Haku always slept with her stuffed kitten Snowbell, even if she wasn't real. But in Haku's dreams, Snowbell was a real cat.
In Haku's sleep, her bed would float up to dream land, where the stuffed kitten tucked under her arm would magically come alive. The little white kitten sprung to life and would always greet Haku, a chiming silver bell around her neck and her bumbling little paws patting at the soft cushions below.
"Meow!" Snowbell meowed, nudged her little face on Haku's pant leg, and began eagerly chasing her tail, as if she wanted Haku to follow her.
"Snowbell, what is it?"
Snowbell jumped off the warm bed onto the space-tile floor, and Haku closely followed the energetic kitten with excitement throughout the dark dreamy setting.
One star shone extra brightly in the distance, illuminating the entire secluded haven that lay before Haku and the small kitten... A gravity-free space filled with floating kittens! There were pink striped kittens, purple polka-dot kittens, orange checker-patterned kittens, and many other kinds tumbling over the fluffy white and orange clouds.
"Meow!" Snowbell smiled and dove into the broad space, instantly floating upwards and tumbling through the gravity-less air sprightly.
"Hey, Snowbell!" Haku called out, in awe of where the cat was leading her.
Timidly and curiously, the dreaming girl dove in through the silver ring of clouds and found herself able to float too. Her body was lighter than a feather, as if she were swimming through air.
Haku suddenly remembered she had shredded cheese in her pocket from when she and Miku were trying to find the needle in the cheese-stack. (which happened to be an entire different dream but from the same night.)
Haku knew Snowbell loved cheese, so she took handfuls of cheese from her pocket and sprinkled them across the space, attracting kindles of little kittens to the morsels.
The little kittens ate up the cheese happily and began to dance around Haku. Snowbell dove right into her arms and began purring.
"Meow... Meow! Meeeow!"
Snowbell's delighted mews suddenly began shrieks, as if she were in pain. Haku's eyes dilated in fear.
When she looked down, she saw that the tiny soft kitten had a huge needle going through her belly.
"Snowbell!" Haku gasped and cried.
All around her, kittens were falling out of sight, tumbling to the endless deep blue depths below. They all were shrieking, and Haku soon noticed needles were shooting through the air, stabbing each and every one of the cats.
"No! Kittens, no!"
Surrounded by a morbid sight, Haku felt warmth on her cheeks that were her own tears. She suddenly felt many painful sharp pricks all throughout her body, noticing the needles were puncturing her too.
Haku's real eyes flew open as she came to her senses. She was curled up, shivering, but it was because her room was cold. Yet she had broken out into a night sweat. The air was still and the only sound was the soft humming of the heater in her home. Her kitten plush was squeezed in between her arms and chest. Haku's eyes were strangely dry, yet beady with fear.
"Today's the day..." her consciousness said. "Today's the day I'm going to have to get my shot."
Haku Yowane was terrified of needles, especially getting shots.
Unable to stop shivering in the morning, Haku brought her plush cat to school that day. She decided to tie a bright red ribbon around Snowbell's neck for courageーcourage to maybe audition for chorus too. But she decided to save that extra stress for another day.
Even though Haku was picked on often for bringing a stuffed animal to school, she always did feel a bit more at ease with her stuffed cat around.
"Hello Haku-chan." Miku greeted her at the end of second period. The two were walking to third-peeiod chemistry, which was a class they had together along with Akaito. Haku had Snowbell plopped on her shoulder.
"Haku-chan, what's wrong?" Miku asked. She always seemed as if she could tell if Haku wasn't feeling completely happy.
Haku, feeling a bit ashamed, was quiet for a few seconds.
"Miku, I have to get my flu shot today." She mumbled quietly once the two were almost to their classes.
"Aw, poor Haku..." Miku said, knowing Haku was sensitive. She didn't look down on her for it, rather she sympathized.
When the two walked into chemistry, Akaito was the only one in the room. To the shock of both Haku and Miku, he was gorging down whole habanero peppers without seeming to break a sweat.
"Ah! Akaito, what are you doing!?" Haku shouted, "Did you lose a bet or something?"
Akaito, with his mouth full of spice, shook his head.
"I'm hungry." he said.
"You eat spicy peppers by themselves?" Miku asked, as astonished as Haku.
"People say I'm a freak for being able to eat these, but the burn... it isn't that bad. In fact I really like it." he said.
"Such pain tolerance..." Haku thought. "Akaito would never be afraid of getting a flu shot. He wouldn't flinch even the tiniest bit."
"He wouldn't even flinch the tiniest bit."
The air was thin and chilly. A rain of red leaves fell steadily to the ground. Autumn was in the air, and so was the flu virus.
"Haku-chan, I'm going to get my flu shot with you so you won't be scared." Miku stated after class.
"You don't have to..." Haku said.
"No, it's fine." Miku said. "I need to get the shot anyway."
It was now the break between third and last period within the four-period day. The two girls headed towards the cafeteria to get a snack.
"Now, let's talk about something to put you at ease." Miku said.
The conversation became one about Haku's favorite book series about the cat who went on adventures when her owner wasn't there.
"My brother watches something like that, except with a hamster." Akaito said, once he met Miku and Haku at their table.
"Oh, it's Akaito." Miku said.
"What's been wrong with Yowane today anyway?" Akaito asked. "She seemed really nervous."
Haku gave Miku a look, a glare which seemed to say "don't tell Akaito!" Eventually, Haku's hard glare softened into a defeated lookー"you can tell him if you want I guess."
"Haku's really nervous about her flu shot." Miku said.
"I know I shouldn't be scared, but I really hate needles and the doctor and I don't know how to stay calm."
Akaito didn't seem to have a reaction.
"You have a fear of needles." he said stoically. "It's a normal phobia."
Akaito actually understood!
"Then, I have questions on how to build my pain tolerance..." Haku said. "What should I think about while I'm getting the shot? What do you think about while you eat those spicy peppers?"
"Um, well..." Akaito almost seemed hesitant for an answer.
The bell rang for final class period.
"Oh, I'm off to Japanese class." Miku said.
Haku and Akaito had linear algebra to go to.
The teacher in the class was a substitute, so the class was a laid-back and free period to study. Haku and Akaito sat next to each other to take advantage of it, but neither of them studied. Even if they tried, neither of them could study.
"So, Akaito..." Haku asked instead of studying. "I need... somebody with a high pain tolerance like yours to teach me how to feel less pain. If it won't hurt, I wouldn't be as scared. And also how do you overcome a fear of needles in general?"
Haku assumed Akaito was fearless.
"I don't have any tips." Akaito said, shakily.
"Come on, Akaito! Just... tell me what you think about to decrease pain." Haku begged.
Akaito paused for a long moment.
"...Hamsters." he finally said quietly, with his head facing elsewhere.
"B-but I can't think about little animals while I'm getting shots, because it makes me imagine the animal getting a shot!" Haku squirmed.
Akaito stayed strangely silent and unproductive, almost as if he was worried about something.
"Akaito, aren't you going to do work?" Haku asked, noticing how still he was.
The redhead did not answer.
"What's wrong, Akaito?" Haku asked. "Is something bothering you?"
Akaito shook his head.
"But... I can tell something is bothering you." Haku said softly. She was growing concerned.
To answer Haku, Akaito made a strange gesture with his hand, poking his pointer finger into his arm.
"Hm?" Haku went. Akaito did the gesture again slower.
Could it be?
"Akaito... are you... scared of getting your flu shot too?"
Everything became silent. The whole room even. Even though nobody else heard what Haku said, the silence was unnerving.
If one could look under Akaito's long bangs covering his lowered head, his eyes were thin with embarrassment.
"It's okay!" Haku said, thinking it would make Akaito feel better. "Let's get it together!"
"Get what together?" A nosy classmate butt in. "What's up with you two? Are you dating?"
Haku's face turned red.
"No..." she muttered.
"I've wondered the same thing," another classmate said. "They seem to be pretty close, right?"
"We're just getting food together after school..." Haku lied about the most boring thing possible, in order to stop the classmates in caring about their business.
"...yeah, right." They said. Luckily, they turned back to the work they were supposed to be doing.
"But you're scared too?" Haku whispered to Akaito. It was certainly something she never expected. Never ever.
After class ended, Haku and Akaito met with Miku, who was out in the courtyard enjoying the cool breeze of autumn.
"Haku-chan, are you ready?" she asked. "Just stay calm."
The three began to walk off the campus and towards the large shopping center right around the block.
"Hm, why is Akaito here too?" Miku asked.
"He's actually getting his flu shot too." Haku answered sheepishly.
"Oooh. Well, you shouldn't feel like the only one getting it then, Haku." Miku said.
Past the restauraunt, past the pet store, past the library... that's where the small clinic was.
The three entered, greeted with the smell of chemicals and sullen serious tension of a hospital. Haku swallowed.
Haku, who needed to grab someone's hand, grabbed onto Akaito's. To her surprise, his hand was also trembling the same way...
"I'll make appointments for the two of you as well." Miku said.
"Thanks..." Haku said.
She and Akaito sat down next to each other in the waiting room, in front of a TV showing an educational cartoon for little kids. Haku and Akaito cringed at it.
This time, Akaito was the one who grabbed Haku's hand.
"He's surprisingly so timid about this..." Haku thought. "I always pictured him as the exact opposite, but... I guess I'm just learning more about him."
"Okay, I made the appointments!" Miku merrily arrived back. She was the least afraid of all three.
"You know, Akaito-kun. You seem like someone so bold and resilient, able to brave anything. That's the kind of person you strike me as." Miku randomly said as she sat back down. Akaito hid his face. It was probably mostly because of the peppers. The truth is, they were making his stomach hurt along with the anxiousness he felt.
"I also think Haku-chan is like that too, somewhere deep inside." The lively girl continued.
"Am I...?" Haku thought.
Minutes passed and Miku caught sight of Haku and Akaito holding hands tightly.
"My goodness!" She thought. "They're close... this is a discovery! What could they be doing while I'm not there?"
Miku smiled and playfully kicked her legs up as if she were the lovestruck one.
"Haku's going to get a boyfriend, this is so great!"
When Miku looked back, she saw Akaito resting his head on Haku's shoulder, eyes closed. Their hands were in a very tight grip.
"Hm? What's wrong with Akaito-kun all of a sudden?" Miku thought. "Ah, they must be having a moment! They must be in love, why didn't they tell me? Have they even realized it yet, that they're in love like this!?"
Miku closely snuck up to them.
"You two are so cute." she whispered, unsure if they were going to hear. Haku and Akaito both heard. Their eyes popped right open and they immediately let go of each other.
"What!? No!" they both said simultaneously.
"Well, there's no other explanation of why Akaito's acting so strange..." Miku said. "You really like Haku-chan, don't you?"
Haku and Akaito glanced at each other and both shook their heads.
"But... but why are you guys red and sweaty? Ahaha! Red and sweaty! That sounded a bit wrong... oh, never mind me, I know you were just cuddling of course! Ahaha!"
Miku was acting even stranger than Haku and Akaito!
"Miku Hatsune? Time to get your shot." The nurse called from behind the curtain.
"AAAAAUGH!" Haku and Akaito grabbed each other and screamed in unison. The entire clinic began staring at them.
"Haku? Akaito?" Miku looked at them. "Wait a minute..." Miku's eyes thinned.
"...You're afraid of shots, aren't you Akaito?"
The entire world went still.
Haku and Akaito did not move.
"Ah, so you are... well, at least you're not the only one scared Haku! And you have each other!"
Miku walked away to the room behind the curtain. She was walking the path of doom... the path to get her shot...
"Yowane, I'm scared." The words tumbled out of Akaito's mouth.
They linked hands.
"Is Miku going to be okay back there?" Haku whimpered.
They linked all their fingers together.
"Yowane, I think we're up next."
Haku pulled Akaito's scarf off and wrapped it around her neck in fear.
The whole clinic was still staring, and one little kid even shook her head at the two scaredy-cats.
A minute later, Miku walked out from the curtain.
"Ah, I feel so good that I got it over with!" she said. "It wasn't bad at all!"
Haku and Akaito were still whimpering like puppies.
"Akaito Shion? You're up next." the nurse said.
Akaito became paralyzed.
"Akaito Shion?" the nurse called again. "Is that how you pronounce it? Oh well, Mister Red Thread is up next! Whoever you are!"
Akaito's first name was made up with the kanji for "red" ("aka") and "thread" ("ito").
"He's totally gone." Miku said, nudging his shoulders.
"Then..." Haku took the deepest of deep breaths and opened her eyes wide. She looked directly at Akaito.
"I'll go with you." Haku said. "So you won't be alone. I'll overcome my fear too, I'll be strong for you. So don't worry, and don't feel ashamed. You're not the only one, because I'll be right by your side, fighting my fears too. Come on, Akaito. We can do it. Because when we're together, I feel like we can do anything."
Haku's speech came out louder than she intended, rendering everyone around silent. Suddenly, everyone in the clinic began clapping.
"That was such a beautiful speech!" One lady said.
"You're still wimps!" Said a mean little kid.
"Oh, come on! Ignore that brat!" Miku said. "Haku and Akaito are strong and they can do it!"
"Yowane..." Akaito looked Haku right in the face. "Thank you... you're a true friend."
Holding hands tightly, Haku and Akaito braved themselves all the way up to the curtain, where the smell of germ-killer became stronger with each step.
Past the curtain, the feeling of second-thoughts hit them both.
"How old are you?" The nurse asked.
"Sit in the seat." The stern nurse said.
Haku and Akaito shakily did as they were told.
"Now roll up your sleeves."
Rolling up the sleeves of their arms made the two feel so squeamish and vulnerable. Their bare arms were exposed to any needle that could possible puncture them.
"Be brave Akaito." Haku said.
"You can do it, Haru." Akaito said.
"My first name is Haku, n-not Haru." Haku trembled.
"S-sorry." Akaito hissed. He had called Haku by her first name because he needed to feel close to her for more comfort.
Another nurse came in the room.
"I guess you're both going to get your shots at the same time, huh?"
Haku and Akaito swallowed.
The second nurse took their arms and applied germ-killer to the area the shot was to be injected. The traumatizing scent of chemical burnt their nostrils.
"No!" Akaito began squirming.
"You have to stay still." The second, calmer nurse said. She now had the injection in her hand, taking off the lid and revealing the sharp silver needle that was to penetrate their skin.
"AAAAUGH!" Haku and Akaito screamed and huddled at the very sight of the needles. They looked terrifying!
"You're not opera singers." the stern, sarcastic nurse said.
"No! Get me out of here!" Akaito tried to squirm out, but the seat had him held tight. Haku tried covering and hiding her arm, even pulling her sleeve down, batting her hands at the area the needle was approaching.
"If you don't stay calm, we could prick your nerve and you won't be able to move your arm. Or we would have to do it all over again." The nurses said in creepy unison.
"Hatsu, I'm scared!" Akaito shouted.
"My first name is Haku, not Hatsu!" Haku yelled. "You're usually such a calm, quiet guy, Akaito!"
"What, did you just say I was a kumquat guy?"
"No, I said 'calm, quiet guy'! Not kumquat guy!"
"WELL I'D RATHER BE A KUMQUAT BECAUSE KUMQUATS DON'T NEED TO GET SHOTS." Akaito screamed.
"This is going to take forever until they're calm." the stern nurse said.
"Yes, we have to stay calm!" Haku said. "Stop wiggling, Akaito!"
"IM A KUMQUAT AND I DON'T NEED A SHOT!" Akaito sang aloud.
"Ah, just stick it in them, they're paralyzed with fear now."
The two gasped.
"AAAAAAAAAAUUUGH!" they screamed in unison as soon as their arms felt more vulnerable than they ever did.
"Akaito, parting is such sweet sorrow." Haku said.
"Haku, I have a confession to make. Sometimes I watch that hamster show my brother watches too." Akaito trembled.
"Akaito, I'm glad you're not a kumquat. If you were, then I would be all alone."
"That's the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me..."
"Done." the nurse said.
"HUH?" Haku and Akaito honked in unison.
"The shot is over."
Haku and Akaito dared to look at their arms. On their lower shoulders, were hamster-themed band-aids. The shots were done.
"Oh." Haku said. "Heh."
Awkwardly and slowly, both Haku and Akaito began laughing.
"Ha! That wasn't so bad!" Akaito said.
"Sure it wasn't!" Haku said, "I didn't feel a thing! I guess I have good pain tolerance after all!"
It had to have been the most embarrassing moment of their lives walking out of the curtain. The two met Miku outside still in the waiting room, and they quickly left the clinic.
"Let's go around the shopping center, everyone. Anyone up for the pet store or the mini-mall?" Miku asked.
The two others sheepishly nodded.
Thanks to an odd situation, Haku and Akaito's bond deepened.