AN: I suppose an explanation is in order. This story was inspired by a line in GreyLiliy's story, Burlap, reading "He had one guy terrified of rabbits just by having a bunny in the room," in regards to Jonathan Crane's fear experiments. Well, a bunny and Jonathan together; there's a mental image I can't pass up. And given his horses and crows and all from the comics, I get the feeling he likes animals.
No, I haven't given up on my other story, and I do have the next chapter started. This is just a one shot.
Dr. Ruth Adams is psychotherapist from Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth. Watership Down is a book with rabbits as the main characters, and Fiver is the name of one of them.
Jonathan stared at the rabbit huddled in the corner of his cage and wondered how he'd let himself be talked into this.
Driving Ruth to the hospital for her knee replacement surgery had been one thing. She couldn't take her own car, as she obviously wouldn't be able to drive herself back, and their apartments were only fifteen or twenty minutes away, so it wasn't too much of a hassle. He wouldn't have to pick her up after her recovery period, either, as she'd arranged for a friend to do that. Said friend was apparently unable to drive her to the surgery, however, as he was out of town on business.
It may not have been too much of a hassle, but he'd still have preferred not to do it. The Arkham staff may have slightly more brain in their heads than most idiots in the city, but that didn't make spending time with them any more comfortable. He'd learned long ago—kindergarten, to be exact—that he did not fit in well with others, and had since accepted that and tried to avoid people whenever possible. He was no good at talking to others anyway, unless it was work-related. The whole thing was awkward and beneath him and he preferred not to take part in it.
He'd had no choice when Ruth cornered him in the break room, unfortunately. It seemed none of her friends were free to drive her and she'd already asked everyone else at Arkham, which he took as a sign that she'd rather not have him drive her either. He'd wanted to say no badly—if hell was other people, then being stuck in a car with a coworker making forced conversation for the duration of time it would take to get to Gotham General was the ninth circle—but he knew that was a bad idea. Little as he understood about social interaction, he knew refusing a peer in a time of need, in front of others, would not come off well.
And he couldn't afford to come off poorly, not while he was conducting research on the patients. If the staff got the impression that he was cold and heartless, they might begin to question why so many of his patients had strange side effects from their medications. Or why the patients were so terrified of him. So, grudgingly, he'd agreed. And if it had ended there, it would have been fine.
But then Ruth had brought up the rabbit.
"Watch your what?" he'd said, taking a sip of tea. The tea had gone cold while Ruth had been begging him for a ride, and he frowned at the taste.
"Please?" she asked, hands clasped in front of her, as if in prayer. He noted that, although Ruth smoked, and had just been on break doing so, her fingers weren't stained with nicotine. She always had a spotless, organized look about her, which he supposed was a sign that she probably kept her pet clean as well. Not that it mattered, because there was no way he was looking after a rabbit. "There's no one else to take care of him."
"I thought your friend was getting back into town the night of your surgery?"
"Yes, but his apartment doesn't allow pets and he lives too far away to ask him to drive over each day. Not with gas what it is."
"None of your neighbors can do it?"
"There's only one I'd trust, and she's allergic. Please?"
He hadn't even known people could have allergic reactions to rabbits. Well, people could be allergic to anything, but "rabbit allergy" wasn't one he'd heard before. He glanced around the room, trying not to make it obvious that he was doing so as he did. This was absurd. The break room was full of women; surely it wasn't too much to ask for one to exclaim "Awww, I love bunnies!" and offer to watch the thing.
Apparently it was, as no one did. He held in a sigh. "I don't know anything about rabbits, Ruth, I don't think—"
"I've got the food and everything else he'll need and I'll write it all out for you. He's not at all high maintenance, you'll hardly even know he's there. Please."
It wasn't a question, this time. She was determined, to say the least. Not that determination was always a good trait. He held in another sigh, breathing deeply in and out before he responded. "All right."
"Thank you." Her hands unclasped at once, and the tension went out of her posture. "I owe you one."
"Think nothing of it." He hoped his tone didn't sound as sarcastic as it did in his head. He glanced at the clock and stood before the conversation could go anywhere else. His next appointment wouldn't start for ten minutes, but he didn't mind starting earlier. Especially when he had a new compound to test.
And so Jonathan found himself parking outside of Ruth's apartment the following Sunday, carrying down her bags as she trailed behind, limping slightly as she held the rabbit's cage and other belongings in hand. He opened the car door and sat the bags on one seat, watching as she secured the pen on the floor, adjusting its position until she seemed sure it wouldn't slide around. Inside the cage, the rabbit watched him, crouched down in the corner opposite Jonathan. It seemed he wasn't enthused about this either.
"What's his name?" Jonathan asked, as Ruth stepped in on the passenger side.
"Fiver?" She'd named her pet after money? Or perhaps he was the fifth of his litter.
"Watership Down was my favorite book when I was young."
He nodded, remembering the book's title but nothing else about it.
"I paper-clipped the instructions for everything onto his bag of pellets. And the hospital number's on there in case you have any questions."
A silence fell between them, long and awkward. The only sounds came from the rabbit shuffling around in the cage and the city outside. He cast about for something to say, found nothing. He was really no good at this.
"Mind if I smoke?"
He reflected that smoking before surgery was generally frowned upon by doctors. Oh well. Not his decision. "Just roll the window down."
His mother smoked. Or had, anyway. She'd quit while she was pregnant with his sister. He wasn't sure if she'd smoked while pregnant with him, or if she'd even smoked at all before him. She'd only been sixteen, but that didn't mean she couldn't get her hands on cigarettes. He didn't think she'd gone back to smoking, but he hadn't seen her since getting his PhD.
The silence fell again, intercut with Ruth's breathing and the rabbit's movements. This time it lasted until they reached the hospital.
The rabbit shouldn't be this much of a distraction.
Ruth hadn't been lying about the low maintenance; she'd provided everything he needed, and there wasn't much he had to do to take care of the rabbit. Make sure he had food and water, and keep the litter pan in his pen clean, and that was about it.
Except for his attempts to get the rabbit out of the cage.
Ruth's note had mentioned that he needed at least two hours out of the pen, in a "rabbit-proofed area." He wasn't sure what constituted rabbit-proofed, but he supposed as long as he was there to supervise and there were no electrical cords or the like for the rabbit to chew on, it would be safe. The only issue was getting the rabbit into the room.
He'd opened the door to the pen, after making sure the bedroom door was shut, expecting that that would be it.
The rabbit didn't move. He sat, huddled as far away as he could from Jonathan, watching without going anywhere. Why wasn't it working? Did rabbits like confinement? He knelt down, noticed that the rabbit was twitching. Was he afraid?
Well, it made sense. He was frightening enough to people—and not just patients; he'd made more than one intern cry—and he supposed animals should be no different. Except maybe for horses. He walked over to the bed, sat down, waited. Maybe it was his proximity that was the problem.
The rabbit didn't move. He still looked terrified.
Not that it mattered. He shrugged, went back to his notes. What difference did it make to him if someone else's pet wanted nothing to do with him? It wasn't as if he cared; Ruth couldn't blame him if her rabbit decided not to run around. It would make his life easier not to have to watch the thing. Anyway, he preferred to be alone, be it dealing with people or animals. Neither understood him, and neither had ever really connected with him. Except for the horses. And possibly Joan Leland, with her constant attempts to socialize with him, but he had a feeling she wouldn't appreciate the experiments he conducted. And she was far too cheerful all the time. It was annoying.
He could feel the rabbit's eyes on him.
With a sigh, he turned the other way, so that the cage was no longer in his peripheral vision. He still felt it. This was going to be a long night.
Monday at Arkham went well, as far as a Monday could go. Especially at Arkham. The new compound induced fear, and it induced it well, there was no question about that. But beyond that success, he couldn't help but feel that things had come to a standstill. Causing fear was an art unto itself, but to truly understand it, he needed to be able to do more. What that "more" should be, he wasn't quite sure.
He managed to forget the rabbit until he walked into the bedroom and saw him, sitting in the cage in the corner. Watching Jonathan, and still huddled as far back as he could go. Still terrified.
Whatever. He couldn't care less about the rabbit's opinion about him. He walked over, opened the cage's door. Of course the thing didn't hop out. He lay down on the bed, hands resting behind his head as he stared up at the ceiling, wishing he couldn't feel the animal watching him. Creating a general fear, he'd decided, was one thing. He wondered if it would be possible to induce a specific fear by introducing a conditioned stimulus along with the toxin. Certainly his patients were afraid of him, but he was also the provider of the toxin. Suppose something else just happened to be in the room during the toxin exposure. Would that have the same effect?
What to use, though? Something that the patient wasn't already frightened of, but nothing too obscure. Certain fears were easier to create than others. One didn't see many people with a crippling fear of ball point pens, but a lot of people were afraid of the dark. Not that he could use the dark. That would be unsafe and difficult to observe. Drowning was also out, as was fire, thanks to the smoke detectors, and the thunderstorms, given that he couldn't control the weather.
He ran through other common fears in his head. Fear of pain would involve leaving marks, and he couldn't claim that all of his patients had developed self mutilating tendencies. Death wouldn't work either, or enclosed spaces, which would involve getting too close to the patient. Some of them got violent when they got scared. Perhaps an animal, like a spider, but he didn't feel like tracking down all of Arkham's spiders and keeping them well-feed. Besides, most people were already afraid of spiders, and he didn't want to go with too common of a fear, either. Something irrational, but not too rare.
The rabbit was watching him. He sat up, stared back. Was it his imagination, or was the rabbit frowing? Could rabbits frown? "I don't need your approval," Jonathan informed him. The rabbit didn't respond, and he stood, left the room. He closed the door behind him, deciding to brainstorm in the living room. The rabbit could run around all he wanted with Jonathan gone, and then he wouldn't have to feel the animal's eyes on him.
Two hours of brainstorming later—which had quickly degenerated into giving up and watching Buffy reruns; only, he told himself, because there was nothing else on—he returned to the bedroom, opening the door slowly in case the rabbit went darting out. There was no movement from inside the room.
Upon examination, the rabbit was still in his cage.
Jonathan blinked. His presence couldn't be so horrifying as to frighten the thing when he was out of the room, could it? That made no sense. But what else could the rabbit be afraid of, the room itself? No, that would be idio—oh. He supposed the rabbit was in a strange new place and away from his owner. Maybe it wasn't Jonathan that he was afraid of, per se, just the situation. He sat down in front of the rabbit's cage, watching him. He wondered how lonely Fiver must be feeling. And how helpless.
Slowly, he reached a hand into the cage, stroked the rabbit's fur. Fiver tensed, but didn't bolt. He continued to pet him as he reached the other hand in, then gently lifted the rabbit from the cage and held him against his chest. The rabbit was shaking, but not struggling. And his fur was soft. Maybe he wasn't as unpleasant as Jonathan had thought.
"Come on," he said softly, carrying Fiver over to the bed.
Rabbits, Jonathan decided as he held out the sprig of parsley, were every bit as good as horses. Maybe better. Certainly they were easier to hold. Fiver put his front paws on Jonathan's thigh—which tickled, though he kept from moving—and nibbled on the vegetable. With his free hand, Jonathan stroked Fiver behind the ears.
It was hard to remember what he'd disliked about the rabbit. Fiver's company was certainly preferable to most people that he knew. He was a friendly, beautiful animal, and certainly posed no threat. Jonathan wasn't sure why he'd felt unnerved by him. The poor thing had been so frightened and alone in that cage. Not to mention helpless. Rabbits didn't have much in the way of defense, and that knowledge made Jonathan depressed on Fiver's behalf. No wonder so many predators targeted bunnies. Poor little rabbit, unable to fight or even inspire fear.
Fear. He stiffened a little, which Fiver didn't notice. Leporiphobia, he knew, wasn't too rare, despite the fact that bunnies were about as frightening as their dust counterparts. He felt as if he owed the rabbit something, to make up for his earlier cold behavior. And what better way to redeem himself than by making Fiver an object of fear? Fear was power, after all, and everyone wanted power.
But no. That was ridiculous. He ought to be ashamed of himself for even thinking of it; the idea was absurd. He couldn't bring a rabbit into Arkham, it would raise questions. And the screaming would traumatize Fiver. Still. If he could find a way to make it work…
"Oh, he's so cute," Joan said, kneeling down to get a better glimpse into the carrier on Jonathan's desk. "He's Ruth's?"
Jonathan nodded. "I'd forgotten they were doing maintenance on my apartment this week when I agreed to watch him. I didn't think Ruth would appreciate Fiver being left alone with a bunch of strangers fixing the heating system. And the rabbit would be terrified."
"I'd imagine so." Joan placed her fingers through the bars and smiled as the rabbit leaned forward to sniff her hand. "Still, it was sweet of you to be so concerned for his welfare."
She held back a grin as Jonathan's face reddened slightly. It was cute the way compliments embarrassed him, a sign of humanity beneath his cold behavior. It was a shame he was so shy; if he could only manage to relax around people, she thought he'd be far less stressed.
"It was common sense."
"It's still nice." She removed her hand from the bars, straightened up. "He's not going to visit your patients with you, is he?"
"Of course not." He smiled, albeit tensely. At least he'd recognized that she was kidding, which, for him, was rare. Joan sometimes wondered how someone so naïve and timid got to his position. "Speaking of which, I'd better be off soon."
"I'll leave you to finish that up, then." She nodded toward the open file on his desk, and left, with a final wave to both Jonathan and the rabbit.
"W-what is that?"
Isaac Brooks showed an unusual amount of symptoms relating to an anxiety condition, considering that he was being treated at Arkham for severe bipolar disorder. Not that he'd had the stuttering or shaking or nervous demeanor before Jonathan Crane was appointed his psychiatrist, but the rest of the staff he interacted with never seemed to have put two and two together.
"It's a rabbit," Jonathan said brightly, tapping the carrier seated on the table.
"Why do you have a r-rabbit?" Isaac pulled slightly on the restraints holding him to the chair. Before Jonathan began the toxin experiments, his patient had been stuck in a rather violent state of mania, thus requiring the straps. Jonathan had leveled out his mood through medications, so he'd have a normal slate to gauge reactions off of, but it had slipped his mind to tell anyone this, so the restraints stayed.
Jonathan shrugged, as if it was perfectly ordinary to bring a small woodland creature to a therapy session. "He's helping in my research. Speaking of which, let's get started." He opened his briefcase, pulling out a syringe.
Across the table, Isaac began to shake. Odd that his patients never really panicked until they saw the needle, even if they knew it was coming. "P-p-please, don't—"
"It goes faster if you cooperate," Jonathan said, pressing the plunger so as to rid the needle of the air bubble. "You do realize that by now, don't you?" He reached into the briefcase again, pulled out the needle containing the antidote.
"I—" His voice failed him, both from fear and confusion as he watched Jonathan reach into the carrier and set the rabbit on the desk. "What are you—" He broke off once more, this time from Jonathan shoving a gag into his mouth. It was a sacrifice to lose the screaming as an indicator of fear, but the rabbit was already nervous. He didn't want to frighten the poor thing anymore than he already had; that would be cruel.
He injected the syringe and retrieved Fiver, stroking his fur in reassurance as his patient began to thrash around in his restraints, eyes wide with terror and muffled screams coming through the gag. It was beautiful, really. If the rabbit hadn't been so unnerved by the new situation, Jonathan was sure he'd agree.
"I visited Isaac's cell today," Jonathan informed Fiver as he sat his briefcase beside him on the bed. He didn't have a session with the man again until Friday, so he'd let the rabbit stay home. "He cringed when he saw me, but then I showed him this," he held up a picture of a rabbit he'd printed off the Internet, "and he screamed."
Fiver hopped onto Jonathan's lap, grinding his teeth, which Ruth had informed him meant the rabbit was happy. "If a picture will do that, imagine what'll happen when he sees you again." He stroked Fiver's fur, giving the rabbit one of his rare genuine smiles, usually only seen by his patients. It tended to make people uncomfortable. The rabbit didn't seem to mind at all.
Life was good.