HR Holiday Special: All Of The Other Incubators

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Always did hate this time of the year. Probably wouldn't surprise anyone who knows me, which is to say it'd surprise everyone I've met. Lot of reasons, really. The way it gets you bombarded with ads, the same songs over and over, red and white, all that sort of thing since around September? That sure doesn't help any. The cold? Not a fan of that either. All the ways you're supposed to spend the holiday, that doesn't help any either.

Nowadays, it also reminds me, with my birthday right around the corner, that I'm getting older. Not that that helps, but when all's said and done, I guess I was just bitter about the timing since I was... oh, six or something? One of those kids who had their birthday hijacked by Christmas and rolled into it.

Soured me a little on the whole thing, is all I'm saying.

Snow's pretty rough this year; I can feel the whole building creaking under the weight of it, and occasionally, a huge avalanche of it slides down from the roof. I'll probably have to dig to get to my car, in the morning. Not exactly the kind of unwrapping you're supposed to be hoping for in the morning, is it now? Merry Christmas, hohoho and an ice age for all.

...It's quiet here. Too quiet.


See, that's just another way life doesn't bother acting like movies. 'Course, everyone knows that, so I'm not sure why anyone ever bothers to point it out. You can count on someone or something popping up the moment you say or think that phrase, ordinarily. Not here and now. Pity, I could've gone for a dastardly ambush or something right about now. Instead, I've got the apartment all by myself while I flop around gathering dust on the couch.

Spent five minutes rolling around like some kind of festive jellyfish before I realised how bored I am. Not sure why it took that long.

Still, not a whole lot I can do, when you get right down to it. There's... what, the officio party tomorrow? Frankly I'm not looking forward to that too much either, and it mostly means I'll need to wake up fairly early to get everything ready. Yeah, you can bet I'm not a fan of that. ...Not really my style, either. I remember one year, when I ran out in a Grinch costume on halloween, dead of night, smashing up a bunch of those early Christmas decorations that seem to stay up for half the year. Got in a lot of trouble for that. I was younger then. Made a lot of bad decisions.

Still do, obviously. Just older now.

I catch myself drifting to the wrong part of the room, while I stare out the window. One hand halfway to a bottle, the other reaching for the receiver of my phone. Not sure which bothers me more, somehow. ...Yeah, I know, a receiver. Apparently no one has these big, bulky phones any more, or something like that. I don't know, it's what I grew up with and it sort of stuck, I guess.

“Ah, hell,” I end up grumbling at the phone, “you can't be serious.”

I guess I'll never know if it was serious; machine of few words, when there's no one on the other end. I give my thoughts a couple seconds to offer up a better idea, and predictably, they end up disappointing me. Well, no, not disappointing, I never expected more than a whole lot of nothing. Still, it would've been nice. Eventually, I end up dialing the number after all. ...Pressing the buttons, I mean. Not quite old-fashioned enough for an actual dial, don't know if they still even make those.

“Hey, boss? Petey? You free tonight? I mean, enough to fake having a couple hours, I know you never really stop worki-”

And I get interrupted by my own voice, of course.

“You've reached the office of Sanbey and Harumi Ryouno, of the Third Officio. Unfortunately, we can't take your call right now, but if you would like to leave a message, then please-”

Eugh. Hung up real quick on that. Really is true, what they say about hearing your own voice when it's recorded. Can't stand the sound of it. She cut me off, too. Honestly, the nerve of some people. Before I can think about it too much, the doorbell ends up ringing. Perfect. Just perfect. What now, another interruption in case I was thinking of being in a good mood today? Maybe someone got the bright idea of barging in late in the evening to sell me something. What'll it be, then, O hypothetical door-to-door salesman? Mattresses? I bet it is, that's what it was last time.

“I see you're still home.”


“...A little further down, Ryouno, if you would be so kind.”

Seems like he was a step ahead of me, for once. I get around to looking down, and Sanbey's there at my doorstep, covered with a thin layer of snow. Wearing... what, seriously? Wearing some kind of reindeer headband, with a little bag hanging off one antler, like you might do with a bicycle handle. Don't know what got into him.

Took me a minute or two to stop laughing long enough to say anything.


“To the best of my knowledge, yes.”

“You-” I break into another fit of hysterical giggling, seeing him with his tiny little antlers, “you look ridiculous.”

“I am aware.” Total deadpan, as usual.

“...Thanks.” For someone who supposedly can't even figure out emotions, he sure knows how to cheer me up. I try to scoop him up, let out a little yelp and almost drop him on the ground. ...Real glad I didn't embarrassing enough already.

“Holy hell, you're freezing.” I mean, seriously, this is making ME shiver just from picking him up.

“So it would seem.”

“D-did you walk here or something?”, I ask, practically slamming the door shut and scampering off to a warmer room, dropping in front of the heater's orange glow and letting him down beside me. Eesh, I don't really know when he decided to go and turn himself into a popsicle, but it sure doesn't suit him.

“Would you rather I flew here? I'm afraid that's rather beyond me. In any case, I had a delivery to make.”

...Crazy little rabbit. Maybe I said that out loud, maybe I didn't. I want to think he got the idea from the stupid grin on my face, all the same. Ran back to close the door, keep the draft out. Two of us spent a couple minutes in front of the heater, just shivering quietly. Real piece of work, this winter, but we thaw out eventually. Well, I do. Probably going to take a while for him.

He doesn't say anything, just takes off the bag – the little antlers stay on, and it's funny enough that I'm in no hurry to do anything about it – and opens it up. One of those big tins of cookies that you're meant, at least as far as I know, to fill up with sewing supplies at some point in your life. It's the sort of thing that says 'I had no idea what to get'.

...But on the other hand, I don't know what I'd want, and this looks pretty good right now. I'd probably go through it in one sitting if no one was around, honestly. Still kind of shocked that he bothered. He probably said something? I don't know, I didn't quite catch it.

“Only had to bring yourself, you know.” Picked him up and hugged him like a cheap plush toy, pretty near flattened him. Getting all giddy about Petey showing up at your door is one of those things you both look back and get real embarrassed about, a while down the line. Both pretty hopeless, huh? But... sort of in a good way, for now.

“Hey, give me a second. I was going to save this for tomorrow, but since you're jumping the gun anyway... uh, hang on. Swear I left it somewhere around here, maybe behind the couch. One moment. Don't really have much of a tree to put it unde- ah, there we go.”

Should I drag out the potted plant for this? No, no, trying too hard. Think I forgot to water it anyhow, it's gone all brown and yellow in the leaves. Found the box, at least, just a little bit creased. I hold it out for him for a bit, then open it up; probably way too much of a pain to unwrap these things with paws, you know? No point in making this into a big hassle.

Tiny, tiny little blue tie. Think it's meant for people who want to embarrass their cat, and I guess this isn't far off. Suits him better than I expected, somehow; enough to have me cracking up again for a minute before I stop myself. You know, eventually. No need to rush these things.

“Merry, uh... something or other, Peter.”

“...Ryouno?” I'd like to say he looks confused, but... well, you know.

“If you're going to act way too serious all the time, you might as well look goofy doing it. Suits you, anyway. ...It's just a stupid joke, you know?”

“I'm afraid I have never been much good with those. Thank you.” Aw. Well, if he likes a dumb little joke, that's a bonus. ...Guess being given anything is kind of a first for him, come to think of it.

“You're an easy rabbit to please, you know that?”

“Why a rabbit?” Oh, like I haven't gone over that before. “I was told the others are usually compared to cats-”

“Yeah, yeah, let's stop that train of thought right there. I'm still too young to be a crazy cat lady, alright?” Besides, he looks more like that to me. It's the ears, probably. I pop one of the cookies into his mouth, since he's not about to let himself do anything fun without a push, and catch myself a couple seconds later.

“...Ah, wait. Dammit, did I just poison you? Are you supposed to live on, like, just carrot and space lettuce or something?”

“I'm quite well, Ryouno. ...And this is rather good, I must say. Nothing I should make a habit of, of course.”

No, no, of course not. That'll just get him going off on one of his incubator corruption rants. Paranoid little guy, in his own way. Makes me wonder, though, even if it's one of those stupid late-night questions with a real obvious answer.

“Hey, Petey, you ever have anything like this back home? Well, not like this, obviously. Not sure if a lot of people over here do much like this either. Still, you know, some kind of special day, something like that?”

“I'm afraid not. Truth be told, I'm still not certain I understand the point of it all.”

“Well, would you look at that? You're ahead of most of us. No, there really isn't much of a point, besides giving some people a reason to be bitter. It's a nice excuse once in a while, though, for anyone who needs one. This is...”


“Well, mostly awkward and kind of ridiculous. Nice, though, in its own way. Its own really weird way. ...Thanks, Peter.”

And they say my heart grew three sizes that day. Really, I don't know who keeps spreading these stupid rumours. Good job it didn't, or I'd probably be in hospital right about now. ...Huh, never thought of the story that way. Probably not supposed to.

Dead honest, neither of us should really be doing this, we should both know better, and at best we're going to feel like a pair of clowns when we look back at it all. It's not really the kind of company either of us should be keeping, and Peter's probably going to fret over that sooner or later; I mean, I might too, but I don't take it as seriously as he does. It's the same kind of strange, awkward day together we have now and then, and with who he is – let's not kid myself, with who we are – I don't see that changing. Just for now, though, this is nice. I could get used to it.

Plus, I got to spend the night bothering a soul-farming mutant alien rabbit, and in the end, that's the only true meaning of Christmas.

...Probably. Never was any good at this.