Disclaimer: I lost the eBay bid...

Author's Note: Gahh. It seems that, no matter how hard I try, I am incapable of updating regularly. I'm sorry guys. I really did try, but things pile up and get ahead of me...

Anyways, please excuse the phrasing of this chapter, as well as some f the inevitable OOC-ness. I'm realy sorry. This was finished around one or two in the morning, and to I was not in a right state of mind would be absolutely correct.

Hope this Note hasn't put you off wanting to read this story. Please, enjoy!

Warning:Shounen-Ai, Yaoi, BL, Slash, whatever you want to call it.

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"Love is only the bloodied strip between disgust and hate."

-WindAlias

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Nero felt his blood chill.

"People like me," he repeated softly. Vanity nodded curtly.

"Yes. People like you." He offered Nero a sweet smile. With a swift flick of his arms, the Prince set down his scepter and swept up a measure of his skirts. Immediately, blank faced maids dashed forward, pulling his majestic train out before it fell onto the floor. Vanity descended slowly, taking each step daintily. He stopped in front of Nero, releasing his dress. Reaching out, he placed his hands on Nero's face and stroked his cheeks, his thumb stopping at the wick of his mouth. "Alice's. Beautiful, beautiful Alice's."

Nero shuddered slightly under Vanity's touch, recoiling. The Prince removed his fingers. "Then...what do you do with…what will you do with me?"

"Ahh," Vanity said. "We have arrived at the most important part of our discussion. No doubt you are anxious. But, first, we must have tea."

"Tea?" Nero questioned. "But I -"

"Tea." Vanity said firmly. "We must have tea together…"

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Alex

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As soon as the words were out of his mouth Allison's eyes hardened, narrowing into thin slits.

"Why are you here?" the young girl hissed.

"I need to talk to your father." The words came out firmer than he expected. Actually, he was surprised he was able to say them at all. His legs were icicles, his cheeks were coals, and his stomach was an uncomfortable mix of the two.

"He's not home." she snapped immediately. "So you should leave." Alex saw her hand creeping to the door knob. In a flash, he had shoved the upper half of his body inside the doorframe just as Allison pulled the door shut. Wood met shoulder blade. He bit his lip so he wouldn't cry out.

"Yes, he is." he retorted, now eye-to-eye with the ten year old. In frustration, he swept his tongue over his lips and tasted blood.

Allison's nose wrinkled in a scowl. "You don't know that, Alex. Get off our property."

"Actually, Allison, I do." Now it was his turn to be on the offensive. "I've known your family for over four years. I know that your father drives the red Toyota in the driveway. I know that his hours are between five and eight. And I sure as hell know that I'm not leaving your property until I get to talk to him."

He finished, a little out of breath. "Anything else I don't know, Allison?"

She stood there quietly, fingers digging into the soft wood of the door. "Yeah, actually. There is." She cocked her head slightly, obsidian eyes piercing through him. "You're a complete dick for showing up here after you got my brother killed."

Cold dread swept through Alex, and for a brief moment, he felt very far away.

'Killed Nero? I…I didn't do that. Did I?'

But as quickly as he was sent there, Alex was dragged out of his thoughts when Allison stood aside, pulling the door completely open.

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If there was one thing that Nero had to admit about the servants, it was that they were fast.

Seconds after Vanity had spoken the servants threw themselves into a frenzy; whipping out chairs and platters and cups from thin air, they arranged a table for two, complete with scones, sugar, cream, and an assortment of jams.

Also to their credit, Nero found that at some point in their frantic activity they had carried all of them outside into the gardens.

One of the servants directed him to the chairs directly across from the Prince. As soon as he sat down Peter and Snow scrambled to the chairs beside him, scooting their seats obnoxiously close to him possessively. Peter was pressed so closely to him that his ears were beginning to tickle against his nose.

"Ah, tea time is my favorite time." Vanity hummed, watching as another faceless maids poured him the first cup. "Everything is just so…." his voice trailed off into laughter and he raised the cup to his lips, inhaling before putting his lips to the rim.

Nero reached for his own cup. His fingers slid across it and when he lifted it, it was incredibly light. Bringing it to his own mouth, he paused to smell it. It had a heavy, thick aroma, like cherries and spiced almonds.

"Do you like it Alice?" Peter began excitedly and put down his own half empty cup. "It's a special palace recipe!"

"…it's alright." Nero said slowly, setting the cup down even though he'd hardly wet his lips. Peter frowned, ears drooping before springing back up.

"Try a scone!" he insisted, piling pastries onto a small dish. "Ooh, these are good, these chocolate ones, see? And these here, the cherry. And let's not forget the carrot…."

"Peter," Vanity interrupted with the click of his cup on a saucer. "Isn't there some other business you could busy yourself with? You're interrupting my time with Alice."

Unbeknownst to the other, both Peter and Nero frowned at the possessive tone in Vanity's voice but said nothing. Peter rose slowly, dusting off his slacks before turning to Nero with a wide smile.

"I'll see you later then, Alice!" he chirped with a smile. "I guess I should give you a goodbye kiss -"

"That won't be necessary!" Nero cut off immediately, putting his arms between himself and Peter's puckered lips. "You should just go now and, err, go do whatever you're supposed to do."

The rabbit pouted and went to say something, but then he stopped, shrugged, and walked off.

Nero sighed in relief as the man disappeared from sight.

"I assume you'll want to know about your role as Alice." Nero immediately straightened and focused back on the gorgeous prince, who was currently eyeing Nero steadily over the rim of his cup.

"Yeah. I'd like to finally understand what's happening here." Nero said. Vanity nodded and set his cup down.

"Alright, Alice. The most important things in Underland are the Rules. The Rules are what govern life in this world and keep everything in their role and place. You could even say they have more authority than I do." He laughed, but it was short and mirthless. "The Rules are what make you Alice and what make me Queen. The Rules say that any of my subjects must obey. For example," he paused.

"Maid, jump from the third story window."

"Wait, what?" Nero shouted, scrambling to his feet; but by then he was too late. The nameless Maid was moving at an incredible speed, and by the time Nero could even get to his feet, she was mid-air.

When she landed, there was the inevitable wet shmack, and then the other servants were there, already carrying her body away.

Nero turned in horror to face Vanity.

The angelic - no, demonic beauty rose a single sharp brow. "Is something wrong, Alice?"

Nero stared at him incredulously. "Wrong? Is something wrong? What do you mean, is something wrong? You just killed a girl. You killed a girl!"

"I did." Vanity said coolly, setting his empty cup.

"What is wrong with you? Why are you so calm about this? This is your fault!"

In a sweep of darkness, Vanity was in front of Nero, hands on his. His nails were dug into the soft flesh of Nero's cheeks, scratching red welts onto the porcelain surface. "My fault? Nothing is my fault. If anything, it's your fault, Alice. Didn't you want to see my ability? You did, and your curiosity killed that girl. It's your fault. Everything is your fault."

Shock and pain overcame Nero. His legs shook; his knees buckled, colliding with the ground. His eyes stung, and like the prelude to a storm he felt heat trickle from the corners, one by one, until the tears were flowing freely down his cheeks, stinging the cuts as they went.

"Ssh. Sssh. Alice. Alice, it's okay." Vanity was reassuring him, suddenly caring. His cool fingers pressed him against his chest, caressing the small of his back. "I forgive you. I forgive you for being naughty. It's okay. It's okay." He tilted Nero's face upwards, pressing his lips to his beautiful, tear dampened cheeks.

'No,' Nero wanted to say, crouched there with Vanity. 'It's not okay. You killed someone innocent. I killed someone innocent.'

But all he could do was cry.

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"Don't you think that was just a tad bit harsh, Vanity?"

The voice was smooth and straightforward. The Prince did not turn, instead flicking his eyes at the man he knew would be standing there. He was slightly taller than average. His hair was a light chocolate, thick, sweet locks that tentatively touched the top of his neck. His eyes were also a chocolate, but they were darker and large, the thoughtful eyes of a dreamer. The man gave an overbearing sense of average, and for that reason, he slipped into the background with absolute ease.

Vanity, however, knew better than to think such things about this man.

"It had to be done, Ace." he said matter-of-factly, looking into the mirror-like surface of his nails. "If I can scare that curious trait out of our dear Alice, then things will go much easier for me."

"An Alice without curiousity is Alice no more." Ace responded, draping himself over the shoulders of the throne. Vanity raised his lips in a sneer.

"I tire of your cryptic sayings, Ace. Leave me." he said sharply. The man provided a thin smile, slowly retreating, chuckling darkly.

"Yes, m'lady..."

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The Prince was not a soul partial to flowers.

Yes, the grounds of the Palace flowed with the scented foliage, but he himself did not enjoy them. To him, they were simply nonexistent. Decoration. Part of the background.

But there was one thing he did enjoy about flowers.

Cutting them.

There was always the slight rush, the small satisfaction of finding a ripening bud and slashing it before it could reach its full potential. Something about it pleased him; let him know that because of him and only him, it would whither into dust, insignificant.

Yes, something about that pleased him greatly.

He watched the maids escort a shaken Alice from the room, the young White Rabbit tagging behind. Something in him stirred roughly.

"One more flower," he whispered, brushing a solid black bang from his eyes. "One more beautiful flower."

Dried tears lay in the corner of his mouth.

He tasted it, and it tasted good.

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He had to get out.

He had to get out.

Right.

Fucking.

Now.

The moment the maids had led him from the room he had told them that he was sorry and that he hadn't meant to do what he had done.

Their response?

"Would you like to take a bath, Lady Alice?" they said in unison, walking continuously as they did so. "There are a variety of body oils available…"

"What? No! Listen to me! I'm apologizing for…for what I caused out there. I didn't know that would happen, and I -"

"…we suggest chamomile or lavender for stress, m'lady. Also, m'lady…"

Nero spun around just as they had reached his designated door. "Don't you get it? He- I killed one of your friends. Don't you understand?"

The maid nearest him, blank face and chocolate curls, smiled sweetly as she pushed his door open. "It is not the first time. Our Prince is quite volatile. We are used to it. Now we shall station ourselves inside the bathing quarters until you further require our services."

They kept moving, leaving him with his mouth open in the doorway.

"They're sick," he whispered. "They're sick in the head. Hell, I've got to be sick to be imagining this…"

Following them inside, he scanned the room briefly. It featured a princess style canopy bed and carpet that nearly ate his feet as he trudged through it. It felt like syrup against his feet. Lying on the bed was a nightgown, which Nero regarded with disdain but put on anyways when his search for more masculine clothing turned up nothing. He was tempted to ask for different clothing from the maids, but when he remembered what he'd caused out in the garden, he knew he wouldn't be able to look them in the eyes.

Slipping on the silky gown made him shiver; the fabric was breezy and cool against his flesh, and like the teenage boy he was he couldn't help but imagine long, feminine fingers drifting across his bare body.

He poked around the bedroom for a few minutes, still steering clear of the bathroom, opening drawers and cupboards. The only things that turned up were matching frilly garments that he assumed worked a lot like boxers, but he wasn't sure so he carefully folded them back into their drawers.

Snow lay on the bed, already changed into pajamas that Nero assumed the maids had given to him. It was soft blue, the same color as his eyes, and white buttons shaped like clouds ran down the front. The child sniffled at him loudly, sky bright eyes threatening to rain.

"Awiceeeeeee." the boy mewed, clutching onto a pillow. "Awen't you tiwed? I think you should go to bed…" he stuck his lip out. Nero had the distinct feeling that the child just didn't want to go to sleep alone, but instead he offered up a weak smile and slipped into the covers.

"Alright Snow," he said, stretching out with a yawn. "To think, when I wake up tomorrow morning, I'll have the weirdest dream to tell Alex…"

"Huh?" Snow questioned, flopping over. He was unconsciously laying on one of his own ears. "What's happening tomorrow?"

Nero shut his eyes with another yawn. "Nothing, Snow. Nothing at a-"

Knock Knock.

"Alice…"

Oh, hell.

Vanity.

Nero quickly threw the covers over his head, holding the edges shut with his hands as he tossed Snow under as well. The child began to panic until Nero frantically pressed his fingers to his lips.

'Quiet!' he urged silently. 'Please, for the love of God, stay quiet…'

There was the faint 'click' of the doorknob, and then there was only the sound of the door shutting in the darkness.

'Oh, man. Oh man oh man oh mannnnnn.'

Nero shut his eyes in the darkness. The harder his eyes pressed together, ironically, the more light began to seep in.

Creak.

A weight applied itself to the mattress, dangerously close to Nero's head.

The blankets began to peel away from his head, and with one last pleading look at Snow ('Please stay quiet!') he let his features relax into a peaceful feigned sleep.

For a long time, there was only silence, and he was beginning to think that maybe his visitor had already left when long fingers touched the base of his neck. Nero nearly screamed.

'He's going to kill us. Oh, hell -'

But there was no squeeze of his hands, no fatal crack of the neck. The long fingers continued to stroke the back of his neck, a thumb rubbing across it thoughtfully every now and then.

"Alice," a soft voice breathed, words spilling over Nero's neck with warmth. The fingers were moving upwards now, running through his hair, a stark contrast of death and chocolate. "What lovely hair you have…" his words trailed off into the night for a moment, before returning: "Alice, you do understand that you can never leave, don't you?"

'Oh, shittake mushrooms.'

"You belong to me now. You will always, always, always belong to me." For a moment, the fingers tightened their hold on his hair, tugging painfully at them. With a stifled shiver of horror, Nero felt the heat of arousal beginning to stir in his gut.

Vanity was quiet again, silently stroking Nero's neck and back once more. Nero squeezed his eyes shut again.

'No, no no,' he chanted anxiously to himself. 'You can't be attracted …'

The stroking stopped; the weight shifted. Vanity was leaving. Just as he thought the prince was gone a pair of cool lips pressed against the heat of his cheeks.

"Goodnight, Alice," his voice lilted from the doorway. With a swift click, the door shut behind him.

Nero sat up immediately and tore from under the covers.

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He ran from the bedroom and into the bathroom, too lost in himself to be polite in dismissing the numerous maids that rushed forward to serve him. He shooed them away harshly with hardly a glance at their down turned lips.

After a few minutes the bath was full and he deliberated among the canisters of scents before carefully selecting a vial of sweet lavender oil and a handful of the red rose salt. Sighing, Nero sank gratefully into the steaming tub and closed his eyes. He ran his hands over his body lightly.

He couldn't help imagining thin, pale fingers running across his chest.

Cold woman's fingers…

Touching me…

Vanity's fingers…

He started. His mouth dropped once more in horror when that same slight tremor trickled down his spine.

He'd never been into men. He had, of course, thought some were handsome, attractive, and even downright beautiful- as Vanity seemed intent on proving - but he'd never had any meritable attraction towards them.

But when he thought of the Prince's hands on him, he wondered.

But when he thought of Vanity doing….that…. He also saw the garden again, replayed in vivid color as he the girl leaped without hesitation to her death. And Vanity just watched.

The thought hit him with an explosive amount of force, and for a split second he felt disoriented, dizzy. He'd had experiences, sure; but there had never actually been something there. There hadn't been a sick, crazy, murderous, beautiful man in those experiences. There hadn't been Vanity. There hadn't been this.

The very idea made him feel a little sick to his stomach.

"Oh, god," Nero laughed weakly, touching the softness of his stomach; inside, butterflies whirred. "Alex's rubbed off on me. You'll laugh when I tell you about this dream later, won't you, Alex? Alex…"

Nero dipped until he was nose-deep in hot water. The heat of the water was beginning to react with the oils, and, at last, Nero temporarily succumbed to the comforting warmth of the tub and shut his mind to the world.

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