The alcohol in Martel’s drink was the colour of ditchwater in the bottom of her grimy glass- not at all like those dramas she had listened to as a kid, not like those romance novels her mother kept, where the distraught lover gazed at their reflection in amber and gold, before submerging themselves in its sweetness. No. She couldn't see her reflection here, not in the drink and not in the worn wood of the bar, and when she drank she thought she was drowning.
It was a good thing, though. She didn't really want to look at her reflection. As a child, her mother had often said she was pretty, but Martel didn't think it was true anymore. She wondered what had become of her mother- and then downed that thought with another mouthful, emptying this time the cup. The burn made the skin in her throat ache, so much she almost wanted to retch, but to do so would only double the pain. It didn't matter. It was a good distraction, and she could feel her head becoming heavier, less inclined to memory or deep thought. That was good. She didn't really want to think, just to dream, and make the world around her as flat and toneless as the best of such things.
She let the bartender fill up her cup again with more of the poison, and realized in a vague way that she had come to recognize his face- he was always here, whenever she was, if that meant anything. And yet they never spoke and she did not know his name. That was for the best- she couldn't afford to get close to anyone anymore, not as she was now. She couldn't let anyone see her, not really. Any regular person would have no problem turning her in, outing her for the freak that she was...but she had come here not to think of that.
‘That’ was why she was sitting by herself, in the dingiest and quietest little bar in Dublith, some shithole called the Devil’s Nest. Appropriate, wasn’t it, that name? No one came here save those who needed to forget, and to be forgotten. The ones the world didn't want anymore. The ones that should have stopped existing a long time ago, or have never existed at all; a woman, she had been, hadn’t she? And before that a girl, a soldier, a child, a daughter, a friend and a lover- and an experiment, a monster, a freak.
Give me something stronger, Mr. Bartender, so I will not remember that word.
The door to the bar opened suddenly, and though it had no bell the newcomer was announced quite grandly, so much so that for an instant Martel’s hearing- hearing that was not entirely human hearing- made her head hurt. A man was laughing, boisterous and arrogant, and in spite of herself she found she turned to look.
He was a tall fellow, and a stranger, not one of the usuals from the bar- but Dublith was a big city, was it not? And she shouldn't bother herself with another wreck that had come to drink here, but her mind was drifting, she needed something to focus on- why not this? He was well-built, this man, that was apparent beneath the black jacket he was wearing, it was too tight around his shoulders and rolled up to reveal strong forearms with pale skin. Above the collar now, he was a little handsome perhaps, with a bold chin and a large nose and expressive eyebrows that moved as he called out to the bartender, his lips parting to reveal unusually crooked- dare she say sharp- teeth…
“Pour some of your finest, for my friend and I here!” he called, and his voice was as brutish and loud as the rest of him. “We’re thirsty from our travels!”
Only then did Martel realize the man had a companion- a woman, she thought, or maybe only a girl-
-no, that wasn't quite right, but why-
-and if the man was pale, she was much, much paler, so white in the dim light she seemed almost to glow, but the impression was sickly instead of ethereal. She wasn't pretty at all, with a wide face, and pointed-looking eyes, a sour and unkind expression framed by unkempt dark hair that- for some reason- looked almost green in the off lighting. She was short, and her own jacket and pants made her look strangely bulky (but not in the right places, no, flat as a board there) not the kind of woman one would pair with the kind of man she stood beside at all...
Martel, in her drunkenness, had a sudden wave of what could only be described as perceptual vertigo. For an instant her brain flip-flopped, and she was convinced that the pale, ugly woman was actually a man, and then the world righted itself again, like an illusion reversed and made clear- no, that person was female, she was sure. She also noticed then that the woman, while otherwise normally dressed, was barefoot. Weird- but who cares? This was the right sort of place for those sorts of people. She was one herself, wasn’t she?
“This is so exciting,” the sort of-handsome man was saying, and he lay down a stack of bills on the table, close enough to Martel that she could have stretched and snatched them if she really wanted. “Why don't you give a round for the house as well, on me?”
The bar had only one patron in it save the strange couple and Martel herself, and he had covered his face, to sit alone in a corner where it was darkest. What a very generous expense. But despite the bitterness of her thoughts, there was something a little charming about the man, and she raised her own glass to him in thanks. He flashed her a twisted-looking grin in reply before turning back to his companion, and it was a little like having the sun go behind the earth.
“Pull up a seat, sweetheart, this is the finest of Dublith’s establishments, I am sure. Quaint, cozy, comfortable…” he patted one of the rough metal stools next to the bar with one broad hand, the one on the side closer to Martel, and she noticed faintly that he had some kind of tattoo, but of what she wasn't sure.
“If I sit on that it will break,” said the woman in a spiteful (and surprisingly deep) voice, but Martel saw she was smiling nonetheless. Somehow, that smile opened up her face, and with it her unpleasant features became vaguely attractive, appealing in a harsh and almost obscene way- not a nice smile, and not a pretty one, but something with a degree of allure. Not unlike this pub itself- ugly and depraved and made strange by the lighting, but desirable nonetheless. Martel wondered what the relationship between the two of them could possibly be.
Instead of sitting on the stool, the woman pulled herself up and plopped down on the bar itself, and it was a testimony to the poor workmanship of the place that Martel could hear the wood creak, straining itself to support what couldn't have been more than 130 pounds. The stranger parted her legs- she sat like a boy, there was that sense of confusion again- and the man pinched her thigh, the way pimps would their wares in this area of the city. But Martel didn't think they were like that, not quite.
The bartender, poor fellow, didn't seem to know what to do with himself, so accustomed was he to the silence and depression of his usual guests. Such a rowdy couple could only mean trouble for him in the long run, though they did seem like big spenders. He swung her way the drink purchased by the strangers, and she took it easily, somewhat surprised to find that it smelled of something other than drain cleaner. The finest in the establishment, huh?
“You know, this place is downright charming,” said the man, and though there was a touch of sarcasm in his voice there was something genuine, too. He didn't seem to care about the dirt or the grim or the depressed atmosphere, didn't care that his was the only voice that rang out inside its little walls. “An attentive staff, good location, decent booze. What's not to like?”
His companion grinned at him, swinging one leg in a slow and awkward movement that, for some reason, seemed to make the bar shake.
“What, do you want it?” she hissed, her voice low and dark enough to indicate that it was meant for his ears only, though Martel didn't have much trouble listening in. She sipped her drink rather slowly, feeling comfortable in her level of drunkenness, and entertained enough by the pair- they were intriguing somehow, and in a more sober state of mind Martel would have questioned that feeling with all she had, and possibly fled, for intriguing things were usually unwelcome- but she was just lost enough to her cup that she didn't think to consider it. She didn't know, or care, why something prickled inside of her at the sight of them.
“You know, maybe I do,” said the man, and he was fondling his companion’s leg in a way that was a little obscene, staring at something Martel herself couldn’t see. “Why not? I doubt anyone would notice. And I like Dublith, don't you, baby? It seems like a good place to settle down.”
And the woman made a funny noise in the back of her throat, something that could only be described as the hybrid beast of a giggle and a cat’s purr, and it was only then that Martel felt the danger.
Snakes had a pretty good sense for such things, after all.
The air was much crisper in the cool atmosphere of the bar, more awake. She could feel it rising, feel the weight of it around her even as she felt the tip of her tongue dart out to taste- bloodlust. And something else, too, some weird flavour she hadn't noticed before, something a little like mould and a little like antiseptic, coming from both of them- that was not how humans smelled, that was not what people tasted like, there was something terribly wrong…
The man said something else, Martel didn't quite hear, and in reply the woman threw her head back to expose a perfect white throat and laughed- no, cackled would be a better word for it, like a witch. A hideous sound, it was, distorted and coloured faintly with mania. Martel didn't want to stick around and hear the end of their conversation. She needed to get away- her animal instincts, cold though they were, had raised a remarkable alarm.
She cursed herself as she stumbled getting out of her seat, the noise of her stool hitting the ground and catching at her legs was deafening, if only she hadn't made herself so drunk. She might have been able to get out without drawing so much...attention. Two sets of overbright eyes were on her as she righted herself, and in spite of her best interest she found herself meeting them- remarkably similar, those two suddenly looked, everything else was different but there was a resemblance in the eyes, the colour and shape and depth. But they were barely human- like glass, or polished gemstones, somehow both powerfully expressive and dead, artificial like doll’s eyes in a shop window. She wanted to leave, now.
“Oh!” the woman said, her voice coming down from the laughter surprised, even as Martel tried to stumble away, and she could feel those terrible eyes on her still. “That one- she's not- I think- oh, yes!”
“What?” said the man, and his partner (lover? or sister? there was something both too similar, and too different, about the both of them) giggled, girlish and high in the back of her throat.
“The chimera files, dumbass! Did you never read them? I know who she is…”
At the second word in that sentence Martel had found herself running for the door, eyes focused on the worn brass handle of the knob like it would save her, but she had inebriated herself, and she had never been overly fast. Even now, in her animal nature, it was one thing to strike quickly and another to run swiftly away…
A large, warm hand closed over her shoulder, the grip firm and strong, and Martel found herself stopped. Turning her head she met the handsome face of the man, and he seemed so much taller now, the grin under his hooked nose sharp and predatory.
“Excuse me there, miss,” he said, and Martel felt strangely both hot and cold all over. “Why don't you sit down, and have a chat?”
Okay, this story is only a little more than a set of weird, loosely connected one-shots, and I was thinking for a while that I wouldn’t bother posting it because it’s such a mess, but...well, this is a fan fiction website, the stakes aren’t exactly high, so here we are anyway. It’s not a proper piece of fiction, but rather more like a series of character studies, both of the chimera characters (who are observing) and the main pairing of homunculi (who are being observed).
Also also, if you have read any of my other FMA stuff you will know that I am absolutely obsessed with the concept of Envy’s weight, so a good deal of this is spent just working out the day to day logistics of it, something that the show itself kinda waives.
Anyway, more to come soon I guess. Enjoy as best you can!
Chapter 2: Misunderstandings
Things have changed in the underworld of Dublith.
This was the thought that Roa had as he picked up a large crate from the back of a supply truck, the muscles of his animal nature bulging and threatening, just a little, to bust out of his jacket, the way a robber in a newspaper funny would kick down a door. Whatever was in here, he had no idea, and he didn’t much care- but he had a feeling that, as soon as it was installed in the Devil’s Nest, he would be told. It was an interesting realization, to understand that he wouldn’t be kept in the dark- no previous employer had given him such liberties. No previous employer had placed such trust in him.
Yes, things had certainly changed.
There were many cold days in Roa’s memory, starting with the first sunrise after his escape from the laboratory where he had been made into something other than a man. He had spent those days in the darker parts of Dublith, for it was the perfect place to hide. Illicit deals and illegal arts, gang wars, prostitution and theft- these were the currency of the semi-secret world behind world, in the alleys and warehouses and sex parlors that hid beneath the reasonable, even pleasant face of the city shown to tourists. The crime hub of Amestris- the perfect place to disappear, to become faceless, to survive while knowing that no one would see you for what you really were, and even if they did, wouldn't care. It was a despicable place, and it had been his only chance. For years now, it had been his whole world.
With his strength and grand stature, Roa had found himself working as an enforcer for hire, a basic job entrusted with no secrets or special tasks, paid in cash for standing behind someone with a hammer and scowling. Sometimes, he had needed to use it, but only sometimes. He had never been a part of anything- not like before, during the war, when one’s squadron became their family- but he had survived. All of the other chimera, he had known they were around of course, but for the most part they had kept to themselves, and so had he. It was too difficult to face a mirror like that, to see someone else suffering the way he did. In retrospect, that had been foolish. Who else could understand what it was like to live this way...who else could be a truly trusted ally? But they had all been too afraid, and too broken, to come for each other. So for a while, that was all there had been. The city, the work, his bed and a drink here or there. A ‘good life’, by some standards, but a very cold one.
Roa had never used any of the more...fleshly services available in those back alleys. That sort of thing was too dangerous for him, for someone of his strength and size. And there was something revolting about it- Roa hated to see the painted faces of those girls and boys, their lean and starving bodies wrapped in the arms of men (and sometimes women) who didn’t care for them at all. Those kinds of acts seemed even more corrupt to him than what he had seen of the military, more despicable, but there was nothing he could ever do to change it. So he had gotten his drink, and gone back to the places where he slept, and had buried himself in the slow-moving, dull part of his mind that had been added in that laboratory.
Things were different now- ever since that man had come, only a few weeks ago now, the man from the North who called himself Greed.
(It couldn’t be his real name, Roa had thought the first time he heard it, that was ridiculous- it must surely be some kind of title, some piece of braggadocio to go along with his personality. A silly name for a rather silly man.)
But Greed had turned out to be less silly than Roa thought. He knew what he was doing, shock though it was, he knew how to run things and make it turn out right. There was no dithering with Greed, he knew what he wanted, and how to get it. His personality only made it easier- he was silly, yes, but also terribly charismatic. It was easy, even fun sometimes, to do what he told you to- and this warm contrast was huge to the sorts of men Roa had worked for before (the crime lords, the drug dealers, the business men of the underworld). For a while he hadn’t understood how it was possible; he had found himself on the defence, unwilling to take down his walls, believing that he stood before nothing more than a grand illusion, that this man could be no different from all the rest. But Roa knew now- there was one, key difference. After all, a true captain rowed the boat with his shipmates, a leader walked common paths with those who followed. Before, the men Roa had worked for had been human, and he was not. Now he worked for Greed, and it seemed that he wasn’t human either.
That kinship made all the difference in the world. Roa knew it was the same for the other chimeras- it had taken someone who understood to bring them together, in the end. Someone who treated them like they were people again, not animals or tools, because he too knew what it was like to be something less (or more) than human. How funny, in a very unfunny kind of way- the least human of all the people Roa had met since the laboratory was the one who had offered him the most humanity.
In short, it was a good job. Roa found himself surprisingly close to happy on most days. The other chimeras were becoming his friends, they were good people, Greed was a good man to work for, a good leader. Charming, smart, quick on his feet, and as much a member of the team as any of the rest of them. The kind of man who could have been a squadron head, back in the war, before Roa had been made this way- the kind of man that, back then, he would have followed to his death.
But it wasn’t perfect. Nothing in this world was.
For of course, Greed was not a soldier, he was a criminal. And it was there that the line was created for Roa- the line that stopped him from slipping over into complete devotion. Roa would never claim to be a good man, but he also never did anything actively reprehensible and Greed, well, did. And there were some things he did that Roa found downright wrong. Most of them, as it turned out, involved that boy he had brought with him- the one member of the team who was not the leader, and not one of the chimeras.
A strange one he was, little Envy.
With his long dark hair and pale skin, he looked almost like a girl. Roa wondered if he wanted to look that way, if he wanted to wear clothing that exposed his belly and thighs, or if Greed made him. Was Greed one of those kinds of men, the ones who did that? Maybe. After all, as Roa had thought, he was the kind of man to take what he wanted- and what he wanted, it seemed, was some poor kid in his bed at night. With those youthful, feminine features, and the lack of hair anywhere save his head, Envy couldn’t be more than a teenager, and he was certainly much younger than Greed. It was disturbing, the way things went on- Roa had never spoken to Envy on his own, in fact, had never seen him around without Greed, and so he had certainly seen what Greed did to him. The man was always touching him, touching him in ways and places that would be hard to consider platonic; stroking his face, slapping his ass, running his fingers through that long hair. He had kissed the kid once, on the mouth, right in front of everyone, saying it was ‘for luck’. They had matching tattoos, but Greed’s was on his hand and Envy’s was on his thigh, made visible often by the incredibly short shorts he tended to wear, and the positioning was suggestive of the power dynamic between them in and of itself. Roa didn’t really want to think about what was happening between them at night. If the boy hated it, or had no other choice, it was difficult to tell, but Roa had noticed that he almost always had an unpleasant expression on his face. Roa hadn’t often heard him speak- but then, he tended to avoid being around Envy and Greed when they were together, he didn’t like watching. A coward that made him maybe, just like before, trying to cover up the blemishes in a situation that was otherwise amazing; ah, Greed’s leadership had benefited him so much, was he really the kind of man to turn cheek to such things if they were in his favour? Maybe he was. He had never said anything before, when he hadn’t known the names of the lost children turning tricks on the streets at night. A sickening thought sat in the pit of his stomach- why would he change now?
His muscles bulged again as he set down the crate on the floor of the Devil’s Nest- even if he could lift it easily, he could tell it was supposed to be heavy. The soft sound of glass rubbing itself in companionship echoed, muffled, from within- the crate probably contained booze. That wasn’t so bad- the previous owner of this place had stocked mostly piss and outright poison, a reshelving would probably do business good. And business had to be good, or at least decent, in order for the bar to be used as a cover for some of the other ways to make money in Dublith. Perhaps he would have some, to clear the bad taste from his mouth and the bad thoughts from his head.
Suddenly, from the somewhat-hidden entry to the underground area, Roa heard footsteps approach, footsteps that- due, no doubt, to the distortion of sound from the tunnel- sounded like they belonged to a man who could rival him in size, but when he looked, he found himself surprised.
Envy swept some hair from his face as he emerged from the stairway, and his bright eyes flicked across the room, catching on the crate but not on the man (or almost man) standing beside it. He was wearing almost nothing, as always, and Roa felt uncomfortable looking at that exposed white flesh. He was barefoot- why did the floor sound so clearly his approach? There was something strange about it, something that bothered Roa’s animal instincts in the back of his head.
“What's this, then?” said Envy, his voice high and clear and carrying even in the muffled atmosphere of the bar. “Greed got his shipment, did he?” He had a surprisingly bold voice, when on his own. Why was that? Did he speak less when they were all together because he was afraid? Was their leader really such a man?
Envy knelt, and Roa was about to offer to open the thing when with what seemed like almost disproportionate strength he ripped the lid off the container single-handedly, exposing the snug little lines of bottles pressed together, their insides sloshing with liquids ranging from the deepest sienna to clearer than crystal.
“You know, I don't really get the appeal,” said Envy cheerfully, and he turned his head in a way that was vaguely reminiscent of a cat, or a lizard, tossing the lid lazily to one side. “but I’m sure Greed will be happy.”
“Yeah,” said Roa rather dumbly. All those muscles, it seemed, weren’t just for show, though it was strange for a man of his own strength to find himself rivaled in a young boy. If that was the case, Greed must be even stronger, to do those things to him…
“He’s downstairs somewhere still I think,” said Envy, but it sounded like he was speaking to himself more than to Roa. “I’ll go get him.”
Realizing that the kid must have been talking about Greed, Roa surprised himself in reaching out and catching Envy by the arm, wanting in an almost subconscious way to stop him. There was a shock to his senses- Envy’s skin was cold, what in the world, and he felt very solid under Roa’s hand, like stone.
There was a pregnant pause, and then Envy shot him a look over one shoulder that could only be described as one of disgust, purple eyes burning dark through strands of thick green hair.
“The fuck,” he said sharply, and Roa let him go. “What’s wrong with you?”
Roa felt his mouth open but there were no words for it, and he realized then that there might not come a time when he was alone with Envy again, when the boy could speak without Greed’s eyes on him. Roa didn’t know what he could do. Was there anything in his power that would be of help? Was he strong enough to be different, now? Did he even want to jeopardize his own warm future? A terrible voice in the back of his head whispered leave it, let Greed have his plaything, all men of his kind need something. You won’t be able to do anything anyway.
But somehow the words did come- they tumbled from his mouth almost unbidden, thoughts spilling from his lips before he knew what, exactly, he was going to say. Envy, in that moment, with his soft face and smooth skin and long hair, was every one of his kind Roa had passed on street corners or in back alleys, or seen in brothel windows, or heard in neighbouring rooms of cheap motels, and he thought if he could make it up to this one his lack of interference before would be good enough for them all.
“Why do you- why do you let him touch you? Does he hurt you? Or threaten you? What kind of man is he, really? Tell me, kid, you...I won’t hurt you.”
In the silence after he was done, he could feel himself flushing horribly, as though he had just admitted to something embarrassing. His hands were shaking. And Envy just stared at him, his face was a picture of perfect surprise, eyes wide and narrow brows retreating up his forehead. Then his lips started to move upwards, curling like they were pulled by some invisible string, and for half a second that mixed expression of incredulity and humour made him almost beautiful, and Roa thought that he suddenly understood the appeal-
-and then Envy started to laugh, and the illusion was shattered, for he was downright hideous.
There was something worse in that laugh than any of the sights Roa had ever seen, worse than anything he had ever done. Envy’s face was contorted into something grotesque, and predatory, Roa had never seen him smile before and it turned out his canine teeth were just as sharp as Greed’s. He hadn’t expected this. He had categorized the boy in his head as a victim, not as something...evil.
But Envy looked evil, now.
“You’re funny,” he shrieked, hysterical, and he seemed unable to control his own body against the force of his mirth, doubling over as if in pain. “Oh my God, you actually-”
He looked unhinged, and Roa found himself instinctively backing away, holding out against the animal instinct to buck or snort or even run. This wasn’t at all how he had imagined it would go.
Envy made a weird choking sound and rolled his head back, pinning Roa to the floor with the force of his eyes. He was still giggling, even as he spoke, hands curling in and out of claws as he pawed at his own chest.
“So, first of all, I am way older than you think I am,” he purred. “Way older, guaranteed. And second- did you think I was a man?”
And if that question didn’t throw Roa for a loop he was a rabbit instead of an ox. Hadn’t Martel thought Envy to be a girl? They hadn’t spoken much of it, but Roa had been very sure of his own assumption, the boy looked so young. But if he- she?- was not a teenager, then didn’t that also make sense? There were some traits in common between young boys and grown women. It was like an optical illusion, adjusting one’s perspective to things like this was difficult-
Suddenly Envy stepped towards him, in one stride closing the distance between them, and Roa felt cold hands on his chest through his shirt, saw those glittering eyes right before his own.
“And before you get the wrong idea,” Envy said dryly, “I’m not a woman, either.”
Then there was an incredible pressure and Roa found himself being flung backwards, Envy had pushed him, and no one that small should have been able to make someone like him move, make him hit the floor so hard. All of his senses were reeling, because none of this made any sense.
“You’re pathetic,” Envy hissed, and he wasn’t laughing anymore, he looked positively livid, and it was terrifying, the smile had twisted down into a snarl.
“What, did you want to be a hero? Fuck that, and fuck you. If it were up to me we wouldn’t be dealing with you scum at all. How dare you look down on me like that? You think I’m weak? How fucking dare-”
The change in emotion from mirth to hatred had been so fast, and both seemed so strong, the boy- the woman- the thing might actually be insane. Roa was suddenly afraid, very genuinely afraid that he was going to be killed, or something worse. Envy was looking at him like he was the most despicable thing in the world, so enraged, that deceptively little figure tensed with murderous strength. Was he crazy, or did Envy’s fingernails look sharper then they had just moments before? Why did the air smell like lightning?
“Hey-ho, everyone,” called another voice from behind Envy’s towering figure, and Roa recognized this one to be Greed. He must have just come up the stairs. There was a second of silence in which nothing moved save Envy’s eyes, and then Roa heard the man laugh.
“Okay, bad timing on my part. Play nice, will you sweetheart? No breaking my things. Oh- is this the drinks I ordered?”
Roa watched from his prone position on the floor as Greed made his way over to the crate, whistling in appreciation as he started to take out the bottles, holding their contents up to the light. Very slowly, Envy unwound, his fists losing shape and tension siphoning away, the fire in his eyes flickering back into coals. Roa saw his breathing return to normal as he looked at Greed, and what was eerie then was that for an instant there was no expression on his face at all- not that cracked anger, not that evil humour, not even some kind of love. Nothing. Then he turned away and left the bar through the still-open back door, his footsteps on the floor the only sound he made. When he was gone, Roa realized he was trembling, and found himself turning to stare at his only other companion, a silent plea for some kind of answer, or acknowledgment. What in the world had just happened?
“Don’t look at me, pal,” said Greed. “You probably did something insulting. Don’t worry about it though, babycakes over there is like that with everyone.”
Chapter 3: A Little Bit of Action
Gunshots sounded against the brick walls of the alley, sharp pops followed by splintering cracks as the masonry was shattered, the sound disguising the origin of the bullet. Dolcetto cursed to himself at that, but at least there was a plus, the enemy was wasting their ammunition aiming at nothing. He sniffed, and despite the clogging smell of trash and mildew he could pick up smoke and hot metal, human sweat. They weren’t so very far away. He found himself gripping the handle of his sword tighter.
This was what you got when a deal went awry- a deal with a very sensitive businessman, a mid-tier mobster with inclinations towards paranoia. One little thing goes wrong, someone looks at you funny, and then suddenly everyone’s leaping for their guns (or swords) and the nearest cover. Oh, well- perhaps the dog blood in him was too confident, or maybe he had too strong a belief in his team, but he wasn’t really afraid. In fact, he could almost feel himself smiling- a little bit of action wasn’t that bad sometimes. A man has to keep in shape.
Dolcetto sniffed the air again, this time expanding his senses to focus on a greater area- ah, Martel was somewhere overhead, on the rooftop maybe? He could pick out that mixed smell, a woman and a snake, fairly well. And Roa was even easier, the heavy musk of an ox, he had activated his blood for the battle. He was a little further away, that made sense, a man of his stature made an easy target for stray fire. Bido hadn’t come, he was back guarding the Nest, no need to search for him in the haze of the air.
The other two though, of their location Dolcetto wasn’t sure- Greed and Envy both had a smell that was similar to that of a grave, or the basement of an unused warehouse, or a grate covering a hole leading to the inside of the earth- a kind of dark, inhuman night scent, the scent of things left for too long where the sun didn’t shine. It made them difficult to pick out, especially in some of the backstreets of Dublith like this one, where such a smell drifted up from the cracks in the asphalt at his feet.
Suddenly the bullets striking against the walls around him stopped, and with his enhanced hearing Dolcetto made out a series of faint click, click, clicks and a muffled swear. He felt himself smile- poor fools.
Before the men had a chance to reload he was on them, moving with the combined athletic grace of both his species, and the carefully sharpened blade he so loved slipped easily through the soft flesh of their throats and guts. He prided himself in his swordsmanship- it was too easy to use a gun, too cold and disconnected from the battle, and even then (as was proven here) it was easy to fail with such devices. It did no one any good to rely on them.
With two of the lackeys down, Dolcetto found himself revolving, using more his ears and nose than his eyes in search of the next target. Someone shouted from around a corner, and he flicked some blood from his blade and darted forward, angling himself to the ground to avoid gunfire. He rounded the corner with his posture low, and the scene expanded before his eyes.
Greed was caught between two men, arms extended to slash at their throats, missing one and glancing off the other’s collarbone. The flesh and cloth there parted as easily as though he held a knife; his fingers were contorted into claws instead of fists, unlike the way most men fought. And there was that strange thing too, the thing Dolcetto had only seen a few times- the darkness that covered his body. From the tips of his fingers (which were no longer fingers so much as they were talons) to the hollow where his neck met his jaw, Greed’s skin was covered in a gleaming black substance, moulded perfectly to the shape of his body. The light danced there as it would on metal, and despite the clear flexibility there was something hard about it, it didn’t look like skin at all. The man who had dodged the first strike raised his gun and fired at Greed’s chest, but instead of sinking in with the dull and fatal thud of a bullet wound the air sang with a sound similar to that of two blades colliding; on the black expanse of Greed’s skin sparks flashed, and the wall to his left splintered as the shot found its target, having ricocheted against the expanse of his body.
Pretty marvellous abilities, this guy had. Despite the close quarters and obvious danger, Greed was grinning from ear to ear, and there was no fear in him at all as he made another swipe, this time knocking the gun from his opponent’s hand, a stripe of blood painting the air for an instant. Dolcetto wondered if there was anything he could do- the man seemed to have this situation under control, and another body might only confuse things, but his canine instincts were still raring to go, still eager for the action, a need to protect his pack burning in his gut.
“Hey, Fido,” Greed yelled, and though Dolcetto cringed internally at the nickname his ears perked up. “Go give Roa a hand! Big guy might’ve bitten off more than he can chew.”
At the mention of the other chimera, Dolcetto noticed it too- further into the maze of tight alleys where they fought he could hear more combat, and the heavy crack of Roa’s hammer on stone. Without feeling a need to reply he darted away, following his ears and nose, licking his teeth as he did so. Greed could handle himself, clearly, and from the smell of things there were even more of the mobster’s allies up this way...
Roa stood in the center of it all, his hammer raised high and his muscles tight with effort as he swung in heavy, broad strokes at the men around him, who seemed in comparison like rats or other tiny animals to his stature. Dolcetto could tell he had been injured, there was a smell of ox’s blood in the air, but it didn’t seem to be stopping him. Ah, and there was the man who had started it all- the cowardly mobster crouched behind his lackeys, fiddling with own gun, face clearly slick with sweat and mouth gaping. Now, Greed hadn’t said what to do with him, but Dolcetto doubted it would make waves in the underworld market if he died. He wasn’t exactly popular. And for the trouble of it all, they would certainly be entitled to his stocks- both to add to their treasury, and their reputation. Start to show people what the Devil’s Nest gang was all about.
Dolcetto was about to throw himself into the fray at his comrade’s side, sword flashing, when something very strange happened- instead of one version of the man cowering on the floor, there was suddenly two.
There was a pause where Dolcetto wondered if he had been hit on the head somehow and then the lackeys noticed it too, falling out of step in their dance with Roa, shouts of surprise ringing in the air. The second boss darted in on stubby legs, arms waving, and when he saw himself on the ground he stopped in his tracks and stared, eyes bugging out like a frog. In fact, both men did that, pointing at each other in matching surprise, mouths open in identical shock.
“W-who are you?” said the first, and the second replied, “No, who are you?”
There was something in the scene that was reminiscent of a very weird dream, but in the opportunity of the moment Roa- seemingly unphased- was able to knock down the remainder of his combattants, the strength of his arms and weight of his hammer crushing them as easily as a normal man would an insect.
Then the second boss- the one who had come in halfway through- suddenly laughed, the expression of confusion slipping off his face like a sheet to be replaced by an almost childish glee. While his doppelgänger still sat there in shock, forgetting, it seemed, about his own weapon, the amused man thrust one arm forwards as though he intended to punch- and halfway through the gesture his hand stretched, morphing into a sword, with which he pierced his other self through the heart.
“Idiot,” he said, and Dolcetto had a half-second to realize that he recognized that tone of voice before the man himself twisted away into nothing, his squat and rotund form winding in and then up, replaced by white skin and a small body and a fan of long green hair.
Fucking hell, but that was creepy. It was the first time Dolcetto had seen that- in the back of his head, he had assumed that the two homunculi were the same, but it seemed that their skill sets were rather different after all.
Envy was grinning like some kind of psychopath as they pulled their arm from the dead man’s chest, returning it to a humanoid shape. Dolcetto was vaguely aware of Roa cringed away from them, in his peripheral vision, but he didn’t take note of it.
“All done, by the looks of it,” they said cheerfully, flicking some hair from their eyes. “That was fun! Those guys were so easy…”
Dolcetto opened his mouth to agree, for politeness sake- and it was true, hell, he had been sent around from battle to battle twice and no one had needed his help- when Roa let out a deep lowing sound, a groan of pain. He was holding his side with one vast hand, and when he pulled it away his skin was dark with blood. His other arm held him up by putting his weight on the head of his hammer, but his muscles were shaking. Dolcetto rushed over to try and help him, but the guy was just too heavy, he collapsed under his own weight to a sitting position on the dirty ground.
“Shit,” he heard himself saying, the smell of the blood was so strong. “That doesn’t look good-”
Roa shook his head, as though to brush it off, but he was clearly sweating. The bullet was likely still inside, the severed veins in his torso releasing their wares around it, and it was very possible some internal organ had been damaged, Dolcetto just didn’t know. He pressed his hands over the wound, gritting his teeth, wasn’t this what you were supposed to do? Goddammit, this wasn’t how it was meant to go-
He heard only faintly Martel’s body dropping from one of the rooftops, but he could smell her anxiety as she rushed over as easily as he smelled the blood. They were both spun for a loop- before, even in bad times, none of the chimera had dared go to a real doctor or hospital, in case they were discovered, but this was too serious to ignore. How many men had Dolcetto seen die in the war because of wounds like this? In the back of his head only, he heard footsteps approaching, and a high voice that carried over his own galloping heartbeat.
“Oh, hey there. Yeah, I dunno what they’re freaking out about, I think the cow got himself shot. Did you- hey, Greed-”
For a half-second Dolcetto felt himself flush with a mixture of annoyance and panic- Envy could be such a bitch- but then Greed was standing over him, his skin a normal colour save where it was splashed with blood, and his expression surprisingly concerned.
“Ah, that’s not so good. Hold on, yeah big guy?” He patted Roa’s shoulder lazily, and the larger man grunted in reply.
“Martel, go and get the car ready, we’ll take him to the hospital, it’s not so far.”
Martel nodded and darted away, but Dolcetto made a high noise of protest in the back of his throat, and Greed turned to him in surprise.
“We can’t do that,” he said, eyes wet with his own distress. “Someone might realize what he is. And how are we going to get him to the car? He can’t walk, and he’s too big to carry…”
Greed just shrugged, still somehow unphased- or was he? There was a little bit of discomfort in the line of his shoulders and the angle of his jaw, some kind of fear. Did he care? A good many men would not, if a simple enforcer fell wounded. But somehow, he seemed to.
“A bit of cash will cover up anything undesirable, I’m sure. We are in Dublith, after all. And as for the lift…”
Greed smiled a little, a sideways kind of grin, and turned around.
“...I’m sure you can handle it, right, sweetheart?”
Dolcetto craned his neck backwards to look, and Envy gave the lot of them a disgusted glare, arms folded across their chest. That’s right, they were pretty strong, certainly stronger than they looked- and with that ability to change, the possibilities were numerous. But they also clearly didn’t give a shit about Roa, or anyone, not like Greed did- no, Envy was only here for him. For a second Dolcetto thought they were going to refuse on principle, and then under Greed’s stare they cracked, rolling their eyes and flicking their hair with one arm.
“Whatever,” they said spitefully. “If you really want me to.”
“That’s the spirit, darling,” said Greed.
Chapter 4: Sneaking and Spying
The new vents in the Devil’s Nest worked quite well for their current purpose. Perhaps, a little better than even Mr. Greed had thought they would.
This was what Bido considered as he slithered through them, salamander body coiling and stretching in all the right ways and places, making his passage easy. No one else- save maybe Martel- would be able to do this, and certainly no regular human could ever pull it off. It was the perfect sneak system- Bido could make his way around the Nest from any room, he could even escape the building if he needed to, it was a perfect fail-safe in case the rest of the gang got in trouble. A secret agent in the walls, that was he! What fun. It made him feel special, being able to do this, having his own particular talents put to the forefront. Who would have thought that this malformed, slimy body of his- the most inhuman of the escaped chimeras, the most rawly unappealing- could be so powerful just as it was? It felt nice knowing that he could be helpful to the gang with nothing but his own natural skill set. He didn’t have to change or hide himself to be good.
And these routes were very stealthy- Bido was certain that even the various members of the gang (with the exception, perhaps, of Dolcetto, with his strong sense of smell) didn’t know when he was in them. It was kind of fun, sneaking around in his own private little world, being able to see everything with no one seeing him. Just like the second species he had been made from.
Now, it was night, the sun had long set and all good folks had gone to bed. The gang was quiet tonight, too- no raids or deals or other daring expeditions were being made under the moon. They had just had a big break recently- even though Roa had been injured- and Mr. Greed had decided it best to sit back on their fortunes for a little while, let the atmosphere ‘stew’, whatever that meant. He said that there were always bigger rewards for those who wait, and of course he wanted the bigger reward, he was greedy! Haha. Mr. Greed had a pretty good sense of humour sometimes.
And on the subject of Mr. Greed, there was a light on up ahead, Bido could see it shining in the vent. All of the rooms had ‘ventilation grates’ which, for all functional purposes, were more like windows for the salamander, but most of the lights in the Nest tonight had been turned off. But up here, that was Mr. Greed’s office, wasn’t it? And the light there was nice and bright. Bido wondered what he might be up to, now- and had no particular qualms about taking a peek. He slithered closer, the flexibility of his limbs making his approach close to silent, opening his ears to listen in. Now that he was close, Bido could hear his leader speaking.
“You know, I got this when we were doing all those renovations,” Mr. Greed was saying, and when Bido scooted up close enough to see he was able to tell that the taller man was sitting in the padded chair behind his desk, patting the sleek wooden surface before him with one hand. He was looking across the room at something Bido couldn’t see, not from this angle, anyway.
“I was very...particular about it. Said to the maker that it had to be real strong, strong enough to support some pre-tty hea-vy stuff.”
Oh! Another voice from the corner. But that made sense- why would Mr. Greed be talking to himself? Bido had no good reason to be surprised, that was silly of him, those two were almost constant companions.
Of course Envy was here, too.
“So I was thinking…” Greed continued, and he braced the desk with his arms to shake it, as though testing the durability of the wood. It barely moved, so wasn’t that a good sign? Bido did remember when Mr. Greed had bought that, it had been a huge hassle to get inside because of how heavy it was! That had been a fun day.
“...maybe we should give it a spin.” Mr. Greed was grinning as he said that, eyes still fixated on that corner, sharp teeth touching his bottom lip.
“What the hell,” Mr. (or Miss, Bido both didn’t really know and didn’t really care) Envy grumbled, and only then did he come into Bido’s line of vision, walking slowly towards Mr. Greed on bare feet. Though the words were aggressive, Bido didn’t think Envy was in a bad mood, not really, he was almost always a little grumpy. But the salamander honestly didn’t understand very well what the pair was talking about, surely the desk was sturdy enough for- well, for the purposes of a desk.
Upon reaching the other side of the thing- so that only the wooden expanse separated the two almost-humans- Envy braced his body carelessly against the flat surface and vaulted himself up, curling his legs underneath him. The contact was surprisingly loud, loud enough to make Bido wince in his secret spot, it sounded like Envy must have hurt himself doing it so violently. Was he actually trying to break it? Why would he do that, didn’t Mr. Greed like the desk? But Envy didn’t seem upset or anything, in fact, he suddenly smiled. What was that? An almost nice smile, Bido didn’t think he had ever seen that expression on that face before.
Envy almost never smiled, and when he did it was usually really nasty.
“You know, that’s not bad,” he said, shifting his weight forward onto his knees. The desk made a strained noise, but it stood firm. How strange- surely Mr. Envy wasn’t that heavy, maybe the thing really wasn’t as strong as Mr. Greed had wanted it to be.
“Oh yeah,” said Mr. Greed, and he seemed contented with the situation as well, reaching out and stroking Envy’s thigh where it was exposed between hems of black fabric, his eyes seeming to drift. Bido wasn’t entirely sure that he understood the atmosphere.
“Yeah, I’ve been wanting it like this for a while,” Greed sighed, so softly Bido almost didn’t hear, because those words had probably been meant for Envy’s ears alone, Envy who was still smiling the way he never did when everyone was around.
“Seriously? You’re so typical,” he growled, low and deep in the back of his throat, in a voice that sounded bigger than he was. For some reason, it made Bido shiver. There was an electricity in the atmosphere, a feeling like standing on a rooftop just before a storm. Bido wondered if he should really be watching this- storms were dangerous, after all. But for some reason he couldn’t bring himself to move.
“But since you had it made special...went out of your way…” Envy continued, leaning forward in a way that made the wood beneath him whine, “...I guess I can reward you.”
Maybe Bido was crazy, or his salamander self was acting up for no reason, but for an instant then he had the very distinct impression that Envy was something much, much larger than the stocky human figure he could see. A tremendous beast, so gargantuanly huge he filled the room and more, and in spite of himself the chimera flinched, his instincts suddenly fearing he would be crushed. But no, that was ridiculous. When he looked again, there was no such thing. Of course there wasn’t. It was like Mr. Greed had said, they were ‘artificial humans’, right? No one would make a monster like that- whatever that had been, he had only been aware of it for a fraction of a second- if they were aiming for the image of a human.
And on the subject of Mr. Greed, he chuckled (no, there was definitely nothing odd about him, nothing that seemed to distort the rules of space- he was just a man) and sat forward in his seat, cupping Envy’s cheek to bring their lips together in a kiss.
Oh, my. It started out nice, and then got hotter, Greed pushing Envy back onto his haunches (maybe? something about the movement suggested that the taller man was only guiding the change in position, not physically forcing it, though why or how he couldn’t say) and pulling at strands of long green hair. This was more than the pair usually got up to, when the others were around it tended to be a little more tame…
Then in one sharp tug Envy tore Greed’s shirt off, and something finally clicked in Bido’s head. So that’s what they were testing the desk for. Oh dear. Bido expected that some of the other members of the Devil’s Nest would have picked up on that sooner, but he knew that his own mind had a roundabout way of thinking. He should definitely get going now, even to him it seemed indecent to stick around if they were going to do that. He wasn’t sure if he would be able to look Mr. Greed in the eyes properly afterwards if he stayed to watch.
Using his special muscles Bido backed through the vent, drawing away from the light, into a solitary and comforting darkness. He heard one peel of mean, high-pitched laughter echoing against the walls before turning a corner into better-insulated almost-silence, and from there he scurried quickly back to his own room, trying hard to think about something other than that poor desk. Sneaking and spying was all good fun, but sometimes it led to finding things one didn’t really want to find.
At one point much later in the night a tremendous splintering sound shot through the Devil’s Nest, enough to wake all the sleepers. Bido, from his own bed, heard Dolcetto and Martel get up in a panic, their bare footsteps hard against the floor, voices quick and low, clearly fearing some kind of intrusion or attack. But Bido had a very strong feeling that he knew exactly what the sound had been, and so he didn’t bother getting up to join them.
He might just die from secondhand embarrassment himself if he had to listen to the explanation Greed and Envy would give for the state of the broken desk.
Chapter 5: Greed’s Thesis
“Why do you want to keep them so bad?” Envy said suddenly, breaking the post-coitus silence in the room with sharp words, and a sharp voice. There was no doubt in Greed’s mind of what it referred to- in fact, he was rather surprised that the subject had taken this long to come up. And now that it was here, he should really do his best to diffuse what was surely a point of potential violence- but being frank was no fun, when he could be coy instead.
“Hmm?” he hummed into its hair. “Keep what? My jackets? My watches? I’ve got a lot of stuff, now. You’ll have to be more specific.”
Envy growled dully into his chest, and he could feel its make-believe spine shifting under his hands, fluid, at any moment ready to change. Uh oh, Greed hadn’t thought of that- perhaps he should tread more carefully. It wouldn’t do to have all his new toys squashed. But then, there would be something charming about even that.
“Don’t play with me,” Envy said in a deep voice, and it looked up at him, eyes burning with incredible heat that he could practically feel on his skin- the contrast to its still-cold flesh was remarkable. “Your pets. Why? Why do they matter?”
Greed sighed a little- no dodging that one- but he understood. He was surprised with himself, too. These last few months had been different, he had never spent time with specific people for so long, family excepted. Why would he do that? Why did he care? There was no logical reason for it. His dear dad was such an arrogant man (or man-thing, if he could be called even that), he had always considered himself superior to humanity, it was intrinsic, a truth in his mind as simple and basic as the sun’s rotation around the earth. It was a belief he had passed on to his children, through nature and nurture, a gross and presumptuous attitude that had slipped into them all-
(all, save one, only one had been shouldered with Father’s few insecurities and false bravado, he held it now in his arms)
-and Greed was no exception. There was no part of him that had been made to feel compassion or companionship for humans, nevermind chimeras, artificial monsters that were lower even then that. By all rights he shouldn’t give a shit about anything beyond the value those beasts had as objects, weapons or servants or tools, things for him to use. Greed was supposed to be obsessed with things, the physical and valuable and material, he wasn’t meant to have a heart. And he had been so convinced of it for so long that he hadn’t realized how empty it was to live that way. But somewhere- sometime, maybe, along the winding paths of the calendar, between the neat maps of Dublith and the South- he had changed. When or where exactly, he wasn’t sure, but he had a feeling it had been before he had met these people, the ones now known as the Devil’s Nest gang- the broken but strong, the forsaken beasts that lived on, individuals each with unique personalities and lights behind their eyes. It had started, probably, before he had left, before he had discovered himself open to the creature lying with him now, whose dark hair was wound through his fingers. He didn’t know when he had started to see people as people, not inferior beings, and had begun wanting them just for that.
(He wouldn’t admit this to himself just yet, but there was a part of him in the back of mind that knew- the ultimate desire of the greedy was for companionship, a closeness his creator scorned. That was what he had been really dumped with, Father’s undesired wishes for the weakness humanity called a strength.)
He didn’t know if Envy would understand, were he to try and explain this. It was similar, he knew, in its core it was much the same, but he wasn’t sure if it was capable of realizing that like he had. Or- and this option was much darker, much more bleak, Greed desperately didn’t want this to be true- it was possible that Envy wasn’t capable of true closeness at all. If you desire the traits of someone else, surely that means you don’t yourself possess them. Could the universe really be so cruel, to allow for the existence of a creature that wanted desperately to love and be loved, but would never be capable of actually doing it? He hoped not.
“The fuck’s wrong with you,” Envy said suddenly and Greed realized he had been silent for too long, lost in his own thoughts. With superhuman strength his little sibling changed their position, shoving him over and down so it was now on top, knees and hands sinking deep into the bed on either side of his shoulders and hips. Its hair fell in a graceful curtain across both their faces- really, that was the only graceful thing about Envy at all, and the randomness of that thought caused Greed to chuckle out loud.
“Don’t laugh at me,” it snarled, and for a second a flicker of green darted across its skin, and Greed shut up instantly. “And don’t think. Just tell me.”
“Aww baby, you’re not gonna like it. I don’t have a good answer for you.” He tried to stroke it, patting it in ways and places that another man might use to comfort an injured animal, but it didn’t look impressed. He sighed.
“They’re good folks, the lot of them. Good to keep around, don’t you think? Isn’t it nice? Having a group of people to support you like that- they’re not pets, sweetheart, they’re like fa-”
Greed suddenly didn’t know if he would be able to finish that sentence. That was way too scary a thing to say, and Envy was way too scary a creature to say it to. There was something growing in its eyes now, their faces were close enough that it was easy for Greed to see that violence looming, swelling in seconds from a pinprick to an inferno. Then the light was gone, it shoved him as hard as it could into the bed (which was very, very hard) and clambered off, seeming to shake the earth itself with its footsteps, and the air crackled as it gave its figure clothes again.
“Wait,” Greed found himself saying, sitting up and reaching out for it like a child. He didn’t want it to go, and he didn’t understand it, either. “Where are you going, baby? What’s the matter?”
Envy stopped in the doorway and looked back at him over one muscular shoulder, and its face was terribly open, a wash of mixed emotions exposed on its face. It was angry, obviously, but also hurt, and of course underneath all of that there was that terrible layer of green. The one colour, the one feeling that Envy could never shake. For a second he thought it wasn’t going to reply- that it would just storm off into the night, become someone or something else, go where he couldn’t follow, but it didn’t. Instead, it spoke.
“Then why do you keep me?” Envy said, and then it bit its lip like the question had been unintentional, slipping out without its permission. Those huge purple eyes were glittering, little diamond drops gathering there, ready at any second to fall.
“If they...if they’re your new family, then I...why would I matter? No one-ghhk-”
Air caught in its throat awkwardly and it swallowed, closing its eyes, and in one more sharp indrawn breath it was composed again, dry and cold and mean. Its left hand gripped the doorway so tightly Greed wondered, in the back of his mind, if the wood would splinter, and then it relaxed completely.
Envy tossed its head back with a burning confidence, curling its lips to reveal those subtle little fangs, and that bold appearance was in dissonance with its words.
“No one would ever want me if there was something better. I’m Envy. Envy the Bizarre, the revolting, the pathetic little worm, less than trash in the bottom of a dumpster. So what’s wrong with you, huh? Do you like collecting garbage?”
There was a pause where the air in the room was tight with the question, electric, like someone had just done a transmutation. Greed looked Envy up and down- those strong legs and shoulders, white skin, slender waist and marvellous mop of spikes- and then he found himself laughing out loud. Somehow, the sound changed the colour of the atmosphere more perfectly than any amount of inelegant human science could.
Envy was glaring at him outright, and that indignant expression only made him laugh harder.
“Oh, come on babydoll. You don’t get to tease me, either. No more playing games. I mean, I know you’ve got problems, but you can’t seriously expect me to believe you’re that blind.”
At that Envy cocked its head like a lizard, and Greed could feel himself grinning from ear to ear.
“Look at yourself. You’re strong and powerful and smart, a great liar and trickster. You can do things us regular folks only dream of- like fucking flying, for one- and if anyone pisses you off you can just backhand them and they’ll go through a fucking wall. You can be anything you want to be…”
As Greed said these things, he slid slowly off the bed, taking careful steps towards Envy, as though it was a feral dog that would flee if he moved too fast.
“...and the look that suits you best is super cute, and also pretty damn sexy, if you ask me.”
By now their faces were close enough to kiss, if Greed had wanted to, and during his approach Envy had curled ever so slightly towards him, relaxing, though its eyebrows were still pressed together in a knot. Cute, just like he’d said.
“This isn’t what I really look like, and you know it.” Envy grumbled, and Greed just shrugged, putting one hand on his chin to stroke an imaginary beard.
“You know, that’s something I’ve been thinking about, and I’ve come up with a little...theory, I guess. Wanna hear?”
Envy just glared at him, but it was a familiar kind of glare, not a sign of true danger anymore. He knew it was listening.
“So, most people don’t get to choose what they look like- whatever you popped out as, that’s what you’re stuck with. It’s more to do with what the fuckers that made you look like, than who you are. Outward appearance doesn’t really reflect what folks’ve got going on in their heads, so it’s not really a great way to determine someone’s true character- you’ve got to get to know them before you can figure that out. Beautiful people ain’t always so beautiful on the inside, and vice versa. But you…”
Greed let his hand fall to Envy’s cheek, the pad of his thumb resting gently on the cold skin there. He couldn’t read its expression anymore, and he wasn’t sure if that was a good or bad thing just yet.
“...you can choose. You don’t have to be what Father spit out. And if this-”
Greed made a little sweeping gesture, up and down that lithe figure, his knuckles catching on strands of dark hair.
“-if this is what you want to look like, then as far as I’m concerned this is what you look like, and you look pretty damn good. Nevermind all that shit about worms, or whatever. That’s all Dad. This is the really real you.”
By the time he was finished Envy wasn’t looking at him anymore, its eyes had drifted down to his chest and off into some world inside its head. Its expression was perfectly blank, emotionless save for, perhaps, a little touch of shock. Greed wondered if he had broken its brain. Pretty difficult concept to grasp, maybe, for something that was obsessively insecure about its “true” form. Really, he had expected it to start crying, he could deal with that, but this vague, confused look was a little concerning. Cute, too, but concerning. To fill the silence he spoke again.
“So don’t worry about the chimeras. They’re great, but I’ll always like you more, you’re my most prized possession. Come on, Envy, let’s go back to bed.”
Envy swallowed slowly, still staring at nothing, and then it shook its head.
“No,” it mumbled, and in a few precise reptile blinks it came back to itself somewhat, reaching up to slowly run hands through green hair, pulling the heavy spikes from its face. “No. Not right now.”
Greed reached out to touch its shoulder, wanting to pull it in somehow, words forming on his lips to indicate that he didn’t mean sex, they could just cuddle or sleep or whatever, but Envy cringed ever so slightly away, and dammit, that hurt.
“I’m going out,” it said dully, turning its back to him, and there was nothing in Greed that could argue that, though he very much wanted to. He didn’t like that empty expression at all, and he had no idea what it meant. Envy was a very vibrant creature, expressing all emotions in the most vivid colours, even its misery was huge and explosive and loud. This kind of face was weird, and it didn’t suit Envy at all.
But somehow Greed didn’t feel that he could interfere. Even if he wanted to just grab it and shake it- or kiss it, whatever- until it looked right again, he couldn’t bring himself to move. Perhaps he shouldn’t have said all that. He had thought it would help, but what did he know?
When the doorway was empty, and the soft sound of Envy’s footsteps on the floor had faded even in their echoes, Greed felt very lonely. In fact, he felt a lot like he had before, in the Underground, when his own supposed ‘home’ had been a prison to him, with not a friendly face to be seen. How pathetic- here he sat in a kingdom of his own making, surrounded by luxuries and pleasures and loyal servants, and all of it seemed hollow without his...what? What was Envy exactly? More than just a lover, now. Something more important than that.
Unwillingly, Greed felt himself sigh, and he sat back down on the bed, slumping his shoulders in defeat. He might as well get some sleep, but he didn’t want to move enough to turn off the light-
Suddenly, a sound touched his ears, a rapid thump thump thumping that made the floor vibrate, and he had only enough time to register what the noise meant before Envy whipped back around the doorway, eyes bright and hair flying. It didn’t pause at all, coming towards him with such purpose he had a feeling it might attack, and the Ultimate Shield itched under his skin- and then, with no presentation or preamble in the slightest, it kissed him on the mouth.
Greed made an inelegant little noise in the back of his throat, and then relaxed, closing his eyes. The kiss was purposeful and firm, but also chaste, closed lips as cold as ice pressed against his, the slightest touch of inhuman fingers on his jawbone. Then it pulled away, violet eyes on fire, and left just as quickly as it had come, a flash of black and white and green and elephantine footsteps, retreating in seconds to silence.
For a few moments Greed was struck stupid, sitting like an ape with one hand tracing his lips, and then he came back around and found himself laughing again- he was a silly man, like Roa said, and he lived in a silly world, populated by equally silly- and magnificent- creatures of every sort. What was he to do with himself?
Chapter 6: And They All Lived Happily Ever After (For Now)
“You’re not supposed to look at other people’s cards, you know.”
“Why not? He’s holding them at an angle, am I just supposed to ignore it?”
“Well- alright, they’ve got a point, Bido-”
Greed came up the stairs from the underground to the sounds of this conversation, and on another day he would’ve been happy to hear it, in an ordinary kind of way. It was nice and domestically charming to take a stroll around the Devil’s Nest during off hours, listen to the chimeras (his family, though the word still scared him) play cards and goof off. He liked that they greeted him so warmly, offered to let him join, loved not only that they were such loyal possessions but also that they seemed to care about him as a person. It was almost everything he had ever wanted.
But something was a little off today- was Greed crazy, or was that Envy’s voice he had heard? His little sibling never joined in the fun, it hated the chimeras, or maybe was just jealous of them the way it was with everything. And more than that, after last night he hadn’t expected it to come back so quickly. He had thought it would take more time for itself to sort through whatever mess it had going on inside its head. And yet…
The main section of the bar was lit well by a late-morning sun, the kind of sun that struck through the window proudly and glanced off the bottles and dusty surfaces in a way that made even them seem bright. In the middle of the floor the card table was pulled up, and around it sat the unusual threesome of Bido, Dolcetto and, yes, his Envy, whose poisonous purple eyes darted up to meet his as soon as he stepped into the room. He wasn’t sure what he saw in those eyes- something with a greater depth than what usually lay there. Wait, could it be- no, that wasn’t possible.
“What’s the game?” Greed asked, but he didn’t care, what he really wanted to know was why the younger homunculus had ordained to play.
“Blackjack,” Dolcetto replied, “though you wouldn't know it if you watched. Trying to teach that one-” the dog thumbed in the direction of the homunculus, “-how to play is a feat beyond my capabilities.”
“Shut up,” Envy replied, but it didn’t actually sound very angry, and- what in the world- its lips were curled up at the sides into a tiny, sly smile. “The rules are stupid. Human games make no sense. But then, what else should I expect from inferior beings?”
Dolcetto laughed at that, and Greed felt breathless. He was certain now, he had seen it, that strange colour in Envy’s eyes was contentment. A degree of peace. He had never seen such a thing on that face before, in that creature that was made of raw misery, and hatred, and pain.
Suddenly Greed realized that this- all of this, the bar, the table, the worn deck of cards, the chimeras and his lover and everything- was precious beyond belief. Richer and more beautiful than any amount of the nation’s finest gold and jewelry. With ownership of the image of that little smile, he was the wealthiest man in the world.
“Pull up a seat then, why don’t you,” Dolcetto said to him, “give a pal a hand.”
“Of course,” Greed replied, and he did.