Ryuuken supposed this moment would happen sooner or later, having a child the age Uryuu was. He'd told himself that it really wouldn't happen if he did ask. Uryuu had enough things to occupy himself with. And in any case, Uryuu wouldn't occupy himself with it for long and he'd be the one who would end up with the entire situation in his hands. That's what always happened. He had enough things to take care of as it was and an animal wasn't something he felt he was cut out for. He had a child, wasn't that enough?
He hadn't really given any thought to getting his son a pet until one day Uryuu burst into the house and all hopes of a quiet afternoon off reading a newspaper were cruelly dashed. Children had a habit of doing that, cruelly dashing most hopes. Ryuuken gritted his teeth and sighed and almost counted down until he heard small footsteps run up to his chair and a voice say too loudly for his comfort, "Father!"
"What?" He straightened his paper and didn't look at the little boy dangling off the arm of the chair. Maybe if he saw his father was busy he'd go away.
Uryuu seemed almost entirely too agreeable, and eager and Ryuuken was sure he wanted something from him. He always did.
"The neighbors have something!"
"Good for them."
"It's something great."
"It's a rabbit!"
Turning a page, Ryuuken muttered, "That's wonderful." And stopped himself from asking, "And why do you think I care?" But then Uryuu, being of that age where sarcasm goes over his head would probably explain it to him.
"Uryuu, can't you see I'm trying to read?"
Uryuu slid from the side of the chair and walked in front of his father. Reluctantly, Ryuuken lowered the paper and frowned.
"I want one too!" said Uryuu, smiling.
Ryuuken blinked at him for a second before obscuring his face again. "No."
"B-but that's not an answer to --"
His body stiff with dejection, Uryuu stalked off to Ryuuken's extreme pleasure. It was bad enough being interrupted every few seconds of anything he was doing for a little boy. Imagine having to do the same for something like a rabbit.
At least if Uryuu was hungry he could get a snack. It wasn't like rabbits could pull chairs up to the kitchen counter and make an enourmous mess out of something as simple as getting a package of crackers and then leave the crackers out of the container and allow ants to invade the kitchen and be silly about it when asked why. You had to feed the crackers to the rabbit. And it would eat the entire cracker and not tell you it didn't like crackers this week.
And it didn't complain that your rice didn't taste like grandfather's and why were you such a bad cook?
Actually, the more Ryuuken thought about it, the more the rabbit sounded like gold. He wasn't getting one for Uryuu but maybe he should've weighed the rabbit option before having children. Rabbits lived only about six years didn't they? Most children lived longer than that.
That was a little morbid.
Back to the paper.
He read the same sentence twice and didn't go further on the story, which was wise because he knew Uryuu -- he was going to come back for an encore.
"Father," he said from the door, roughly a minute after he'd stomped out. "Think about it."
"And I still say no."
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Uryuu bite his lip. "Why not?"
"Can I have some juice?"
"N- yes." Thank God, maybe he'd shut up now.
Five minutes later, Ryuuken went into the kitchen and the juice was left out on the stovetop, cap off, and about 3/4ths of it were on the floor.
Really should've weighed the rabbit option.
It was two days later when Uryuu tried again. Ryuuken had to compliment his battle strategy -- he really didn't see it coming.
Uryuu took a bite of chicken and watched his father taking a sip of water. Chewing slowly, just watching, which was entirely unnerving.
Ryuuken set his glass down and Uryuu took another bite and then asked, with a combination of characteristic bad decision making as his mouth was full and a calculating surprise attack, "Can I have a rabbit?"
Ryuuken's mouth twitched for a second. He hadn't been expecting this. Things like this came and went. Uryuu was persistent but he'd thought he would've forgotten by now.
"Chew your food," he replied and waited for a moment. "You know better than that."
Uryuu swallowed and said. "Now, can I have a rabbit?"
"I believe I said no."
"Just a little bunny?" He made a size indicating the size with his thumb and index finger.
"I don't care how big it is," said Ryuuken, ignoring the skewed logic and choosing not to play his game.
"A small one wouldn't eat much."
"You wouldn't feed it anyway."
"I would! And clean it and feed it more and then clean it again when it made a mess."
Ryuuken sighed. "It's still no. You're too young to take care of something like that."
Uryuu looked down at his plate.
Ryuuken was completely immune to that but said anyway, "What if I bought you a stuffed rabbit? You could --"
"I have so many of those already!"
"Still no. And it will always be no, so stop asking questions."
Uryuu opened his mouth, closed it and thought about something hard.
"Is 'May I be excused' a question?" He paused. "Is that a question too?"
"Yes. And you can leave if you want. Don't tell me you're hungry later, however."
Uryuu ran from the table. Ryuuken was pretty certain he would find somewhere to go cry. He was immune to that as well and that boy was just too sensitive. Rejection was a factor of life and so was how you dealt with it. He was mostly just glad he didn't cry in front of him. That was incredibly awkward.
It was still no. He couldn't think of anything at this point his son could pull out that would make him agree.
"It would teach me responsibility."
It was a day later almost exactly and they were in the grocery store. Uryuu had been particularly quiet and Ryuuken had suspicions. They were confirmed when out of the blue, as Ryuuken had his back turned looking at cereal, Uryuu said simply, "It would teach me responsibility."
"Having a pet would teach me responsibility!"
Dammit, thought Ryuuken. He hadn't planned for this contingency. Logic? From his son? It was almost laughable but there it was. A very very good reason and Uryuu had that smug undertone in his voice knowing he'd won.
Uryuu was a pretty well-behaved child because that was mostly his nature. But still a child. A montage of a child who would do things just to see what would happen and not weigh the consequences of his actions came into his mind. A child who wouldn't stop and think, "Is this a bad idea? Will this cause problems? Will this annoy my father? Will this cause a fire and burn part of the cabinet off and make my father have to spend very much money to replace the entire cabinet because you can't replace pieces of cabinets?" And then the counter thoughts ... responsibility.
Dammit dammit dammit.
Not wanting to hear his cheer of delight and triumph, Ryuuken almost considered closing the case again but he had to admit defeat when he saw it.
He tossed a box of cereal in the cart and groaned. "Yes, we'll try it and see what happens."
Uryuu's face lit up as expected and fell a second later when he saw the cereal his father had deposited with their groceries. "That doesn't have sugar in it!"
"Don't push your luck."
For once, Uryuu didn't.
That evening itself, really wanting to get it over with, they went to a pet store. It was so noisy and smelly and Ryuuken really hoped they didn't have rabbits. That would be too perfect, however and in the spirit of things being cosmically fixed to never let you have upper hand, there were a few little white rabbits in a pin in the back. Twitchy noses, watery little eyes. Uryuu sighed when he saw them and leaned on the glass fence surrounding them.
"Can I have two?"
Sudden visions of accidentally getting a male and female and have an entire family before they got the milk home came into Ryuuken's mind. He wasn't ready to explain his reaction so he just said, "Not now."
"I see the one I want!" said Uryuu, not pressing the issue. He knew he was lucky to have one in any case.
"How can you tell?" said Ryuuken, pushing up his glasses. The damn things all looked the same.
"That one back there."
"Should we tell the clerk that's the one we want?"
Uryuu nodded resolutely. "It looks like a Hubert."
"That's the name of my rabbit!" Uryuu said, as if this was the most simple concept in the world.
Ryuuken was used to weird naming decisions from his son. He had a teddy bear home named "Whodunit" and a plastic alligator named "Possum." Hubert seemed normal by comparison. Incredibly ... a very English name, but not odd. Much.
"Hubert, Hubert, Hubert," said Uryuu under his breath. "Father, I think he knows his name!"
Uryuu pointed to a rabbit which was an entirely different one than the one designated Hubert previously.
Without replying, Ryuuken motioned to a shop worker.
It took about a week for Uryuu to break his word.
On the way home, Hubert-chan in a carrier, Ryuuken had made him promise to clean and fix and water the rabbit and his son had replied to yes on all counts.
Ryuuken was surprised it had lasted this long, in fact. One week was a record.
It wasn't that he didn't like the rabbit anymore, he loved it. A bit too much. Ryuuken had woken up one morning to the rabbit in bed, huddled next to Uryuu, a bit scared. The first night they'd brought it home, Uryuu kept squeezing it until Ryuuken had take it away, telling a very broken up Uryuu, "If you kill it, I am not buying you another."
Now every time Ryuuken would remind Uryuu to feed it, he would reply "in just a minute!" or "he doesn't look hungry to me ..." There was a resurgence of caretaking when Ryuuken said, "I will take that rabbit back just this second if you don't feed it now." But after several more threats and no action, Uryuu got comfortable to the idea the rabbit was going nowhere and simply stopped feeding it.
Not wanting it to die, really, Ryuuken grudgingly took it upon himself to feed the damn thing. It was the natural course of action and the one Ryuuken had expected to take all along. Uryuu was only interested in playing with it and sometimes giving it bits of carrot and that was it.
He always had some excuse and Ryuuken should've known better. This was a learning experience, but not for the right person.
A very sunny, early morning, found Ryuuken up doing the every-two-days cage clean. The cage sat on the doorstep, rabbit inside. It was a Tuesday, when the garbage ran, and it was a good set up, which was why Ryuuken was doing this so incredibly early. He could get the garbage to take away the waste now. It seemed like a good idea, in any case.
After a cup of coffee, he took the cage outside in the slightly chilly morning air. A good idea would've been to leave the rabbit inside, but it had never been a problem before. The whole issue with problems is half of them you don't see coming because they were never problems to begin with.
Ryuuken left the gate open as he took out the regular trash and set it on the street. And then opened the cage, scooped out the newspaper Hubert had been using and put that in the trash as well. The garbage wouldn't be around for a few more minutes, so he went back inside for a second cup of coffee.
It would just be his luck today that he didn't lock the cage.
It would just be his luck today that he didn't shut the gate very well.
It would be just his luck that he went back inside without knowing any of this.
That was the problem then -- if at least one of these things hadn't occurred or rather that hadn't occurred in a hellish symphony of trouble, it wouldn't have been a problem.
But of course it was because when Ryuuken went back outside to collect the rabbit and wash out the food remains, it was gone.
Just gone. The cage door flipped open, the gate nudged on a space a rabbit could get through. Not even squashed in the road. Just simply nowhere. It had only been five minutes.
Ryuuken almost dropped his coffee.
He spent the morning until he had to go to work searching and it was fruitless.
He went to the hospital incredibly angry and worried. He didn't really no why, but he did feel incredibly bad. It was Uryuu's first pet and he probably killed it. It did serve his son right, he thought. He should've taken care of it. But Ryuuken was the adult and he was setting a terrible example. A responsible adult wouldn't just come home to his son and explain, "I let your rabbit out." Actually, a responsible adult would've made Uryuu take care of the rabbit, so in every way possible it was his own fault.
He would now do what it was in his parental duty to do, and lie to him.
It was the right thing to do.
Luckily, he had a lunch break coming up.
"It has to be a white rabbit."
The girl working in the pet shop that day stared at him. "Sir, we have what we have. My apologies."
"No white rabbits?"
"Everyone wants them. If you had only been here a day ago --"
"Are you certain," said Ryuuken, trying to stay calm. "You are out of white rabbits?"
"Your insistence," said the girl, "is disturbing me, but yes, I'm very certain we are. Can you please settle for a black rabbit instead?"
"How is that like a white rabbit?"
"Sir," said the girl, "why does it matter?"
Uryuu was standing in the front door when Ryuuken came home, tearful.
"Where's Hubert-chan?" he asked, the moment he saw his father.
"I uh ..." Ryuuken didn't let his story slip. He, of course, had a story. "I took him out to get cleaned."
Uryuu's eyes widened.
"Here he is," he said, showing the carrier to his son.
Uryuu smiled until he looked inside. "Father, he's a black rabbit now?"
"They used a special ... dye on him," said Ryuuken.
"I liked Hubert-chan the way he was."
"You have to accept Hubert the way he is now. I accept Hubert the way he is now. You love him, don't you?"
"Yes!" said Uryuu, shocked at the implication.
"Then take him inside and give him some water."
"Do I have to? Can't -"
Five seconds with a new rabbit, well, a new rabbit in disguise and Uryuu was already up to it again.
"I said do it now."
Sighing, Uryuu took the rabbit inside.
He waited until his son's back was turned before he smiled. Damn, he was good.
"You are kidding me!"
He didn't mean to shout, as Uryuu was asleep and this was a huge problem. Damn it damn it. This was incredibly ridiculous.
He'd gone to feed the rabbit before he left for a very early shift, much out of habit and mostly out of resignation and had seen it.
The animal was in its cage, asleep at first. But when he opened it and offered it some pellets, it didn't stir. He touched it. Cold. It was dead and had been for a few hours.
"You are kidding me!" he hissed and looked around at his son, slumbering peacefully.
What now? Had he gotten a defective rabbit? In some way, this felt like Ryuuken's fault as well. It was a chain of events, a snowballing of guilt he tried not to feel. If he hadn't done this, this wouldn't have happened, etc.
He would've laughed because it was so absurd it was funny but mostly he was pissed.
Pissed enough that he grabbed the rabbit, carrier and all and waited for 15 minutes for the pet shop to open, marched inside to the bleary-eyed clerks, and brandished the rabbit.
"You sold me this yesterday."
The boy behind the counter blinked. "Is --"
"Yes, it's dead, you work in a store with animals, you can't tell when one is dead?"
The clerk blushed. "We could give you a full refund," he said swiftly.
Ryuuken blinked and set the rabbit on the counter. "Why are you --"
The clerk bit his lip. "We're very sorry for your inconvenience, sir. I do regret to inform you that it isn't store policy to give refunds, however ... you seem to be the only one who bought a black rabbit so far."
Ryuuken, confused, allowed him to continue.
"Because its brothers and sisters died last night. They were all very ill and I'm sorry, but we didn't know."
"You couldn't tell they were ill?"
"I just work in a pet store, sir."
"Don't you have a vet who works here?"
"Look, sir," said the boy. "We can give you a refund. That's all we can do."
Ryuuken glared. "What about another rabbit?"
"We don't get any for several days -- I told you, the rest died and ..."
This was the end, then. He had to go home, explain to his son that he had let the plan go awry, had let the rabbit out, bought a new one, lied to his son and now tried to lie again and swap the dead rabbit out.
A few weeks ago he had gotten very angry at Uryuu for lying about eating cookies before dinner. This was a huge lie. Why was this whole responsible adult thing so difficult? Didn't you reach a certain age and things got so much easier? He didn't really believe that, but hope never hurt.
He drummed his fingers on the carrier and pushed his glasses up to rub the bridge of his nose.
"I can --" said the clerk.
"I'm thinking!" he snapped quietly.
There had to be an idea here. Ryuuken was a clever man.
No, there really couldn't be. Unless ...
"Listen," he said, suddenly, straightening his glasses. "Instead of a refund, how about another animal of the rodent family?"
"Of course!" said the boy, with a smile. "How about a hamster?"
"Hubert-chan," said Uryuu, looking in the box. "Has gotten smaller."
The cleaners story had worked again and Ryuuken was half happy that it had been pulled off and half disappointed that his son was that gullible. No matter.
"He shrank," said Ryuuken with a cough. "In the wash."
"He's very cute still, " said Uryuu, with a nod, as though he was worried about hurting the damn thing's feelings. "But ... please, father, don't take him out again. I liked him the way he was."
"I accept him as my Hubert-chan," said Uryuu, "but I don't want anything else to happen to him."
He smiled and took "Hubert" into his hands and walked into his room with him.
Exactly three hours later Hubert was sucked into a vacuum cleaner.
Living in town, there wasn't much space in the yard, but there was a small courtyard with a patch of dirt for flowerbeds. It was not very quiet and serene, but at least it was dirt. Hubert was placed in a shoebox and Ryuuken did the honors with a spade he found under the sink, making a shallow grave and placing him inside.
Uryuu had not stopped crying since he'd burst from his room saying Hubert was gone and Ryuuken had to make the long walk to the vacuum cleaner he'd been using to clean up some of the cereal Uryuu had swore he hated but had eaten dry in a bowl for lunch for some reason and then crunched it into the floor with his shoes.
So now Hubert was gone, forever.
They stood in the slightly overcast yard, the sun darting in and out of the clouds, Uryuu sobbing quietly.
"He was a good rabbit," he said. "Never complained, even when he turned black and shrunk ..."
Uryuu had made a tiny, Quincy-cross shaped headstone by gluing some rocks he found together. Much to Ryuuken's complete displeasure. But he said nothing, as the boy was in mourning. He even agreed to write on the grave with a permanent marker, "Ishida Hubert" with the day he arrived and the day's date.
Uryuu found some common weed flowers growing near a light post in the front and tossed them on the grave.
"Father," he said quietly. "Will you say a few words?"
Ryuuken, very glad at this point to be technically out of hot water, as Uryuu had accepted this an accident and oddly blamed himself for not closing the cage. This was one secret, Hubert and his various incarnations, that Ryuuken would take to his own grave.
"Uryuu, I have to be at work in --"
Ryuuken sighed and said in a hurry, "He was a very good ... rodent and was very loved by my son. May his young spirit rest in peace. Is that good?"
Not speaking, tears on his face, Uryuu nodded.
He pried the boy's fingers from his coat and left for work.
No more was said on the subject until a few days later, when Ryuuken was gone and Uryuu was supposed to be home, but he called to ask him if he wanted his father to even come for lunch as he was very busy, and Uryuu didn't pick up.
He was at his grandfather's house.
Ryuuken came home anyway, ready to scold Uryuu for leaving the house and especially going there, when he heard something strange coming from inside the house. Uryuu was laughing and there was another noise, muffled.
He opened the door and heard his son say audibly, "Shhhh, he'll hear you and it's a surprise."
He shut the door loudly. "Uryuu, get in here."
"Shh," he heard again, from the next room. "Stay here, be --"
"Coming!" he yelled and ran to greet his father.
"What did --"
Uryuu cut him off with a laugh, a very out of place laugh, as the mood has been very somber in the household lately. "I have a surprise, come and see!"
Ryuuken folded his arms. "Don't interrupt me."
"It's a good happy, surprise."
He grabbed the sleeve of his father's jacket and Ryuuken felt himself being led into the living room.
Nothing seemed out of ordinary.
"Close your eyes," said Uryuu, when they'd stopped.
Before he could tell Uryuu no, he didn't want to play a game and before he could close his eyes anyway, a small face peered out from under the sofa.
"Oh!" said Uryuu and ran over, and Ryuuken felt his heart sinking. Damn.
Uryuu bent over and pulled the animal out from under the couch and held him up.
Ryuuken felt his heart drop into his stomach.
Uryuu smiled and wiggled it. "Father," he said, brandishing the puppy, "meet Hubert the Second!"