Persona 4: Scorned

Souji sat back in his sofa and laughed out loud. He felt giddy, excited. They had beaten the odds, solved the murder case, and now Adachi was behind bars. The fog was gone. A full day had passed, but this evening, having just returned from the hospital, it all hit him at once. They'd done it. Seven teenagers, only one with any kind of crime-solving experience, tracked down a kidnapper, tracked down a killer, and beat some Shadow-god-thing that was covering the whole town in that terrible, evil fog.

No fog. No fear. It was all over. What made it even better was that his cousin Nanako had made a full recovery and would be coming back home soon. He found it hard to believe that only a few weeks ago she'd been so close to death that she'd actually...

He shook his head. It was all past now. She would be home soon, as would her father, having healed from the injuries he'd sustained in a car chase with her kidnapper. With any luck, they would both be back for Christmas.

Christmas, he thought, glancing at the calendar. Sunday, huh. It's already that soon? It was already December 23rd. Christmas Eve's tomorrow, he thought, and he realized hadn't made any plans. He should have invited someone out. With Ryotaro and Nanako still in the hospital, it would be lonely in the house. It had been a lonely month, but no matter where he'd lived, he'd always had a date with whom to spend Christmas. Now here he was, living in the smallest town he'd ever been in, with six girlfriends no less, and not a single date for the most romantic day of the year.

That thought made him laugh again. Six girlfriends. Four in the "Truth-Seekers Team", two of them childhood best friends with each other. And somehow he'd managed to get away with dating them all at the same time. While he hadn't minded the busy afternoons and evenings, what had he been thinking? How had he gotten away with it? Didn't these girls ever talk to each other? Even though he'd been caught on more than one occasion, he'd somehow managed to talk his way out of it, or had been serendipitously rescued by his buddies or Nanako.

That made him feel a bit guilty. It wasn't as if he disrespected them; he cared for them all, in their own ways. They just all happened to have fallen for him, and he for them.

Then again, he supposed that wasn't entirely true. He reflected on how he had gotten together with each of them in the first place. Most of them he hadn't really intended to be more than friends. For some reason, though, it seemed hugs in Inaba were closer to a marriage proposal than a show of friendship. Some strange local custom, he supposed, but he'd decided to just go with it. It wasn't as if he wasn't attracted to them all, and in fact he had strong feelings of some kind toward each one. He was even in love with a couple of them. Maybe his popularity had gotten to his head, or maybe it was the high of investigating and solving a murder mystery, along with the risk to life and limb brought about by exploring the deadly Shadow World. Perhaps he'd just started to feel invincible.

His phone beeped and he pulled it out. The display said 7 messages. "Seven?" he said to himself. He hadn't heard it beep all day until just now. Had all these messages arrived at the same moment?

Shrugging, he pressed the OK button. The first message appeared:

It's Christmas Eve tomorrow. Would you like to spend time with me? Just the two of us. How does that sound?

Yukiko's name appeared in the message header, and he smiled. Christmas Eve with Yukiko would be very nice. Some music, cuddling, maybe a little more... He felt warm as he thought of a romantic evening with her. Guess I don't have to worry about asking someone out after all.

Sighing wistfully, he clicked the Down key.

Can I see u tomorrow? It's Xmas Eve, u kno...

This was from Chie. He could hear her voice speaking the words, and it made him smile widen a bit more. Two invitations from two of his favorite girls. An evening with Chie would be nice too, though he hoped she wouldn't get too nervous and start pretending to work out while they were trying to be intimate. She'd gotten better about that lately, though.

But whom would he choose? He'd have to put some thought to it. In the meantime, he clicked Down again to see what the rest of his messages were.

senpaaaaaaai! \(*_-)/ c u tomorrow, rite? Cmon, its xmas eve senpai! 3 PLZ! Q)-,-'-

"Huh," he said. Three invitations. He felt a bit overwhelmed. In the space of five minutes he'd gone from being alone at Christmas to having his choice of three of the cutest girls he'd ever known. "Damn," he muttered as he rubbed his eyebrow.

He read the messages again. He wasn't surprised at all that Rise would spend so much time adding emoticons to her message. She was such a cutie, so energetic and never afraid or nervous around him. And yet, "romance" wasn't a word he felt he could associate with her. She was a hell of a kisser, though, and she always had nice breath.

Wonder if these are all invitations, he thought.


"Wow," he said, looking at the message header. He was surprised that, as precise as Naoto was, she was just like any other girl when it came to writing texts. He wondered, though, if she realized that all caps in a text message meant she was shouting. Then again, he realized, maybe she was shouting. Naoto struck him as quite aggressive in general, and maybe this was her way of telling him "or else!"

"Or else I'll shoot you, 'Senpai'," he muttered, clicking the Down key again.

I'm sure you know what day it is tomorrow. I kept it open for a reason. I won't take 'no' for an answer.

He didn't even have to check the "From:" line to know that was from Ai. He had no question of Ai's haughtiness, though he had to admit to himself: it had been somewhat of a turn-off for him. He had really only ended up with her because he felt sorry for her after he'd talked her down from jumping off the school roof. As he'd thought back to that day, though, and given her personality, he'd come to the conclusion that she'd had no intention to jump and was only looking for sympathy. She'd just found out her crush, Kou Ichijo, was attracted to Chie and not her. For his own sake, he was glad she hadn't found out that Souji was also far more attracted to Chie than he was to her. Once things had gotten too far, there wasn't much he could have done without putting his life at risk. Or, at least, his eardrums.

He sighed and pressed Down once again.

Do you have plans tomorrow? It's Christmas Eve... And... I'm free, so...

It was Yumi. She seemed to have been in better spirits as of late. She'd needed a lot of support after her father died, though he'd eventually convinced her to return to the drama club. She'd thrown herself fully into it, and especially into the romance scenes the two of them shared during (and after) practices. It was a shame he'd had to drop out of the club to spend more time on the investigation. Outside of practice she was a much different person.

He sighed and examined the message again. He found it interesting that she'd taken the time to type so many ellipses in her message. They'd been together long enough for her to not have to be so intentionally coy. Then again, despite her on-stage persona – he chuckled a little as he had that thought – she was quite passive-aggressive in their relationship. Even after the time they'd spent together he wasn't fully convinced she was his type, but then again, he liked her more than he did Ai.

One more, he thought, clicking Down.

HEY party 2morow, my place U in? Knji n TedD will B there, 2.

Yosuke. He and Yosuke were best buds and all, but he just couldn't see spending a romantic night like Christmas Eve with the guys. There was a guy he once knew who had a name for that kind of thing. "Total sausage-fest," he muttered. "Thanks, but no thanks."

He scrolled through the messages one more time. He was again surprised at the number of girlfriends he had, all at the same time. How he had gone this far without any of them finding out, he had no idea. Then again, was it really his fault? He hadn't wanted to walk away from any of them in their pain, but at the same time, had he known that just hugging them would entangle him in such a web of "romance", he would probably have chosen to at least be a little bit of a jerk. It was unfortunate he hadn't figured it out until too late, at least for a few of them. It had made him feel a little bad, but despite his getting caught more than once, he had somehow managed to almost completely avoid any of them finding out about each other.

That was the real shocker. Didn't Chie and Yukiko speak to each other? He'd been with both of them for months now, and neither had so much as flashed him a suspicious eye. Maybe they weren't as good friends as he thought.

Or, maybe, he didn't mean as much to them as he thought. If they weren't boasting to each other about their boyfriend, maybe they didn't see him as anything to boast about.

No, don't be stupid, he said to himself. They're inviting you out for Christmas Eve, for God's sake. It's not like going shopping, or going out for topsicles or something.

He sighed. The question was: who to pick? He scrolled back through the messages again. Ai was a definite "no". Sorry, but I don't need to be worried about what you're gonna tell me to do.


Yumi's message, next in the queue, appeared in its place. He liked Yumi, and he felt sorry for her, but she'd just gotten so moody after her father died, and she rarely smiled anymore. When she was off-stage, she was a completely different girl than he'd known when he first joined Drama Club. He couldn't imagine Christmas Eve with her being anything but a bummer.

"Sorry, Yumi." He hit Reply, and typed out Thx 4 the nvite but i cant. After thinking for a second, he added Ai's number on the To: line. He knew they wouldn't be able to see each other's numbers, and he figured it'd be rude to leave her hanging.

Yosuke's "sausage-fest" message reappeared as soon as he hit Send. He tapped out and sent a quick reply:

Cant dude, got plans. Thx tho.

That sent him back to the Inbox. He scrolled back through. Naoto had become much nicer, but even when they got together privately she was too reserved. While he liked that demure side to her, she felt a little too demure at times, too reserved. She seemed embarrassed to even take her shoes off while he was watching, which he had a hard time figuring out. He hit Reply and started to type "Thanks", but his entire previous message to Yumi and Ai appeared; he'd forgotten about the auto-complete feature. He clicked OK to populate the reply with what his phone was suggesting. Not like you guys'll be comparing texts, he thought, and hit Send.

Back at the Inbox again. He selected Rise's message and started to chew his lower lip. Rise was a lot of fun, but she was also a bit too clingy. Clingy, as in she would hang onto his arms and at times almost literally make him carry her. She was little, but not as lightweight as she liked others to believe. He hit Reply, allowed his phone to automatically populate the message again, and hit Send.

There were two messages left. Two girlfriends, and he had to choose one. Or none, he supposed, but spending Christmas Eve alone wasn't really an option. "Chie, Yukiko," he said to the empty room. "Yukiko, Chie." Both of them were bad cooks, but it wasn't like he was expecting a meal from them. At least, he hoped not. He realized for a second that he didn't know how well any of his girlfriends cooked, aside from Rise, who dumped spices to food as if she were dousing an inferno, oblivious to the fact she was creating one. Somehow, he imagined Ai tingeing hers with just a hint of strychnine, as a veiled threat. Too late now, I guess, he thought.

Chie. Yukiko. Outgoing. Demure. Sporty. Posh. Could kick his ass. Too gentle to hurt a fly. Kung Fu. Tai Chi. Dammit, Souji thought, I can't pick. He pressed the Down button repeatedly, alternately selecting Yukiko and Chie's messages. Maybe that's it, he thought. He closed his eyes and continued tapping the Down key, trying to force himself to lose count. After several seconds he slid his thumb up and tapped OK.

Opening his eyes, he saw: Can I see u tomorrow? It's...

Another sigh. Sorry, Chie. I'll make it up to you somehow. He sent her what had become his canned reply.

One message remained. He opened it and hit Reply. After thinking for a few moments, he keyed:

Love 2. C U at my hose 20.00

He realized only after he'd hit Send that he misspelled "house", but shrugged. Yukiko's grades were at the top of the class, just one step above his. He was sure she'd figure out what he meant since, as far as he knew, he had no "hose".

As his mind lingered on that word, dirty images started entering his head. They were disturbed only by his phone tweeting a few seconds later. He blinked, and then checked the display:


:~((( undrstnd. I sad but tok. stil luv u lots n lots! luvluvluv

Fine b like that u wanna b alne I guesss its ok

You're sad about your cousin? Want to be there for you but I understand... Call if you change your mind...

Fantastic! I'll be there at 20:00! I assume you mean "house", not "hose", right? Love you!

O u got a date huh? U dog! Kis r real good 4 me! sigh and 4 TedD 2...

Its ok, Im gona train anyway. Luv ya q t! c nanako-chan w/u sunday!

He couldn't help but smile at Yukiko's reply. She was the only one of the team whose phone had a full keyboard, and it showed. Ai had one as well, an expensive one if he remembered, but it was obvious she was at least a little bit upset and had rushed her reply. He realized he might have some hell to pay the next time her saw her, but after facing off against a giant godlike eyeball, pissing off Ai was relatively low on his "anxiety attack" list.

The others, well, he doubted any of them had other boyfriends. He'd never before felt bad about dating them all at once, since he was sure they'd all had fun being with him. So what if he was with more than one girl? In over 6 months none of them had figured it out, and what they didn't know wouldn't hurt them. And yet now, the night before one of the most romantic days of the year, he was leaving most of them hanging.

Not really hanging, he thought. I told them I couldn't see them, so they've got plenty of time to find something else to do. Still, he was sure they wouldn't have asked him out if they hadn't wanted to be with him. "Ah, screw it," he said. He'd come up with a good excuse, and all would be right with the world. He'd put his ass on the line so many times since he'd moved here; it was his turn for some fun.

It'd be the first date he'd had with anyone since saving the world. And since Yukiko had done it with him, she was likely to be as giddy as he felt. Giddy was good. As long as Yukiko didn't break out into one of her endless giggling fits, well, the two of them together were going to make Christmas Eve fun.


"Hi there," Yukiko said, stepping into the house. Since her hands were full Souji helped her shed her shoes, and when he stood she gave him a kiss. "How's your Christmas so far?"

"A whole lot better since you got here," Souji said. He glanced at the small box in her hands.

"Christmas cake," Yukiko said. "I – um, I wanted to make one, but I did a test cake and ended up...well, the kitchen at the Inn had to be aired out for an hour afterward." She looked away for a moment. "I picked this one up on the way."

"Hey, it's the thought that counts," Souji said. He pulled her close and kissed her again, enjoying the soft coolness of her lips on his, and the faint scent of cherry blossom in her hair. "It means a lot to me that you tried."

He felt her tremble just a little. "Want to – um..." She blushed deeply. After all these months, she still blushed when she was alone with him. He loved that so much. "Want to go up to your room?"

"I'd love..."

A knock at the door interrupted him. Yukiko turned from him toward the sound. "Who could that be?"

Souji shrugged. "Wasn't expecting any deliveries or anything."

"Deliveries?" Yukiko said. "Did – did you just joke know...?"

He tilted his head. "About what?"

She shook her head. "Nothing."

He stared at her for a second, but then shrugged. "If you wanna go upstairs, I'll get it and be up in a bit."

"No, I'm your guest, I'll get it." She gave him a peck on the cheek, handed him the box, and went over to the door.

As soon as she opened it a voice said, "Hey, Senpai! I know you said you couldn't...oh, um...hi, Yukiko-senpai."

Souji's heart stopped in his chest. He suddenly felt a single cold drop of sweat run down his back.

"Hi, Rise-chan. What are you doing here?"

What's Rise doing here? Souji thought. I thought I told her "no". He started toward the door, and when he could see around Yukiko he saw a white box in Rise's hands.

"Oh, hey Senpai," Rise said when she saw him. "I, um, was coming to see you, 'cause I figured you were just worried about Nanako-chan and wanted to be alone 'cause you were...well, I...I thought you were alone."

"Well – he's not, but you're welcome to come in if you want," Yukiko said, speaking a little more slowly than normal, the confusion in her voice quite apparent. "What's that?"

"This?" Rise said, holding up the box. "A cake, of course."

"A...cake," Yukiko said. She turned back to Souji. He opened his mouth to speak, but after a few seconds with no words coming out, he closed it again.

Rise entered, slipping past Yukiko, but then stopped. "Um..." She glanced between her two senpai. "I – am I...interrupting some - something?"

"No!" Souji said quickly, immediately wishing he could take it back.

"No?" Yukiko said. She turned to face him fully, closing the door. "Excuse me, did you say 'no'?"

"What's going on here?" Rise said. She walked into the kitchen, set the box on the table, and then thrust her hands into her hips. "Why're you two alone here? On Christmas Eve?"

"I beg your pardon?" Yukiko said. "Just how is that any of your business?"

Souji started to speak, but there was another knock at the door. Everyone's attention was immediately drawn to it.

Souji wanted to tell her to not answer it, but Yukiko had already turned the knob and opened it before he could even think of the words. As soon as the door cracked open a nasal voice from outside said, "I shouldn't have even bothered..." A gasp. "You again? What are you doing here?"

"I could ask you the same question!" Yukiko turned back to Souji again and Ai Ebihara immediately shoved her way past, marching straight toward Souji. Her high heels clacked hard and loud with each step on the wooden floor. "Souji, what is this?"

She glanced at Rise for a moment, and then turned back to him. "What's the meaning of this? What're these two doing here?" She handed him the box, sliding it on top of the one already in his hands. "Well, you going to answer me?"

"Senpai, you gonna tell us what the hell's going on here?"

Souji cleared his throat. "Well, um..."

He jumped as there was yet another knock at the door, the top box almost sliding off. He brought one hand up and held it in place, crushing the top in a little.

"Tell me something," Yukiko said. She crossed her arms. "How many 'people' do you have coming?"

"Nobody!" Souji said, kicking himself almost immediately. He'd managed to talk his way out of so many scrapes before, but this time could barely think of words to do anything but make the situation worse.

Ai pulled her head back. "Excuse me? Just who are you calling 'nobody'?"

Before Souji could stammer another poorly-thought-out reply there was another voice from the door that Yukiko, Doormaiden of Hell, had opened: "Senp...oh, Yukiko-senpai. Forgive me, do I have the wrong house?"

"Apparently not," Yukiko growled, her voice flat. She stepped aside, gesturing inside. "Why not come in and join the party?"

As soon as Naoto stepped inside she stopped walking, and Souji could see she also had a box in her hands. He let out a guttural groan.

"So who's the little boy in the stupid outfit?" Ai said.

"Naoto Shirogane," Naoto said, eyeing her up and down with an arched eyebrow. "If I may inquire, out of which chicken farm did you wander?" While Ai tried to sputter a reply, Naoto then glanced over to Rise. "Rise-chan...what exactly is going on here?"

My life flashing before my eyes, Souji thought. If I'm lucky that means I'm about to die quickly.

"Well, maybe Senpai can tell us," Rise said, crossing her arms. "We've been waiting."

"Or maybe he can't," Souji said, his chest quivering. His hands shaking, he put the two boxes down on the table by the stairwell.

"Well he'd better start thinking of something," Yukiko said, just before there was yet another knock at the door. "Do I even want to know who that is?"

The angel of death, if I'm lucky, Souji thought.

Yukiko opened the door. "Oh, um, hello there. Are you...Nanako? You look much older than..."

"No, I'm not Nanako," Yukiko said. She stepped to the side. "I haven't figured out just what I am yet."

Yumi Ozawa hesitated outside for a moment before stepping gingerly past her, stopping almost immediately. "Oh, um, hello, Souji. I mean, Souji-kun. I figured you could probably use some company, since you're alone and worried about your Little Sis. I mean, I thought you were alone."

Rise shook her head. "Whoever this is knows you call Nanako your 'Little Sis'?"

"And you brought a cake as well," Naoto said. She handed her own white box to Yumi. "You may as well place them over there." She cocked her head toward the kitchen table. "I suspect we will not be eating them."

Yumi, in what looked like total shock, glided across the kitchen and placed the boxes next to Rise's. She turned to Souji and started to speak, but then snapped her gaze back to Rise. "Um, aren't you Risette?"

"Yes," Rise said through her teeth. "Somewhat."

Ai eyed her. "Wait, I know you. You're that drama queen, right?"

"Drama student," Yumi spat back at her. "I don't have to ask who you are. Eaten any new souls lately?"

Ai gasped. "Why you little bi..."

Yet another knock at the door. "Please God no..." Souji said, his face now soaked with icy sweat.

"Who are you expecting now?" Yukiko asked. "Let me guess, Ms. Kashiwagi, right?" There was another knock. "Souji Seta, I have never been so humiliated in my life. And furious."

"Wait, I get it," Rise said. "You had a date with Yukiko-senpai, and that's why you totally blew me off. Right?"

Yet another knock. Yukiko opened it, despite Souji silently willing her, begging her not to open it.

Yukiko gasped.

"Yukiko? What're you doing here?"

Souji felt faint. He toyed with the idea of pretending to pass out, but doubted it would do any good.

"Chie!" Yukiko shrieked.

"Chie? Satonaka Chie?" Ai said. She started breathing rapidly and heavily, and stared at Souji. "! No! Not her. Not again!" She threw her head back and screamed, everyone covering their ears until she finally stopped.

Chie uncovered her ears and glanced around Yukiko. "What the hell's going on here?"

"Chie..." Yukiko said. She spun around on a heel and then planted both stockinged feet hard on the floor. " don't believe this. You've been cheating on me with by best friend!"

"What?" Chie said. "Cheating on you?" She stormed past Yukiko. "You mean he's been cheating on me? With you?"

Souji wanted to cry, but feared any movement, any sound he made, would lead to instant death. He hoped that his impression of standing, open-eyed catatonia would work.

"I brought you a cake," Chie said through clenched teeth. She stepped up to Naoto and noticed the three white boxes on the kitchen table, and two more by Souji. "Guess you have enough of them." She released hers, letting it drop to the floor. It struck with a whump.

"U-um, can I...?" Souji started, his voice choked.

"Naoto-kun?" Chie said. "Rise-chan? All of you?"

"I could ask you the same question," Naoto said, "though I already know the answer. I must say I'm surprised, though. I'd thought Souji a little more – discretionary." She glanced to Rise. "I do not recall seeing any serious affection between you two."

"What are you talking about?" Rise said, stomping her foot. "You've seen me cuddle with him a bunch of times!"

"I thought that was just you being you!" Chie said.

"So wait, what are you saying? That I'm some kind of little hussy that cuddles up to any guy?"

"If the shoe fits..." Yukiko said.

"Oh don't you even start, Little Miss 'Prim and Proper'," Rise spat back. "It's not like you weren't all hanging on him back in Port City."

Yukiko's eyes went wide. "What – what are you talking about? Me? Never!"

"Oh you were so drunk I'm amazed you didn't forget your own name," Rise said.

Souji slid ever so slowly toward the stairwell. Despite his impending death by a thousand cuts, his mind, his damned mind, tried to send the worst possible words to his mouth: Hey, ladies, don't fight over me. There's more than enough Souji to go around. He bit his tongue hard, realizing that he'd once heard Teddie say something similar. Damn you, Teddie.

"No, I don't believe..."

"You were," Chie said, her voice a little calmer. "You, Rise and Teddie got drunk that night and we played 'King's Game'." Her nostrils flared and she turned to Souji. "So that's why you picked her! You and I were already together then!"

Souji stopped moving immediately, dismayed that he hadn't quite made it to the stairwell. All eyes were now on him, and Ai and Naoto were too close for him to be sure he could survive a mad dash for the stairs. "I – I, uh..." he stuttered. "No, wait – the whole thing was anonymous! I didn't know who was what number then I picked it!"

"So you would have just let anybody hug you?" Yukiko said. She immediately clamped her hands onto her mouth.

"So you do remember!" Rise shouted, leaping into Yukiko's face. "This whole game of being a good girl is just a sham! I gotta say, you're almost a better actress than I am."

"Oh here it comes," Yumi said. "The little girl idol shows up in the backwater town and immediately she's God's gift to men."

"Well right now I'd say I'm better than any of you!" Rise shouted, her face red. Tears poured from her eyes.

"Oh go choke on it," Ai said, her nose in the air. "I heard you were a little nothing before you were Risette, and from seeing you in person I can tell you're a little nothing now."

Rise shook her head. "Look, just...who the hell are you, anyway?"

"Ai Ebihara," Ai said, lifting her nose into the air. She looked down at them as if she were royalty, and they should have damn well known who she was. "Of course."

"Doesn't strike a familiar chord," Naoto said. As Ai's jaw fell open she turned to Chie. "So he was – 'together' – with you by the time of your class trip to Port Station. And Yukiko-senpai? When did you two...?"

"None of anyone's business!" Yukiko said.

"Right after!" Rise said.

Yukiko blinked. "I said it was none of your..."

"No, me!"

"Ha!" Chie said, putting her fists to her hips. "I was first!"

"Are you sure you wanna brag about that?" Yumi said, her voice low. "He started dating me after you."

"Nobody asked you," Ai said.

"And nobody asked you!" Yukiko said, storming up to her. She poked her finger into the snooty girl's chest. "July!" Ai slapped the hand away, but Yukiko remained, staring her down.

Chie gasped. "J-July? too!"

Yukiko turned to her. "What?"

"Obviously he was unimpressed with either of you, which is why he chose me afterward," Ai said.

"If you speak again, I'm so gonna kick your ass!" Chie said.

"Really?" Ai said. She kicked off her heels, losing at least seven centimeters and putting herself eye-to-eye with Chie. "Come try it, little boy!"

Chie roared, but Yukiko grabbed her, just barely able to hold her back.

"Ha!" Ai said. She clenched her fists and stepped toward Chie, but then stepped back again. "Someone hold me back!"

Naoto rolled her eyes, but her head then immediately snapped to the right. "Just where do you think you're going?"

There was a thump and everyone looked toward the stairwell. Souji, realizing that nobody's attention on him, had continued inching his way toward the stairs. Naoto, noticing this, had pinned him to the wall with one fist.

Souji felt the pressure on his chest, the door jamb poking uncomfortably into his spine. God, she's stronger than she looks, he thought.

"Well?" Naoto said. Her eyes were narrowed, the brown orbs burning with more intensity than he'd ever seen before.

"Um, looking for – a place to go die," Souji said. It wasn't far from the truth.

"Oh you're not getting off that easily," Chie said.

"You know what, guys?" Rise said. "It's all so obvious. We shouldn't be fighting."

Souji wanted to take relief from that, but he knew what was coming next. So long boys, he thought, willing himself not to look down. It was nice knowing you.

"You know, you're right!" Yumi said. She stepped up to Souji, standing next to Naoto. "Here's a line you might remember: Get thee to a nunnery!" She slapped his cheek hard enough for the other side of his face to smack into the wall. Stars danced in his vision.

"This is all your fault!" Yukiko said, padding up and striking his cheek again, once again sending his face into the wall. "And to think we all trusted you!"

"I looked up to you!" Rise said, tears streaming down her cheeks. "You made me feel special!" Yumi and Yukiko stepped aside, allowing her to add her own slap. Then, she lined up his face and smacked the other side.

"You are! You all – gack!" his reply was cut off when a pair of crossed chopsticks, wielded by Naoto's free hand, poked into the sides of his Adam's apple.

"Why don'cha just shoot him?" Chie said.

Naoto turned to her, just slightly increasing the pressure against Souji's throat. "You do not point a gun at someone unless you intend to shoot them."

"I said..."

"Go ahead and shoot 'im," Ai said.

Souji wondered briefly if the chopsticks were compressing his carotid artery. Maybe if he were lucky they would be, and then he could slip into blissful unconsciousness. In his dimming vision, though, he could see Naoto turn back to him. "Don't think that pretending to pass out will save you here, Senpai," she said, pulling the chopsticks away. His consciousness rushed back.

"Y-you''re all special..." he panted. Yosuke, he thought. Kou. Daisuke. Nanako. Anybody, come save me! Please!

"Don't even," Yumi said. "And here I thought you were at home sulking all alone. 'Thanks for the invite but I can't', indeed."

"Wait – 'Thanks for the...' That's the same message he sent to me!" Chie said. She pulled out her phone and tapped a couple keys. "'Thanks for the invite but I can't.'" She clenched her fist, almost crushing her phone, and crouched as if to pounce on Souji. "Move, Naoto-kun, I'll kill him."

"Take a number," Yukiko said.

"At least he accepted your invite!" Rise said. Her cheeks were still wet with tears, but her bared teeth showed her barely-contained rage. "You sent us all the same message, didn't you? So you thought it was funny to string us all along, huh?"

"I'm not laughing!" Yumi said.

"And I'm not laughing!" Ai said. She slugged Souji in the gut. It didn't hurt as much as he'd thought it would, but he groaned and tried to curl up, despite the fist pressed into his chest, if just to avert a worse strike.

"Well, it looks like you're in some serious trouble," Naoto said. "Any last words?"

"Please make it quick," Souji said. "At least leave me in one piece so I can go see Nanako..." He gasped loudly as Chie's foot found its way rapidly into his crotch. Naoto released him and he crumpled to the floor, his hands protecting the tender area between his legs as he whimpered. He couldn't think anymore, couldn't speak. His world at that moment was nothing but pain.

"Don't think that by invoking her name you're going to get our sympathy," Yukiko said. "You don't deserve her."

"You know what, guys?" Rise said. "I have an idea. Why don't we all go visit Nanako-chan in the hospital? We'll bring her our cakes. I'm sure she'll appreciate them."

"I like the sound of that," Yumi said. "However, it'll be with one less cake!" She pulled one from its box on the kitchen table, knelt down, and smashed it in Souji's face. She licked the icing off her fingers as she stood. "Hope you enjoy it, scumbag!"

Souji exhaled forcefully, his lower abdomen still a sea of pain, and spat out a wad of cake. Naoto just barely dodged getting it on her shoes. "Well," Naoto said, "I suggest we leave 'Signior Casanova' here to his well-earned dessert. I'm certain Nanako-chan would love to see us all."

Yes, leave, please, Souji thought, his midsection still a fountain of pain. I'll just stay here and let the internal bleeding take me away.

"Goodbye, Senpai," Rise said, stepping hard on his leg. "See ya around."

Ai walked up to him. "Have a nice day." She kicked him in the stomach, crying out when her stocking-clad toes hit his belt buckle. She hobbled away, snatching up her shoes and whining with each step.

"Goodbye, Souji," Yukiko said. "You're lucky your life isn't in my hands anymore."

"We'll try not to tell Nanako-chan how much of a vile slime you are," Naoto said, collecting the cakes from the table by the stairs. "At least she deserves to not know the truth of you."

"Maybe she'll be lucky and figure it out before he gives her any life advice," Rise said. She took two of the other cakes from the table. "Ugh, I can't believe I actually kissed you!" She wiped a hand against her lips.

"Don't worry," Chie said. "I don't think pig's contagious."

Souji, still clenching his tender region, forced open his eyes. His eyelashes brushed a chunk of cake out of one of them just in time for him to see the last girl, Yumi, disappear out the door. "So," Ai said, "who's this 'Nanako-chan' anyway?"

Yumi sighed. "Oh for the love of-"

The door slammed, leaving Souji in silence. The only thing he could hear was his heartbeat pounding against his eardrums and the screaming of his man-parts, which had been given the same treatment Chie had given so many Shadows. Despite what he'd done, he'd never imagined he'd be deserving of a "critical hit to the nads", as Yosuke liked to put it.

He found himself wishing he'd gone for the "sausage-fest". This was supposed to be a romantic night. It was supposed to be special. Instead, it had been a free-for-all, and shortly thereafter a free-for-Souji. But had he deserved this? Sure, he could see how they'd be upset that he was dating them all, but he'd only invited Yukiko over. If they hadn't all decided to show up on their own, none of this would have happened. Right?

He tried to move, but his muscles wouldn't respond. Despite the pain, he felt so tired. Maybe he could just take a nap, and when he'd wake up it'd be the night before, and none of this would have happened.

Yeah, sleep. That'll be good. The last thought Souji had before he decided to let blissful unconsciousness take him was a quote he'd heard somewhere:

Hell hath no fury as a woman scorned.