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the trembling mouths of the sevenfold Nile

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After the meeting, Joly drew Enjolras quietly aside.

"Bossuet tells me that Grantaire's heat has gone on for longer that usual, and that he's concerned," he announced in hushed tones without preamble. "It might be nothing, of course, but one can't be too sure, so I intend to look in on him this evening. However, if the prolonged heat indicates unusual intensity I may need an assistant to hold him down while I examine him. I would be very grateful if you would do me a favour and be that assistant."

"Of course," said Enjolras at once. "But why me? I am an alpha, if a well-controlled one, and I am not Grantaire's friend; I cannot believe I am your first choice."

"Because he will have locked his door, and Combeferre is out of the city. And his concierge doesn't like me."

Enjolras considered this cryptic pronouncement for a long moment before it clicked.

"I see," he said mildly. "I will have to briefly visit my rooms beforehand."

"Of course," said Joly, clearly very relieved. "Do you know where Grantaire's rooms are?"

Of course he did - the man mentioned their convenient location often enough. So it was decided that Enjolras would go to his rooms to fetch his equipment and meet Joly at Grantaire's lodgings. Enjolras' own rooms were not far, so it didn't take him too long to return, his pocket heavy with metal. He passed the concierge who so disliked Joly, apparently absorbed in her newspaper, and ascended the stairs to Grantaire's rooms with a degree of trepidation. Grantaire was inclined to manage his cycle with alcohol, and Enjolras dreaded to think what state he might find him in.

He met Joly on the landing and took out his tools to set to work on the lock. Combeferre was far better and more experienced at this, but he had taught Enjolras the rudimentary skill necessary to pick such simple locks as this. He pushed the final pin into place, tried the knob, and the door swung open. He gestured for Joly to precede him then, following him in, closed the door behind him. Joly spared only a cursory glance for the sitting room as he strode to the door which presumably led to the bedroom, Enjolras trailing in his wake.

The moment Joly opened the door, Enjolras was hit by a wave of omega pheromones so strong he stumbled. Even Joly, a beta and therefore less sensitive to such things, wrinkled his nose. Blinking, Enjolras straightened up again to find Joly already at the bedside, pulling blankets off the human-sized lump which he presumed to be Grantaire. The lump mumbled inarticulately yet resentfully, but didn't put up much of a fight. Enjolras came to stand by Joly, ready to hold Grantaire down should he prove difficult or just insensible.

"Grantaire," Joly began, "you've been in heat for at least two days longer than you should, so I'm going to check you over. Please cooperate as much as you can." So saying, he began pulling up Grantaire's nightshirt. Grantaire struggled slightly at this - understandably, Enjolras thought - but stayed pliant enough that Enjolras didn't feel the need to step in, instead taking the moment to strip down to his shirtsleeves.

That changed the moment Joly put his hand on Grantaire's bare chest: with a hoarse gasp, Grantaire half-sat up and started making unintelligible noises again. Enjolras took his shoulders in a grip which he hoped was firm but not cruel and pressed him back down to the mattress. His skin was burning hot, shockingly so - but then Enjolras had never before been this close to an omega in heat.

Grantaire struggled against his hold, but only weakly: the physical toll of heat must have sapped his strength. Enjolras was able to hold him still while Joly measured his heartbeat, his breathing and other things which Enjolras did not understand.

"You're doing very well," said Joly soothingly as he pressed his fingers against Grantaire's abdomen. For his part, Enjolras was amazed by his friend's calm professionalism. Gone was the fussy hypochondriac: Joly's tone was gentle and neutral as he performed some of the most intimate examinations. Here Grantaire's struggle became more violent, though more it seemed to seek more of the touch than to avoid it. Enjolras politely kept his eyes fixed on Grantaire's face: he had no desire to see the swollen member and leaking anus he knew were symptomatic of Grantaire's distress.

At length, Joly concluded his examination and pulled Grantaire's shirt back down.

"There doesn't seem to be any complication or inflamation: it is simply an especially potent heat, nothing to worry about unless it becomes a habit." He stood and went over to the washstand. "I am certain he hasn't eaten for a day, however, which will hardly ease his discomfort, so I propose to give him some water and bread. He won't be able to stomach anything richer." So saying, he washed his hands and gathered some water in the cup conveniently on the stand from when Grantaire had last used it.

"Try to encourage him to drink it while I get the bread, if you please," he said, handing the cup to Enjolras before disappearing into the sitting room. Enjolras could hear him clattering about in search of bread as he watched Grantaire, considering how best to get him to drink.

"Here," he said, beginning with the direct approach, "I have some water for you."

"..'jo'ras?" Grantaire squinted at him. It was the first time Grantaire's eyes had focussed in the whole circus.

"I am. Please, drink this." Enjolras tried to emulate Joly's neutral but gentle voice.

"For you?" Enjolras fought the desire to shift about under that abject gaze.

"For me," he confirmed, and was rewarded when Grantaire allowed him to hold the cup to his lips so he could sip slowly. He didn't seem entirely lucid still, but at least he could tell who was with him.

When the water was gone, Enjolras put the cup to one side and turned his head to call to Joly to see where he was up to, but had to turn back when his hand was seized in a callused grip.

"Enjolras," said Grantaire in rapturous tones, "Enjolras, please."

"Please what?" Enjolras leant forwards, ready to prise Grantaire's thick fingers off his hand if it became necessary.

"Please," repeated Grantaire, and brought Enjolras' hand to his mouth. Wetness touched the tips of his fingers - Grantaire was licking them, mumbling something against them which was probably further entreaties. He squirmed against the mattress in an action Enjolras recognised from books - cevum, receptive movements in male omegas. He felt his body respond like any alpha's, already primed by all the pheromones floating around. But still, he felt in control of himself: no unbearable, driving urge to engage in intercourse, no aggression or territoriality. His body did not overwhelm his mind.

"Enjolras? Ah." Joly had returned, bread in hand. He considered the tableau they made, Grantaire displaying and Enjolras apparently unaffected, and held out the bread to Enjolras, who took it. "Given that Grantaire seems to respond so well to you, might I ask you to do the honours? I am dreadfully sorry, but apparently I am needed elsewhere - they tell me old Le Giroud the stonemason has broken his leg. You understand how urgent it is."

Enjolras did: Le Giroud's work often took him out of Paris, so he served as a link between Les Amis and fraternal organisations in other cities. He was a valuable ally.

"Of course I understand," he said. "I will attend to Grantaire. Go safely." And so, with one last sincere apology, Joly left him to it.

Grantaire took Enjolras' fingers further into his mouth, and whined in protest when Enjolras firmly extracted them. Before he could make another play for them, Enjolras tore off a piece of bread and held it under his nose.

"Will you eat it?" he asked, again trying for Joly's doctor voice.

"From your hands, Apollo." Ah, lucidity had returned.

"From my hands, then," said Enjolras firmly, and Grantaire's lips parted obediently.

And so Enjolras hand-fed him, like a young animal or a sick child. Grantaire's docility surprised and pleased him; he was absorbed by the steady rhythm of Grantaire taking the bread from his hand like a horse taking a carrot, burying his nose into Enjolras' palm, chewing it and swallowing it. Enjolras felt the desire to run his free hand through Grantaire's dark hair, and he did it, scratching at the scalp as if petting a dog. Grantaire relaxed into the touch. They continued in this way until all the bread was gone and Enjolras was left petting Grantaire, who seemed to have slipped into a trance state. For his part, Enjolras stared out the window across the room at the fading evening light, thinking of nothing in particular.

At length, Grantaire became restless again, shifting and squirming and letting out small pants of distress. The sheets around his legs were dark with fluid, and Enjolras gingerly peeled them off to replace them with fresh - and then stopped upon seeing just why Grantaire was so agitated.

His shirt had ridden up to expose his prick, swollen and red as Enjolras knew it would be, but what he had not expected was the glimpse of something made of wood between his spread legs. Against his better judgement, he leant down to inspect it.

It was a wooden olisbos, solid and polished. Enjolras had heard of such things in passing, used to simulate an Alpha's prick and ease a lonely heat, but it had never occurred to him that Grantaire might be using one. If he remembered the advertising print clearly, there would be a bulge at the base to simulate a knot - a knot that, since Enjolras couldn't see it, was clearly already inside Grantaire. But still he was unsatisfied, writhing about, seeking to impale himself further on the olisbos. Pity swelled within Enjolras: was there nothing he could do to ease this man's distress?

Kneeling on the bed for a better angle, he put one hand on Grantaire's shoulder, both as a comfort to Grantaire and a brace for himself, and took hold of the olisbos with the other. Perhaps he could help Grantaire push it in further? He rocked it back and forth, hoping to ease it in, mindful of the fluid dripping down Grantaire's thighs - and Grantaire seized both his shoulders with an inarticulate exclamation. Enjolras let him, focussed on the olisbos: it seemed fully seated in Grantaire, but he pressed on the base a few times to make sure. He felt Grantaire tremble.

Satisfied that the olisbos couldn't be pushed in any further, he drew back - but Grantaire, instead of letting him go, used his grip on Enjolras' shoulders to push himself up onto his knees and almost into Enjolras' lap. He stared pleadingly into Enjolras' eyes.

"Please, Enjolras," he said roughly, "please, you can't leave it there."

Enjolras frowned.

"You want me to...take it out?" he asked.

"Yes, yes, take it out - and replace it with your prick." Grantaire shuffled closer on his knees, not taking his eyes off Enjolras' face. "Please, Enjolras," he said again, "please, I can't stand it."

"Grantaire," said Enjolras, striving again for the doctor-voice, "you're not in your right mind."

"No, no I'm not," interrupted Grantaire, a thread of hysteria in his voice, "that's why I need your prick inside me. Please, Enjolras, I will beg as abjectly as I have to, debase myself in front of you, if only you will do me this favour. You wouldn't even have to undress, just let me have your prick. Please, be kind." His voice was ragged, his hips moving unconsciously back and forth, his homely face creasing in distress. "Please."

Both Enjolras' pity and his muted Alpha instincts were roused. He ordinarily had little feeling for Grantaire, but confronted by him as a vulnerable heat-ridden omega, he could appreciate both the difficulty of Grantaire's situation and his powerful thighs. All he could smell were Grantaire's pheromones and fluids, all begging him to fuck this man.

It would be cruelty, Enjolras decided, to leave him like this when he could do something to help.

"Take off your shirt," he said, standing up and unbuttoning his waistcoat. If he was going to do this, he was not going to do it still dressed, like tupping a prostitute up against a wall. Both of them deserved better than that.

Grantaire pulled his shirt roughly over his head and stared at Enjolras wonderingly, kneeling naked on the bed. Perhaps he had not expected Enjolras to agree. Enjolras pulled off his boots, his trousers, his stockings, his shirt and finally his drawers, aware of the unnatural body heat pouring off Grantaire, his attentive posture, his eyes fixed on Enjolras undressing. The attention was both flattering and unnerving.

He had hardly got his shirt off when Grantaire abruptly pressed his face into Enjolras' leg, nuzzling the crease between hip and thigh. Enjolras steadied himself with a hand in Grantaire's hair, which Grantaire seemed to take as permission to continue, moving to Enjolras' inner thigh. Enjolras breathed in deeply: he had never been touched like this, never wanted to be touched like this.

Grantaire pressed a soft kiss to his inner thigh before moving onto his cock.

Enjolras had never really considered the appeal of having his cock sucked beyond the obvious transitory physical pleasure; his erections had always seemed divorced from his mind, and he was too busy with politics to have much in the way of sexual curiosity. But now, with Grantaire tenderly mouthing at his prick, he understood the powerful aphrodisiac of not only physical but mental attention: Grantaire looked like there was nowhere he would rather be other than pleasuring Enjolras with his mouth.

It would be rude, Enjolras thought vaguely, to seize him by the hair, so he took hold of Grantaire's broad shoulders instead, fingertips digging into the muscle. His mouth opened, lips curling back from his teeth as his hips twitched in aborted thrusts. Grantaire's mouth was wet and unbearably hot, his eyes closed in bliss, and when he took Enjolras all the way down to the root for one perfect moment, Enjolras thought he heard himself making inarticulate noises through the blood rushing in his ears.

At length, Grantaire pulled off with a pained expression.

"You have to take me now," he insisted, "please, Enjolras, I can't stand it."

"Of course," said Enjolras, or thought he did. He no longer felt entirely in control of himself as he let Grantaire draw him down to the mattress and push him onto his back; he clearly knew what he was doing though Enjolras did not. Grantaire reached one hand behind himself to pull out the olisbos - it came easily, dripping fluid.

Grantaire straddled him, one hand on the mattress and the other around Enjolras' cock, and slowly took Enjolras within himself. He was clearly trying to make the entry as slow as possible - to dull the pain, or prolong the pleasure? His face was a rictus of ecstacy. Enjolras watched his mouth open and felt his own mimic him: at that moment, the feeling of being enveloped was the most exquisite physical pleasure of which he could conceive. Grantaire's strong thighs either side of his, his broad shoulders, his ecstatic expression - desire blossomed in the pit of his stomach. This was what it meant to look upon another human being with lust, to be enraptured by the tendons in their forearms, to be inflamed by their display of arousal.

"Ah, ah," gasped Grantaire, as the last of Enjolras' cock slid into him. Heat had once again rendered him incoherent - not that Enjolras would put much stock in his own ability to form a sentence in any recognisable language right now. His back arched for a moment, then he bent his torso over Enjolras, hands pulling at Enjolras' shoulders. It took Enjolras a moment to realise that he was trying to roll them over, and obligingly he let himself be rolled so that he now lay on top of Grantaire, whose legs were wrapped around his waist. He could feel Grantaire's cock pulsing against his stomach.

"Enjolras," said Grantaire, gripping his shoulders and squirming under him. Enjolras moved without conscious thought, taken by some ancient primal instinct which told him exactly what an Alpha should do with an Omega. His vision blurred, his breath came harsh in his own ears, and he thrust into Grantaire with such vigour that under any other circumstances he would have been afraid of hurting him.

But Grantaire clawed at his back and gasped wetly and made sounds which might be his name, and Enjolras could smell the pheromones in his secretions, taste it in the tang of sweat when he bit at Grantaire's neck. They were hard bites, but at that moment Enjolras spared no thought for future bruising.

He felt something building, growing at the base of his cock, and it took him a moment to realise that it was his knot. He had never experienced it before, and a flicker of trepidation ran through him - but then Grantaire moaned and renewed his efforts to impale himself on as much of Enjolras' cock as possible, easily accommodating the growing knot, and Enjolras forgot to be concerned.

In short order Enjolras found his thrusts impeded by the swelling and had to change to grinding motions, knot firmly embedded in Grantaire, who clutched at Enjolras' arms and writhed as best he could. His homely face, creased in ecstasy and flushed from exertion, was at that moment the most erotic thing that Enjolras could imagine.

When orgasm finally hit him, it was so powerful as to be almost painful. Enjolras curled in on himself, arching his back high, his mouth open in a silent primal cry as waves of climax throbbed through him, hips jerking uncontrollably. The blood rushing in his ears blocked out all other sound.

When he came back to himself he found that Grantaire too had climaxed, judging by the semen smeared between their stomachs. His eyes were closed, his hands still clenched in the sheets as he breathed shakily through his mouth. He looked like a man having a religious experience, and Enjolras was concerned for a moment that he might be unwell - but then he relaxed into post-coital lassitude, and Enjolras cautiously laid his face next to Grantaire's rough cheek.

Enjolras would have expected Grantaire to let go of him after intercourse: they were not, after all, intimates of any sort despite being physically joined. But Grantaire's death-grip had turned into an embrace, which conveniently shielded Enjolras from the chill of lying in bed uncovered in autumn. The physicality of Grantaire's strong arms around him evoked a feeling in Enjolras which he could not describe: he settled for calling it comfort, and relaxed into the cradle of Grantaire's body.

But it was only a short while later when he felt Grantaire begin to squirm beneath him and the sparks that they off where they were still joined heated his blood again. Of course; such was the nature of heat. Enjolras turned his head to absently nuzzle at Grantaire's ear and prepared to do his duty again.

This time, he didn't even move to his knees: he stayed draped atop Grantaire, circling his hips and feeling his swollen knot catch on the rim of Grantaire's hole, keeping him inside. Grantaire's hard cock pressed against his abdomen, but Enjolras was more thrilled by Grantaire's soft hitching breaths in his ear as he fucked them both slowly, tenderly, to completion.

They dozed again, bodies still connected; they woke up inflamed, and fucked desperately with Grantaire's legs thrown over Enjolras' shoulders. Right then, there was nothing about the apolitical, ugly drunkard that disgusted him. The man naked beneath him so little resembled the mercurial cynic who haunted their group, and Enjolras was in any case not inclined to consider the potential ramifications of the inevitable moment when the one turned back into the other: the world seemed soft and hazy, the only pressing concern satisfying the omega whose scent drowned all his senses.

It was well into the night when the heat broke. Enjolras knew because he awoke still in Grantaire, still sex-muddled, but with his usual clarity of mind returning. He suspected that this was what a hangover felt like, and spared a moment to be glad that he didn't drink to excess.

Unlike the bed's other occupant. Enjolras kept an eye on him as he dressed quickly - their physicality and carnality had kept them warm, but they had neglected to light a fire in the evening and the room was chilly. Grantaire, snoring lightly, was clearly fast asleep. Unsurprising, given their earlier exertions and the toll heat took on the body; he would likely sleep well into the next day.

He walked briskly back to his own apartments, holding his cane firmly lest a footpad mistake him for an easy mark. He could have hailed a hansom - for they were about even at this hour - but he wanted to clear his head in the cool night air.

A thought ate at him persistently: had he done the right thing?

He had helped a man in desperate need; he had eased his suffering. When one can alleviate suffering, one does so - and if by the action one also gratifies oneself, it is no sin. It is not selfish to play chess with a man who has few friends if one also enjoys the game. And yet, although his body was replete, Enjolras' spirit was uneasy. He had never thought himself above the pleasures of the flesh, merely separate from them; but here was proof that he was not so separate as he had thought. Given his own fierce passion he did not disdain emotion in others, but he prized his own clear sight: not since childhood had his vision been clouded by uncontrollable sentiment and desire. That he was still capable of such irrationality profoundly disturbed him.

Perhaps it was right that he should receive a reminder. Enjolras was not a religious man, unless one counted The Right as a faith, but he wondered now whether some celestial -or infernal- being had arranged events so that he might not forget his human fallibility. Just at the moment he was wondering this, the church bells rang two, pealing clear in the sepulchral silence; Enjolras dropped his eyes before the vault of heaven and all its silent stars, chastened.

He had helped a man in need. It would have to be enough.