Aqua sighed at her current… predicament.

Surrounding her and her companions were countless unversed who seemed unusually large, very menacing, and EXTREMELY mad.

How had she even gotten into this mess? Only hours earlier she was sitting on her bed, letting the newly risen sun seep through the flimsy curtains and illuminate her pale face while she mused what it would be like to wake up next to…

Now she remembered.

Ven.

The young blond had thought it would be a good idea to wake Master Eraqus with a rather loud fog horn that morning. It was his fault, therefore, that all three apprentices had been sent out on an extra hard, extra grueling mission.

Well, no. That was only a half truth. Terra had technically formulated the childish plan and coerced Ventus into participation, however the apprehensive boy had actually carried out with the stupid act and taken the full blame. But Aqua knew about Terra's involvement and would share a word with him later.

Now, however, there were more pressing matters that required her attention.

Aqua shrank back in fear as the sea of unversed that circled them pressed in, but she held her keyblade fast. She wasn't one to get scared easily, yet the odds were simply staggering and she hadn't exactly had time to warm up today.

"Damn it, Ven, why'd you have to go and wake up Master Eraqus!?" Terra growled, more to their opponents than the shorter boy next to him.

"You told me to!" The blond shot back indignantly, crouched in a position as if to defend.

"Doesn't mean you had to do it!" Terra said as he swiped at one of the advancing enemies.

"Arguing won't help the situation." Aqua said, trying and failing to keep her voice level.

The unversed continued to move in and Ven stepped in front of Aqua slightly, as if protecting her. Whether he was conscious of his action or not, Aqua couldn't help but feel a rush of affection toward the boy. Of course, she was able to handle herself rather well, but the sentiment made her blush.

Suddenly, Ven stood to his full height and slackened his grip on his keyblade.

If she was worried about his initial actions, Aqua was silently freaking out when he took several steps forward and raised a hand in front of him, as if to pet the nearest unversed.

She made to grab his hand, but he shook it off with a knowing grin and a little chuckle.

"Don't worry about it Aqua, look."

Aqua, still not altogether reassured, relinquished her grasp on the boy but kept a close eye on him. Her face heated a little as the skin of her hand brushed his before they left contact. Ven turned away from her and closed the distance between him and his target. Terra tensed, but lowered his keyblade and turned to watch his best friend.

Ven stretched out farther and swiped at the unversed, which evaporated in a puff of dark smoke.

"What!?" Terra exclaimed as the hoard of enemies vanished in a similar fashion as their companion.

Clapping was heard and the group turned to Master Eraqus, curiously visible through several feet of dense smoke.

"Very good, Ventus." He said as he lowered his hands and closed the gap that separated him from his apprentices. "How did you know? I haven't even taught Aqua and Terra how to identify a smoke illusion, and that was a particularly strong one on my behalf."

Ven grinned at their master and let his keyblade vanish and a burst of light. "I couldn't sleep a couple weeks ago and decided to look some stuff up in the library. I came across it and it sounded pretty cool, so I looked into it." he said with a shrug. "And besides, you were sloppy, Master. The insignia on their armor has four points at the top of the heart, not six. Although, I have to say, their motions were exactly the same as the real ones."

Aqua stared at the grinning boy with a mix of confusion and admiration. Apparently, he had caught on to a very advanced spell that not even she, the magic prodigy, had known about.

A wide smile stretched across Master Eraqus's face and he spread his arms wide, as if welcoming a long time friend into his home.

"I must say, even after your little charade this morning, I am deeply impressed. This was a test of calmness and collection, to see who would notice the flaws in my doppelgangers, and I am sorry to admit that I did not see that person being Ven." He turned his head to the eldest of the apprentices. "You, Terra, seek to lead through raw strength, and though I do not deny your leadership skills, you travel in the wrong direction." He fixed his gaze on Aqua. "Aqua, you pride yourself with level-headedness, which you no doubt posses, yet your still hold fear, not for yourself, but for your friends, in your heart. You must overcome this fear in order to overcome your enemies." Lastly, he shifted his eyes to Ven. "You have surpassed my expectations today, Ventus, yet you still seem to feel a need to protect Aqua. She can take care of herself. What you need to do is protect yourself."

The apprentices hung their heads in shame, but Master Eraqus placed his hands on Ven and Terra's shoulders and smiled at Aqua.

"However, you have all shown qualities that shine through your faults. We will work on these "flaws" tomorrow. At the current moment, Ventus has earned you all a day off. Head back to the castle and feel free to enjoy your leisure time."

The group trekked slowly away from the valley and hiked up the mountain to reach the castle. The mood lightened and when they reached the towering building, Master Eraqus headed in the direction of the North Tower, announcing something about regaining lost sleep. The three friends walked toward their respective bedrooms in the East Wing, conversing all the while.

"I swear, I was ready to kill you this morning." Aqua informed her fellow apprentices as they waltzed sheepishly through the gleaming hallways that made up the castle.

"Yeah Ven, why are you so immature?" Terra asked, only slightly jokingly.

"Shut up, Terra, you had just as much to do with it as I did!" The blond laughed, though his eyes didn't follow suit with the rest of his face.

Ven turned the corner and waved goodbye to his friends before disappearing behind his door. Terra and Aqua continued down the perpendicular hallway.

"You really shouldn't tease him Terra; he got us out of all the training we would've had to go through if we didn't notice the illusion." Aqua said, not looking at her companion.

Terra sighed. "I know, but don't you find it hard? He's, what, a year younger than you? And two younger than me. But he's advancing quicker than both of us."

Aqua paused for a moment and pondered. After a second, she said, a little absently, "No, I like it."

They reached her door and Terra smirked. "You just want him to seem older than he is."

"Oh yeah? And why's that?" She asked, raising an eyebrow and cocking her head slightly to the right.

Terra heasitated, as if weighting the consequences of what he was going to say next, before saying, "To fill the age gap."

Terra snickered and Aqua punched him lightly in the arm before closing her door and heading over to her bed. It wasn't until she passed her mirror that she realized she was blushing.

Aqua flopped gracefully down on her bed and her thoughts fixed on the young boy with unruly blond hair. She hated it how he would follow Terra in whatever he did, but figured it was only natural. After all, he had lost his memories and therefore, he had to pick up the pieces of how to act through those around him. And Terra was like an older brother to him anyway.

So, she prepared for the stunts to come, engineered by Terra and executed by Ven, because she knew that no matter what stupidities they pulled, he would always the smart little insomniac that got them out of a day of training.