I pulled up outside Marielle's house a few minutes after seven. Loud music was already playing, and I could feel the reverberations faintly even through the car windows. I grimaced slightly, anticipating the eardrum damage sure to ensue the second I stepped out of the car, and noticed Hikari giving me a wide grin from the passenger's seat.

"I thought guys were fans of excessive bass, Pat."

I shot her a sour look. "I have sensitive ears."

"At least they're not as sensitive as your ego, or you'd be deaf already."

I unbuckled my seatbelt and gestured vaguely at the passenger's side door. "Out, woman! Less insulting the driver, or you won't get a ride home." I opened my own door and stepped out of the car before she could follow up with another wiseass remark and started on my way toward the house. Hikari, deprived of her prey, caught up within a few steps, and I locked the car with a brief gesture over my shoulder. Leaving your car open near a house full of drunken teenagers rates only slightly above climbing Mt. Washington in a t-shirt in the middle of December on the suicidal idiocy scale.

The music only got louder as we approached, and I gave myself an inward kick for getting to the point where I had to attend these stupid things again. I was going to have a pretty bad headache by the end of the night. Hopefully, Marielle had some Advil somewhere that I could steal.

I opened the door to a vision of every teen movie ever filmed. Drunken teens bobbed and weaved, plastic cups of some godawful swill clutched in their sweaty palms. Outside the house, the biting chill of New England in winter pierced the shell of my jacket, but the rank stench of sweat and beer wafted out the door on a stifling wave of warm, nigh-unbreathable air. I was glad I had a t-shirt on underneath.

Hikari, catching sight of the look on my face, burst into laughter. "You look like you're about to walk into a torture chamber, Pat."

"Aren't I? Bunch of fucking Neanderthals," I muttered. "At least with outdoor parties you don't have to smell everyone's armpits."

I was distracted from my growing disgust by the sight of Marielle, standing in the center of a small group of girls I vaguely recognized from the cheerleading squad. As I caught sight of her, she tossed her head back, laughing at something one of them had said. As usual, I suspected it was fake, but there was no way to tell, and I was sure she had the girls completely fooled. Her looks were, naturally, up to her usual standards, and considering the general filth of the atmosphere, it took me longer than usual to tear my eyes away. When I did, I caught Hikari smirking at me.

"Need a napkin to wipe up the drool?"

I considered a denial of some kind, but decided it was useless. "Bah. Let's get this over with."

I started edging my way around the crowd, looking for someone I found moderately tolerable. The biggest knot of people was clustered around the kegs over in the corner, but I had no intention of drinking whatever foul concoction the barrels contained. Hikari dropped out of sight for a second, then reappeared in my vision with a plastic cup in her hand. I made a face.

She grinned up at me. "Ah, c'mon, it's not that bad."

I was about to correct her when I found a similar cup thrust into my own hand, and looked up to meet the smiling face of Derek. "Pat, hey! Glad you could make it!" He clapped me on the back, and I winced a bit. Derek was a pretty strong guy, and more than a little drunk already, so he wasn't being particularly careful about how hard he was hitting. Still, at least it was friendly, as befitted a man who had no idea I still wanted to fuck his girlfriend's brains out. Again.

I put my usual sardonic smirk on and gestured with my empty hand. "Well, you know how it is on Friday nights. There's the lure of thumb twiddling, the siren call of lint collecting, and the temptation to organize my socks. You're lucky I managed to tear myself away for a party like this."

Derek laughed, the sarcasm having its intended effect, and noticed Hikari standing next to me for the first time. "Hey, Hikari. Still haven't given up on this guy?"

Hikari smiled, one of those cool, mask-like smiles that revealed not the slightest clue to what she was thinking. "Nah, I think there's still some definite potential there."

I quirked an eyebrow at her, but her smile continued to reveal nothing as we followed Derek into the heart of the room - towards, I realized, the one place, or more accurately the one person, I didn't entirely want to go to yet. I sighed in resignation and took a sip of the cup. It was, as I'd expected, pretty awful. Still, it would put me at a disadvantage to play the alcoholic prude.

As we approached, Hikari took my arm. I looked down in surprise.

"All part of the game, Pat."

I raised my beer and drained it. "Everything is." I put a smile on my face as Mari came into sight. Her expression mirrored mine, and I wondered just how much either of us meant it. Her eyes flickered to Hikari's arm linked with mine, and I swore I saw them narrow slightly, but it was gone in the blink of an eye.

"Pat, Hikari, great to see you both here."

"Told you they'd come!" Derek, apparently a happy drunk, wandered over and gave her a one-armed hug. He turned to me, but whatever he'd been about to say was interrupted by a loud chant of "De-REK! De-REK!" from the keg. Grinning at us, he excused himself, no doubt to participate in some insipid drunken ritual. I barely suppressed a grimace.

Hikari smiled cordially at Marielle. It did not reach her eyes. "Oh, I wouldn't miss this for the world. After all the drama last time you hosted a party here, I'd be shirking my duties to the paper if I didn't at least see what happened."

Mari and I shared a quick, involuntary glance. The party Hikari was referring to was the one at which Brett and Melanie had been caught in flagrante delicto... and inadvertently kicked off this entire mess.

I opened my mouth. "Speaking of which... why did you decide to host a party at your house after so long? If I remember the rumors correctly, your parents threw a bit of a fit after hearing the reason your last one ended early. Finally wear them down enough that they let you hold another one?"

A ghostly smile flitted across her face. "They didn't."

I raised an eyebrow. "Oh? What happened to your good-girl persona? Not playing the dutiful daughter anymore?"

"There are limits on how much you can change." The unspoken follow-up, "and have it be believable", hung in the air between us.

"I dunno, I managed it pretty well."

"You're... unique." The pause was clearly meant to be derogatory, but I laughed. She was right, after all.

"Should I take that as a compliment?"

"Take it however you like. You usually do."

We were interrupted by Hikari, who'd reached into her jacket and taken out a notebook and pen. She flipped it open industriously, then noticed we'd stopped talking and were both staring at her.

"Oh, don't mind me. Please go on."

I smirked. "I think we've given you enough headlines for the year, Hikari."

She batted her eyelashes at me. "Are you sure? C'mon, one more. You have no idea how many emails I get a week asking for updates on you two."

I almost groaned out loud. "Just what I always wanted. A starring role in a high school drama. Romantic fodder for idealistic fifteen year old girls everywhere."

Mari burst out laughing. "I'm having a hard time imagining any of these girls actually want to date you, Pat. You'd reduce them to tears by the end of the first date."

"You're not giving me enough credit. Remember Melanie? I could do it by the end of the first conversation, let alone the first date."

"Ooh, I see what you really wanted - you wanted to be one of those bad boys who all the girls hoped they could 'tame'. Did you have a poster of James Dean on your wall growing up?"

"That pretentious son of a bitch? Ugh." I mimed running a comb through my hair. "I can do without that kind of style, thanks."

"Methinks he doth protest too much," Hikari chimed in. "You do, after all, seem to take it as a personal challenge to see how many four-plus syllable words you can fit into your sports articles."

I sniffed. "I am attempting to educate the unwashed masses. I see nothing wrong with this."

She laughed. "If you're really serious about that, why don't you start right here?" She inclined her head towards the mass of drunken revelers still loudly encouraging Derek to make more of an idiot out of himself.

At my involuntary grimace, Hikari laughed again, then - in an action that was clearly surprising to both me and Marielle - reached up and pulled my head down so she could kiss me.

I suppose that I shouldn't have been too surprised by this, in retrospect; Hikari had clearly been pushing things when the two of us were around Marielle in an effort to get a reaction out of the ice bitch, but she hadn't gone for the more blatant PDA strategy. In fact, this was the first time she'd kissed me since that one time in the car. I still wasn't sure what she'd meant by that, and it made this one all the more confusing; all of a sudden, I was reminded all over again just how little I really knew about Hikari's motives.

None of this stopped me from fully engaging in the kiss. I'd gotten a lot better, over the last couple of months, about going with the flow of unexpected events. It had turned out to be a useful survival tactic.
Hikari, as I'd noticed last time, could definitely kiss. A part of me wondered where she'd learned, since I'd never seen her with a serious boyfriend. Then again, I hadn't been at Freemont for the entirity of high school, nor had I paid much attention to her before this year, so this was pretty pointless speculation. All that really mattered was the feeling of her mouth on mine. She parted her lips beneath me, deepening the kiss, and her other hand snaked its way around my waist. I briefly considered glancing over towards Marielle to try to catch a glimpse of her reaction, but she was bound to notice this, and that would likely undermine the goal of this kiss. So, at last, I ignored the constantly calculating parts of myself and concentrated on the girl in front of me.

Fifteen highly enjoyable seconds later - enough time to make things a bit awkward for anyone standing nearby (more specifically, one person) - Hikari let me go and straightened up as if nothing had just happened. She flashed me a grin. "Well, dear, if you and Mari aren't going to give me anything, I've got some other stories to follow up. Have fun!"

And with that, she was off into the crowd, where her small frame quickly disappeared from view.

I stared after her for a couple seconds; I couldn't help it, not after that kiss. I was coming to realize just how little I really understood about Hikari and her motives. It was pretty clear that she did genuinely dislike Marielle, but it was also clear that her stated motivations for helping me go after her were bald-faced lies. There was something else there, I was sure... unfortunately, I had absolutely no idea who I could ask to find out. Like Marielle, Hikari didn't seem to have anyone who fell under the category of 'genuine, close personal friend' - she had plenty of friendly acquaintances, but that was all I'd seen. And anybody at the school who fell under the 'plucky girl detective' category (or guy, but for some reason this particular stereotype seemed mostly staffed by females) probably owed Hikari a lot more loyalty than they owed me. So finding out about her true motivations was likely to prove difficult. Perhaps Katia might know something...

I was jerked out of my reverie by an amused cough from my left. "Was the kiss really that good, Pat?" There was nothing in her tone to indicate anything but genuine amusement, yet I thought I sensed a darker undertone to her statement. Then again, perhaps I was reading what I wanted into it.

I turned to Marielle, sliding back into my completely unruffled persona from earlier. "Trying to find out if she's a better kisser than you are, Mari?"

An easy smile graced her mouth, but there was nothing in it that reached her eyes. "Trust me, I'm not worried about competition in that regard."

I shrugged. "If you say so." I took another sip of my almost-forgotten beer. "So tell me," I said. "What is the point of these things? Really?"

"To get drunk. And have sex." Marielle raised an eyebrow at me. "Surely someone of your intellect could have figured that out by now?"

I grimaced. "You've just described Brett Edwards and his kind perfectly. But that can't be everyone here." I gestured out at the teeming mass of revelers.

"Oh, what's this?" A hint of genuine amusement crept into Mari's voice. "Is there a hidden idealistic core to the great cynic? Some spark of faith in humanity that has yet to be crushed?"

"There is nothing of the sort," I responded with mock indignation. "But I do confess to the occasional hope that not all of my worst suspicions about my fellow members of homo sapiens are correct."

Mari shook her head at me. "'Members of homo sapiens', Pat? Really?" I was about to respond, but she continued, and I remained silent. "If you want a real answer, everyone out there is a teenager. Hormonal, insecure, horny as hell. So they all want to have sex, and alcohol makes the whole process easier and a lot less awkward. That's about the scope of it."

"A real answer?" I looked around, scanning the crowd briefly. "Who are you and what have you done with the real Marielle Pason?"

She laughed. "Now why would I tell you that?"

I raised my hands. "Fair enough, fair enough." I paused for a minute, eyeing her. "So," I began, raising an eyebrow. "Hormonal, insecure, horny? You're a teenager yourself, you know."

"So I am." Her expression was inscrutable, but a slight smirk played briefly across her lips as I watched. "And you're welcome to test any of those you like." She snagged a shot from a nearby tray of them and downed it in a single gulp. "Ta-ta, Pat."

And off she went, perfectly formed ass swaying back and forth with each step. There was not, I noted sourly, even a hint of a wobble in her step.

I would like to say that I found a good way to amuse myself for the rest of my time at the party, but the antics of the very drunk can only entertain one for so long. So by the time Hikari came to get me to drive her home, I was sitting in a rather dissatisfied state of boredom on the couch, vaguely amusing myself by tripping the occasional drunken passerby. I wasn't exactly trying to make them stumble over my feet, but I wasn't moving out of the way either, and that proved quite sufficient. Most of them didn't even seem to notice who they'd tripped over, and the ones that did generally decided that they wanted no part of a homicidal-looking Patrick Morrison. There are some perks to a reputation like mine.

Hikari grabbed me at 11:42. Normally, I was not the kind of person who gave time down to the exact minute - although I had gone through a brief, somewhat embarrassing military time phase when I was younger - but at this point I was happy to note the exact moment of my departure from the hellhole. I was deep into the process of cursing both Marielle for inviting me and Hikari for helping convince me to come when she appeared in my field of vision looking none the worse for wear and wearing an indecently smug Cheshire Cat grin. I grunted at her, higher forms of communication having been long since abandoned. She laughed in response.


"C'mon, Pat. I'm here to rescue you. You do need to get me home by midnight, after all. My mother tends to be pretty strict about that sort of thing."

I seized on this lifeline immediately. "Then by all means, let us get you home immediately! I would very much like to avoid the Wrath of the Asian Mother." I bounced up from the couch, displaying more energy than I had in the last half-hour combined. "C'mon."

Finding our way to the exit proved to be somewhat easier than I thought it would be. By this point of the party, most people were too drunk to be as energetic as they had been earlier, and also lacked quick reaction times. This made them a lot easier to elbow out of the way. I reached the door quickly, with Hikari in tow, and gave the remains of the party one last glance before leaving. I saw no sign of either Derek or Marielle, and as I was not about to wade back into the wasted crowd of idiots to find them, I resolved to thank them for my excruciatingly boring evening another time.

We walked to my car in relative silence, the receding noise of the party our only companion. Once we were inside and buckled up, and I'd started the engine, I finally let out the breath I'd been holding. "Well, that was fun."

Hikari smiled at me - at least, I think that's what she was doing. The interior of the car was too dark to tell. "Aww, poor Patrick. Couldn't find enough drunken antics to amuse yourself with?"

I almost shot her a sour look, but held back; the effect would have been lost in the darkness anyway. "They get old. These things are miserable."

I heard a low chuckle from the passenger's side. "I think you just got bored because you weren't the center of attention."

"I... hmm." I paused to think about that for a minute. The other parties I'd been to had not, in fact, been this bad. There was the one where I'd owned Alexis, and the one where I'd pulled the rug out from under Marielle's schemes... and each time, as Hikari implied, I'd been the focus of the major events of the evening.

"Great. I'm becoming an attention whore." I spat with no small amount of distaste. "I'm so glad I got involved in all of this."

"Oh, come on, the evening wasn't all bad."

I considered this. "No, it wasn't. You want to tell me what that was about?"

I couldn't see it, but I could feel Hikari's impish grin anyway. "And ruin all the fun?"

I chuckled in spite of myself. "Didn't think so."

We lapsed into a more or less comfortable silence until pulling up to her house at about five of twelve. Luckily, Hikari didn't live all that far away from Marielle. This wasn't particularly surprising, as both families had money, but it was nice. It had been a long day and I was rather tired. I stopped the car and put it in park.

"Well, do you need me to walk you to your door?"

Hikari laughed. "That depends. Do you want to talk to my mom?"

"I'll stay here then, shall I?"

She leaned over and kissed my cheek, then opened her door and got out before I could respond. "Drive safe on the way home, would you? I'd prefer not to replace you at this point in the game." She shut the door with a loud thump.

I rolled my eyes at her, but she didn't see it. Ah well. Putting my car back in gear, I released the emergency brake and did just that.

And that would have been that - I got home with no problems and went online to kvetch about my evening a bit to a couple of my friends in foreign countries before I crashed - but I realized something rather important while I was getting ready for bed.

I didn't have my wallet.

I swore out loud and began searching my room. I held out a faint hope that I'd somehow dropped it when I'd come in, but I knew I wasn't going to find it. How could I have been so stupid? I'd gone to a damn party - of all the dumb places to stop paying attention to your wallet, that ranked pretty high on the list. Unfortunately, as my room is somewhat more organized than many of my fellow teenage males, it didn't take me very long to figure out that my wallet was not, in fact, there.

I swore again and grabbed my keys and my phone. I was going to have to search my car as well, but if it wasn't there either - and I really didn't think it would be, as now that I thought back on it, I didn't remember having my wallet when I left the party - I was going to have to go back to Marielle's house to retrieve it. Granted, I could wait until morning, but I get incredibly twitchy when I can't find my wallet and I didn't think I'd be able to sleep very well. Plus, waiting until morning left a greater chance that someone else would find it and decide not to give it back to me, which was probably going to be the case if someone else found it period.

I did manage to keep myself under the speed limit for the entire drive, a feat for which I was rather proud of myself. I really wanted to get there as soon as I could, but it wouldn't do to get pulled over by a cop without my driver's license. I had enough trouble in my life as it was; there was no need to add some of the legal variety.

The driveway was almost deserted when I got there, and there weren't very many lights on. Apparently, the party had pretty much ended. I was kind of surprised - it was about two in the morning, but I'd figured the party would probably continue until three or four. I parked and headed for the house. It was unlocked when I tried the door, though the foyer was dark. I peered around. I couldn't see anyone, although wreckage from the party was strewn across the floor. My foot nudged an empty beer cup, and I stepped back in distaste.

I sighed. While it would have been nice to just search the house on my own, this was probably going to go faster if I didn't just go crawling around in the dark. I flicked on one of the lights and called out. "Hello? Mari? Anyone there?"

I heard some noises from upstairs, and a few seconds later Marielle came into view, wearing her pajamas. Which seemed to consist of a very short pair of shorts and a rather flimsy excuse for a t-shirt. I couldn't see a bra.

I wasn't going to complain.

She broke into a grin when she saw who it was. "Pat? What are you doing here? Oh, right." She made a small gesture. "Your wallet."

I perked up. "You found it?"

"Yep. Hiding underneath one of the tables in the living room." She pointed. I frowned. I didn't remember spending any time over in that part of the room. Then again, I could've just be blocking large portions of the party out of my memory. It had been extremely boring.

Mari spoke again, bringing my attention back to her scantily-clad form. "I didn't figure you'd be here to pick it up until tomorrow."

"I didn't want to chance some drunken miscreant walking off with it, if they hadn't already. Frankly, I figured they'd still be here. What happened?" I gestured at the empty room.

Mari grimaced slightly. "Neighbors woke up and bitched at me over the phone. I managed to calm them down, but they demanded I get people out of here or they'd call my parents and tell them what I was really up to while they were out of town. And while my powers of persuasion are great, they won't save me from directly disobeying them on this. So I kicked everyone out."

I grinned. "Still dealing with parental shackles for a few more months, eh? In this case, I can't see that it's much of a loss. Probably saved you a few vomit stains to clean out. Speaking of, how do you clean all this up? And before you ask, no, I'm not volunteering."

She waved a hand. "Oh, I'll drag Derek and a couple of his friends over tomorrow to help out."

"By which you mean 'do all the work while you watch', yes?"

She laughed. "Pretty much. C'mon, I've got your wallet up in my room." She turned, heading for the stairs. I followed her; my eyes followed her ass. Okay, yes, I had somewhat of a fixation with it.

It was interesting that she'd invited me up to her room, though. I'd figured she would go get it and send me on my way instead. This was the first time we'd actually been alone together in a private place since we'd had mindblowing sex at my house over Winter Break. It wasn't a position I was entirely sure I trusted myself in, but I also wasn't one to back down - and besides, if something ended up happening, who was I to complain? Apparently, she had more trust in herself than I did. Either that, or she was planning something.

Marielle's room was... surprisingly pink. I wasn't quite sure how to deal with this fact. Whatever I'd been expecting, it wasn't pink. Marielle noticed my dubious expression and raised an eyebrow. "Is there a problem, Pat?"

"... pink?"

"Oh, it helps fool my parents into thinking I'm a Good Girl. Besides, I quite like it." She grinned at me, and I spent a minute trying to wrap my head around this new piece of information.

My wallet was sitting on her desk. I went over and picked it up, sliding it into my pocket. I immediately felt better.

Mari was rummaging around near her bed. She came out holding a bottle of some unidentified liquid and a couple of shot glasses. Sitting down on the bed, she gave me a slow, dangerous smile. "Stay for a drink?"

I hesitated. I wanted to - oh, did I want to - but what in the world was she trying to pull here?

Something must have shown on my face, because Mari's sultry expression turned towards amusement. "Oh come now, Pat, are you really going to walk away from me, on my bed, alone in my house, offering you a drink?"

When she put it like that... no. I shot her what I hoped was a superior smirk and sat down beside her. She poured a couple of shots, which we both threw back. The liquid burned a little going down. I turned and found her giving me a smile that sent shivers up my spine. We locked eyes for a second, the tension growing unbearable. When she opened her mouth, anticipation rose, unbidden but inevitable. I leaned forward a little.

"Y'know, Derek's really been a good friend to you. When we first got together, he told me flat-out that he wouldn't help me attack you, that he thought you were really a good guy despite what had gone on between the two of us." She smiled.

My thoughts were succinct: 'Oh, you bitch.'

"He's even smoothed stuff over with a lot of the jocks, although I guess some of them were kind of impressed with the stunt you pulled anyway. But he's the real reason you're here. What a guy, huh?" The words were sincere, but so was the sadistic amusement underlying them. She knew I wanted her. She'd set it up - the way we were alone, the drinks, the fact that we were sitting on her bed with her cleavage clearly visible twelve inches from my face. And she was throwing her boyfriend - and everything he'd done for me - right in my face. It was the only guilt trip she had on me, but it was a damn good one.

The worst part was that she was right. He was a good guy. He was, in fact, the only good guy I'd known during this entire sordid mess. My so-called friends were cowards. Brett and his cronies were douchebags of the highest order. And most of the rest of them were sheep, sycophants who went with the prevailing social winds and tried not to rock the boat. He, of all people, didn't deserve to be in the middle of whatever fucked up game we were playing.

The right thing to do was to back away and leave. To try to find some way to warn him what she (still) really was. To avoid doing exactly what his manipulative, cruel, unfairly gorgeous girlfriend was attempting to get me to do - her.

The right thing to do was not stab my friend in the back the way I'd been stabbed in the back.

However still I kept my expression, I knew she was reading all of this as if I was an open book. And she was enjoying it. And, so help me, it turned me on even more.

It really came down to one thing: was I a good enough person to walk away?

The answer was surprisingly easy: No.

Letting a sudden, feral grin cross my face, I dropped my shot glass and pushed Marielle onto her back. She barely had time for a startled squeak before I was on top of her, my hands pinning her arms to the bed. My lips hovered a mere inch from hers. Though I was suspending myself slightly above her, when she inhaled, the tips of her breasts touched my chest through my shirt. Her nipples were already hard. I could see the arousal written clearly across her face as well; she was clearly making no effort to hide it.

I held myself there for a second, then shifted my head and lowered it slightly until my lips were right next to her ear. When I breathed on it, she arched into me again, and it was all I could do to maintain my control. But I did.

"This turns you on, doesn't it?" I whispered. "Sitting here, seeing how far you can push me? Playing your manipulative games?" I took her earlobe into my mouth and nipped it gently, drawing a light gasp from her. "Seeing if you can corrupt me even more?" My tongue traced the perimeter of her ear, then trailed down her neck. Her fingernails dug into my back. I raised my head and brought it above hers. Again, our mouths were mere centimeters apart. "I've got news for you, Mari. I was never all that good to begin with."

She licked her lips slowly, sensually, another wicked grin gracing her mouth. "You really aren't, are you? This turns you on. Not just me - betraying Derek, becoming everything that you claim disgusts you. You never wanted to break the game, Pat. You just wanted to become the best."

"And you wanted someone who could play it just as well as you could." I shivered involuntarily. One of her hands had slipped under my shirt and was tracing lines on my back.

"Do you really think you're my equal, Pat? Even with your precious little Asian coach?" There was a dangerous glitter to her eyes. Our mouths were even closer now, and I could feel every slight exhale she made on my lips.

"There's only one way to find out," I breathed. And then we were kissing so hard it hurt.

Oh look, a chapter! It's been more than six months, I know. I am a terrible person. Now for the portion of the chapter I like to describe as "thinly veiled excuses disguised as updates about my life that you don't actually care about":

Let's see... work's been crazy, but that's par for the course. I have a new girlfriend, who is an amazingly gorgeous and wonderful person (and who is also, thankfully, sane). The story of how we got together would probably serve as a decent FP plot, but I'm not writing it. But suffice to say that while she is a fan of this story, she takes up a LOT of my free time and would, on the whole, rather I be paying attention to her than writing when we're together. Which I have no problem with. Sorry. Oh yeah, and she gave me mononucleosis, having had it four years ago. That was a fun three weeks, let me tell you - I went to the hospital twice, and had everyone I knew tell me it was the worst case of mono they'd ever seen. I hate my immune system.

Anyway, I'm really trying to get back to writing more consistently - next step, start up the blog again. We'll see how I do this time around.

Thanks go to Myrika, Kendal and my girlfriend for prodding me into finishing this, but given how long it took, you may prefer to yell at them instead.

BTG has again been nominated for the SKoW Awards, this time for the 'Best Love Triangle' award. If you want to vote, go do it right now - voting closes on August 2nd.

And now, review responses! As usual, I'm sorry if I don't get to you personally, but it's late and I have work tomorrow (today?).

zac-jay: Yep, that was definitely the 'calm before the storm'. I think this chapter should make the Pat/Mari shippers happy, too. In its own fucked up way.

Bob n Kazzi: Sex as a weapon indeed. Hope the emails have been helpful.

O.O NightRiders O.O: I confess I've never actually thought much about pairing up Hikari and Derek. Poor guy needs to wake up a bit first, I think.

Cashaholic: No, I've never given Pat a great description, have I? Unfortunately it's a little late now. As for Megan Fox as Mari – well, she'd need to dye her hair blonde first.

Sundanced: Yes, Pat was just giving a summary. There was more going on, but that's how he wanted to present it to Mari, so that's what came out. I'm not planning on doing a flashback, so that's probably all there'll be. Also, thanks for the rec, but I don't really read fanfiction anymore (and dropped InuYasha years and years ago). :)

TopazEyes1992: You may learn a bit more later about Marielle's earlier exploits. She was not a nice person then either. ;)

stranger12: The Patriots are a football team. Which I am currently estranged from. The Super Bowl was painful. The Red Sox are the baseball team. Anyway, thanks for the expansive review, it was very much appreciated – although I will warn you, this is not a realistic representation of the American high school structure. Also, I freely admit that my ex-girlfriend drama is hilarious from the outside. It just sucked to be the target. ;)

aicha: Oh, Pat's definitely fallible. Although in many cases, like that one, it is left to the reader to decide whether they want to buy his internal logic.

HotSpring90: What, you want me to have FOUR really calculating characters now? Heh.

Midge-The-Hopeless-Romantic: Verbal sparring is partly a defense mechanism, yes, but it also fits who he is. He wouldn't do it so much if he didn't enjoy it.

Mouse64: Regarding the Super Bowl: "WHY?!" covers it pretty well, yes. I wrote five thousand words on why it was the worst loss I'd ever experienced as a sports fan. I am sad that way.

Hates To Be Alone: Are you SURE there's a nice person deep down inside Marielle? ;)

Bompie-Salamanca: Don't worry, you'll see a lot more about Hikari and her backstory in later chapters. I'm glad you think Pat's charming. I am also glad that you recognize that he's a bad person. ;)

Hammy Paradise: I'm glad you find Pat's internal monologue interesting, although I guess that is sort of a prerequisite for reading this story. And yes, Marielle is scary.

Frozen.by.Sloth: "Your mind is hot" is one of the more interesting compliments I've ever received – thank you! And yes, the Asian mothers thing was based off some of the stories Myrika has told me about hers.

Noelle Clark: You'll have to see on the whole 'Hikari being nice' thing. ;)

Efreisone: Thanks for the perfect description of Patrick - "pretentious dick in a likeable way" is pretty much exactly what I was going for. As for the supporting characters – you're completely right, they're totally flat. If I ever did a rewrite, I'd try to work on that, but it was something I decided to sacrifice for this version because it's by far the longest thing I've ever written.

AgamiMuffin: Superficially, Patrick is based on me. Personality-wise, I like to think I'm a much nicer person and we really aren't very similar at all. :)

Thanks also to: It.Hurts.I.Know, chocolatechipash, Not Who I Look Like, Tanoshimi, Our Lady Silence, PerhapsAlaska, daretobe-dIfFeRnT, fantasy4lover, Kristina Malfoy, Rudos, SimplySweetnSour, caralene, flummoxed, anon, krayznclutz, Le Meg, ice-lolly, Lady Knight 1512, j.c-chic, Essie, chic rebel, emumonster, Liviana, Kohlomere, polyphonicspree, CallMeCute, BlackPetal, ennairam, George should be Peter, Lochi, J.C Lyn, A.K.A. Writer's Block, noriepie, Gonzogrig, emrevolemina, Sylvia Marri, Somewhere InBetween Hi and ..., PATTIE.IS.HOT., Silly Little Songwriter, Caffeinated Poison, Cynical Kacee, FortifiedConnections, Schizor, SuperCUTEJensen, Carrie, wandless, JellyBeaner, lily, sketchingaCYNiC, Tagrina, pearl, .sakurakiss., RavioliShenanigans, CR7GIRL, Regin, funsize, TeenageSurvivor, Acantha Alleyoope, ridiculouskopec, Georgianna, CameliaSinensis