Summary: Aqua and Vanitas dueled in Neverland. Aqua defeated the dark Keyblade wielder, but collapsed herself soon after. When she came to, he was gone. Which means, he had to have woken up first...

AN: Was refreshing myself on the KH story and noticed this scene had a big glaring question mark. A question I decided to try and answer.


Vanitas came to slowly, his eyes flickering open. And then immediately slammed shut. Even with his tinted helmet, staring straight at the sun seared his retinas. He gingerly pushed himself into a seating position, blinking away the spots in his vision. For some reason, he'd gone to sleep flat on his back outside. He couldn't recall why he'd do that, though.

Okay, assessment time. He was sitting in an open space with dry, dusty earth and most of his body ached, and not in a good way. Another one of the old man's "training" sessions at the Graveyard? No, the dirt underneath him was the wrong coloration and the air didn't have the right scent. Once you got familiar with the place, and Vanitas had lived there for the better part of four years, you could smell the faintest hints of decay and death in the Keyblade Graveyard's air. Fitting, for the site of the bloodiest conflict ever fought between Keyblade wielders.

His vision mostly recovered, Vanitas lifted his gaze from the dirt beneath him and surveyed the area around him. There were tents, the sea, and an unconscious woman. It all came flooding back to him.

He had come to this miserable backwater world to take care of a redundancy he'd allowed to exist, just in case. But with Ventus actually growing a pair, there was no need to tolerate a backup running around complicating the issue.

Or so he'd thought. It had been child's play to let her sense his presence and lure her to a proper battleground. So easy he had stolen Ventus' little toy just to make things even remotely difficult. It had done far more than that. He had figured snapping the toy Keyblade would have gotten her mad, but he'd never expected the fury that woman had unleashed.

It confused Vanitas. It was just a hunk of wood, it didn't even belong to her. It was worthless, the only reason Ventus hadn't thrown the thing away was he was such a pasty. There was no reason for her to care about it one way or the other. But damn did she get pissed when he snapped it. She was like an entirely different person from the first time they had fought. Back then, she had fought on the defensive, always backing away to assess and line up magical attacks. But after he'd broken the fake Keyblade, she'd practically thrown herself at him trying to use her all-too-real Keyblade to give him a new orifice, or several. It had been, Vanitas reflected, kinda hot.

He chose to ignore that train of thought entirely. It led down pathways Vanitas had no interest in exploring and next to no relevant knowledge of. The old man hadn't bothered teaching him anything to do with… that. Instead, he considered the woman's unconscious form. If memory served, he'd given almost as good as he'd gotten back there. And someone who liked to take it slow and careful in fights probably couldn't handle the strain of an all-out brawl like they had done, at least not very well. Whatever the reason, she must have gone down a bit after she dropped him.

That means I lost. Vanitas tched. He wouldn't deny the harsh truth. That was Ventus' thing. They had fought, he went down first. That means she beat him. Oh sure, there were excuses. He still hadn't reassimilated all the Unversed from around the worlds he'd seeded them on, so he wasn't at 100% at the moment. But it didn't matter. He'd chosen the time, the place, and the opponent. He wouldn't pretend he hadn't really lost, it was beneath him.

Still, he assuaged his wounded pride with the fact that he was certainly recovering faster. The pain across most of his body was already dulling and fading, leaving behind a dull ache. Being made of pure darkness had its perks. He could recover from mostly everything, as the old man liked to abuse during their training. Well, mostly everything that left his body relatively intact. Vanitas has yet to test whether his body could regrow severed limbs and isn't in any hurry to find out. Maybe he could make an Unversed replacement if it came down to it.

Vanitas forces himself to his feet despite his limbs protesting, tired of sitting about doing nothing. Staying still to recover was a mark of his defeat and his weakness. And he would not tolerate weakness in himself, not ever. Not after everything he's shed to be strong. The weak half of his heart, not that it had been much of a sacrifice for him, his emotions he'd shaped into monsters and weapons, the years Xehanort had spent beating how to use the Keyblade into him.

With a start, he remembers. Where's Void Gear? He had drawn it to fight and hadn't put it away before being knocked out. He glanced around for it, stupidly; as a small part of his mind reminds him he could call it to his hand even if he had left it on another world. He spotted the Keyblade a few feet behind where he had been sitting. In what was quite possibly the laziest action of his brief life, he raised a hand and let the weapon materialize in his grasp.

A thought occurs to him. He's conscious, mobile, and armed. And twenty feet away his enemy is none of the three. He slowly turned and surveyed the stricken woman. Her condition had yet to change; she was completely defenseless.

This was, to put it mildly, pretty good. Though it shames him to admit it, the Keyblade wielder has proven she can defeat him in a straight fight. If he's going to kill her, and he is, he would need to do it outside of said straight fight. And the current situation is about as far from a straight fight as you can get. He might be battered a bit, but in her current state a child could kill her. A sardonic part of his mind reminds him that he's only four years old himself. A child is going to kill her.

He weighed the pros and cons. It didn't take long. Pros: It'd be easy, he'd never have a chance as good as this again, killing her would really get Ventus snarling, at this stage the only things she could/would do would be interfere with the plan. Cons: He wouldn't get to fight her again.

That pulled him up short. If he killed her here and now, he'd never actually have beaten her. Oh sure, he'd recovered faster than her, and that's a victory in itself. But Vanitas knew in the black pit that was his heart that she'd had ample opportunity to finish him before collapsing herself. So, if he ended her here, it would only be because she'd been merciful to him. That idea rankled more than the fact that she had beaten him in the first place.

He put off the decision by taking a moment to survey his potential victim. She had a stupidly happy look on her face, as if she was so damn proud of beating him. It makes Vanitas equal parts irritated with her and pleased with himself, because defeating him is an accomplishment damnit. Looking at her now, he tried to see what made Ventus so attached. You'd have to blind to miss that she was physically attractive, but from the little he'd seen Vanitas would have guessed she and the brainless lug the old man wanted for a new meat suit were already a thing.

Which begged the question, what did Ventus want from her? Was she particularly humorous and entertaining? Probably not. Vanitas has never set foot inside a classroom but he knew the look of a teacher's pet. Then is it wisdom and instruction she provides? More so than the Master they had both studied under for years? Doubtful.

Vanitas doesn't understand and on many levels doesn't want to. Feelings like that were what made Ventus so weak in the first place. And so, so manipulatable. All it took was a mention of Terra changing, changing for God's sake, not even dying or anything, and he forsook everything he knew to jump around the worlds. Actually threatening him, or this woman, would work leagues better. Lopping off her head and tossing it at him was a more limited technique, but with guaranteed results of him trying to rend the offender limb from limb. And that was what Vanitas needed at this point.

Which brings back the question of what to do with her. Void Gear rises, his grip shifts and it points down, ready to ram it into her back. But he hesitates. The old man can make do without her, so can he. After all their careful manipulations the only thing left is to draw their respective bodies into battle. Threatening to kill her or having already done so will generate the same response, violent and immediate reprisal. But still, he hesitates.

Wounded pride and pragmatism and curiosity and his ever present sadistic streak clash inside his mind. Vanitas can't decide and the little rational part of his heart that somehow endures within the raging torrents of darkness notes that if this indecision goes on long enough the choice will be made for him. When she comes to, he bets she'll have some distinct opinions on the matter.

But what forces a decision isn't the woman at his feet, it's the voice that comes echoing along the path. Someone is coming. More than one someone, if whoever it is is talking. Vanitas glances the direction of the noise, then back to his victim. Now or never, what's the call?

Void Gear vanishes in a blaze of dark fire. Vanitas eyes Aqua, still sleeping so defenselessly. "You get one, as a reward for beating me. Next time, you die without a word, got it?"

He turns, the darkness swallowing him. He leaves that world behind and returns to the Keyblade Graveyard, his 'home' by virtue of there being no other option. The final battle will be soon and he needs to be ready. He needs to banish that face framed with blue hair from his mind.

AN: So there you have it. Just a little dabble I thought I'd throw together. Vanitas is surprising tricky to write, once you throw out things like morality it makes parsing his reasons difficult.

I realize the idea of him not killing her when she can't fight back clashes with the sneak attacks he launches at the KG. But in my Vanitas' mind, those don't count because she was awake when he did them. Not his fault she wasn't paying attention to her surroundings.