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“What are you doing here, whore?”

Grantaire didn’t give the asshole the satisfaction of a sigh, but he was tempted. Instead, he painted on his most charming smirk. The one he trotted out when Valjean thought they ought to have lunch in the Sentinel Center café rather than in one of the 12,000 restaurants in Paris that would keep him from interacting with exactly the kind of fucker who thought it was smart to walk up to a Guide in a room packed full of Sentinels and call him a whore.

Marius had actually introduced himself by punching someone who’d insulted Grantaire while he was in the lobby waiting for Valjean to step off the elevator. The punch had been terrible, and had probably done more damage to Marius’s hand than the other guy’s face, but the impulse was almost universally shared amongst any Sentinel worth the name. Two days later the same Sentinel might turn around and be the one to treat Grantaire like he was scum on the bottom of their shoe, but at the moment, their instincts wouldn’t let them stand idly by and listen to a Guide be insulted.

Grantaire tended to ignore the hypocrisy until later, when he wasn’t concerned with ending his most recent spat before it turned into a metaphorical dick measuring contest. (When Guides fought, everyone ended up with a headache, and Grantaire in particular got stared at like he was a freak of nature.) “Like everyone else in the room, I was invited.”

“By who?” The Sentinel spat, like he had the authority to throw Grantaire out.

“I’m pretty sure the emails just get sent out automatically.”

Apparently teasing was not the way to go to diffuse this situation. The Sentinel sneered something about how Grantaire would know all about lists, wouldn’t he? The innuendo didn’t make much sense, but Grantaire had plenty of skill at interpreting disdain.

Graintaire had mountains of practice with that particular tone since with his empathy he could usually feel the traditionalists in their Gifted community all but writhe with their abhorrence of him. Like he was tracking mud across their very souls with his stained feet. Though it was only the young, stupid, or drunk who actually put such a thing into words. Valjean didn’t hold with that kind of language and the old man was so strong that the stable, smart, and sober knew better than to challenge him.

Or sometimes, they held their tongues because they had yet to discover a word that accurately conveyed their disdain because whore simply wasn’t potent enough. (At the last party one of the chaperones had called him a harlot. Grantaire couldn’t even be mad at the revulsion underneath it because the word had made him giggle.)

Their righteous indignation would have been more meaningful if Grantaire hadn’t been able to feel the lust dripping off most of them, trailing invisible rivulets down their skin like a moment in his company was the hormonal equivalent of breathless, sweaty, midsummer sex. The man currently calling him a whore and trying to use his bulk and his flying spittle to back Grantaire into a corner was all but vibrating with the urge to slam Grantaire down and take his mouth right there in front of witnesses to prove that he was the one who could make Grantaire submit, that he was Sentinel enough to bring him to his knees.

Those that didn’t make Grantaire want to scrub off the feel of the their grasping, greedy fingers made his stomach churn with their jealousy. The old biddy who’d introduced ‘harlot’ into his vocabulary had nearly crackled green with envy at the thought of bedding someone other than the Sentinel she’d settled on.

There’d been a boy when she was young. An ungifted boy with a thick, tangle of curly black hair that she’d always wanted to plunge her hands into and drag him into a kiss. Decades later and still she wondered what that hair would’ve felt like between her fingers. She hated Graintaire, not because of what he’d done, or who’d slept with, but because she never had.

Every Guide had their own talents, their own predisposition towards certain Gifts. Just as certain Sentinels had better eyesight, or sense of smell, or were naturally more lethal in a fight, a Guide might be better at instilling a sense of calm, or focusing senses. For Grantaire, his empathy was off the charts, and he wasn’t good at much else.

(The two people Grantaire had come across who had been selflessly disappointed with his life choices had been what brought him to his knees.)

When he’d first come online the constant barrage of other people’s emotions had driven him to drink just to get through the day. Grantaire could barely articulate how grateful he was that Valjean had taken him under his wing. Most of the supervisors that the Center assigned to the underage Gifted would’ve given Grantaire a lecture on self control and told him he just needed to find his Sentinel to keep himself under control. Valjean however, had dragged Grantaire to a clinic and gotten him sober. Unbonded Sentinel though he was, Valjean found his center and kept his balance through his faith, which didn’t do much for Grantaire, but the man had encouraged him to find something similar. Jehan was the one who’d pointed out how happy Grantaire was when he was painting, and how silly it was that Grantaire had been encouraged to give it up because it wasn’t a skill he could use to support his Sentinel.

From there, things had sort of just spiraled. He and Jehan had both been poorly served by the Center’s traditional way of doing things, and tender-hearted Jehan wondered if perhaps there might be others in their same predicament who weren’t quite so lucky. They’d put together a business of sorts, one where they helped those Sentinels and Guides who were struggling to find a better way to handle their Gifts.

When his fellow Gifted were being politically correct they called Grantaire a “courtesan.” But out of his hearing – and as the evening progressed – correctness went the way of the ballroom’s wine. No matter what they called him, Grantaire still sold his own Guide gifts, not through the rules and regulations of the Center, but to clients of his own choosing and for monetary gain. Half the time Grantaire refused who the Center referred to him, and took who they told him to stay away from, just to be contrary.

Politely put: Grantaire was a prostitute.

“Don’t say that about yourself!” He could practically hear Jehan scolding, but it was true. While he and Jehan technically ran their little business together, romantic that Jehan was, he only offered strictly platonic services. Grantaire, however -- when the inclination struck him -- had no qualms with sleeping with a Sentinel that wasn’t his. Apparently that ‘promiscuity’ made him the dregs of Gifted society.

In fact, after the spitting Sentinel stormed away, a gaggle of other Gifted felt like walking up to tell him just that. Grantaire had gotten accustomed to being shunned and berated, but he could only get called a whore so many times in one night before it started to wear on him. The wearing might not have cut quite so deep if any of his so-called-friends had intervened when he started projecting stress and “come save me!” vibes five minutes ago.

Grantaire only gone to the damn Sentinel-Guide mixer in the first place because Jehan needed someone to stand in the corner with to make his hopeless pining for Courfeyrac seem less creepy.

For all Jehan’s numerous friends, Grantaire was the only other Gifted he could trust to lurk with him without a lecture. Friends like Joly and Musichetta would curl up with Jehan and encourage him to just climb into bed with Courfeyrac and his platonic triad and make the best of it. (“It’s not like Combeferre and Enjolras aren’t fun to look at.”) On the other hand, Bossuet and Eponine would break out the wine and the Chinese takeout and point out that they’d seen the way Courfeyrac watched Jehan, and if Courf wasn’t willing to fight for him, he wasn’t worth the energy.

Despite their advice, they were all ungifted, and not even Jehan’s poetry could adequately explain that, for all they weren’t having sex, the members of the triad were fundamental to one another. Or rather, Courf and Ferre were necessary to Enjolras.

On paper, Enjolras St Just was a middling Sentinel. His senses were barely stronger than a regular human’s and he’d written half a dozen articles about his distaste for the physical violence that established Gifted hierarchies. But despite that, the whole community called him Apollo. (Outside his limited hearing range, of course.)

Not because of his golden hair and wrathful temper, though they were both contributing factors, but because his voice set the blood on fire.

In the ten years he’d been online Enjolras’s little sub-pack of students and revolutionaries had done more for Guide rights than had been done since the Revolution. They had shifted what it meant to serve the tribe, that millennia-old imperative that governed all Sentinels. Yes, Sentinels could still serve in the military or the police force if they chose, but Enjolras believed more in serving through clothing the naked and feeding the hungry than fighting against France’s enemies. Without Enjolras, Grantaire and Jehan probably would’ve been hauled into the Center for remedial Guide training and doped until they caved to an unwilling bonding that might keep them in line. This meant the Council’s elite hated him, while the young and the ordinary would follow him to hell and back.

But Enjolras was nothing without Courfeyrac and Combeferre.

Though one was a Guide and the other a Sentinel, together the both of them were enough to keep Enjolras balanced most of the time. He still spiked a few times a month, but they were nothing compared to the near constant pain he’d been in before they’d started operating as close to a triad as they could get without actually having sex with each other.

Grantaire had actually met Enjolras when his partners brought him in to Jehan for a meditation session, which had been fruitless since stillness cranked up Enjolras’s brain rather than calmed it. Jehan had recommended yoga with Grantaire, but the two of them couldn’t stop arguing long enough to get into downward-facing dog. They whole triad had regular appointments with Jehan after that, while Grantaire got called upon only in dire situations. (Apparently he annoyed Enjolras so much that the man would center his senses just to be in a position to shout at him.)

Now the three of them were entwined in such a way that Courf and Ferre couldn’t, and wouldn’t, leave until Enjolras had someone who could give him more support than they could. Basically, Jehan could be Courfeyrac’s one true Guide out of a fairy tale and they would still be apart because Courf wouldn’t abandon his best friend, and Jehan wouldn’t want the kind of man who would.

Grantaire couldn’t fault Jehan for spending the whole evening flitting back and forth between Grantaire’s desert-stacked plate and scattered clumps of people who happened to be in the general vicinity of Courfeyrac. He didn’t mind the isolation, or that he would be stuck doing cardio tomorrow to burn through all the calories he’d consumed tonight, or that Valjean would surely hear about this and turn up Grantaire’s flat to repair the damage to his self esteem. Grantaire had arrived at the party with his game face on and a suit so perfectly tailored that he looked lithe and delectable with an ass you could bounce a coin off of. He had expected the dirty looks he always got when he went into polite society, but sometimes the words still managed to slice through him like knives.

He could forgive Jehan for leaving him to run a gauntlet of cruelty since the poor fool had tripped over his own two feet and spilled a cup of green tea down Combeferre’s back.

Where Jehan had gotten tea at a mixer Grantaire didn’t know, but that seemed insignificant compared to the twist of fate that had led to spilling on Combeferre. Courfeyrac would’ve laughed and Jehan would’ve spent the next twenty minutes in pleasant conversation, because no one could make freaking lemonade out of lemons like Courf. Hell, the man could make lemon cream pie. Even Enjolras was likely to turn it into a diatribe about the poor treatment of Guides somehow leading to his clumsiness.

Combeferre on the other hand, Grantaire couldn’t actually recall a time when he’d seen Combeferre smile. Or talk to someone who wasn’t Courf or Enjolras.

So while Jehan could be forgiven, Courfeyrac could not. Neither could Marius who was only technically considered a friend because of their mutual tie to Valjean. Marius, however, probably considered everyone from his professors to the barista at Starbucks to be friends. Those two were supposed to scent social discomfort in the air and sweep in to make everything better. They’d managed to save Grantaire from awkward, “How can you disgrace our people like this?” conversations before, and he’d silently been expecting them to do it again.

Grantaire was not at all contemplating the notion that he might’ve liked Enjolras to engage in some of that primitive nonsense that drove everyone else who’d spoken to him tonight. Maybe knock someone out with the hindbrain aggression he found so reprehensible and then drag Grantaire into a kiss that he just couldn’t help but melt into because Enjolras had defended his nonexistent honor, and really, Grantaire needed to spend less time with Jehan if these were the kind of thoughts he was having.

Either way, Grantaire had seen Enjolras across the room just before he started getting berated the first time. He didn’t know where Enjoras had run off to, but it hadn’t been to help him.

Not that Grantaire had expected it, but it would’ve been nice.

Enjolras had interrupted at least half a dozen of these spiteful interludes before, though never quite on purpose. The two of them could spat and tease and infuriate one another, but mercy help whatever fool tried to talk one of them like they spoke to each other. The last person who wasn’t Grantaire who called Enjolras Apollo to his face had gotten glowered within an inch of his life, while someone who’d grumbled about Enjolras being defunct had Grantaire lay bare his inadequacies for all and sundry to hear.

More often than not, Grantaire preferred to just lead his heckler around the room into Enjolras’s hearing range, twisting around the conversation to make it sound like it wasn’t so much about Grantaire’s sexual proclivities as it was about the sexual double standards that plagued all Guides. Enjolras would turn away from the gaggle of Guides hanging on more to the movements of his mouth than his actual words and come to spar with Grantaire. With the Sentinel and his notorious temper by his side, Grantaire would be safe from scorn for the rest of the night.

On this night however, it seemed his entire support system had vanished, leaving him alone to smash a slice of cake into someone’s face and storm out of the mixer to the sound of affronted shrieks. By the time he made it home the only thing to be grateful for was that his flat had amazing soundproofing. He stripped out of the suit and donned the grubby sort of painting clothes he’d never wear in front of a client and settled in front of his easel on the little second floor he called his studio.

The soundproofing meant Grantaire could crank his stereo as loud as he wanted and paint away the throbbing ache that came from another reminder that Enjolras wasn’t his. He would’ve felt better if he was just hurt by the scorn he had felt coming at him from all directions, but it didn’t help that all that scorn just fed right in to Grantaire’s belief that no matter what he did, or how hard he tried, Enjolras would never choose him. Not that Enjolras held with that animalistic bonding, taking a Guide the first time you meet them, sort of thing. (And not that Grantaire had had dreams about Enjolras doing that very thing.) Getting left alone to be derided as a whore was just par for the course for Grantaire, but still, he wanted to spend the night with his playlist and his painting to purge the ache from his system before he had to face Jehan and his knowing eyes the next morning.

The trouble with that cranked sound system was that along with taking control of Grantaire’s heartbeat and livening it back up, it managed to drown out the buzzing of Grantaire’s cell phone. Which under normal circumstances would be fine, but on this particular night turned out to be a clusterfuck.

The baseline of the current song was a little thumpier than Grantiare remembered, but he didn’t pay much attention since that suited his mood. At least, not much attention until his front door slammed open.

“Grantaire!” Jehan shouted, and Grantaire lurched half over the mezzanine railing to see what had him here so late. (Or early as the case may be.) Only it seemed Jehan hadn’t slammed open the door in a fit of his own melancholy since Courfeyrac was following right behind him.

Grantaire gave them both his dirtiest possible grin. “And what are you two up to?”

“Enj is spiking in zone.” Courf declared, with not a trace of his usual cheer.

“He-he’s what?” Grantaire’s heart dropped into his stomach. Usually when a Sentinel zoned they slipped into something that could most closely be described as a coma. Spiking occurred when a Sentinel lost control of their senses, and usually led to a zone. Both were something the right Guide could pull them out of. A spiking zone was the blending of both: no control over senses and no ability to fight it.

“He just dropped at the party. Courf says that one minute he was grumbling about having to be there in the first place and the next he grabbed his head and hit the floor. He’s not together enough to tell us what set him off.”

Grantaire scrambled down his stairs, grabbing a jacket and calling out, “Where is--”

“I helped Combeferre and Courf get him back to their apartment, but the two of us weren’t enough to pull him out.”

“Did you—”

“He screamed when the Alpha Prime Guide touched him.” Courfeyrac interrupted. As a Sentinel himself, he didn’t understand why the two Guides were still standing around talking when they should already be out the door.

“The Alpha Prime is an asshole,” Grantaire snapped. “That doesn’t tell me anything about what’s going on.”

“Enj is in agony, what the hell else do you need to know?” Courfeyrac shouted. “If this is about your fee, then--”

Jehan stopped him with a slap. The fury on the sweet Guide’s face was enough to tell Courfeyrac that he’d crossed a line. Jehan stretched out the same hand that had just stung Courfeyrac’s face and took Grantaire’s hand in his.

“R--” Courfeyrac tried to apologize, but Jehan cut him off. “You don’t get to call him that!”

Courfeyrac raised his hands in peace. “Grantaire, I’m sorry. That was completely uncalled for. It’s just, he’s my brother. He’s my brother and he’s hurting, and for the first time in a long time, there’s nothing I can do to help him.” Grantaire’s night had been rough enough that he didn’t really give a shit about Courf basically calling him a whore just like everyone else had, but the explanation was appreciated. Jehan still kept his hands on Grantaire though, denying Courfeyrac any sign that the apology was accepted.