Part One: A Birthday Surprise
Grantaire doesn't wake up until after noon on his birthday.
It's part of his usual habits, and he sees no reason to break them. His friends will likely want to celebrate his birthday, but the majority of them either work or keep to the same schedule as he does. The only ones who might have wanted to see him before noon are his parents, and as usual they have been conspicuously silent.
He dresses, downs a beer, showers, and is just settling down for a rousing round of classic video games when the doorbell rings.
Sighing in irritation, Grantaire pauses his game and goes to open the door.
He's not prepared to find a package almost as tall as he is sitting on his front porch, a bored delivery man standing beside the hovercart. The deliveryman holds out a light pen and microcomp. "You Grantaire?"
"Yes…" Grantaire eyes the package and the pen, refusing to touch either. "What is this?"
"Specific orders not to tell. There's a card." The deliveryman nods toward a light blue envelope attached to the box. "I imagine that explains it."
Grantaire reaches for the card, and the deliveryman deftly intervenes his body between Grantaire and the cart. "Not until you sign, sir."
Growling out a frustrated curse, Grantaire grabs the pen and the microcomp and signs off on the delivery.
"Very good, sir." The delivery man smiles, placing a hand on the box. "If you'd step out of the way, I'll get this into the house and leave you to unpacking."
Rolling his eyes, Grantaire stands aside and bows low, gesturing dramatically for the man to enter. It takes the man less than two minutes to unload the box from the hovercart into a hurriedly cleared section of Grantaire's living room, the man's movements careful and attentive, and then he's gone, leaving Grantaire frowning at the box.
Ripping open the card, he scans it quickly. It's a simple thing, neat, concise, a form letter of affection signed by both his parents. The only thing personalized about it is a single line of text written at the bottom in his mother's hand, hoping that he'll like the gift and assuring him that they'll call today and hopefully see him sometime in the near future.
Given that she's been hoping to see him in the near future for the last three years, since his last big falling-out with his father, Grantaire isn't going to hold his breath.
"Well, let's see what you got me." Grantaire frowns at the box, looking for a way to open it. The package seems odd, somehow, sturdier than most boxes, and there are small holes on the top and the sides.
Finally finding a seam, Grantaire opens the top, stares into the box, and then quickly closes it again.
He did not just see that.
Grantaire opens the box again, gets another look at piercing blue eyes in a face that is both leonine and human, sees the creature's mouth start to open in a startled hiss, and once more closes the top of the box.
"Why?" He moans out the word, pacing around the box, understanding now both the size and the air holes. "You always tell me I can barely take care of myself, why would you possibly give me something else to look after?"
There's a tentative scratch at the top of the box, and Grantaire hesitates, then shakes his head and once more opens the lid. Peering down at the Novelty crouched inside, he tries to smile and look non-threatening. "Hey there. Don't worry. I'm Grantaire. I'm the guy who's going to be taking care of you for a little bit."
Hopefully just for a little bit.
The Novelty stares up at him. It's some kind of human-lion-eagle mix, crouched on all fours at the bottom of the box, its velvety pointed ears pinned back to its head, bright blue eyes gazing up unblinkingly at Grantaire as a lion tail twitches against the side of the box and silvery eagle wings rustle.
"Um…" Grantaire hesitates, studying the box. After a few seconds he finds another seam and the front of the box folds down, giving the Novelty an easy way to exit. Holding out his hand, palm down, Grantaire smiles and puts on his most soothing voice. "Come on. Come on out. It's all right. I'm not scary."
The novelty's ears prick forward, and it takes a tentative step out of the box, sniffing daintily at Grantaire's hand. There are spider-silk fine whiskers around his nose that tickle at Grantaire's hand. "You're an owner?"
Grantaire blinks. He'd heard that some of the higher-class Novelties could mimic words or make simply requests, like parrots or very small children, but this one speaks clearly and concisely. "Yeah. I'm an owner. I… guess I'm your owner, at least for a while."
"Hm." The Novelty stretches, both hands flat on the ground, arms stretched out straight, wings spreading out to either side, tail held high behind it. "Why?"
"Why… what?" This is not how Grantaire had expected any meeting with a Novelty to go. Then again, he had never expected to meet a Novelty, not really. His parents are certainly rich enough to afford one, but he wouldn't trust himself with a normal pet, let alone one with special laws designed around it, and most of his friends simply lack the funds or desire to afford one of them.
"Why just for a while?" The Novelty raises his left hand—paw—Grantaire's not sure what to call it, the bone shape is human but the fingers are tipped with retracted claws and a light covering of fur coats the whole limb—raises his appendage to his mouth and licks it.
He realizes after a few minutes of staring that he should probably answer the Novelty. "Because I think there's been a mistake and I'm not supposed to be an owner."
"No. Combeferre's supposed to be my owner. He said he was going to buy me." The Novelty stands to his full height, just a few inches shorter than Grantaire.
"Combeferre?" Grantaire trails behind the Novelty as the male—definitely male, though there's a thicker coating of fur around his genitalia, a darker, silky gold that hides his sex at most times—paces around the living room, sniffing and touching things.
"My trainer." The Novelty sniffs at the television, then turns to fix Grantaire again with his steady stare. "He said he was going to buy me."
"Ah." A pang of understanding and sympathy runs through Grantaire. He's been the one trying to save up for something and having it snatched away at the last moment, and he knows it's not a pleasant feeling. Given how well this Novelty talks, his trainer must have put a great deal of work into him, too. "I'm sorry. I didn't know you were bought out from under someone."
The Novelty simply continues to stare at him.
"I'll look into finding him for you, how about that?" Grantaire tries to think of another possible line of conversation, and realizes that he hasn't eaten yet today. "Are you hungry?"
"Yes." The Novelty's ears prick forward. "They didn't feed me this morning. They just shoved me in the box."
The Novelty pins his ears back to his head and glares at the box as though it were to blame for all his misfortunes.
"Well, how about we go get you some food, and then—"
Grantaire is interrupted by his cell phone going off, and he pulls the offending object from his pocket and glares sullenly at the screen. Of course it's his mother calling.
Sighing, he gives the Novelty an apologetic shrug and goes to take the phone call.
The sooner he talks with her, the sooner he can return the Novelty to the Home and pretend this was all a strange, bad dream.