author's note: This is for akemi's contest. Yes. It's supposed to be crack. Yes, I know it's a Vexice (term coined by the lovely Ana) Yes, I know you are very disturbed. But I promise, it's not too horrible… I think?

Standard disclaimers apply--

x. CURIOUS .x

- vexen – alice –

x.x.x.x

This is a very curious place, she decides after lowering her picture book from in front of her face.

A most curious place.

She hadn't been watching where her feet had been taking her on her afternoon walk, and Alice has no idea whatsoever where she is.

The forest ahead is dark, and tangled patches of ivy weave its way through the branches overhead. The trees are massive and encompass so much space; Alice wonders however anyone could walk through.

The sky is clouded a dark, murky gray, and she sees that rain is on its way. It must mean that rain is on its way. There could be no other explanation for the blackening above.

Dinah meows, and her tiny head begins to plow through the underbrush of the forest floor. Alice watches with a tilt of her head as Dinah's ears jerk involuntarily. The leaves were tickling her ears.

"Dinah!" Alice cries. "Where are you going?"

Dinah meows a response but doesn't turn around. Her little paws prod against the moist ground, her claws digging up weeds as she does so.

"Dinah!" Alice yells again. But Dinah shows no sign of responding and continues on through, her orange tail smacking foliage around. Alice keeps screaming for her little cat, hoping that Dinah would just turn around and obey for once.

No such luck.

"Oh fine, Dinah!" Alice mumbles, stamping her foot on the ground with a great, heaving sigh. "Wait for me!"

She doesn't want to follow her cat, but she has to.

"I'm… coming," she sighs, bowing her head a little as she enters the dark forest.

What little light there is in the sky is filtered through the forest canopy, and has been tinted a dark green color. Alice hesitates with each step, but as Dinah's tail begins to disappear from sight, Alice can't do anything but follow.

"Ouch!" she cries as her long, blonde hair tangles itself into the branches. She pulls away, and her hair tugs. The thorns protruding from the thick trees surrounding her prod into her skin, snagging on her lovely blue dress.

"Stop it, stop tugging on me!"

The trees, of course, do not respond, which infuriates Alice even more. She can barely see the tip of Dinah's tail shaking back and forth.

"If we were in some sort of… wonder land, you trees would stop trying to play with my hair," Alice grumbles as she trips over a branch, "and Dinah would listen to me for once!"

A flock of ravens caw loudly as they fly from the forest, and Alice loses sight of her cat completely.

She peers through the slits between the massive trees, trying to find some sort of way out, but all she can see is more trees. The green light pours onto her face.

"Oh dear," she says to herself, "What have I gotten myself into?"

Alice trips and falls, scratching her knees against a low root. Her apron rips on a bramble, and her black shoes scuff against the rough bark.

"Oh, drat!" she calls to the forest, and she isn't shocked when all she hears is her own voice echoing back.

She keeps stumbling through because she has to find Dinah, but she keeps tripping and she keeps bleeding and she is just about to cry when she hears the wonderful sound of a soft, meek meow.

Dinah!

She runs toward the sound, and her hair flows behind her.

"Dinah! Dinah!" she yells, and soon the green-filtered light fades. Raindrops slowly drip off the trees above onto her head. Alice jerks her head up.

It's raining.

"I knew it was going to start raining!" she exclaims with her hand raised high, blocking the rain from falling into her eyes.

Her head tilts slowly down, and her gaze catches something orange huddling underneath a bush. Oh, Dinah. Alice runs out into the clearing, and the mud splashes up onto her stockings, and the rain pours like buckets. But she doesn't care, because her little cat is cold and wet and scared.

"Oh, Dinah! Don't you ever run away from me again," Alice coos as she scoops Dinah up into her apron, cradling her ever so gently. The rain keeps plummeting onto them, and Alice's dress sticks to her thin body like glue.

It's then when Alice realizes the building in front of her.

It looks like it's been there for forever and a day. Constructed of ancient red bricks, with thick ivy climbing its way up the walls, the crumbling building seems very out of place. She wonders how long it has been here. It is tall with no windows, and from what she could tell, there is but one entrance.

The thick, steel doors shining in front of her contrast oddly with the brick and beckon her inside.

It was so strange.

"How curious," Alice says to herself, shielding Dinah from the weather. She takes a few steps forward, her shoes slapping against the puddles, and smiles.

"It would certainly be best to escape this weather, don't you think, Dinah?" Alice reasons as she looks up at the dark sky. Dinah growls and shivers. "Yes, it would be for the best. I wouldn't want to catch a cold."

Alice's small hand wraps around the freezing handle and pulls.

If the outside is strange, it compares to nothing to the inside.

The door squeaks as she shoves it open, and Dinah hops out of Alice's grasp. Fluorescent lights flash at the end of the hall, but the entrance is as dark and as cold as the outside is. She shuts the door behind her, and it closes with a loud slam.

Her shoes clip-clop on the gray linoleum floor as she walks toward the light, tracking water in with every step. Dinah follows close behind, her tail slapping against Alice's calf.

"Curiouser and curiouser…"

At the end of the hall, the lights glow serenely, and Alice can't seem to stop herself. There are many doors lining the hallway, but they look like they haven't been opened in months, maybe even years. The only door that appears to be in use is the one at the end of the hall.

Alice walks slowly toward it; she just wants to see what's inside. The lights flash again and cut off; the sparks rain down.

"Oh!" Alice cries, raising her arms to cover her head. The hall is completely black, and the only light is coming from the door.

She steps lightly, not even realizing that Dinah has stopped following her. She's getting closer, closer, closer until the door is right in front of her and she doesn't know whether to open it or not.

Alice tries to peer through the window, and sighs when she realizes that it's too high for her to look through. Her fingers pull at the tiny ledge below the window, and she stands on her tiptoes. She can barely reach, just barely, and all she can see is the ceiling.

But then she sees a pair of squinted green eyes.

She gasps, and then shrieks as the door is yanked open. She falls forward, slipping in the puddle that had formed underneath her, and grabs onto the first thing in front of her.

Which turns out to be a leathery, black jacket.

Alice grimaces, but pulls herself up to standing height (which is quite a few feet below the man in front of her) and releases the coat. His electric eyes narrow.

"Who are you?"

Alice swallows, and her voice gets lost in her throat. She shivers. It's cold.

"Who are you?" the man repeats, even more loudly than before.

"…Alice." Her eyes widen as she glances up at him, asking him for his name with her eyes.

"Vexen."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Vexen," she says with a curtsy and bow of the head.

"Just Vexen," he grumbles as he hurries away from her, traveling deeper and deeper into the room, his coat billowing behind him.

Alice smoothes her torn apron against her dress, and takes the room in. It's quite cleaner than the hallway outside, as this seems like the only room that gets any use in this strange building.

The tiles gleam under the intense fluorescent lamps, reflecting the light magnificently. The room is too bright, and when she looks toward the back, where Vexen had gone to, she realizes why the light is so intense.

It's a laboratory.

She walks further into the room. Her hands wrap around her thick, blonde hair, and she wrings the excess water out. She approaches the back and stops with a sharp gasp.

She's never seen anything like this before.

There are tables and tables of beakers and flasks, shelves fully stocked with chemicals and laboratory equipment.

Alice runs her hand over along the edge of the table.

"This is curious," she says, "most curious." Her fingers trace along the side of the table, tracking their path among the lab equipment. Her index finger slides down a large flask with a long neck, full of a bubbling, purple liquid. She giggles.

Then a force unlike any other shoves her away, and Alice crumples to the floor, her wet dress making an odd slapping sound as she hit the ground.

"Don't touch that!" Vexen screams, his hands still outstretched.

Alice's eyes widen. Her legs curl underneath her, and she slides backward to the wall, shivering with cold and with fear.

Vexen sighs and raises his hand to his forehead. He stares at the timid, yet strangely curious little girl cowering in front of him; his fingers massage his temples soothingly.

He had thought nobody would be able to find his laboratory. He had thought that he could work in peace. But now this… this… girl was here. What use did he have with a little girl? How was he going to get her to leave?

"I-I'm so sorry, sir," she exclaims, trying to pull herself up from the floor. Her feet slip from underneath her, and she collapses again. She had tracked quite a lot of water.

Vexen sighs, and lowers his hand.

"Here, let me help," he grumbles. She hesitates, and the fear is visibly sparking in her eyes. "I won't hurt you," Vexen assures with a roll of his eyes.

Alice reaches out and grabs his hand. She flinches when their skin comes in contact. She hadn't expected for his hand to be so… cold.

He tugs her up from the floor with ease, and Alice struggles to keep her balance. She is astounded how his hand feels like ice against hers. The instant she is standing upright, she yanks her hand from his grasp and rubs it against her dress, trying to soothe the increasingly numb feeling coursing through her veins.

Alice smoothes her apron, a nervous habit she's developed. She feels awkward in this strange, new place, and feels the need to share that.

She clasps her hands behind her back.

"This is a most curious place-"

"You can leave, now," he groans, rubbing his temples with his left hand and using his right hand to point toward the exit.

She gasps. She had never met anyone before with so little manners. But, she is a little girl, and he a fully-grown man, and there is nothing else to do but to obey. She curtsies, almost toppling over as she does so, and hurries out the door back into the dark hallway.

The hall is scarier leaving than when coming in. She has no light to guide her, now, and no Dinah to follow.

"Dinah!" she cries, eyes roving the hall for her cat. "Dinah!" she repeats with a sharp scream, the anxiety evident in her high-pitched voice. Where is that cat? Alice sometimes thinks that Dinah has more curiosity than her. "Come out right now, Dinah!"

The back door slams open, and Vexen stands fuming in the doorway.

"Why are you screaming?" he asks with a moan, "I'm trying to concentrate, and-"

"I can't seem to find my cat, Mr. Vexen!" Alice exclaims, her eyes wide with fear for the man in front of her. But she has to talk to him; Dinah could be anywhere in this strange place.

Vexen groans. The title she insisted on attaching to his name just made him feel even older than he already was. He stops, hearing a soft meow coming from the end of the hall.

"Come on," he says, grabbing Alice by her thin wrist and dragging her toward the source of the noise. Even through the thick darkness, Vexen can see the little cat huddled in the corner, her body shaking with cold as well.

He releases Alice's wrist, and she shudders violently. Honestly, did he have to keep the air conditioning on so high that his skin felt like a popsicle?

"There's your cat, now go," he mumbles. Vexen hates animals. And he can't fathom why people like them so much.

"D-Dinah!" Alice stutters, scooping the cat up into her arms. Alice struggles to keep Dinah in her grasp; both are shivering from the cold. But she somehow manages to maintain a hold on the poor animal, and she buries her face into Dinah. "It's okay, Dinah, it's okay," she says into the wet fur, "I love you. It's okay."

Vexen's breath gets caught in his throat.

Maybe this little girl would be of some use to him after all. His previous experiments had failed horribly, but she… she would be perfect.

He was curious to try.

"Well, then," Alice manages, "it was a pleasure to meet you sir, but I think it's time we head off." She somehow performs a curtsy, and turns to open the heavy door.

Dinah leaps from her arms and circles around Alice's legs.

Alice's small hand yanks on the door handle and pulls the door open. The storm outside torrents in front of her; she inhales and exhales.

"I don't know if we'll be able to find our way, Dinah, do you remember?" she ponders aloud to her cat. Lightning flashes menacingly in the sky.

Vexen clears his throat.

"You shouldn't go out in a storm like that," he declares, crossing his arms over his chest. The leather rubbing against the leather makes an odd sound.

"But I must be going home. My sister is probably worrying-"

"Nonsense," he says, "Just stay here with me. At least until the storm passes."

She shuffles her feet.

"I'm not sure…"

"I'll let you help me with my experiment," he offers with a wave of his hand. "It's very interesting." Dinah crouches down at his feet.

"An experiment?" she clarifies, and he knows that he has sparked her curiosity.

He laughs.

"Have you ever wondered why something happens?" he asks, kneeling down to her height, "How something works?" Her eyes widen.

"Why… yes!" she cries, clapping her hands together. "But I thought that was just me!"

He laughs again, this time much more mirthfully.

"Me too, Alice, and that's why I'm here. I'm a scientist, you see," he explains, his hand pushing gently on her back as the two begin their return to the back room, "I devoted my entire life to this lab so I could discover how… something works. For research."

Alice grins.

"What are you trying to figure out? What are you researching?" she asks excitedly, with hardly any space between her words.

He opens the door, letting her walk through in front of him.

"Hearts."

"… Hearts?" she repeats, pressing her hand against her chest. He doesn't say anything, but he smiles, still pushing against the small of her back. He feels her quiver, and he stops urging her forward.

"Are you… cold?" he asks, disgust lacing every word. She must be.

"N-n-n-no…" she stutters, rubbing her arms. He looks down at the shivering girl.

"You'll just get colder in those wet clothes." It's a fact.

Alice's eyes grow wide.

"But… I don't have any other clothes!" she exclaims, and Dinah prowls around her ankles, purring. Vexen crosses his arms across his chest. He's never dealt with a little girl before. It's difficult.

"I have a spare coat; you can… borrow it," he says. He sounds disappointed. He doesn't want the girl to wear his clothes, but she'll just complain during the experiment, upset and cold and scared. That wouldn't be good for her heart. "Come on," he urges, "follow me."

He staggers away, and Alice follows begrudgingly. She wants to see this "experiment"; never before had she met someone with curiosity such as herself.

He leads her into a dark room, a room even colder than the laboratory. She rubs her arms and sighs.

"I do believe it is far too cold in here," she comments under her breath. Vexen hears.

"I like it cold," he grumbles as he flips the light switch.

It's a bedroom. It's his bedroom, obviously, but a bedroom in a place like this? The floor looks rather grimy, and the bed is unmade. Most curious.

"You live here?" she asks, unable to stop the words from escaping from her lips.

"I did say that I devoted my life to science," he declares coldly, "and I meant my entire life."

"Oh…"

He shuffles over to the closet door and opens it, revealing multiple long, black coats.

"Here," he says, tossing one over his shoulder.

"Does anybody live here with you?" she continues, fumbling to catch the coat. She grabs it by the tips of her fingers. He points to a small bathroom, where she is to strip from her wet clothing.

"No."

"Have you no family?" She peels off her dress.

"No."

She hangs her clothes in the shower, and begins shoving her arms through the wide sleeves of the coat.

"Are you lonely?"

Is he? It's been nearly five years since he became a recluse. She's the first person he's talked to since then.

He's been so alone. He's been far too alone for far too long.

But he isn't lonely. That would mean that he has feelings, a heart.

She zips the coat. It's far too big, but it is much warmer. She walks out of the bathroom and trips over the bottom of the coat.

He can't answer her.

"Do you always ask questions?" he asks angrily as he pushes her out of his bedroom. This girl was terribly annoying, but he must keep her happy, if his plan was going to work.

"… I suppose I do," she admits. Alice picks up the trailing coat and lifts it from the floor. She wouldn't be able to walk if she didn't.

They walk into the main laboratory, and Alice is again, surprised by the difference in light intensity.

"Wear these," he says, throwing a pair of thick, laboratory goggles her way. She catches them, and puts them on her face. They feel too tight, and she wants to take them off, but-

"Don't take them off," he orders as his pair of goggles slaps against his face. "Now, we're just adding some of these phosphates to the solutions, and recording our observations-"

But Alice has already moved on.

"Look at this!" she exclaims, moving her face in front of a bubbling beaker. Vexen groans. "And this!!" She shifts to a rack of test tubes, each glowing a bright shade of red. Her fingers stroke them all very quickly.

"Must you touch everything?!"

She stops.

"I-I'm sorry," Alice apologizes, stepping away.

Vexen pulls a pair of gloves over his hands, and the latex slaps against his skin. He must control his temper. Otherwise, she would be unhappy, and who knows if he would be able to extract her heart if she were in such a state?

"Here, I'll demonstrate," he offers, picking up the red-solution-filled vial, and lifting it to eye level. Three droplets of some clear substance dribble from the end of the pipette, and the red solution shines blue for an instant before fading back to red.

"That's amazing!" she exclaims, grabbing for a test tube.

She doesn't need to know that he was practicing the removal of oxygen from blood. She doesn't need to know, he tells himself. The more she doesn't know, the happier she'll be, and the happier her heart will be.

She repeats his demonstration but adds five drops this time. The solution stays blue longer. She smiles.

"This is a good reaction," he says gladly, writing down the results. He looks up, and she's gone.

"What's this?" she asks, her hand hovering above a hot plate.

"Don't-"

But he was too late. Her fingers were already pressed against the searing metal.

"You stupid girl!"

She screeches and draws her hand to her chest lightening-fast. Her voice echoes through the lab, loud and high. Beakers shake violently, the pitch of her voice so high that it threatens to shatter the glass.

Vexen reacts quickly. With great speed, he grabs her shoulders and lifts her into his arms. He runs to the nearest sink, flips on the cold water, and shoves her hand underneath.

He is fuming, seething with anger. This is ridiculous. He wants to throw her out his door, to send her away.

But he needs her heart.

It's the only way he'll be able to feel again.

He sighs, and her body racks with sobs in his arms.

"I-I'm… s-sorry," she sputters, shaking, "I'm so sorry… sorry…" He can't think of what to say. His chest knots up, but his silence remains.

"I should g-go, I should go," she says, rubbing her blistering fingers. She hops out from his arms and starts running towards the exit. "Dinah!" she calls, "We're going home! We must find our way home!"

"Hey!" he yells, running after her, "Stop!" She can't leave. She just can't. He grabs her wrist and pulls her back.

"Stop!" she screams.

Vexen's throat closes. What is he thinking? Abusing this little girl?

No.

He needs her. It doesn't matter how much she gets hurt. She just needs to stay. He wants to feel again.

"Let me go!" she yells, pulling. But a ten-year-old can't compete with the strength of a fully-grown man.

"I'm not going to let you just run out into this storm!" he exclaims, grateful that the first explanation that comes to his head is a legit reason.

Alice stops squirming. She turns to him, tears glistening in her eyes.

"I don't know how I'll ever get home."

She throws herself into him, and her face buries into his stomach. Vexen's chest tightens.

"Just… stay here. We can work in the lab again tomorrow, if you'd like," he suggests. She nods into his coat.

He lifts her into his arms again. She's very light, and makes no sound as he drops her onto his bed. She scurries under the covers.

"You're a very strange little girl," he says just before he leaves. She laughs, despite the fact that her cheeks are still moist with tears.

"You're very strange man," she laughs, "Maybe that's why we get along!"

He turns and walks out silently, flipping the lights off on his way out.

She rolls around, slowly drifting to sleep in this place that she didn't know, in this bed of a man whom she didn't know. But she feels safe and absolutely thrilled that he's letting her work in the laboratory again tomorrow.

He's such a curious man, living alone, devoting his life to his work.

But Alice has always liked curious things.

x.x.x.x

While she sleeps, Vexen refuses his body any form of sleep. He spends the night drawing diagram after diagram, table after table.

He needs to find the perfect way to extract her heart.

x.x.x.x

In the morning, Alice wakes alone in Vexen's bed. She can still hear the rain outside. She creeps over to the bathroom and takes off the over-sized jacket, and puts her (now dry) blue dress on, and ties her black ribbon around her head.

"Dinah?" she says to her cat snuggled in the bed, "I was quite frightened when we first came here… but now," she pauses, and Dinah's head pops up in response, "I like it."

She tiptoes to the lab, and is shocked to find Vexen's sleeping form sprawled over his desk, papers scattered everywhere.

Alice shakes his shoulder, and he jerks up with a gasp.

"What can I do today?" she asks, hands clasped together. He groans and stretches his back. He sweeps his long, dirty blond hair out of his eyes and stands up. He's quite tall.

"Here, you can just record today. I don't want you to hurt yourself." He doesn't want her heart to be upset.

He didn't discover the perfect way to take her heart. Maybe one more night, and he'll have it.

Alice looks genuinely pleased that she gets to help, and she puts the lab goggles on her face without even being told to. She smiles at him, and he has to look away. He doesn't want her to look into his eyes, to see the deceit shining from within.

He wants her to be happy.

No.

He wants her heart to be happy.

He walks to one of the lab tables and begins testing the mixture of blood and dry ice. She records his every action, and frequently looks up at him for approval. He doesn't want to smile, but he can't help it- she makes his work so much easier. He hates smiling at her; his chest tightens whenever he does.

They work the entire day together, and Vexen is shocked to find that she isn't nearly as annoying as she was the day before. He's also shocked when he realizes that night had fallen without him noticing.

Again, he lays her in his bed. She snuggles into his covers.

"Today was really fun, Vexen," she sighs.

"I'm glad," he says while walking through the doorway, back to the laboratory.

Is he glad that she enjoyed herself? No, he couldn't be. He is still in hearing distance, and he doesn't want to hear her say it, but she says it.

"Dinah, I don't think I ever want to go home."

x.x.x.x

He constructs countless diagrams and types numerous pages of notes again tonight. It's nearly three in the morning, and it clicks. He knows how to do it. He knows how to rip her heart straight from her chest.

He only needs to construct a metal blade with the proper alloy, infuse it with a bit of ice magic, and it should work.

He'll be able to feel again.

x.x.x.x

"I think we just need to do one more experiment," he tells her, and Alice is happy.

She's happy to be here, she's happy that Vexen lets her heat a beaker of something-or-other over the fire. She thinks it's some sort of a metal.

She's happy that she has finally found someone with as much curiosity as she.

He can't concentrate. This is what he's been waiting for, right? But every time she smiles at him, her eyes light up, and it makes him want to vomit.

How can he take this little girl's heart?

"Look, it's cooling!" she exclaims, her face pressed up against the window to the cooling chamber. "What's it called again?"

He peers through the window over her head.

"A keyblade."

How is going to do this? Will he listen to her scream? What if it doesn't work, and her young, innocent life is wasted?

"That's a curious name," she laughs.

Her laugh makes his throat close. He can't… but he must. He wants to feel. He wants a heart again. But he doesn't want to hurt Alice. He can't… but he must.

They watch silently as the keyblade changes from a bright orange color into a sleek-looking silver. It's nearly ready.

How did this happen to him? He had spent five years pushing humanity away, and then Alice stumbled along.

"Is it done?" she asks impatiently as he grabs the keyblade. "Can I hold it? Are you going to use it?"

He loves how she always asks questions. It reminds him of how he used to be. And he remembers how annoyed he was at all of her questions the other day. Some, he never even answered.

"Are you lonely?" Her voice echoes in his memory.

"Not anymore," he mumbles under his breath.

The keyblade drops to the floor, and a resounding crash bursts through his ears.

He can't do it.

"Alice?" he asks gently.

"Yes?" She digs her shoes into the tile.

"I think the storm stopped. You should go home now."

He looks down at her, and she looks up at him, tears threatening to fall.

"B-but… must I?" she stutters, wringing her apron in her hands. She takes off the goggles, and they drop to the floor.

"Your sister must be worried sick." She nods.

"Come on, I'll help you find your way back."

He takes her tiny hand within hers, and they walk out together. It amazes him how much Alice has done, and without her knowledge.

The sun is shining bright, and his green eyes cringe. It's the first time he's seen daylight in months.

Dinah follows close behind, curling her tail around his ankles, and Vexen doesn't seem to mind.

Alice is crying, but smiling. Emotions course through her. She doesn't want to leave, but she misses home so much. She doesn't know what she's going to do, now that her curiosity has been sated.

They walk through the forest silently, hand-in-hand.

The trees begin to clear, and her house is in sight, just beyond the hill. They stand at the edge of the forest, both unwilling to release each other's hand.

"You can come back whenever…" he mumbles, "I can always use some help."

She squeezes his hand one last time before letting go.

"Certainly," she squeaks. He kneels down to her eye level.

"Come back soon."

He can't imagine what it would have been like taking her heart. It's so pure and holy and good. He hopes her innocence lasts forever.

"Vexen?" she says.

"Hmm?"

She leans forward so slightly, and kisses his cheek.

"Thank you," she whispers before scooping Dinah in her arms and running up the hill to her home, her blue dress rippling behind her.

He smiles, the happiness surging through him, and turns back into the woods.

How could he have been so blind? Why had he done all that research to steal her heart? Had he missed it the first time she smiled?

He'd never needed to steal her heart.

Oh, no.

She'd given it to him with her laughs, her smiles, her curiosity. He smiles.

He'd had her heart all along.

x.x.x.x

FIN

x.x.x.x

author's note: Wow. Sorry. Like, really, I'm sorry. I had the idea, and I couldn't stop it. Sorry if you are disgusted. If it's worth anything, their relationship wasn't supposed to be seen as romantic at all. Just friendship.

Review, please!