Disclaimer: I don't own Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4. No money is being made here. Obviously.

Warning: For those who haven't played the game (or haven't gotten too far yet), there are some very massive spoilers here.

Auto Leveling

By Big-Babidi

"S-senpai? What did you just say?" Rise Kujikawa felt absolutely certain she heard him wrong.

The entire party stood at the entrance of Magatsu Inaba, inside the incredibly disturbing room initially discovered after Soji's first experience in the other world. The faceless posters, the spots of blood and arrangement of the chair and noose that all seemed to demand the death of Misuzu Hiiragi could frighten even the bravest of men. Those inside were fully prepared to confront the mastermind behind the bizarre murders that eventually threw their city into complete and total chaos. Each Persona user stared at their leader in disbelief.

He wouldn't seriously say that, would he?

His eyes met Rise's, unwavering, "I'm going in alone. We don't know exactly what Adachi is capable of. I need stronger Personas to make sure we'll win but I can do it faster by myself. We don't have time to do this as a group."

"At least take me Sensei!" Teddie swayed back and forth, his arms flailing in a comical manner. He believed in their leader, but still didn't enjoy the thought of him journeying through the area of a deranged murder's inner thoughts solo. Noticing Soji seemed unconvinced, his expression immediately hardened, "I'll get beary dangerous with any baddie that gets near you! Raaaawrr!"

A small smile slipped through Soji's calm visage. He wouldn't even consider doubting Teddie. The Persona wielding Shadow probably valued the group in its entirety more than anyone.

His eyes moved in the bear's direction, "Thanks, but I'll be alright." He began walking towards the entrance, lest anymore of his friends start voicing their own objections. He could practically feel their disdain for this idea rolling off of them. He could practically taste it in the air.

Soji didn't leave quick enough.

The first among his friends to try and interrupt came as no surprise, Yosuke Hanamura narrowed his eyes as Soji walked past him, "Hey come on, quick joking around." Such a rash decision totally contradicted what he knew about the transfer student that sat in front of him in class since late April. "Talk to me dammit! What's this about!?"

"Please reconsider, Soji-kun. That's practically suicidal," Yukiko said little though her pained, pleading expression spoke volumes of her concern to a greater effect than words ever could. And she knew he saw it.

Scowling, Kanji nodded, "Yeah, Senpai. Charging in alone? 'sup with that?"

"Whoa! Hold on, Soji-kun. What's gotten into you?" Chie frowned. "If it was one of these morons," she jerked her thumb towards Kanji, then Yosuke, "I'd understand completely, but you actually tend to use your brain."

"Hey, who you callin' a moron?" Kanji replied, his attention diverted for the moment.

"Ooooh, that stings," Yosuke grabbed his heart, feigning an injury, "or at least it would if it came from someone other than Chie-san, ya know the girl who ran head-first into a castle filled with Shadows before even knowing about a Persona."

Chie saw red, "What the hell did you just say?"

"Well that's weird, I could've sworn I didn't stutter," Immediately, Yosuke returned his focus to Soji, demeanor much less teasing and much more unfriendly, "And don't even think I've forgotten about your crazy ass plan!"

"This course of action completely lacks your typical level of good judgment, Senpai." Naoto deduced, standing in the corner furthest away from the others. What could cause such a change in his behavior, she wondered. The Detective "Prince" regrettably failed to recall any recent moment where his behavior changed. In fact, it was his stoic nature that got the team this far.

Stopping inches away from the red and black portal while avoiding the miserable feeling seeping up in his chest, Soji looked over his shoulder, eyes once again locking onto the team's primary support. The other voices remained ignored, "Back me up like always, ok Rise?"

"Senpai, please wait!"

But it was too late.

It took few moments following his entrance into the deformed crime-scene-like area of his uncle's town before a familiar cheery voice came from above, "Hey there! What are you doing here all by yourself? I mean, sure it's real ballsy and all, but what for? Your little wannabe Scooby Doo gang can't win together, so it's pretty silly to come here without your entourage."

Toru Adachi. This recent development inside the other world left him grinning from ear to ear. He was almost afraid the game would stop being exciting for most of December.

"Just ignore him Senpai and get back here." Rise said, communicating with her leader through the abilities of her Persona Kanzeon.

Soji did just that save for returning, swiftly and effectively avoiding the Shadows in the area. Certain advantages came from traveling alone and Soji reaped the benefits. Going through a tunnel, he took a right and quickly found himself in the next area. The lack of a return portal didn't bother him in the slightest.

"Senpai, please, please be careful." Soji nearly cringed, easily picturing the concerned and hurt expression that must have been sporting Rise's beautiful features at that moment. Suffice to say, she felt differently about the one-way portal.

Only a moment following Soji's exploration of the next area and Adachi's voice returned.

"Aha! I got it!" He sounded even happier than before, "You're doing this to impress the girls. Don't think I haven't noticed you sly devil you. You'd have to be blind not to see the way they look at you. But it's hard to decide which one to take, so maybe if ya kick my ass solo you could bag 'em all. It's not a bad idea, either, considering how shitty and trashy women are. Might as well get something awesome for having to put up with all of that plotting of theirs. It almost makes me wanna lose," Adachi finished his assessment with a laugh.

"That son of a bitch!" Rise screeched, "How could he say something like that?" She also purposefully ignored his statement regarding multiple girls among their group of friends that wanted to take things further with Soji. No way that could be true. There was only one.

Shaking his head, Soji pressed on. Exiting the room, he turned a corner, only to stumble across resistance.

A trio of Jupiter Eagles saw the young man, sized up their prey and quickly closed in on his location. The bird-shaped, black-colored Shadows went on the offensive and began a surprisingly well orchestrated attack. Two increased their altitude while the third remained at eye level with Soji. The latter fired a Maragion spell which Soji narrowly managed to dodge.

But they had just started. Immediately after evading the fire, another Jupiter Eagle soared from above with great haste. Strongly clutching the handle of his Gaia Sword, Soji awaited the arrival with baited breath. Timing. Calculating.


He jumped back, effectively keeping his body out of the Shadow's reach. The same couldn't be said for his sword. Still in midair, he swung the blade in a backhanded motion with all his strength. The creature hissed in pain as the attack removed a large chunk of its right wing.

With so much focus on successfully pulling off the previous maneuver, Soji failed to notice the third Shadow until far too late. The creature dug its talons into his back, the momentum adding extra damage to the assault.

Soji yelled in pain before hitting the ground, losing his sword in the process.

"Senpai! Get up!" Rise screamed. She paused, taking a deep breath. If her senpai truly planned to fight alone, she had to be at the top of her game. No, even better. She couldn't allow her personal feelings, strong personal feelings to cloud her judgment. "They're weak against electricity! Go for it!"

Shakily rising, Soji took her advice. A blue area surrounded his body and he grasped a tarot card. He had no need to switch between Persona, since the one currently in use –and one he'd recently gotten comfortable using– was perfect for eradicating these beasts.

"Ishtar!" He growled, crushing the card.

The horned goddess emerged from the sea of his soul, unleashing Maziodyne upon her enemies. The injured eagle died instantly while the other two felt wounds far too excessive to move. Soji took no chances and summoned Ishtar again, providing the Shadow duo with a second and fatal dosage of electricity.

With the battle over and a quick spell of Salvation later, Soji was back in action. He made a beeline for the straight path ahead of him when Adachi opened his mouth once again.

"Nice job back there. That was pretty hardcore. Come to think of it, I shouldn't have expected anything less. Being related to Dojima-san will make you a badass by default." He chuckled, "You're almost there, just a little further and… hey, where do you think you're going?"

Soji already leapt in the hole.

An area similar to the two before, but with a surrounding shade of crimson greeted his sight. Soji didn't bother with the scenery, however, and continued his traveling. 'This was the place,' he remembered, 'where I can find them.'

Only a few steps taken and he actually grinned at the sight.

Two Shadows donning a red and green wardrobe, along with a blond mustache and a purple crown stared straight at him. A pair of Great Kings. He remembered peeking in one of Daisuke's manga about a character doing something called the Luck Luck Dance upon receiving good fortune. In safer circumstances, Soji would've felt awfully tempted to give it a try himself.

'Finally,' Wasting no time, Soji Seta sprung into action. Switching Personas, he held the tarot card in the palm of his hand.

"Rise, if you're listening, make sure no follows me here," He called, hoping she'd listen. "Please."

Without waiting for a response, he smashed the card into pieces, calling forth a Persona necessary for his plan.


Back in the creepy room depicting the first victim's suppressed feelings, Soji's friends fixated each of their gazes towards the portal, unsure of their next action.

"So…" Kanji began, looking around, "Why exactly are we not just jumping in there, beating some Shadow ass and giving Senpai a good smack for pulling this stunt again?"

"Because he doesn't want us to," Rise sadly replied. Her answering surprised the rest. Putting her entire focus into supporting Soji, until then the idol's only words were directed to their leader. The others wanted explanations for nearly every comment she said, but kept their mouths shut to allow her the concentration she required.

"Sensei's gone bear-shit crazy!" Teddie whined.

Stomping her foot in aggravation, Chie made her anger well known, "What the hell is he thinking!? This isn't like him at all."

Yosuke sighed, leaning back against the refrigerator behind him, "Yeah, I know. Come to think of it, I've never once seen him like this. Not once. In these cases alone, I've seen all of us either really pissed off or miserable at some point, but I can't ever remember Soji's mood ever going into the extreme."

"I'll admit I've known Senpai for a much lesser duration," Naoto responded, "but I believe your theory does indeed have merit, though I cannot say for certain."

They looked down, contemplating.

"Whatever it is… I just hope it'll end soon and he'll come back safe and sound." Yukiko had said little since Soji began his daring escapade, sticking to staring downwards with a rather perturbed expression. She hadn't appeared so sad since the dramatic events at the hospital before learning of the true culprit.

Silence reigned over the group. What now? Up until then, Soji's commands had always been rock solid, keeping the team together through thick and thin. Should they really go and apprehend him, disobeying a direct order?

"Gee, it's like an endless stream of 'em!" Rise complained.

The others glanced around nervously. Yukiko raised her eyebrows in shock, "He really doesn't want our help?"

Her best friend felt equally annoyed, "That does it! When he gets back, I'm leaving footprints all over his stupid face!"

Insufficient SP!

Insufficient SP!

Guarding, Soji smiled wryly as the Great Kings' offensive options diminished. 'Now it's time to get serious.'

The royal Shadows leapt back, utilizing the art of summoning. Each king spun around in a full three-hundred sixty degree angle and extended their wands upwards, calling forth a dark cloud in the air. Ejecting from each magic portal was what appeared to be a gigantic baby covered in light blue with a flower growing from the top of its skull. A Free Bambino. The conjuring didn't end there either. The Great Kings continued summoning the beasts, one after another after another.

Each Bambino immediately charged Soji, innately knowledgeable about their summoner's intentions. Soji sidestepped the Shadow's attack, decapitating the beast during the evasion. He went on the offensive and destroyed the next Bambino with one strike.

The battle begun.

Among the army, a Bambino managed to land a punch on Soji, but Yoshitsune's absolute defense to such strikes prevented any real threat. Null Physical always felt strange. Or rather, what he didn't feel was something he'd always found a little unnerving. No pain. No pleasure. Nothing. Receiving a physical attack felt like nothing happened at all besides feeling the wind carried from the swing.

The baby-like Shadow's ineffective attack left it confused, though couldn't ponder the issue for long when the Gaia Sword sliced it in two. The cycle in battle became repetitive fairly quickly.

Kill one. Another summoned.

Kill one. Another summoned.

Kill one. Another summoned.

Just as Soji intended. This was the kind of training he needed. He hadn't fought alone since his initial confrontation with Shadows inside Saki Konishi's alternate version of the old shopping district. The young man now realized the greater benefits that came with single-handedly overcoming identical obstacles that he previously conquered with a group of comrades.

At this rate, he could protect his friends. Another experience similar to Nanako's had to be avoided. He couldn't afford to rely on miracles.

Adachi's power was a mystery, but considering his control over his own area, Soji had little doubt the criminal's danger potential far exceeded anything they'd faced before. And after battling Kunino-Sagiri, Soji needed to be at his best. The Wild Card's power couldn't afford to be anything lower than its peak.

Another sword swing. Another dead Bambino.

Time passed. Soji had no idea how much. The continuous sequence of the battle felt like an eternity. The Great Kings hadn't stopped summoning their minions for a minute either, filling the area with Free Bambinos. Decapitating a Bambino with ease, he delivered a quick high kick to the face of another. A different creature landed an ineffective strike to Soji's side, but the young man simply killed it with a duo of rapid slashes. Two more creatures rushed from opposing directions. Staring down the one in front, Soji jerked his arm back, slamming the sword's handle against the other Bambino's skull. He took a few steps forward to meet the other Shadow while holding his sword in a two-handed grip with the blade pointed downward. As the two approached dangerously close proximity, Soji leapt in the air and swung the Gaia Sword upwards, cleaving its midsection.

Landing, he felt serious aching in his calves, speaking volumes of his growing fatigue. Spending a massive amount of energy without pause for such a lengthy duration was bound to take its toll, Yoshitsune or no.

Breathing heavily, he swung his sword towards an approaching Bambino and missed pathetically, landing on his rear in the process.


"Senpai!" Rise gasped, startled. So startled in fact, she fell backwards onto the bed behind her. Remembering the location, she immediately catapulted off the mattress as if it transmitted diseases through contact alone. Heavily breathing herself, Rise did her best to keep her composure. 'Calm down Rise. Senpai's still alright. Those things can't hurt him right now. It's ok, he's going to be ok…'

"Alright, I've had enough of this bullshit! We're goin' in!" Yosuke knew he alone didn't hold such thoughts. Over an hour had passed and the overall anxiety only increased with every minute that went by. And Rise's consistently growing concern didn't help matters in the slightest.

Yukiko nodded. "Yes. Let's get him back to safety."

A blue hand was raised in the air, "Me too!" Teddie called, the usual smile absent from his face.

Teeth clenched, Chie took a step forward, "I'm ready to go whenever everyone else is. I still don't get why he's doing this though."

Taking a deep breath, Kanji closed his eyes, "There comes a time when a man's gotta escape his cage to fly into the wild and find his personal oasis, not giving a damn what anybody else has to say about it."

Chie placed her hands on her hips, "…and yet that made no sense whatsoever."

"Yeah, sorry about that," Kanji averted his gaze, "I swear I'll get it one of these days," he muttered.

"So, are you comin' or not?" Yosuke had no intention of wasting more time.

The first-year delinquent smirked, "Hell yeah I'm in. Someone needs to give Senpai an epic bitch-slap."

Naoto pursed her lips, watching the conversation unfold in silence. In truth, she too wished to accompany the others, but her logical, strategic mind ensured that the "Detective Prince" would maintain strong emotional stability. She had to look at the larger picture. In the unlikely event of a Shadow stopping by and deciding to make a meal out of Rise, someone needed to prevent that. Mind made up, she opened her mouth.

"Good luck. Please return Senpai safely."

The five stopped in their tracks, realizing what she meant. Yosuke lightly smacked his forehead, irritated by his own lack of foresight. Afterwards, they each nodded to the prodigal detective and entered the portal.

Near the entrance to Magatsu World, an enormous pile of Shadows seemed to have gathered in one location to overwhelm their prey. A pair of Great Kings watched the enormous moshpit that primarily consisted of Free Bambinos in great amusement. Those attempting to oppose kings needed a swift deliverance back to their place. A lesson this fool needed a reminder in.

"Get… the hell… off!"

Nearly a dozen Free Bambinos were sent flying through the air in multiple directions as Yoshitsune emerged from underneath, breaking free of their hold. Soji didn't waste a moment creating distance between this Shadow army and himself. Null Physical was a life saver, plain and simple. Without it, he'd be dead. Panting, Soji had enough. It was time to take down the kings. This couldn't last much longer.

Rise's voice returned, "Senpai! You've got to finish this!"

"I know."

Charging, Soji made a beeline straight for the Shadows donning royal robes. He slashed a Bambino aside, though it didn't perish, his tired arms too exhausted to deliver anymore one-hit slices with ease. Evading another, Soji backhanded a baby-shaped enemy coming from the side, if only to accomplish getting the beast out of his way. Another Shadow appeared directly in front of the Great Kings and the grey-haired teen attacked it on reflex.

However, his eyes widened as the Gaia Sword failed to make a dent. Looking up, Soji realized why. His blade attacked no Bambino. Standing in front of him was the King Castle, a Shadow shaped as a miniature kingdom.

"More of them!?" Rise's voice clearly displayed total shock. She tried not to let her emotions overcome her supporting ability, but Soji's situation proved too much for said feelings not to intervene, "I'm so sorry Senpai! I didn't notice!"

'Reinforcements!? I have to end this.'

Sadly, it was far from the only one, though the grey-haired teen had no intention of blaming his support. Soji let his eyes wander for a moment and the results stunned him. A white serpent-shaped Amorous Snake Shadow slithered off the ground, taking great delight in making the air stagnant. The key-shaped contractions around its neck clicked repeatedly during its movements. A trio of white lions, Nemean Beasts had made their way onto the battlefield, the massive ball attached to each of their leashes dragging across the floor. Lastly, a Yearning Pot, a pot housing a pink female ghost-like Shadow with long white hair was slowly approaching the Persona user.

The Great Kings really had to die. Now.

Sidestepping around the castle Shadow, he locked eyes with the royal pair and smashed another tarot card in hand.


The Japanese general rushed the opposition, sword swinging efficiently and rapidly. So rapidly in fact, Soji couldn't tell the exact number of attacks the Persona unleashed, though he estimated each king received eight light slashes in absurdly quick succession. He'd never previously used such a technique, assuming the training prior was responsible.

The pair died long before the onslaught's finale.

Unceremoniously, Soji fell on his rear. 'That new attack takes a lot out of me.'

Thanks to his fatigued state along with the stagnant air, Soji could do nothing as a wave of poison mist washed over his entirety. Coughing roughly, he felt its deadly effects instantaneously.

An amused feminine moan from behind got his attention, regardless of his suffering.

Another reinforcement greeted the young man, one he hadn't seen previously. A green-skinned female Shadow wearing what appeared to be a fur coat and lounging in an elegant chair smirked at Soji. A Pistil Mother. She lazily raised her hand in the air.

The wind around him picked up speed at an alarming rate. No, not just around him but over a large amount of space nearby. He recognized the Magarudyne instantly, but was powerless as the heavy winds threw him high up off the ground. In midair, the attack's efficiency caused numerous cuts to form along various locations on his body, creating gashes in his school uniform in the process. Landing, his back smacked against the pavement with a painful thud. The violent winds had also thrown several Free Bambinos in the area, each dying upon colliding with the floor near Soji's position.

"Senpai!" Rise yelled. "You have got to get out of there! Hurry!"

Nodding, Soji achingly arose and retrieved a Goho-M from his pocket. However, the Yearning Pot he spotted before was much closer and immediately let out a Ghastly Wail that shocked Soji to the very core of his soul. Both hands roughly clenched his heart as he descended onto his knees, dropping both Gaia Sword and Goho-M on the ground. The growing poison hurt enough, but the incredible fear rooted him in place, trembling violently as fearful thoughts and visions plagued his mind. He tightly closed his eyes.

'Oh god damn it, what have I done? I'm gonna die aren't I? I bit off more than I can chew. I'm done for!'

"Get up Senpai! You have to fight it! Get up please!"

"Uh oh!" Needless to say, Adachi found this predicament incredibly entertaining. "Dun-dun-dun! What are you gonna do now? Someone got in over their head methinks. Tough luck buddy, but reality is just that kinda bitch. Kids like you have to learn it the hard way."

'He's right, the son of a bitch is right! But I don't wanna die! I want to see Nanako out and about in a town that isn't covered in fog! I want to see my uncle somewhere that isn't a hospital! I wanna continue being with my friends! I want to see my parents who work their asses off so we can be happy! And I… I want Rise to know how I feel, even if it's all for nothing. I don't wanna fuckin' die! Someone help me please! Someone, anyon-'

Squeak. Squeak. Squeak.

'What the hell was that? What else did I fail to notice? Don't come near me!'

Squeak. Squeak. Squeak.

He heard it again.

What was that noise?

Another Pistil Mother moved close to Soji, eyes gazing towards his body up and down like a fresh slab of meat. Contemplating on which attack seemed most enjoyable for the occasion, she found herself leaning towards Bufudyne. The extreme cold in conjunction to his existing conditions sounded perfect. She laughed haughtily behind her mask, savoring the young man's easily noticeable fear. She could smell it. She could taste it. She loved it.

"Senpai! Senpai get up now! Don't give in and get your ass up right now Senpai! Senpai! Senpaaaaai!!!" The girl had obviously become hysterical at that point, loudly sobbing with little hope of a miracle.

The odd sound came louder and faster.

Squeak squeak squeak squeak squeak squeak squeak.

'That sounds like Teddie's footsteps, but it can't be! Maybe it's another Shadow just like Teddie, another bear that came to feast on my insides. No no no! Stay back!'

Against his "better" judgment, Soji turned around and opened his eyes. A small bit of fear escaped him at the sight.

Running with great haste towards the battlefield was none other than the Persona wielding Shadow that called himself Teddie. Gone was his normal happy smile, replaced by a scowl far angrier than Soji could remember. He was furious. Both his arms had been extended outwards, displaying a second claw on his generally free hand, showing clearly hostile intentions. Noticing Soji's awful state only seemed to fuel his rage even further.

"Get away from Sensei you jerks! Roaaaawwwwrrrrr!!!" He hadn't roared with such intensity since Shadow Rise.

He would show no mercy.

It was bear time.

Teddie rushed into action. Courtesy of Kamui, the Pistil Mothers' heavy ice attack did nothing to halt the bear's furious assault. Charging right through her spell, Teddie's claws ripped both Shadow and exquisite chair to shreds. A Bambino launched an attack, though Teddie's back and forth fighting stance allowed him to easily evade and thrust a claw deep into the Shadow's skull. Spotting the nearby Yearning Pot, Teddie knew it was most likely the culprit behind Sensei's currently enormous fear and lunged at the Shadow, slashing its face with his other claw. Not only was Sensei among his most precious people but nothing would force the bear back into the pain of loneliness if he had something to say about it.


Even in a normal state, Soji doubted he could do anything but view the carnage in complete shock. He sometimes wondered if a bear was the most appropriate guise for Teddie considering his personality. Unlike the animal, which was generally a solitary creature, Teddie always wanted company. Children's stories and movies wouldn't fool Soji for an instant. He knew such animals were downright deadly, while Teddie rarely showed such ruthlessness save for the occasion his Shadow emerged, but his other friends experienced similar situations.

But now… now he saw differently. With each swipe, with each growl, with each kill, Soji understood. The creature ahead of him annihilating so many Shadows was a bear in every sense of the word. A mother bear protecting her loved ones from anything wishing them harm.

Even from other Shadows.

Retracting his triple blades from a Nemean Beast's forehead, Teddie recognized an incoming Amorous Snake. Claw met tarot card in a flash, Kamui took advantage of the Shadow reptile's weak point. The snake closed in, finding itself encased in a large and thick block of ice. No time was needed for the monster to erupt into pieces as the ice shattered, succumbing to the awesome power of Bufudyne.

Fear began to creep back up as Soji caught sight of the King Castle slowly but surely sneaking behind Teddie's position. He nearly screamed the bear's name in his fear-induced panic, but another voice stopped him not an instant too soon.

"Crush 'em! Rokuten Maoh!" The red giant towered over the Shadow. Casting Ziodyne, the electricity descended upon the creature, turning castle into kingdom of total annihilation. Kanji couldn't help but smirk at Soji's incredibly surprised expression.

"What, ya really thought we wouldn't come after you? I thought you were supposed to be smart," The delinquent diverted his attention back to the enemies before seeing Soji's reaction. The massive board in his hands shattered a tarot card with ease as he joined Teddie in the fighting, "Come on down!!!"

Unexpectedly, an immensely soothing sensation enveloped Soji's entire being. The feeling of poison subsided in no time and his wounds closed up as well. What was once fear became heroic courage once again. Back to his senses, he noticed Yosuke and Chie already ran past him, Susano-O and Suzuka Gongen displaying their abilities in full. And at his side stood Yukiko Amagi, whose facial expression seemed to fluctuate between intense delight and seething rage.

Yukiko's back faced the young man, as she considered herself the last line of defense against any Shadows desperate enough to go directly for Soji, "While I really want to give you a piece of my mind, just stay put and let us handle this. Please don't think you have to carry more weight than the rest of us. It's ok. We're here now Soji-kun."

Her features softened, though he couldn't see it, "I'm here," she whispered.

Soji was unsure if he heard her correctly. Regardless, he followed her advice and sat out the remainder of the battle after retrieving his fallen equipment. Soon enough, only two Shadows remained. Swinging its doubled-bladed weapon like a quarterstaff, Suzuka Gongen finished them off with no trouble. Following their victory, the six rendezvoused around the leader.

"What the hell were you thinking? You could've died if we hadn't come." Yosuke started, and knew he wasn't the only one angry.

Kanji was quick to follow up, "Yeah Senpai. The hell is up with that?"

"I won't mince words, Soji-kun. This deserves a 'critical hit to the nads', as Yosuke would put it." Chie too was far from amused.

"Sensei…" A much calmer Teddie attempted to make his saddest expression possible.

Yukiko gently placed her hand on Soji's shoulder, "Why don't we get to somewhere safer first? I really don't think this is the kind of place we should be having such a conversation."

Sighing, Yosuke nodded, "Yeah, you're right. Kanji?"

"Time to get the fuck outta here," Pulling out his own Goho-M, Kanji activated the item immediately, leaving Magatsu Inaba and Toru Adachi alone for the time being.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Doing nothing save for sitting and breathing, Rise no longer had qualms about the bed. Once she realized Soji wouldn't die, the idol simply plopped down on the mattress as her mind temporarily powered down. As far as Rise was concerned, Soji's health came before her own.

Standing nearby, Naoto Shirogane watched her friend in concern. Rises' intense screams nearly gave her a heart attack. Even now, the detective wasn't sure how she remained calm from such a frightening sight.


Both girls focused their attention to the arriving party and the extra man in the returning lineup.

Kanji jerked his head towards Soji, "We went fishing and caught ourselves a dumbass."

His words went completely ignored. Rise raced towards the grey-haired teen, throwing herself into his arms. She began sobbing immediately, burying her head in his shoulder, both arms embracing him as tightly as possible. She felt his hands gently stroking her back as he leaned into her touch.

"I'm sorry," Soji whispered sincerely. In truth, Soji really did feel pitiful. He took pride in his abilities to easily understand the situation around him, but failed miserably today. To what extent did she suffer because of his selfishness? Not just Rise, how much did all his friends suffer today on his account?

The idol simply shook her head, sobs increasing in volume. By then, she was bawling. No matter how often Soji tenderly apologized, she wouldn't hear it. Nearly five whole minutes passed with nothing but Rises' consistent crying. The room's other spectators found their own motivation for tearing Soji a new one diminishing. This was punishment enough.

Lifting her head, Rise hadn't bothered wiping her tears, "Don't apologize Senpai. That makes me want to forgive you too easily. Just promise me you'll never do that again,"

Soji nodded immediately, "Of course I promise." Time appeared to freeze for the embraced pair, gazing into each other's eyes. Slowly but surely, both teenagers felt what nearly resembled a magnetic pull to the other and a desperate need for its realization. Their cheeks blazed an identical shade of crimson at the thought. His head began peering down. She stood on her tip-toes. Eyes closed, their lips brushed lightly, though—

"Hot-diggity-dog Sensei! You rock!" Teddie gasped, totally in awe.

And killed the mood right along with it.

Immediately, Soji and Rise pulled back. Surprisingly, they'd literally forgotten other people were around.

"You said it Ted," Yosuke laughed, "If you did that on our side, do you know how many fanboys would want to kill you?"

"Bring 'em on," Soji replied, joining in on the amusement. A moment later, his expression turned somber. "You guys… thanks. Really, I mean it."

"We could not allow our leader to die." Getting everyone's attention, Naoto lowered her head while averting her eyes, her hat assisted to cover her face. Despite that, Soji could've sworn he saw a light blush covering her cheeks. "I believe I speak for us all to say that we'd feel immense devastation should anything terrible happen to you, Senpai."

"Damn straight." Kanji nodded.

"It's all good now, Sensei. You already promised Rise-chan, so this bear considers it ancient history. Sensei is awesome with promises, a beary hardcore man among men with his word." Teddie was beaming with pride.

"Beary hardcore man among men?" Yukiko snickered, only to collapse into a fit of laughter. Not a problem to her. At that moment, she needed a good laugh.

Chie sighed, "Yukiko, your sense of humor has got to be one of the greatest mysteries of the world."

Soji's hand quickly grasped Rise's, their fingers instantly intertwined. His mouth curved upwards after glancing at her warm smile before focusing his attention to everyone, "Alright, guys. I think we're done exploring for today."

I was trying the auto-leveling trick the other day, when Soji tried to slice up one of those Bambinos but missed and fell on his ass. When Rise gasped in shock, I couldn't help but wonder what was going through her mind considering that Soji just went inside by himself and started fighting with such a large amount of Shadows. That of course led to thinking how everyone would feel about it, which of course led to this little one-shot. Admittedly, I did alter some things for the sake of dramatic value.

For those that don't quite know exactly what the auto-leveling trick is, just Google it. It's easy to find, and I don't want to make this AN any longer than it already is.