Disclaimer: Not mine at all. They belong to Square Enix and Disney.
Fandom: Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories.
Notes: Keywords: scum, inconsistent, carnivore, monster, prize, poleaxe, entomb, exact, hellish, rack.
Vexen was rarely found outside his laboratory if he could help it. He didn't particularly like people, even when he'd had a heart, and he didn't really like the outdoors much either. Had he been able to feel fear, he might have supposed he was vaguely agoraphobic, but as he was unable to feel due to the lack of heart, he considered it just an annoying and inconvenient habit still left from when he was still Even.
Of course, it didn't at all help that pretty much any outdoor area around Castle Oblivion, along with quite a lot of the indoor areas, was overgrown with Number Eleven's rather hostile and undisciplined vegetation, and tended to be hazardous to people's health. Both physical and mental health. Being chewed on by an oversized bulbous shrubbery that had no business even being a carnivore, much less drooling all over his coat, was not his idea of how a garden was supposed to be.
He certainly wasn't out there because he wanted to be. However, Marluxia had graciously requested his help in finding out what was killing his water lilies, and if it'd get him out of being stuck with all the most disagreeable tasks in the castle, Vexen was willing to put up with the hellish flora for a little while.
He hoped it wouldn't take him too long to get some water samples, though, because somehow, the gardens had been set to constant tropical heat, and Vexen didn't feel quite right when it got too hot. He'd told Marluxia as much many times, but he didn't put it past the younger man to keep the gardens so hot for that exact reason. It would be quite typical of him.
The pond turned out to be covered in some sort of sickly green scum. Vexen knew little about gardens and botany, but he did know that water lily ponds weren't usually foamy. That was just common sense. The water was slimy, too, when he knelt down to get samples of the rather vile-looking liquid in the pond, and Vexen was suddenly very glad he wore gloves.
Vexen jumped as Marluxia spoke, inwardly cursing the fact that the man could sneak up behind him that easily. Getting back up on his feet, he turned to face the younger man. Not surprisingly, Marluxia was smirking, probably at the fact that he had yet again startled Vexen. Vexen glared at him, wondering silently if tipping Marluxia into the pond would make the water less or more scummy. It, he figured, would just mean exchanging one sort of scum with another one. At least the current one could probably be dealt with.
"I'll have to test these water samples in my laboratory," he stated, crossing his arms. Surely even Marluxia understood that. Then again, some of the younger Organization members did occasionally seem to lack anything that resembled common sense.
Marluxia just gave him one of those looks that told Vexen that he did not want to be alone in the garden with him right now. Sometimes, he was very grateful that they could use gates. It was barely past noon and he already had a headache the size of Castle Oblivion. Not very promising for the rest of the day.
Once back in his own domain, he did feel a lot better, though the headache lingered much like the scum in Marluxia's silly lily pond. Some might say that Vexen's rooms looked surprisingly messy for someone so generally organised of mind, but though he did have a habit of spreading his experiments and notes around where he was at the moment, he had no trouble knowing where everything was.
He picked out the equipment he needed to run some tests on the pond water and set about figuring out whatever was the cause of Marluxia's problem. Well, at least that problem. He'd be stuck in his lab for an eternity if he was going to solve all of those problems. Marluxia was a walking, breathing problem, anyway.
It wasn't too hard to figure out that it was a chemical reaction of some sort that had caused the water in the lily pond to turn into its current state, but he had no clue how it had gotten in the pond. Marluxia tended to his garden with the utmost care, and as much love as someone could muster when they were both a Nobody and a sneaky bastard.
Of course, that did actually describe most of Organization XIII in some way or another, with few exceptions, which meant eleven possible sources of the chemicals. And it wasn't a lack of motivation, either. Marluxia was infuriating by nature.
But he was a scientist, and didn't really care who was behind this, though if he ever found out, he should send them an anonymous thank you note. His job was to find a way to deal with it. Given enough time, he should be able to find a cure. After all, knowing the problem was half the work.
A few hours later, he was back in Marluxia's garden, holding a phial of antidote in his hands. He supposed, if he was to be quite honest, the gardens were truly beautiful, with the flowers everywhere, and all sorts of brilliant colours. But it was a treacherous sort of beauty. The beauty hid thorns and poison. Much like Marluxia himself, actually, and Vexen made a mental note to wash his brain in acid for thinking that Marluxia was attractive.
He hated it when his mind went all inconsistent on him. It was happening increasingly often these days.
"Numbooph!" As he called out, a vine came flying out of nowhere, poleaxing him. Coughing, he tried disentangling the vine from around his waist, but to no avail. "Right. This is why I hate gardens." He sighed, freezing the vine under his fingers.
"Do leave my plants alone," Marluxia said, stepping out from behind a nearby tree. "That plant doesn't take well to magic." He smiled, crossing his arms across his chest to take in the scene before him.
Vexen gave him the best glare he could muster with the air being squeezed out of him, not stopping the freeze spell. "And what exactly is that supposed to mean?"
Marluxia smirked smugly. "Don't say I didn't warn you..." He trailed off, watching Vexen intently.
Just as Vexen was about to do something, though if he was to be honest, he wasn't sure what, more vines shot out of somewhere, restraining his wrists. "What is the point of this?" He snapped, straining against the unruly vegetation.
Chuckling, Marluxia tapped his finger against his chin. "Well, Number Four... ...I did warn you. I raise my plants to defend themselves." Reaching out, he petted the vine fondly. "Did you find a cure yet?"
Vexen snorted. "I dropped it when your monster of a plant hit me," he hissed. He'd lost track of it after that, but he was sure it was around somewhere. Experience had taught him to use strengthened glass for his phials. A lot of the things he worked on was toxic or acidic, and spillage could cause great trouble.
"Really, now?" Marluxia looked around. There was no sign of the phial anywhere. "What does this cure of yours look like?"
Ceasing his attempts to pull free for a moment, Vexen sighed. "It's a small phial, filled with a greenish-gold liquid." He yanked at his wrist again, but only got an aching muscle out of it. He really hated gardens. "It's glowing slightly," he added. Since Marluxia would probably not take very well to a cure that killed his garden to get rid of the problem, Vexen had been forced to work with naturally occurring sources only, and though he'd managed to find something that should do the trick, he couldn't seem to get rid of the pointless bioluminescence that still lingered on.
Smiling, Marluxia bent down and gently curled his fingers around a small, delicate flower. It had a net of stalks holding it up. "If it's glowing, it should be easy to find." As he spoke, the flower started growing wildly, spreading out to cover the ground like a cobweb. "My little pet here instinctively search out light sources," Marluxia explained.
"How interesting," Vexen said frostily, forming an icicle in his hand. "Can you tell your pet to let me down now?" He was starting to get severely infuriated with both Marluxia and his overgrown abomination of a creeper plant.
Marluxia looked up at him, smirking that oh so smug smile of his again. "I could," he agreed, crossing his arms again, "But I'm not going to just yet." With a small gesture, he made another vine twine itself around Vexen's ankles.
Vexen snarled at him. "Oh, for the love of... ...You've spent far too much time with Number Twelve lately!" Certainly that was a logical explanation for why Marluxia had decided to play rack with his flowers. Vexen attempted to break free once more, but it didn't really do much good except give him bruises on the ankles to match the ones on his wrists. Heart or no heart, right now, he really hated Marluxia.
The neophyte was disrespectful, annoying and far too smug for his own good, and Vexen, who, in general, was not really a physical person at all, was still going to find some way to wipe that infuriating little smirk off of the younger man's face as soon as he got down.
Apparently, the little flower had located the cure, because it was now in Marluxia's hands, still glowing lazily to itself. Marluxia smiled. "How do I use this, then? Just pour it into the water?" He asked, holding the phial up for Vexen to see.
Vexen scowled. "Yes. Now have this damn plant unhand me at once!" The air around them seemed to drop several degrees all of a sudden.
As usual, Marluxia either missed the clue or deliberately ignoring it, just smiling that annoying smug smile of his. Vexen was willing to bet good munny on the last option, never mind the fact that he was in no way a gambling man. Science was a too precise subject for him to dabble in such things.
Since he was unable to do much else, Vexen watched Marluxia walk over to the pond, carefully holding the cure. He supposed that on a certain level, he did actually have a slight shred of understanding for the younger man's plight, because much like the gardens were Marluxia's sanctuary, Vexen's laboratory was his, and he knew he'd have been very furious if anyone was to do anything that might damage his experiments.
He was still seriously angry with Marluxia for taking it out on him, though. It wasn't like he was responsible in any way for whatever had caused the damn lilies to die. Unlike certain other members of the Organization, he was a mature adult and had better things to use his precious time on than petty pranks.
Besides, if he were to go on an all out chemical warfare against Marluxia's gardens, he wouldn't stop with the lilies.
Over by the pond, Marluxia was kneeling down, pouring the cure into the water, the golden colour and glow remaining for a moment, as though frozen, before dissipating into the murky pond.
There was no flash of light, no sparkles or pretty effects. It was no miracle cure Vexen had concocted, instantly healing the pond. It was, in fact, little more than an antibacterial water purifier, and Vexen was a believer in effect, not in fanciful displays which was little more than smoke and mirrors.
But the slowly, almost invisibly, the scum started dissolving, fading from the sickly green to a greenish white as it did. Had he been in a better mood, and more disposed to emotion, Vexen would have smiled in triumph. As it was, he was more concerned with getting loose from the abomination of a flower before it entombed him in its coils. It was bad enough having to submit to Marluxia himself, there was no way he was going to let some overgrown weed that thought itself a rack order him around. There was limits to what he'd put up with, no matter how much Marluxia might be the master of Castle Oblivion.
Taking a deep breath, Vexen focused his senses, channelling as much of his ice magic through himself and outwards as he could manage. Almost instantly, the stalk twined around him started to glaze over with a thin coating of ice. The plant responded by attempting to squeeze the air out of Vexen. He might not have a heart any more, but he most certainly had lungs and the situation was straining them badly.
Vicious as though Marluxia's little pet was, it was still a plant, and though resistant to magic cast on it, it still took damage from cold when the magic was cast through Vexen. Eventually, it froze over, allowing Vexen to summon his shield and smash himself loose. The look of dismay and annoyance on Marluxia's face as a result was worth the relatively unpleasant landing.
"Why the long face, Number Eleven?" Vexen questioned, unable to keep a certain twinge of smugness out of his voice as he dusted himself off. "You didn't really think I would let myself be manhandled by a mere overgrown weed for long, did you?" He was determined to get out of the situation on top this time. Marluxia was getting much too cocky for a mere neophyte.
Marluxia frowned. "Do you have any idea how long it takes to grow a plant like that?" He asked, crossing his arms and giving Vexen his best nasty glare.
For some reason, even without a heart to feel such things with, Vexen was oddly pleased to note that while Marluxia had made petty and bitchy an art form, he still had nothing on Vexen when it came to proper glaring. It was an absurd and nonsensical thing to notice, much less to analyse, but it still felt like a sort of prize to Vexen, a small comfort in his life. Of course, he knew that it was merely his subconscious playing games with him, as he certainly couldn't actually feel any of the things he deluded himself to think he did, but it was still a small victory.
Vexen gave Marluxia a small sardonic smile. "Well, Number Eleven," he said, his voice all acid and honey, "Clearly, you didn't do a very good job if it can't even handle a little frost."
"In fact," he continued, turning and starting to walk away. "I think that one can call that a failure, don't you agree?"
Had Marluxia had a heart still, he'd be shaking with fury by now. As it was, he was flushed with anger, flinging his hand out to simultaneously command his plants to stop Vexen in his track and summon his scythe, the latter which he deftly placed against the older man's throat.
"Don't even try playing games with me, Vexen," he hissed, unbidden using the scientist's name instead of his title. "You will only lose, and I won't settle for an insignificant little moment of smugness as my prize."
Vexen gritted his teeth, forcing himself not to rise to the bait. Sadly, Marluxia's skills at reading people were quite good, and the blatant disregard of formalities the younger man just showed was no doubt designed especially to infuriate him as much as possible.
It was really quite frustrating; he wasn't supposed to be able to feel emotions, so why he had developed a habit of rising to Marluxia's taunts so easily was actually a bit of a mystery, and one he had, for once, no wish to research further at that. He didn't really care to start getting introspective. Introspective research was better left to the elderly. He was hardly old just because he seemed to be the only responsible adult in the entire Organization XIII. That was largely due to a lot of them being cocky brats.
Cocky brat or not, though, Marluxia's threat was very real, as real as the cold, sharp metal currently placed against Vexen's throat.
"You are the one that plays games, Eleven," Vexen pointed out, standing entirely still, uncomfortably aware of the scythe's position, and even more uncomfortably aware of the fact that Marluxia was the one holding it. "I am merely trying to do my work."
Marluxia's silence was somehow far more unsettling than his threats and promises, because with his back turned, he couldn't see what the younger man was planning. There was a certain instability with many of the younger Nobodies, and Marluxia was no exception to that. As many scientists, Vexen hated dealing with unpredictable things. It tended to mess up the expected outcome.
Standing in a garden, with vines entangling his feet, and a scythe at his neck certainly was a typical example of a messed up outcome, and they were getting way too frequent.
Suddenly, the scythe was pulled back, causing it to slice shallowly into Vexen's skin, and he had to bite his lip to keep from making a pained sound. Marluxia carefully kept the blade of his weapon razor sharp, and like a razor, even shallow cuts stung terribly, and would keep stinging for quite a while. Then the blade was gone, just like that, and Vexen automatically lifted a hand to the cut on his neck.
"You've overstayed your welcome, Number Four," Marluxia said, his voice cold. "And you're not worth my time."
The dismissal was deliberately adding insult to injury, and Vexen had to carefully rein himself in and not give the other man a proper tongue lashing for even thinking he had the right to consider himself above him, much less treat him as though he was not worth it. But the dismissal also meant that he could retreat back to his laboratory, where his experiments waited for him and where he was in his element, and any further arguing with Marluxia would only cause him to be stuck with him, in the damned garden, for longer.
Unlike Marluxia, Vexen knew when to quit, and that was half the victory, really. Holding his head high, he strode out of the garden, determined to put the master of Castle Oblivion out of his mind for at least a few hours, and focus on his experiments. Preferably one that involved turning flowers into pulp.