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ista quidem vis est

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A woman finds the body on her way to work the next morning. The sun is just beginning to rise, a pale orange haze coating the city like dust, setting the grime of the streets aflame.

She gasps when she sees it, stops dead in her tracks.

It doesn't make the papers--the journalists wouldn't dare--but it hits the internet within an hour of being spotted. The headlines read: CORRUPT SENATOR FOUND DEAD IN FRONT OF GREAT HALL. THANK YOU.

God help whoever wrote that headline.

The murder scene is one to behold, surrounded by black velvet ropes to keep the citizens back. Those who are lucky enough to climb on top of others to catch a glimpse don't recount what they see. It is too gruesome.        

"Too dangerous to speak of such things around here," they whisper. "I will tell you when we are home."

When they finally find the words to describe it, it is not fear in their voice, but awe.

Senator Mott is lying under the archway of the Great Hall, his back propped up against the light marble doors, blood pooling around him, staining the white marble a dark, deep red. His bald, round head is lolled to the side like it weighs twenty pounds, and his throat--well, his fat throat looks like it has been ripped open with someone's nails. Everyone knows who's.

"It was a message," the witnesses say. "A message to the Council."

"Let's hope the senders weren't dense enough to leave a stamp," others joke, though their voices have not stopped shaking.

"Better than a stamp. So much better."

Senator Mott is dead, and directly above his head, scrawled with his own blood by a careful, steady, skilled hand, are three letters. So much better than a stamp.

A.B.C.                       

****

 

They call themselves Les Amis, on account of one online article that had dubbed them les amis du peuple--the friends of the people. Enjolras immediately fell in love with it—or, like, at least whatever Enjolras’ equivalent is to falling in love. Grantaire knows Enjolras isn’t heartless, but okay, in the three years Grantaire has known him, Enjolras has never shown any interest in another human being (and if he has, Grantaire doesn’t want to know about it; he’d much rather assume that Enjolras just doesn’t like him, because it would really suck if he were actually in love with someone else, and Grantaire can’t even think about this anymore). The point is that Enjolras loved the nickname, and Jehan, the creative genius of the group, went home that night and screen printed them on a dozen pairs of bright red socks. When he handed them out the next day (complete with bows and everything), Combeferre had been a little wary of them, cautioning everyone to roll them down when they wore them in public.

"Friends aren't dangerous, Ferre," Bousset had called from the back of the room. "They're friendly!"

Combeferre had grimaced back at him. "And the Council will take that into consideration when they see the color, I'm sure."

Everyone had erupted into laughter, much to Combeferre's exasperation, and Enjolras had commanded all side conversations to come to a halt because there's still a meeting to have, and could we please get started. That had been Grantaire's cue to buy another drink.

Grantaire has long since ‘misplaced’ his pair, but so has everyone else (except for Bahorel, he wears them every Wednesday). Anyway, the amount of pastel paint smeared across Grantaire’s hands is enough to place him under the rebel radar in every city in France. Enjolras had once advised him to wear gloves to cover it up, if he wasn't going to bother washing the paint off; one of the rare moments where their fearless leader's condescendence sounded a tad bit more like actual, genuine care.

He’s never been good at listening, though, not even to Enjolras, and his hands are now stained blue (a client requested a landscape, it’s whatever) and wrapped around a bottle and a pen, drawing over a napkin as the meeting wraps up. He glances up at Enjolras where he stands at the front of the room, the late summer humidity plastering his sunshine colored hair to his forehead and the nape of his neck. Grantaire huffs out a laugh, a little bitter about the fact that Enjolras still looks angelic while it's one hundred plus degrees outside. He looks back down at his napkin, sketching in the creases between the eyes of the mini Enjolras he's begun to draw. The nose is a little large and the eyebrows off center, but Grantaire thinks he might just keep this one. He's just glancing up to measure the length of Enjolras's eyelashes when the leader in question is sinking down in the chair across from him. Grantaire's hand freezes over the napkin for a split second before shoving it into his pants, but Enjolras doesn't even seem to notice. He's already talking. Of course he is.

"We've got a job," he says, pushing his damp hair away from his eyes and locking them with Grantaire's.

Grantaire smiles as he tips his drink back against his lips. "Just tell me when it's time to leave," he says when he's downed at least half of the bottle.

"Tomorrow morning," Enjolras says, studying Grantaire's reaction.

"Jesus, Apollo, you couldn't have told me this--I don't know--a few days ago? I was gonna get laid tonight. Are you trying to keep me single?"

He says it just to get a rise out of Enjolras, and he is definitely not disappointed. Enjolras may not have a problem getting dirty with knives and corpses (oh god, that came out wrong), but innuendos still knock the breath right out of him. Enjolras frowns, his words coming out in a rush. "Of course not, Grantaire, but I thought perhaps your sex drive could withstand a two day break. If I've been mistaken, then please, by all means, get it out of your system before tomorrow."

Grantaire laughs out loud, waving Musichetta over for a refill. "I'll do my best to restrain my animalistic urges." He winks at his friend as she sets a beer down in front of him, uncapping it and taking a swig. "Alright," he says. "Debrief me. And I mean that with a completely unsexual connotation." Enjolras rolls his eyes, but his lips are pressed into a tight line. Grantaire sighs, relenting. "Okay, sorry, I'll cut it out with the innuendos. What's the job?"

"Just meet me upstairs at sunrise tomorrow," Enjolras says impatiently. "I'll debrief you on the way." And with that, he pushes himself up from the table and walks briskly back to the front of the room.

Grantaire sighs, but he can't keep the small smile off of his face. He doesn't know what the job is or who they'll be killing, but God help him, he’ll be setting his alarm for five thirty regardless.

It's always been like this, though, and it's long since stopped surprising him. Three years of dutifully following a godlike asshole and Grantaire expects to spend another twenty doing the exact same thing. He's not sure it's his true calling, but illegally selling art while intoxicated isn't likely to get him anywhere substantial before the time he's thirty. Might as well kill as many corrupt politicians as he can and hope to score some cheap liquor.

Grantaire downs the rest of his drink in one go, waving Bahorel over to buy him another (he owes him, probably), but all the while his eyes stay trained on the leader in red. The napkin burns a hole in his pocket, right over his heart, and it's seriously unhealthy how much he loves it.

****

“Relax, Enjolras, it’s just like, one kiss!”

“Courfeyrac, if you don’t take your hands off of my—”

“Don’t be such a party pooper! One kiss! And you’ll love it, I promise!”

“You’re still touching me.”

“Don’t make me make you!”

“I have a gun, Courfeyrac. You can’t make me do anything—”

“I’m doing this for you, Enjolras! Stop being so ungrateful!

“Please leave me alone.”

One kiss! Just one! And you never have to do it again! But you’ll want to. Trust me, you’ll definitely want to—”

“I don’t want to do this, Courfeyrac, but you’re leaving me no choice.”

“Wait, Enjolras, don’t—”

“Combeferre, could you come over here for—”

“Fine! You win! I don’t care, you’re not even fun!”

Combeferre approaches the table, eyeing the pair. “Do I need to separate you two?”

“He’s doing it again,” Enjolras mutters, turning back to his maps on the table in front of him. “And he’s drunk.”

Courfeyrac gasps in horror. “You traitor!

“It’s not like I didn’t know, Courf,” Combeferre says fondly, taking Courfeyrac’s hand and pulling him up. “Go upstairs, I’ll be there in a minute.”

It takes a little while for him to convince Courfeyrac to leave, so Enjolras tunes them out. He has a job in—he checks his watch—ten hours. He needs to have everything prepared. It should be a quick kill, just a government employed journalist that had the misfortune of being tasked an article on the ABC, but Enjolras doesn’t want to leave anything up to chance. He doesn’t want to take any risks, not this late in the game, not when they’ve already inspired so many people to believe in what they're doing.

He’s trying not to stress over the elephant in the room, which is the location of the job. Their target has a room booked in the largest hotel in Ruen, otherwise notoriously known as the unofficial headquarters of the French National Guard. Who have out out a bounty on each of the Amis' heads.

So maybe risky is an understatement.

It’ll be quick, just an in-and-out kill, Grantaire covering him the whole time. No reason to worry.

“What was he trying to convince you to do?” Combeferre asks, sinking into the chair across from Enjolras. His glasses are tucked into his shirt pocket, his auburn hair mussed (whether from Courfeyrac’s hands or his own, he doesn’t want to know). The floor is deserted, save for the two of them, telltale café noises drifting up through the open door. Most of their friends are still downstairs, drinking and laughing, but while they’re out of sight, Combeferre slips out of his own skin, lets himself relax. Enjolras doesn’t think he gets to do it often enough.  

“Enjolras?”

Enjolras shakes his one track mind back on topic. “He still thinks he can convince me to ask Grantaire out on a date.”

Combeferre represses a smile. “Oh, really?”

“Don’t smile at me,” Enjolras rolls his eyes. “I know you’re in on it too.”

“I would never,” Combeferre says. “Although, you might consider it.”

Enjolras groans. “Please, I just want to work. I can’t believe you’ve let him corrupt you.”

“I’m incorruptible,” Combeferre winks. “He’s the one being corrupted; he just doesn’t know it yet.” He stands, stretching his arms. “Get some rest, Enjolras. You’ve got a job tomorrow.”

“I know that,” Enjolras mutters. “Goodnight.”

“Oh, and Enjolras? You know Grantaire would say yes in a heartbeat.”

By the time Enjolras has his paper balled up and ready to throw, Combeferre is already halfway up the stairs.

_________

Grantaire likes his job.

Sometimes they're quick kills, just intel gathers that last two days tops. Other times they're even quicker, killing at Enjolras' command without a second glance. It's been three years, now. Three years of systematically killing off the wealthiest of France, the filthiest of the elite. Three years of over fifty jobs, and Grantaire's been on exactly fifteen of them without Enjolras.

At first they were quick kills. The editor of Cannes' local newspaper. A police officer that had allegedly beat an innocent student. They were among the easiest kills of Grantaire's career--if he can call murdering a career--and he's almost positive they were directly assigned by the Chief in all his nitpickiness, just to test Grantaire's loyalty to the ABC.

His first eight jobs or so, he did alone or with Bahorel. Nearly every job since has been following Enjolras. Which, yeah. He prefers the latter.

It's just a hell of a relief to be Enjolras' detail. To have him in his line of sight during each job, making sure no one catches the drop on him--not that they would, of course, Enjolras is way too good for that. But still. Grantaire has enough trouble sleeping at night without the constant worry of whether or not Enjolras will survive a certain assassination.

God, when did he become such a mom? (Wait, no--that's gross, that's too weird, let him rephrase that.)

Since when did he become such a clingy stalker? (That's better. Much more accurate.)

Grantaire drops his cigarette to the sidewalk outside of the Musain, remembering only after he's snubbed it out to check for cops. He thinks for a moment about checking over his shoulder, but what the hell. If a copper is going to bust him for smoking as opposed to murder, something in the system is definitely fucked up.

The bell dings as he pushes the door open, stumbling in through the entryway. Musichetta is behind the counter, filling up mugs for the early bird customers of the cafe, her dark skin just a few shades lighter than the drinks she's serving. He winks at her before heading to the back, up the not-so-hidden stairway to their meant-to-be-secret headquarters.

The first time Grantaire had been allowed access to the "headquarters," Combeferre had walked him through every bit of security protocol required to enter. Twice.

"You probably remember," Combeferre had smiled, "I asked for your fingerprints after your second time attending."

Grantaire actually hadn't remembered, and though Combeferre had to have known, he only kept smiling and walking him through which touch pad is for which finger, which keypad is assigned which numbers, etcetera. It was all very complicated and confusing and if he's being totally honest, Grantaire usually just has Eponine unlock the doors while he squeezes in behind her. He's never had a very remarkable memory when it comes to shit like this.

This morning, however, the universe seems to have cut Grantaire some slack, because the door to the upper level is propped open by a brick--no, is that a book? For the love of god--Grantaire leans down to pick the book up from where it's wedged in between the door and the frame--has Enjolras really gone and used The Hunchback of Notre Dame as a goddamn door stopper?

"You do realize," Grantaire says as he walks into the room and allows the door to swing shut behind him, the lock swiftly clicking into place. "That this is classic literature and Jehan would literally skin you alive if he found out how you've been using it, right?"

Enjolras rolls his eyes. He's slightly hunched over the back of the couch in the center of the room, cramming clothes inside a duffle. "And you realize," he retaliates, not ceasing his movements. "That I put it there because you can't seem to work out how to scan your own finger?"

Grantaire grimaces sarcastically, setting the book down on the coffee table. "Touché."

The second floor of the cafe had been commandeered by the ABC long before Grantaire had joined--and by 'long before' he definitely means about two years before--and Feuilly had worked the large room over until it was up to everybody's standards (Joly's. He means Joly’s standards).

The ceiling is high, the walls nearly completely covered with maps and to do lists. Grantaire will never be able to get over the balls on his friends, their absolute lack of fear that the giant windows facing the street might give them away.

"I like the natural lighting," Combeferre had shrugged when Marius had asked about it once.

"He also likes to sleep in the all naturale," Courfeyrac had informed them, his voice dropping an impressive number of octaves. "I think there might be a pattern emerging."

"Well, if you'd rather I sleep with my clothes on," Combeferre had said, a smirk playing at the corners of his mouth when Courfeyrac had tripped over his chair and gasped out an oh please no, I didn't mean it--

If Grantaire knew his friends couldn't handle themselves, he might be seriously worried about the whole of them being spotted during a meeting. It would be all too easy for a member of the National Guard to spot them while on patrol, to recognize Enjolras' infamous head of sun silken curls and barge in.

But, there's something to be said about Bousset's marksman skills, and any member of the National Guard to make his way to their side of the street would be dead before he stepped off the sidewalk.

"So, you gonna tell me where we're headed?" Grantaire asks, consciously keeping his hands away from the pack of cigarettes in his back pocket.

Enjolras just tosses the duffle at him and walks past him to the door. "I'll tell you on the way."

Grantaire rolls his eyes, slinging the bag's strap over his shoulder. "Of course you will."

****

Grantaire fidgets.

It's something Enjolras has noticed before (he makes it a point to always notice as much as he can), but it never grates on him so much as it does when the two of them are alone in an empty car, Grantaire's fingers tapping rhythmlessly against every flat surface they can find.

Enjolras grits his teeth, bringing his gaze back to the road in front of them. He runs over the job in his mind, trying to think of any and all possibilities and outcomes. He, Combeferre, and Courfeyrac had been up late plotting everything out, so he knows that everything should go smoothly. When Combeferre is involved, things usually do, but he can't help the feeling of uneasiness tugging at his gut every time Grantaire taps a beat on the car's console.

“So,” Grantaire says conversationally, lifting his feet up onto the dash. “Who’re we killing today?”

Enjolras’ knuckles tighten on the steering wheel. “You’re not killing anyone,” he says. “Your job tonight is to keep watch and keep out of trouble.”

Me keep out of trouble? You should’ve brought Jehan if that’s what you’re—”

“Grantaire.”

“Alright, alright,” Grantaire concedes, tapping his fingers across his kneecaps. “I’ll keep out of trouble, O Great One.”

Enjolras doesn’t say that keeping out of trouble means keeping sober, but he doesn’t have to. He trusts Grantaire, for some absurd reason, however irresponsible and impulsive he may be.

It was raining the night Grantaire had wandered into the Musain, dressed to the nines in a suit that was soaked through and clinging to his frame. Eponine had shot to his side, throwing her arms around him and tugging him into the room. She’d introduced him with a prideful smile and bright eyes before dropping her voice low and smirking. “He’s the one I’ve been telling you about.”

Enjolras recognized him from Eponine’s stories; she’d always spoken so highly of him that Enjolras might have called him her hero—but Eponine has always been her own hero. Grantaire was something else. An honorary brother, possibly. Grantaire had smiled awkwardly at the group of students, waving half-heartedly, and made a beeline for the bar as soon as Eponine set him free. Enjolras had resumed the meeting seamlessly, moving on to the next matter of business. Grantaire watched from the back of the room, sipping at his beer and listening, Enjolras noticed, rather intently.

By the end of the night, Grantaire had shot holes through every single point Enjolras had tried to make.

Enjolras supposes that was the night it all started. The trouble sleeping, the inability to focus on anything while Grantaire is in the room. It’s taken Enjolras three years of ignoring the nausea and getting off to Grantaire at four in the morning when all he can think of is Grantaire’s laugh when he tears Enjolras’ arguments apart, his lips around the mouth of a bottle—the car does not swerve—but he’s getting off track. The point is it took three years for Enjolras to realize something had been brewing between them. The kind of something that makes him want to lock Grantaire away while they’re executing jobs, to keep him safe and away from harm. The kind of something that makes his chest ache when Grantaire leaves the Musain with some stranger. The kind of something that makes Enjolras furious, makes him kill more forcefully than he’d ever thought he’d be capable of.

He loves his friends. He tries to make it clear enough. He would kill for them. He has killed for them. Love is not a foreign concept to Enjolras.

But whatever he feels for Grantaire—love, adoration, contempt—it is foreign, and it bites Enjolras down to the bone.

****

By the time they’re pulling up to the hotel, Grantaire barely has time to smoke a cigarette before Enjolras is ordering him around.

“Grab the duffle out of the trunk; I’m going to check us in,” and checking his watch, “we’re late.”

“You’re too high strung,” Grantaire mutters around his cigarette. “How many cups of coffee did you have this morning?”

Enjolras makes a face and heads inside, and Grantaire takes his time unloading. Enjolras does seem high strung, which is never a great thing. He gets pissy when he’s stressed, even more so than usual, and there’s one person who always gets the brunt of Enjolras’ pissiness. Grantaire dully wonders if it’s too early for shots.

____

There’s something about the way Enjolras kills, about the way he rips into throats like they’re made of paper that really should not be as hot as it is to Grantaire. For the love of fuck, it’s actually sinful, the way he handles a knife, his fingers tightening around the hilt and oh god Grantaire cannot be thinking about this right now.

He resists the agonizingly strong urge to peek his head in through the door and watch. He can settle for the sounds—he’s witnessed enough of Enjolras' assassinations to know exactly how this will play out.

The sounds, so much louder than he’d ever thought they could be, include: the reporter begging for his life, choking on his own snot as he sobs to Enjolras, spitting out the same shit they’ve been hearing for years; Enjolras flicking the safety up on his gun; the almost palpable relief of the reporter when Enjolras sets it down on the nearest flat surface; and finally, a choked off scream as Enjolras kicks the reporter down, fingers pressing down and in. His signature kill.

The job takes no more than fifteen minutes total. Enjolras steps out into the hallway after cleaning the blood off his hands in the suite’s bathroom, drying his hands with a towel. His blond curls are still impeccably tousled, and Grantaire laughs around his cigarette.

“That was quick.”

Enjolras rolls his eyes, tossing the towel into the room before closing the door behind him. “There’s no smoking in the hotel,” he says pointedly.

“You just murdered a guy in their honeymoon suite,” Grantaire deadpans. “At least they’ll find the body a lot quicker when the smoke alarm goes off.”

“Exactly why we shouldn’t still be standing here,” Enjolras says, heading down the hall.

“Why were we killing him anyway?” Grantaire asks, flicking his cigarette to the floor and grinding it out. He has to jog to catch up; Enjolras’ legs have got to be at least a mile long, thin and lean and Jesus H. Christ, Grantaire’s mind is killing him tonight.

“He was the editor of the Libérateur, a local newspaper that publishes—or published, I should say—a column dedicated to identifying and targeting ‘peace offenders,’” Enjolras explains as they near the elevator.

“Let me guess,” Grantaire says. “The peace offenders were ABC affiliates.”

“Contacts,” Enjolras shrugs. “Nothing less, nothing more, but innocent all the same.”

“Well they’re safe now, thanks to their knight in shining armor.” Grantaire sighs dramatically. When Enjolras just stares blankly, Grantaire has to rub his eyes with the heel of his hand. “You, Enjolras. You’re the night in shining armor. Jesus Christ, can we go for drinks?”

The elevator dings in front of them. “You can,” Enjolras says. “I’ve got work back at the hotel. Just be careful.”

Grantaire doesn’t quite catch what happens next, but he sees a pair of hands grab at Enjolras’ shoulders just before his head is hitting the floor.