Nothing to Prove

Greed/Envy. R. ~2600 words. Pastfic.
Greed’s houses were always the same, chaotic and too-full, jammed to the rafters with things he didn’t need.

The shopkeeper’s eyes are kind, sunken deep in a nest of wrinkles from a lifetime of smiles. He turns the tarnished box over in his hands, lingering on the blackened edges. Its cover is warped and doesn’t quite close.

“Must’ve been in a fire, was it?” he asks the half-starved urchin. “Well,” he says when the boy doesn’t answer, only sniffs and rubs at a bit of dirt with a dirtier sleeve, “I’d wager it’ll fetch a few pennies, and nothing more.”

He carefully sets the box on a cluttered shelf, a hand braced on the counter to help his shuffling steps. “Here,” he says, sliding a silver coin across the scarred wood.

The boy pockets it and scurries out of the cramped shop, hardly pausing to call, “Thanks, mister!” over the merry jingle of the bell. Outside, other children shout excitedly in the summer heat.

Shaking his head, the old man waits until they rush away before taking the worthless trinket into the back.

*

Greed’s houses were always the same, chaotic and too-full, jammed to the rafters with things he didn’t need. Lace-on skates, battered cookbooks, outdated newspapers, weather-worn statues plucked from the pleasure gardens of the South. A gramophone next to a broken camera played scratchily, skipped every now and then and made the pianist sound as if he’d forgotten the notes.

“Theatre of Horrors?” Envy said, reading a tattered fly-poster. The crude illustration depicted a corpse-like creature gnawing on the leg of a luscious, scantily-clad girl. Just the thing that would appeal to the unwashed masses. “We should put you on stage and let you kill a few of them,” he suggested, tossing the paper back to the top of the pile.

He turned from the cluttered desk to the grainy photographs on the wall beside it. Some were framed, more were tucked in the corners or held up by tacks. Beautiful ladies and handsome gentlemen smiled at him from between bright landscapes and black trains and stone-grey cathedrals reaching for the monotone sky.

“You’re more a monster than I’ll ever be,” Greed said as Envy touched the edge of one, recognised the slim girl, and slipped it into his pocket. It would be weeks before Greed noticed it missing, and months before he discovered she was dead.

“Then we’ll both make our debut,” Envy countered as fine crystal chimed. “A real show, and not these tricks of light and optical illusions.” Another picture caught his eye, a pretty youth, and he reached for it before realising he was looking at a picture of himself. Taken thirteen years ago, from the date etched in the corner. Greed hadn’t been home in seven.

Greed laughed, shut the cabinet door and said, “It’s not much of a show if the audience doesn’t survive.” He held a bottle of wine, two delicate glasses, and still wore his heavy overcoat and top hat from the morning’s outing. “This way,” he said and pushed open the frosted terrace door.

Frozen sunlight slashed the pleasant dimness. Envy hated the cold, the way it clung to his skin like the brush of Dante’s hand. Trekking through the mountains in the dead of winter to visit his wayward brother hadn’t been the first on his list of things to do. But the invitation had come, water-stained and wrinkled, months old, and so had he.

“Put on that coat,” Greed said, gesturing impatiently. Eddies of cold air and a dusting of snowflakes swirled across the floor. “And come outside. I want you to see this.”

The heavy white fur still smelled of a woman’s perfume. Envy scowled, about to refuse; he wouldn’t wear the cast-offs of one of Greed’s whores.

“Put it on,” Greed insisted. “I saved it for you,” he added, and smiled the charming smile that made women melt in the palm of his hand. The one that meant he knew he’d get what he wanted, and get it his way.

“I’d rather stay by the fire,” Envy muttered, but pulled the coat on and followed Greed. That had never changed either, how Greed wanted and Envy gave. It was easier that way, and Envy had always enjoyed being persuaded.

Outside, the world glittered. The iced city fell away beneath them, sparkling clean and clear as diamonds. The northern lake was nothing but a mirror for the sun, shining bright. From there, nestled in the corner of the mountain, it was easy to forget how he hated the dirty, cramped, infested cities.

“You see?” Greed said, arms sliding around him. “It’s worth the trip to see it.”

“If you think so,” Envy replied, letting himself be tugged to the cushioned chairs and into Greed’s lap. “Is that why you dragged me up here, to show me the view?”

Greed handed him one of the glasses, filled it with dark red wine before saying, “I heard you were looking for me.”

“Not really,” Envy said, breath misted in the chill air. Dante had said to watch for Greed, not find him. Being told to find him meant dragging him home, and dragging him home meant he’d be angry and sullen and hardly any fun at all.

“Oh?” Greed raised an eyebrow and set the bottle on a little table. “A dozen of my women dead, a handful of my men, and you weren’t looking for me?”

Envy had forgotten about those. It was just like Greed to focus on the trivial details.

“Gluttony was hungry,” Envy said with a shrug. He didn’t like the bitter cold, didn’t like bitter wine either; Greed was always giving him things he didn’t want.

Still, he tasted the drink because it was there, and looked at the bottle curiously when it flowed sweet over his tongue. “He smelled you, and ate them.” Which was close enough to the truth.

“I see,” Greed said, his tone implying that he did, and all too clearly. A hand slid under the borrowed coat, and warm breath touched Envy’s neck, precursors to the soft, slow kiss pressed to his throat. “Are these real clothes?” he asked.

“Why?” He hadn’t bothered with true clothing in years, not since the last time Dante had tried to send him to the tailor. The shop had burned to the ground, with the tailor’s uppity son inside, and the suits Envy hadn’t used to start the fire were stuffed in the bottom of a trunk to rot. Greed knew that.

“Take them off,” Greed murmured, lips ghosting over the shell of his ear. “And drink your wine.”

“It’s too cold,” Envy complained, but Greed’s hand slipped between his legs, thick claws curled over his dick, and his clothes melted away. The soft fur lining of the coat tickled, and Greed’s shield vanished as strong fingers inched up his chest.

“Better,” Greed said, knuckles idly stroking bare skin. Envy kept the coat wrapped tight and drained the sweetened wine from his glass, hoping the quick burn would chase the bite of cold away.

His vision swam for a moment, and he thought he heard Greed chuckle. “Drink this, too,” Greed said, lifting the second glass to his mouth, tipping it until he parted his lips and swallowed it all. His head rolled back onto Greed’s shoulder, and he felt Greed lift his legs, tuck them under the warmth of the coat.

“Much better,” Greed whispered, and kissed him. He made a half-hearted attempt to kiss back, but the wine made him lazy and he liked the idea of Greed’s attention focused so fully on him.

Minutes passed, and Greed petted him quietly, helping the wine lull him into a pleasant daze. It was the same every time: an invitation, a visit, and a drink too strong just to be alcohol. He blamed the wine for making him forget what came next, and blamed Greed for never forgetting.

“Why do you let her control you?” Greed whispered into his mouth. Cool air spilled across his skin as Greed nudged the fur collar aside. Claws danced lightly across his throat. “I know you hate her,” he said. “You could leave her, she has only Gluttony now.”

Envy laughed, the world fuzzed at the edges and smelling like summer berries. “Do you want me, Greed?”

“Yes,” Greed replied. Since he’d left, he’d never had to bother with lying about what he really wanted. “Leave her to rot. It’s all the bitch deserves.”

The warm cotton tucked around Envy’s brain began to fray at the edges. Freedom had made Greed arrogant. She left him alone because it was too much trouble to deal with him.

“You could come home, instead,” Envy murmured, pretending the wine still flowed strong through his blood.

“I told you, I’ve gotten what I wanted from there,” Greed said. A finger traced Envy’s lips, and he caught the soft, fleshy pad of it between his teeth. “I’m not going back to her.”

Envy bit harder, only letting go when it turned hard as stone against his tongue and he risked breaking his teeth. “I don’t care about her. Old hag,” Envy snapped. He shook off the wine’s lingering haze, pushing Greed’s arms away as his clothes reformed. The wine was gone, and he couldn’t remember either of them drinking it. “I’ll prop your skull on a stick and give it to her myself,” he snarled, sending the bottle skittering across the table and shattering against the stones.

He threw the coat beside it, storming into Greed’s sitting room, looking for more things to break. There was something Greed wanted, something Greed needed, only Greed was too stupid to realise it.

“Envy,” Greed said, not the least concerned. Envy hated that, how Greed could pretend he wasn’t angry. Absolutely hated it.

“Got what I wanted,” Envy mimicked, his voice shifting to a mockery of Greed’s. “Nothing there I need.” He tore through a mound of silk scarves and the boxes of gaudy jewellery. “I still have something you want,” he hissed in his own voice.

“I invited you here, didn’t I,” Greed said, black claws seizing Envy’s wrists in a crushing grip and jerking him close. “Did you plan on hauling me back to her, playing the dutiful son bringing the rogue home?”

“I should,” Envy said, trying to twist his arms free, hissing again as claws started to sink into flesh. “I should.”

“You won’t,” Greed said, and kissed him again, hard and careless. “Not this time.”

“You’re so certain.” Envy licked his bruised lips, felt the sting of small cuts from Greed’s teeth heal. “What makes you-”

“I bought you a present.”

Envy paused. He couldn’t remember the last time someone had bought him a present. He didn’t need presents, had no use for trinkets or tokens or any of the useless things Greed always wanted.

“I don’t want your worthless junk,” Envy started.

“There, on the dresser,” Greed said, ignoring him. “In the green box.”

Curious enough to bother, Envy picked up the neatly wrapped package and looked at it doubtfully. “What is it?”

“Customarily, you open it to find out,” Greed said. “You should remember at least that much.”

“Of course I remember,” Envy snapped, and if he’d thought about it, he would have. But only Greed thought about those sorts of things, then.

He picked at the paper as Greed closed the doors, leaving the broken glass and ruined coat in the snow. Envy lifted out the tiny silver box with its gilded trim and beaten figures. He thought he should know what the snarling beast and the sleeping man sharing the cover meant.

“Representations of envy,” Greed said, giving him a slanted grin. “I thought you’d appreciate the monster most.”

“I’m not one of your whores,” Envy said. His touch lingered on the sleeping man as he thought of how to keep Dante from noticing it. She always paid a little too much attention to him these days, after Lust had died.

“No,” Greed agreed, long fingers sliding into the hair at Envy’s nape, thumbs gently brushing the sensitive skin below his ears.

Greed leaned down to kiss him again – with Greed, it was always kisses, too many kisses – and Envy said, “I brought you more.”

Greed stopped – Greed never stopped – and Envy kissed him instead. The taste of wine clung to Greed’s mouth, and Envy licked it away, traced the line of vicious teeth with his tongue. When Greed didn’t kiss him in return, he drew back.

“More stones,” Greed said, his grip turning painfully tight. His eyes were sharp, pupils thinned to nothing.

“Of course,” Envy said, warily pushing a hand under Greed’s and trying to make him let go. “Stop hurting me, and you can have them.”

Greed jerked his hands away, shield rippling down his arms only to vanish a heartbeat later. “I don’t want them.”

Envy laughed as he put the trinket box on top of the crowded desk. He searched through the few things he’d brought with him to find the pouch of red stones. “Here,” he said, and tossed the bag gently to Greed. “You can’t tell me you don’t want them.”

“I don’t,” Greed said, and let the bag strike the floor at his feet. Sweat glistened on his upper lip, and he licked it away.

Envy stared at the fallen pouch, then looked slowly up at Greed. “Don’t be stupid,” he said, getting to his feet. “Even you know you’ll die without them.”

“I don’t want them,” Greed said. Envy watched in disbelief as he kicked the bag to the fireplace, and felt his own gut clench. He’d risked his own neck stealing those stones, to bring them there, and Greed didn’t want them.

“Take them, Greed,” Envy said, picking up the pouch, holding it out to him. Giving him one last chance. Greed made no move to take it, and Envy shoved it in his face. “Take them!”

“I don’t want anything that’s hers.” Black claws sliced through the air, ripped open his palm and the pouch in a rush of blinding pain. The stones pattered to the floor with his blood. Envy screamed, hand clutched to his chest, waiting for it to heal and the fiery pain to stop. “I don’t need her to keep me alive,” Greed growled.

“You’re a fool,” Envy said quietly, flexing his fingers. He’d suffered to get those stones, and Greed didn’t even have the decency to accept them. Dante didn’t have anything to do with it. It was his help Greed wouldn’t take, not hers. His. “A stupid, childish idiot!”

Envy’s hand closed around the silver box, brought it smashing straight into Greed’s face. Hot blood trickled down his arm, then another flash of pain, the feeling of claws sinking into his gut and twisting. He screamed when they wrenched free, stumbled back and nearly fell to his knees. Screamed again as he threw the box into the fire, shifted his hands into copies of those vicious claws and went straight for Greed’s throat.

*

Gluttony covers his head with his hands when Envy slams the door. The darkened chandeliers rattle, and dust drifts endlessly through the underground city’s stale air. The shopkeeper’s blood on Envy’s face is still wet.

“Greed?” Gluttony says, sniffing at the air. He wrinkles his nose, shuffling and snuffing in Envy’s wake. “Greed is back?”

“Greed is dead, you idiot,” Envy snarls, smashing his fist into Gluttony’s confused face. “You were there.”

Gluttony tumbles back and howls for Lust, huge hands raised to ward him off. In the shadows, hiding from him, he can hear the brat snickering. Envy turns away, disgusted, and slams another door.

The ruined box in his hand burns.

End

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