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I'm not dead!  Just very tired.  Sorry I've been kind of AWOL lately.  Work has been busy and we're moving, so there has not been much time.  Have some animal-human hybrids to make up for it?

Prologue; Part 1; Part 2


Part Three: Reprieve

Combeferre returns to work as soon as he regains control of his body, starting with his medical rounds and then moving on to his standard training sessions.

He cannot give up or walk away simply because 1789 has been stolen from him, though there is a part of him that wishes to, a bitter part that says he has done all he could, that he should run now before this job destroys any more of his soul.

He cannot run. He cannot quit. He may have lost 1789, but there are others that he has been working with, others that he owes allegiance to, and there is even a possibility of finding 1789 again, if he is patient and careful.

There will be a record of sale. There will be a name and an address. Combeferre is a respected trainer, a respected Novelty healer, and it is just possible that he can talk his way back into 1789's life, though his chances of ever buying the Sphinx and teaching him properly are slim to none now.

He will never get to teach 1789 how to read.

He will never get to show 1789 all the wonders he's wanted to, all the wonders he promised him.

He will never get to watch 1789 spread his wings, see how closely the sky truly matches his eye color.

He will never get to see exactly how human 1789 could be, if freed from the restrictions of his caged life.

"Sad." The word is a soft whine, and a tongue slides against the side of Combeferre's face, laps into his ear. "Combeferre sad."

"Yes." Combeferre turns his attention back to the Novelty in front of him, the wolf-human hybrid that he added to his training regiment two months ago. Combeferre has been quietly trawling the records in his spare time, trying to find the smartest of the Novelties and gather them to him—trying to see how many others there are like 1789. This one, Loup-Garou 1830, had seemed like a promising candidate, but Combeferre still isn't certain. Mimicking words is something 1830 is very good at, and he will use learned phrases repeatedly, usually in the proper situations, but he's never held an actual conversation with Combeferre like 1789 will and his speech hasn't become more human despite Combeferre's encouragement. "You're right. Combeferre is sad. Don't worry, though. You haven't done anything wrong. You're a good boy."

"Good boy." Grinning ear to ear, 1830 gives Combeferre's ear another lick. "Good boy! Good Combeferre."

No. If he were good, he wouldn't be here. If he were good, he would know what to do and who to talk to and how to make this whole mess stop, how to save 1789 and himself and all the others.

He's all the Novelties have, though, so he will have to be good enough. Ruffling the fur between 1830's pricked ears, Combeferre gives the excitable creature a smile. "If the good boy sits, he gets a treat."

For a moment Combeferre thinks the Loup-Garou will sit as it turns in a tight circle, walking on all fours, the slightly shortened rear legs and the slightly elongated arms making it look almost graceful, tail wagging madly behind it. Then the beast looks at him, smiles a bright smile that reveals large white teeth too serrated to belong in a human mouth, and yips excitedly. "Good boy!"

Combeferre sighs, taking a treat from his bag. "Sit."

The creature does as commanded, and Combeferre hands it the treat, which it devours happily before looking up at him expectantly.

He runs through a few more basic training commands—sit, stay, roll over, come, heel—and then brings the Novelty to one of the more advanced training rooms, working with him on sitting on the couch, at the table, on the commands for getting up on the furniture and down off the furniture and standing like a human and walking on all fours. The Loup-Garou is a talented and energetic charge, learning quickly, always eager to please, and Combeferre finds himself smiling, something he hadn't expected to do for days. He's almost disappointed when the time comes to return 1830 to his cage. He has another training session next, though, and then a fifteen minute break during which he will start trying to track down 1789.

1830 heels properly until they're just outside his cage, then bounds in a tight circle around Combeferre, tangling his legs with the leash. "Good boy. Good Combeferre."

"Sit." Combeferre bites out the command in exasperation, bending down in order to disentangle himself. "Stay."

The Loup-Garou settles down, pressed against Combeferre's side. He leans in, his tongue gentle against Combeferre's cheek, and whispers, "Don't be sad. I like you lots. Good boy. Make you happy?"

For a fraction of a second Combeferre freezes, not quite believing his ears.

Then he considers where they are, crouched in the hallway, safe from cameras, safe for a brief moment from other prying eyes or ears, and he thinks, perhaps, that he has greatly underestimated exactly how intelligent 1830 is.

Standing as calmly as he can, hiding his trembling, Combeferre reaches out and strokes the Loup-Garou between the ears again, earning another bout of frantic tail wagging. "You're very right. You're a very good boy." Dropping his own voice to a whisper, bending down to speak directly into the Novelty's ear, Combeferre continues to stroke his head. "And I very much like hearing you talk. Never be afraid to do it for me. For others, maybe, but not for me."

The Loup-Garou yips in response, a soft, pleasant bark that many owners have reported liking and that the trainers are supposed to encourage in moderation, but he also winks one eye in a gesture that is unmistakable.

Before Combeferre can respond with anything but a smile his earpiece vibrates, warning him of an incoming call, and he tenses, preparing both for the shock of sound delivered right to his ear and for what's probably a medical emergency.

It is the Home's broadcaster who speaks, but the woman on duty today isn't summoning him to an emergency surgery. She actually sounds half-interested, an overlay of curiosity to her voice that he hasn't heard often. "Combeferre. We've got a call here from a new owner about a Sphinx that he just purchased. We've been trying to help him, but he's somehow got your name in his head and has asked repeatedly to speak to you personally. Are you available to take the call?"

A new owner, a man who just purchased a Sphinx.

He knows better than to let hope run wild, but it does so anyway. "I can take it. Ask him to wait about sixty seconds while I finish putting 1830 away."

The broadcaster makes a noncommittal sound of acquiescence and the line goes dead again.

Leaning down, Combeferre places a kiss between the ears of 1830. "Back in your cage, my pretty boy, but don't worry. I'll be back tomorrow, and we'll have a lot more fun then. I promise."

"Combeferre happy." There's no sign of subterfuge or acting in the smile that 1830 gives, and his tail wags slowly side to side in contentment as he trots into his cage without a fuss and watches Combeferre close the door.

He wants to talk freely.

He wants to see how much 1830 knows.

He wants to know how many of his theories and speculations are right, how many are wrong, how many are partially right.

He needs to work with a Novelty outside of the Home, and the perfect opportunity is hopefully waiting for him on the other end of a monitored phone call. "Combeferre is very happy, so 1830 needs to be a good boy and eat his lunch and play with his toys."

The Loup-Garou doesn't nod. He doesn't say anything in acquiescence.

But he does go and very deliberately pick up a toy, gnawing at it with eager abandon, and his eyes sparkle with understanding as he watches Combeferre lock the door and turn away.

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