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far too sympathetic

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A day like this – crisp and bright and beautiful – is perfect for a picnic in the green. Perfect, also, to break out her sunglasses and the lab animals on campus. That would stop the freak Crane from conditioning those poor little monkeys. Their frightened little eyes shining from behind bars get her every time and every time, her heart cracks a little more.

Sure, Harley aspires to become a psychiatrist, but she'd rather not use those poor animals to replicate the problems she wants to study in humans. It's been done, she can read up on that in the library. She'd rather take them all in and care for them. That would be just as unethical, though. Her dorm room is way too small to offer them all sanctuary. Heck, it's barely adequate for herself. Not to mention what her roommate Pammy would say, who's not particularly fond of animals although she has yet to admit it outright.

"So this is why you wanted to crash my place," is what Pammy does say when she arrives at their rendezvous point, the frost-tipped meadows of her country retreat.

Harley's already spread out the checkered picnic blanket and decked it with tins of baked beans, pickled beets, some stale bread and a head of cabbage – whatever was in grabbing distance when she threw together the basket. It's not much, but at least she remembered to pack the ice box. A camping stove would have been the smarter option, but Harley had been so starved for ice-cream she never stopped to consider that perhaps, given the season, no cooling aid is needed. Not that she notices the cold much.

"Grab a seat if you find one. I'm sure these little lovelies will welcome you in their midst. Won't you, darlings? Yeees, make some space for your new friend Pammy. Say hello, Pammy."

The blanket is swarming with scraggly cats and dogs, curled up on each other or rubbing against her, sniffling and mewling. A rhesus monkey is sitting on her shoulder and playing with the pigtails that poke from her knitted cap.

"This really isn't the weather for a picnic," Pammy says, folding her arms.

"Just get in here. They're warm and cozy and so cute you're gonna melt. Aren't you, my little piggy?"

The teacup pig looks up from her lap, almost guiltily. It's nosing the ice-cream cone she's forgotten about since Pammy's arrival. Harley squeaks, because there are no words to express how cute this is. She scoops up the adorable little monster and kisses it Eskimo-style. Its tiny snout is cold and vanilla-flavored and it's snuffling at her, and Harley might just die right then, her heart growing too big for her chest.

"Sometimes I think zookeeper would have been the better profession for you," Pammy says but does find herself a spot to kneel down on. Harley can almost feel her eye-roll.

"You think?"

"No, actually no one would hire you once they found out what you do in your free time."

"You mean hang out with you?"

"I mean break animals out of confinement."

"Oh, that. I see what you mean. But I can't just leave them in their cages if I can do something about it. They're all so cramped and dirty and my cute friends here need their space. Wouldn't you?"

"I understand, but what are you going to do about it now?" Pammy asks, gently fending off any quadruped that wants to climb her. "I hope you didn't plan on having them take up residence here."

"Um." Harley's grin is sheepish. How did Pammy know? "Why not? You've got a lot of space here to frolic around."

"What about food and shelter?"

"I thought maybe we could use your greenhou—"

"Absolutely not! Don't even think it!"

Harley makes sure every ounce of her disappointment is visible on her face, but in the end, she dismisses the thought of cooping up her babies here. The two of them couldn't look after them regularly enough, and she lacked the funds to have someone come to feed and play with them.

"I'll figure something out," she sighs, heart the size and weight of a boulder. "I always do."