitas jumped out of bed and stumbled to the door.

But they blocked it. And they swarmed over him, drowning him with their bodies. They seemed to be telling him something. They seemed to be telling him to remember. Remember the pain. Remember the fear. Remember the loneliness. Remember.

Vanitas screamed.

The next morning, Xehanort again found Vanitas rocking himself in a corner. “No. No. No.” He kept muttering. “No. No. No.”

“Get up Vanitas,” the master ordered.

Vanitas kept rocking. Xehanort shook his head. “Must you continue to learn the hard way?”

Yet again, he beat Vanitas to sleep.

By the third night, Vanitas’s monsters had begun to take various shapes. Some were animals, like monkeys and cats, dogs and birds. Some were objects, like books and jars. And some were humanoid, running around, blabbering all sorts of nonsensical things. They all rampaged about, making so much noise that Vanitas wondered why Master Xehanort wasn’t running in here to figure out what was going on. Vanitas rocked himself back and forth as he watched his personal shitshow.

The next morning, once Xehanort opened the door and freed Vanitas from that hell, he willingly followed the old man to the forest to train. He fought as best as he could, but the old man had the advantage of experience, rest, and, perhaps, sanity. Xehanort mercilessly fought Vanitas until the boy once again lost consciousness.

Perhaps losing consciousness wasn’t so bad. Upon waking, he was yet again bombarded by the parade of creatures jumping around, pulling his hair, dancing in front of him, and screaming, “Remember! Remember! Remember!”

“STOP!” shrieked Vanitas. “I REMEMBER! I REMEMBER!” He held onto his head and sobbed. “SO PLEASE GO AWAY!”

No, they didn’t go away. Rather, they burst into applause and laughter and became even louder. They cartwheeled and twirled and flew and barked and tap danced all over his room, while laughing at him. They were all laughing at him, and chanting, “Never forget! Never forget!”

Vanitas had to get out of that room. He stood up, only to realize that his body hurt like hell. His legs gave out and he fell to his knees. Helpless, in pain, on the floor, he watched a bunny on a unicycle bang on a bass drum that was strapped to its chest, while singing, “Hello mi ’lady, hello my honey, hello my ragtime gal! Send me a kiss by wire! Honey my hearts on fire!”

It pedaled away, and was immediately eaten by a sabretooth tiger. The tiger then morphed into a humanoid shape, becoming the silhouette of man with no eyes, who wandered aimlessly, saying, “Look at all the pretty colors.”

Holding his side, Vanitas managed to stand up. He leaned against the walls until he made it to the door. All of his creations were too busy having fun to notice him, so he snuck out of the room. Slowly, he limped toward Master Xehanort’s study. There he found his master sitting at his desk, as usual, writing something in a journal. And Ven sat motionless in his seat by the window.

Xehanort met eyes with Vanitas. “What?”

“Pain. That was pain,” explained Vanitas the best he could.

“Painful? Yes, training can be harsh. But you must learn to embrace it. Do you understand?”

The boy shook his head. “Why?”

“This world is full of nothing but pain. But once you fulfil your purpose, you will no longer feel pain. Understand?”

“Purpose? What is my purpose?”

“You and Ventus, together, you will make something much greater than yourselves.”

Vanitas looked to Ven. Ven was empty. Vanitas would have traded anything to feel that same sort of peaceful emptiness. And that thought, along with the sight of Ven’s dull eyes somehow infuriated Vanitas in a way that he had never before experienced. With a shriek of jealous rage, Vanitas summoned his keyblade. Despite the pain, he ran toward Ven with all his might, ready to strike a mortal blow.

Quickly, Master jumped in and parried the blow. “Not yet,” Xehanort demanded.

“Angry! Useless! Abandon! Hate!” Vanitas said as he pointed to Ven. “He didn’t help me! Why didn’t he help me?” He then swung his keyblade at Xehanort. “Why did you hurt me? Why do you always hurt me? Why does everyone hurt me?” Xehanort parried each blow. Vanitas kept swinging. “Mom. Dad. Big Brother. Master. They all hurt me! Pain! Pain! All I know is pain! All I will ever know is pain!” Tears pooled up in his eyes. “I don’t want pain anymore!” He kept swinging and swinging and swinging. “No more pain! No more Ventus! No more Vanitas!” He made one final blow.

Then he dropped to his knees. He was crying.

“Wonderful job, Vanitas,” Master Xehanort said, gesturing outward. Vanitas’s eyes doubled in size as he realized that the entire room had become filled with those weird creatures that had been in his room. Vanitas fell forward and curled up into a ball. He continued to cry. “I’m scared.”

Xehanort assured him, “If you obey my commands, Vanitas, I assure you that you won’t feel pain anymore.”

“I’m scared,” he mumbled.

“Go back to your room.”

Vanitas hesitated. He didn’t want to be tormented by those things anymore.

But what else could he do?

So he struggled to stand. Placing a hand on the wall, he guided himself back to his room. The horde of terrifying creatures followed him. Xehanort smiled. “All according to plan,” he said to himself. “However, it would be bad if he killed Ventus now. What shall I do? Hmm?” He returned to his desk and made a phone call. “Eraqus, it’s me. Xehanort.”

Chapter Text

Aqua and Terra were practicing in the throne room today. Master had left early this morning to do something, so the two were training each other. Aqua performed a fast combo attack while Terra watched. “The key is to let each movement lead into the next,” she told him. “No pun intended.”

Terra laughed a little bit. “Okay. I’ll try.” He swung his blade around, trying to mimic Aqua’s combo.

“That’s good,” she told him. “But honestly, I think your style of fighting suits you. It’d be weird if a big guy like you was doing cartwheels and backflips and jumping around. Can you teach me to hit as hard as you do?”

Terra rested his blade on his shoulder. “To improve my strength, I do three hundred reps of each stroke every day.”

“Three hundred?”

“Yup.” He lifted his keyblade over his head and brought it in a downward slash. “One.”  He repeated it. “Two.” He repeated it again. “Three.” With each stroke he took a step forward. “Four. Five. Six. Seven.” He picked up speed. “Eight. Nine. Ten. Eleven.”

Aqua began to swing her keyblade in an overhead strike. “One. Two. Three.” She counted as she did the same movement over and over again. She eventually reached, “Sixty-seven, sixty-eight. Oh shit this hurts.”

“After the pain it’ll feel good. Trust me,” assured Terra.

“I don’t think I can do this.”

“You’re new to it, so it feels weird. But once you get used to it, you’ll like it.”

“I think I’ve reached my limit,” she said as she rotated her shoulder. “I think I’ll hurt myself if I keep going.”

“Take it slow,” Terra advised. “The first time is tough for everyone.”

That is when the front door opened and closed. Curiously, Terra and Aqua peeked over the railing of the stairs to see who just walked in. It was Master Eraqus, and beside him, another man, a tan-skinned, bald fellow with beady yellow eyes and a white beard. The two spoke in hushed voices. Behind them followed a little boy. He stood by the doorway as the two older men walked away.

“Aqua, do you think he’s a new student?” Terra said, pointing to the boy.

“Maybe,” she replied. “He looks a bit young though. But I guess it’s better to start early.”

Terra jumped over the railing, landing in front of the boy. Although the kid was staring at the floor, he neither flinched or startled. He didn’t even look up. Terra leaned forward and said, “Hi kid. I’m Terra. What’s your name? How old are you? Are you a keyblade user too? Will you be joining us?”

The kid said nothing.

“Hello? Hey kid, I’m talking to you. You should listen to your elders.”

Nothing.

Terra snapped his fingers. “Hello? Kid?” Finally, Ven looked up to meet Terra’s eyes. Terra noticed that the boy’s gaze was unblinking. So he asked, “Are you okay?”

Again, nothing.

“Are you ignoring me? What’s going on here?” Terra tapped the boy’s forehead. “Why aren’t you answering my questions? Do you not speak the language? At least make an effort to say something. Unless you’re shy? Are you shy, kid?”

Ven started screaming. “AHHHHHHH! STOP! AHHHHHHHHHH!”

Aqua, who had walked down the stairs like a normal person, met up with the two. “Huh? What’s going on?”

Ven knelt down, placed his hands on his head and cried out, “HELP! HELP! STOOOOOOOOP! AHHHHHHHH!”

Terra took several steps back. Aqua asked, “What did you do Terra?”

Terra, panicking, responded, “I don’t know!”

Luckily for the two, Ven’s screams summoned Master Eraqus and Master Xehanort from the other room. Eraqus asked, “What’s going on?”

Terra pointed to Ven and said, “I asked him some questions and he started screaming!”

“He lost his memory,” Xehanort explained. “Don’t ask him anything, you fool!”

“Sorry!” Terra apologized.

Ven was still screaming, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! AAAAAAAAH! AAAAAAAAAaaaaaahhh…” He fainted.

Master Eraqus, Master Xehanort, Aqua and Terra all waited to see what Ventus would do next. The suspense eased when they realized that Ventus had fallen asleep. Xehanort then faced Eraqus. “Well then, I shall leave him in your care.”

“Very well then, dear friend. I will care for him.”

“Good. Bye.” With that last farewell, Xehanort left the palace. Dreadfully confused, Aqua asked, “What’s going on?”

“Ventus will be joining us here as a student from now on,” Eraqus explained. “However, he’s in a bad condition right now, so he will need to rest. Terra, since you wanted to ask him questions, you should carry him to a room and watch over him for a while.”

Feeling guilty, Terra nodded. “Of course.” He picked up Ventus and slung him over his shoulder. Aqua followed him, saying, “I’ll help.”

Meanwhile, Eraqus recalled what Master Xehanort had just told him:

“Ventus is my student—or was my student.” Xehanort looked worn down with remorse. “I trained him too hard. I was trying to push the boy past his limits, to make him stronger. But I only succeeding in damaging his heart. What a fool I have been, Eraqus!” Xehanort covered his face with his hands. “I have failed as a master. I have hurt my precious student. And I cannot forgive myself! I don’t trust myself to raise him anymore. But he has nowhere else to go. So, Eraqus, can you open up your home to yet another student?”

Something had seemed fishy to Eraqus about the way that Xehanort told the story. It seemed as if the latter were leaving out a key piece of information. Perhaps he was even lying. After all, how could someone’s heart become so damaged solely from training? “What sort of damage?” Eraqus asked.

“It seems like he used the darkness in his heart to grow stronger,” Xehanort turned his face away. “The darkness began to overpower him. In order to save him, I needed to seal away the darkness. Now he is what you see before you.”

“What of the darkness? What happened to it?”

“It separated from him. And I fear that destroying it will also destroy him. So I shall dedicate myself to watching over the darkness that I have sealed from Ventus’s heart, for the rest of my days.”

Eraqus wanted to believe his friend. “Very well then, Xehanort. Of course I will take care of Ventus.”

Xehanort smiled—or perhaps it was a devious smirk. “Thank you, Eraqus.”

Later that night, Aqua sat on a stool beside the bed, watching the rhythmic rise and fall of Ven’s chest. “Terra, you put the kid in a coma,” she stated. The two had taken shifts watching over him during the day, but Ventus still hadn’t woken up. “I really didn’t mean to hurt the guy,” Terra told her as he paced back and forth. “I was just eager to meet him.”

“It’s not your fault. Something must be seriously wrong if the kid passed out like this.” She stroked his hair and yawned. Terra checked his watch. It was 2am. “Get some sleep Aqua. I’ll watch him.”

“You don’t need to watch him all night.”

“I want to be here so he doesn’t wake up alone and afraid in a foreign place. That would be terrible.”

“You’re so sweet Terra.”

“Thanks.”

She gave him a hug, and left to go sleep in her room. Silently, Terra applauded himself for acting cool in front of Aqua. But then he chided himself for making a little boy pass out. Terra exhaled. “What the hell could have happened to this kid?”

He didn’t know when he fell asleep, but when Terra awoke the next morning, Ventus was still asleep. “Oh shit, did I seriously put this boy in a coma?” he muttered.

Aqua arrived soon after and, upon seeing Ven still asleep in bed, asked, “Should we take him to a hospital?”

Master Eraqus entered the room, and answered her question. “No, no. This is not something that medicine can heal. He simply needs time.”

“Why is he like this, Master?” Aqua asked.

“Perhaps he is in shock,” he answered her. “Please be patient with him.”

So they were. For the next few days, Aqua and Terra took turns monitoring Ven’s condition and caring for him. By the end of the week, Terra was sitting on the stool beside Ven’s bed, playing on his cellphone, when, he heard a voice weakly ask, “Where am I?”

Utterly surprised, Terra jumped up and said, “You’re awake!”

Ven sat up. Placing a hand on his forehead, he looked to Terra and asked once more, “Where am I?”

Afraid to cause the boy trauma, again, he didn’t answer the question. Instead, he said, “You’re safe right now.”

“But where am I?” Ven insisted.

“Hold on for just a moment while I go get my Master.”

“Master?” Ven grabbed his head. “M-master?” He began to tremble. “No. I’m scared.”

Seeing Ven in distress, Terra decided to try to calm him down. He very gently grabbed Ven in a hug. “It’s okay. I’ve got you. You’ll be safe.”

Ven shook his head. “I’m confused.”

“It’s okay. Just wait one moment.”

So Terra sought out his Master and Aqua and the three returned to Ven’s side. “So you’re awake?” asked Master Eraqus. “Hello and welcome, Ventus.”

“Is that me?”

“Yes, you are Ventus.”

“Where am I?”

“You are in the Land of Departure in the palace that I guard as keyblade master. My name is Master Eraqus.” He gestured to Terra. “This is Terra.” He gestured to Aqua. “And this is my beautiful student Aqua.” Aqua and Terra rolled their eyes while Master said, “From now on, you will be joining us as my student. Are you okay with that?”

Ven looked at their calm, smiling faces. The boy Ven nodded. A little bit of sparkle returned to his eyes.

“Good. Good. Well, first things first. Get cleaned up and eat something. Then Aqua and Terra shall give you a tour of the area. Aqua, Terra, I shall leave him in your care.” Eraqus walked away.

Aqua complained, “Shouldn’t he be the one taking care of Ventus?” She shook her head. “And why did he call me his ‘beautiful student’?”

Terra griped, “At least he called you his student. I’m just Terra.”

“He’s so terrible,” Aqua declared. She turned to Ventus. “I’ll go make a nice sandwich for you, okay?” To Terra she said, “Give him a bath and a change of clothes.” And she left.

“I don’t want to give him a bath,” grumbled Terra.

Ven, though, stared at him with innocent blue eyes.

“Alright, kid, let’s take a bath,” he said.

Once the boy was clean, Terra dressed him and took Ven to the dining room, where Aqua had set out some sandwiches. Ven looked to Terra. Terra said, “Go ahead. Eat.” So Ven sat down and ate.

After a brief tour of the palace, Aqua and Terra took Ven to Master Eraqus’s office. Aqua said, “Master, we’re done showing him around.” Eraqus approached Ventus and looked into his eyes. The boy’s eyes were still dull, but a bit of shine had returned. Terra asked, “So what now?”

Honestly, Eraqus had no idea what to do next. But he couldn’t admit that to his students. “We allow him to heal one step at a time,” Eraqus said, while ruffling Ven’s hair. Allow him to follow your daily routines. Once he gets accustomed to life here, perhaps his memories shall return. Treat him gently, until you see the shine return to his eyes.”

“Right,” Terra and Aqua replied.

The trio left Master’s office. As they walked down the hall, Terra said, “Master has no idea what’s going on, does he?”

Aqua nodded her head. “Nope. He’s clueless.”

“So what do we do now?”

Aqua shrugged. “Want to go to the summit and train?”

“What about Ventus?”

“He can watch, right?”

So the three went to the training field on the summit. Ventus sat in the grass and observed Aqua and Terra as they battled each other for practice.

“Freeze!” Aqua shouted, as she conjured a block of ice to shoot at Terra. Terra swatted it away and rushed toward her. She blocked the attack, but fell down. “Ouch, okay, okay, you win,” she said. Terra laughed. “Haha, I’m getting better aren’t I?” He helped her up. “You have to work harder if you want to keep up with me.”

Aqua chuckled and answered, “You have too much stamina. I’m already finished before you’re tired.”

He pulled her closer and asked, “Am I being too rough? I don’t want to hurt you.”

“Don’t worry about hurting me,” she told him as she leaned closer to him. “I can handle a little bit of pain.” The two laughed.

All of a sudden, Ven stood up. With a flick of his wrist, Ven summoned his keyblade. He ran toward the startled Aqua and Terra at full speed. Terra pushed Aqua aside and blocked a strike from Ven. Without flinching, Ven reversed on Terra and elbowed him in the back. Since Terra wasn’t expecting it, he fell forward. Ven then charged at Aqua. She deflected his strikes, and back flipped away. Yet, he was too quick, because, he dashed at her and thrust her on the belly.

She fell back into the grass. Terra grabbed Ven in a headlock. “Hey! Stop it!” Terra told him. Ven elbowed Terra in the ribs and slipped out of his grasp. He turned and bonked Terra on the side of the head with his keyblade. Terra fell over and grabbed his head. “Shhhhhhiiiit,” he swore.

“Why the hell is this kid so good?” asked Aqua.

Ven assumed a fighting stance, saying, “This is too easy.” Some of the sparkle returned to his eyes. 

Standing up, Aqua and Terra laughed awkwardly. “How about another round?” suggested Terra. “It won’t be so easy.”

“Yup,” Aqua agreed. “You caught us by surprise last time.”

“Alright then,” Ven said, smiling.

And they proceeded to battle again.

By the end of the day, Aqua and Terra were laid out on the ground, breathing heavily, while Ven, slightly out of breath stood over them.

“What the actual fuck?” muttered Terra.

Aqua said, “This kid is insane. We need to focus more on our training.”

Ven sat down. “You two are pretty pathetic,” he said as he laid back on the grass. “But that was really fun.”

And the three of them stared at the clouds for a little while.

Chapter Text

Aqua tucked Ventus into bed that night. “Good night Ventus,” she said.

“Goodnight,” he replied.

She began to walk out of the room.

“Wait,” Ven called out.

“Hm?”

“I don’t want to be alone.”

“Do you want me to stay here with you?”

“No. I want Terra.”

“Okay, I’ll go get him.” She walked out the door. Ven followed. Opening the door to Terra’s room, she said, “Terra, he wants to stay here tonight.”

Terra, who was snuggled under his bed covers, reading a comic book, suddenly flinched. He hid the book under his pillow and said, “Aqua, knock before you come in here.”

“My bad. But it’s not like you have anything to hide.”

“What if I was changing?”

“Then I’d get a sneak peek of something good, huh?” She laughed.

“Anyway,” Terra said, “Ventus can sleep in his own room.”

Ven spoke up. “I don’t want to be alone.”

How could Terra say no to that? So Terra patted his bed. “Fine. Come on.”

Ven’s eyes regained a bit more sparkle as he cuddled beside Terra on the bed. Terra told him, “But only for tonight. We’re not going to make this a habit.”

“Okay Notus.”

“I’m Terra,” he reminded Ven. “Who’s Notus?”

Ven winced. “Um…? Uhhh….? I don’t… remember…” Ven closed his eyes and tried to focus. Terra said, “Never mind. Don’t worry, don’t worry.”

Aqua said, “Goodnight you two.”

“Goodnight,” Terra replied. And she left. Terra waited for a second, before reaching under his pillow for his comic. He turned away from Ven and said, “Get some sleep, okay?”

Ven nodded. But he couldn’t fall asleep, perhaps because he’d been sleeping for a few days straight. So Ven asked, “Terra, what are you doing?”

“Reading.”

“Can you read to me?”

“Um, this isn’t the kind of story that kids should be reading.”

“Oh.” He kept quiet for a moment. “Terra?”

“Yes?”

“I can’t sleep.”

“Close your eyes and pretend you’re sleeping and you’ll fall asleep.”

“Okay.” But five minutes later, Ven once again said, “I can’t sleep.”

Annoyed, Terra replied, “What do you want me to do about it?”

“I don’t know.”

The softness of Ven’s voice convinced Terra to stop being so rude. “How about we go for a walk? That might make you tired.”

“Okay.”

So Terra and Ven, both dressed in their pajamas, embarked on a late night adventure. They walked around the palace. They walked around the courtyard. They hiked to the summit. All the while, Ven quietly followed Terra. Once they reached the very top, Terra asked, “So, you feeling tired yet?”

Ven shook his head. Terra groaned. “You have too much energy.”

“Sorry.” The boy looked defeated as he said that.

“No, no, don’t be sorry,” Terra said. He sat on the ledge of the cliff. Ven sat too. They were quiet. So Terra said, “You whooped our asses earlier today. Both me and Aqua. At the same time…” With an awkward laugh, he added, “I feel embarrassed.”

“You should be,” Ven replied while he kicked his legs back and forth.

Rude. “Where did you learn how to fight like that?”

Ven lowered his eyes. “I don’t remember. I don’t remember anything.”

“Oh. Never mind.”

“No, it’s a good thing.” He turned to face Terra. “I feel like the things that I forgot were bad. I feel like all the bad stuff is gone, and I’m a new person.” 

Terra ruffled Ven’s hair. “Okay. That’s good.”

“What about you, Terra?”

“Hmm? What about me? I’m just a normal guy who dreams of becoming a keyblade master. I’ve been studying under Master Eraqus for a little over a year now.”

“Why do you want to become a master?”

“I guess I’ve always known that I was going to become a keyblade master. It was my dad’s dream once. My dad was training under his master, but then he got my mom pregnant and decided to settle down and raise a family instead. Now he owns a construction company.”

“Pregnant?”

“You know, he put a baby in her.”

“How?”

“Um…” Terra didn’t want to have the ‘locks and keys’ talk right now. “Magic.”

“Magic?”

“Yup.”

Ven was very confused. “So he put an actual, living baby inside of her?”

“Yup.”

“How is that even possible?” asked the concerned, naïve little boy.

Terra decided to change the subject. “So anyway, Dad always told me stories of his life as a keyblade apprentice. He told me of how he wanted nothing more than the mark of mastery, until he met my mother.” Terra chuckled.

Ven shook his head. “Many a man is lead astray by women.”

Terra, thrown off by that statement, paused for a second to recollect his thoughts. “Um, well anyway, when I was a little kid, he carved a wooden keyblade for me, and we would go to the backyard and fight. He would always beat me. I went to visit him again a little while ago, and for the first time, I beat him. It was a really rewarding experience.”

“It must have felt great to finally teach that old bully a lesson,” Ven agreed.

“No. No, he wasn’t a bully.”

“But you said he would always beat you.”

“In a sparring match. It wasn’t abuse or anything. He never hurt me for real.”

“Oh…” A wave of sadness seized Ven’s face.

“Are you okay?” asked Terra.

“Hmm? Yeah…”

“Okay, well, what’s your dream, Ventus?”

“Dream?” the boy pondered the question. “I don’t have a dream. I don’t have anything.”

Terra patted Ven’s shoulder, gently. “Then you can share mine. Let’s become keyblade masters together.” Under his breath, he added, “Since you’re much better than me, I’ll probably need to catch up to you.”

Tears welled up in Ven’s bright eyes. “O-okay.” He started to cry.

“Huh? What now?”

“I’ve never felt like this before. I’m not scared.”

Struck by those words, Terra embraced Ven in a hug. “You don’t have to feel scared anymore. You’re safe.”

Ven clung to Terra, as Terra gently patted his back. Eventually, Ven closed his eyes and fell asleep. So Terra hoisted Ven onto his back, piggyback style, and carried him back to Ven’s room. He tucked the boy into bed, but right as he was about to walk away, Ven mumbled in his sleep, “D-don’t leave me…”

Terra groaned. “Fine.”

So Terra slept in Ven’s room that night.

Chapter Text

The following morning, Ven was eating cereal while Aqua drank a cup of coffee. Terra had made pancakes and bacon for himself.  The three of them were in the kitchen, with Ven and Terra sitting at the island bar in the middle of the kitchen while Aqua, standing on the opposite side, leaned forward against it. Ven asked, “When do we start training?”

Aqua shrugged. “Whenever Master wakes up.”

Ven glanced out of the window on the far side of the room. “Is he still sleeping? The sun is already up.”

“Yup. He takes his time.”

Ven nodded. Then he looked at his bowl of Honey Nut Chocob-O’s with a face of severity. Terra noticed, and asked, “Do you want more milk or something, Ven?”

Ven looked to him. “Who?”

“You. Ven. It’s short for Ventus. Just like Terra is short for Dreterran.”

Aqua piped in, “Your full name is Dreterran?”

“Yup. Dreterran Smith. I used to go by Dre back in elementary school, but then I got really fat in middle school, and my friends started calling me Terramoto. That means earthquake. After I grew some more, it all became muscle, so they just started calling me Terra.”

“I’ve known you for over a year now, so it’s a shame that I didn’t know that.” She took another sip of coffee. “I guess we all go by nicknames.”

Terra leaned forward, “Aqua is your nickname?”

Aqua nodded, “It’s short for Aquamarine. I don’t like it because it’s such a regal, fancy name—and I’m anything but fancy.”

“I like it.”

“You like everything about me,” Aqua teased.

“Yes I do,” Terra replied. She giggled. Ven scowled and spoke up, “Can I have more cereal?”

Aqua poured some more for him. He chewed slowly, enjoying the crunch of the honey coated multigrain O’s as he made evil faces at Aqua. For some reason, Aqua thought that his facial expressions were adorable. She reached out to ruffle his hair and said, “You’re so cute.”

Terra nudged her with his elbow. “Thanks.”

“Not you,” she replied as she nudged him back. “Ven. I think he’s adorable.”

“I can be adorable too.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Adorable isn’t the word I’d use.”

“What word would you use?”

“Maybe… annoying?”

“That’s the next best thing.”

She rolled her eyes and shook her head, all the while smiling. So Ven dropped his cereal bowl onto the floor. It shattered, splashing milk and cereal all over.

“Are you okay?” Aqua asked Ven. “Did you spill any on yourself?”

“I’m fine.”

“Be careful,” she chided him as she got some paper towels to mop up the mess.

After breakfast, the three went to the summit to train. The older students started by doing their stretches. Ven joined in. He stood beside Terra and touched his toes. “How often to you guys train?” Ven asked.

“A couple times a week,” Terra replied.

Ven didn’t quite understand. “A couple times a week?”

“Yeah. The rest of time is our free practice time.”

Ven’s face squeezed up, puzzled. “That doesn’t make sense.”

“What do you mean?” inquired Terra, equally as confused. Ven scratched the tip of his chin with his pointer finger as he replied, “I think that you’re supposed to train for 10 hours a day every day. You’re supposed to fight so hard that you can’t breathe and you want to cry and your entire body hurts. If you don’t pass out as soon as you return to your room, you didn’t work hard enough.”

Aqua and Terra just stared at him. Ven concluded, “That’s what I thought for some reason. I can’t remember why.”

The two older students exchanged glances. Then they finished their stretches, summoned their keyblades, and started practicing their attacks. Aqua half-heartedly swung her keyblade around with one hand while she texted on her phone with the other. Terra overdramatically lifted his keyblade above his head and brought it down in an overhead strike… over and over again. Ven, quite puzzled, asked, “Are you two serious?”

Terra and Aqua once again exchanged glances. They both nodded. Ven shook his head. Summoning his keyblade, he demonstrated a 30-hit combo for them by jumping in the air and swinging his blade and dropping into a roll and slashing and kicking and using fire magic and concluding with a final blow. “That’s the basics. Right?”

Aqua and Terra’s faces were despondent. They kept silent.

Luckily for them, Master Eraqus arrived a few seconds after Ven’s intense demonstration. “Good morning students,” he said to them.

Ven spoke up, “Who are you?”

Master Eraqus reintroduced himself. “I am Master Eraqus. I will be your master from now on.”

Ven blinked a few times, while he processed that sentence. “Oh… but didn’t I already… um…?” Ven placed his fingers on his temples and rubbed them. “Vanitus?”

Eraqus said, “No, your name is Ventus.”

“I know that,” Ven replied. “But wasn’t… there was another… I wasn’t here before, was I? I was somewhere else, right?”

“Do not worry about that, Ventus. Shall we focus on our training?”

Ven nodded. “Okay.”

Master Eraqus summoned his keyblade and held it in front of him. “Alright then, shall we begin? Terra, come here and let me demonstrate a counter attack.”

Terra approached the Master. “Come at me as if you were attacking me, Terra,” he said. Terra did so. Master thrust out his keyblade to parry the strike, turned his body to kick Terra in the gut and thrust his blade to knock Terra back a few feet.

Aqua clapped. Ven swatted at her hands and demanded. “Don’t clap for that. That’s simple.”

Of course the Master heard that. “Simple? Well then, Ventus, come and repeat my movements.” He beckoned Ven toward him. So Ven approached Master Eraqus and took a fighting position.

“Reverse grip?” Master Eraqus noticed.

Ven nodded. “Yup.”

“Interesting. On guard. Here I go.”

Master Eraqus swung his keyblade. He did not expect Ventus to be that fast. Before he knew it, Ventus had knocked him back six feet. 

This kid was good. Like, really, really good. Xehanort should have warned me, Eraqus thought to himself. Aqua and Terra clapped. The Master cleared his throat. “Very good, Ventus.”

“Call me Ven for short,” Ven instructed.

“Well, Ven, how about we try that again?”

“Only if you want another beating, Old Man.”

“You shall be the one taking a beating, Ven,” Master Eraqus declared. “Prepare yourself.” The two took fighting stances. They locked onto each other’s gazes. Within a blink of an eye they sprinted. Eraqus slashed. Ven countered. But this time Eraqus blocked Ven’s kick. Ven stumbled into a backflip, barely missing another attack from the Master.

Now Ven was on the defensive, dodging Master Eraqus’s attacks. Jumping back, reversing, rolling, dashing. Master moved faster and faster, leaving no openings. Right as Ven dodged a slash, Master Eraqus spun around and tossed his keyblade at him. Clang! Ven parried it, but the blow knocked Ven’s blade out of Ven’s hand. Master’s keyblade teleported back to him. He charged at Ventus, stopping short of smacking him upside the head with the keyblade.

Ven, stiff as a tree, locked eyes once again with his Master. Master Eraqus smiled and said, “Master beats student, yet again. Perhaps one day, though, you shall surpass me.”

A scowl formed on Ven’s lips. “Is that it?”

“What do you mean?”

“Are those all your skills? Aren’t you supposed to be a keyblade master?”

This kid was rude. Like, really, really rude. “Of course I am a keyblade master. How dare you insult me?”

“How could you be a master if you were having trouble fighting me?”

“I wasn’t having trouble, Ventus,” sternly declared the Eraqus. “I was getting a sense of your skill level so that I could push your limits without causing you any harm. If I were to fight you with my full power, I could possibly kill you.”

“Yeah right,” scoffed Ven. “A real master hits his student with everything he has. If the student can’t bear it, then good riddance.”

Master Eraqus shook his head. “No, no, no. Any powerful idiot could swing a keyblade as hard as he can. Just look at Terra.”

Terra interjected, “Why are you so mean to me?!”

Eraqus concluded, “It takes skill, control and wisdom to master the art of suppressing one’s strength.”

“Fight me without holding back,” Ven demanded. “Show me your true strength, Eraqus.”

A grimace seized the Master’s face. “I am your master, and you shall address me as such.”

Ven looked the old man right in the eyes and said, “You are not my master and I will never address you as such.”

Aqua mumbled, “Oh whoa…”

“Damn,” Terra whispered.

Eraqus knew that in the face of such disrespect, one must make a quick, powerful response. Yet, acting out in violence and anger would diminish one’s honor. So as much as Master Eraqus wanted to slap the boy’s mouth, he calmly said, “Go to your room Ventus, and think about what you’ve said.”

“Whatever, Eraqus,” Ven emphasized as he marched away.

Once the pitter patter of Ven’s feet died off, an unbearably awkward silence surrounded the Master and his two older students. So Master Eraqus said, “He is quite a bratty child. But enough of that. Shall we continue the lesson?”

Aqua and Terra struggled to contain their laughter. Master Eraqus felt his face get hot. He regretted that he didn’t at least box the boy’s ears.

Once the precedent was set, Ven’s disrespect continued. The next day, Aqua and Terra were training with each other on the summit, under Master Eraqus’s watchful eye. “Aqua,” the master called out, “Magic is your strength. Use it more often. Terra, improve the timing of your counter attacks.”

“Yes Master,” they both said in unison.

Ven, who was sitting on the ground beside the Master, shouted, “You two are fighting like you aren’t serious. At this rate, you’ll be as old as Eraqus when you become keyblade masters.”

“Ventus, stop this sassiness at once,” Eraqus demanded.

“The right way to do it,” Ven said, as he stood up, “is to fight like your life depends on it. Because in the battlefield, no one is going to take it easy on you.” Ven summoned his own keyblade. “Let me show you how it’s done.”

He sprung into battle, barely missing Aqua with an uppercut. She leaned back into a triple flip to put some distance between herself and Ven. “No, Ven, stop it,” she ordered. “No one is trying to hurt anyone. It’s a sparring match.”

Terra agreed, “Yeah, hurting each other won’t help us learn faster.”

Yet Ventus argued, “It’s all about pushing your limits, Terra. When was the last time you really challenged yourself? It looks like you don’t even want to improve.”

Terra took a moment to contemplate Ven’s words, before mumbling, “It’s half and half with this kid. Sometimes he says ridiculous stuff and sometimes he’s wise beyond his years.”

Ven turned around and pointed to the Master. “And it’s his job to push your limits. But it seems like Eraqus isn’t serious either. No one here is serious.” And with that, Ven marched away to go sit on a ledge a short distance away.

With a scowl, Master Eraqus, too, thought deeply about Ven’s words. He asked himself, “Have I become complacent in my style of teaching? Am I not encouraging Aqua and Terra to reach their full potential?”

Terra interjected, “Well you always insult me, and that’s not encouraging.”

Ignoring Terra, Master Eraqus began to remember the situation that he experienced with Jerome. And he recalled what his former student had said, None of you are serious about mastering the keyblade! The Master sighed. “Perhaps I am too easy-going,” Eraqus decided. “Aqua and Terra could probably handle a more difficult training regimen. So that is what we shall do.” He looked to his older students. “Perhaps looking through the lens of Ventus’s youthful idealism, we can learn a thing or two. Starting tomorrow, we shall pick up the pace of our training. Take the rest of the day off, and prepare yourselves”

Aqua and Terra nodded.

Chapter Text

That same night, Terra was in the kitchen making dinner for everyone. Ven hung around him, asking, “Do you need any help?”

Terra shook his head. “Nope. Making tacos isn’t that hard. Go sit down somewhere.”

So Ven obediently sat down at the bar island in the kitchen. Bored, he laid his head down and complained, “There’s nothing to do around here.”

“Go take a bath or something.”

“Okay.” So Ven scurried off to take a bath. By the time he returned, Terra had finished making dinner, and everyone was gathered around the dining table, prepared to eat. Ven joined in, sitting beside Terra and across from Aqua. “Yum,” he said, as he took a bite of his food. “It’s good.”

“Thanks,” Terra replied. “Don’t make a mess.”

“Okay.” Ven carefully ate, so as not to drop food all over the place. “So while I was taking a bath, I started thinking. And I have a question. Why am I here?”

Aqua and Terra looked to Master Eraqus. Master Eraqus knew that Ven might eventually ask this question, so he had prepared a response for it. “Don’t worry about why you are here. Just know that you are and you are now my student.”

“I wasn’t asking you, Eraqus,” Ven snapped.

“That is MASTER Eraqus, child.”

“I’ll call you Old Man Eraqus,” Ven compromised. “That’s the best I can do.”

Terra sternly demanded, “Stop being rude Ven. You are going to address Master Eraqus as Master Eraqus. Do you understand?”

Ven kept silent and kept eating his food. Terra shook his head and said, “It’s probably just a phase, Master.”

After dinner, Eraqus retired to his room. Frustrated, he paced back and forth, wondering aloud, “What have I gotten myself into? Such a disrespectful brat! How could Xehanort have dealt with him? Xehanort isn’t the type to stomach rudeness.” He pondered the dilemma, until an answer popped into his mind. “Could this behavior be due to his memory loss? I wonder what he was like before he lost his memory.”

So Eraqus decided to call Ven’s former master, Xehanort. “Hello?” spoke the old friend on the other end of the line.

“Good evening, Xehanort, my friend. It is I, Eraqus.”

“Eraqus, hello. And to what do I owe the pleasure of this phone call?”

“I’m really curious about the boy that you have placed in my care.”

“Oh, Ventus? Yes, how is he doing?” Xehanort asked, his interest piquing.

“He has made some recovery.”

“How wonderful.”

“But,” Eraqus continued, “he seems to be curious about his past. He seems to remember faintly some bits and pieces, but nothing coherent or cohesive.”

Xehanort was quiet for a moment. “He didn’t mention anything about a chi-blade, right?”

“Chi-blade? No.”

“Good. If he mentions anything about that, ignore it. Poor boy could be a tad delusional.”

“Rather than delusional, he seems a tad bratty,” Eraqus explained.

Xehanort repeated, “Bratty?”

“Disrespectful. Childish.”

“In what way?”

“First of all, he calls me Eraqus.”

“That’s your name,” stated an annoyed Xehanort.

“No, what I mean is that he refuses to call me ‘Master’. He questions my teachings. He talks back to me. That is the sort of bratty behavior that I am talking about.”

“Interesting. Ventus did no such things to me.”

Eraqus frowned. “Tell me, how was Ventus when he was under your care?”

Xehanort smirked. “Obedient. Hard-working. Easy to manipulate. What a wonderful child he was. It is such a shame what happened to him, really.”

“Yes, it is,” agreed Eraqus. “How hard did you push the boy? He seems insistent on a rather harsh style of training.”

“Nothing he couldn’t handle—or so I thought.”

“What sort of training exercises did you do?”

“The typical sort of things. Combat practice. Magic practice. Shotlock practice. Agility practice.”

“How often? For how long?”

“Why do you ask?”

Eraqus admitted, “He critiqued my style of training as being too easy.”

“The boy is delusional,” Xehanort lied. “He pushed himself too hard, so now he must believe that his training was more difficult than it actually was.”

Eraqus regained some hope. “So then my style of teaching is fine?”

“There is nothing wrong with working your students harder,” said Xehanort. “It seems like you have two very fine pupils. The girl and the young man. That young man seems quite healthy and vigorous. What is his name?”

“Terra. He is a fine young man, but I would not brag about his keyblade skills. Aqua, however, she is my star student. Not only is she hardworking and graceful, she is beautiful and kind.”

“Is that the one that you have fallen for?”

“No! No one is falling for students,” quickly replied Eraqus. “Anyway, I called to speak about Ventus. He is doing well now.”

Xehanort chuckled. “Good to know. Say, Eraqus, do keep me updated on the progress of your students. I would love to be present for their Mark of Mastery Exam.”

Master Eraqus agreed. “Very well then.”

Chapter Text

Ven had been living with Terra, Aqua and Master Eraqus for a few weeks now. And each night, the same series of events occurred.

First.

Aqua would tuck Ven into bed. “Alright, are you comfortable?” she would ask.

“Yeah, sure,” Ven would reply.

“And you’re going to stay here in your room and sleep, right?”

He would refuse to answer that question.

“Ven. You’re a big boy. You need to stay in your room, okay?”

The kid would shrug. Aqua would prop his window open slightly, to allow for the breeze to drift in. She would then turn on the nightlight, turn off the overhead lights, and sit on the edge of his bed.

“Go away,” Ven would demand.

“Promise me that you’re not going to run to Terra’s room as soon as I leave?”

Ven would refuse to reply.

Second.

Eventually, Ven would fall asleep. Aqua would very, very carefully tiptoe away from the room, taking absolute care to not awaken the boy.

Third.

Sometime late at night, Ven would awake. Either he had a bad dream, or he needed to pee, or maybe a noise roused him. Regardless, once he woke up, (and peed if he needed to), he couldn’t get back to sleep. He would lay helplessly in bed for about ten to fifteen minutes, breathing rapidly. Sometimes he would stare out of the window and look at the stars.

Fourth.

Ven would get up and go to Terra’s room. If the door was open, he’d walk right in and jump into Terra’s bed. If the door was locked, he’d bang on it and shout, “TERRA! TERRA!” until Terra lost his cool and opened the door. “WHAT?!” Terra would yell.

“I can’t get to sleep,” Ven would whine.

And Terra would be super pissed.

Fifth, Version A.

Yet, sometimes Terra would feel sympathy for Ven and allow Ven to sleep with him. And that would be the end of it.

Fifth, Version B.

Sometimes Terra would take Ven back to Ven’s room, and stay with him until Ven fell asleep again. Unfortunately, Ven always woke later in the night. So the cycle would repeat at step three, until Terra finally let Ven sleep with him or Terra got so tired that he fell asleep in Ven’s room.

Fifth, Version C.

Sometimes when the cycle started to loop, meaning that Ven continuously kept coming back to Terra that night, Terra would become incredibly frustrated. Instead of taking Ven back to Ven’s room or allowing Ven to sleep with him, he’d take Ven to Aqua’s room. If Ven ended up in Aqua’s room, she would allow him to sleep in her bed with her. Either way, Ven would spend the night with Aqua or Terra.

And that had occurred EVERY NIGHT since he had first awoken from his coma-like state. Ven seemed no worse for the wear, because every morning he would wake up, well rested, at sunrise.

But Terra was losing sleep, and getting really annoyed, especially since Master Eraqus decided to start being more serious about their training. Therefore, the young man took action one Saturday morning.

That morning, after Aqua had given Ven a bowl of cereal and sat him down in front of the television so that he could watch cartoons, Terra pulled her aside and said, “We really need to do something about Ven’s sleeping habits.”

Aqua defended Ven. “Give him a break. Heaven knows what he’s been through in his short life.”

Rolling his eyes, Terra replied, “I don’t care what he’s been through. I haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep in weeks.”

“That’s a shitty thing to say, Terra! Don’t you listen to what he says in his sleep in the middle of the night?”

“No…” He cringed. “Do you?”

“Yeah, he talks in his sleep a lot.”

“That’s kind of creepy Aqua.”

Blushing, Aqua crossed her arms in front of her chest. “I noticed because he always tosses and turns like he’s having a nightmare. And he keeps saying things like, ‘Don’t hurt me,’ or ‘I’m scared,’ or ‘No one loves me.’ So I think that he needs someone to comfort him, or else he can’t get to sleep.”

“Well if you are willing to do it, you should make him stop bothering me,” Terra begged.

“Why does it bother you so much?”

“He kicks in his sleep! And he rolls over and steals the blankets. Yet somehow, the next morning, he’s always sprawled out on top of me, and he’s heavier than he looks. And once he was sleeping upside down, so I woke up with his butt in my face. And he farted!”

A grin spread across Aqua’s face. Terra groaned. “It’s not funny Aqua. His farts stink.”

“Okay, okay, I’m sorry,” she replied, fighting back her laughter. She couldn’t help it though, and broke down into a fit of giggles. Terra slumped forward. “Aqua,” he whined, “he’s seriously driving me insane. I feel like I’m going to kick him in the face the next time he tries this shit. Doesn’t it bother you?”

“Not at all. I sleep in weird positions too. And when I was younger, I used to sleep in my older brother’s room all the time. I was terrified of the dark, so he would hug me and tell me that everything would be okay. I feel like I’m doing the same thing for Ven.”

“That’s sweet. But at a point you grew out of that, right?”

“Well,” Aqua said as she looked upwards, trying to recall the situation, “the only reason I started sleeping in my own room is because my brother went to boarding school, when he was fifteen and I was ten.”

“That gives me an idea,” Terra said as he concocted a plan.

So that night, it was business as usual. Aqua pampered Ven and coaxed him to sleep. About an hour after she left, Ven awoke, and made his way to Terra’s room. The door was wide open today, so Ven walked inside and jumped onto the bed…

…only to realize that Terra wasn’t in the room. Sitting up, Ven looked to his left and right. “Terra?” Ven spoke up. No answer. Frowning, Ven laid down for about twenty minutes, waiting for Terra to appear. “Terra?” the boy called out once again. “Terrrrraaaa!”

Ven jumped out of bed. Dragging his blankets along with him, Ven roamed the hallways, shouting, “TERRA! TERRA!” No response. So Ven checked each bedroom in the palace. Then he wandered around, down the stairs, into the throne room, outside, into the courtyard and finally made his way up to the summit of the mountain.

No Terra.

Distraught, Ven made his way back to Terra’s room. Nope. Still no Terra.

So Ven hurried to Aqua’s room. Banging on the door, he shouted, “AQUA! AQUA!” Half-awake, dressed in an oversized shirt, and her hair wrapped up in a bonnet, Aqua opened the door. “Hm? What?” She wiped the sleep from her eyes and yawned.

“Terra is missing!” declared Ven.

“He’s probably pooping or something. You can stay here if you want.”

“No! I want Terra! I looked everywhere and I can’t find him.”

“Are you sure? Maybe you just missed him. If you go back to the room and wait for him, he might show up.” Ven gave her the evil eye, as if she had just suggested the dumbest solution ever. She concluded, “I don’t know what you want me to do about it Ven. Do you want me to go to his room and wait with you?”

Ven shrugged. The two awkwardly stood at Aqua’s door for a minute. “Fine,” he agreed.

So Aqua tucked Ven into Terra’s bed, and stayed with him until he fell asleep. Aqua ended up falling asleep too.

The next morning, Terra entered into his room to see Ven sleeping, spread out like a starfish, and Aqua sleeping, wrapped around Ven like a cooked shrimp.

Terra, quite amused, said to himself, “They do sleep weird.” Aloud, he shouted, “WAKE UP,” as he shook them. Ven awoke first, shouting, “Master! Don’t leave me!” He looked around rapidly, as if to regain his bearings. “Terra!” Ven shouted as he crawled out from under Aqua. She fell off of the bed, and that woke her up with a start. She shouted, “Rio, don’t leave me!” For a moment, she too, needed to regain her bearings. “Where am I?”

Ven, meanwhile, clung to Terra. “Where did you go last night?”

Terra sternly told him, “I’m not telling you. It’s about time that you learned to sleep in your own room, by yourself. So I’m going to force you to do that.”

“But Terra!” whimpered Ven.

“I’m serious Ven.”

Aqua, still groggy, stood up and mumbled, “This isn’t my room.” And she staggered away.

The following evening, Ven stalked Terra. The latter was sitting on a couch in the living room, playing with his phone, while the former hid behind the doorway and watched. Ven was so focused on Terra, that he didn’t notice when Aqua snuck up behind him and said, “Time for bed, Ven.”

Briefly, Ven turned his head to say, “Go away.” Upon returning his attention to the living room, Terra had disappeared. Ven dropped to his knees. “What?! Where’d he go?” Turning to Aqua, he shouted, “He escaped because of you!”

“Escaped? Were you two playing hide-and-seek or something?”

“No!” With a groan, Ven complained, “Ugh, you are so stupid.”

“Get up and get ready for bed,” she told him as she dragged him away.

Once again, Aqua stayed in Ven’s room while waiting for him to fall asleep. She was reading a book. He laid in bed, watching her. He asked, “Why do you always do this?”

Aqua shrugged. “I don’t have anything better to do.” She turned a page in her book.

“Stupid Aqua,” he grumbled. But, before he knew it, Ven fell asleep. And before he knew it, he woke up again with a start. The room was dimly lit by his nightlight and the glittering moon outside. He was alone. Rolling over, Ven sat there in silence, saying to himself, “Just go back to sleep, Ventus.” But he couldn’t. His eyes wouldn’t stay closed. His mind raced about nothing in particular, and his heart rate jumped up. He felt a dreadful sort of suspense, as if something bad, like, really, really bad, were about to happen. Any moment now.

His whole body tensed, and he started to breathe rapidly. His chest ached. Had his heartbeat always been this loud? He felt like his heart would explode from his chest any moment now. He felt like he was seriously going to die.

Liquid misery started to stream down his cheeks. “Just go to sleep Ventus,” he begged himself in between shallow gasps of air. He grasped at his chest. “Why can’t I go to sleep? Why does this keep happening? Every night, it happens. Every night, I can’t go to sleep.” And he cried silently.

But crying didn’t help.

Once he couldn’t stand that feeling anymore, Ven got up, and hiked over to Terra’s room. Again, it was empty. And again, he futilely waited for Terra to return. And again, when he realized that Terra wasn’t coming back, Ven went to Aqua’s room.

“AQUA! AQUA! AQUA!” Ven shouted.

She answered her door. “Huh?”

Ven said nothing, yet he was visibly trembling, and hyperventilating. She beckoned him inside. “Come on.”

So he joined her in her bed. Reaching out to stroke his hair, she said, “It’s okay. I’m here. You’re safe.”

He nodded.

Aqua laid awake, watching him. Slowly, his breathing calmed down. His heart quieted. His cheeks reddened. “Stop staring,” Ven told her, pouting.

“When I was your age,” she began, “I hated sleeping by myself too. But my big brother left, so I had no choice. One thing that helped me, though, is that I had a stuffed elephant doll named Zoe. She was as big as I was and I hugged her all night long.”

“That sounds dumb,” said Ven.

“Yeah, it was.” She laughed quietly. “She was just a doll, but she was always smiling at me. I would tell her my problems, and I would pretend that she could listen. That way, I didn’t feel so alone… Now that I think about it, when I was a little girl, I wasn’t afraid of the dark. I was afraid of being alone.”

They were quiet for a moment. Aqua began to close her eyes and drift off to sleep. But Ven mumbled, “Aqua?”

“Hmm?”

“Can I have it?”

“Have what?”

“Zoe.”

Aqua stood up. “I don’t have Zoe with me anymore, because my mom set all my things on fire one day when she was mad at me. But, I have a Mizz Piggy doll that I stole from Master Eraqus.” She rummaged through a treasure chest that was tucked in a corner of her room. “Don’t worry I washed it really well.” And she handed it to Ven.

“Mizz Piggy?” repeated the boy as he embraced the doll. It was about the size of a pillow, and fluffy. Like, really, really fluffy. Ven felt like he was holding a cloud.

“Yeah. She’s a pig with a wig. She has a lot of class and sass.”

Ven cuddled with the doll. “That’s stupid.”

And he fell asleep.

The following night, after Aqua tucked Ven and Mizz Piggy into bed, he fell asleep much quicker. She then walked down the hall, up a few flights of stairs, and all the way to the attic, where Terra was camping out in a makeshift bed. She sat down beside him and said, “I think he’ll sleep through the night this time.”

Terra yawned. “I hope so. Staying here is worse than sleeping with Ven.” Sitting up, he said, “We’re really good at this bad-cop/good-cop thing. We’d probably be super awesome parents in the future.”

Aqua laughed. “I think we’re pretty good parents right now, even though we didn’t sign up to raise a kid. Master Eraqus did.”

Terra groaned and laid back. “That lazy old man dumps all his chores on us.”

“Yeah. Well I’m gonna go back to my room in case he comes knocking.”

“Alright. See you tomorrow.”

But Ven stayed in his room the whole night. And the rest of the nights after that. 

Chapter Text

“I’m going to the post office to pick up a package,” Aqua shouted out as she walked toward the front door. “Anyone else need anything from downtown?”

Master Eraqus, who was upstairs, shouted, “Check to see if I got any mail—and don’t read it!”

“Of course not, Master,” she said sweetly.

Terra, who was training in the throne room, said, “I don’t need anything.”

Ven, who was training with Terra in the throne room, said, “Don’t come back!”

“Alright bye,” shouted Aqua as she left. The door closed behind her with a thud. Ven peeked over the railing of the staircase. With excitement in his eyes, he asked, “Do you think she seriously won’t come back?”

“Does he hate her or something?” Terra mumbled. Aloud, he told Ven, “Focus. We were sparring, right?”

The two exchanged blows. Ven kept swinging his blade, and Terra kept blocking. “Take this! And this! And this!” Ven yelled as he pummeled Terra. Yet, the older student guarded each blow and waited until just the right time… SMACK! Terra landed a counterattack that knocked Ven into the opposite wall. “SHHHHIT, I didn’t mean to hit you that hard!” Terra yelled as he rushed to Ven’s aid.

But Ven rose to his feet, saying, “I’ve taken much worse.” The boy assumed fighting position again. “I’m pretty tough.”

Terra winced. “Okay… Well…” He resumed his fighting position as well. “Then I won’t take it easy on you.” And they continued to battle.

About an hour or so later, Aqua returned with her package, the master’s mail, and a few things that she picked up at the supermarket for dinner. She set the food in the kitchen, delivered the mail to Master Eraqus, and took her package to her room.

It was a rather large package that her brother had sent to her. She opened it to reveal several goodies: an envelope with some munny; a new dress; a picture of her brother posing in front of the family’s new factory in Agrabah; and an herbal body wash. There was also was a metal case, about an arm’s length long, a hand’s width wide, and a hand’s width tall, in the shape of a treasure chest. Inside, it was packed full with exotic chocolates, and a note that said, “I bought the best chocolates in Agrabah for my little sister! Don’t eat it all at once or you’ll get fat. (^_^)”

Out of spite, Aqua ate two entire chocolate bars right then. The bars were pretty big, though, so now her mouth was dry and she regretted her actions. She decided that she probably shouldn’t eat all of the chocolate at once, and opted instead to share with Ven and Terra.

First she walked to Ven’s room. She opened the door just a tad, so that she could see what he was doing. It was nothing in particular—just holding Mizz Piggy and talking to himself. “Mizz Piggy,” he said, “I think I’m happy. But somehow, I feel a little guilty. Like there’s a part of me that’s not really happy right now. What should I do?” The doll was silent of course. But Ven kept talking, “Ignore it? Yeah, because there’s nothing I can do about it, huh?”

Aqua whispered, “Awww, poor thing.” Then she knocked on the door and called out, “Hey, Ven, are you in there?”

“No! Go away,” Ven demanded.

However, Aqua opened the door and entered inside. “My brother sent me some chocolate. Want some?” She sat beside him on the bed and offered the case to him.

“Is it poison?” the kid asked.

“Nope.”

The brightly colored wrapping paper enticed the otherwise suspicious Ven. “Okay.” And he took one bar that was wrapped in sparkly gold foil. He opened it up and bit into it.

His eyes widened.

His body froze.

He dropped the chocolate.

Aqua, too, tensed. “Oh my God was it actually poisoned?” she gasped.

“Wh-what was that?!” he shouted.

“Chocolate! I swear it’s just chocolate!”

“Chocolate? Chocolate? CHOCOLATE?” Ven screamed. He stood up and threw Mizz Piggy into the air. “CHOCOLATE?! CHOOOOCOLATE! CHOOOOCOLATE!!!” Ven snatched the bar from the ground and stuffed it into his mouth like a chipmunk. “CHOCOLATE!?” he screeched with his mouth full.

Aqua closed the case. She quickly left the room.

That was weird.

She found Terra speaking to Master Eraqus in the throne room. “Master, what is Ven’s past?”

“Why do you ask, Terra?” Eraqus replied.

“Sometimes he says things that concern me.”

“Ventus is a rather interesting child. Do not worry about it too much.”

“Okay then…”

Aqua lowered her eyes. “I wonder what Master is hiding?” she thought quietly. However, she entered the throne room, saying, “My brother sent me chocolates. Would anyone like some?”

Terra helped himself to two bars. “Thanks.”

Master Eraqus grabbed one as well. “How is your brother doing?”

“He’s fine,” Aqua said. “As busy as ever.” She closed the case of chocolate. “I’m going to get dinner started. I’ll shout when it’s ready.” And she walked away.

Master Eraqus looked upwards, as if critically thinking about something. “I’m glad that she and her brother are getting along well. He is the only family that she has now.”

“What do you mean, Master?” Terra asked.

“Did I say that aloud?” Eraqus cringed. “I thought I was thinking that.”

“Seriously, though, what do you mean, Master?”

“Aqua and her mother have completely cut off ties. Remember?”

“No.”

“Oh, you weren’t there, were you? No, you weren’t.”

“What happened?”

Master Eraqus shook his head. “None of your business, Terra.” Turning away, he took a few steps forward and looked out of a window, solemnly. His mind seemed to drift as he recalled the situation. “I think it was the week when Terra went home to visit his own family. Yes, it was. Aqua’s family, the proud owners of the powerful D’Vitae Group, came to the Land of Departure to officially open their newest potion factory. Aqua and I both went to the ribbon cutting ceremony—but it was NOT a date. There, I was once again reunited with the former love of my life, Trisha D’Vitae, who hates me still for the betrayal I committed all those years ago. Who would have guessed that the daughter of my former lover would one day become my student? What a cruel destiny. Anyway, Aqua revealed to me that she had run away from her home and her life as a wealthy heiress in order to follow her true passion and become a keyblade master. Her mother was very much against the idea, so she had disowned Aqua for running away. Yet, once reunited with Aqua, Trisha offered her daughter one more chance to return. Upon Aqua’s refusal, Trisha cut all ties with her. Aqua’s brother, however, went against his mother’s wishes and approved of Aqua’s decisions. He too, was disowned… How could Trisha be so cruel to her children?”

Master Eraqus stopped his monologue and stared off into the distance. Terra felt a just a pidge of guilt for eavesdropping. And he felt more than a bit of concern at the idea that Master Eraqus was slowly slipping into senility, and speaking his most private thoughts out loud.

Anyway, Terra headed back to his room with his shoulders slumped over. Aqua hadn’t told him any of this. “And I thought we were friends,” he mumbled.

During dinner, Ven shivered. He rubbed his arms rapidly. His teeth chattered. Everyone noticed. “You okay, Ven?” Terra asked.

“I want chocolate,” he whimpered.

Aqua said, “You act like you’ve never had chocolate before.”

Ven shook his head. “Not that I can remember.”

She looked to Master Eraqus, “Seriously?”

The master shrugged. “I am not sure.”

Terra said, “Now that I think about it, we’ve never given Ven any chocolate before, right?”

Aqua nodded. “Yeah. You’re right.” To Ven, she said, “You can have another one tomorrow. It’s not good to eat too much at once.”

“I want it NOW!” Ven shouted, slamming his fists on the dinner table.

A brief moment of silence followed.

“Please?” Ven begged.

And Aqua caved in, “Finish your dinner first and I’ll give you another bar.” To which, Terra said, “No, Aqua, don’t always give him what he wants.”

“It’s just chocolate,” Aqua told Terra. “It’s not that serious.”

That night, Ven tossed on turned in his bed. So much sweat dripped along his body that he looked like he had just stepped out of the shower. “Ch-ch-chocolate…” he mumbled in his sleep.

The next morning, he woke up bright and early as usual. He was in the kitchen by the time Aqua arrived downstairs. “Good morning, Ven,” she said.

“Can I have some more chocolate?” he asked.

“Maybe later,” she told him.

“No. I want it now.”

“It’s breakfast time. Eat some cereal instead.” She reached for a bowl in the cupboard. “If you’re craving something sweet, I just bought some Honey Nut Chocob-O’s.” Aqua poured the cereal and milk for him. With a scowl, Ven picked up the bowl and shattered it against the floor.

“I WANT CHOCOLATE!” he shouted.

“Ven? What the hell? Do you think I’m going to give you chocolate if you act like a brat?”

Silence. Eventually Ven said, “No.”

“That’s right. So clean it up.”

And Ven did. And he poured himself some more cereal and ate quietly.

Ven was obedient during training, and he even helped Aqua clean up the kitchen after lunch. Accordingly, he begged, “Can I please get some chocolate now?”

“Sure.” So she gave him a KidKat bar from her box of treasures.

He gobbled it up hungrily, shouted, “Chocolate!” and proceeded to run up and down the hallway. Aqua laughed. But Terra didn’t find it so funny. “Aqua,” he began, “maybe you shouldn’t be giving him so much chocolate.”

“It’s the first bar I gave him today,” she explained.

“I mean, stop giving it to him entirely. He’s acting weird.”

“No he’s not.”

Terra raised an eyebrow at her. “Seriously?”

“Okay maybe he’s being a tad weird. But that’s probably because he has too much sugar in his system. He’ll calm down soon enough.”

“I guess you’re right.” Terra picked a chocolate bar from her stash as well, and headed to his room. Aqua helped herself to another bar, before returning to her room to hide the rest under her bed. Little did she know that Ven was peeking into her room, watching…

So that night, when Aqua returned to her room after her bath, she found Ven passed out on her bed, holding the empty case. His lips and cheeks were coated in melted chocolate. So were his hands—and Aqua’s bedsheets.

“Ven!” exclaimed Aqua. “Ven! What the hell?”

No reply.

So she shook him. “Ven?” she called out. “Ven?”

He stirred awake. After blinking a few times, he sat up. Looking down at the empty case, he frowned. He turned to Aqua. “I want more chocolate.”

“You need to drink some water,” she told him as she forced him to the kitchen to drink a few cups. Ven seemed really out of touch with reality. It was as if he was black-out drunk, but on chocolate. “This is insane,” she told herself. “It’s just chocolate. Normal, fancy chocolate. Why is he acting like this?”

Aqua then helped Ven brush his teeth and sent him to bed.

Ven awoke the next day and started screaming, “I want chocolate!” and throwing things around in his room. He kept doing that all morning, so of course it attracted the attention of Aqua, Terra and Master Eraqus. The latter asked Aqua, “What was in that chocolate?”

Aqua showed him the list of ingredients printed on the side of the box. “Cocoa, milk, nuts. Normal things.”

As Master Eraqus took the box, the note that Aqua’s brother had written fell onto the floor. Aqua picked it up, and that’s when she noticed that there was something written on the opposite side of it, “But seriously Sis, this chocolate is enchanted. It is super easy to get addicted to it, especially if you’ve never had chocolate before. But that shouldn’t be a problem because you love chocolate. And I love you! XOXO Rio D.V.”

Aqua scowled. At that moment, Master Eraqus read the penultimate ingredient on the list. “Genie Power? Oh no, this is bad.”

Terra asked, “What’s Genie Powder?”

“It’s a rare flavor enhancing ingredient made from the dust that gathers on magic lamps.”

“Ew.”

“It’s an addictive delicacy,” Eraqus continued. “That must be why Ven is acting like this. The more we feed his addiction, the worse it’ll get.”

Aqua leaned against the wall and descended to the floor in a squat position. “Oh no, this is all my fault.”

Master Eraqus reassured her. “Do not fret Aqua. It was an honest mistake. And all hope is not lost. In order to break the addiction, we must deny Ven the object of his desires for three days. That means Ven is not to have chocolate. It is actually quite a simple task.”

“Yeah that’ll be easy,” Terra agreed. But Aqua seemed very distraught. She argued, “But he’s freaking out. Shouldn’t we give him a little to calm him down?”

Shaking his head, Master Eraqus replied, “No. The only cure for Genie Powder addiction is three days of abstaining from the addicted substance.” With a faraway look in his eyes, Master Eraqus said, “I know this, because I too once fell victim to the power of Genie Powder. I was addicted to potato chips for two weeks before Xehanort and Trisha tried to help. They locked me in my room for three long, bitter days. Oh the horrors of it all… I remember how I tore off my finger nails while scratching at the door. I remember banging my head against the wall, trying to stop the urges. I remember screaming, crying, and nearly fighting Trisha to the death, just so I could get my hands on a bag of chips.” Master Eraqus clenched his fists. “The longer Ventus stays addicted, the worse his withdrawal will be. Therefore, save him the trouble now.”

Terra wondered how Master had gotten himself into the situation in the first place, while Aqua nodded her head. “Alright then,” she told the Master. Eraqus left, and Terra was about to leave as well, but Aqua kept an eye on Ven. So Terra told her, “You’re not helping him by watching him throw a tantrum.”

She didn’t move. Therefore, Terra grabbed her arm and pulled her back. “Just leave him alone Aqua.”

She exhaled and pouted. He patted her head. “If you need to give someone attention, I’m always here,” he joked. She pushed him away and stifled a smile, saying, “You always know how to cheer me up. Thanks.” As she walked away, Terra blushed. He ran his hands through his hair and said, “Every day, I get a little bit closer.”

Aqua and Terra trained with Master Eraqus that afternoon. Afterwards, Aqua returned to Ven’s room to check on him. Ven was sitting on his bed, clutching Mizz Piggy, and rocking back and forth, muttering, “I need it. I need chocolate.” Aqua covered her mouth with her hand, and closed her eyes. But she resisted the urge to give Ven chocolate.

Soon it was the end of day one.

Day two began with Ven acting normally. “Good morning,” he said to the two older students as he arrived for breakfast. “Oh! Good morning!” Aqua replied hopefully. “Is it over?”

Ven was confused. “Is what over?”

Terra ruffled Ven’s hair. “You good Ven?”

Ven nodded. “Yeah. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“You were acting weird yesterday.”

“Was I?” Ven shrugged it off. “Can I have French toast, Aqua?”

Aqua nodded. “Sure.”

He ate breakfast as usual. That afternoon, Ven trained with them as usual. Master Eraqus and Ven clashed their keyblades so fiercely that sparks were flying. Ven shouted, “Thunder!” Master Eraqus dodged, and shot a beam of white energy at Ven. Ven rolled out of the way. But the Master preempted that move, and dashed toward Ven, hitting him in the back.

“You may be quick, Ventus, but you are also predictable,” Master said. Rubbing his back, Ven stood up and nodded, saying, “That’s the only useful piece of advice you’ve ever given me, Eraqus.”

“I see you’re back to your normal self then,” grumbled the Master. And Aqua felt relieved.

So after lunch, when Ven approached Aqua and asked, “Can I have some chocolate?” She replied, “Sure, let’s go to the store to buy some.”

Luckily, Terra was passing by at that exact moment. He overheard and shouted, “Hey! Hey! No! Aqua, we need to wait three days, remember?”

She argued, “He seems fine now.”

“But just to be safe, let’s wait.”

And she knew that he was right. Therefore, she told Ven, “Well then the day after tomorrow let’s go to the candy store and buy some chocolate for you, okay Ven?”

Ven’s expression dropped into one of despair. “No! Aqua, I need it now! I was a good boy all day!” He tackled her to the ground and started throwing punches while screaming, “I NEED CHOCOLATE! I NEED IT!”

Terra yanked Ven away from Aqua, and tossed the boy into his room. Aqua, quite alarmed, said, “Wow…”

“I guess it wasn’t over,” Terra said. “That, or he really hates you.”

Thus, day two passed.

The entire day three, Ven was an emotional wreck. He wept and wailed, as if grieving the loss of a loved one. At a point, Aqua couldn’t bare it any longer. She slipped away to the store to buy a chocolate bar. Upon her return, Terra was blocking the door to Ven’s room.

“Let me just give him a little bit,” Aqua begged as she tried to enter Ven’s room.

“Don’t give him any chocolate!” shouted Terra.

Armed with a KidKat bar in her hand, Aqua argued, “He’s been crying all day! This is abuse! And it’s all my fault!”

“No, Aqua. Calm down. He’ll be fine.”

She sighed. She turned her back to Terra. “Okay.”

Then she dashed underneath Terra’s legs and ran into Ven’s room. Terra lunged, locked his arms around her upper body, and slung her backwards. His thick arms pinned her elbows to her waist. “Terra let me go!”

“No! This is getting out of hand!”

Aqua desperately shook her head. “I know, and it’s all my fault! But I can’t just leave him there! Look at him!”

The boy clutched Mizz Piggy and camped out in a corner of his room. His hair stood on end, his eyes were red with tears, and he was wrapped in his blanket. He shivered as if chilled by the touch of the cold, cruel world. He wept and wept and wept. “I NEED CHOCOLATE!” Ven shrieked as he used his left hand to scratch at his left shoulder. “PLEASE!”

Aqua thrashed against Terra’s grasp. Terra solemnly stood his ground. “Stop spoiling him!”

“But he needs me!” insisted Aqua. She jumped and kicked and squirmed.

Terra strengthened his grip on Aqua, partly because she was fighting against him so fiercely, and partly because his arms were wrapped around her boobies. The more she thrashed, the tighter he squeezed. Finally, she called out, “Okay! Okay! I give up! Terra! Terra, stop! You’re hurting me!”

But instead of easing his grip, he nestled his nose on the top of her head and inhaled the scent of her hair. He mumbled, “You smell so good.”

“Whoa, what the fuck, Terra?”

He snapped out of it. “Oh… um…” he tilted his head upward. “Sorry… but I’m still not letting go.” He slung her over his shoulders and carried her out of the room.

Eventually, Ventus cried himself to sleep. Only then did Terra allow Aqua to return to Ven’s room. Together, they tucked him into bed. “It’s over,” Terra said. He reached out to caress Aqua’s shoulder. “You really should stop giving him everything he wants, especially if you know it’s bad for him.”

She took a step away from him and replied, “I can’t help it. I just want him to be happy.”

Terra put his hands in his pockets and faced downward as he said, I think it’s a little more than that. I think that he reminds you of yourself, and you want to act like the mother you wish you had, and live vicariously through him.”

Aqua was taken aback. “What?”

“Master told me about what happened between you and your mother and brother.”

“Oh…” She rubbed one arm. “Are you mad that I didn’t tell you?”

“No. But why didn’t you tell me?”

“I never found a good time. Besides, I don’t really want to talk about it…” She trailed off, and shook her head. “Okay, so maybe I do wish that my mother treated me the way I treat Ven. That’s not a bad thing.”

Terra embraced her. “No it’s not a bad thing to want to make Ven happy, but you can’t spoil him so much that you end up ruining him.”

Aqua wiggled out of his grasp and stepped away from Terra. “I get it. I need to be more balanced.” She pushed a stray lock of hair away from her face and took yet another giant step backward.

Silence.

“Terra, why did you sniff me?”

He blushed. “…Um…” He scratched the back of his head and didn’t respond.

“That was really weird. Like, really, really weird,” she told him.

“Sorry… I couldn’t control myself. But I won’t do again.”

“Okay. I guess I forgive you.” Yet she backed away from him and left Ven’s room.

He sighed and chastised himself, “Terra, you idiot, you take one step forward and then ten leaps back…”

Chapter Text

Today, the weather was bad. Like, really, really bad. The wind was so violent that it sounded like a giant whale was whistling. The rain was so fierce that it sounded like a marching band was stomping on the roof. And the occasional flash of lightning, accompanied by the ground-shaking crash of thunder, scared the shit out of Ven.

Naturally, Ven tried to find sanctuary with Terra. He stood at Terra’s side in the throne room, while Master Eraqus talked to them. “It hasn’t rained this badly since the summer of ’81,” the Master said. “For three days, and three nights, the rain was so intense that we were forced to stay indoors. I was but a youth back then, perhaps Terra’s age. And I, too, was a student, studying the ways of the keyblade. Due to boredom and proximity, one night, one thing led to another, and, well… What a hot, steamy, passionate night that was. Ah, Trisha! The way you moved those hips! I shall never forget it.” Master Eraqus smiled. “Even to this day, the sound of such serious rain sets my soul ablaze.”

Terra winced with disgust. “Um… okay?” Then he glanced down at Ven, wondering if the boy had understood that innuendo. No. Ven was picking his nose and wiping the boogers on Terra’s pants. Terra swatted Ven’s hand away.

Upon hearing Terra’s response, Master Eraqus realized that he had said that entire monologue out loud. He had honestly thought that he was thinking to himself. So, with a slight blush on his face, Master cleared his throat and kept talking, “Terra, you should walk around the palace and place buckets anywhere that you see a leak. Ven, help him.”

“Yes Master,” Terra answered.

“Whatever, Old Man,” Ven answered.

Eraqus walked away while complaining, “Such disrespectful, ungrateful kids. Both of them.”

Terra, upset at Master’s complaints, crossed his arms in front of his chest and grumbled, “Why does he hate me?”

“Perhaps he sees too much of himself in you, Terra,” Ven suggested, while picking his nose. “It is often said that we clash against people that are most like ourselves.”

“Oh, that’s a good point Ven.” Terra closed his eyes and thought about it for a moment. “But actually, I’m the opposite of that lazy bum.”

“Whatever you say,” Ven replied, as he flicked a booger. Anyway, they did as they were told and found several serious leaks in various places in the building. As Terra placed a bucket underneath the last one, he said to himself, “When this rain stops, I’m going to patch up the roof.” Aloud to Ven, he said, “Okay, we’re done.”

“What’s next?”

Terra shrugged. “I’m going to make a sandwich. You can do whatever you want.”

“Okay.” Ven tried to follow Terra to the kitchen. Terra stopped walking, picked the kid up, walked a few feet backwards, and set the kid down. “Stop following me.”

“But you said I can do whatever I want.”

“Anything except follow me. Go away.”

Ven lowered his head as he sulked away.

After making his sandwich, Terra returned to his room. There, he found Ven rummaging under his bed. Terra set down his sandwich and yanked the boy upwards by the back of his shirt. “Why are you in my room?”

“I was looking for chocolate,” Ven replied. Although his addiction had subsided, Ventus was still very fond of chocolate.

“Under my bed? Why would I keep chocolate under my bed?”

“Yesterday I overheard you saying, ‘Time for the good stuff’, and I saw you reach under your bed.”

Terra’s face flushed. “I wasn’t talking about chocolate. Why would you assume that I was talking about chocolate?”

“The day before that, you said, ‘Time for some sweet, sweet hentai.’”

“No. Hentai is not chocolate.”

“I figured that out now,” Ven replied. “Hentais are picture books.” He raised the book that he was holding, “But they’re weird.”

Ven stumbled into my stash, Terra realized. And he panicked, because he was definitely not prepared to have the talk about “the locks and the keys” with Ven. So Terra set Ven down and said, “That’s because you’re too young to understand.”

“No I’m not!” Ven argued. He flipped backwards a few pages in the book. “This is a woman. And,” he flipped a few pages forward, “she’s obviously doing something to make this guy angry because,” he flipped forward a few more pages, “he attacks her.”

Terra snatched the book away. “He’s not attacking her. He’s making her feel good.”

“But he poked a hole through her body with his pee pee,” Ven argued. “He’s trying to kill her, obviously.”

Terra’s eyes narrowed and he shook his head slowly. “No. Women already have that hole there.”

“Then where does their pee pee go?” the younger boy asked, sarcastically.

Terra rubbed his forehead with frustration. “They don’t have one.”

Ven was even more sarcastic. “So how do they pee?”

“You’re too dumb to understand this! So go back to your room and forget about it!”

“I’m not dumb!”

“Get out of my room, you dumb stupid idiot!”

“FINE!” So Ven stormed out from the room.

Ven started to cry as he stomped down the hallway. “I’m not stupid! Stupid Terra! He’s stupid! Stupid, stupid Terra!” He tried to wipe away the tears, but they fell as steadily as the rain outside. “Now Terra hates me.” His vision became muddled. “I don’t want Terra to hate me.”

He was too busy feeling sorry for himself to notice that Aqua was walking down the hall as well. “Ven?” she called out. She hurried to him, stooped over, and reached out to wipe some tears from his face. “What’s wrong?”

Ven sniffled. “Terra is mean.”

“Aw, I’m sorry.” She pulled him into a hug. “Terra has bad days sometimes. Don’t worry.”

When she hugged him, his face was pressed against her chest. Thus, Ven remembered that Aqua was, indeed, a woman. So he maneuvered his hand to touch what he thought would be her pee pee. She jumped back and said, “Whoa there, Ven, that’s not a place where you should touch someone.”

He looked up at her, his big, blue, brilliant eyes glimmering with the tears. “Do you not have a pee pee?”

Aqua, too, was not ready to have the talk about “the locks and the keys”. She bit her lip, turned around, and cringed. “What do I tell him?” she mumbled to herself. After a brief moment of panic, she faced Ven and answered, “Yes, but it’s different than yours. That’s why I’m a girl and you’re a boy, physically.”

The expression on Ven’s face reminded Aqua of someone who had just been slapped in the face. “So you have a hole there?!”

Aqua’s jaw dropped. “Um… well…” She felt her face flush. “Yeah…”

“Who poked the hole there?”

“Let’s stop talking about this, Ven,” Aqua replied. “Please?” She petted his head and walked away briskly.

Ven couldn’t believe it. He began to pace back and forth in the hallway. For a long while, he contemplated his next action. Then, with a stoic look of determination, he walked to the front door. As soon as he opened it, he was battered with a firehose spray of rain. A flash of lightning nearly blinded him, and the thunder clap caused him to lose his balance and fall onto his butt.

He was terrified.

But for the sake of knowledge, he persevered out in to the rain.

About five minutes later, Aqua was sitting at a table, quietly typing something on her laptop, while listening to music on her cellphone.

Out of the blue, “AQQQUUAAAAAAAAAAAA!” Ven screamed. “AAAAAAQQQUUAAAAAAAAAA!” He approached her. She gasped.

His clothing, his face, his shoes, his everything, were caked with thick, brown, sticky mud. It looked as if someone had dipped Ven into a vat of chocolate. With each footstep, he left a mud print on the floor. Aqua was absolutely flabbergasted. And in that moment of confusion, he shouted, “TAG YOU’RE IT!” and tackled her to the ground.

“WHAT THE FUCK!?” Aqua shouted as she tried to push Ven off of her. But he clung tight and rubbed his muddy body all over her. They wrestled on the floor.

Within a minute, Aqua, too, became a mud monster. When Ven finally released her, he sat up and grinned from ear to ear. “That was fun. Now let’s take a bath together, Aqua.”

She sat up, and resisted the urge to slap him. “Is that why you did this? To force me to take a bath with you?” She wiped a glob of mud from her eyes. “You could have just asked me!”

“Oh.”

Groaning, she stood up and pulled him up as well. “Let’s go.”

And thus, innocent little Ventus found himself sitting naked on a stool in one of the palace’s many bathrooms, while Aqua tried to wash the mud out of his hair. The bathroom was the type where one washes his or herself before soaking in the tub (basically a Japanese Style bath). Frankly, it felt good to have Aqua wash his hair, but Ven didn’t want to admit that. And, unfortunately, she was wearing a towel wrapped around her torso to cover her lady parts.

When she pulled a twig out of Ven’s hair, Aqua asked, “How did you get so dirty?”

“I rolled around in the mud outside.”

“Why did you…?” She decided to drop the topic, and instead focus on scrubbing his skin. And she did not hesitate to scrub hard.

“OW!”

“Stop whining. This is your fault.”

Ven pulled away from her. “Stop!”

“I’m trying to clean you up!”

“You’re trying to scrape off my skin!”

Aqua placed her other hand on her face in frustration. “Can we please hurry this up?”

Ven pouted. Aqua kept scrubbing. As the dirt fell off, she noticed something new about Ven. His entire body was etched with a multitude of faded scars. They were faint remnants of old injuries. Some of them were dismissible. Small discolorations on his knees, arms, shins and elbows, probably from falling or scraping. Perhaps his previous master was a bit too rough with the training.

But many of the scars were not dismissible. “What happened to you here, Ven?” she asked, pointing to the remnants of a startling gash that ran along the left side of his torso, from his lowest rib to his hipbone.

He shrugged.

“And on your back?” she traced along some of the zig-zagged groves in between his shoulder blades.

Ven shrugged.

“What about here?” she pointed to a scar across his collar bone.

Ven slapped her hand away. “I don’t know!” He turned around to face her. “And why are you wearing a towel? You should take it off.”

“Huh?”

He shrugged. “You might as well, right?”

Aqua realized that this entire situation was Ven’s convoluted plan to see her naked. And that’s when she wondered if Ven wasn’t as sweet and innocent as she thought. And that changed her whole attitude towards taking a bath with him. She realized that this could actually be a VERY inappropriate situation. For instance, she would never have taken a bath with Master Eraqus or Terra.

But that’s different. She tried to convince herself. Ven is just a kid. I didn’t think twice about it because I see him as a little brother. He’s a twelve-year-old boy who doesn’t even know that girls have a… oh… Is that why he wants to see me naked? “Oh…” she said aloud as she realized that he wanted to see her naked solely for the purpose of learning about the opposite sex.

She sighed. She definitely needed to have the talk about “the locks and keys” with him. So she said, “Listen, Ven, you’re not supposed to ask to see girls naked. I understand that you’re curious but—”

He ignored her and snatched her towel away. She slapped him. Really hard. Like, really, really hard. It echoed along the walls of the bathroom. All the frustration that he had caused her today was retaliated in that slap. It was definitely going to leave a mark on his face. “You can’t do that Ven,” Aqua chided him.

Ven, his head turned in the direction of the force of the slap, slowly brought his hand toward his affected cheek, dazed. His eyes lost their shine, and for a long moment his mind seemed to drift somewhere else. She noticed. “Ven?”

He snapped back to reality, and immediately stumbled away from her. His eyes doubled in size and his body tensed, as if ready to run for his life. “Please don’t hurt me!” he whimpered, while curling up, shielding himself with his arms and trembling. He started crying.

Aqua felt guilty. Maybe she shouldn’t have hit him so hard. She sighed. “I’m sorry Ven. I shouldn’t have slapped you. That was mean.”

“You always say that. You always hurt me.” His voice broke as he sobbed. “You always hurt me.”

Aqua was speechless for a moment. And that’s when she pieced two and two together. The scars made sense to her. “Oh. Oh no. Oh, no, Ven, seriously. I’m sorry,” Aqua insisted. “I promise I won’t do it again. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” 

That seemed to calm him down. It took several minutes, but he stopped crying and wiped his face. After another few minutes of silence, the shine returned to his eyes. He blinked a few times. He seemed a little confused. “Aqua?” he mumbled.

“Yeah?” she answered.                                                          

He looked around. Then he took a good look at her. “So you don’t have a pee pee...”

And Aqua felt really weird about the entire situation. Nonetheless, she gently pulled him toward her so that she could finish scrubbing him.

After their bath, Aqua found a kid-friendly online video explaining the differences between males and females, as well as the process of reproduction. They watched it together on her laptop.

“Oh,” Ven mumbled when the video finished. He looked to Aqua. “And so when that thing goes in that place, it feels good?”

Aqua blushed. “Um, I don’t know,” She admitted. “I’ve never actually done anything like that with anyone.”

“Terra said that the lady in his picture book liked it.”

Aqua needed to take her time to process that sentence. “The lady in Terra’s picture book?”

“Yeah. He calls it the good stuff, but it’s not chocolate. Do you have any chocolate Aqua? I really want some chocolate.”

So Aqua gave Ven a chocolate bar and sent him on his way. Part of her wanted to confront Terra about the ‘picture book’ that he had shown Ven, but part of her was too exhausted to deal with Terra, so she decided to just mop up the mud prints and take a nap.

Chapter Text

Aqua was standing around in the kitchen, drinking her morning coffee when Terra and Ven walked in. Terra complained, “Stop following me around.”

“Then stay in one place,” replied Ven.

“This kid is such a smartass,” grumbled Terra. To Aqua, he said, “Good morning,” and gave her a hug.

She replied, “Morning,” as she patted him on the back. He squeezed her tighter and lifted her off of the ground, slightly. She giggled. “Set me down before I spill this hot coffee.”

“The coffee can’t be as hot as you,” he told her.

“You and your stupid compliments,” she said with a coy smile. “You’re so cheesy.”

Ven piped in, saying, “Where’s my breakfast, Aqua?”

She replied, “Coming right up. Let me go Terra.” But Terra strengthened his grip and said, “He can’t talk to you like that.”

“It’s just a phase,” she assured him.

He stated, “No, it’s bad behavior that needs to be corrected.”

“You’re too harsh on him.”

“You’re too nice to him. He’s going to grow up to be a useless idiot if you keep spoiling him.”

“Well he’ll grow up to be depressed if he doesn’t have a loving, supportive childhood.”

Ven raised his hand. “Either way, I still need my breakfast.”

Terra, still gripping Aqua in a hug, said, “Make it yourself Ven.”

Aqua, trying to squirm out of Terra’s grasp, said, “I’ll make it in just a second, Ven. What do you want?”

“Sunny-side up eggs, toast, and bacon.” The boy sat down at the island bar and watched Aqua and Terra as they struggled for about a minute. Finally, Aqua said, “Terra. I’m serious. Put me down.”

“I’m serious when I say that Ven needs to learn to take care of himself.”

“Dammit Terra, I’m giving you until the count of three or I’ll spill this coffee on you. One. Two.”

He let her go. “Fine. But next time he’ll make his own breakfast. And he should start doing chores too.”

“He will, eventually! Let him be a kid for a little while!” she fussed as she started making Ven’s breakfast. “Don’t force him to grow up too fast.”

“Don’t allow him to grow up too slow is all I’m saying.” Terra sat down beside Ven. “And if you’re going to make breakfast for him, then can you make some for me too?”

Aqua shot Terra a dirty look. But she ended up making breakfast for both of them.

During training that day, Ven and Aqua fought an intense practice battle, while Terra did the same with Master Eraqus. Aqua was on the defensive, because Ven was so quick with his attacks. She focused on parrying his strikes and avoiding his blows.

“You know that you can hit him, Aqua,” Terra critiqued her, while dodging one of Master Eraqus’s attacks. Master Eraqus slammed his keyblade against Terra’s and added, “Yes, Aqua, put Ven on the defensive.”

“Um, well,” she replied, while jumping over one of Ven’s attacks, “I don’t want to hurt him.”

Ven replied, “Someone as weak as you can’t hurt me.”

“But Ven…”

Master Eraqus blocked an attack from Terra as he said, “It’s okay to hurt him a little. This is a sparring match after all.”

Ven nodded in agreement. So she too, nodded. She rushed toward Ven. He swung his blade, but she did a triple flip in the air and landed behind him. With a quick turn, she smacked Ven on the back with her keyblade and he fell forward. “Argh!” Ven grumbled as he laid on the grass.

“Oh no, was that too rough?” she asked.

Standing up, the boy placed his hand on the area where Aqua had struck him. “I’ve survived worse.” Ven resumed his fighting position. “Let’s keep going.”

Aqua winced. “Master, maybe this is too hard for Ven.”

“Don’t insult me woman,” the kid shouted. He ran toward Aqua and continued to fight her with all of his strength.

That evening, after dinner and a bath, Aqua and Ven were in the living room, watching television together. She was sitting beside him on the sofa and said, “After this next show ends, you’re going to sleep, Ven.”

Ven, dressed in his pajamas and holding his Mizz Piggy doll, said, “I go to sleep when I want to.”

Terra entered the living room. “What are you guys watching?”        

“Right now they’re on commercials,” answered Ven, “but this new show called Pete’s Adventures in Interspace is about to start. It looks interesting.”

“Cool.” Terra picked up Ven, sat him on the opposite edge of the couch, and then sat in between Ven and Aqua. Terra then leaned his head against Aqua’s shoulders. “I’ll join you guys then.”

Aqua giggled. “The more the merrier.”

Terra looked up into her eyes. “It’d be better if it were just me and you.”

Ven said, “No, it’d be better if it were just me and you, Terra. Aqua can go be dumb somewhere else.”

“Why does this kid hate you?” Terra asked.

Aqua shook her head. “He doesn’t hate me. That’s how he shows his affection.”

“SHHH! It’s starting,” Ven declared as he snuggled up against Terra.

So they all watched the cartoon together; Ven resting on Terra, and Terra resting on Aqua. Master Eraqus walked by, noticed the three of them, and smiled, saying, “They are such close friends.” And he walked away.

At some point during the show, Ven got super engrossed, and laid on his belly on the floor, close to the television, using Mizz Piggy as a pillow to rest his head. That left Terra and Aqua on the sofa. And Terra saw an opportunity to get a little closer to Aqua. He ever so slightly shifted his position so that he could wrap an arm around her shoulders. He took a deep breath. She smelled like lavender. She didn’t seem to notice. Score one for Terra.

He scooted closer to her so as to press his cheek against her cheek. That’s when she noticed. They met eyes. With his free hand, Terra brushed his fingers against her cheek. “I really like you, Aqua,” he whispered.

“Stop it,” she whispered in reply. She turned away from him. But she was smiling. Terra nuzzled his head in the crevice between her head and her shoulder. “Can I get a kiss?”

“Terra, stop,” she said, trying to push him away.

“Just a quick one.”

“Why are you doing this?”

He shrugged. “I guess I’m feeling bold today.”

Slowly she met his gaze once more. Her cheeks colored pink with a slight blush as she said, “You’re so annoying sometimes.”

“Don’t you like that about me?”

“Maybe.”

“Just one kiss, Aqua,” he begged.

“Just one,” she said as she leaned forward. But right before she pressed her lips against Terra’s—

“Ew what are you doing?” Ven suddenly asked. The cartoon was on commercial break, so he had broken out of the trance of the TV. Aqua, her face reddening, quickly pinched Terra’s nose. She said, “There was something on Terra’s face. Haha.”

Terra, his face reddening, said, “Watch the damn TV Ven. I’m trying to have a moment with Aqua.”

“You don’t have moments with me,” grumbled Ven as he returned to his seat beside Terra on the sofa.

“I’ll take a moment to beat your ass,” Terra grumbled.

Aqua pinched Terra’s nose again. “Don’t you dare say that to Ven!” Upon releasing his nose, she swatted Terra’s arms off from her shoulders, crossed her arms in front of her chest, and adjusted her position so that she could focus on the television.

Terra hit himself on the forehead in frustration. To make matters worse, Ven sprawled across Terra’s lap and asked, “How do you like the show so far?”

“I wasn’t watching the show,” Terra viciously retorted as he shooed Ven away. “Stop bothering me.”

For some reason, that statement broke Ven’s heart. “Oh…” Ven clutched Mizz Piggy to his chest. “Okay. Never mind.” He moved away from Terra while tears pooled up in his eyes. Although the kid tried to blink them back, a few slid down his cheeks. “I don’t know why Terra doesn’t like me.”

Terra looked Ven right in the eyes and said, “Because you’re a brat.” Then he faced Aqua, determined to woo her into a kiss. But the look of pure disgust that seized her face informed Terra that she was not to be wooed again tonight. She yelled, “How could you? Apologize to him right now!”

A quick roar of frustration escaped Terra’s mouth. He leaned forward, so that his forehead touched his knees. And he realized, If I want her, I’ll need to tolerate Ven’s nonsense. So Terra sat up, placed Ven on his lap, and said, “Just kidding, Ven! I can’t believe you fell for that!”

The way Ven’s eyes lit up actually made Terra feel really guilty for hurting the boy’s feelings in the first place. Ven asked, “Really? You were just joking?”

“Yeah.” Terra rested his chin atop Ven’s head. “You’re annoying, but you’re adorable. I can’t seriously be angry at you. You’re my friend, Ven.”

“My friend? I can have friends?”

Terra nodded. “Yup. Aqua and I are your friends.”

Ven smiled from ear to ear. “That was a mean joke, but I’ll forgive you, because you’re my friend too, Terra.”

The show started playing on the television again. Aqua rested her head against Terra’s shoulder. And Terra smiled.

Chapter Text

One day, Aqua was sitting in the living room, doing something on her laptop. Terra happened to walk by behind her. He also happened to notice her screen background. It was a picture of her younger self, dressed in a leotard and a frilly pink tutu. Her blue hair was pulled back into long twintails. On her face was the widest grin Terra had ever seen. She was missing her front two teeth.

Leaning forward, so that his chin rested in the crevice between her neck and her shoulder, Terra commented, “That’s a cute picture.” She shrugged him off, and giggled. “Stop that. It tickles.”

“Were you a ballerina or something?”

Aqua nodded. “Yup. I took dance lessons since I was a very little girl. This was one of my recitals. I think I was seven years old, and I was the lead in The Nutcracker.” She smiled. “Dad was so proud.”

In the picture, Aqua was standing beside an older blonde kid, who was wearing thick glasses and a sweater vest. He had a bowl cut. Terra pointed to him. “Who’s that?”

“My older brother, Rio,” Aqua answered.  She pointed to the moogle floating behind her in the picture. “And that’s my dad. I think my mom took the picture.”

Terra was silent. He blinked a few times, rubbed his eyes, and leaned closer to the computer screen. “Where’s your dad?”

“Him,” Aqua said, pointing once again to the moogle in the picture. He was a cute little white furball, with a giant pink nose, and a light blue pompom puff sprouting from the top of his head. His wings were dark purple.

“The moogle?”

“Yeah. I’m half-moogle.”

Terra gave Aqua the side-eye. “Stop joking.”

Blushing, Aqua jammed her elbow into his face. “I am! Don’t make fun of me! I know I don’t look like it!”

Terra held his nose as he stumbled backward. “Ouch!”

She shut her laptop and stood up. “You’re just like my cousins! They would always fly around me and pull my hair and tell me that I’m not moogle enough.” She crossed her arms in front of her chest. “My dad’s side of the family never accepted me and Rio.”

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up such a sore subject.”

Her entire face was red from the lingering anger. She lied, “It’s not a sore subject.”

“You sure about that?”

She tapped her foot rapidly and closed her eyes. “Yeah. It’s not like I care about my moogle ancestry. It’s not like I spent an entire summer learning the traditional moogle dance of health and good luck, only to be told by my stupid aunt that I’m not allowed to perform in the Moogle Festival because I look ‘too human’.”

“Traditional moogle dance?”

Aqua nodded and proceeded to demonstrate. She stepped from side to side, spun around, clapped, spun around, kicked her feet, shook her arms, spun around, clapped, jumped up, clapped, and thrust out her arms and finished with a clap.

Master Eraqus just so happened to walk by, and he saw it. “Ah, is that the traditional moogle dance?”

Aqua nodded. “Yup.”

Terra asked, “It took you a whole summer to learn that?”

“That’s just a small part of it. And I was six years old,” she retorted.

Now Master Eraqus was curious. “Why did you learn the traditional moogle dance?”

“I’m half-moogle.”

Master Eraqus blinked a few times. Then he put a finger in his left ear, as if to scrape out some earwax. “I’m sorry I don’t think I heard you correctly, Aqua.”

At that point, she covered her face with her hands and groaned. “I said I’m half-moogle.”

The Master looked very perplexed. “Perhaps my hearing is failing me. Did you say that you are half-moogle?”

She nodded.

“Stop joking,” said the Master.

Aqua frowned, picked up her laptop and trudged away, while shouting, “You two are the worst!”

Master Eraqus looked to Terra and asked, “Is she serious?”

Terra nodded. “Yeah, she’s serious… But can a moogle even, well, you know, with a human?”

Master Eraqus and Terra pondered it for a while before consulting the internet. They found a few blogs where moogle-human-mixed families chronicled their life experiences.

They were actually quite enlightened that day.

Chapter Text

Author's Note: If the previous chapters haven't destroyed all semblance of cannon in this story so far, this chapter definitely will.

It was evening time, and Ven, Terra and Aqua gathered in the living room to watch the latest episode of Ven’s favorite cartoon, Pete’s Adventures in Interspace. Although he had just taken a bath and eaten dinner, Ven had enough energy to roll around on the floor while clutching his Mizz Piggy doll.

Aqua chastised him, “Stop that. You’ll get dirty again.”

“Shut up Aqua,” he retorted.

“Ven, I’m serious,” she insisted.

“Mind your own business. Mizz Piggy and I are excited.”

Terra intervened. “Ven, don’t sass Aqua.” His face was stern. “She’s only saying what’s best for you. Do you understand?”

Ven pouted. “Fine. Whatever.”

Aqua, who was sitting next to Terra on the sofa, scooted over and patted the seat between them. “Come sit here, Ven.” And Ven obeyed. He leaned against Terra’s shoulder and said, “I think Pete is going to finally unlock his special power this episode.”

“Maybe,” Terra replied, patting Ven’s head.

When the show started, the theme song played, and Ven got up and started dancing to it. Ven ended up sitting on the floor in front of the television, immersed in the show. During the first commercial break, the boy jumped around and said, “I hate commercials!” He glared at Aqua. “Why can’t you get me TVStream?” TVStream was an online service where anyone can watch popular shows and movies on demand (basically their universe’s version of Netflix).

“That is not my job,” Aqua told him. “Ask Master Eraqus.”

“That useless old man? No way.”

Terra added, “He wouldn’t get you anything because you’re so rude to him.”

Ven shrugged, and returned his attention to the television. And that’s when he saw it. A grey mouse wearing a skateboarder’s outfit, complete with a backwards cap, an oversized shirt, shorts and sneakers. “Hi Kids, I’m Chuckie! And I have the best place ever! I just opened up my most fun funnest fun-fun arcade downtown and I want YOU to visit!” The screen showed a dimly lit room filled with flashing arcade games, a ball pit and tons of little kids running around. “Play games to win tickets! Exchange tickets for prizes! And I have TONS OF PIZZA!” The kids on the television were eating pizza. “YUM! Stop by my place,” Chuckie continued. “That’s Chuckie Cheese’s!”

(Basically it’s their universe’s version of Chuck E. Cheese’s.)

Eagerly, Ven turned to Aqua and Terra. A smile spread across his face. “Can I go?”

“You are way too old for Chuckie Cheese’s,” Aqua said. “I think it’s for kids age ten and younger.”

“I thought he was ten,” Terra said.

“No he’s twelve.”

“I’m twelve?!” Ven exclaimed at the same time that Terra shouted, “He’s twelve?!”

Concerned, Aqua asked, “You didn’t know your own age, Ven?”

Ven avoided the question. “What does it matter how old I am anyway? I want to go to Chuckie Cheese’s! It looks fun!”

Aqua told him, “After a certain age, you get too old to do certain things.”

“That’s not fair!” Ven whined. “I want to go to Chuckie Cheese’! I want to go to Chuckie Cheese’s! If I don’t go to Chuckie Cheese’s I’ll scream! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA—”

His show started playing on the television. Ven stopped his tantrum so he could watch. And he forgot about Chuckie Cheese’s for the rest of the night.

However, the next day, during training, Ven wasn’t paying attention when Master Eraqus called on him, “Ven, demonstrate for us your mini magic.”

“Huh?”

“Demonstrate your mini spell, Ventus,” Master Eraqus repeated. “Terra will be your target.”

“Oh, okay.” He pointed his keyblade at Terra. “Mini,” he mumbled.  Nothing happened. Ventus sighed. Eraqus asked, “Is something the matter?”

“No.”

Terra jumped into the conversation, “Are you still upset about Chuckie Cheese?”

Ven shrugged and pouted. “Maybe.”

“Chuckie Cheese?” the master repeated. “What’s that?”

“None of your business, Old Man!” Ven shouted. Aqua explained, “It’s an arcade for little kids. Ven wants to go.”

“Well then take him,” Eraqus suggested. “I can’t stand his pouting.”

Aqua shook her head. “It’s for very little kids. Not twelve-year-olds.”

“Oh.” The Master understood the situation. “Ven, you need to act your age. You do realize that you’ll be thirteen next week, right?”

“I’ll be thirteen in next week?!” Ven exclaimed.

“You didn’t know your own birthday?!” Master Eraqus exclaimed.

“No,” Ven admitted. “I don’t remember anything about myself. That means there are almost thirteen years of my life that I don’t remember. And it’s really frustrating. Was I really alive before I came here, if I can’t remember it?” He closed his eyes. “Does my earlier life even matter if I feel like I’ve always been here? The memories that I’ve made with you guys are the only memories I have, after all…” A sad aura engulfed the boy as he contemplated the quality of his existence.

Master Eraqus tried to calm Ven by saying, “You can assign the amount of importance to give to each memory, Ven. And you can determine the weight that each holds in your heart.”

“Stop spouting nonsense, Eraqus,” Ven retorted.

Master Eraqus raised his voice. “Enough of this disrespect!”

Ven turned up his nose and scoffed. “Anyway, I don’t care how old I am. I want to go to Chuckie Cheese!”

Aqua pulled out her cellphone. “Why don’t we compromise? What if we take you to an arcade for older kids to celebrate your birthday? Does that make sense?” She searched online for nearby arcades. “There’s one called Jake and Booster’s downtown.” She showed her cellphone to Ven. He scrolled through the pictures of the arcade and nodded. “Okay!”

So on the day of Ven’s 13th birthday, Aqua, Terra, Ven and Master Eraqus drove down the mountain to Jake and Booster’s arcade downtown. The entire drive, Ven was in the backseat, bouncing up and down, chanting, “I’m excited! I’m excited! I’m excited!”

Jake and Booster’s arcade was a large, two story, square building. In the center was a ten-foot-tall ball pit.  The majority of the space was an arcade, with several dozen different types of games. Kids could play those games by purchasing credits to load onto a J&B card and swiping the card to activate the game. Upon winning games, electronic tickets were loaded onto their cards, and those tickets could be used to exchange for prizes in the prize center.

A portion of the building was a dining area, where patrons could relax and order food. It was in this area that Master Eraqus and his students celebrated Ven’s birthday with a chocolate cake adorned with thirteen candles. “Make a wish as you blow out the candles,” Aqua told him as she took a picture on her cellphone. 

“I wish you’d stop bothering me,” Ven told her.

“If you say it aloud, the opposite comes true,” she teased.

“What?! No, no, I take it back!”

Master Eraqus and Terra laughed. After eating a ton of cake, Ven had more than enough energy to play games. Master Eraqus loaded a J&B card for Ven with 200 credits—more than enough for 2-hours of play. He handed it to Ven and said, “Alright, go have fun. But, be careful Ven. Don’t run off without telling me or Aqua.”

“Whatever, Old Man,” Ven responded as he took the card and beamed. “And thanks. I really appreciate it.” He ran to Terra and grabbed his hand. “Let’s go play Terra!”

“Of course, Birthday Boy,” Terra told the kid as they walked away.

Smiling, Master Eraqus said, “That brat can be endearing.” He sat down at the table and immediately fell asleep.

Terra and Ven walked around the brightly lit arcade, which was populated by kids in their early teens. Children as young as eleven years old, and as old as sixteen, were running around, shouting happily. The arcade games were meant for younger teens. There was virtual motorbike racing, virtual dancing, rope climbing, first person shooters, and so on… After playing the first few games with Ven, Terra, a nineteen-year-old, felt out of place. “Uh, Ven, maybe you should use this time to make some new friends. Friends your own age.”

“Friends my own age?” the boy repeated.

Terra gestured all around him. “Look, there’s so many kids just like you.”

Ven fidgeted. “How do I even talk to them?”

“All you do is go up to them and say, ‘Hi I’m Ven! Can I join?’ It’s that simple.”

“What if they say no?”

“It doesn’t matter. There are tons of kids here. Ask someone else.”

“Really?” Ven seemed really worried.

“Yeah!” Terra tried to seem really excited.

“Okay. I’ll try.” Ven timidly inched toward a group of two boys and one girl who were playing a karaoke game. Terra watched as Ven introduced himself to them. One boy in the group shook Ven’s hand and handed Ven the microphone for the game. And Ven started singing with them. Terra exhaled in relief. With Ven preoccupied by other kids, Terra was free to do whatever he wanted.

So Terra left Jake and Boosters. Standing outside, he grumbled, “Man, I wish I was a kid again. Ven gets so spoiled. Especially by Aqua. I want to get spoiled by Aqua.” He walked down the street. Terra was probably going to wander around for a while, but he saw a group of guys around his age, who were squatting delinquent-style in the ally beside the building. They were smoking something that smelled interesting. So he went into the alley with them.

“Care to share?” Terra asked, squatting down with their group. One guy passed him a blunt. “Thanks,” said Terra. He took a long drag.

Meanwhile Ven was playing the karaoke game with those kids. And he was losing badly, because he didn’t know any of the latest popular songs. “You’re so bad at this!” teased the boy who had given Ven the microphone. He was a blonde whose short spiky hair faded at the sides. He wore a white t-shirt with the picture of a Super Mario 1-up mushroom on it, dark-green camo shorts, and hi-top sneakers.

Ven claimed, “I’m good at other games! I’ll beat anyone in CartCart Racers!”

“No way,” said the second boy, a chubby kid who wore an oversized red jersey with the number 2 written on it. He wore blue jeans and sneakers. His brunette hair was pushed upward with a red, white and blue headband. “Hayner is the best at CartCart Racers.”

Hayner, the blonde kid, nodded. “I’m the best in the city! I set the record for the fastest time earlier this summer.”

Ven smirked. “I just beat it today.”

“Lies.”

Ven beckoned them toward the game and showed them the new record that he had set just ten minutes earlier. Hayner’s jaw dropped. While Hayner was in shock, the other kids introduced themselves. “I’m Olette, by the way,” said the girl, who was wearing a simple orange sundress and brown sandals. Her light brown hair was short and curled upwards at the end. “But don’t call me Omelet! It’s not funny.”

Ven rolled his eyes and grumbled, “Girls are so annoying.”

“What was that?” she asked, putting her hands on her hips and glaring at him.

“Nothing,” Ven said, backing away.

“I’m Pence!” said the brown-haired boy. “I haven’t seen you around before. What school do you go to?”

Ven answered, “I don’t go to school.”

“What?!” Olette and Pence exclaimed in unison. Pence continued, “Lucky! I wish I didn’t have to go to school. That means no summer homework.”

Olette interrogated Ven, “What do you do all day if you don’t go to school?”

“I’m training to become a keyblade master.”

“What’s that?”

“Uh… well…” Ven stopped to think about it. “It means that I’m strong enough to do really awesome things with the keyblade.” He held out his hand and his keyblade appeared in it.

“Whoa!” Pence and Olette said in unison. Hayner, still traumatized over losing his record, grabbed Ven’s shoulders and said, “I demand a rematch!”

Ven and Hayner sat in the seats of the racing game, grabbed the steering wheels and swiped their J&B cards. They selected their characters, selected the race course, and revved up their engines. The countdown flashed on the screen.

  1. 2. 1. Go! The two boys slammed on the acceleration and drove their virtual cars along a perilous fiery path. They avoided pitfalls, jumped over ramps, and raced past obstacles. They were neck and neck as they neared the finish line of the final lap. The race was so close that the game paused for a second… before declaring Ven the new winner! And Ven had beaten his previous record by half a second.

Thus, Hayner accepted defeat. “Fine, you beat me.” With a smile, he added, “But I bet I can beat you in Whack-Attack!”

Ven, smiling, said, “I bet you can’t!” as he followed his new friends to the game.

What was Aqua doing in the meantime? She was hiding in the ball pit. Every fifteen minutes or so, she would jump up and shout, “MURDER!” to scare whoever happened to be nearby. “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!” the kids would scream. After all, they hadn’t been expecting a seventeen-year-old girl to be jumping out of the pit. She had frightened several victims today. And each time, she laughed her heart out and slunk back into the brightly colored balls.

Upon exhausting all their credits, Ven and his friends went to the prize center to exchange their tickets. The walls of the prize center were lined with all sorts of goodies and knick-knacks. Stuffed animals, toys, board games, accessories, and candies. Olette picked up a deck of Yu-Gee-Oh cards. “Hayner, can you believe that they still sell these?”

Hayner laughed. “No way. These are so old that my dad has them.”

Pence looked at their selection of headbands. He pointed to the one he was wearing. “Guys, they still have the same kind that I got last time.”

Ven looked at the stuffed animals. “I can’t betray Mizz Piggy,” he said to himself.

“Nothing good is here!” complained Hayner. “But I guess that we don’t really come to the arcade for prizes—” He stopped talking when he saw a glittering gold trophy, adorned with four multi-colored glass orbs, stashed away on the highest shelf behind the ticket exchange cashier. A toothy grin spread across his face. “Guys look at that trophy!” He pointed to it.

“Oh it’s so pretty!” said Olette.

Pence agreed. “It looks magical.”

“How much does it cost?” asked Ven as he tiptoed to see the price tag. “It’s over 9000!”

“It’s 9999 tickets,” Olette clarified. “I only have 2317.”

Pence chimed in, “I have 1672.”

Hayner said, “I have 3112.”

Ven said, “I have 3249.” Doing the mental math in his head, he said, “That’s more than enough to buy it if we put our tickets together.”

They all cheered. And after buying the trophy, Hayner broke apart the colored balls and handed one to each of them. Each of the four held their color up to the light and admired its sparkle. Ven then cuddled his close to his heart and said, “I’ll treasure this forever.”

“Me too!” declared Hayner.

“Same here,” agreed Olette.

“Yup!” Pence decided. “By the way, Ven, do you have a cell phone? Let’s exchange numbers.”

Ven shook his head. “No I don’t.”

Olette said, “Aw! How are we supposed to keep in touch?”

“I have an idea,” said Hayner. He grabbed a napkin and found a pen to scribble down some phone numbers. “I’ll give you our numbers, and when you get your own phone, you can text us!”

“Or if he has a landline phone, he can call,” Pence noted.

“Calling is for losers,” Hayner retorted. “I only text.” He gave Ven the napkin and ruffled Ven’s hair. “So make sure to get a cell phone as quickly as possible, okay?”

Ven nodded. After saying goodbye to his new friends, Ven returned to the table where Master Eraqus was sleeping. “Master?” Ven said, shaking the old man.

“Huh?”

“Wake up Eraqus. It’s time to go.”

“What time is it?” asked Eraqus as he rubbed his eyes. “Did you finish playing?”

Ven nodded. “Look what I got.” He showed the glass ball to Eraqus.

“That’s nice.” Master stood up, yawned and stretched his arms. “Where’s Aqua and Terra? Find them and tell them it’s time to go.”

Ven found Aqua in the ball pit, and together they found Terra hanging out around the outside of the building. The four of them went home. During the drive back, Ven closed his eyes, murmured, “Hayner, Pence, Omelet,” and drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Text

One night, the now 13-year-old Ven was hanging out in Terra’s room. The two were doing nothing in particular—Terra was playing a game on his cellphone, and Ven was reading a book of magic spells. Out of the blue, Terra exclaimed, “FUCK!” and he threw his cell phone at the wall. “Stupid P.E.K.K.A!”

Startled, Ven asked, “What’s wrong?”

“I lost again at Clash Royally!” Terra fumed.

“What’s that?”

“It a fast-paced, head-to-head, strategy-based, quick-thinking, action-packed cell-phone game.”

“Can I play?”

“Actually, I probably just broke my phone,” Terra admitted. He trotted over to the poor piece of machinery. Other than a large crack down the center of the screen, the phone was fine. “I need to get this fixed,” said Terra.

Ven whined, “So I can’t play?”

“Nope. Go to sleep.”

“Fine.” Ven closed his book and headed to his room.

The next day, Terra went to the mall. He returned with a brand new phone. He was bragging to Aqua about it that afternoon. “I was due for an upgrade so I got the Y-Phone X. It’s the newest model.”

“Cool,” said a disinterested Aqua, as she sat at the dinner table, and typed something on her laptop. Ven, who was standing beside Terra, whined, “I want a phone! Why can’t I have a phone? Aqua, I want a phone!”

So Aqua asked Terra, “Did you trade in your old phone?”

He shook his head. “No. I got it fixed, so I’m probably gonna sell it.”

“Why not give it to Ven?”

“If he wants it, he’ll have to buy it.”

She batted her eyelashes at him. “Please be nice and give it to Ven.”

He put his face close to hers, so that his nose tapped her nose. “Give me a kiss and maybe I will.”

Aqua blushed, pushed Terra’s face away, and said, “Never mind, Ven, you need to buy it yourself.”

Ven tensed, and his cheeks colored red. He twiddled his fingers. “Um…” Then he took a deep breath and exhaled. “Okay, fine.” Ven puckered his lips.

Aqua burst into laughter. Terra quickly said, “No, no, no, I don’t want you to kiss me. I want munny from you.”

“Where do I get munny?”

“Find a job.”

Aqua rolled her eyes. “Terra, what kind of job can a 13-year-old get?”

“Odd jobs here and there. Delivering papers, hanging flyers, cleaning up junk. But if you don’t want to work, Ven, maybe you can ask Master Eraqus about getting a cellphone.”

Ven nodded. He wandered up to Master Eraqus’s office and knocked on the door. “Old Man?”

“Come in,” replied Eraqus. Ven entered the room and stood at attention in front of the desk where Eraqus was sitting. “I want a cellphone,” he told the old man.

“A cellphone?”

“Are you deaf? That’s what I said.”

“Don’t be rude to me when you’re asking for something.”

“Whatever…” Ven pouted and put his hands behind his head. “Please can I get a cellphone? Or if not, can I get some munny to buy one? Terra got an upgrade, so he’s selling his old phone.”

“I already spoil you too much, Ventus. Perhaps this time, you should work for what you want.”

“You don’t spoil me,” Ven interjected. “You barely take care of me.”

Eraqus ignored him. “It’s time that you took on some responsibility. Here is the deal. If you start doing some of the chores, I’ll give you an allowance of munny every week. If you save the munny, then you can buy a cellphone of your own. And when you do, I’ll pay the cellphone bill. Does that sound reasonable?”

Frustrated, Ven crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Maybe. What do I need to do?”

“First of all, I’d like you to go pick up my mail.”

“How do I do that?”

“Go to the post office.”

“Where is that?”

“Downtown.”

“Downtown?” Ven raised an eyebrow. “I’ve never been to the downtown by myself.”

“Ask either Terra or Aqua to accompany you. But don’t let them read my mail.”

Ven groaned. He left Master’s office, shouting, “AQUA! AQUA!!!” and slammed the door behind him. Master Eraqus leaned back in his chair. “I do spoil that child,” he told himself. Suddenly a book from the shelf behind him fell and hit him on the forehead.

Aqua was still sitting in the dining room, typing something on her laptop. Ven stood behind her, leaned forward, and nestled his head in the crevice between her neck and shoulder. “Stop it Ter—” she began, before she realized who the culprit was. “Oh. Ven. What’s up?”

“Can you please kiss Terra? I really want a cell phone.”

She blushed. “No way!”

“PLEASE!”

“No Ven. In fact, that’s a really rude thing to ask.” She shooed him away. “Terra is such a bad influence on you.”

“But don’t you want to kiss Terra?”

“Who told you that?”

Ven shrugged. “It just kind of seems like it.”

“Anyway, the bottom line is that I’m not going to kiss Terra just so you can get a cell phone.”

“Then kiss Terra because you really like him, and I’ll get the cellphone as a bonus. It’s a win-win situation.”

“No. Seriously, don’t ask me that. I’m not joking.”

He rolled his eyes. “What’s the problem? All you need to do is kiss him!”

“I’m not selling myself to buy something for you. That’s the problem. So shut up, and go away.”

With a groan, Ven left her alone. He instead entered Terra’s room and sat on the bed. Terra, who laying down and playing Clash Royally on his new cell phone, asked, “What’s up?”

“Master Eraqus said that he’d give me an allowance if I do some chores. And the first one he told me to do was pick up his mail,” explained Ven. “But I don’t want to go to the downtown all alone. Please come with me?”

“Ask Aqua—” Suddenly Terra sat up and yelled at his phone, “Dammit! Why did my partner use skeleton army?”

Whining, Ven said, “I don’t want to go with Aqua! I want to go with you!”

“Ven, you’re a big kid. You should be able to go by yourself.”

“But I’m scared.”

“There isn’t anything to be afraid of. It isn’t that difficult to go to the post office and pick up mail.”

“Really?”

Terra nodded. “Yeah. It’s right in the center of town, and you just walk in, tell the clerk that you’re picking up mail for Master Eraqus at the Palace, and walk out. You’re thirteen years old now, so I’m sure you can do that. When I was thirteen, I was running errands for my dad all the time. You’ve got to learn to be a little more independent and take care of yourself.”

“But I don’t think I can do it.”

Terra ruffled Ven’s hair. “I think you can do it. I believe in you. Seriously. And if you believe in yourself, you can accomplish anything.”

His pep-talk boosted Ven’s confidence. The boy nodded, and with a look of determination, said, “Okay!”

Thus, Ven ventured out of the palace in the mountains all by himself. He found his way into town simply, but navigating around the busy streets was a little overwhelming for him. He took a deep breath, and tried to calm his racing heart. “Where would a post office be?” he asked himself. He wandered around, sightseeing all of the places that Downtown Land of Departure had to offer. He passed by a museum, a park, the D’Vitae potion factory, the senior citizen center, the elementary school, a grocery store… but no post office. And he was getting really nervous. “What would Terra do?” Ven thought aloud to himself. “Well there are a lot of people here. Someone must know, where the post office is, right? So I’ll ask for help.”

When Aqua finished the work that she was doing on her laptop, she realized that the palace had been really quiet for the last hour. “I guess I should check up on Ven,” she said, as she headed to Ven’s room. She knocked on his door. “Ven?” she called out. When he didn’t answer, she asked, “Are you giving me the silent treatment?” She opened the door and discovered that he wasn’t in his room.

Therefore, she went to Terra’s room. Ven wasn’t there, but Terra was. He had fallen asleep after raging so hard about that cellphone game. She didn’t want to disturb him, so she went to the summit to see if Ven was training there. Nope.

Now she was a little concerned. She went to Master Eraqus’s office. “Master,” she called out, “have you seen Ven?”

Eraqus was sitting at his desk, reading a book. “I thought he went to the post office with you.”

Aqua shook her head. “No.”

“Then he must have gone with Terra.”

“No, Terra’s asleep in his room.”

Master Eraqus set down his book. “Did he go by himself?” Master Eraqus interlocked his fingers in front of him as he thought aloud, “I guess that’s fine. He’s old enough to venture on his own for simple tasks like this.”

Aqua shook her head. “I have a really bad feeling about this. I’m going to go find him.”

Ventus approached a young man who was hanging out in front of the grocery store. He seemed like a typical guy. He wore a white t-shirt, blue jeans, and a backwards baseball cap. His sneakers were plain black-and-white. His hair was dark brown, his eyes were grey and his skin was a peach color. Timidly, Ven asked, “Hi, um, do you know where the post office is?”

The young man smiled. He ruffled Ven’s hair. “Yeah, I sure do. What’s your name, kid?”

“Ventus. But you can call me Ven for short.”

“Ven, huh? Cute name.” The guy pointed to himself. “I’m Quincy. Say, you look a little upset Ven. You okay?”

Ven shook his head. “I’ve been looking for the post office forever!” he exaggerated. “I’m tired and I just want to go home.”

Quincy smirked. “Where’s home?”

“Up the mountain.”

“Up the mountain? In that palace?”

Ven nodded.

Quincy was surprised. “I didn’t know anyone lived there.”

“Yup. It’s me, Master Eraqus, Terra and Aqua.”

“Do they know where you are right now?”

Ven shrugged. “Probably.”

“Interesting… You know what, I bet you’re thirsty. Do you mind if I buy you a drink?”

Ven got excited. “Really? I love chocolate milk!”

“Chocolate milk it is.” He grabbed Ven’s hand and led him inside the store.

Ven happily drank his bottle of chocolate milk while following Quincy around the town. “The post office is the opposite direction than where I was going,” Ven noticed, as they strayed from the busy shopping centers. “But Terra told me it was in the center of town.”

“No, Terra might have been confused. It’s definitely this way. It’s really far down this street.”

Ven sighed. “I don’t know how Terra or that Old Man expected me to find it on my own. Thanks for taking me.”

“No problem.”

They kept walking. They ended up in a run-down residential neighborhood. All the houses were boarded up, the grass grew knee-high, and stray dogs dug around in the trash that was littered everywhere. As naïve as Ven was, he noticed that something wasn’t right. “Are you lost, Quincy? I don’t think the post office is here.”

Quincy hit himself on the head. “Darn it! Maybe I am lost.” He stopped walking and tapped his finger against his chin. “Hmm… well… I know! A buddy of mine lives nearby. Let’s go to his house and ask him for directions.”

Ven narrowed his eyes. “If you didn’t know the way to the post office, you should have just told me.” He turned around to walk away. “I’ll try to find it myself.”

Quincy seized Ven’s hand. “No. Just trust me. I’ll figure out the way.”

Ven yanked his hand away. “It’s fine. Don’t worry about it. Thanks for trying to help.”

Quincy seized Ven’s hand again. “I know what I’m doing, Ven. Come on. Just trust me.”

Again, Ven yanked his hand away. “Seriously, I’ll find the post office by myself. It’s not that big a deal. Thanks for the chocolate milk.”

Quincy seized Ven’s hand for the final time. “You’re coming with me, whether you like it or not, kid!”

“Let me go!” Ven summoned his keyblade in his free hand and slashed at Quincy. Quincy jumped back right in the nick of time. He summoned a dagger in each of his hands. “You want to put up a fight kid? That’s fine. It’s more fun that way.”

Quincy teleported behind Ven. Instinctively, Ven rolled out of the way. Quincy rushed forward. Ven parried his strike. “Thunder!” Ven shouted.

A bolt rained from the sky and struck Quincy. “Reflectaga!” Quincy thrust out his arms and redirected the attack toward Ven. Ven ducked forward, and with a low kick, swept Quincy off of his feet. Ven jumped in the air and thrust his blade downward to finish him off.

But it was a substitution that poofed away. The real Quincy appeared in front of Ven and slashed at him. Ven was quick enough to dodge, but Quincy landed a cut on Ven’s cheek. Bleeding, Ven stumbled backwards. Quincy kicked Ven in the gut hard enough to make Ven fall. With dull eyes and a smile that bared his teeth, Quincy said, “You’ll be number six.”

And Ven froze. He couldn’t breathe. His vision went hazy. Quincy raised his blades.

CLANG!

Aqua dropped down in front of Ven and deflected Quincy’s attack. Clang! Clang! Clang! Clang! She swung her blade against Quincy’s blades, pushing him back several feet. “Ven!” she shouted. “Run!”

Ven couldn’t. He was in shock.

She dodged an attack from Quincy, reversed, and shouted, “Fire!” as she shot a ball of flames at him.

“Reflectaga!” Quincy yelled. He launched the fireball back at Aqua. She jumped over it, raised her keyblade, and brought it down with a forceful blow.

It was a substitution. The real Quincy appeared behind her, in an attempt to stab her in the back. Aqua front-flipped away, turned, and tossed her keyblade at him. Quincy a blocked it with his daggers. Her weapon returned to her hand, and she rushed him.

Quincy tried to block it by crossing his daggers in front of him, but she broke through his guard and pummeled him to the ground. Aqua kept swinging and swinging her keyblade, battering and battering him, until he was knocked out. Once she was sure that he wouldn’t be moving anytime soon, she ran to Ven and hugged him.

“Are you okay?” she asked, cradling him.

He shook his head. He couldn’t speak.

“It’s okay. I’ve got you. You’re safe now,” she told him.

Chapter Text

Aqua called the police, and they came and arrested Quincy. Paramedics tended to Ven’s wound while the police chief shook Aqua’s hand. He said, “Thank you so much young lady. We’ve been looking for this criminal for months now. He’s known as Quincy the Candy Guy. He lures in kids by buying stuff for them and then…” The chief paused. Taking off his hat, he looked away and said, “Well, he’s gotten seven other victims, five of which didn’t survive.”

Aqua placed a hand on her chest. With the other hand, she pulled Ven closer to her.

When the two arrived home, Ven went straight to his room to sleep. Aqua explained the situation to Master Eraqus and Terra. Both of them were absolutely horrified.

“I should have just given him the phone!” Terra exclaimed as he pounded his fist against the wall. “Or went with him! What was I thinking?”

“Don’t blame yourself Terra,” Aqua told him. “Of course you didn’t think something like this would happen to him.”

But Terra ran his hands through his hair and shouted, “This is all my fault! I should have been there to protect him! What would have happened if you didn’t go look for him, Aqua? Ven could have been…”

Master Eraqus stepped in, “Calm down Terra. You’re panicking over something that didn’t happen.”

Terra paced back and forth. “He told me that he was scared to go by himself. Yet I didn’t go with him. What kind of person am I?” Terra felt a hand grip his shoulder. It was Master Eraqus. “Terra,” said the old man, “you are not at fault. Awful situations happen as a result of all the worst case scenarios coinciding together. The way forward is not to dwell on why it happened, but to be thankful that Ven and Aqua are safe, and that the perpetrator was captured.”

Terra nodded his head, but he still felt guilty.

When Ven awoke the next day, he went straight to the training field. Sitting Mizz Piggy down where he could see her, he started by practicing his confirmed combos one-hundred times each.

“Ven?” Aqua called out as she, Terra and Master Eraqus arrived on the summit. She exhaled with relief. “Oh goodness, I was worried when you didn’t show up for breakfast and weren’t in your room.”

“Sorry Aqua,” he apologized. “I wanted to do some training before breakfast and I guess I lost track of time.” He didn’t meet her eyes when he spoke. She stooped down in front of him and touched his hurt cheek. She ventured to ask, “Does it hurt?”

Ven nodded.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“It’ll heal soon enough. It’s just a scratch.”

“No, I mean, do you want to talk about what happened yesterday?”

Ven shrugged. “There’s nothing to talk about.” Stepping away from her, he took a fighting stance with his keyblade again. “I think I’ll skip breakfast today.” And he continued to practice his combos.

For the rest of the week, Ven did the same thing. He woke up before the sunrise and, along with Mizz Piggy, trained until well after sunset. He barely ate, slept or took a break.

“He’s going to get sick if he keeps doing this,” fretted Aqua.

Master Eraqus assured her, “He’s processing his emotions, Aqua. Allow him some time to heal.”

Terra, still brooding over his actions, tightened his hand into a fist. “Poor kid…”

Very late that night, Terra found Ven laying on the grass at the summit, holding Mizz Piggy and staring upwards at the stars.

“Ven?” Terra said, approaching him.

Ven did not respond.

Terra sat down beside Ven. “I’m sorry.”

Ven did not respond.

“I don’t know if this will make you feel better, but I’ll give my old phone to you. If you still want a cell phone, that is.”

Ven did not respond.

Terra laid back in the grass, to look at the stars. He stole a glance at Ven, and noticed that the boy looked vacant, empty. His eyes had dulled. It was as if Ven had reverted to the state that he was in right after he awoke from the coma several months ago.

“What are you thinking about right now, Ven?” Terra asked.

No response.

“Please, Ven, don’t suffer alone. I’m here to listen.”

No response.

Terra begged, “It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to scream. It’s okay to be mad or angry or furious. Just let it out Ven. Please don’t keep it to yourself. Please, tell me what you’re thinking.”

No response.

Terra kept quiet.

The stars twinkled.

Ven squeezed Mizz Piggy. Several minutes passed by, before Ven softly answered, “Number six.”

Terra placed his hand on Ven’s hand. “I don’t understand.”

Ven, his expression bleak, allowed tears to roll down his cheeks. “Number six.” Suddenly Ven wept a waterfall of tears. “Terra! There were seven others!” Ven shouted. “And five of them didn’t survive! Five other kids! Five kids, just like me! I was lucky! I could have been number six!” He didn’t even try to wipe the tears. “He said that I would be number six! And when he said that, my mind went blank, Terra! And if Aqua hadn’t come, I would have been number six!”

Ven pounded the grass with his fists and sobbed. “Why? Why did he do that? It doesn’t make sense! It doesn’t make sense that five other kids aren’t alive today, because of that guy! It’s not fair! Life isn’t fair!” He kept crying. And crying. And crying.

Terra embraced him, and Ven cried until he ran out of tears. At that point, all he could do was rest his head against Terra’s chest and sniffle.

Silence.

The grass on the field danced to the silent music of the late summer breeze. The sun was beginning to rise.

“Terra?” Ven said.

“Hmm?”

“I want to be someone who can protect those who can’t protect themselves.” Ven stood up. “I know what it feels like to be helpless. I don’t want anyone to ever feel that way.” He held out his hand to summon his keyblade. “So that’s what I’m gonna do. I’ll become a keyblade master and protect everyone.” One last tear escaped from his eyes.

Terra nodded. “I’m sure you will Ven. I’m sure you will.”

Chapter Text

Armed with his brand new (Terra’s old) cellphone, Ven sat on his bed, Mizz Piggy in his lap, and debated whether or not to text Hayner, Pence and Olette. He had already saved their numbers into the phone. Since it had been two weeks since he’d met them, Ven felt awkward about texting out of the blue. “What should I do, Mizz Piggy?” asked Ven, his eyes closed, his eyebrows creased. “What do I even say?”

Of course, Mizz Piggy couldn’t give him an answer.

Ven sighed. He fell backwards onto his bed, arms outstretched, facing the ceiling. “Hi, it’s me, Ven, from the arcade that time,” he mumbled. Holding the phone above his head, he typed in that message. He hesitated on hitting send. “That sounds dumb…” he told himself. “I can’t send—”

The phone slipped out of his hand and landed on his face. His nose tapped the send button. Thus, he sent the message to all three of them in a group text. Prying the phone off of his face, Ven rubbed his nose and frowned. “Fuck!” he exclaimed, having picked up the habit of swearing from Terra and Aqua. “I didn’t mean to do that!”

But that fuck was premature, because almost immediately, Hayner texted back, Finally!

Olette texted, Hi Ven! This is Olette.

Pence texted, Pence here! How have you been?

Their friendliness nearly brought tears to his eyes. I’m happy I got a cellphone!

Download the Lime app Ven, Hayner demanded via text. That’s what we use to text each other.

Ven downloaded it and spent the rest of the day texting his friends. By dinner time, he was an expert at emojis and short-hand text lingo. And he was semi-addicted to his phone. Ven barely touched his food because he was too busy texting.

“Ven, put your phone away,” Master Eraqus told him.

“Shut up Old Man,” said Ven.

Eraqus rubbed his temples and shook his head. “I’m at my wits end with this boy.”

Terra voiced his opinion, “It’s because you don’t discipline him enough. I’d never talk back to my father because I knew I’d get hit across the face.”

“Don’t you dare hit Ven outside of training,” Aqua demanded.

Terra rolled his eyes. “Whatever.” To Ven he ordered, “Eat your food before it gets cold.”

“Fine, fine,” Ven acquiesced. He finally put down his phone.

Late at night, however, he was still texting his friends. Hayner sent the message, Guys! Tomorrow is the last day to do our summer homework! Come over to my house and we’ll work on it.

Olette texted, I’m almost done with mine.

Pence said, I finished mine last week.

Hayner replied, I haven’t even started! Please let me copy!

Ven asked, What’s summer homework?

It’s a bunch of worksheets and assignments that teachers want you to complete before the next semester starts, Olette explained. But you don’t go to school, right?

Hayner texted, You should come to our school Ven! It’ll be fun!

I’ll think about it, he replied. Eventually, Ven fell asleep. The next morning, the group chat was quiet. “They’re probably doing their homework,” he mumbled to himself.

During training, Master was explaining the importance of using different types of combos to unlock command styles. “Aqua, Terra, you’ve been working on your own command styles, so perhaps you should demonstrate for Ven,” Eraqus told his older students. “Ven, is there a style you’d like to see first?”

Ven was looking at his phone.

“Ven, pay attention,” Master Eraqus demanded.

“Leave me alone, Old Man,” the kid replied as he put away his cell phone.

“What did I do to deserve this disrespect?” Eraqus, forlorn, asked no one in particular.

Terra fussed at the kid, “Stop being disrespectful.”

Aqua jumped to Ven’s defense, “Stop yelling at him.” She approached Ven, stooped down to his level to meet his eyes, and asked, “What’s wrong?”

Ven turned away from her and crossed his arms in front of his chest. “You’re so nosy Aqua.” Yet he admitted, “I’m wondering what it’s like to go to school.”

“School?” Master repeated. “Ah, that’s right, a child Ven’s age should be in school, or at least home-schooled.”

“School sucks,” Aqua stated definitively. She stood up, shook her head and placed her hands on her hips. “You need to keep up a façade of perfection so that your classmates will call you the Queen Bee of the school. There’s so much pressure to make good grades and look pretty and be the best at sports and be the student body president, while at the same time excelling at ballet and going to all of your mom’s community service events and parties. You’ll be so busy that you’ll only have time to practice your keyblade skills late at night, but you still have to look well-rested, so you can only practice a little at a time.”

Terra raised an eyebrow. “That sounds really specific, Aqua.”

She blushed. “Anyway, school is basically prison and it’s a waste of time. That’s why I dropped out.”

“You dropped out?” Master Eraqus exclaimed.

“Yup!” she said proudly. Yet, with a look of disdain, she added, “But recently, my brother coerced me to do online school to get my high school diploma. It takes up so much time.”

Terra asked, “Is that why you’re always doing something on your laptop?”

She nodded.

“Well that’s good,” Terra told her. “Finishing high school is important, Aqua.”

“You sound like my brother.”

Terra chuckled. “Great minds think alike. And I think Ven should go to school.” He ruffled Ven’s hair. “It’s not that bad, Ven. You’ll make friends your own age and have tons of fun. Plus, you’ll learn interesting things, and you’ll have responsibilities, like homework and studying.” Terra smiled softly as he reminisced about his high school days. “I loved school, but I graduated early, because I knew that I wanted to study to be a keyblade master. My best memories are of the calm fall afternoons spent playing football with my buddies on the team. I also liked my tenth grade homeroom teacher. She was hot.”

“Who set her on fire?” Ven asked.

“No, she was attractive,” Terra corrected him. “Why do you immediately think of violence?”

Master Eraqus spoke up, “Well, it’s settled then. Ven will go to school. When does school start?”

Ven told him, “Tomorrow.”

Looking to Aqua and Terra, Master Eraqus said, “See to it that he is registered and has all the supplies he needs.”

Aqua and Terra gave their master the evil eye. The lazy old man snapped his fingers, “Hurry. Time is more precious than gold.”

The rest of the day was spent getting Ven registered and prepared for school. Once they filled out the paperwork at the local middle school, Terra took Ven shopping for a school uniform while Aqua purchased school supplies. By that evening, Ven was prepared to be a school boy.

So he texted his friends, I guess I’m going to your school after all.

Olette sent a cute image of a happy cat throwing balloons.

Hayner said, Alright! What homeroom?

Class 8-K, answered Ven.

Hayner said, That’s ours!

Olette added, Can’t wait to see you in class Ven!

Pence said, It’ll be nice to have a new student. I can’t stand looking at that empty seat anymore.

Shut up. Hayner texted.

The conversation went silent.

Ven didn’t know what else to say. So he plugged is phone in to charge for the night, and went to sleep.

Chapter Text

In his room, Ven stood in front of his mirror, nervously unbuttoning and buttoning his black gakuran jacket, which he wore on top of his white collared shirt. “What if no one likes me, Mizz Piggy?” he asked.

The stuffed animal, which was sitting on his bed, slumped over.

“Yeah, at least I’ll have Hayner, Pence and Omelet—Olette. I can’t call her omelet. She’ll be mad. Girls get angry about everything.”

Mizz Piggy was silent.

“Well technically, you’re not a girl, Mizz Piggy, because you’re a doll, not a person.” He buttoned up his school uniform jacket one last time. “I need to get going.”

He ate a quick breakfast of toast and eggs, and, alongside Terra, made his way down the mountain for his first day of school. Aqua had picked out a shiny red backpack for him, and adorned it with a kingdom key charm.

It wasn’t a long walk. Terra dropped him off by the gates of the school. “I’ll pick you up when the day is over.”

“Okay,” Ven replied. His body was trembling with nerves. Terra petted his head and assured him, “Hey, it’ll be fine.”

“But what if it’s not? What if today goes horribly wrong?”

“Don’t worry. Everything will be fine, Ven.”

The middle-schooler took a deep breath, and exhaled. “Okay. Thanks Terra.” He waved goodbye and entered the school.

However, walking into class 8-K, Ven suddenly felt overwhelmed. There were about twenty or so students already there, chatting away about their summer exploits. Anxiously, Ven stood beside the door, as if ready to make a quick escape.

“Ven!” cried out Hayner as he grabbed Ven in a hug from behind. Following him were Pence and Olette.

“H-hi!” shouted Ven.

“You nervous?” Hayner teased, while wrapping an arm around Ven’s shoulders. “Don’t worry. I’ll show you how school works.”

Olette piped in, “You couldn’t even finish your summer homework. I don’t think you’re the best role model.”

Pence laughed. Hayner scratched his own chin, and said, “Well, you see, I’m the best at making excuses and getting deadlines extended, so it’s not a problem for me.”

Olette shook her head. “Don’t listen to him Ven. Let’s go sit down.”

So they did. Hayner, Pence and Olette started talking about something else, but Ven noticed that the classroom buzz died down. Perhaps it was his imagination, but he felt that all eyes were on him. And he began to hear whispers. “He’s sitting with them. He’s sitting in that seat.”

Ven tensed. He tried to make himself smaller.

“Right Ven?” asked Hayner.

He hadn’t been paying attention. “Huh? What’d you say?”

Olette argued, “Don’t make him pick sides!” and they continued to talk about whatever they were talking about. Soon, the homeroom teacher showed up. Everyone in the class had to stand up and introduce themselves. Then they started their lessons. The rest of the day went pretty smoothly.

Once it was over, the quartet of friends were preparing to leave. “How did you feel about your first day, Ven?” Pence asked.

“Okay,” he responded. They walked out of the classroom and down the hall. “It doesn’t seem too hard.”

Hayner complained, “Wait until they start assigning math homework. Then you’ll really hate school.”

Ven was a little puzzled. “Why’d you tell me to come to school if school was bad?”

Olette explained, “It isn’t that bad. Hayner just likes to complain.”

Pence added, “Plus, we can hang out with you more often.”

“That’s true,” Ven agreed. “Honestly, that was the main reason I decided to start school. I wanted to see you guys again.”

“Awww!” Olette and Pence cooed, hugging Ven. Hayner, although very much flattered, tried to act cool. He said, “Looks like you made the right choice, kid. We’re sticking with you forever.” And the four of them laughed.

At this point, they were walking past the front gates of the school. From his peripheral vision, Ven noticed someone eying him. He stopped walking and returned the stare. The someone was a high school boy, dressed in a navy blue blazer and slacks. He carried his bag in one hand and leaned against the railing of the school gates with the other. Covering most of his blonde hair was a black beanie cap.  

“He’s staring at me,” Ven said to his friends as he pointed to the older kid. Olette winced. “Not again,” she mumbled.

Pence whispered, “Do you think he’s going to do it this semester too?”

Hayner scowled, grabbed Ven’s arm and pulled him along. “Ignore that guy. He’s just a weirdo.”

“Don’t say that about Seifer,” Olette pleaded. “He misses him more that we do.”

Hayner tightened his grip on Ven’s arm, “There’s no reason to miss him. Vivi went on vacation. And one day he’ll come back, right?” His forced a smile. “That’s what we agreed to believe, right?”

A sense of dread overwhelmed Ven. “Wh-what’s going on?”

But before anyone could answer his question, Seifer marched up to the four of them. “So,” began the high-schooler, “you think you can replace Vivi with this kid?”

Hayner, Pence, and Olette froze. They were silent. Ven shook his head and asked, “What are you talking about?”

He didn’t expect to be punched in the face. Ven landed on his butt on the ground. Seifer would have gone for another punch, but Hayner and Pence held him back. Olette helped Ven to stand up and blocked him with her body. She shouted, “No one is trying to replace him! We all miss him, so stop acting like this!”

“You guys can’t do this!” shouted Seifer. He pointed at Ven. “You’re not allowed to replace Vivi with some punk-ass brat! How do you think he’d feel if he knew that you forgot about him?”

Ven mumbled, “What’s going on? I don’t understand.”

Olette shouted, “How could we forget about Vivi? He was our friend! And we miss him! But he wouldn’t have wanted us to be sad forever! So you need to move on!”

“How can I?” shouted Seifer. “My little brother is dead! How can I move on?”

Hayner tightened his grip around Seifer. “Vivi isn’t dead! He’s just on vacation! He’s just on vacation!”

Pence shouted, “No he’s not! He’s dead! He’s dead, Hayner! Get it through your thick skull that he’s never coming back! Stop saying he’s on vacation! We went to his funeral!” Pence stomped his feet. “Just admit that he’s dead!”

Ven stammered, “Wh-what’s going on?”

Seifer broke free of Pence’s and Hayner’s grasp. He backed away and knelt down, bursting into tears. “I should have picked him up from school! I shouldn’t have let him walk home by himself! B-b-but maybe, maybe if I wait here, then he’ll come out of class. Right? It’ll be the four of you, walking out, like old times. And I’ll walk him home, like I was supposed to that day.” The delusional look on Seifer’s face was heart-wrenching. “So please! Don’t replace him! Don’t do that to him!”

Hayner, Pence and Olette were silent. Ven approached the older kid, and embraced him in a hug, saying, “It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to scream. It’s okay to be mad or angry or furious. Just let it out.”

“It’s all my fault,” Seifer sobbed. 

“No it’s not,” Olette said as she joined in the hug. “You know how Vivi was. He wouldn’t have blamed you. He would have told you to cheer up. He wouldn’t want you to be so sad forever.”

Pence added, “For Vivi’s sake, please, Seifer, don’t be sad forever…” He hugged Seifer too.

Hayner quietly joined in as well. And they sat there at the gate, allowing Seifer to cry for a few more minutes. When Seifer calmed down, he apologized to Ven, “Sorry for punching you, kid. I haven’t been the same since my brother was murdered. I miss him so much and it hurts so bad.”

Ven squeezed Seifer tighter. “I forgive you.” Ven locked eyes with him and said, “Vivi was lucky to have such a loving big brother.”

Seifer smiled. He stood up, dusted himself off, apologized to all of them again, and left. They waved goodbye to him. Ven lowered his waving hand and sighed.

“Sorry for dragging you into that,” Pence said.

“What’s going on?” Ven dared to ask once more.

Hayner said, “Vivi was our friend. We’ve all been friends since elementary school.”

Olette continued, “Every day last semester, his brother would come pick him up and walk him home. But one day, Seifer was running late. So Vivi decided to go home by himself.”

Pence concluded, “But he never arrived home. His seat has been empty since then.”

“That’s terrible…” Ven mumbled.

“It was really hard at first,” Pence admitted. “And it still is. But I think Vivi would be happier to know that we won’t be sad forever.” Pence pulled out his cellphone and showed a picture to Ven. “This was him. We took this during the school cultural festival last semester. We were doing a haunted house.”

The picture showed the four friends in costume. Hayner had painted his face grey and his clothes were ripped up like a zombie. Pence drew stitches all over his body and wore a headband that made it look like a bolt was passing through his head. Olette wore an orange-and-white cheerleading outfit and held a chainsaw. Vivi wore a yellow witch’s hat that obscured most of his face and blonde hair, and a dark blue, ankle length robe. All of them wore bright-eyed smiles.

“Ven?” someone called out. He looked up to see Terra standing in front of him. “You ready to go home?

Ven nodded. He handed Pence’s phone back to him and waved goodbye to his friends. “Bye guys.”

“Bye Ven,” they said.

While heading home, Ven quietly reflected on the day’s events. Terra, a little concerned about Ven’s silence, asked, “Did you have a good day?”

Ven nodded. “Yeah.”

“Did you make friends?”

“Yeah. Really good ones.”

Chapter Text

“Terra! Let’s get ice cream,” Ven said, while he and Terra walked away from his middle school. “Olette said that that a good place just opened up near the bank on 5th street.”

Terra shrugged. “Sure.”

Today was a calm, cool autumn afternoon. Ven had been attending school for a few months now, and he seemed to be doing really well. (He was a straight-A-student, much to everyone’s surprise.) The two of them approached the ice cream stand. Terra ordered a double scoop of sea-salt flavor, while Ven, of course, got chocolate ice cream. They sat down at one of the outdoor tables nearby.

“It’s really good,” Ven announced. He made a mess of his face while eating it.

“Don’t be such a pig, Ven,” Terra chided him. He took a napkin and tried to wipe the chocolate off of Ven’s face. Ven leaned back, complaining, “Stop it! You’ll make me drop my ice cream!”

“You’re still such a brat.” Instead, Terra used the napkin to wipe his own face. “I don’t know why I even bother.”

“I don’t know why either. Oh, by the way, my friends invited me to go sing karaoke Friday night, so that’s where I’ll be. And something really funny happened at school today! So I was standing by the door right before the end of lunch time…”

Terra tuned Ven out, while absent-mindedly observing the people that were passing by behind the boy. There was a mother and her two young children. She bought a single scoop cone for each of them. They ran in circles around her, cheering, “Ice cream! Ice cream!” while she tried to pay. Next were two high school girls, who got an ice cream sundae to share.

Then a beautiful young woman walked up to the ice cream stand. Her skin was an earthy shade of peach, her shoulder-length hair was fallen-leaf orange, and her eyes were as green as the summer grass. She wore a white v-neck shirt that showed off her bust, and a denim miniskirt. On her feet were simple white sneakers. She had naturally pouty lips, and a flat nose, above which, she wore pink-framed glasses. “Hmmmm,” she told the guy working the stand. “I’ll have the strawberry flavor.”

When she received it, she placed the swirled ice cream close to her mouth, opened it slowly, and took a bite. “Cold!” she exclaimed, turning to the silver-haired guy who was standing behind her. His brown skin, silver hair, and red-eyes seemed familiar to Terra, although the diagonal scar between his left eye and right cheek did not. That guy replied, “Of course. It’s ice cream.” And he laughed. To the cashier, he said, “I’ll have plain vanilla.” Upon receiving his ice cream, he reached into his black leather jacket with his black-leather-glove-clad hand, and took out the munny to pay for the both of them. They were about to walk away, but Terra met eyes with the guy.

“Jerry?” Terra called out.

“Terra?” Jerome called out.

Ven turned around to see who Terra was talking to. “Jerry?” Ven repeated.

The girl saw Terra and said, “Terra?” Placing a finger to her chin, she asked Jerome, “Is that your old friend that you’re always talking about?”

Jerome’s cheeks got hot. “I don’t always talk about him.”

She walked toward Terra, leaned in, and offered her hand to him. “Hi! I’m Cassandra, but you can call me Cassie! Nice to meet you!”

Terra shook her hand, while staring at her cleavage. “Nice to meet you too.”

“Is this your little brother?” She ruffled Ven’s hair. Ven smacked her hand away. “Don’t touch me woman,” he stated. “Terra, why does she think she can touch me?”

Jerome pointed to Ven. “Who is this brat?”

“His name is Ventus, but we call him Ven for short. He’s a student that Master Eraqus adopted.”

Jerome pointed to the middle-school uniform that Ven was wearing. “Isn’t he a bit too young to be studying to be a keyblade master?”

“He’s actually really good,” Terra bragged. “I’m proud of him.”

Ven grinned from ear to ear. Jerome said, “That’s good. That’s good…”

Terra pulled out two seats. “Have a seat. I haven’t seen you in so long, Jerry. Let’s catch up.”

Jerome shook his head. “Nah, we’ve got to get going. Right Cassie?”

Cassie sat down in between Ven and Terra. “Nope!” She licked her ice cream and asked, “How was Jerome like back then? I want to know everything!”

Ven complained to Jerome, “You need to control her better.”

Jerome, perplexed, asked Terra, “What is this kid’s problem?”

“I honestly don’t know.”

“Who is this, Terra?” Ven asked.

“Jerome of Skyview. He was a student of Master Eraqus before you arrived.”

Jerome nodded. “I was here for about a year, then I left. I felt like I wasn’t growing strong quickly enough.”

Ven nodded. “Makes sense. That Old Man doesn’t know what he’s doing. You probably made the right choice.”

Jerome looked to Terra, with a face of utter confusion. “What is wrong with this kid?”

“I seriously don’t know,” Terra insisted. “He’s rude to everyone, even Aqua—and she spoils him the most.”

“How’s Aqua doing? You think she’d still be angry at me?” asked Jerome.

Terra shook his head. “Aqua can’t hold a grudge. She’d probably be thrilled to see you. And so would Master Eraqus.”

Jerome smiled. “Really? That’d be nice.”

“Stop by tonight. We could have dinner.”

Jerome shook his head. “So suddenly? I don’t want to intrude.”

Cassie spoke up, “Sweetie, the reason you came here was to see them again. Don’t back down now.”

Jerome’s face reddened. “Don’t tell him that, Cassie.”

“Sweetie?” Terra repeated. “You’re her ‘Sweetie’?”

Jerome took a large bite of ice cream to avoid speaking. Cassie nodded. Terra nudged Jerome. “How did that happen?”

Jerome took another bite of ice cream. Cassie said, “I don’t know why he’s so shy about it. Was he always so shy?”

Terra burst into laughter. “No! He acted like a tough guy. He was arrogant and rude, but he also had nice moments.”

“Kind of like this little guy here?” She pinched Ven’s cheek. He slapped the ice cream out of her hand. She exclaimed, “My ice cream!” Cassie looked to Jerome, with tears in her eyes. “My ice cream! Sweetie!”

Jerome sighed. “I’ll buy you another one.” He stood up. “See you tonight then, Terra.”

The two returned to the ice cream stand. Terra thought aloud, “Damn, where did he get a girl like that?”

Ven rolled his eyes. “I know, right? She’s worse than Aqua!”

Jerome and Cassie arrived at the Palace in the mountains for dinner. Terra, Aqua and Master Eraqus welcomed them in with open arms. Ven, who was clinging to the back of Terra’s shirt, stuck his tongue out at Cassie.

They were having hotpot for dinner tonight.

“It is nice to see you again, Jerome,” said Master Eraqus. “It’s been a year since you left, hasn’t it?”

Jerome nodded. “Yeah…” He looked away. “A very, very long year.”

“How have you been?”

Jerome looked up. Upon seeing Master Eraqus’s genuine smile, Jerome, too, smiled. “Well, life has been… interesting.”

Cassie tugged at Jerry’s ear. “Is that all you’re going to say?”

“Okay, okay,” he gave in. “After I left here, I returned to my homeworld of Ivalice, and joined in with a rag-tag group of sell-swords.”

Cassie piped in. “That’s where we met!”

“And,” continued Jerome, “We ended up getting involved with the kidnapping of a princess. It’s a long story, but there were two opposing powers vying for the throne of Ivalice, and the church, which was supposedly neutral, wasn’t. A lot of stuff happened. But I ended up fulfilling my destiny.” He pointed to the scar on his face. “I got hurt pretty badly, but in the end, I defeated my father.” He paused for a moment, staring at his food in silence. “Since I’ve been gone, I learned a lot about myself. I’ve grown stronger. I’ve become a Holy Keyblade Knight. And… I’ve also missed you guys. So I came back to say hi. I’m really glad to be welcomed here again.”

Aqua said, “Seems like you’ve been through a lot.”

Jerome nodded. “Yeah, and I’m still not done. Ivalice is still in unrest. From now, our goal is to create a peaceful world.”

“A brilliant goal,” said Eraqus. “I’m proud of how you’ve grown, Jerome.”

Jerome smiled.

After dinner, everyone bid Jerome and Cassie goodbye. “Stop by anytime,” Master Eraqus told him.

Ven piped in, “But don’t bring that girl. She’s annoying.”

Terra pulled Ven aside and said, “Ignore Ven.”

Aqua waved goodbye. “See you later, Jerry!”

Upon waving their final goodbyes, Cassie and Jerome walked away. “A much happier goodbye this time,” said Master, returning inside.

“Stop being rude to guests, Ven,” Terra chastised him.

“But Terra, she was so annoying!” asserted Ven. 

Aqua stared out at the starry horizon. “Are we all going to go our separate ways one day?” she asked

“Huh?” both Ven and Terra said in unison.

She turned around. “Never mind!” She placed her hands behind her back and strolled past the two, returning inside. “Help me wash the dishes, guys.”

“Sure,” Terra said as he followed her.

“But that’s your job Aqua,” complained Ven as he hurried inside.

 

Chapter Text

Hair Cut

Terra was walking down the hallway, doing nothing of particular interest, and he happened to walk by Ven’s room. The door was wide open, so Terra decided to peek inside and say, “What’s up Ven?” To his surprise, he saw the kid sitting in a chair, a towel draped over his shoulders, munching and crunching on a giant, two-pound kidkat chocolate bar, while Aqua, with a pair of scissors in one hand and a comb in the other hand, was cutting his hair.

Ven answered, “Aqua gave me chocolate!” His face and hands were coated in it.

Terra raised his eyebrows. “Aqua what are you doing?”

A proud smile spread across her face. “What does it look like I’m doing? I’m giving him a haircut.”

“Why didn’t you just take him to a professional place?” Terra asked, while cringing at Aqua’s handiwork.

“What do you mean by that?”

“Middle school kids can be mean, you know? They’re going to make fun of him.”

Aqua pouted. She circled around Ven, inspecting his haircut from all angles. “I don’t think it’s bad.”

“Ven what do you think?”

The boy was too preoccupied with the chocolate to care. “It’s whatever.”

“No it’s not whatever,” Terra argued. “It’s bad.”

Aqua rolled her eyes. “It’s not bad.”

“Aqua one side of his hair is shorter than the other.”

“Yeah, it’s an asymmetrical look. Once I put some gel in his hair and brush it up, it’ll be all cool and spikey.”

Terra didn’t look convinced. “Ven why did you let her ruin your hair like that?”

“Because she gave me chocolate,” was his honest reply.

Aqua declared, “Trust me, he’ll be the most popular kid in school!”

“Yeah, because everyone will be talking about his bad haircut,” Terra stated as he left the room.

Aqua began to second guess herself. Ven nonchalantly devoured his chocolate bar.

The following day, when Ven arrived home from school, he was in a sour mood. Master Eraqus noticed during dinner that evening. “Ventus, stop sulking,” the old man complained. “You look stupid.”

“You look stupid,” Ven retorted.

“Instead of being rude, why don’t you tell me what’s bothering you?”

“It’s none of your business. But if you must know, it’s my stupid hair and it’s all stupid Aqua’s fault.”

Terra shot an I-told-you-so glance at Aqua. Aqua frowned. 

“When did you get a haircut?” Master Eraqus asked, just now realizing that Ven’s hair was styled differently.

“Aqua did it yesterday, and now all the girls in my class won’t leave me alone. They kept standing around my desk, or trying to share their lunches, or trying to hold hands with me, or walk home with me. It’s annoying.”

Aqua’s frown turned upside down. Terra was surprised.

“I’m not surprised,” said their master. “It is quite an attractive haircut.”

Aqua’s smug grin caused Terra to stand up and leave the dinner table.

“You’re no help, Old Man,” Ven complained as he continued to eat his dinner.

Homework

Ven sat at the dinner table with his textbook, calculator, and notebooks scattered in front of him. He glared at a page in the book with deep frustration. Eraqus happened to walk by, so the boy called out to him, “Old Man! Can you help me with something?” 

So Eraqus approached Ven and looked over his shoulder. Ven pointed to a physics problem. “Do you know how to calculate the maximum height and total displacement of a projectile shot into the air at an initial velocity of 30 meters per second at a 53-degree angle to the horizon?”

Master Eraqus’s eyes tripled in size. He stared at the question and said nothing…

Until Aqua happened to walk by. “Aqua!” the old man called out. “Can you help Ven with something?”

So Aqua approached Ven and looked over his shoulder. Ven pointed to the same physics problem. “Do you know how to calculate the maximum height and total displacement of a projectile shot into the air at an initial velocity of 30 meters per second at a 53-degree angle to the horizon?”

Aqua’s eyes tripled in size. She stared at the question and said nothing…

Until Terra happened to walk by. “Terra!” the young lady called out. “Can you help Ven with something?”

So Terra approached Ven and looked over his shoulder. Ven pointed to the same physics problem. “Do you know how to calculate the maximum height and total displacement of a projectile shot into the air at an initial velocity of 30 meters per second at a 53-degree angle to the horizon?”

“Yeah, sure,” Terra said. “First, you want to separate the velocity vectors into its x and y components using trigonometry.” He took Ven’s pencil and sketched a triangle. “So your x component of velocity, or Vx is equal to the velocity times the cosine of 53. Your y component of velocity, or Vy is equal to the velocity time sine of 53. Next, you want to see the forces that could impact the components of your velocity. In this problem, you’re ignoring air resistance, so nothing is impacting your Vx. However, gravity is affecting your Vy. For Vy you know that at the highest point, the velocity must equal zero, because the projectile must come to a stop before falling back down. Set the final velocity equal to zero and solve for the time using the equation Vf = Vy – gt, where Vis your final velolcity, Vy is your initial y component of velocity, g is the gravity constant, 9.8 meters per second squared, and t is time. Solve for that time it takes to get to the maximum height. Multiply that time by your y component of velocity to get maximum height. Multiply the time by two and then multiply by Vx to get the displacement.”

Ven nodded, and did so. Aqua and Master Eraqus slipped out of the room as the two boys continued to work on the homework problem.

Terra’s Workout Routine

Terra was in the throne room of the palace, doing pushups. Ven saw Terra, and decided to sit on his back. Ven texted his friends as Terra continued doing his pushups.

The next day, Terra was in the throne room, doing pushups. Aqua saw Terra, and decided to sit on his back. Aqua texted her brother as Terra continued doing pushups.

The next day, Terra was in the throne room, doing pushups. Master Eraqus saw Terra, and decided to sit on his back. Master Eraqus fell asleep as Terra continued doing pushups.

Terra Learns His Lesson

Terra saw Aqua in the living room, typing something on her laptop. He snuck up behind her. She was too focused on whatever she was doing to notice. Right as he was about to rest his chin against her clavicle…

…a burst of energy knocked him backwards, slamming him against the wall.

“Oh shit, Terra are you okay?” she asked, startled. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to do that.”

He was a little surprised, but he nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine. What was that?”

“My 360-degree ultimate protection barrier.” She chuckled awkwardly. “I’ve been working on it as a defense mechanism. But I swear it has a mind of its own, because it pops up whenever my body senses danger. Until I’m able to control it, be careful.”

He nodded, rubbed the back of his head, and walked away.

Just a Joke

Terra and Aqua were sitting on the sofa, playing on their cellphones when Ven, holding a poster depicting two overlapped circles, approached them. “Aqua, Terra, look!” he said. They looked up at him. He could barely hold back his laughter as he said, “I just made a VEN diagram.”

They chuckled.

Chapter Text

Cooking Class

Terra and Ven were in the kitchen this evening. With his hair tied back into a ponytail, Terra paced back and forth, lecturing Ven on proper cooking technique. “First of all, always wash your hands before handling food. That means eating and cooking it.”

Ven nodded. “Yes sir.”

“And if you’re a messy cook, make sure you wear an apron.” He took one from a drawer and tossed it to Ven. Terra took out a larger one and draped it over his body, securing it around his waist with a bow knot. “Furthermore, make sure your cooking area is clean. You should never cook in a dirty kitchen.” He gestured to the sparkling clean area around him. “And you should never leave a kitchen dirty after you cook.”

Ven nodded. “Yes sir.”

“Cooking is an art. And like any art, practice makes perfect. Just like painters must learn color theory, we cooks must learn flavors and spices. As they learn brush strokes, we learn to chop with knives. As they use the finest watercolors and acrylics, we use the finest vegetables and proteins.”

Ven nodded. “Yes sir.”

“Now, you may take the ingredients out of the fridge.”

Ven nodded. He scurried to the fridge and grabbed the items necessary for tonight’s dinner: a carton of eggs, some leftover rice from yesterday’s dinner, some onions, olive oil, soy sauce, multicolored bell peppers, carrots, mushrooms, salt, pepper and, of course, ketchup.

“First things first. One must always wash fresh veggies thoroughly, or else you could end up eating dirt.”

“Ew,” Ven said. So together they washed the vegetables. Then Terra retrieved a cutting board and a chef’s knife. “Watch as I do,” Terra said. He cut the onion in half, peeled off the thick outer rind, and then carefully and slowly diced the onion’s flesh into thin, even squares. The vapors of onion juice stung his eyes, causing them to water. So he joked, “It is important to mourn the onion.”

“I see,” said Ven, as he clasped his hands together and bowed to the onion. Terra laughed. He set the knife down and pointed to the other half of the onion. “Okay Ven, your turn. And remember, when you chop, make kitty paws.”

Carefully, Ven repeated Terra’s actions, making sure to curl his fingers tightly, into a fist (kitty paw) so that he wouldn’t hurt himself. His dicing was chunkier than Terra’s but that was fine. Together, they chopped the rest of the veggies.

Once that was done, Terra poured a little bit of oil into a skillet, and placed it onto the stove. “First we heat the oil. Then we add onions.” He did so. They sizzled and crackled, releasing their caramelized aroma into the air. “Then veggies.” Terra added the rainbow of peppers, carrots and mushrooms. “Next, the rice and seasoning.”

Ven grabbed the rice and poured it on top. Using a wooden spatula, Terra poked and prodded the mixture, while sprinkling salt and pepper and soy sauce, until the pieces of rice loosed up and mixed thoroughly. “And the rice is done,” Terra announced, setting that skillet aside. “Next, the omelets.” He grabbed a bowl and an egg. “There’s nothing worse than getting eggshells in an omelet, Ven, so watch and learn the proper egg breaking technique.”

He showed Ven his one-handed, no-shell guarantee breaking method. Ven tried the same, and ended up smashing the egg, splattering the yolk all over the counter. Once that was cleaned up, Ven tried again. He was successful this time. After enough eggs were broken, Ven whisked them up, and Terra heated up another olive-oil coated skillet. Ven poured some of the egg batter into the skillet and they watched it firm up under the mild heat of the stove.

“When it’s cooked like this,” Terra said, “add the rice, roll it up and then plate it.” He demonstrated. The end result was a perfectly fluffy, D-shaped omurice. But when Ven tried to make a one, the omelet ripped in half along the edge, spilling out its rice guts all over, as Ven transferred it onto a plate. Terra, who was washing the dishes, said, “Don’t worry, we’ll give that one to Master Eraqus. Just try again.”

His second try was much better, although the shape was more of a “P” because Ven had put too much rice in the top and not enough on the bottom. “We’re giving this one to Aqua,” Ven said. Finally, the boy made one last omelet for himself. He was very careful, and managed to get an oval-shaped omelet. He beamed with joy.

“And the final part,” Terra said, handing Ven the bottle of ketchup, “is customizing the omelets.”

Ven wrote in huge letters “VENTUS” on his omelet with the ketchup bottle. For Aqua’s, he wrote, “Aqua” and for Master Eraqus’, he wrote “Old Man”. The boys entered the dining room and served up the food to the hungrily waiting Master Eraqus and Aqua.

“Great job Ven,” Aqua complimented when he handed it to her.

“Thanks.”

Master Eraqus chuckled at his. “Yes, great job Ven.”

“Stop laughing or you won’t get one next time Old Man.”

All together, the four of them enjoyed dinner.

Happy Meal

Ven and his friends, Hayner, Pence and Olette, were hanging out together this clear, Saturday afternoon. They were in the park, and Hayner and Olette were trying to teach Ven and Pence how to skateboard. The former two were shredding on rails and kick flipping. Ven mastered the art of coasting on the skateboard without falling, but Pence was having a hard time of it.

“I don’t think I’m good at this,” said Pence, after falling on his butt for the fiftieth time.

Ven helped him up and said, “If Olette can learn to do it, then anyone can.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked.

“I mean that if you can do it, then it can’t be that hard.”

She stomped her foot and whined, “That’s a mean thing to say Ven!” She actually looked like her feelings were hurt. And Ven felt a little guilty. But he didn’t want to show it. So Ven rolled his eyes, and crossed his arms in front of his chest, defiantly. “You say mean things all the time too.”

“Like what?”

“Um…” Of course Ven couldn’t think of an example. Other than Aqua, Olette was the nicest girl he knew. His cheeks started to color pink. “Um… well…” Ven looked to Hayner. “She says mean things all the time, right Hayner?”

Hayner smirked deviously. “Yeah Olette, you’re the meanest girl I know.”

She glared at them both. Turning to Pence, she asked, “Am I mean Pence?”

Pence, too, smirked deviously. “It depends. A nice girl would buy us food.”

Olette frowned.

But she caved in and took the guys to McRonalds. “I’m not spending more than 1000 munny so don’t go crazy.”

Hayner clapped his hands together. “I don’t even want food. I want to talk to the beautiful cashier lady that works here.”

“She’s like twice your age Hayner,” Olette complained.

“Nuh uh. I asked her last time and she’s seventeen-and-a-half.” He barged into the fast food restaurant. His friends followed. The four of them were greeted with the sweet sound of, “Welcome to McRonalds!” For Ven, that voice sounded familiar.

“Aqua?” Ven called out.

“Ven?” Aqua called out. “What are you doing here?”

Hayner’s expression soured as he faced Ven. “You know her?”

“Yeah she’s… well I guess she’s kind of like… well she lives with me.”

Hayner pulled Ven outside, and then pushed him up against the outer wall of the building. “You live with her? Is she your sister or something? How come you didn’t tell me you had such a hot older sister?”

“Um… because she’s not?”

“Introduce me! Introduce me to her!” He shook Ven by the collar of his t-shirt.

“Fine!” Ven agreed. He led Hayner inside and marched up to the counter. “Aqua!” he shouted. He pointed to Hayner. “This is my friend Hayner.”

Olette piped in, “I’m his friend Olette!”

“And I’m Pence.”

Ven concluded by saying, “Guys, this is my friend Aqua. She’s a student of my Old Man and we live together.”

Aqua waved. “Hi Hayner, Olette, Pence.” To Ven, she said, “I’m on the clock right now, so I don’t really have time to talk, okay?”

Pence stepped up to the counter, “That’s fine, because I’d like to place an order.”

Once they had ordered and received their food, they all sat down in a booth by a window to eat. Hayner scarfed down his fries as he asked Ven, “Can I come over to your house? Please? Please? Please? I really want to see your sister!”

“She’s not my sister though,” Ven insisted as he ate a chicken nugget. “If anything she’s kind of like my mom.”

Pence asked, “But you guys live together? Are you cousins?”

“We aren’t related,” he told them. “She’s studying to be a keyblade master.”

“Oh,” Pence said, nodding his head, “Just like you and Terrance.”

“Terra,” Ven corrected. “It’s me, Terra, Aqua, and my Old Man.”

 Pence took a bite of his sandwich and said, “That’s cool. And thanks for the food Olette.”

“No problem.” She drank a chocolate milkshake.

Ven reached out for her milkshake. “Is it good? Let me try.”

“Yeah it’s really good.” She handed it to him in exchange for a few of his chicken nuggets.

As Ven slurped up the rest of Olette’s milkshake, Pence chuckled and said, “I guess you don’t hate Olette after all.”

Ven shook his head. “Of course not. I never said I hate Olette,” he emphasized. “She’s actually really awesome and I shouldn’t have said that she’s mean… So I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m sorry.” He looked away.

“It’s fine Ven.” She smiled.