He'd tried walking Koromaru that day, but the pooch brought him back a creepy-ass doll while wandering in the shrine yard. It had taken him a few moments of distraction before its identity registered with him.

Shakily petting the white-furred dog on the head (who was all the while eying him intensely), Shinjiro absently pocketed the homunculus and wondered what the hell that could mean.

...

He thought he was being quiet, but apparently not quiet enough.

It was one of those rare days when the blue-haired girl decided that she'd had enough of waiting around on the couches and tried to get them all to do something instead of moping. Like get ramen at Iwatodai or go see a movie or something. He hadn't been too interested-- get caught hanging around with these guys in Port Island Station? That was a little too close to some less savory aspects of his life for comfort. So, he sat this one out.

He usually sat these group things out, so it wasn't like it had mattered anyway.

He found that the pill container made less noise when he carried it wrapped in cloth, which had been helpful in his late night walks. But then again, its contents were quickly running low, so there was less inside it to be making noise in the first place. Castor even seemed to know that something was up. Hell, Shinjiro snorted, shoving the raw rice in the cooker with more violence than was perhaps necessary, it wasn't like his Persona didn't already know everything about him.

Since he'd been cutting back on the pills more out of necessity than desire, he found himself like this more and more: waking up at odd hours of the night more times than he'd want to count. His hand would make that familiar reach to the bedside table, only to be retracted when he reminded himself of their dwindling numbers, scenes of battle still flashing through his head.

Chopping vegetables was good for that, getting rid of pent-up aggression and the need to swing an axe, so stirfry it was. Rhythmic and steady, the knife rose and fell against the chopping board as carrots fell into a neat line.

Hoofbeats.

Rain infected the air, making it so thick that you could hardly breathe for the fog. The line had progressed across the field, and their banners flapped in the wind with a clatter. Black to the left, white to the right, separated by that thin line down the center of the flag. A dull, wet wind set the damp cloth into motion and he frowned. What had it all meant, their sign? White for lightening and immortality, black for the spear and--

His eyes tore open and he dropped the knife, hand trembling, vaguely aware of a throbbing in his palm.

Thin slices of carrots splayed wildly over the counter, and then--

Blood. Shit, that was a lot of blood.

Something stirred outside the door, and Yukari Takeba chose that moment to enter.

"I thought I heard a cry--oh!" She herself cried, hand flying to her mouth. "Senpai, you're bleeding!"

Shinjiro frowned. He knew that. It wasn't like he was completely oblivious, though it probably seemed like it, standing dumbly around with a dripping wound. He stepped to the sink and turned his back to the door, switched on the faucet, and tried to recollect himself.

The water sped over his hand, numbing the pain, and casting a chill over his fingers. Yukari watched him cautiously.

"You sure that's going to be alright? I mean, I know that Mitsuru-senpai told me about a medical kit somewhere, so I could find that---"

"It's fine."

"Really? That looked like a lot of blood."

Yeah, no joke. "Anybody ever tell you that you have a bad habit of walking in on people?"

That gave her pause. "No."

"You do."

He finished at the sink, turned the handle on the faucet roughly, and resumed work. The onions fell quickly under his knife, as did the broccoli and the tomato. It wasn't until he had begun to hardboil some eggs when he realized that she was still there, still hovering over the door.

"What?" He asked, beginning to get tired of this. It was embarrassing. He wielded an axe, for God's sake. It wasn't like he couldn't handle sharp objects.

But the dreams...

Fuck it. Dreams were dreams, but they didn't take over your life. They weren't supposed to, anyway.

"I was just thinking," she started, but stopped. "You know, you tend to stay up pretty late cooking stuff on a regular basis, senpai."

He shrugged. The TV was pretty crap at night here, except for the recipe channels, and he got hungry after dreaming. Not hard to guess what happened.

"You ever thought about joining the Home Etc club?"

Shinjiro Aragaki looked up from his slicing and monitoring of the rice cooker to give his companion the most alienated look that he had perhaps ever been forced to make in his short, but colorful lifetime.

Yukari took that as a sign not to pursue that train of thought. She waved it off, trying to be upbeat, but finding it a little more difficult after that chilly reception. "I mean, I just thought that maybe... One of the guys in it is from France, so he might be able to show you some cool cooking stuff if that's what you're into." She paused, and took a deep breath. "So, what are you making, anyway?"

"Stirfy." He responded, knowing the inevitable question that would come after that.

"Could I try some?"

"No," was on the verge of his lips, when he frowned, and, unspeaking, shrugged. His hand ached dully in the background as he found two bowls and, after mixing the rice with soy sauce and his vegetables in a wok on the stove, slowly scooped out two portions. He couldn't for the life of him fathom why. Maybe he was tired of always saying no. Or maybe he was just tired. Yeah, something like that.


Author's Note:

Thanks very much for the reviews! Being a physics major in college, I don't have terribly much in the way of free time, so chapters will continue to show up, albeit sporadically. I've got quite a ways to go still, I know, but writing this lessens the pain of being away from my PS2 and Persona 4. Although at this point in the game I still prefer Persona 3, this may be because I haven't yet found a sufficiently badass character to write stories about in P4. Ah well. And seriously, folding envelopes, guys?

The date is September 12. The month is running out.

--cy.