Disclaimer: I don't own Persona 4.
In retrospect, Souji should have expected something like this.
Like he promised Rise, he showed her around town, mainly spots that Souji became familiar with. He had no problem doing so and that was the least he could do after she saved them when they faced Teddie's Shadow.
Unfortunately, she wasn't exactly difficult to recognize in Inaba. At least nobody came to them, but that certainly didn't stop them from gossiping about what they saw:
Souji walked with Risette to school. Risette also looked happy to be with him.
And just like that, dying rumors now roared back to life. As he walked to school, he had heard some students accusing him to try to seduce Risette like he did with Chie and Yukiko.
The first class hadn't started yet and he already just wanted to crawl back into his bed.
As if that wasn't bad enough, it seemed their new homeroom teacher, Noriko Kashiwagi, had a grudge against him today. If Souji had to guess, it would because the 'spotlight' was focused on Risette and him, the now popular transfer student.
It wasn't even a month and he already wanted Morooka back.
Morooka. His death took everyone by complete surprise. He seemed like an annoying bug that you couldn't get rid of. Many hated him, but now everyone seemed to think that he wasn't that bad. At least not bad enough to be killed. Souji even heard some rumors that he was actually alright and reliable outside of classes.
Well, no way to confirm that now…
The bell rang, signaling the lunch break. Souji immediately escaped to the roof, having no desire to deal with gossipers and fanboys right now.
The roof was the place to go when you wanted to be by yourself or with someone in private at school. Souji didn't really know why, but he wasn't going to complain about it.
But not long after he arrived, the door opened again. Turning, he saw Chie coming to see him with what appeared to be a lunchbox.
"Ah, there you are Souji." Chie said as she walked to him. "You took off before I could even talk to you."
"Sorry. I just didn't want to deal with rumors right now."
"Yeah, I see what you mean…"
They sat down. Chie hesitated for a moment, but handed the lunchbox to Souji. He opened it to find curry inside.
"H-here. I tried to make it again and I tried something different like you suggested…"
He borrowed the utensils she brought with her and tried a bite. He chewed on it a little before swallowing it.
It was alright, but it was spicy…
"D-Do you have anything to drink?"
"Uh? Umm… I didn't bring anything to drink. Is it too spicy?"
Souji just nodded. He set down the lunchbox and the utensils next to him before standing up.
"If you'll excuse me…"
Not even waiting for her reply, he took off to find the nearest source of water, passing by a surprised Yukiko who just came up on the roof.
Before she finished, Souji had already disappeared. Looking around, Yukiko saw her best friend, currently in a depressed mood.
"Chie, what happened?"
"I screwed up again…"
"Oh… I suppose he won't try what I made then…" Yukiko said, motioning to the lunch she brought.
They didn't speak. But even then, the silence didn't take long to be broken.
"Senpaaaai! Are you here?"
The two girls looked up to see Rise, their newest addition to the investigation team, looking around, not finding the person she was looking for. But she did approach the girl after spotting them.
"Hey Senpais! I heard Souji-kun was here. Did you see him?"
"You just missed him… He had to get some water after he tried my curry."
"Huh? You made lunch for him?"
Yukiko and Chie both realized that Rise didn't know about that particular situation. But before they could even speak, she had already noticed Yukiko's own homemade lunch.
"You too Yukiko-senpai? I… I thought the rumors were just crazy but…"
That wouldn't end well…
"Waitwaitwait! You got it all wrong! It's just that after… a certain incident, he offered to teach us how to cook!"
"Yeah!" Yukiko said, following Chie's lead. "It's just that! Souji's not like what those rumors say!"
"Huh? Of course I know Souji-senpai isn't like that. It's you two who are trying to seduce him!"
Thankfully, there was no one else around to hear THAT.
"Wh-w-wh-WHAT!?!?!" Chie managed to say, trying to process what she just heard.
"Don't try to deny it!" Rise said, pointing at Chie in an accusing manner, "I mean, why else did you accept his offer, made lunch for him and care so much for his opinions?"
"Be-because…" Yukiko tried to respond, but failed.
"I know that I haven't known him for long, but I can sense that there's something… different about him." Rise said, her eyes lighting up as a small fantasy of hers passed in her mind. "So that's why I'll do what I can to get him!"
After her bold declaration, she turned and returned inside the school, leaving the others two girls in silence.
"Yukiko… Did Rise… Did she really just said that?"
"Y-yeah… She did."
Souji was the leader for very good reasons. Not only he was the best fighter, partially thanks to his ability to use multiple Personas, but he had no problem keeping his cool, even against the worst odds. The others could always count on him to make rational decision because of his calm nature.
"Senpai! Shadows incoming, they have spotted you!"
"Alright. Let's turn left h… NOT RIGHT! LEFT! LE- GET READ-ARGH!"
And he was on the verge of losing it.
After surviving yet another ambush, the group could finally turn in the direction Souji had decided, after a few tries.
Why does it take more than one try to turn in the wanted direction, you ask?
Simple: they were on the 7th floor of a place called 'Void Quest'. Somehow, the intersections changed the direction they were facing when they tried to move past it. This resulted in several ambush by nearby shadows as they tried to move on.
"I. Hate. That. Place." Souji grumbled, far past the point of simply being annoyed. Fortunately, the door he opened revealed the staircase to the next floor.
"Agreed. I hope we never have to see a floor like that again." Yosuke added, not happy either.
"Not having fun trying to beat the 'game' anymore?" Chie asked, following just behind.
"Oh come on! Whatever that was on the previous floor was just plain annoying. To think I actually hoped for a puzzle or…"
"Careful guys, there are shadows just around the corner." Rise chimed in.
"Get ready. They're moving away from us, so we have a chance to take them by surprise." The leader said, readying his sword.
After a quick battle, the group started to move once more. Luckily, the staircases were nearby and they went up once more. From what Rise said, it was probably the last floor before reaching Mitsuo.
"About time. I think my eyes are starting to hurt…" Yosuke commented.
"Yeah. You would think that a game would try to attract players, not driving them away… As it is, it's just your standard annoying dungeon."
"Do you play a lot of games Souji-kun? You seem to know a lot about them." Yukiko asked, curious.
"Well… I supposed I used to. I don't think I bothered to play a game or use my laptop since I came to Inaba."
"Really? Shouldn't that be the other way around?"
"Maybe. But it's not like I had time to be bored."
"At least YOU don't. You either work or you're with someone. How many jobs did you take again?" Yosuke asked.
"Let's see… I was first making envelopes and translating stuff. I was also making origamis if I felt like it. But I've left that behind. Now there's the day-care, the janitor job at the hospital and the tutoring sessions."
"Dude, how the hell do you manage to get top scores at school with all of that and still have a life?"
Rise took the opportunity to chime in the conversation, "Wow… Senpai, I had no idea you were such a hard worker."
"Yeah." Chie added, impressed. "I mean, I knew you were good, but you even tutor?"
"It's not that hard, it's just…"
Whatever he was going to say got cut off as Rise interrupted him, "Senpai! Shadows straight ahead!"
After defeating them and a small pause for healing, Yukiko restarted the conversation, "Still, I'm surprised it was you who took that job."
Like I was saying, it's not that hard. Shu is already smart, so it's more about explaining the details."
"Wow, sounds like you're having an easy time…" Yosuke commented. "Too bad the same can't be said about your cooking lessons."
Oh, if Chie's glare was as strong as her kicks…
"At least we're improving! You'll be the one who's going to be sorry once we're good while you won't be able to cook anything!"
"Well, at least I use common sense when I make something!"
Souji was glad noise didn't attract random shadows as their argument once again escalated. He certainly didn't want to try to stop them. He had no idea what could stop them.
"Hey Senpai." Rise said, "If I hired you, you could tutor me in the evenings too?"
Note to self: Shocking statements can stop fights. Current problem: he had no idea how to answer her.
"Damn… What did you do to impress her so much?" Yosuke muttered.
Fortunately, Souji was saved from having to answer as Rise continued to talk, "Just kidding… I don't think I could study that hard during the evenings. But if I have trouble, you'll help me, right?"
"Well, sure, of course."
"Hehe. I'll be counting on you then."
Well, Rise sure seemed happy. But for some strange reason, he really didn't want to turn around right now…
"Ummm, why are you two… N-No, nevermind, I don't want to know!" Yosuke commented.
Souji REALLY didn't want to turn around right now. He prayed that his instincts were good today and that the staircase was near.
Thankfully, he was heard. The group was facing a very large door, leaving no doubt that Mitsuo was behind it. He asked for the others to come since he wanted to get him today.
"So how are doing this Sensei?" Teddie asked.
"Well, we just enter, confirm he's the killer and if he tries something, we stop him. That should be simple. He didn't look armed and I doubt he has anything we can't handle."
"Now that's the kind of plan I like." Kanji commented.
"Ready?" Souji asked, walking to the door. "I'll open it now."
Souji touched the door and the rest of the group held their breath in anticipation. For a few seconds, nothing happened. Then… nothing. Souji just stood here, not doing anything.
"It's locked, isn't it?" Yosuke asked.
"I'm trying to remember if there's a floor we didn't really explore."
"Senpai…" Rise said, in a low voice. As if she didn't want to tell him what she had to say. "I think it could be on the 7th floor… You know, the one with-"
"I see…" Souji replied. Somehow, his voice was a lot colder.
"Don't be. It isn't your fault after all. The one responsible is just behind this door." Souji said, before turning back and returning to the stairs. "Kanji, Teddie and Yukiko, come with me. Yosuke, Chie and Rise, you can stay here. We won't take long…"
The group of three watched the others leave the floor.
"You know, I would feel sorry for the guy if he didn't deserve whatever Souji's going to do if he even attempts to resist." Yosuke commented.
"Nanako, is there a medical kit in the house?"
"Yes… But why?"
"Nothing, I just wanted to know."
Yosuke was very nervous as he watched the girls, Souji AND Teddie, who wanted to join the competition, cook. He had no doubt that Souji would win this, but he was afraid to see how badly the others would fail. Since Souji wasn't watching over them, preferring to concentrate on his own omelet, Yosuke did the only thing he could do: assume the worst and prepare for it.
The fact that Teddie asked the others to help him understand certain parts of the recipe he was following wasn't reassuring him.
If this was just that, there would be no problem but… Somehow, there seemed to be some sort of tension between the girls. Rise and the others two, he could understand. But it was rare to see Yukiko and Chie compete as seriously as now. Do they have something to prove or what?
"Senpai, isn't there anything we can do? I don't think it's going to end well…" Kanji asked, waiting with Yosuke and Nanako for the others to finish.
Yosuke didn't answer that. He shared the same pessimism as Kanji and could do nothing but wait for the inevitable.
"It's done!" Teddie announced, full of pride. He was coming to the table with an omelet that looked… normal. Almost good too.
That meant nothing. Yosuke knew by now to not judge any meal by appearance.
"Same here!" Rise said, also coming with a plate.
That was it. It was now time to face the feeling of doom he had ever since they went shopping for ingredients…
"Uh... If they're all making the same things, why are they splitting up to different parts of the market...?"
That was a very good question. There was an answer to it, but that would mean that someone's hard work had been...
"Don't worry Yosuke... They just didn't want to walk together, that's all."
Yosuke would probably just have agreed with Souji if he hadn't answered that in a voice that sounded far too creepy for him.
"I should get what I need too... Yukiko and Chie should be ok by themselves by now and I'm sure Rise has some skills since she seems so confident. There's nothing to worry about..."
With that, Souji walked off to get what he needed, muttering to himself. It should be worth noting that he went to a part of the market none of the girls went to.
"I think I'm scared Senpai..."
"Me too Kanji. Me too..."
Yosuke took a moment to review the results so far.
Rise's omelet was just horrible, to the point of knocking out Yukiko in one bite. Yukiko's own creation tasted nothing from what Kanji and Souji said. Souji himself was at a complete lost at the time to explain how that happened. And Chie's one was awful, but it was better than the 'curry' at least.
While Chie was trying to wake up Yukiko, Yosuke glanced at his partner. He couldn't see his eyes, but he was definitely unhappy with the results so far. And he just stood up and walked away to his room.
"I'll be back in a minute. I forgot I had something important to check in my room."
Nobody answered him. Souji's tone was strange. And when it was strange, you had to expect something to happen.
"Where… am I? What happened?" Yukiko mumbled, who chose that moment to wake up.
As Yukiko cleared her head, something… happened. Yosuke wasn't sure what happened, but something definitely did. Everyone was taken by surprise as the TV turned itself on for a second before shutting off. And was it just him or did he saw something like a wave on the screen?
"What was that?!" Nanako asked, a little panicked.
"I'm… I'm not sure." Chie answered.
"Sorry for the wait, I'm done." Souji announced as he came down.
"Big bro! The TV just turned itself on!" Nanako said.
"Really? Well… It was probably nothing. I'm sure it won't happen again."
Something was wrong. His partner looked far too calm compared to how he was just a moment ago. What the heck did he do in his room? And for the TV to act weird just as he was gone… Wait a second; didn't Souji have a TV in his room?
He didn't just go and screamed his frustrations with his head inside the TV, didn't he?
As Yosuke looked around, it seemed he wasn't the only one to ask himself that.
"Well… Do you want to try your big bro's omelet now Nanako?" Kanji asked, trying to put behind what just happened. Yosuke quickly agreed with Kanji.
Besides, the poor girl just tried three bad omelets… Better give her a break before she tries Teddie's one.
And as expected, Souji's omelet was delicious. Nanako was happily eating it, but she let everyone else try a bite.
"W-Wow… I've eaten omelets before, but this is the best one I've tried in my life." Rise commented, clearly surprised.
"Same here." Kanji said. "Then again, that's pretty much what I expected."
"It's the first time I've eaten an omelet, but this is really good. I wonder how's mine?" Teddie asked.
"Well… I'll try it." Yosuke said. He already tried two, so one more wouldn't be too hard…
He took a deep breath, but the utensil in his mouth… and his eyes went wide open in surprise.
"It's… It's good!" He said, surprising everyone.
After hearing this, Nanako tried it herself and also seemed pleased with the results.
"Big bro's omelet is better, but this one is really good too!" She said.
"No way…" Chie said in full disbelief. She too tried a bite and was as surprised as Yosuke. "I can't believe this! How did you do that?! That was probably your first time cooking!"
"I realized I didn't really know how to make an omelet and I saw a cooking book lying around. I found a recipe inside and I just followed it the best I could." Teddie explained, full of pride at his success.
By now, everyone had tried Teddie's omelet. Kanji was surprised too, the girls were depressed right now and Yosuke could swear he saw Souji shed a tear of joy when he tried it.
Must have been nice to know that there was finally someone else good at cooking around…
"Still can't believe Teddie managed to do better than all three of you… Makes me wonder how you managed to screw up." Yosuke commented, addressing the girls.
"Yosuke…" Chie said in a threatening voice, "Don't say another word…"
The day was finally over. Souji went to see everyone leave and wished a good night to them. Even if he had a nagging feeling that something was wrong, he hoped the case was over now. Still… there were too many questions left unanswered. And thinking that Mitsuo was the culprit of all the murders and kidnappings…
Souji train of thoughts stopped as he noticed Rise was still here in the entrance.
"What is it?" He asked.
"I'm pretty sure you're disappointed by my omelet after what I said… Cooking is way harder than I expected it to be. But… I've heard that you were giving cooking lessons and…"
"I don't mind helping you too." Souji said, already knowing what she wanted to ask.
"Thank you senpai!" Rise said, smiling happily.
"Of course, it will have to be at the same time as Yukiko and Chie. I'm afraid I don't really have much time to teach everyone separately." Souji added, feeling the need to inform her about it.
"O-Of course. There's no problem. I know you're busy in your free time."
Was it just him or did her smile just twitched?
…Nah, he was probably just sleepy. Best to ignore it and say nothing about it.
"Well then, I better go. Good night senpai.
"Good night Rise."
Yukiko didn't know what to think.
What was wrong with her these days? She felt angry whenever Rise walked close to Souji-kun or when she saw her flirts with him these days. Since when did it start?
"Stir it a little to make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom."
Yukiko nodded and did as told. They were currently at the Amagi Inn for the current lesson. It wasn't too busy in the afternoon so they had enough space to cook without disturbing the staff working right now. Yukiko would follow Souji's instruction and he would simply watch, only intervening in the case of an imminent screw-up.
Yukiko wondered if it was such a good idea to invite Souji-kun here to have private lessons. Once in a while, she would hear the waitresses whisper. It wasn't hard to guess what they were talking about.
Wait, was that her mother's voice just now?
Rise was right: their leader was far different from any other boy she had seen before. He was both strong and kind, he always helped others when he was asked to and she couldn't help but blush whenever he said a compliment to her. Also, he pretty much was responsible for saving her in the hellish battle against her Shadow.
At least, that was what Chie said.
But did she like Souji-kun that way? And was he interested in her?
"Okay, it's boiling now."
Rise was obviously interested in him. Was Souji-kun interested in her? She wasn't much and Rise was an idol. Did she even have a chance?
No, that didn't matter now. She had to sort out her feelings first. But she was confused. What could help her see if she really liked Souji-kun that way?
"Yukik- Watch out!"
Startled, Yukiko could do nothing as Souji grabbed her right hand stirring the meal in preparation and moved them away from the boiling pan. She was too distracted in her thoughts to notice the overflow and she would probably have been burned if Souji hadn't intervened.
"Are you alright?" He asked.
""Ye-yes." Yukiko answered, looking at the now ruined meal, "I'm sorry… I was distracted and I've wasted your time now that the recipe is ruined."
"That's not a problem. It's better than seeing you get hurt."
While Souji asked for things to clean up the mess, Yukiko simply stood where she was, blushing at what he said and caressing her hand. Somehow, she couldn't help but think of how nice his hand felt when he grabbed hers.
Thankfully for Chie, there was no one around to gossip on her. Her parents were both at work right now and Souji would be gone long before they came back. So it was just the two of them alone at her home.
Once that last thought crossed her mind, her face flushed red.
Wait, why was she embarrassed? There was absolutely nothing between them! They were just good friends.
Chie couldn't figure out Souji. He wasn't like any other boy she knew. The only problem he seemed to have was not talking much. Apart from that, he was smart, brave and strong, he didn't mind helping others, he was great friend and he seemed to be able to do anything. Surely Souji wasn't the only one like that, right?
Who was she kidding? He was like the pearl every girl hoped to find, but knew better than to hope for. Even she felt more self-conscious now that it was just the two of them.
"Chie? Are you listening?" Souji asked.
"Eh, what?" Chie asked, "Ah! Sorry. I was thinking about something. Can you repeat what you said?"
"Add the rice to the water and put the cover."
Doing as he said, Chie's mind returned to her earlier thoughts. Souji was so unique that she would never see someone like him in her life. Now what would she do about it?
She wasn't like Rise or Yukiko, but she couldn't help but remember when Souji called her cute. Somehow, he always knew how to embarrass her. But then again, Takeshi had…
No, that guy was nothing like Souji. Souji didn't mind her habits and accepted her for who she was. Comparing him to Takeshi was an insult.
That reminded to give a piece of her mind to him next time she saw him. How dare he blurted out everything and put Yukiko at risk?!
"WHAT?" She replied, still angry before she realized what she did, "Ahh! So-sorry! I was thinking about how Takeshi was going to get it and…"
"It's alright." Souji replied, stopping her, "I understand. Just remove the pan from the fire and leave it like that for a while."
Souji was smiling, but not the happy kind of smile. More like the kind telling you that you did something wrong and that you were going to pay for it. Was he thinking the same thing she did?
Strangely, she didn't feel jealous. She knew Souji would be the same if any of his friends were threatened. That was the kind of guy he was. The one always here for you when you needed help.
Perhaps she would take Rise on her challenge after all.
The shrine had a nice atmosphere during the summer festival. It wasn't crowded, which suited Souji just right. The timing couldn't be more perfect: his mind kept nagging at him about the case, but it wasn't like anything could be done without new elements anyway. To a small festival was the perfect way to relax in his opinion.
Not that he relaxed much yesterday…
"What are you gonna wish for, Senpai?" Ayane asked.
That was actually a good question.
"Probably for some divine help about my problem…" Souji said, looking at the sky as if he expected an immediate answer.
Somehow, he managed to have not one, not two, but three girls after him. He would have to be a fool to ignore the signs, especially when others noticed it.
"…Souji, how did you manage to do this?" Yosuke asked, after making sure the girls were all occupied.
During the festival, it had been clear enough that each girl tried to subtly attract Souji's attention. It didn't take long for Souji to understand, but even the others guys noticed.
"Whatever I did, I swear I was just being myself." The gray-haired teen answered.
That was the complete truth: what kind of fool would try to get the affection of more than one girl, let alone three? The potential for disaster was so great, you had to be suicidal to even try it.
"So Sensei is a natural ladies's man? Awesome!" Teddie said, awed.
Ah, right. There were always those who had the natural charm to avoid all the potential problems.
"Well, I supposed you're like the golden apple of the tree." Kanji commented, joining the conversation. "I did hear gossips at school saying that you were almost like the male equivalent of the Amagi challenge."
Oh great… So the end of summer vacation would be the beginning of a new hell.
"Oh, I see…" Ayane commented in a depressed tone, breaking Souji out of his thoughts.
"Err… Ayane…" Souji started. He had no idea what to say even if he knew the problem. It seemed Ayane also had an idea of his current dilemma and considering what happened between the two of them…
"It's alright Senpai, I understand." Ayane said, answering Souji's pitiful attempt to start trying to cheer her up. "Even if I couldn't get what I wanted, you're still a great friend and you really helped me."
"Well, thanks I guess." Souji said.
Ayane giggled. It wasn't everyday that Souji was the one caught off-guard.
"As for your problem…" Ayane continued, "Maybe you could be a little selfish. You won't be happy if you make a decision because you think you were forced to take, right?"
"That's…" Souji said as he started to think about it, "not a bad idea."
What Ayane said was true. The worst thing that could happen would be to be forced to choose while being cornered. Things would turn ugly fast if he didn't do anything. At the very least, he needed to speak to them now to make sure there would be no problem during the investigations.
"Yeah, I think I'll do that. Thanks Ayane." Souji said, grateful for the suggestion.
"Shall we continue to look around then?" Ayane suggested. "You're with me tonight and I want to make sure to enjoy it as much as I can."
Souji smiled. Who was he to deny her that?
"Lead the way." He said.
The festival had been fun. Souji felt refreshed and far more calm than what he hoped for. Now, if only he could stop himself from laughing.
"Senpai! This isn't funny!" Ayane angrily said, not happy with the situation.
"Awww… You don't want to be my cute little sister Ayane?" Souji replied between two laughs.
"Senpai…" Ayane said, depressed by the situation. "Why do I have to be so small? At least don't tell anyone about this, alright? This is too embarrassing…"
"Sure." Souji answered. "Besides, I think Nanako would be jealous if her spot was taken."
Author's notes: Hope you'll enjoy those snippets. They have not been beta'ed, so don't hesitate to tell me of any mistake I made.
If you were annoyed that the snippets focused too much on the girls, the last one of this batch brings back this under control. Before you ask, this is supposed to be humor. I have no intention to transform this into a ugly and serious situation.
Well, as usual, don't hesitate to leave a review. It's always good for helping me get better.