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Family Circus

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Lust was getting a migraine. It had started with an aura, a little blind spot that had popped into her vision the minute Envy sidled up to her and said family meeting. Now, sat around the big oval table in Father's room, it was steadily tightening its coils. At least it was dark in here.

If she asked Father, he'd melt it away with a single touch to her forehead. But there was no way she would ask him in front of everyone like this. She massaged a temple with the pad of her index finger, discreetly.

As Wrath delivered his report, he clasped his hands in a statesmanlike fashion; always vaguely irritating to Lust. He seemed to forget so easily that he was the youngest of them, a junior partner in the family firm. All that time playing dictator had swelled his head. She'd had high hopes that living with Pride would take him down a peg or two, but sadly not. Pride kicked his heels as the report went on, and rolled his eyes at the boring bits.

Sloth was sat hunched on a tiny stool, chewing the edge of the table with a hazy, ruminative expression. She wished he wouldn't do that; it'd only get Gluttony curious about whether the table was tasty, and then he'd get colicky and she'd have to rub his tummy, and try and get him to down a vat of peppermint tea without eating the teabags.

Gluttony ran a speculative fingertip along the table's edge. He poked his tongue out and licked it a bit. Lust exhaled. He turned his bright little eyes on her. "Lu-ust? Can -"

"No," said Lust briskly. "Bad for your tummy." She gave Sloth a dirty look. After a moment, he stopped chewing, pushed his bottom lip out in a lantern-jawed pout, and leaned his chin on the table.

Gluttony sat back down on his stool, good as gold. Wrath huffed at the interruption, then rumbled on. The invisible band around Lust's temples tightened; she repressed a wince.

Father sat at the end of the table, chin propped on one hand, leaving them to it. These days, he rarely interrupted their squabbles unless one was shifting towards a fight, just waited for the argument to fizzle out. He was looking tired. The closer they moved to their goal, the more it seemed to take out of him. Lust fretted a little; she'd really thought he would have more energy again with Greed in him, but he still looked so old.

Greed might have been gone for years, but she'd always had the satisfaction of fantasising about what he'd have to say in these meetings. Usually the things she'd feel like saying but never utter. She tried it, idly. Imagined him with his pointy boots crossed up on the table, his lips tugging down and his eyes half-shut in a theatrical display of boredom; or perhaps grinning so broadly, at his own cleverness or someone else's stupidity, that his face looked like it would unhinge. She tried to make Imaginary Greed say something caustic, but he remained unmoving and silent as a photograph. She felt tight-chested with irritation at the smug little traitor. This game really wasn't the same now that he was dead.

Wrath pushed a little stack of files into the centre of the table. He was explaining an idea he'd had for keeping tabs on Mustang: Envy, wearing a suitably alluring body, should start sleeping with one of Mustang's soldiers, to see what information he could pick up. Apparently, the notion came from a thriller Wrath's wife had been reading, which made him certain that this was the sort of trick humans would go for. The range of subjects that could give Wrath an excuse to bring up his wife was astonishing.

"Euch, humans," said Envy.

"Mmm, humans," purred Lust, hoping to needle him.

"Mmm, humans," repeated Gluttony. He sounded plaintive. He was obviously still disappointed about the table.

Lust leant forwards, looking upside down at the files Envy was flipping through, photograph by photograph. A sharp-faced man, a puppyish boy with spectacles, a blonde woman, and - hello.

She flicked out a claw and had the file she'd spotted out of Envy's hands and in her own before he could so much as squeak. He squeaked anyway. He'd lost a fingertip; he scowled at her and shook his hand while it grew back.

"Frankly, this isn't your style," said Lust. "This assignment could go on for months; I'm far better with humans than you. Your need to fuck with people always ultimately wins out. You can be anyone, but I don't have to be. I'm perfectly effective as me."

Envy slouched forward and growled at her. Little crackles of blue light flickered over his back, but he managed to hold back from the transformation that would just go and prove her point. She had him.

Father huffed at them both, and raised a finger. Envy lowered his gaze; Lust nodded apologetically. He was perfectly right: she knew she shouldn't let herself sink to Envy's level, but sometimes it was hard work.

Father said, "Lust can have the assignment." Envy mouthed suck-up at her. She smiled sweetly.

After she'd checked out the set of photographs thoroughly and then flipped back to her favourite one, Lust thought that for professionalism's sake, she should probably read the file too. She was surprised and a little disappointed to learn her target was unattached; complications always sharpened the thrill of the chase. Still, she couldn't complain about the quarry. And the mission would get her out of here and up into the city, with its swarming herds of humanity, its petroleum fumes and smells of cooking food, its music and life and heat.

You always come back to your family; but sometimes, you just have to get out of the house before they drive you nuts.