Disclaimer: Persona 3: FES is the property of Atlus. Any inaccuracies or inconsistencies are the fault of the hapless fanficcer. Rating is for language.
I dunno why they rig a good dog up like this. I guess they think it's cute. Yeah, well, try and scratch your back when you're wearing a jacket and a pair of plastic wings.
"Easy there, Koro-chan. Just lemme get your paw through the sleeve - There! You're free. Go tear up shit."
Koro-chan goes postal, yapping through the lounge, dashing under the furniture and writhing around on the carpet, tail going like a propeller. Kirijo and Ikutsuki will have words to say about how the dog has to be ready at any moment for combat. Yeah? Like I haven't seen Ikutsuki trawling YouTube right up to the Dark Hour, or Kirijo kicking back with a slice of chocolate cake.
Koro-chan trots to follow me as I walk past the bar at the back of the lounge to the kitchen. This dorm used to be a hotel, so the kitchen's pretty sweet, big enough to kickbox in. I should know. There's hardly a room in this dorm Aki hasn't trained in, and one time I managed to throw him across the table into the fridge. Damn, that was a huge lump on his forehead. We used the steak Ikutsuki was going to eat to bring down the swelling, then I tried to cover our asses by saying Kirijo had eaten it. When she found out...bad, bad times.
The pantry door doesn't even creak as I open it. Koro-chan's circling my legs, hoping for a handout. I reach with both hands and lower the covered cake to the counter.
Koro-chan whimpers and lowers his tail.
"What?" I ask. "Yeah, I know it's Kirijo's property." I open the nearest cabinet and take a plate. "But she gets her way too much."
Koro-chan whimpers again and puts his ears back, his forehead rumpling.
I pull out a drawer and dig for a knife. "I've lived through plenty of Kirijo's executions." As I lift the cover, the aroma of the chocolate and caramel makes me instantly salivate.
I guess my hand slips. The cover comes crashing back down over the cake, and I'm shoving it under the shadow of the cabinets.
"Oh!" says Yamagishi from behind me. "Did I startle you? I heard a bang."
I turn around, my shoulders already hunching. "I was killing a bug."
"Oh," she says again, then reaches down to pet Koro-chan. Of course he's bounded over for an ear-scratch and massage. Well, if she wants the kitchen, I'm not staying in her way. But as I walk past, she pops up again and says - yeah, third time - "Oh! Wait, sempai."
So I wait.
She fidgets, those tiny shoes tapping on the floor. "Um...c-could you do me a favor?"
It's always bad when they stutter. "What?"
"I...I was hoping you could...you could..." She lifts her face, her eyes big with a kinda sick-looking nervousness. "You could...help me?"
Koro-chan barks cheerfully. Who said he could answer for me?
"I'm trying to...learn how to..." She glances to either side, then leans forward and whispers, "...cook."
Ah shit, what?
"A-and Akihiko-sempai said you were a good cook."
Going to kill him.
"And all the food I've made has been, well..." - she twists her hands - "bad."
Koro-chan whines and licks her hand, all encouraging.
I sigh. "Help you how?"
"I was hoping you could help me make something."
A worry line shoots between her eyes. "Rice balls."
I wait a moment like I'm thinking - not that I'm really thinking because I don't want to say no to her, not when she looks like she's going to have a hernia or something - then say, "Go buy the shit you need."
Yamagishi bows super fast. "Thank you, sempai! I won't be long."
When she's gone, I look at the dog. "You're the one who said yes. I'm not going to blame you. But I should."
I sigh heavily but don't turn around to see her reaction. "Okay, first the rice. Two cups should do it. Four cups of water." I gesture to the rice-cooker.
Yamagashi frowns with concentration as she dumps the rice in. "One cup of rice. One cup of rice remaining." She dumps that in too and reaches for the measuring cup. "Four cups of water."
I stare at Koro-chan while she counts out the cups. It's all that keeps me focused. We don't make small talk as the cooker does its thing. When it's done, she's all eager to make rice ball history.
"The rice has to cool first."
"It won't hold together yet."
"Oh," she says, tapping her lower lip. "I suppose that makes sense."
She clicks on her laptop while we wait. I sit in a chair. Koro-chan sprawls tummy-up, so I use one foot to lightly scratch his stomach.
Eventually, she walks past me into the kitchen, and then she sings out, "The rice has successfully cooled!"
I follow her in, Koro-chan running ahead of me, then poke the rice. It'll do. "What're you filling them with? Umeboshi? Okay."
She waits expectantly.
I shrug. "Just pack the rice around them."
"I wonder..." She picks up some rice. "Is the structural integrity sufficient?" She laughs nervously. "I suppose that's what Aigis-chan would ask."
I gesture at the rice. "You making them?"
Those little hands are determined, I'll give her that. The rice is like confetti at first, but eventually it starts to hold. After ten minutes, she's glumped the rice an inch-deep on this umeboshi, then set to work wrapping the seaweed around it. I pass some down to Koro-chan, who starts going at it like it's a salt lick.
Finally, finally she's done, cradling it in her hands.
"You can start on the next one."
Yamagashi moves to put the ball to one side - then, no, she freezes and frowns at it.
"What?" I say, and I hope I don't sound as desperate as I feel. "Ten minutes is long enough, trust me. We don't have to spend all day."
"I don't mean to be - um-" Worried glance at me. "It's not really circular, is it?"
I shrug. "It'll do. It's not a cube."
"All right then." She set it down carefully, like a kitten or something. Then turns back to the rice. "One rice ball down. Three rice balls remaining."
When she isn't looking, I slip my fingers under my hat and rub my forehead.
After forty more minutes (she got it into her head that the seaweed wasn't lying flat enough, so she had to rewrap them), she says, "All rice balls successfully completed!"
"I can sense your determination," I mutter, but she doesn't notice.
That evening, everybody's in again, which means I'm hanging around the corners. I don't hate any of them, and it's not like I can't stand the sight of them, but they're just everywhere. It's like being back at the orphanage, except there I always hoped things would get better.
Iori's doing some imitation of a stunt man he saw on tv, so while everyone's laughing over him, I slip back into the kitchen. At least no one ever hangs out in here, though, damn, the lights are bright at night. I blink, then head for the fridge. The rice balls lie ready within. I guess I'm entitled to a few, after what I put up with.
"Oh, sempai!" Yamagishi practically skips into the kitchen. "I wondered where you went."
I step aside as she toddles up to the fridge, opens it, and takes the tray of rice balls.
I kinda grunt, far back in my throat. It's a sort of plaintive grunt, and I'm glad she doesn't hear it.
"Thank you so much for your help." This the fourth time she's said it all day, her cheeks pooching out as she smiles. "I know Minato-kun will love these."
And out toddle the rice balls.
I dig my hands into my pockets and stare at the floor. Damn, why does it have to be so white? Damn, I want food.
"Good evening, Shinjiro." And with that tap-tap-tap that makes grown men tremble, Kirijo stalks in. She's smiling, and I find that I can't exactly look at her as she reaches for a plate, then the pantry - and then notices her cake's already on the counter. She blinks quickly - danger sign number one - her fingers hook - that's danger sign number three - then she lifts the cover.
All smiles again, she cuts a slice and recovers the cake, then taps her way back into the lounge. As the door swings closed, Koro-chan sidles in.
I hoist the covered cake under one arm. "Let's go for a walk."