Haise hurried, wide-eyed, down the hallway.
People had been acting weird all day, uncertainty dimming their eyes and curling their lips, and he finally knew why.
He’d heard some junior investigators whispering about it just a few moments ago. Apparently, there had been a riot at Cochlea.
Riots weren’t horribly uncommon, although he’d never heard about one in the six months since he’d… come to. But this one was big enough to warrant a lot of concern, because some ghouls had escaped. None of the high level ghouls had, fortunately, but the fact that the ghouls had come together with enough coordination to actually accomplish that much was very concerning. Worst yet, one of the investigators had muttered, was that they didn’t know how it had happened.
Haise rounded the corner and had to jump back to avoid slamming into someone’s chest.
“S-sorry!” He stuttered, heat rising to his face.
“Not to worry.” The man he’d nearly run into was unfamiliar, and interesting enough appearance-wise that Haise thought he would recognize him if they’d met before. He was handsome, but it was his pale blond, almost gray-looking hair and the odd shape of his glasses that made him stick out. There was a similarly unfamiliar woman standing at his elbow, her expression colder than Akira’s even when his boss was at her most serious.
The man shook half a dozen mints from a tin into the palm of his hand, and then threw them all back. Haise wasn’t an expert, but he felt like that was a lot.
“Pretty tense around here today, isn’t it?” The shape of his lips was pleased, but cruel.
Like the cat that caught the canary.
Haise wasn’t sure what to say to that, but it didn’t matter, they were leaving anyway.
Haise blinked after they’d left, then peered around. Had they been leaving Director Marude’s office? Shaking the encounter off, he hurried forward.
“Haise, there you are!” Akira greeted him as he entered their squad’s shared office, an uncharacteristically wide smile on her face.
This day was getting weirder and weirder, he thought.
“How was the doctor? You’re in good health right?”
Haise opened his mouth to reply that the doctor had indeed given him a clean bill of health, but was interrupted.
“I’m guessing you’ve heard the news? That there was a riot at Cochlea?”
“Oh! Yes, I did, are we going to be on the support team for this?”
“No way!” Takizawa snorted, fighting a grin. Haise’s eyebrows drew together. When he’d walked in, Takizawa had had a report lifted up so close to his face that there was no way he could have been reading it. He glanced over to where Amon was sitting with his broad back to them, shoulders shaking slightly as if he was holding back laughter.
“We have better things to do!” Akira said.
“Oh...kay… Did we… get a lead?”
“Yes!” Akira was giggling, and leaning into Takizawa’s side as she did so. If Haise hadn’t just seen the doctor that morning he’d be half convinced he was hallucinating, as it was he still wasn’t completely sure that he wasn’t.
“We have a lead!” Takizawa cheered, and Amon spun his chair around when he gave up on containing his laughter and it broke through.
Must be a big lead, Haise thought, but privately wondered if there wasn’t something more exciting going on.
His suspicions were supported that evening when Takizawa burst into his room with no warning. Haise had just gotten out of the shower, so he was pretty surprised, but Takizawa didn’t seem to notice, and simply insisted on helping Haise find an ‘appropriate’ outfit, which ended up being a dark blue button up and a pair of slacks. Appropriate for what, Haise had no idea, but it definitely wasn’t for an investigation, since he left his quinque behind.
They took a cab to the first ward’s nightlife district, and then Takizawa, bold as brass, marched them right past the line and through the door. Haise’s face burned. He wasn’t even old enough to drink! Or well, maybe he was, he wasn’t totally sure… not that he would because it would taste gross, but still…
Takizawa led him by the wrist through and thankfully out of a crowd of dancing people, and then to a group of tables at the back. Amon and Akira were there, waiting for them and sporting matching grins.
“You made it!” Amon smiled, reaching to tug Takizawa into his seat.
“Did you run into any trouble?” Akira asked, painted nails glinting in the strange lights of the club.
“None at all!” Takizawa denied, his smile stretching from ear to ear.
“Um…” Haise had held his confusion back so far, but he felt like now might be a good opportunity to finally figure out what was going on. “What are we doing here?”
“Celebrating!” The three cheered together, and Amon reached out in good humor to ruffle Haise’s hair.
“And you’re the designated driver!” Akira told him casually.
“I don’t have a license.” Haise protested, which just made Takizawa laugh.
“And we didn’t bring a car!” he agreed.
Four shot glasses filled with a mysterious amber liquid appeared at their table, and Haise panicked internally as he wondered if he’d be expected to drink one, but to his relief the fourth was put in front of an empty seat at the head of their table. The other three were quickly collected by his companions.
Takizawa lifted his into the air. “To better luck next time!” He mock saluted the unclaimed glass.
“To better luck next time!” Amon and Akira parroted, and they all pushed their glasses to meet together in the middle, and then threw the shots back, Haise awkwardly following suite with a sip of water.
“To my arm!” Amon’s toast made Takizawa and Akira howl with laughter, and although Haise didn’t understand the humor, he smiled, warmth blooming in his chest.
It wasn’t easy, being what he was in the CCG, and a lot of people hated him for it. Not these three, though. When he’d been allowed to come on as a junior investigator, Amon had demanded he be put on his squad. Since then, they’d always just… been there. They treated him like he was a person, which really meant a lot to him, since most people thought he wasn’t one. And he knew that they kept the meanest investigators away from him, despite the fact that they tried to hide it.
They… valued him for some reason, and Haise had no idea what he’d ever done to deserve it.
Like tonight, they were obviously celebrating something that was between the three of them, but had decided to include Haise even when they could have quite easily left him none the wiser. He didn’t know what it was like to have a family, and couldn’t remember if he ever had known, but he liked to think that it was something like the way he felt around his squad.
Another round was brought out, and it was Akira’s turn to lift up her drink. “To an even bigger idiot than any of you - I didn’t know it was possible!”
“Hey!” Takizawa protested, but Amon just laughed, and they all lifted their drinks, repeating Akira’s toast cheerfully.
“I’m going to tell him you said that!” Takizawa warned.
“To being able to tell him he’s an idiot!” Amon laughed, earning a raucous agreement, even without drinks.
The next round came out, and Haise was beginning to wonder if he shouldn’t advise them to maybe slow down and drink some water, when they all lifted their glasses and turned to him expectantly.
“Your toast!” Takizawa instructed. “It’s your turn!”
“Oh! Um,” He held back a slight grimace. How was he supposed to make a toast when he had no idea what (or who) they were actually celebrating?
His eyes fixed on the untouched drink on his right, and suddenly he knew exactly what to say.
“To the best of us all.”
The others were silent for a moment, and then Akira’s hand darted out, clacking her glass almost violently against Haise’s.
“To the best of us all!” She shouted, and threw the drink back, followed no less enthusiastically by Amon and Takizawa.
They slowed down after that, thankfully, taking the time to drink some water and order food before going through another round. The atmosphere grew no less cheery as the night wore on, and by the time Amon was haltingly promising him that this was “definitely-the-for-sure-this-time-last-round”, Haise had grown fondly resigned to their infectious enthusiasm.
“Allllright,” Takizawa slurred. “Last round…” He paused, brow furrowed in thought for a moment, before he reached for the thus far untouched glass. “Here…” he pressed it into Haise’s hand, “y’should have it for ‘im… ‘bet he’d like that…”
“Mm, good idea Takizawa” Amon agreed, and Akira nodded.
Haise didn’t have it in him to protest, feeling rather touched that they would allow him to drink from the honorary glass, rather than nervous like he had been at the earlier.
“I’ll start.” Akira offered, voice steady despite the pink flush to her cheeks. “To our friend.”
“The bravest person we’ve ever known,” Amon continued.
“More loyal and kind than anyone,” Takizawa smiled.
“May he live forever.” Haise finished.
“May he live forever!” That cheer was the loudest of the night by far, and although the drink burned going down, the warmth it brought stayed with Haise well past after they’d left the bar.