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Laughing. They were all laughing at her, all of them. She felt her face burn with shame – how could she help it if insects frightened her? She’d tried to get over it for years, and she could control herself sometimes, but it had just been such a horrible shock. She shivered, feeling invisible creatures crawling across her flesh. And it was all the fault of that horrid animal. She glared at the door; the scratching had finally stopped. Perhaps the little beast had given up? Somehow the knowledge made her feel even worse.

She heard voices and leaned against the door to listen. The ferret had fallen behind the grandfather clock and had gotten stuck. Its distressed little chirps mixed with the agitated sounds of the teenagers as they grew more and more frantic. She heard Tina begin to panic. “Ferret-chan is starting not to move as much. At this rate, it’s going to die!”

Die. Miyabi felt a horrible pain in her chest and she leaned against the door for support. It would die right there in front of them. They would be forced to watch, helpless, as something they loved was taken away. And Aoi-sama… she had never seen death before. Without thinking Miyabi yanked the door open and ran down the hall. She would save that animal if she had to shatter that heirloom clock into a million pieces. She would not let Aoi-sama feel the pain of loss, not yet. There was plenty of time for that when she grew old.

She grabbed a crowbar from a high shelf in the tool closet and raced back to the others. The little animal was not moving. Forcing her way through, she wedged the iron between the clock and the wall and leaned all her weight into it. “Broken objects can be…mended,” she panted through clenched teeth. “We can replace objects…but…lives…” Hold on, she thought pleadingly, looking at the ferret’s tiny body. All her animosity towards the creature had faded away. If there was one thing she could not stand, it was being helpless. She knew she could save the animal’s life, if only she tried a little…bit…ha—

Crack. The wood splintered, the force of it throwing Miyabi back. Kaoru caught her and they fell together to the floor with a thud. Her shoulder twinged painfully from the recoil and she winced. “Miyabi-san, are you alright?”

She looked up and realized that she lay cradled between Kaoru’s legs, her hands resting along his hip and thigh. She gasped and sat bolt upright. “Excuse me,” she said hurriedly, face reddening. The awkward tension was relieved when she felt gentle paws scurry up her arm. Looking around, she saw that the ferret now peeked out from beneath her long hair. It rubbed its face against her cheek, chirping happily as she stroked its fur. “Honestly,” she muttered halfheartedly, “this is why I hate animals.” They always find their way into your heart before you can close yourself off.