“Grantaire.” Enjolras put a hand lightly on Grantaire’s arm as their friends and comrades slowly filtered out of the room. He pitched his voice low so that only Grantaire could hear him under the din of parting conversations. “Would you stay for a moment? I’d like to speak with you.”
Grantaire was the only omega member of their group, and a male omega at that. Enjolras valued the perspective he brought to their discussions – when he could be bothered to offer it. Most days Grantaire swung from helpful and clever to disruptive and witty and back again, at turns melancholic or cheerful, hopeless or focused on answers. He was changeable and unpredictable, with moods that ebbed and flowed with the tide of their meetings. That was simply how he was, and though Enjolras might not understand it, he thought he knew by now how to take the measure of Grantaire’s moods and bring him into their conversations. Grantaire could be frustrating, but he was also an asset, and a good friend to them all. Enjolras did his best to remember that when Grantaire decided to be provoking.
Today, however, had been different. Grantaire had been acting oddly since he arrived at their usual meeting – not merely distracted and jocular, but nearly manic. He had talked incessantly, laughed at everything serious, sneered at anything merry. When he’d begun to sing a satirical song over Enjolras’ strategy discussion, Enjolras had lost his temper and snapped at him. If you cannot be useful, at least be silent while others are.
It was an unworthy thing to say to a friend, even if provoked, and all the worse coming from an alpha to an omega. Enjolras despised the sort of alpha who believed he – or she – was superior by birth and ordered betas and omegas around as though it was his right. His words had been designed to hurt, and he feared they had. Grantaire had fallen silent for the rest of their meeting, and that had felt far more wrong than the constant interruptions. Enjolras had wished he could take his words back the moment he spoke them, but he could only do the second best thing and apologize for them now. Enjolras hated to be in the wrong, but he hoped he was strong enough to admit it when he was.
Grantaire gave Enjolras a curt nod and sat down again at the table he’d occupied during the meeting. When the last of their friends was gone, he spoke before Enjolras could.
“Let me save you the trouble of your lecture. I am a nuisance, I disrupt your grand work, I must mend my ways or depart. You see, there is no need to waste your breath. I already know the content, and after today you’ll be rid of me.”
Something very much like panic washed over Enjolras. Rid of him? He fought the feeling down and found his voice. “Grantaire, I wanted to apologize. I was thoughtless and cruel, and that is my fault, not yours. Please, forgive me.”
“…ah.” Grantaire leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. “That is – kind of you to say. But we both know it isn’t true.”
“Please,” Enjolras said again. “Tell me you accept my apology. And that you aren’t truly leaving.”
“I can do only one of those. I am leaving; today was my last day here at the Musain.”
“Why?” The question burst out of him with more force than he intended, but Grantaire didn’t seem to notice.
“Congratulate me,” he said, voice heavy with irony. “I am going to be bonded.” He raised a glass to Enjolras, then downed the contents in one swallow.
Enjolras stared at him. Of all the things that Grantaire could have said, that one had never crossed his mind. He had never expected- never thought- Grantaire was-
He forced out a single word: “Who?”
Grantaire shrugged. “I can’t rightly remember. I wasn’t paying attention. Something with a T.” He reached to pour more wine into his glass, but Enjolras put his hand on the bottle first and held it firm.
When he looked at Grantaire, Grantaire looked away first. “He’s in business with my father. I’m something by way of an investment in the family firm. My father is rid of a tiresome omega son, and paid well for the trouble. A business alliance is created. The Musain grows quieter; the ABC less abased. Everyone wins.”
“Everyone except you. You can’t mean to tell me you, you agreed to this.” Enjolras’ earlier panic was coming back, along with a cold, hard anger.
Grantaire gave him a sharp and humorless smile. “My dear Enjolras, no one asked me. You don’t make inquiries of property.” This time when he reached for the bottle Enjolras let him have it. “And I’m sure my darling future bondmate won’t ask me how I wish to spend my days or with whom. I’ve been told that you are not ‘proper company’ for the omega of an alpha of means.” Grantaire’s knuckles were white around the bottle and his hands were shaking.
Enjolras closed his eyes for a moment to center his thoughts. There was no time for rashness or rage, as much as he wanted to indulge in those feelings. Grantaire needed him to be calm. He could be furious at Grantaire’s father, his partner, the whole broken order of society later. Deep breaths. Focus. “What can we do?”
“What?” Grantaire looked at him as though he hadn’t understood the question. “There’s nothing to do, not for you. Me, I’ll do as I’m told, like the good little omega I am. That’s the only option there is.”
“This is the injustice we are fighting against. There must be something. What good is all our talking if we can’t even protect one of our own?” So much for calm. Enjolras’ voice had snapped with anger at the end. He forced it back down and tried to regain his composure.
Grantaire was nodding. “I see, of course. Ever faithful to your work. I am sorry to let you down, oh leader of men, but this cause is a lost one.”
The despair in his voice was intolerable. Grantaire had said such things before, but this was the first time Enjolras had believed he meant them.
“No.” Enjolras began to walk back and forth across the room. He did his best thinking while walking. “I cannot believe that. We could help you leave town, erase your trail.”
“And go where? To some place where an omega can leave in peace without an alpha holding his leash? If you’ve found such a paradise you should have mentioned it sooner.”
Enjolras gritted his teeth and held back a retort. Grantaire was right. He was approaching this as an alpha and wondering what he himself would do. The system was broken, but Grantaire couldn’t wait for the laws to change. He needed help now. What would get Grantaire out without compromising his safety or making him an outlaw for life?
“Your father has legal control because he is your alpha and guardian under law until you bond.” When he put it that way, there was on obvious solution. “If you bond with someone else first, his legal right will be void. And even if the contract stands, he can’t make you bond twice.”
“Yes,” said Granatire. The fight was gone from his voice; now he just sounded tired. “Of course I thought of that. So did my father. He has given me no time – it’s to be tomorrow. Maybe I could find someone to fuck me tonight, but I’d only be handing my freedom to one stranger rather than another.”
The profanity was a deliberate provocation, but Enjolras supposed Grantaire had every right to use it. What was happening to him didn’t deserve to be dressed up in polite language. He ignored it and continued.
“Then – not a stranger. A friend. Someone you can trust not to abuse the bond.”
Grantaire snorted. It was good to see some fight left in him, even if it was against Enjolras himself. “Yes, an alpha friend, I have so many of those. Let me catalogue them: Bahorel is bonded, Bossuet will be soon, and Feuilly is married. Should I ask one of them to put aside their own lives and loves for me? I have no alpha friends who are not spoken for.”
Grantaire’s words felt like a blow, and Enjolras recoiled as though they had been.
“I see.” He tried to swallow his hurt and keep his voice level. “Those are the only alphas you would call friend.”
He could see Grantaire’s confusion. Clearly it hadn’t even occurred to him to think of Enjolras as his friend. “Of course I didn’t mean – you’re my – ah, damn.” He put a hand up to his face and rubbed his forehead. “You are unavailable because you would never bond with me. Now my list is complete.”
“It contains a falsehood.” Enjolras felt as though his breath had deserted him all at once. The world had narrowed down to one possibility. It was – logical. That was all it could be. “I would. If you asked me.”
Grantaire stared at him. For once he seemed at a loss for words. “You can’t be serious.”
“I am always serious. But the choice is yours.” I can’t be worse than the man you’ve been sold to. You can’t despise me that much. He dug his fingernails into his palms to focus on keeping those words private. “I would not abuse the role. I swear it.”
Intense emotion flashed across Grantaire’s face before he twisted his mouth into a mocking sneer. “Of course you wouldn’t. Why would you? There’s nothing you want from me.”
“I want your happiness. Your freedom.” Your friendship. Your- Enjolras crushed the thoughts that followed. Grantaire had enough to worry about without Enjolras adding to his burden. “Isn’t that enough?”
“Is it?” asked Grantaire. “Can you really do it? Think this through, Enjolras. Your willing sacrifice is noted – but can you,” Grantaire grimaced and swallowed hard before continuing, “can you go to bed with me, fuck me? Not just once, but as many times as it takes? Are you capable of that?”
“I am capable.” At least, there was no reason why he shouldn’t be. He was a virgin, true, but he’d taken himself in hand without problems. And if his mind often strayed to Grantaire at those times without his meaning to – well, that was a fact Enjolras tried to ignore. Grantaire deserved better than to be the unwilling subject of Enjolras’ fantasies. And that brought him right back to the real problem. “Are you?”
Grantaire began to laugh, harsh and rough. It took several seconds for him to gain enough control to speak. “Oh, yes. I can endure it.” He stood up, unsteady for a moment as he gained his footing.
“Are you drunk?” asked Enjolras, suddenly concerned.
“Why? If I said yes, would you change your mind and leave me to be bargained off?” Enjolras winced, and Grantaire’s expression softened, just a little. “I’m not drunk, though we both might wish I were by the end. God. You truly mean to do this?”
“If you are willing,” said Enjolras.
“Fine.” Grantaire crossed his arms and looked at Enjolras. “Let’s get this farce over with. My apartments are closer – do you object to going there?”
“Lead on; I’ll follow,” said Enjolras.
Grantaire snorted loudly at that, but he went.