"Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable; love does not keep a record of wrongs; love is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth. Love never gives up; and its faith, hope, and patience never fail.
Love is eternal."
(1 Cor. 13:1-8a)
A stray cat dashed underneath Satomi Minamoto, threatening to knock her off her feet. She managed to shoo it away with a broom, barely taking note of the meal it had taken from the garden—maybe a bird that had nested too close to the ground. That was the one problem about this house: too many stray animals managed to get in.
But she still loved it. It was one of the houses built in the old style of the Meiji era and earlier, before the World Wars and industrialization. It was such an anachronism in the city, but to her, it was paradise. It was reliving the days of old, the days of innocence—the perfect place to raise a child. But she knew she couldn't get too attached. She'd married Kousei with the full knowledge that his job sometimes made him move around a lot more than he would have liked. It was very possible that they'd have to move, but not for another year or so.
Her new stepson, Koji, emerged from his room with a bag of breadcrumbs. At eight, he wasn't very adaptable to change, especially the biggest one of all that had come when Satomi joined his family. Somehow, she couldn't help but feel that in his eyes, she was still a stranger. It was going to be hard getting him to accept her, but she loved him and his father enough to rise to the challenge.
He knelt over the side of a koi pond in the middle of the yard, pushing the hair out of his eyes as he sprinkled a few crumbs into the water. Satomi frowned. Hadn't she cut his hair at the beginning of the month? It was growing too quickly for her to keep up with. Maybe it would just be easier if she and Kousei let him grow it out…
And then she realized that something was wrong. Koji seemed to be frustrated, frantically looking around in the water for something. She ran up to him, asking, "What's wrong?"
"I don't need your help," he protested, giving up his search and walking back inside. It seemed that whatever had upset him wasn't worth asking his stepmother's help for. Satomi watched him retreat back to the house as she tried not to feel hurt. He was still adapting. Soon enough he'd accept that she loved him and just wanted to be part of the family.
She finally glanced back at the water and whispered, "Oh, God." The breadcrumbs were floating on the surface, untouched. Where was the koi they had won for Koji at the town festival last week?
The sound of mewing answered her question. The cat she'd chased away was sitting on the wall around the garden, feasting on a freshly killed carp. Satomi grabbed her broom and waved it at the cat, finally getting it way from the fish and out of the garden. She then picked the koi's carcass off the wall and carried it to the garbage can.
"Satomi?" her husband asked. He hadn't seen the rather sad display of the circle of life. "Is there something wrong?"
"Koji's koi died," she answered.
"What?" he questioned. "How?"
"A cat got in the yard again and ate it."
"What are we going to do? He loved that fish."
"We're going to have to replace it or get a new pet. And preferably before Christmas."
"You're right," she agreed, replacing the lid on the can. "But I can tell you one thing: we're not getting him a cat."
The minute Koji got out of school, Satomi took him to his grandfather's house for the afternoon while she waited for Kousei to get home from work. It was the most stressful two hours she'd ever faced. In a few days would be her first Christmas with them as a whole family, and here a cat had gone and screwed up the entire holiday—a cat and a fish. And this koi was definitely testing her love right now, not to mention her sanity.
To keep her head straight, she made a list of all the pet stores in the area and tried to think of what kind of pet they should get for Koji. Cats were certainly out of the question, and another koi would be too much trouble. Goldfish would be even worse—their life spans were short, and they'd have to go through this whole crisis all over again. A bird or a dog might work, unless Kousei had an objection. But then thoughts of a turtle came to mind, or a rabbit, or a hamster, or a…
"Satomi, I'm home," Kousei announced. She walked to him with the list and a pen, and before even kissing him hello, she held it out to him.
"I made a list of every pet store nearby so we can check off any that we should turn down," she informed.
He blinked in surprise at her straightforward determination. "That's…good. Can we wait a minute before we go out, though?"
"I know, I'm sorry, it's just I want this Christmas to be perfect, and then all of this happens. I'm trying to earn Koji's love, I really am, but now I feel like it's my fault that his fish got eaten."
"Satomi, don't blame yourself. We should have expected anyway that having a koi pond would invite trouble from the stray cats in the area. If you want to blame anyone for this, blame the irresponsible cat owners that got us in this mess." She couldn't help smiling at his comment. "And about Koji… Well, all I can say is he's stubborn. Things are hard on him right now."
"Yeah," she agreed. "With him being so young when his mother died, my marrying you must have seemed like I was intruding on his memories." Kousei seemed to look a little uncomfortable. "Something wrong?"
"Er, nothing," he replied. "We should get ready."
"Okay, I'll give you a chance to change," she answered.
Sighing at his near miss with his guilty conscience, Kousei entered their room and changed from his business attire to a comfortable sweater and pants. He hated lying to Satomi and to Koji, but past mistakes had an ugly habit of turning around and biting him in the rear. He fished out his wallet and slipped a single photograph out from behind his ID. It didn't seem to be anything special—just a baby's first Christmas photo. But a closer look would have heralded questions as to why two infants shared the spotlight. The babies were identical, and not in the way that all babies seemed to look the same to the untrained eye; these little ones were most certainly twins, dressed in identical clothes just as parents tended to do when they found themselves with a double miracle of life. It had been their first and last Christmas together as a family.
Kousei returned the picture to its hiding place before placing his wallet in his pocket. His first marriage was a mistake; he knew that now, and he accepted it. But those two a mistake? Never. Despite everything he'd had to go through with saying goodbye to Koichi and having to raise the unruly Koji, he would never once think of either one of them as a mistake.
He walked out of the door and announced, "Let's go."
There were four pet shops within driving distance of their house. Two were closer to their neighborhood than the others, which were further into the city. Hoping to find a new pet quickly and without too much strife, they headed to the two local stores.
The first was promising, with animals staring out through glass cages. Puppies were jumping and yipping with pleas of "Buy me! Buy me! Take me home with you!" while kittens played with little bells and catnip balls. Birds sang nature's equivalent to Christmas carols and rabbits munched on vegetables. But Kousei looked at the prices and whispered to his wife, "Let's check another store. I think we can get a better price."
The next store had gone out of business, leaving them to make the longer journey into the city.
A boy of about sixteen glared impatiently at a boy of six as he stared at the pets in the window of the third store.
"You think Mommy and Daddy will get us a pet?" he asked.
The older boy sighed in annoyance. "How many times do I have to tell you? Mom's allergic to fur, so we can't get a pet. Besides, you need to get away from the door; some people are trying to enter."
The younger brother stepped out of the way and smiled when Satomi thanked him, but he was clearly heard to retort, "At least she's nice to me," to his brother before the door closed.
The prices were a lot better than the last had been, and the staff was well trained to answer any questions the Minamotos had. The salesgirl they were speaking to had come from a large family, and so she knew very well what kinds of pets kids liked. There was one problem though:
She was a bit pushy, trying to talk them into buying pets that they particularly didn't want.
"Well how about a tarantula?" she suggested, completely ignoring the fact that Kousei's face had completely drained of color. "They've been de-fanged, they're not poisonous to humans, and little boys love them."
"No," Kousei managed to refuse. He looked like he was ready to faint.
"He's deathly afraid of spiders," Satomi explained.
"Oh, okay then," the salesgirl replied. "What about a snake?"
"Isn't that a bit dangerous?" Satomi questioned, now feeling a bit squeamish herself.
"Oh, no," the salesgirl answered. "They're completely non-venomous. In fact, my cousin has a boa constrictor, and he loves it."
"Don't those things try to squeeze the life out of their prey?" Kousei asked nervously. Satomi stared at him in horror. There was no way they were going to get their son something that deadly!
"Don't worry about it," the salesgirl replied. "We breed these in captivity and raise them not to harm humans. Of course, there is always a possibility that the snake could view your son as a threat if he did something to anger it, but the odds of that happening aren't that high."
"Our son is only eight," Kousei informed, "so I don't think a snake is a completely appropriate pet." Satomi vehemently agreed.
"Well, there is the old fallback of a goldfish so he can learn responsibility," the salesgirl suggested.
Kousei and Satomi looked at each other. The looks on their faces said the same thing: No more fish.
"Thank you anyway," Satomi replied. "We'll keep looking."
"Okay, good luck!"
When they left the building, the two boys were still standing out front, but the younger was by their parents, trying to convince them to buy him a pet. The elder was reclined against the wall, sighing when the Minamotos walked out.
"Couldn't find anything?" he guessed.
"No," Kousei answered. "We're going to check another store."
"Don't bother," he advised. "My brother kind of dragged me over there before we came here. They have a lousy selection, and I wouldn't be surprised if they neglect the animals they have. I'm planning on reporting them to see if anything can be done about it."
"Oh," Satomi answered in disappointment.
"You're really desperate to get a pet, aren't you?" the boy observed.
"Our son's koi just died," Kousei explained. "We're looking for another pet to replace it, but we're not having any luck."
"Well, I don't know what he might like, but I might have a solution," he informed, fishing in his pocket. He pulled out a slip of paper with a name and phone number on it. "A guy in our neighborhood is selling some puppies. That's what got my brother on this fixation of having a pet." He pointed a thumb in the child's direction, where the negotiations seemed to be failing. "At least this is one thing they won't buy for him. Anyway, this man breeds German shepherds, and he has a couple that he's selling cheap. There's nothing wrong with them as far as I can tell, but I think he's retiring and wants to get rid of the last of his dogs. Call him and find out."
"Thank you," Satomi answered, taking the paper.
A quick phone call on the road confirmed the boy's story. Hitoshi Saitou used to breed puppies, but he was retiring now to enjoy more time with his children and grandchildren. He was happy to let the Minamotos come by to try and find a suitable dog for Koji.
There were six pups to choose from, each one eager to be adopted. As Saitou gave them the information they needed to know, the pups tried to win over the potential buyers, grabbing at clothing and yipping out, "Look at me! Take me!"
"They're not housetrained yet, so you'll have to teach them yourself," Saitou explained. "And be careful not secure anything they might get into too easily, just like you have to with toddlers. How old is your son again?"
"Eight," Kousei answered.
"Well, this might be an important lesson in responsibility for him. Be sure to remind him to give it food and water and walk it."
"We shouldn't have too much of a problem with that," Satomi replied. "He's pretty mature for his age."
"What happened to his last pet?" Saitou asked.
"It was a koi. It got eaten by a cat," Kousei answered with some embarrassment. No matter how many times they had to tell this story, it was still embarrassing. Humorous, yes, if one ignored the fact that Koji had been devastated to lose his pet, but very embarrassing.
"Ah, well, you won't have to worry too much about cats now," Saitou laughed, finding the humorous side to the story. "But keep the pup away from them if you can. It's pretty much the same reason you'd want to keep your son away too. You never know what kind of diseases they might carry."
A pup started grabbing at the legs of Satomi's pants with its teeth, trying to bring her to the floor. She reached down and picked it up. "This one seems awfully determined. What do you think?"
"That's a very energetic one," Saitou commented. "A good choice for a young boy. It'll grow with him."
"How much is it?" Kousei asked.
"I can work it out with you."
It was a day later when the pup came to its new home. Kousei had negotiated with Saitou to get a more than reasonable price, but the pup still had to get vaccinations and all other sorts of necessities before they could bring it home. So when everything was taken care of, they drove to Kousuke Minamoto's to pick up Koji.
"Son, I hope he takes well to it," Kousuke commented to Kousei.
"How was he?" Kousei checked.
"Moody, depressed," Kousuke answered. "Just the same as any young kid who just lost a pet. To anyone else, it was just a fish, but to him…" He sighed. "You were the same when your first pet died. You recovered. So will he."
Koji climbed into the back of the car silently, still seeming as upset as he'd been the day before. He buckled his seatbelt and stared at the window.
"Did you have fun with Grandpa, Koji?" Satomi questioned. He shot a glare at her. Softly, she added, "I'm sorry."
"Koji, while you were at Grandpa's, we bought you something," Kousei informed.
"What?" the boy asked in confusion.
"You'll see it when we get home," Kousei promised.
Koji gave them both a puzzled look as they approached their house. Walking inside, he discovered a small black-and-brown puppy barking at the door. It came up to him and sniffed him, and soon began reaching to be petted. But Koji wasn't reacting. His parents looked at each other worriedly. Had all of their plans to make amends failed?
"Koji, are you okay?" Satomi checked.
"Why did you buy it?" he questioned, his fists and voice shaking.
"We wanted to make up for your koi dying," Kousei explained. "We went all around the city looking for something to get you."
"And you thought this would make things better?"
"It will get better in time, you'll see," Kousei offered, but Satomi held up a hand to stop him. She then walked over to Koji, knelt down, and hugged him. He tried to fight against it, but she wouldn't let go.
"Why do you keep doing this?" he asked.
"It's because we love you," she explained. She noticed that he was crying, but she didn't call attention to it. Rather, she set him loose and let the pup run up to him to offer comfort, which he accepted. At least that was one kind of love he could adapt to easily.
"Merry Christmas, sweetie," she whispered. "I love you."
I do not own Digimon. Obviously enough, the two kids at the pet store were Yutaka and Tommy Himi. I went under the assumption that Yutaka was ten years older, explaining the ages. The name Kousuke comes from Daisuke's father in D.N. Angel, and I used it because I wanted to keep up the "Kou" pattern of names in the Minamoto family (Kousei, Kouji/Koji, Kouichi/Koichi).
Although the pet store scenes were inspired by the episode of Rugrats when Spike runs away and the Pickles family tries to get a new pet for Tommy, most of the inspiration comes from Ajora, who ranted one day about summaries detailing how so-and-so's "koi" died. In that context, koi means fish, not lover. Koi as love is the romantic emotion of love, where koibito means lover. Major thanks to her and Lord Archive for clearing up any confusion I had with that word.